Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Featured Sweetheart Leslie Bulion

Leslie Bulion will be joining me (Jeanette Larson) on a panel at the upcoming Texas Library Association conference and I'm delighted that she is our newest "sweetheart." Leslie teams a life-long love of poetry and her oceanography background in At the Sea Floor Café. Her first book of poetry, Hey There, Stink Bug! is an award-winning book of gruesomely humorous insect poems.

TXS&S: Why do you write poetry, generally, and specifically why science poetry?

LB: I’ve always loved the way a poem can evoke intense emotion and complex thought with few words. Although haiku is the quintessential example, all poetry encourages economy of expression. When I write poetry, I’m hearing music in its rhythm and meter, whether I’m working with rhyming poetry or free verse. And I’m playing with words—s
uper fun! My science poetry was born out of a life-long interest in natural science and the rich lexicon science provides for a surprisingly humorous turn of phrase or rhyme.

TXS&S: Did you read poetry as a young person? Who are some of your favorite poets?

LB: When I was very young, I read and reread When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six by A. A. Milne. I still have to hurry past the last line of “Us Two” when I share it in poetry workshops so I don’t sob. Dr. Seuss is a favorite, of course. I also read Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and as I grew up a bit, e. e. cummings, and many others. I was raised on folk music and Broadway show tunes, both of which predispose me toward rhyme, rhythm and the fun of making words dance to my tune. One of my very favorite poems is “The Blossom” by Eavan Boland, with its exquisite imagery of a daughter growing up. My current favorite children’s poets are those I’ve had the great fortune to meet. When poets read their poems aloud in their own voices, I feel as if I’ve been given an intimate gift.

TXS&S: What inspired you to start writing for young people? Were there any challenges you had to overcome as a writer?

LB: Although I’ve been writing poetry since I was young, I didn’t have any ideas of being a writer. I studied oceanography, then became a social worker. Years later, an old friend read a letter I’d sent her and invited me to write for the parenting magazine she edited. Ok! I thought. I’d been writing for the magazine for a while when I told my editor friend about something that had happened in my daughter’s class. She suggested that it would make a good children’s story, so I tried that, too. That was it—I was hooked!

But it felt scary and presumptuous to say I was writing a book. I didn’t talk about it with anyone for a long time. One day, while chatting with a friend, it just kind of fell out of my mouth. Blurt! Her response? My cousin is a children’s writer! You have to send her your work! I gulped, then sent my story to the extremely kind author, Malka Penn. She encouraged me to keep writing, and told me how to join SCBWI. Admitting that I wanted to write for children was a big challenge for me. Becoming part of an open, generous and supportive children’s writing community has been an important and life-changing facet of my adventure.

TXS&S: How easy or difficult is it for you to switch from writing poetry to writing novels?

LB: My novel process and poetry process are completely different. When I’m working on a novel, I’m completely immersed in the world of my characters. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also a struggle, sometimes, to move back and forth between my fictional world and the activities of my own daily life. If I have to be away from a novel for more than a few days, it can take me a week to get back into the voice of the story. That lost week used to worry me, but now I understand and respect it as part of my process, even if I don’t like it much.



I collect ideas and tidbits all the time for new poetry projects. When I start work on a collection, I launch into a hunter-gatherer research phase. Once I feel mostly organized, I can pick up and put down the research as I need to and not worry overmuch about interruptions and flow. Even when I begin writing, the poems are fairly discrete packages that lend themselves to a more flexible writing schedule and space. I always think of the old Kliban cartoon with a person pulling a giant piece of string between their ears: Mental Floss. In some ways, poetry projects serve as mental floss for me.

TXS&S: Do you always follow the rules?

LB: Ha-ha!
Great question. I wrote a whole book about that—The Trouble with Rules. I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit of a rule follower. But I suspect you’re asking about poetry. I enjoy the challenge of working within the parameters set by the “rules” of a particular poetic form. I also really like the process of matching a particular form to a particular subject. When I’m working on a poem in a known form, I always work within the rules, that is, until I need to break them. But I have to have worked with that form and understand it through and through before I know which rules I can break, and how to break them, and still reap the reward the integrity of that form brings.

TXS&S: What are you working on currently?

LB: I’m just finishing up a collection of human body poems. In all of my science poetry I look for the juicy—and by juicy, I mean slightly disgusting—details that play for laughs. Body parts provide unlimited potential for gross-out humor.

In honor of National Poetry Month, Peachtree Publishers is inviting educators to post students' poetry on their facebook page. At the end of the month, Peachtree will hold a drawing. One winner will receive a skype visit with me, and five others will win a copy of AT THE SEA FLOOR CAFE. A link to the contest rules is available by clicking here.

Leslie is presenting as part of the "Naturally Cool" panel at the Texas Library Association Conference on Thursday, April 14 at 8:30 a.m. She will be signing books in the author "corral" area immediately following the program and then at the Peachtree booth from 11:00 a.m. - noon and at the Charlesbridge booth from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Learn more about Leslie on her website, http://www.lesliebulion.com/.

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