Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan
What a treat this poetry workshop was. The hands-on event Drawing Inspiration From Poetry, held on March 9, 2019, gave us an opportunity to exercise our poetic muscles. Our SCBWI Japan Regional Advisors and Coordinators Holly Thompson, Mariko Nagai, Naomi Kojima and Avery Fischer Udagawa (a rare opportunity to have all the team together) led the session, collectively sharing with us their poetry expertise.
Naomi, Regional Illustrator Coordinator, began with a look at artwork. As a teenager, she was given a copy of A.A. Milne’s ‘The World of Christopher Robin,’ and fell in love with E. H. Shepherd’s illustrations inspired by the poetry.
Naomi showed us a selection of beautifully illustrated poetry books, in which the artwork seemed as integral to the poetry as the words. It was pleasing to see so many recent publications and translated works on Naomi’s list.
Mariko, Co-Regional Advisor, then showed us how simple the language of poetry can be. She pointed out that as adults we might think of poetry as being hard but, “From a kid’s point of view it’s easy. Kids make up songs and rhymes all the time.” Her selection of poetry highlighted how much can be captured in a few short lines. The key is often finding a good line break. Mariko suggested inserting a line break where you might take a breath, or to use the break to convey emotions. Many short lines might give the feeling of nervousness.
Holly, Co-Regional Advisor, encouraged us to read other people’s poetry to find inspiration. She presented us with a range of poetry that captured detailed observations, explored complex issues or focused on the mundane or nonsensical. Holly encouraged us to experiment with styles of poetry and to play with sounds and language. She used the poem “The Dream of Shoji” by Kimiko Hahn, which ponders the challenges of bilingualism (a subject close to Holly’s heart), to show that sometimes finding the right word can be both a literal and figurative undertaking.
Avery, Regional Translator Coordinator, explored ways of using poetry within our writing and art. She began by showing us visual interpretations of poetry incorporating the beauty of Persian script. She told us about poetry monuments that can be found in parks and green spaces in Japan to inspire the reader in natural surroundings. Additionally, Avery showed us examples of how some authors have used poetry, both ancient and new, to build fictional narratives for teens and children.
Our panel then set us a series of challenges to get ideas flowing, one of which was to use illustrations as prompts. Six of our wonderfully talented illustrators provided us with original drawings. After 15 minutes or so of writing, Holly asked if anyone wanted to share. The answer was an enthusiastic yes. It was fascinating listening to the range of poetry the illustrations inspired. Some poems created back stories, others were in the moment, each one different in tone and point of view, and all of them a delight. Many thanks to our panel and illustrators for bringing out the poet in all of us.
Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.