¡Hola! from the biennial YALSA Symposium (sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association) currently wrapping up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was honored to host a presentation here that included a panel of five fantastic poets who write wonderful works for young adult audiences. This included our focus poet Pat Mora, as well as Jen Bryant, Ann Burg, Margarita Engle, and April Halprin Wayland. (Betsy Franco had hoped to be part of our panel, but had to be in NYC to act in her son, James Franco's movie! Cool, huh?)
The Symposium theme asks, “Does today's young adult literature reflect the many different faces, beliefs and identities of today's teens?” And I would argue YES, that poetry for teens, in particular, reflects great diversity in both form and content, from art-based anthologies to novels-in-verse, by mainstream poets, as well as poets of color. It also offers an invitation to and model of self-expression that is especially appealing to readers in their teen years.
Since this Symposium is a smaller, more intimate gathering of some of the most cutting-edge YA librarians, we tried something a little different with our session. We spent half the session on a kind of pre-planned Q&A or mock interview, and half the session on a somewhat pre-planned “poetry improv.”
POETRY Q & A
Here are the questions I gave our poets (in advance). Some answered one question, some another, some piggy-backed on each other’s responses.
• What were you like as a teenager?
• If you were to build a poetry timeline of your life, which poems, poetry books or poets most influenced you at which points in your life?
• Describe your poem writing process. What is your favorite writing place like?
• How do you know if you are writing a poem collection vs. a novel in verse? Why do you choose or prefer one format over the other?
• If you were to pair your poetry with music, what music would you choose? With a movie? (An individual book or your body of work)
• Tell us about the teens in your life. About teens who have responded to your work.
• What are you reading right now? Writing right now? Listening to right now?
If you’re working with teens, these questions could be helpful as they reach out to their favorite poets or as they respond to favorite works of poetry or as they attempt their own poem writing.
POETRY IMPROV PROMPTS
Next, we had a poetry reading. I had the following prompts printed on individual slips of paper all jumbled in a jar and invited audience members to draw randomly from this selection of topics. The poets were then invited to share one of their poems (or novel-in-verse excerpts) that fit that topic in some way. Sometimes the topic connected with several poets and poems, sometimes only one. Sometimes one poem prompted another poem.
• School sucks
• The perfect Christmas gift
• An awkward first date
• My parents always argue
• What am I good at?
• My best friend “gets” me
• No one “gets” me
• The future scares me
• I feel so alone
• I love to laugh
• I wish I could be a little kid again
• My current Facebook status
• My secret hope
• Girls have it so much easier
• Boys have it so much easier
• The struggle continues
• My heart is aching
• I wish I were free
• How can I go on?
• My family
This session was a hit, if I do say so myself, and the response was so positive. The poets did a terrific job—interacting easily with one another, sharing honestly about their work, their process, even their failures, and giving us moving poetry readings to take home with us. Pat shared the musical structure that emerged in creating the poetry for Dizzy in Your Eyes. Margarita revealed the new writing life that emerged when she injured both wrists in a zipline accident in Costa Rica. Ann bravely shared from a manuscript that she decided should NOT be published. Jen openly discussed the phases of her process and the tactile way she interacts with poetry. April shared her daily poetry writing discipline and the serendipitous discoveries along the way. We were all completely absorbed!
I was so pleased that YALSA included so much poetry on the docket of presentations and that our session, in particular, could offer such an amazing range of voices, with Pat Mora and Margarita Engle who channel their cultures in unique and universal ways, Jen Bryant and Ann Burg who create masterful historical novels-in-verse, and April Halprin Wayland who offers a visually graphic poem compilation. The audience learned about the variety of teen poetry available today, about the poets who create it, heard it read aloud, experienced creative ways to promote poetry with teen audiences, and left with a list of the best new poetry for teens.
Thanks to these marvelous poets for their whole-hearted participation and preparation and again to the publishers who supported this session: Tracy Lerner & Random House, Tim Jones & now Lucy Del Priore & Henry Holt/Macmillan, Jenny Choy & Candlewick, Stephanie Nooney and John Mason & Scholastic-- for bringing these poets to Albuquerque for the Symposium.