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—super 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.
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?