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Monday, May 8, 2017

Festival Hopping

      There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when attending festivals three weekends in a row, meant something entirely different than it does now. I haven't written a blog post in a while because I have been so busy attending festivals!

      The first was the annual conference of the New England chapter of SCBWI. Though I've been a member for a few years I had not been able to attend before and I had heard from many writers that it is a conference that really pays off. So I splurged and hopped into the car of friend and Maine author Terry Farish to spend the weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is a huge conference and it is wonderful to spend time with the visual artists as well as writers who descend upon the city. I met so many interesting people I hope to stay in touch with. The dinner conversation I had with one writer whose mother escaped Auschwitz and made it to America will stay with me forever. It was especially helpful to meet and work with others, especially Jeannine Atkins, who write novels in verse, as that is the focus of my work these days. Meeting Jane Yolen was a thrill, of course, but the biggest surprise for me was how inspired I was by another Maine artist, Melissa Sweet. Her keynote presentation was one of the best I've heard in a long time. Barry Lyga gave a great speech too, and I will remember his admonishment to "take the risk" (and the one about ignoring the unsupportive father!). I've been querying up a storm to conference contacts since.

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      The next weekend brought me to the Newburyport Literary Festival which I have been attending for years. It is an excellent and affordable conference in a little city that I love to visit. Except for the unnecessarily long wait in the hot sun to get in to see Jeff Kinney, I was glad I went. I heard another talk given by Melissa Sweet (I really am a big fan now!)
      I loved how she talked about writing up for children, not down, and how she looks for one keyword that serves as an anchor for the art she creates for each page or spread. I intend to track down the essay she mentioned EB White wrote before Charlotte's Web called The Death of A Pig. Here is an example of Melissa's work from Some Writer. She told us all about the many decisions that went into this page and it was fascinating. This book is marketed to children ages 7 to 10 and I have shared it with that age group but it is a great read for adults too.

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     It became downright strange that I kept driving from Maine to Massachusetts to meet exceptional writers from Maine. I haven't read Monica Wood's work yet, but I am looking forward to it. The Portland Phoenix just named her both Maine's best Miane author and best Maine playwright. She gave a fun reading and talk that kept her audience laughing. I felt a silly kinship with her in that we had both been writing about characters named Ona for the last few years.

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     And lastly, I attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, another that I have been going to for years, and that is always worthwhile. My first workshop was titled the Poetry and Healing Venue which I will post about on the @Prickly Pear Poetry Project Facebook page.
      In Beyond Giggles: Writing Children's Poetry I picked up a few tips and a bunch of picture book recommendations. Did you know that words that begin with P and K are considered the funniest?  I thought that was plum kooky!
      Meeting Springfield Poet Laureate Maria Louisa Arroyo is going to stay with me for a long time as will her lessons about authenticity in voice. She uses a prompt with children and new American readers in her work that I am sure I will now use in mine; "Tell me the story of your name." I hope I get to work with Maria more in the future, and in the meantime will keep re-working the poem I wrote in her workshop.
     My last panel, called History's Inspiration: Poetry out of the Past, was such an interest to me as much of my work the last year has been poetry created out of the past. Last night when I got home I read Sarah Sousa's book The Diary of Esther Small in one sitting (another Maine connection, but an oh-so-sad one!). I can barely wait for Ellen Dore Watson's next book to come out - her reading was such a teaser!
     I'll close by sharing one of headliner Louise Gluck's poems, something to savor over multiple readings and maybe a warm cup of an earthy tea.
      Thanks to the hundreds of people that put in so much work to make me a better writer these last three weeks.

     The final stanza of Gluck's Afterword speaks to me, writing about what was, for what may be.

Shall I be raised from death, the spirit asks.
And the sun says yes.
And the desert answers
your voice is sand scattered in wind.

1 comment:

  1. That is a lot of richness -- we make it through the winter, and these April-May weeks can be so packed. I've loved the Mass. Poetry Festival, but have had other places I've needed to be the past 2 years. So glad to glimpse you at the NESCBWI conference, and glad you were inspired. I love Melissa Sweet's work, and her talk - her method of being attentive and finding the right detail speaks to me, too, of what we need writing historical verse.


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