Tag Archives: Jason Reynolds

Writing Rhythm

It’s odd. First, I don’t read that much poetry, or go to poetry events. And then in quick succession I found myself in the Spark theatre for poetry, two events running. Also, out of five poets, three are American. But they explained that poetry is big in the US, in a way it’s not in the UK.

Jason Reynolds and Amy McKay

Chaired by Amy McKay, whose flamingo skirt I couldn’t help noticing at the first event (about flamingos), she’d moved on to an equally stunning daisy skirt. And as she said in her introduction of Sarah Crossan, Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds; ‘we are really spoiling you this afternoon.’ They really were. She also knew not to waste time on listing all the great stuff the three have done.

Kwame Alexander

For some reason I’d not realised Kwame wasn’t British, but he’d just moved to London six days earlier, so I was almost right. Brixton has changed in 28 years, apparently. He read his new ‘picture book’ The Undefeated to us, showing the audience the illustrations while he recited his own poems by heart.

This impressed Sarah Crossan, the current Irish Laureate na nÓg, because she can’t remember hers. Maybe it depends on which side of the Atlantic you’re from. She chose to read about Marla and Toffee, the young and the old, and no one listens to either.

Sarah Crossan

And I finally got to ‘meet’ Jason Reynolds, whom I’d not heard of two years ago when I met someone who enthused about him a great deal. At first he gave a fair impression of a sullen teenager while the other two spoke, but once it was his turn,  he sprang to life and you could see why people admire him so much. He mentioned the weather [in the tent], before moving on to gun violence, and talking about how we ‘strap monikers to children so we won’t have to call them children.’

Jason Reynolds

So, anyway, poems are cool in America. Sarah was in luck, writing her first novel while living in the US. According to Kwame poetry is big, but he reckons the publishers don’t know much. He mentioned the impact of Walter Dean Myers, the hero in Love That Dog. Verse novels is quite a new thing, but ‘the kids were already there.’

Sarah is ‘impressed by myself’ and keeps anything she’s written, but edited out, in case she can slot poems in where they are needed. Kwame had many nice poems, but they didn’t go together, so he rewrote.

Jason said ‘it’s my job to keep the rhythm,’ and according to Kwame ‘when it works, the reader forgets it is poetry.’ And he told Sarah that she needs to learn to ‘own her own work.’ She felt that sounded like therapy, and very American.

Sarah Crossan

Kwame went on to mention the American ‘call and response’ to poetry, which is clearly what Elizabeth Acevedo was busy doing a couple of days before, when Dean Atta read from his book. Sarah doesn’t want to manipulate the readers, but Kwame is ‘totally into manipulating’ them… You need to make the world better, and it’s his responsibility to make you feel something. Jason said he’s somewhere between the other two, and manipulation is a dangerous word. ‘I just wanna bear witness.’

Someone in the audience mentioned that with verse novels you don’t have to write the boring bits, which made Kwame quote a secondary school pupil who had described it as ‘the right words in the right order.’

Jason Reynolds

Jason pointed out that writing poetry is like painting with only half a palette, which is harder; ‘really difficult.’ Sarah feels that writing is very democratic, and you only need pen and paper. And it helps if you don’t go to the cinema, don’t have any friends and if you work hard.

Kwame, ‘I steal a lot. Mature writers steal.’

And that was it. The main problem with the event was that it was too short. We could have done with at least another hour. Maybe two. It’s all that poetry, with so few words.

Advertisements

Schools for Charlotte Square

It’s short and sweet, the schools programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘Making books more affordable’ is a good motto, I feel. May it be successful and reach the children who need it the most.

I know I shouldn’t read the programme and plan, but I can read it and think. Some of the authors on the schools list will be doing ‘normal’ events too. And there is always the perfecting my school appearance. One of these days it will work.

Last year someone I’d just met talked very enthusiastically about Jason Reynolds, whom I’d never heard of. Well, this American is coming over, for an event with Chris Priestley who has illustrated his book. That should be pretty special.

Clémentine Beauvais is someone else I’ve not seen before, and she will be appearing with Sarah Crossan, which will be good. James Mayhew I have always managed to miss, so I could perhaps undo that, and Melvin Burgess, whom I’ve seen a lot, is coming back after a break of a few years. Or did I merely miss him?

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimifard

Ehsan Abdollahi will return, which pleases me, and he’s appearing with Eloise Greenfield. I’ve not seen Beverley Naidoo for years, and I don’t know her events partner Marjan Vafaeian at all, which I hope can be remedied.

I will quickly tiptoe past the ‘star attraction’ on the Thursday morning, to mention that the last day will be special as always, with people like Theresa Breslin and Philip Ardagh and lots of other fun.

As you can tell, many school children will have some great events to look forward to. I’m always in awe of the school groups who get up before dawn cracks, to travel across Scotland to come to one of the events. Hopefully it will be a memory for life, and be the beginning of a bookish future for some.