Poetry Month 2012: Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Today I’m excited to present a poet who has been trampling through the hay with her Icelandic sheep for, oh, about a week now, just so she could share this video with us. I continue to be amazed and delighted by the gung-ho attitude of all these wonderful and funny poets.
(And if you’ve ever wondered why I make us all stand out in the woods, I explain it here.)
Now look at these sheep! Look closely, because these guys and gals inspired the poem you are about to hear. What do you think it will be about?
If you guessed “the migrating habits of tree frogs,” you would be wrong. No matter, because we’ve got just the poet to clear up the mystery.
So let’s get BAA-ck to the poetry!
Amy’s work appears in many Lee Bennett Hopkins anthologies, including his recently released Nasty Bugs, as well as in the e-anthology PoetryTagTime selected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. And as we speak, Amy is patiently awaiting the release of her first two books of poetry, Forest Has a Song (2013) and Reading Time. Not at all a slacker, Amy spends her spare time writing even more poetry for her blog The Poem Farm, where she is currently poetizing her way through a Dictionary Hike, leaving a delicious trail of words behind her…
…and today she brings us her poem
“Spring Sheep”[column size=”1-2″]
Make me naked.
It’s awfully hot
I’m full of wool
but I’ll feel better
once I’m not
a walking sweater.
Give my coat
to bird and nest.
a cozy vest.
My fleece is yours
to card and spin.
get your shears.
Not enough sheep for ya? Amy’s got some more at the farm, and they’re not baa-ad at all!
[heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater[/heading]
What’s Up with Amy
Amy: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I live on Heart Rock Farm in Holland, New York, and am a wife, a mom, a writing teacher, and a person who has loved words ever since I was a little girl when my mother would load up my sister and me with library books each week. I remember writing a poem about mothers in Mr. Fron’s sixth grade class. He let us mount our poems on construction paper, he hung them in the hall, and I never forgot that. “Mothers” is still tucked inside my baby book.
I began writing regularly about 13 years ago, and I have been fortunate to have Lee Bennett Hopkins as my generous mentor. Lee teaches me about eliminating extra words, tightening ideas, and knowing when to push and when to praise. I draw on Lee’s “tough love” voice when I mother, confer with children, and work with teachers.
Your sheep seem downright desperate to get down to their skivvies! Did the idea for this poem come to you while you were sweating to the oldies in a cable-knit sweater?
Hee hee! No, it actually came from thinking about spring and sheep and how hot it must get inside those coats. Our Icelandics grow very woolly fleeces, and when springtime comes, we can actually peel the wool from their bodies. This is called “rooing,” and it’s so surprising to strip a sheep down to its skin by rolling the wool back and away. Icelandics have the longest wool of all sheep, and when it’s gone they are truly naked! (Eek! But I think roo is my new favorite word, I do!)
Keeping notebooks has taught me that our whole world is one big nest of ideas. Anything I see or wonder about, anything that elicits a sigh or a giggle makes me think, “Ooh! I could write about that.” And often I begin writing with no idea of what will fill the page. Again and again, I am enchanted when ideas come from simple work. Sometimes I think, “Now where did THAT idea come from?” I love tracing the family tree of a poem; it’s like following the pieces of a dream back through waking hours.
You’ve written two books of poetry, Forest Has a Song (Clarion), due out in 2013, and Reading Time (WordSong), date TBA. Will there be more animals in their birthday suits in those books? And how long did it take you to trample the path to publication?
Forest does include some animals as the book is a journey through the woods that includes visits to a chickadee, a deer, a cardinal, a spider, a squirrel, and a woodpecker. But the animals in this book all keep their fur and feathers on!
Reading is not an animal book, but there are a few mentions of animals such as in “Book Dog,” a poem about an animal-loving but petless child who adores the dog in the book she reads.
My publication story begins with many of Lee’s anthologies and the sale of Forest several years ago. The long book-wait inspired me to begin my blog The Poem Farm as a way to connect with children and teachers and other writers. So while I was at first sorry that Forest was taking so long, I am now glad it happened that way. For 365 days in a row, I wrote and published a new poem and lesson each day at The Poem Farm, and I was forever changed by that year. Had Forest been published quickly, I never would have taken on such a writing adventure!
Reading Time just sold this past February, so I am in the early stages of discovering what twists and turns its life will take. It’s fun to watch one’s little poems grow up into books…it feels like being a mom all over again!
What is your favorite part about being a children’s writer, other than denuding sweaty sheep?
I am thankful that writing for children has allowed me to stay friends with the little-girl-me. I once read that every person has an internal age that s/he feels and stays forever. For me, this age is seven years old. Reading others’ poems and working with children is a great inspiration and gift.
Ooh, I like that about the internal age! I’ve been twenty-eight for almost two decades now, and I feel great!
Now for some super-serious questions…(seriously)
Do you have formal training in writing poetry, or are you just a natural?
I always loved reading poetry, and I took one poetry class in college. Our professor, Wes Kennison, told us, “To really see a forest, take a young child with you. The young child will point out everything you miss.” I still carry those words. In graduate school, I studied poetry with Susan Pliner where we wrote a poem each week, shared in community, and studied poets. This touched me deeply.
In 2001, I attended a Highlights Foundation workshop with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and the exercises and wise guidance she gave us sing on. I return to these great teachers in my mind, listening again and again to their counsel and encouragement.
As I mentioned before, Lee Bennett Hopkins continues to help me strengthen my writing. He taught me to revise and reread and care about every single word.
Every time we read good poems, we train our ears. I learn to write by reading and trying on others’ techniques. It is a lot like playing dress up.
What is your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
Fall in love with the world and with people. Unplug from TV and video games and the Internet. (Our family does not have a television.) Get outside and fill your heart and soul with as many sounds and tastes and smells and questions and feelings and curiosities as you can. The most important work we can do as writers is to live full and generous lives. Lie under a tree and close your eyes. Listen to old people; they have much to teach us. Protect your mind and heart from things that deaden you and make you unkind. Give and let others give to you. Tell and listen to stories, and let these stories stir you. Be good to your poems and take care to know when they need help and when they need adoration.
What’s your best advice for poets who want to get their poetry published (other than don’t bother)?
Keep at it. Getting published is a completely different job than writing poetry. You must keep your poet-self safe so that s/he will keep writing. But you must develop a business mind too. If you send work out and it is rejected, be ready to say, “Oh, good! Another rejection! That means I’m closer to getting published!” This only works, however, if you are mindfully always developing your craft, working to lift the level of your writing, stretching and working and acting as your own kindly demanding reader.
If you could recommend that children read one book of children’s poetry, or one children’s poet in particular, which or whom would it be?
I cannot do this, for each voice offers something new. I will say this: read your favorite poems aloud. Reading aloud etches rhythms into our bloodstream, and those rhythms come back to us when we write. And don’t lose sight of poets who are no longer living. David McCord, for example, can teach you how to write forever…but you must find his delightful out-of-print books on your own.
Finally, Amy, can we come visit you and peruse your wares? (Online, of course, not at your house! Unless you plan on knitting us ski sweaters, in which case we’ll send our neck sizes and stop by to pick up our order. But put those nekkid sheep in the barn, for heaven’s sake!)
Well, you are welcome to come and visit our home and see the sheep! We could knit together. Or we could make cider or stomp around in the creek and find salamanders. (Yay-iss!) I will make you some green tea, and you can take a cat home if you like. (Double yay-iss!) If you don’t live ‘round these parts, you may come and visit me at these online spots:
Amy, it has been such a pleasure getting to know you and your work. Thank you so much for rounding up the sheep and adding “Spring Sheep” to the video library here at No Water River. I hope it becomes a great resource for kids and teachers, and I appreciate your taking the time to be a part of it.
Thank you, Renee, for this chance to visit you at the beautiful No Water River. I love that both our blogs describe places in nature! (Tree huggers, unite!)
[heading style=”1″]More Stuff About Amy[/heading]
- Amy’s complete bio
- Follow Amy’s Dictionary Hike
- Learn about Amy’s workshops for teachers and parents and school visits
- Read Amy’s essay on poetry and structure
[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “Spring Sheep”[/heading]
- The first stop should by Amy’s Poem Farm, where she includes notes to students on all of her poems. These notes often talk about where she got the idea for the poem and what type of poem it is, and offer an exercise for students from listening to observing to writing. Every day is a fun lesson at Amy’s place!
- The Icelandic Sheep Breeders of North America provide everything you ever wanted to know about Icelandic sheep — great for reports or for preparing a lesson plan — while A-Z Animals offers sheep facts geared toward younger kids.
- Scholastic has a fun Baa Baa Black Sheep lesson plan based on Iza Trapani‘s book of the same name, adaptable for Pre-K through Grade 3.
- The Inadvertant Farmer has an adorable yarn sheep craft that just about any kid should be able to do, and of course Artists Helping Children has dozens of craft ideas for sheep, lambs, and rams using cotton, yarn, popcorn, marshmallows, and more. Get some sheep coloring pages and printables at Activity Village.
- Kids will have fun in the kitchen with cauliflower sheep (video) for lunch and marshmallow sheep cupcakes for dessert.
- The BBC has produced a video showing the process from fleece to wool, with ideas for classroom use.
[heading style=”1″]Coming Up Next![/heading]
LAURA PURDIE SALAS
will entertain us on Monday the 9th!
Here’s the whole schedule:
April 2 ~ Kenn Nesbitt
April 6 ~ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
April 9 ~ Laura Purdie Salas
April 13 ~ Deborah Diesen
April 16 ~ Greg Pincus
April 18 ~ Charles Waters
April 20 ~ Irene Latham
April 23 ~ Julie Larios
April 27 ~ Lee Wardlaw
April 30 ~ J. Patrick Lewis
Video Location: Sheep territory, Heart Rock Farm, Holland, NY.See more poems in my poetry video library. “Spring Sheep” copyright © 2012 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.