Interview With a Teen Poet

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Photo credit Carly Hanna

One of the pleasures of mentoring young writers is watching them grow into their words.  I’m excited to bring you this interview with my former star student, 18-year-old Maayan Ziv-Kreger.

Maayan grew up in the Boston area. She is an emerging poet, singer, and visual artist. She is currently enrolled in a post-high school leadership program in Jerusalem, Israel.

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Our initial work together focused on short stories. When did you become interested in writing poetry? 

I fell in love with poetry writing after seeing a video of Neil Hilborn preforming a spoken poem, OCD. The way he used words to portray images and describe feelings inspired me. I thought to myself, I want to do that!

   

I should also mention that taking your writing workshop in middle school, and later working with you privately, had a great influenced on me, too.

Thank you, Ma’ayan. What writers/poets do you enjoy?

So many! Besides Neil Hilborn, I love Mary Oliver’s delicate and very real poems.

Yang Wan- Li — a Chinese Sung Dynasty poet who describes nature scenes and what I interpret to be simple stories of the human experience.

William Carlos Williams has given me a lot of inspiration and love for short poems.

Caroline Rothstein — a fiery and sensitive writer who has helped me through many writing blips.

I really loved your poem, “Story Quilt”.  I think many of my readers can relate to the experience of loving someone with dementia. 

 

Thank you. It was inspired by my grandmother who recently passed away at age 92.

Story Quilt

In the Fort Bragg sunspot 

my grandmother plays with her dolls. 

She can no longer stitch together the fraying fabric of her sentences,

so I take them from her withering mouth gingerly 

& with as little pity 

as my ignorance can muster. 

“Before Dementia” titled pamphlets are passed out at dinner.

Quilts of her heroic accomplishments 

make me question if the form chewing messily in front of me 

is made of the same fabric.

Guilt cannot erase my thoughts 

of how she seems woven of excuses. 

I beg my imagination to comply 

but the room’s redwood shelves

betray me, staying empty 

with only dusty shadows 

our old paper-mache sagging against the white wall 

she painted herself.

Only, she can’t remember making art 

so I end up in the studio alone,

my needle catching, stitching 

my grandmother’s story,

but I pull hard, mouth set,

and break the thread.

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My Grandpa–Nana’s husband.

 

Give us a picture of your creative process.

I begin writing from a spark. Something larger than me inspires, saying, “Ah! Here’s something with meaning.”  I strive to write poems with a teaching. But first, I have to learn the lesson myself. It’s not always easy to speak truth.

I write stream of consciousness in free form verse. My first draft is written thoughts slightly whittled down. I then revise for clarity and delete words that don’t add to them poem. My goal being that each word is there for a reason. After getting feedback of whether what I’m saying makes sense, I look over and refine my word choice.

Questioning my work each draft is crucial. And reading aloud to get a feeling of the rhythm. Though I write free verse, I want my poems to flow. A poetry mentor of mine, David Lee, once told me anytime I get stuck writing I should just read.

You independently schooled for a few years.  Describe how this worked. What role did teachers or school play in the development of your writing? 

First, with your tutoring during middle school, I developed my reading and writing ability. This led to a love of creative writing.

For high school, I was homeschooled. I took some classes at Sharon Public High School under homeschool status. This allowed me the freedom to create my own curriculum.

I could also choose what, where, and how I wanted to learn. I took English and Writing courses at the Harvard Extension School and other institutions. Through dual enrollment I earned 1.5 years of college credits. Taking courses at Harvard Extension gave me a great opportunity to practice academic and advanced creative writing in a formal setting with expert professors.  Having access to this demanding education inspired and pushed me to strive high.

I also spent 4 weeks at a Brandeis University pre-college summer program for the arts. The writing workshop helped transform my poems into more mature and clearly written expressions. I’m very grateful for my instructor, Caroline Rothstein for sitting with each of us on our personal writing journey.

I’m very grateful for to you, Evelyn, for your help and the gift of becoming the writer.

It was a pleasure to work with you! You are also involved with music and visual art. Tell us about this and the ways it connects to your poetry.

In addition to writing, I draw, paint, and take photographs. I also play with other mediums such as clay and printing. I see my visual art as visual poems and poems as read and spoken paintings. They contain symbolism in both–speaking a different language, but made for the same reason and from the same source.

Please share another poem and its inspiration.

I wanted to speak to all those deciding what to do with their life, and to those who have already made choices. I wanted to remind them it’s never too late to make a change and be happy. As life goes on and you try to get serious, sometime you forget what’s important. You start building your life around falsehoods and fears — not having enough money or fame or living in a place that doesn’t make you happy. This poem is to remind us of an innocent joy we always hold inside ourselves.

Dreams 

If you go

past the cars screeching,

where sunscreen is

slathered and postcards are

purchased for too much,

you can find your childhood dream 

waiting for you,

sparkling over the still water. 

Don’t loose focus 

as They act like fortune tellers distorting your path.

Look past the shops,

not to the sand with 

the seagulls preaching of failure,

but to the water you once wished to swim.

Don’t you see the children diving?

Do you see what you give up?

What  inspires you?

Nature — all its beauty–the way can birds fly, how their body is held up by legs like toothpicks. The flow of water, the smell of a bonfire. When I’m in nature, my heart opens and words emerge.  Nature includes things I observe in people, too — the way a city moves, the fabric of relationships.

 

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Photo credit Carly Hanna

 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received so far?

Keep writing. When you have nothing to say, that’s when you most have something in your heart! And when no words come,  go into nature and practice patience.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself living in Israel, praising life, and bringing light into the world.

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Traveling in Ein Avdat National Park in Sdeh Boker (Negev Desert)

Thank you, Ma’ayan.  I wish you the best in your studies and creative endeavors.