First, you may know Allan Wolf, author, poet, performer, and educator who lives in North Carolina and travels around the country (collecting hotel toiletries and) presenting poetry to audiences of all ages. He was the educational director for Poetry Alive for many years and is one of the driving forces behind that national Poetry Slam movement. He's the author of several books including the historical novels in verse, New Found Land and The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, as well as More Than Friends: Poems from Him and Her (with Sara Holbrook) and Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet's Life. His book, The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts, is one of my favorites and the main reason I thought of pairing him with Leslie since both have books of poetry about the human body-- a rare and special treat!
Leslie Bulion is from Long Island and graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biology and society and became a social worker. She has also attended the University of Rhode Island and received an M.S. in Oceanography and Southern Connecticut State University receiving a Masters in Social Work. Her first children’s book, Fatuma’s New Cloth was inspired by her family’s travels in Africa and received the 2003 Children’s Africana Book Award. Her books of poetry include Hey There, Stink Bug; At the Sea Floor Café; Odd Ocean Critter Poems, and her latest, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse.
Allan kicks things off right away:
Allan: First off, Leslie, I must get a little bit “fanboy” on you and tell you that I love your latest collection of poems, Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse. I mean, honestly, you had me from “borborygmus.” (For those of you who have been living under a rock, borborygmus—bor/bor/RIG/mus—is the growling sound made by your stomach and intestines as they digest your food.)
Random Body Parts is what I’d call “anacomically correct.” That is to say, the poems are not just funny, they are also accurate and informative. Your book is obviously well researched, requiring you to transform “informational text” into “literary text.” Do you find it difficult to transform real facts into fantastical verse? How do you find the right balance between accuracy and entertainment?
Leslie: Incredibly kind words coming from the poet who penned The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts, Allan--thank you! And the credit for "borborygmus" goes to my friend, author-illustrator Deborah Freedman (newest: By Mouse and Frog) who bestowed that borbor-gorgeous word upon me in early days of Random Body Parts--a gift she knew would be fully appreciated. Speaking of fabulous phrases, I'm adopting "anacomically correct" as the official Random Body Parts tagline.
Allan: Question Two:
Random Body Parts combines poetry, prose, riddles, diagrams and pictures. It also includes extensive back matter including a glossary of anatomy terms, a bibliography, and detailed notes on the various poetic forms you’ve included: sonnets, haikus, cinquains, and double dactyls to name a few. And if that isn’t enough, each of the book’s poems also has some intentional connection to William Shakespeare!
Do you think children’s poetry books today are expected to “do” more, and “be” more, than poetry books of the past?
Allan: Question Three (or is this four questions in one?):You are also the author of middle grade novels. Can you move from one discipline to the other fluidly? Or is it more complicated? What can poetry do that prose cannot? When do you feel like poetry is the perfect tool for the writing task at hand?
Leslie: I am something of a logical-sequential type. My preference is NOT to multi-task; I like to start one job and work to its completion. I do not work on a novel in the morning and write poems in the afternoon--my gears won't switch like that. For me, writing a novel is immersive. I have a difficult time picking up my writing flow after vacation or Thanksgiving--lots of rereading and wheel-spinning. But life does intervene; I've (mostly) learned to expect it. I try not to worry overmuch as I work my way back into the heads, hearts and voices of my characters.
When I'm researching a poetry collection, that experience tends to be somewhat immersive too, because I'm trying to assimilate a body of knowledge--the big picture. I need a lot of background information to help me shape my approach and subsequent selections for individual poem subjects. Once my research is mostly done, working on a poetry collection is a bit more forgiving in terms of dealing with interruptions. If I've internalized the big idea, I can break between poems, then resume without losing too much ground.
Sylvia: Thank you both, Allan and Leslie, for engaging in this entertaining AND enlightening back-and-forth dialogue!
UPDATE: Here's a link to a teacher's guide for Random Body Parts!
Now join the Poetry Friday gathering over at Author Amok hosted by Laura this week.
And don't miss the March Madness fun over at ThinkKidThink where poets are rising to the challenge of a poetry tournament!
Image credits: Amazon, Flickr, Leslie Bulion, Peachtree, Allan Wolf