Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An interview with Eileen Spinelli, the author of Where I live

Last month I read and reviewed a fantasic book called Where I Live. It was written by Eileen Spinelli, a writer and poet who has created many splendid books for young readers. The story is written in blank verse and it beautifully captures what it is like for a child to leave a home and friends. This is what Eileen had to say about her book and her work.

1. Where did the idea for this story come from?
I guess there wasn't a single idea. I know from my own life--as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren--that moving is difficult. Saying goodbye to familiar rooms, friends, neighborhood is a painful experience. So I wanted to speak to that issue...but also the issue of looking at the difficulties of life with hope and spirit. I wanted to touch on caring for family--as the characters care for the grandfather. And also how writing can help us sort things through.

2. How did I set about writing this story.
I had a very loose outline of where I wanted the story to go.

3. Was it difficult to make the poems flow in a narrative style?
Actually it wasn't. I have a much harder time doing straight prose. The nice thing about telling a story in verse format--is I can make broader leaps from one point to another.

4. Is there some of you in Diana, your main character?
There is almost always something of me in every character. In terms of Diana and me--we both love writing and poetry. We both love the night sky. I actually won a poetry contest when I was a teen. I remember my dad being out of work a couple times when I was a little girl. I got a new red bike when I was about 11 and oh did I love that!

5. Did you experience a difficult move when you were Diana's age?
I have to say that I was actually excited about our move because we went
from an urban setting to "the country". The "country" was simply a suburban neighborhood. But we had a yard that seemed quite big at the time. And it wasn't so far from our old neighborhood that we couldn't stay in touch
with family and friends there. Still--there was that sense of saying goodbye that I had to get past. I most especially missed the town library. . .which is where I spent many happy days.

6. What got you interested in poetry in the first place?
That library! And a wonderful librarian called Miss Armstrong. She encouraged me to check out collections of poetry with my storybooks. Also--when I was about ten I picked up my dad's copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"--and though I didn't really understand much of the content--I loved the way the sounds of the words washed over me. It was like music.

7. Do you find it hard to make the switch to writing prose.
Not really because I do a lot of picture books and they tend to have the "feel" of though they come from the same place within.

8: How can we help children feel more comfortable with non-rhyming poetry.
I guess if I were teaching poetry I would begin with non-rhyming. Get children used to that first. Help them to get the feel of the beauty of language ...the way even something that does not rhyme--has a certain quality of rhythm Have them write many non-rhyming poems. Encourage them to read those aloud so they can hear the flow and cadence. Later I would bring in rhyming poetry--another possible way to express thoughts and ideas. Talk with them about the particular difficulties of rhyme--ie avoiding "forced" rhyme...rhyme that is that because of sound but not content.

9. Do you write everyday?
I wish! I do try to write more days of the week than not.

10. If you get stuck what do you do?
I talk with my husband, Jerry, also a writer. I read. I push through the stuckness. Or--I allow myself a bit of fallow time--without being too
hard on myself.

Thank you so much Eileen. It was a pleasure to 'talk' to you.

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