Monday, May 13, 2013

New Voice: Tamera Will Wissinger on Gone Fishing: A Novel In Verse

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tamera Will Wissinger is the first-time author of Gone Fishing: A Novel In Verse (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). From the promotional copy:

For fishing tomorrow

it’s just us two.

Not Mom, not Grandpa,

not Lucy.

It’ll be like playing catch or

Painting the garage.

Just Dad and Me.


Using a wide variety of poetic forms – quatrains, ballads, iambic meter, rhyming lists, concrete poetry, tercets and free verse – this debut author tells the story of a nine-year-old boy’s day of fishing. 

Sibling rivalry, the bond between father and son, the excitement – and difficulty – of fishing all add up to a day of adventure any child would want to experience.

Matthew Cordell illuminates this novel-in-verse throughout with his energetic black-and-white line drawings.

While each poem can be read and enjoyed on its own, the poems work together to create a story arc with conflict, crisis, resolution and character growth.

The back matter of this book equips the reader with a Poet’s Tackle Box of tools and definitions for understanding the various poetic forms the author uses in this story.  

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

There is a nonfiction section in Gone Fishing called “The Poet’s Tackle Box,” which includes information about the poetic forms that I used when I wrote the poems for the book.

To develop that end matter section, I read a pyramid of poetry and reference books. I wanted to make sure that the poems and the details about them were accurate. It was challenging because each book was structured a little differently and included or excluded some forms.

Finally, in the front of one of my rhyming dictionaries, I found a section that outlined rhyme, rhythm, and stanza patterns. That information was my key. From there, I developed more detail about each of these poetry components, added in poetry techniques, and elaborated on the different poetic forms. It not only helped shape that section of the manuscript, but it changed how I think about poetry.

As a poet, how did you achieve this level in your craft? What advice do you have for beginner poets interested in writing for young readers?

The first book Tamera recalls singing along to as a child
I’d love to tell you that I was born a poet, but it wouldn’t be true. I can say that I’ve always had a natural interest in poetry – the sounds of words when they rhyme and the rhythm and beat of well-constructed lines have always drawn me in.

Even before I could read, I loved to sing and chant nursery rhymes. I guess I’ve been practicing for a very long time. And up until a few years ago I wrote a lot of bad poetry, and then it started to be mediocre, and finally after more practice, it got better.

The best advice I could offer someone interested in writing poetry for young readers is:
  1. Read a lot of poetry, both rhyming and unrhymed. Seek out contemporary poetry for a variety of age levels (from babies to adult) and think about content and structure as you read. Include classic poetry; that’s a great way to tune your ear to the basic elements of poetry and to see how those poets used form and technique.
  2. Study rhyme, rhythm, stanza patterns, poetry techniques, and poetic forms. Understand the tools you’re working with so that you can control your poetry. (I think this is what people mean when they say, “know the rules before you break them.”)
  3. Write and revise. Practice and make it better and better.
  4. Work with other poets. Read your poetry and theirs out loud. Tune your ear to what sounds good and what sounds off. Writing for children is meant to be read out loud – I think this is especially true of poetry. Make sure your poetry sounds natural and is effortless to read out loud, and more importantly, make sure anyone else reading it will have that same level of success.
  5. Several years ago Heidi Bee Roemer, a poet whose work I admire, suggested that I consider submitting to the magazine market. Once my poetry was polished enough, I took that advice and eventually sold my first poems and received my first publishing credits from children’s magazines. That boosted my confidence, added to my resume, and gave me the encouragement to keep trying. I happily pass along Heidi’s good advice.
Tamera's temporary desk (during a home remodel)
Thank you for hosting me on Cynsations today, Cynthia! I appreciate being here.

What inspires Tamera.


Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

Tamera's book is such a delight - the story and the poetry! Plus, that nonfiction section about forms was a great idea and will help young readers and teachers too. As I read GONE FISHING, I loved reading and reflecting on my own sibling and fishing memories Thank you to both of you for this behind-the-scenes peek. a.

reflectionsontheteche said...

I only wish I had gotten this book earlier in the school year. My students are enjoying it, and we are trying to write different forms. Gone Fishing will be added to my list for next year's class, for sure.

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