Monday, August 22, 2016

Michigander Monday: Andrea Scarpino

I had the pleasure of featuring Andrea Scarpino on Michigander Monday back in May 2015. Today we're catching up with her to find out about her new book, her U.P. Poet Laureate experience, and more!

Debbie:  Please tell us about your new book of poetry.

Andrea:  What the Willow Said as It Fell (Red Hen Press, 2016) is a book-length poem about chronic pain. I include personal writing in the book, mythological writing about figures like the willow tree (which contains salicin in its branches, used for millennia as a pain relieving compound) and the ash tree (which was thought to be a healing tree), and found poetry. So basically, I try to recount some of my own experience with chronic pain, but also reach outside my own experience.

I became really interested in the book-length poetry form several years ago when I wanted to push my own short lyrics in a longer direction. At about the same time, I decided I wanted to try to write about chronic pain because I didn’t see much literature discussing it. And chronic pain seemed like the perfect subject to explore in the book-length form—it can ebb and flow, diminish and return, circle back on itself, and appear in unexpected places. Basically, the subject matter and the form each inspired and challenged my thinking about the other.

I’m also a long-time lover of found poetry, so I loved having the change to incorporate writing from the painter Frida Kahlo and from professional athletes about their experiences with pain, writing about the body, and writing about trees. Hopefully, the book works in part by moving between my own experiences and the experiences of others.

Debbie:  That sounds like a heavy book—and your first book was heavy too; it focused on your father’s death. Why do you think you write about such serious subjects?

Andrea:  I keep joking that my third book is going to be absolutely hilarious—but so far, that’s not turning out to be the case! One of the things I love about writing and reading poetry is that it allows me to struggle on the page through some of the harder aspects of living. At almost every poetry reading I’ve done to support my two books, audience members have spoken to me afterwards about their own experience with loss, or about their own experience with health issues. Being able to connect with a reader like that and knowing that we are not so alone in the world, well, it is the best part about being a writer, even when the material is scary or hard.

Debbie:  We’d love to hear about your experience as the U.P. Poet Laureate!

Andrea:  It has been a delightful experience! Michigan is one of only a few states without an official Poet Laureate position, so the UP Poet Laureate is an entirely grassroots position, which is pretty cool. I decided I wanted to use the position to try to increase poetry’s visibility, so I had a friend build a Free Little Poetry Library that I’ve moved around the UP to different locations (it even won a blue ribbon in last summer’s Marquette County Fair), I’ve done poetry readings around the UP, I worked with Marquette’s Food Co-op to create an event called Eat this Poem based on Pablo Neruda’s food odes, and I partnered with Ore Dock Brewing Company in Marquette to start a monthly reading series called Bards and Brews.

Many people think of poetry as a dead art or an art that they just don’t understand, so I wanted to try to make poetry feel accessible and fun. Maybe you’re just out walking your dog and you see the Free Little Poetry Library and you take home a new poetry collection, or you’re just grabbing a beer at Ore Dock and people start reading poetry and you realize you really like it. Just having more opportunities for people to come into contact with poetry (and hopefully to fall in love with it) is really my goal.

And I have really appreciated the community support for my programs and activities. You never know when you organize an event if anyone is going to actually show up, so having 60 people come to a poetry reading at Ore Dock has just blown me away!

Debbie:  What will happen in 2017 when your tenure as U.P. Poet Laureate ends?

Andrea:  Hopefully the position just keeps growing! Russ Thorburn was the UP’s first Poet Laureate and he lay the foundation really strongly, so I just tried to keep growing it and making it more visible. So hopefully, whoever takes over in 2017 will do the same. It would be great to have some financial support for the position—I raised money for my programs by doing an Indiegogo campaign, but it would really be nice to have some financial backing from Michigan so that the new Poet Laureate can jump right into programming.

Debbie:  Sometimes people, even if they’re avid readers in other genres, are a little intimidated by poetry, and end up avoiding it even though they’d enjoy it if they tried it.  What advice do you have for folks who’d like to begin cultivating a poetry reading habit?

Andrea:  Start searching!

When people tell me they don’t like poetry, I always tell them that’s like saying you don’t like movies or you don’t like music. There are so many styles of poetry and so many different poets that if you don’t like one, you should just keep searching. And don’t feel like you have to understand everything about a poem the first time you read it—or that you have to spend 10 hours reading one poem in order to understand it. Most poetry definitely rewards slow and careful reading, but it’s also okay to read a poem once and move on.

In all honesty, I think we often do a disservice to poetry when we teach it. We tell students that there is one hidden meaning to a poem and ask them to search and search for that meaning. And sure, some poetry is written like a treasure hunt, but a lot of contemporary poetry especially is very accessible to the non-poetry reader, and doesn’t require any special sleuthing abilities.

So I would say: go to your local library or bookstore and just start browsing the poetry section. Pick up twenty books and read one or two poems in each until you find a writer you like. You can also start with some popular anthologies like The Best American Poetry series which comes out every year, or Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry which is incredibly diverse in terms of writers and content. I’m not always a huge anthology fan, but they are great in introducing you to a bunch of writers at one time so you’re sure to find at least one writer who strikes your fancy.

Debbie:  And what about first steps for cultivating a poetry writing habit?

Andrea:  Start writing!

Sometimes people think they have to wander around waiting for poetic inspiration to strike them, but the truth about writing is that you just have to start doing it. Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And I agree. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin: the more you do of one, the more (and better) you do of the other.

There are also some really great books out there with writing prompts, which I find very helpful when I need to find a new direction in my work or when I feel stuck. I have taught with The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux for years, but I also use it for myself when I need a writing prompt or refresher. So I would say, borrow or buy a poetry writing handbook, make an appointment with yourself to sit down at your desk, and start writing. Choose a poetry prompt, and see where it takes you. Also remember that your first poems are going to be terrible, and that’s okay. It’s like throwing out your first pancake. You have to write those first poems in order to get to the good stuff, so just keep going.

Debbie:  Please tell us a little more about life in the Upper Peninsula.  What are some of the best parts?  What are some of the hardest challenges?

Andrea:  For me, the best part about living in the UP is the natural beauty. This is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived! I love the hiking, the miles of running trails, the miles of beaches. And I have fallen in love with Lake Superior—it’s so interesting to watch through the different seasons, to see the really stormy days and the really calm days and everything in between. If you like to spend time outside, there’s no place better than the UP.

The biggest challenge for me is the UP’s isolation, especially in the winter. I really love the snow and the snowshoeing, but I have to admit that I get some serious cabin fever mid-March.

Debbie:  What are some common beliefs about the U.P. that aren’t actually true (and maybe a few that are!)?

Andrea:  Well, it’s definitely true that we have a lot of winter! But it’s also true that most people just continue on with their lives throughout the winter. Sure, we have to dig out our cars before we can drive anywhere, but we dig them out and continue on with our lives. And after having lived in the UP for six years now, I can feel pretty high-and-mighty when I see that other cities shut down with 2 inches of snow—the news up here barely even mentions a 2-inch snowfall.

In terms of beliefs about the UP that aren’t true: there are a lot of stereotypes about so-called “backwards” Yoopers that I find incredibly offensive. I won’t mention them because I don’t want so support their continuation in any way, but I will say that the best way to get to know the UP is to come up here and spend some time! I guarantee you will fall in love with some aspect of life up here.

Debbie:  Books change lives.  Tell us about one that changed yours.

Andrea:  Oh, there are so many. Special books definitely have the habit of coming into my life right when I need them. Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us is a poetry collection that changed my life in myriad ways—and it’s a book I reread at least once a year, always finding new moments of beauty or heartbreak, a new line that resonates with me, a new favorite image or moment. Reading Forché’s work helped me think about poetry in new ways, and the kinds of things that poetry can do and say, which was absolutely essential to my development as a poet.

When I was in high school, my doctor gave me Mary Oliver’s collection Dream Work, and that’s also a book that I return to again and again—“The Journey” is one of my all-time favorite poems to read when I need a morale boost. Even The Babysitter’s Club series was important to me at a particular time in my life—it showed me that families very different from my own existed in the world. My grandmother used to give me Agatha Christie novels too, and I loved disappearing into their world and trying to solve their mysteries.

Really, books have been such a huge part of my life for so long that I can’t remember living without them, so I’m certain they’ve shaped my life in ways I don’t even realize.

Debbie:  Current estimates (per something called the Global Language Monitor) put the number of words in the English language at 1,025,109.8.  Of all those wonderful words, what are a few of your favorites?  (Also, which word do you think counted as only .8 of a word?)

Andrea:  That’s another hard question because there are so many interesting, strange, wonderful words! I’m just starting to learn about birds, so I’m really into bird words right now: indigo bunting and arboreal and brood are all great words. And I love the word proper, although I hardly ever say it—its sounds are perfect and perfectly balanced. But there are so many words that I love.

And that .8 of a word is probably the or an—some tiny word that we use all the time.

Debbie:  Last question.  In our ongoing Michigander/Michiganian tally, are you still in the Michigander column?

Andrea:  Michigander for life.

Debbie:  Andrea, we'll put your tally mark in bold!  Thank you so much for returning today for another Michigander Monday interview!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Michigander Monday: Wendy BooydeGraaff

I'm pleased to welcome Wendy BooydeGraaff to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Wendy, please tell us a little about yourself.

Wendy:  I grew up making mud pies on a fruit farm in southern Ontario, and now live near Grand Rapids where I still play in the mud, except now I call it gardening.

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your book.

Wendy:  Salad Pie (illustrated by Bryan Langdo, published by Ripple Grove Press) is a picture book about friendship, imagination and the great outdoors. Contrary to what comes up when you google Salad Pie, there is no cooking involved, unless you count the pretend kind.

Maggie is determined to make her imaginary salad pie all by herself, because then she knows it will turn out just perfect. When Herbert appears, Maggie won’t let him join in…until she takes a tumble and Herbert saves the day, and Salad Pie.

Debbie:  Other books or projects on the horizon?

Wendy:  No news yet, but I do have several projects I am working on.

Debbie:  Upcoming appearances?

Wendy:  I am running a Goodreads giveaway soon, so if Salad Pie is on your shelf, you’ll get notified. And, I have an events page on www.wendybooydegraaff.com that I update regularly.

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Wendy:  My home store is Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, which has a huge used book section, a café (with outdoor seating) and an events studio for live music and author talks.

The Kentwood Library (part of KDL-Kent District Library) has always been my favourite library, even before they moved into their current space beside City Hall. They have weekly outdoor concerts in the summer, a farmer’s market every Saturday morning in June, July and August, a seed exchange, quiet meeting rooms, a huge kids’ area with a play city and, most importantly, their librarians are the friendliest around. Oh, and they also have books, lots of books. They even have several copies of my book, which they ordered all on their own before I had a chance to ask them to!

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Wendy:  I love Lake Michigan, anywhere along the shoreline. Last summer I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes for the first time and was blown away by the beauty of the endless sand and variegated blue water. I also love Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (the only LEED certified art museum in the world). All three places give me immense happiness and warm feelings.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Wendy:  Art Prize in September is my favourite Grand Rapids event. Along with art everywhere—on the streets, in building lobbies, on the Blue Bridge—there is also food everywhere. Great restaurants set up little booths outside and food trucks park in the B.O.B. parking lot.

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Wendy:  My critique group includes Dan Burns (who just won the Michigan SCBWI mentorship), Roxanne Henley (a fellow picture book writer), Amy Henrickson (who writes all about Michigan) and Katie Van Ark (YA author of The Boy Next Door). Each and every one of them are smart writers to watch, and whose work you will be seeing out there on the shelves more and more.

Debbie:  Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?

Wendy:  Michigan has great beauty, lots of artsy towns (Grand Rapids, Saugutuck, Ann Arbor, Detroit) and friendly people.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Wendy:  Well, I am an Ontarioian (yeah, try saying that out loud) but my kids are Michiganders, all the way.

Debbie:  Wendy, Ontarioian is fun to say!  Thank you for joining us today for Michigander  Ontarioian Monday!

Wendy BooydeGraaff knows picture books are for everyone and thinks people shouldn’t stare at her when she walks out of the library with armloads of them. She is the author of SALAD PIE (illustrated by Bryan Langdo, published by Ripple Grove Press, 2016) and now lives in Michigan, though she honourably imports every u she can find from her Canadian childhood. You can find out more at her website, and you can read about many other new picture books at On the Scene in 2016, a picture book debut blog. She’d also love to connect with you on Pinterest or Goodreads.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mama-kisses always come find you!

Not to give away the ending or anything, but that's the theme of my newest picture book, Catch a Kiss.

No matter how far they have to go,
no matter what they have to get through,
and even if they get lost along the way,
Mama-kisses ALWAYS come find you.



Published by Sleeping Bear Press and illustrated beautifully by the talented Kris Aro McLeod, Catch a Kiss is available now at your favorite bookseller.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Upcoming Appearances

I have two library story times coming up next week, both of which include a visit from the costumed Pout-Pout Fish!

One is at the Delta Township District Library on March 9, 2016.

The other is at CADL Downtown on March 10, 2016.

I'll also be a guest speaker at A Rally of Writers on April 9, 2016 (but without the costumed Pout-Pout Fish).

Head over to my web site Event Calendar for more details.

Also, the costumed Mr. Fish will have several Lansing area appearances in March that I won't be present for. For a list of these Pout-Pout Fish character appearances, click here (link is to a brochure on the Early Childhood Literacy Coalition's Facebook page).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

If there were a law against blog neglect, I'd probably be in jail by now...

My poor dusty blog!!

I haven't been here for quite a while, and it's been even longer than that since I've posted a Michigander Monday profile.  It will probably be until spring before the Michigander Monday feature returns.

But rest assured, around the time the snow melts (or thereabouts), Michigander Monday will resume, as will (semi-)regular postings by me.

Until then, a few news tidbits:

The newest addition to The Pout-Pout Fish series is the mini-adventure Kiss, Kiss, Pout-Pout Fish.  It came out in December, so you can currently find it on the shelves of your favorite library or bookstore. As you might have gathered from the title, it's a short but sweet story -- only 12 pages long, but full of ways to express love. Fun to read on any day, and perfect for Valentine's Day.

Arriving this May will be The Pout-Pout Fish Giant Sticker Book. Full of stickers. Lots of them!

In non-fish publication news, in April I will have a new picture book out called Catch a Kiss, illustrated by Kris Aro McLeod.  I'll share the cover for that very soon.

In the meantime, thank you for stopping by my blog, despite its currently neglected status. I look forward to sharing more regular postings with you in the very near future.  Smooch-smooch!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Event Cancellation: Nov. 22 B&N Flint Story Time Cancelled

I've been thoroughly enjoying my school visits and bookstore visits this past week.  Unfortunately, due to weather and travel issues, I've had to cancel the story time scheduled for Sunday, November 22, 2015 at the Flint Barnes and Noble.  My apologies!  If you had planned to come to it to get a book signed, please contact me directly and we'll figure something out.  Thanks!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Tour, Day 6: Georgia

This blog post, like the others during my Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish book tour, is posting automatically, as I'm not sure how much opportunity I'll have during the tour to log on and blog.  But I'm hoping that you'll participate in making the post feel more lively by commenting.  I'd like to make these posts fun and educational (especially for classrooms following my travels) via the comments.  Thank you!!

Today I'm scheduled to appear at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA.  Hope to see you there!  (Be sure to confirm event details with the bookstore before attending, just in case of any last minute schedule adjustments due to travel delays.)

One of the best parts about traveling is learning, and I'd love to know more about Georgia.

In the comments, please tell me (and the rest of this blog's readers) something interesting about Georgia (the state as a whole, or specific locations; bits of history, culture, trivia -- anything interesting).  Or, if you're wondering something about Georgia, ask!  I'll bet we can find an answer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Tour, Day 5: Florida

This blog post, like the others during my Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish book tour, is posting automatically, as I'm not sure how much opportunity I'll have during the tour to log on and blog.  But I'm hoping that you'll participate in making the post feel more lively by commenting.  I'd like to make these posts fun and educational (especially for classrooms following my travels) via the comments.  Thank you!!

Today I'm scheduled to appear at Vero Beach Book Center in Vero Beach, FL.  Hope to see you there!  (Be sure to confirm event details with the bookstore before attending, just in case of any last minute schedule adjustments due to travel delays.)

One of the best parts about traveling is learning, and I'd love to know more about Florida.

In the comments, please tell me (and the rest of this blog's readers) something about Florida (the state as a whole, or specific locations; bits of history, culture, trivia -- anything interesting).  Or, if you're wondering something about Florida, ask!  I'll bet we can find an answer.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Tour, Day 3: North Carolina

This blog post, like the others during my Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish book tour, is posting automatically, as I'm not sure how much opportunity I'll have during the tour to log on and blog.  But I'm hoping that you'll participate in making the post feel more lively by commenting.  I'd like to make these posts fun and educational (especially for classrooms following my travels) via the comments.  Thank you!!

Today I'll be at Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC.  Hope to see you there!  (Be sure to confirm event details with the bookstore before attending, just in case of any last minute schedule adjustments due to travel delays.)

One of the best parts about traveling is learning, and I'd love to know more about North Carolina.

In the comments, please tell me (and the rest of this blog's readers) something about North Carolina (the state as a whole, or specific locations; bits of history, culture, trivia -- anything interesting).  Or, if you're wondering something about North Carolina, ask!  I'll bet we can find an answer.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Tour, Day 1: Mississippi

This blog post, like the others during my Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish book tour, is posting automatically, as I'm not sure how much opportunity I'll have during the tour to log on and blog.  But I'm hoping that you'll participate in making the post feel more lively by commenting.  I'd like to make these posts fun and educational (especially for classrooms following my travels) via the comments.  Thank you!!

Today I'm scheduled to appear at Square Books in Oxford, MS.  Hope to see you there!  (Be sure to confirm event details with the bookstore before attending, just in case of any last minute schedule adjustments due to travel delays.)

One of the best parts about traveling is learning, and I'd love to know more about Mississippi

In the comments, please tell me (and the rest of this blog's readers) something about Mississippi (the state as a whole, or specific locations; bits of history, culture, trivia -- anything interesting).  Or, if you're wondering something about Mississippi, ask!  I'll bet we can find an answer.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Easy gifts for kids to make

One of the themes of the new Pout-Pout Fish book, The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish, is that gifts don't have to be flashy or expensive.  The best gifts of all come straight from the heart!

Kids love to make and give gifts.  All they need is a little help and encouragement.  If you're in search of ideas for presents that you and your kids can handmake together, I've gathered a few suggestions to get you started over on my Pinterest board.  Stop by and take a look!

And feel free to suggest other ideas for the board.  I'll be adding to the board on an ongoing basis.