#MMPoetry2013: Let The Games Begin!

READY OR NOT, HERE IT COMES. It is time to start preparing for the March Madness Poetry 2013 tournament!

I have spent a lot of time thinking about last year’s event, what worked well, what could be improved, etc. The #MMPoetry2013 event itself will not change much at all versus last year, but I am working on a number of things that will hopefully further increase exposure for the event (and for kids’ poetry!) and ensure that all poets — ahem, authletes — and voters get as much out of it as possible. I will reveal more details over the coming weeks.

FOR NOW, I have two exciting things to share:

1) Authletes can apply to participate in #MMPoetry2013 anytime between now and February 10, 2013, at 11:59pm Central. Take a peek at the application form here, and apply when you’re ready!

2) I recently had a chance to chat with our March Madness Poetry 2012 Champion, Stephen W. Cahill, over e-mail. I wanted to check in with him to see what he’s been up to back in Dublin, Ireland since last year’s event ended.

Here is that interview …

TKT: Hi Stephen. Thanks for taking time out to talk with me today.

SWC: Any time Ed. A nice distraction from my day job!

TKT: And what is your day job, if you don’t mind me asking?
SWC: My day job is as spacemonger for The Sunday Times. I flog advertising space basically – although my job title makes it sound far more important. It’s good fun, in fairness. I’ve worked in a few newspaper publishers over the years and there rarely is a dull moment.

TKT: We’ll warm up with a multiple choice question. Here are four descriptions of the 2012 March Madness Poetry (#MMPoetry2012) tournament given by participants after the event:
(A) “A life-changer for me as a writer.”
(B) “Like a mini-version of The Hunger Games …”
(C) “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
(D) “Total crazy fun.”

Which of these would you say best describes your experience during the event, and why?

SWC: They all describe it pretty well actually. But I’ll have to go with (D). Although round my way we’d phrase it differently – more like “Complete mental craic”.

TKT: Wow, the Irish phrase makes it sound even more fun. I like the history of the word “craic” as well. Speaking of interesting words, during #MMPoetry2012, you wrote six new poems in three weeks, ultimately winning the event by successfully incorporating the word “bovine” into a rhyming saga about cow-shaped balloons warring with snow giraffes that concluded arbitrarily when your world’s omnipotent puppeteer hand-picked a winner at dinnertime. You also wrote about a mother using voodoo to transform her son into a wooden table (whose head you famously varnished), a slam-dunking skunk, and other strange characters. Should readers expect all of Stephen W. Cahill’s poems and stories to be like this, or just those that you’re forced to write in response to assigned/absurd words in less than 36 hours?

SWC: Oh God yeah. Absolutely. Especially when writing in rhyme. I’m currently working on four stories, two in prose, two in rhyme. The rhyming ones definitely are the silliest. But I’d like to think of it as sensible silliness, i.e. they make logical sense – as long as you take a “why not” approach.
For instance, in my newest story it makes sense that if dogs ruled the world, they would, eventually, become newsreaders, train drivers and kung fu teachers. That’s just simple logic!
I do try to write prose in a more tempered fashion though – even if my latest prose one has an oversized, princess-controlled robotic beaver!
I’m working harder these days on bringing more emotion into my stories, to give them more heart. And of course, all important with picture book scripts, the aaah factor.

TKT: It’s not a stretch to say that people who think logically with a “why not” approach stand the best chance to change the world for the better.

So it sounds like you’ve been busy working on your craft. I recall in your bio for last year’s tournament that you described yourself as “unconcerned with failure and/or success” but “secretly and patiently expecting great things … eventually.” It seems that many writers are consumed with quickly becoming published or with other forms of immediate gratification; conversely, it seems that you’re a more patient lad (sorry, couldn’t pass up the chance to use “lad” in conversation). What are your long-term goals as a writer, and how do you stay focused on those goals in a technology-rich world so appeasing to those seeking rapid rewards?

SWC: When I started researching the book publishing business in 2011 it was clear to me that the whole industry was in limbo. Publishers and agents mostly didn’t know what to do with emerging technologies, whether they should fight or embrace; essentially adopting a wait and see approach. On top of that the picture book market was in something of a hiatus due to the economic downturn: Publishers taking on little or no new picture book writers and avoiding high production costs that picture books often require. On top of that, with publishers more accountable than ever, if a story wouldn’t translate to foreign markets it was another reason not to take it on. I was only writing in rhyme back then – which obviously cannot be translated – i was basically committing commercial suicide! I tried writing in prose, but struggled badly. Rhymes just kept coming into my head. They wouldn’t go away. I loved writing them and I believe they are the best format for young children. It’s easier to remember and recite plus it teaches them to love language – to see that words are fun. So I will never stop.

However, I have managed this year to successfully start writing in prose, and, slowly but surely, I’m hatching a style of my own (at least I think I am!). It’s my goal now to simply become the best writer I can be. And to enjoy doing it. I’m not expecting to make a living out of it. To get to that stage requires a huge dollop of luck, and I’m not getting stressed over something that I can’t control.

As for all the tech based promises out there I just use the KISS mantra: Keep It Simple Stephen! If it sounds too good to be true then it always is.

It’s all about the quality of the writing. And being proud of the work. I don’t want to sell out. Well, not just yet anyway!

TKT: As the #MMPoetry2012 winner, you were awarded your choice of books from the list of 2011 Cybils poetry category finalists. You selected Dear Hot Dog by Mordicai Gerstein, which has a lot of non-rhyming poems in it. What else have you been reading lately (whether kids’ books or from other genres)? Bonus points awarded for mentioning local books with which U.S. readers may be unfamiliar.

*Bonus points cannot be exchanged for #MMPoetry2013 votes.

SWC: I just finished rereading All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Sorry, he’s from your side of the pond! Okay, closer to home, I’ve just started reading Roddy Doyle’s latest book, Two Pints - it’s been laugh out loud so far. His children’s stuff is great too I’m told.

As for poetry I keep going back to Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan. And Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Only the kids stuff for me thanks – philistine that I am!

I’ve been reading a lot of Picture Books. My favourites are by John Fardell (e.g., The Day Louis Got Eaten); Oliver Jeffers (e.g., This Moose Belongs to Me) and Simon James (Dear Greenpeace and Baby Brains - the two funniest picture books I’ve ever read); and Jeanne Willis’s The Bog Baby is pretty special too.

And apologies again but my all time favourite writer is from Alabama, Tobias Wolff.

TKT: Thanks for sharing your list … 200 bonus points for you! Even though you can’t trade those points for votes, you have committed to defend your title by participating in the 2013 March Madness Poetry tournament. What are you expecting this time around?

SWC: To make a few friends; to come up with some new ideas; to get another horrible word in round one followed by a sleepless night; to enjoy reading all the other poems; and to see MMPoetry get bigger and better than ever.

TKT: Good answer. Any advice for first-time authletes this year? (“No” is a perfectly acceptable and admirably competitive answer.)

SWC: Advice, from an amateur like me?… let me see, best advice I can give if you’re writing in rhyme is to get the meter perfect – watch where the stresses fall. In my view it’s vital.

TKT: Could not agree more. Okay, since you were so helpful there, let’s do one last question … in the style of Mad Libs. Please supply a response to each of the following prompts:
Whole number between 1 and 15:

SWC: 14, oscillate, smooth, mermaid, the library, oops!, domesticate, nicotine gum

TKT: Interesting. Let’s see how you did:

SWC: Stephen’s advice to 14-year-old kids: Don’t oscillate that smooth mermaid at the library, because – oops! – she domesticates like nicotine gum.

Sage advice for adolescents, Stephen!

Thanks again for chatting with me today. I’ll let you have the last word …

SWC: Let the games begin!

Let the games begin, indeed. Stay tuned for more #MMPoetry news coming soon. In the meantime, I’m likely to become more active on Twitter as things ramp up, and might accidentally leak a few hints if you pay close enough attention.

Oh, one more thing! The always-lively Renée LaTulippe is hosting Poetry Friday today at her website No Water River. Pop on over … it’s sure to be a fun visit.

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  • http://www.robynhoodblack.com Robyn Hood Black

    What a fun interview, Ed! Stephen, I’m happy to see that Fame and Fortune have not ruined you. (There’s some seriously good advice for new writers here. I’m not about to touch that advice for 14-year-olds.)

    Thank you both for sharing, and here’s to a new round of Madness.

  • Janet F.

    Must say I am really looking forward to this year’s poetry event. Love your interview and can’t wait to see what new ideas you have in store. Especially for getting more teachers involved.

  • http://www.stephenwcahill.com Stephen W Cahill

    The more teachers the better Janet! As much fun as this is for grown ups, if the kids ain’t involved, then what’s the point!? This is all for them.

  • Janet F.

    I LOVE Ed’s idea of a book and I hope that will happen, with ease. I think promotion via FB and Twitter this year may help. I have mentioned it at talks I have given last spring and this fall. I am sure that Ed has some great “tricks up his sleeve”! Plus in the second year I am hopeful MMP will reach many more people in general. I was thoroughly entertained last March, and where I live in the snowbelt, we need that! Plus I thought it was fabulous for kids to see how it worked as well as read so many new poems. I kept running around at my school trying to drum up interest with teachers. Looking forward to meeting this year’s crop of authletes and Ed’s word lists!!

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com Ed DeCaria

      Yes, I have two specific “tricks” planned for this year, though neither is really all that tricky. I’m eager to share details, but all in due course.

  • Angie Breault

    Hi everyone, How do we know if we are in the tournament? Will we receive an e-mail notification, or will there be some sort of list on this site? I know it’s a bit away still, but I was just curious. :) I hope I get to be a part of it :)

    • http://www.thinkkidthink.com Ed DeCaria

      I’ve been updating Facebook and Twitter, and the application page, but I have not sent any direct e-mails to applicants about the process. Sorry about that. I will do so today. Short version is that the participant roster will be announced publicly on Sunday, February 24th at 8pm Central right here at ThinkKidThink.com.

  • Angie Breault

    Thank you :)

  • http://www.pennyklostermann.com Penny Klostermann

    So if I haven’t gotten an email…I’m not in this year, right?

  • http://www.thinkkidthink.com Ed DeCaria

    All applicants should have received an email with a status update. If not, please send me a note.