Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview with poet Marilyn Singer

One of my happy surprises at BEA two months ago was to find myself in front of poet Marilyn Singer in a signing line (for James Howe's wonderful Brontorina). Marilyn is a prolific writer of varied children's poetry, and I'd already posted here about how impressed I was at her work with reversos, or poems that say one thing when read forwards and another when read backwards, in Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse. I was delighted to strike up a conversation with her, and even more delighted when she agreed to an interview.

What came first, the idea of reversible verse or the idea to write a poetry collection about fairy tales? Is there something about fairy tales that makes them lend themselves to reversible verse for you? Do you think it would work for all stories? For topics other than stories?
The idea for MIRROR, MIRROR started with the reversos.  I wrote a poem about my cat, which is in the back matter of the book, and then I wondered if I could do more reversible verse.  I wrote a bunch of poems.  Not all of them were based on fairy tales, but quite a few were.  An editor who saw the poems suggested that I do a whole book of fairy tale reversos.  I thought that was a great idea because of the there is generally more than one POV in a fairy tale and also because these stories are known and loved by lots of people.  I also thought that the book would encourage folks to read the original tales and maybe come up their unique ways of interpreting them.
I think that many fairy tales, fables, myths, novels, plays, etc. are good fodder for reversos, and, yes, I think that other topics as well can also work.  The trick is that when you reverse the verse, the second poem has to say something different.  I've read some very good attempts at reversos, but many fail to have say something in that second poem which is different from the first. 
Your bibliography includes poetry on a pretty wide range of topics, from a contemporary school year to various elements of nature. What makes you decide to write about a particular topic?
I'm interested in a lot of stuff, so if I get REALLY , REALLY interested, then I often want to write about that topic.  It's pretty much as simple--or as complicated--as that.  I especially love animals and nature, so I write about those things a lot.  But people and their foibles also interest me, as do monsters, school, travel, dancing, the moon, and a host of other things. 
When you write a collection of poems, how detailed are your plans for the collection before you get started? Do you know everything it will include, or do ideas develop as you go along? (Or is it some combination?)
Oh, my!  I NEVER know everything a collection will include.  These days, it's hard to sell a poetry manuscript that's not thematic.  Sometimes I come up with the theme first.  Other times, I start writing poems and see if a theme emerges.  I don't feel comfortable believing that I have the makings of a collection unless I've written a minimum of five or six poems.  Once I do come up with a theme, I write poems on it.  Then once the collection has been accepted for publication, I write MORE poems (usually to replace ones that don't really work).  So, by that time, I do know what the book is about, but I still don't necessarily know all the poems that will make the final cut or that have yet to be written. 

What's next? You've mentioned a second Mirror, Mirror-style volume using more fairy tales. How's that going, and have you come up with a second title as perfect as Mirror, Mirror? (I'm really curious!) Any other projects in the works?
Yes, I'm hard at work on another collection of reversos based on more fairy tales.  I think it's going well.  I hope my editor agrees.  ;-)  No title yet.  The title MIRROR, MIRROR was the very last thing that we came up with (I say "we" because titles are generally agreed on by author, editor, marketing, and other folks), after all the poems were finished.  The title is often the last thing that the author and publisher come up with.
I am working on many other projects, including more poetry, nonfiction, and picture books.  In the next few years, I have a slew of coming out, including three picture books about Tallulah, a little girl in ballet class; another picture book called WHAT IS YOUR DOG DOING?; a nonfiction book, CATERPILLARS; and several more poetry books, such as TWOSOMES:  Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom;  A FULL MOON IS RISING (a lyrical trip around the world following the full moon);  A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING (poems about everyday play); THE BOY WHO CRIED ALIEN (a science fiction story in poems); HOLIDAYS FOR DOGS (real and made-up holidays that dogs celebrate); THE SUPERHEROES EMPLOYMENT AGENCY (made-up superheroes).  Time to take a vacation!

Thanks, Marilyn! I can't wait to read your upcoming works, titled and untitled alike.

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