GC: So what came first, the boy who couldn't read, but had poetry in his heart, and in his head, or the idea for a book centered around poetry? How did your first idea flush out from there?
CD: My stories typically start with a character I feel strongly about, and then the plot grows from there. I work as a speech-language pathologist with high school students who have a variety of learning disabilities. I have been inspired by their struggles. Over the years I have also had students with parents in prison and I’ve seen the effect this has had on their search for identity.
In addition, I was also influenced by a world renowned poet here in Albuquerque named Jimmy Santiago Baca who taught himself to read and write in prison. I can’t imagine struggling so hard to learn something and then loving it so much that you want to center your life around it. Similarly, I once heard Stephen J. Cannell, author and TV producer, speak at a dyslexia conference about his struggles with spelling. He said he used to pick college classes based strictly on whether or not the professor counted off for spelling. I’m fascinated by people who struggle with the writing process and then go on to make it their profession. The love of language and words is very different from the ability to decode and spell. Many of us have brilliant stories and poems inside of us that we don’t know how to express.
GC: Have you always loved poetry? When did you begin writing poetry?
CD: It seems as if I’ve always written poetry. It’s been a great way to get a handle on my thoughts and feelings, especially in times of trouble. When I was a teenager, I played the guitar and wrote songs. My first major in college was music composition, but I really wasn’t much of a musician. I did much better with the words than the music. I did compose the music for my book trailer, but then I gave the score to a very talented college student and told him to just “go with it” and change it however he wanted. He stayed pretty close to the original version, but he made some nice additions.
GC: Did you include your favorite poems in your book, Take Me There, or are Dylan's favorites completely his own?
CD: The poems I chose were all written by William Butler Yeats. They seemed to speak to the particular struggles Dylan was experiencing in the story. I later found out that many people believe Yeats was dyslexic. I didn’t know that until I’d finished writing the story, but it’s fitting.
GC: Why do you feel poetry is so important, and whose poems would you suggest for someone who has never read poetry, but always intended to try?
CD: Poetry takes language and tips it on its head. It scrambles images to squeeze meaning and life out of every word and uses punctuation more as director’s cues than as hard and fast rules. Because it is so short, you have to cut out all the nonsense and get to the heart of the matter.
For someone new to the poetry experience, I recommend starting with poetry collections that incorporate the best of the best and include works by several different poets. When you find a poet you love, then check out a book of poems by that person, but don’t start there. A collection of poems by one author is a bit like a CD of one recording artist. I usually find one song I really love and the rest don’t do much for me. Poetry is the same. By reading the best poems of several authors, you get a broader experience.
GC: What is next for you as an author?
CD: I just got the edits for my new verse novel, NO WAY OUT. I’m working on it all this month and I’ll be sending the rewrites back to my editor at Simon Pulse in May. The book will be coming out the fall of 2012. Most of it is written in verse, but some sections are written like a stage play. There are about 200 poems all written by me. Hmm. So maybe you should forget that bit of advice about not reading the collections of one poet.
GC: Thank you, Carolee, for stopping by, and for sharing your love of poetry with us in honor of National Poetry month.
CD: Thanks for having me and thank you for supporting National Poetry Month!
Don’t forget to check out my book trailer.