April 12, 2016

Friday, June 11, 2010

Poetry Friday: 5 Questions for Ellen Hopkins

Nevada, the 36th state, is the next stop on our 50 State Tour of poets laureate. But they've left the Nevada P.L. post open since 2007.

However... I will put aside my cranky Poetry Wall of Shame comments for today, because superlitstar Ellen Hopkins is visiting!

Ellen Hopkins is a bestselling YA novelist and Nevada resident. Her novels-in-verse (Fallout, Tricks, Identical, Glass, Impulse, Burned, Crank) tackle tough subjects that are real for many teens: abusive parents, addictions, the complications of love and the consequences of sex.

1) Ellen, I was discussing your novels-in-verse with another author who said poetry is a good fit both for the difficult subject matter you tackle, and for your teen readers. Why do you think that's so?

Poetry offers a number of things that appeal to teen readers. Imagery. Language. Poetic devices. These affect them on a subconscious level.

But also, the white space on the page is comforting, especially with the heavier subject matter I choose to write about. They can read a poem. Breathe. Read another poem. Breathe. And they can stop anywhere, unlike prose where you often feel you have to read an entire chapter before you can stop.

That's an interesting point. It gives readers control over how they experience the story.

Because of their infatuation with TV, video games, texting, etc., teen brains think in short bursts, rather than in long rambling sentences. Poetry makes every word count, and comes in short bursts.

2) That might also explain why novels-in-verse are such big sellers in the teen market. They're not nearly as popular with adults. Do you have any insights as to why?

Unfortunately, I think historically it is in high school that people become afraid of poetry. Just the word frightens most adults, and I think it's because a lot of poetry is unapproachable. You have to work hard to understand its meaning. Which is fine if you're studying poetry and want to know what the poet means.

But if you're an average reader, reading for pleasure, working too hard to understand meaning will make you quit reading. Verse novels have opened teen eyes. And the fact is, many of the teens who started with me not quite six years ago are now adults. And they've shared my books with parents, teachers, counselors, etc., who have discovered they enjoy the verse novel format.

I think the adult marketplace is opening and I have, in fact, been invited by my publisher to write an adult novel-in-verse.

That's exciting news! I look forward to hearing more about it.

I'll post the rest of my interview with Ellen at noon (Eastern Time) today. For now, here is Ellen Hopkins' haunting and romantic portrait poem, "Leading Man."

She says, "Now when I find the time to write stand alone poems, I often write lyric poetry, mostly to do something different and to remember what that is."

Leading Man

by Ellen Hopkins

He's been with women clear around the world.
Can you believe it? He's just a ... poet.
The last word spit, as if defining something
no woman of sound mind would dare get close to.

I turn to look at the poet. Attractive, yes,
but not exactly your leading man type.
Slender. Average height. Light
brown hair, thinning slightly.

I think I'll never find him in my library
of classics. He is no Gable, commanding
Tara's sweeping staircase, no Redford,
raindrops falling on his head, no
Beatty, splendor burning in the grass.

All mine to adore with three clicks of the remote.

Women, clear around the world...
I open the poet's book, come face to face
with some of them: the redhead, whose hair
still nests in the brush on his nightstand,

the girl whose father tended tiger lilies
beneath her bedroom window,
the woman whose dress slips off
like a flutter of birds.

His words float from the paper, thistledown.
Weightless, but not without importance,
spores, lifting into the breeze
to carry their codes of life across time.
My eyes capture them, and I understand.

Oh, to be cherished, again and again,
painted like a watercolor in an easy flow
of syntax, externalized in a soft wash of verse.
This poet is, indeed, a leading man.

And he's mine to adore, with every turn of the page.

Posted with permission of the author.

Kelly Polark is hosting Poetry Friday today. Check out Kelly's blog for more Poetry Friday posts.


Jeannine Atkins said...

I like the points about reading and breathing and people who've not yet learned to be afraid of poetry. Thank you, Laura and Ellen!

Tabatha said...

Laura, you get the best interviews! :-) Ellen Hopkins is wonderful.

Author Amok said...

It took me some time to adjust out of my academic-poetry head and really appreciate Ellen's work. She's such an important voice for kids -- taking on some really scary, timely topics.

Linda said...

Great interview, Laura. I love the imagery in Ellen's poem "Leading Man."
"...the woman whose dress slips off
like a flutter of birds" lovely!

Author Amok said...

Linda -- that's one of my favorite lines in the poem.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Laura, you are a busy busy woman. I love these interviews, and I do hope to join you at some local event someday soon. And I like hearing the "adult" voices of those who are known for their writing for young people.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Heidi. I've enjoyed doing them for exactly the reason you say -- hearing people talk about the craft of writing for children and teens.

Congrats on being part of ALSC(?) Poetry. So glad you're being recognized!