Interview With a Teen Poet

_MG_9888.jpg

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.

*  * *

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.

IMG_0788

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.

 

_MG_9853.jpg

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.

eb09fa05-7dde-4448-aef2-4271b1da27a2.jpeg

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. 

 

 

The Homestretch: On the Road to Homeschool Graduation

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-1172677

Tomorrow officially begins my daughter’s senior year of homeschooling. When I say “officially”, I  mean that she begins classes and independent studies toward her high school diploma.  In truth, Audrey is always learning.  This summer she played the piano, read, watched classic films, took Spanish lessons, wrote a film script, and created a screenwriting program.

Friends have said to me, “Now you can see the light at the end of the tunnel !”

Yes, we are on the homestretch toward graduation, but as I think more about that expression I realize it doesn’t quite fit.  I wouldn’t describe our homeschooling years as a tunnel.  There was nothing dark or long about it.  It was a multi-year journey that took us to all kinds of interesting places.  Along the way, I sometimes had doubts that we were not on the right (or best) path, that something would be missed.  Gradually, I let go of these uncertainties. My daughter’s happiness and engagement in learning mattered most. 

Audrey and I both miss the early carefree days of this journey when we weren’t thinking about transcripts, standardized tests, and college admissions.  In the elementary years, Audrey had lots of time to play, explore, create, imagine, dance, and think. (Not to mention, sleep.) We took so many wonderful field trips to art and science museums, historical places, nature centers, plays, concerts, and dance performances. Audrey joined other homeschoolers at zoo school, MIT science workshops, wilderness training, drama class, community service and Jewish holiday activities.

She spent a lot of time outdoors.  

No homework, no grades.

Audrey Plymoth Plantation

And the time flew by!  I really can’t believe we’ve already arrived at this place.

Now she’s finishing up her subject tests, visiting colleges, preparing her portfolio, and writing application essays.  She is passionate about her career plans. She knows what she wants to study in college. Keeping her goal in mind makes SAT prep more palatable.  As busy as she will be this senior year, there will still be time time for adventure and hanging out with friends.   

We kick off the year with a college biology class and then the annual Not-Back-To-School picnic.  

It’s all part of the journey.  I want to enjoy every moment.  

Yes, next June there will be light and joy mixed with sadness. One long journey ending—a new one beginning.

graduation-1426997-639x852

Not Back To School: Unschooling

UnschoolingbusIt’s that time of year again– yellow buses, backpacks, lunch boxes, and first day of school jitters.

The back-to-school scene is a bit different in our household. My daughter begins her sophomore year of high school and her 9th year of homeschooling. No bus, no hall pass, no lunchroom, no recess, no homework.

She’ll be taking on a rigorous program of study tailored to her abilities and interests including ballet, music, screenwriting, and drama. 

Thanks to the many opportunities for homeschoolers in our area, my daughter has taken wilderness training, zoo school, MIT workshops, drama and art classes, and a host of field trips.

When we first began our homeschool journey. We grew to enjoy the flexibility and efficiency it offered. My daughter learned, explored, made friends, and honed her talents.

Since she began homeschooling, I managed to work part-time by teaching, consulting, and writing.

Homeschooling takes a lot of energy and time, but it also gives me a lot more time with my daughter. She is my youngest child and the only one not attending college. So, the time together is especially meaningful. Last year we took a field trip to Washington, D.C. which my daughter was responsible for planning.

When people hear that she is homeschooled, they often assume that I do all the teaching. Over the years, my daughter has had other teachers. She’s taken online courses, science and enrichment classes, joined study groups, and been involved in a school pilot program. Next year, she’s likely to take a community college course. Gradually, I’ve become more of a guide and coach to my daughter, as she directs most of her education.

And so, here we are today, on the college track, with full intention of a homeschool graduation in 2016.

As happy and well-adjusted as my daughter is, I still get bouts of parental angst (mostly 3:00 am).  Does she need a wider circle of friends? Is she getting a strong enough Jewish education? Will she know how to study for tests?  (She doesn’t take many.) Will she be fluent in Spanish? I even wonder if missing all that high school drama and the girl cliques will somehow put her at a disadvantage.

We all want the best for our children, so second-guessing our choices comes with the job description. Our desire to “get it right” sometimes makes us feel that others are getting it wrong. Read any article or news story on homeschooling and you’ll find commentators attacking this choice, claiming that it is inferior to public school, that children won’t be “socialized”, that we “shelter” our kids, on and on.

Never mind that they may have never even met a homeschooler before!

Underlying these negative comments and defensiveness (on both sides), may be our own insecurities. We want our choice to be the “right” choice.

I don’t question other parents’ school choice and I ask the same in return. I am fortunate to have a choice, and it’s what works best for our family right now.

Homeschooling is not for everyone. My choice not to send my daughter to traditional school does not say anything about your choice. I’m simply an advocate of learning,  whatever form it takes for your child to thrive.

Wishing you a successful and exciting school year!