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. 

 

 

POETRY IN MOTION®: Inspiration and comfort on the subway ride

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MTA Enthusiast10. CreativeCommons.org

This past week I visited my daughter in NYC. We enjoyed a dance performance, widow shopping on 5th Avenue, a behind-the-scenes NBC tour, walking through Central Park, and dinner with her brother and cousins.

December in New York is filled with glittering lights and holiday cheer. There are  fabulous window displays. The giant menorah lit in Central Park. The spectacular Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. There’s outdoor music. Ice skating beneath the towering 30 Rock building.  Rockefeller Plaza is abuzz with smiling people from around the world all wanting to catch the seasonal spirit.

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The city streets sparkle with so much color and light that you can even forget that it’s night time. The city’s grime temporarily disappears. For a moment you can even forget the onslaught of daily bad news.

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Saks 5th Ave

Until the bad news infiltrates the magical moment…once again. And that is what happened as another tragedy fueled by hate happened across the river in Jersey City while my daughter and I stood amongst the peaceful crowd in midtown.

What can you do but turn toward the light and hope and pray and carry on?

Yahrzeit-Candle

. * . * . *

Later, while riding the subway, my daughter pointed out a poetry poster. “I see that one a lot,” she said. “I like it.”

I did, too. Sometimes a particular poem presents itself at just the right moment.

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Artist,Cara Lynch

Maybe you’re wondering: Poetry in the subway? Yes, indeed. Poetry in Motion® is a public arts program that places poetry in transit systems of cities throughout the country. It was first launched in 1992 by MTA New York City Transit and the Poetry Society of America. The project has garnered great enthusiasm from riders since its inception.

Each day millions of subway riders travel with the messages of accomplished poets from today and yesteryear. Young and old, rich and poor, educated and unschooled, black and white–encounter wordsmiths they’ve never met. A little nourishment for the soul.

“We look for poems that will speak to all ethnicities, genders, ages. We look for voices that will stimulate the exhausted, inspire the frustrated, comfort the burdened, and enchant even the youngest passengers.”  Molly Peacock, former president of PSA.

When I returned home, I looked up Jane Valentine (isn’t that a great last name?), author of the above poem and was pleased to discover her treasure chest of poetry.

I read more about the transit project and found a 2017 anthology  available with all the subway poems including a history of the collaboration. You can also see more poetry posters on the PSA website.

This simple one makes me smile knowingly. Doesn’t matter that it was written centuries ago!

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Poetry Society of America

Poetry holds the power to inspire, comfort, muse, move, and enchant. When the world is turning upside down, we all turn to distractions of sort. Turning to art—words in particular—is what centers me.

Poetry reminds us that we are not alone in our heartbreak or struggles, that others have tread through grief and loss, love and joy, birth and death, insecurity and depression, war and tragedy and found their way through.  We’re reminded of our shared humanity, sometimes through humor, or keen insight, or a startling turn of phrase.

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“Heaven” by Patrick Phillips. Artwork, Mary Temple

Sometimes the poet’s masterful metaphor and elegant language can open our eyes to  new ways of seeing.  And isn’t this what is so needed at this moment in our divisive culture?

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“Awakening” by Maya Angelou. ArtistWilliam Low.

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“Grand Central” by Billy Collins

 

“Poetry gives shape to those empty spaces within us that we have no words for until we find them in a poem.”  ~ Jill Bialowsky  Poetry Will Save Your Life.

Wishing you all a holiday of light and a New Year of poetry. 

 

 

September Song – Creativity through the Seasons

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Aaron Burden

But the days grow short
When you reach September
When the autumn weather
Turns leaves to flame… 
     “September Song”

 

Does the change of season affect your creativity?  Are you more creative in the winter than fall?

Maybe you live in a part of the world where seasonal changes have more to do with the calendar than the weather. Does it make any difference in your creative output?

Artists are often sensitive to the rhythms and cycles of nature. Poets have long personified the seasons.

No spring nor summer’s beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face….
~John Donne, “Elegy IX: The Autumnal”

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.  ~Jim Bishop

As a writer, I find I’m most creative in the summer time, yet more productive in winter when I’m forced to spend more time indoors. Give me a sunny window and I’m good to go. There are studies to support that seasonal changes influence our creative minds and hearts. One suggests that the warmth of summer may make people more relationally creative. The winter, on the other hand, may inspire more abstract thinking. 

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”   Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

I cling to the last days of summer, which isn’t hard to do this time of year in New England. September teases with its brilliant sky, green grass, and 80 degree afternoons. But the subtle signs of change taunt: a smattering of red leaves on the maple tree. The earlier, muted sunsets. The cool nights.

I notice how much of seasonal change involves light—its intensity, color, slant, and warmth. My visual artist friends talk about how natural light variation affects their work. Photographers only get a brief chance to capture a certain light.  Writers can retrace this vanished light with words. I was thinking about this while writing a scene set in early summer on Cape Cod. How do you describe its unique light that changes hour by hour? Set the story in October and you’ll need a different paintbrush to capture the light.

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Rooms by the Sea (Cape Cod) Edward Hopper 1951

Consider a summer sunset over the ocean. The way you choose to describe this should be filtered through the eyes of the character (or narrator in nonfiction.)  Is the onlooker someone who just lost her father? Now imagine describing the same scene through the eyes of a woman newly married to the love of her life.

Context matters when painting a setting with words. Including seasonal sensory details and images, filtered through point-of-view, can add depth and suggest your story’s mood.

“Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.”   ~Faith Baldwin, American Family

Of all the months, September seems to me to bring the greatest transition. Beginnings and endings. Starts and finishes. Vacation ends. Back-to-school. The Jewish New Year.  To some, it’s a welcome change. To others, a prelude to days lacking in color and warmth. My friend Ruth wilts in the heat of the summer and looks forward the crisp fall days. I, in contrast, bloom in the heat and wilt in the winter.

Oh, the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November

Like the seasons, our creativity ebbs and flows. We can recognize this, accept it, and surrender to creativity’s cyclical nature. As I approach the proverbial “end of the tunnel” with my current manuscript in-progress, I hope to bask in the light of accomplishment.

My summer light. 

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Albany, NY

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Walden Pond .  Concord, MA

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Newport Beach

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Rhode Island Cliff Walk

Postscript: Thank you to all who wrote me moon landing memories and more songs for my Trip-to-the- Moon Playlist.  Recently I was reminded of Antonin Dvorak’s beautifully haunting, Song to the Moon. and wanted to share it with you. (Enjoy September’s Harvest full moon 9/13-14!)

Moon, stand still a while

and tell me where is my dear.

Tell him, silvery moon,

that I am embracing him.

For at least momentarily

let him recall of dreaming of me.

Illuminate him far away,

and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!

harvest-moon-

~

 

Time’s Arrow– National Poetry Month Finale

“Inelegantly, and without my consent, time passed.”  ~ Miranda July

     As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I bring you five poems about Time.

The final one is my creation.

 

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Time is very slow for those who wait;
very fast for those who are scared;
very long for those who lament;
very short for those who celebrate; but for those who love, time is eternal.

~William Shakespeare

 

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The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too.

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In full grown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

~Phillip Larkin

 

 

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The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.

Time is a wealth of change,
but the clock in its parody makes it mere change and no wealth.

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.

  ~Rabindranath Tagore

 

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Forever

I had not known before
    Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
    I had not heard.

‘Tis hard to learn so late;
    It seems no sad heart really learns,
But hopes and trusts and doubts and fears,
    And bleeds and burns.

The night is not all dark,
    Nor is the day all it seems,
But each may bring me this relief—
    My dreams and dreams.

I had not known before
    That Never was so sad a word,
So wrap me in forgetfulness—
     I have not heard.

        ~Paul Laurence Dunbar

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At The Museum of Time Gift Shop

I wish to buy us

just one more day.

I’ll pay full price,

spare no expense.

I’ll fill our day with

togetherness 

an ocean view

a symphony or two

words that matter

laughter to heal

             hugs to feel,

then wrap the day in sunshine

and a red ribbon of love.

I’ll hold my present

like a precious gem,

through the tumble of time

for however long—

until I find you again.

     ~Evelyn Krieger

Listening to Silence

Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our  enemies, but the silence of our friends.”      

                                                                           ~  Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

Silence hurts. Silence comforts. Silence teaches. Silence breathes. 

City dwellers, parents of young children crave silence like a drug.

The loud silence of a newly empty nest screams through the hallway.

Silent night, holy night. 

Middle of the night silence wraps too tight around your wakeful soul.

The painful sound of a lover’s long ambiguous silence never quiets. 

Silence stretches between two longing hearts, connecting them no matter how far.

Sit in the silent space a loved one once occupied. Let it envelope you.

Silence sometimes speaks louder than words.

Silence stands in when there simply are no words.

Silence feels heavy when it carries the weight of unspoken words.

Silence whispers, I need you.

Silence is golden when you hold a special secret.

The silent treatment feels powerful yet treats no one.

Silence vibrates at a frequency only our bodies perceive.

Debussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes.”

Creation emerges from silence. ~