Friday, February 19, 2016

Just Listen

Howdy, Campers!  

Happy Poetry Friday!  The link to PF and my own poem are below.

Our new topic, beginning today, is Reading Aloud, because World Read Aloud Day is on February 24th and Read Across America is on March 2nd. And to round that out, check out StoryCorps' National Day of Listening.

One of my cherished memories of reading aloud was when my poetry teacher, Myra Cohn Livingston read poetry to us for long stretches of time. Nothing was expected of us. We’d simply lean back, listen, luxuriate in each word.

Myra taught me to read every poem aloud twice: first to hear it, then to feel it.

As I began thinking about reading aloud, I remembered how, many years ago, my friend Erica Silverman used listening to learn the craft of writing children's books.

Now Erica is a multi-multi-award winning author of  over twenty children's books, including Raisel's Riddle, Don't Fidget a Feather, Liberty's Voice - The Story of Emma Lazarus, When the Chickens Went on Strike, Big Pumpkin, the Cowboy Kate and Cocoa series, and the newest in her Lana's World series, Let's Have a Parade. (See this page of her website for all Erica's books.)

When I asked Erica how listening helps her write, she wrote:

Long ago, when I started writing picture books, cassette recorders were large and clunky. Tape wore out or broke. But I took my cassette recorder with me in the car. There it sat, on the passenger seat, ready to catch my barely-baked ideas as they came bumbling out. There it sat, ready to play back my rambling mass of words, the start of a long process of revision.

This was safer than putting pen to paper while driving (should writers even be issued drivers licenses?) But I realized that blathering into a tape recorder was not just for road trips. Turned out it was a useful way to tiptoe past the gauntlet of sneering critics that gather at my blank page daily, waiting to pounce.

And what a great learning device! When I discover a great picture book or early reader, I record it. And then I listen over and over - for rhythm, language, pacing. To catch the magic, to ponder what works.

My ancient cassette recorder is retired now. But the voice recorder on my iPhone is with me always, ready to catch my barely-baked ideas as they come bumbling out.

What terrific ideas.  I particularly love the idea of recording picture books and then listening to them as you drive. Thank you, Erica! (Perhaps those self-driving cars were created with writers in mind...?)

I used the word "listen" as a prompt for Poetry Friday:

by April Halprin Wayland 

Don't listen to them, said the anteater.
There's no use worrying about Jaguar.
There's no use working yourself into a lather
About what Jaguar will do to you.

Place your ants in neat rows.
Push the recalcitrant ones in line with a stick.
Stuff moss in both your ears.
Don't listen to their many-legged chatter about Jaguar.

It's Man
You need to worry about.

drawing and poem (c) 2016 by April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

And thank you, Donna, at Mainely Write, for hosting today!

And one more thing, Campers: consider liking our Facebook page. We'd love you to join us!

written with frost-bitten ears by April Halprin Wayland, from New York City after the SCBWI Winter Conference


Donna Smith said...

I've captured my words with my iPhone while our for a drive, but the tape recorder would work better for that when driving. The phone takes too much attention! Make sure you pull over to do that! I'd love a "one push button don't' have to look" recorder. They should make cars equipped just for writers!
This was a great interview. Thanks for sharing it. Also a great view into the conversations of ants and anteaters!

Irene Latham said...

I've often typed out picture books that I particularly admire to see their structure and beauty, but I haven't thought about reading them aloud, so thank you, April with the frostbitten ears! So many ways to learn and to celebrate words. xo

Penny Parker Klostermann said...

I LOVE the idea of reading picture books into my iPhone and listening to them. I don't know why I haven't thought of this because I paste my own manuscripts into iPhone Notes and then ask Siri to read my notes. As monotone as Siri is :-), she has helped me with many a revision. She helps me hear meter in my rhyming manuscripts. She helps me note where pacing is off in prose and places where my words are dull. Now I can't wait to record my favorite picture books—the ones with perfect pacing and magical meter! This will be a whole new way of absorbing and learning.

Thanks to Erica and thanks to you for posting this tidbit and sharing your "listen" poem.

Carmela Martino said...

Love this post, April. And the last two lines of your poem pack a real punch!

Linda B said...

Love this post with the ideas for "listening" April, & reading more in the comments, too. And your poem's surprise at the end is wonderful. Thanks for all!

Doraine said...

I almost always take my phone with e when I'm walking, just so I can remember all those extraordinary poems I invented in rhythm with my feet! They are often like the ones you dream at night, but at least this way you can tell for sure in the light of day.

CS Perryess said...

I agree that listening to language is instrumental in developing an ear for it. Sometimes transferring that ear into one's fingers can be tricky, but challenges are a good thing. Also, were they to read your poem, anteaters & other species all over the world would nod their furry, scaled or feathered heads and say the equivalent of, "Ain't that the truth."

Bridget Magee said...

So much goodness in this post, April. I'm going to keep MCL advice in mind "read every poem aloud twice: first to hear it, then to feel it". =)

Caroline McAlister said...

I am going to try to read some picture books out loud and record them. Great idea!

Anonymous said...

Such wise advice! I often have to sit in my car for a few minutes when I arrive at work to jot down my thoughts. Recording them would be so much more efficient! Your poem has quite a sting at the end, but a very apt one!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Donna, I agree: a phone is crazy dangerous. That's why I can't follow driving directions on my phone...

Irene, I, too, often type out picture books to find the magic therein...but, though I sometimes read them aloud to Eli, the idea of hearing my own voice reading them back to me is completely different...

Penny! It's never occurred to me to paste a picture book text into my phone and have it read back to me. That's an interesting idea, too. We all know at least one set of android-like parents who sound just like that...

Carmela, Linda B, and readingtothecore ~ I ended up with a whole other blog post on the cutting room floor about the backstory of that poem. Bruce Balan helped me craft it from a light, funny poem to this. The last part is all Bruce. Bless my critique partner!

Doraine...I, too, dictate poems into my phone...into text. The interesting thing about dictation are the typos and how they can completely change where the final draft of my poem goes!

Thanks, CS! It's always encouraging and uplifting to read your comments!

Bridget ~ that advice is what I take to heart when I teach workshops--both to kids and to adults.

I'm glad you're going to try this, Caroline!