When Autumn Pivots into Winter

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20171117_093517.jpgAs October slides into November, pagans experience a thinning of the veil between this world and the next. That’s why Samhain or Halloween is full of ghosts and ghouls, witches, and warlocks—and why All Soul’s Day (Nov. 1st) and La Dia de Los Muertos (Nov. 5th) follow soon after.

What is the intersection between poetry and writing for children? To me, the underlying themes of life, death, and loss are the same. With its use of metaphor and rhythms, poetry telegraphs the deepest human emotions. It cuts through extraneous verbiage and gets to the heart of being human.

In my middle-grade fantasy WIP, poetry provides language for magical creatures—both demonic and benign. Helpful sprites speak in simple iambic tetrameter, while frightening demons express themselves in more complex, anapestic rhythms—reminiscent of the galloping beat used in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s, Moriturus, a poem about death.

Poetry with its compelling rhythms roots us in time, mimics the ticking of the clock, the pounding of the heart, the silence when a poem—or a life—ends. Children instinctively understand these rhythms. I include poetry in a blog about children’s book writing because it serves as the basis of my creativity, and fuels my prose.

A few years ago, a deadly October blizzard underscored the fragility of life and inspired the following poem. Last week, after returning from 70-degree days in Aqaba, Jordan to subfreezing weather in New York City, I revised Magnolia Leaves, which appeared on my blog: Poetry: Drinking from the Well. It seemed like a good time to revisit it.

 

Magnolia Leaves

 

Magnolia leaves clatter

like salad plates

onto bluestone walkways.

Chipped and brown,

the wreckage stacks up

while we wait for spring.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

Winter’s coming and Elizabeth

(our magnolia hybrid) shakes

her mustard yellow skirts,

bares her mouse-brown arms,

and folds her hands quietly.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Her bowl-like blossoms

(butter-yellow in April)

will unfold from tapered buds

the shape of paintbrushes.

Each branch’s tip unfurling,

like velvet origami:

tender, triumphant.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

In Buffalo, nine feet of snow fell

over three days. Twelve people died—

frozen in cars, or crushed

under buckled roofs.

Whole nursing homes evacuated.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Not everyone makes it to spring.

But I hope we do.

 

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A magnolia tree illustrates the uncertainty of life and death and the hoped-for rebirth of Spring. How do you deal with mortality? Are there particular metaphors you use to describe the cycle of life?

Please leave comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Expect the Unexpected from Children’s Book Illustrator Tomi Ungerer

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IMG_20150506_050515.jpgIn the 1970s, talented French illustrator, Tomi Ungerer was living in New York City. I still remember his brilliantly funny ad campaign for the Village Voice: Expect the Unexpected. Ungerer’s posters featured images like a stork delivering a baby to an elderly couple—the man was wheelchair-bound. Another showed a bare-chested man wading in the ocean and holding an open-mouthed fish that was about to swallow a yellow submarine.

 

Tomi Ungerer was born in Strasbourg, France, during World War II—a traumatic childhood, to be sure. I know this experience shaped Ungerer’s artistic images and sensibility. There’s an edge to many of his works—even his children’s books, like No Kiss for Mother, which is full of dark humor and pathos. Ungerer was also known for the public relations campaign he did for his native city, wherein, he produced scores of startling images like the famous Strasbourg Cathedral turned upside down to form the heel of a fashionable shoe!

A few years ago, I spent an exhilarating hour at the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg, which, according to the website, opened in 2007 and houses 8,000 pieces of his work, including children’s books like Flix (cover art shown above), and Ungerer’s collection of antique mechanical children’s toys (below). IMG_20150506_050057.jpgThe museum, also known as Centre International de l’Illustration exhibits Ungerer’s erotic and semi-pornographic works like Kamasutra des Grenouilles (Frogs’ Kamasutra), as well as works by fellow illustrators Saul Steinberg, Ronald Searle, and André François.

 

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While majoring in Illustration at Parsons School of Design, I was a great admirer of Tomi Ungerer’s expressive line, his bold palette, and daring sense of humor. Expect the Unexpected pretty much sums up Ungerer’s entire oeuvre, and his illustrations still make me laugh!

Do you have a favorite illustrator who has captivated you? I’d love to hear your comments.

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