Renee LaTulippe today. I met Renee initially through my 12 x 12 challenge, and quickly discovered her talent and effervescence as a children’s poet/actress/performer. So much so that I corralled her to serve as the “Poetry Elf” for 12 x 12 these past two years, where she passes her poetic passion onto other bards to be (and already are… no not to be…).
I then got to meet Renee IN PERSON in Florence, Italy where she came to film the inaugural participants of Writer’s Renaissance performing individual poems and a group poem we wrote together. You can see all those videos in this post of her blog, No Water River.
Renee is so full of fabulousness and vivacity that no matter how shy you are or how much fear you have about poetry, she’ll immediately set you at ease so you can experience the FUN of poetry. (Case in point is my A Lotta Gelatta poem)
Now, Renee has long been an advocate for poets and a supporter of poetry for children, but now she’s passing on her gifts in a course designed to help ALL writers write more lyrically and rhythmically in her course THE LYRICAL LANGUAGE LAB: Punching up Prose with Poetry. Because I am signed up to take this course in July, Renee gave me a sneak peek into the course and a spot in the private Facebook group.
I’ve taken quite a few writing courses in my time, and I must say it’s ASTONISHING how much learning Renee packs into this class. Whether you’ve never written a line of poetry or you’ve been writing poetry your whole life, this course will help you hone your skills as a writer so that ALL forms of your writing shine. In addition to the formal lessons, Renee provides a huge amount personal attention, teaching, and support in the Facebook group. I’ve read some “before feedback” and “after feedback” assignments from the students and the improvement is amazing.
I asked Renee if she would pop into the blog to provide a bit of wisdom and wit about poetry and why studying and “playing” with it is so important for writers of all genres. Please welcome Renee!
First a little about you.
How did you develop your passion for poetry?
I don’t think I developed it so much as it developed me. I guess I had an innate love of language, words, and wordplay. I wrote my first poem when I was seven and was immediately hooked. Putting together sounds and syllables has always been really satisfying.
I also have to point out that I had a couple of wonderful teachers to support and encourage me along the way. Without them, I probably would not have continued writing. I wrote about my early poetic adventures here.
The focus of your blog, No Water River, is reading and performing poetry out loud. Why do you think this aspect is so important?
Poetry is music and is meant to be spoken and heard and savored by ears, mouth, eyes, and bodies, and not just dissected on paper and left there with its guts hanging out. I am especially adamant about this when it comes to sharing any literature with kids – whether it’s a poem or Huck Finn – because, for me, appreciation (of language, story, character, and craft) must come first. And you just can’t do that in a chair!
My high school students rarely sat down. I ran a noisy and weird classroom. I’m pretty sure that “formal text analysis” happens naturally if you just let kids live the literature and get excited about it. I mean, who wants to analyze something she doesn’t first feel in her bones and heart? [Off soapbox, exit stage right]
So now I do poetry videos and ask other poets to do the same because I want kids to see that poetry is alive and fun and not scary, and is waiting to be slurped up with a straw.
What other genres do you write? Is poetry your favorite?
I am published in the educational market with nine award-winning leveled readers for beginning readers through fourth grade, which I co-authored with Marie Rippel. Published by All About Learning Press, these books are collections of short, illustrated, vocabulary-controlled stories that range from 100 words at the early end to 1200 words in the higher levels.
Through 12×12, I also began exploring the world of picture books and have a lot of ideas but only a few paltry drafts. They’re so hard! Why are they so hard?! Oh, and here’s an odd tidbit: although I am a poet first, I prefer prose picture books, both for writing and reading. Go figure.
And yes, I do have a special affinity for poetry because of the art itself and because it’s what comes most naturally to me. I feel at home when writing poetry, and it doesn’t make me angst-eat nearly as much chocolate as PB and short story writing does.
Okay, now on to the course.
What inspired you to create your online course, The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry?
As a full-time editor in the educational and personal development markets, I see a lot of books with good concepts but weak language. No matter what you’re writing, it has to be engaging or you will lose your audience in the first paragraph. Over the years, I’ve found myself repeating the same advice to authors: punch up your prose. Engage and delight your readers. Surprise them with unexpected turns of phrase. Keep them on their toes.
And once I started writing for young people and doing critiques, I realized that the advice is doubly important for children’s writers. I have a profound appreciation for language and craft, and a desire to impart that to others.
Many people are intimidated by poetry. How do you address that fear in the course?
Poetry schmoetry! The first thing I do is stress that the The Lyrical Language Lab is not a poetry course. The focus is on using poetic techniques to enhance your writing, not on “becoming poets,” so poetry is simply a vehicle for understanding lyrical language and how it can be applied to all writing. And most of the mentor texts are non-threatening, user-friendly children’s poems and PBs. So be not afraid, prose people!
Why do you think ALL writers need to understand poetry and poetic form, and what approach do you take to teaching it?
Poetry has so much to teach all writers, but especially PB writers. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so using poetic techniques simply makes sense. You need to create read-aloud language that transports both children and parents into a world of imagination in as few words as possible.
Poetry is about conciseness, word choice, imagery, emotional weight, storytelling, rhythm, and sound – and so must be all texts for young people.
My approach is to
• introduce one concept per lesson
• explain it in detail through the use of mentor texts and my own “points to ponder” analysis
• show students why and how the poetic technique works
• enhance lessons with infographics to visually organize the material
• provide audio files in which I verbally demonstrate the concept
Daily assignments give students the chance to
• put the concept into practice
• write new material, with both prose and poetry options
• apply the concepts to a work in progress
• get personalized feedback
An important part of the class is the private Facebook group, where students post assignments for my feedback. I work hard to create a nurturing and encouraging environment, and to give detailed, honest feedback so students know which areas to work on.
The course is fun but challenging. No gimmicks; just solid teaching.
Is the course targeted to prose writers who want to learn to write more rhythmically or writers who want to write poetry and/or rhyming books specifically?
I designed the course with prose writers in mind, but it’s really versatile and serves all sorts of writers:
• Prose writers looking to write more lyrically and enrich their writing with poetic techniques
• Rhyming PB writers who would like a stronger foundation in the mechanics of poetry
• Writers who would like to learn more about writing poetry for children
• Anyone with a WIP in need of revision – the class is great for revision!
So far students have included non-fiction prose PB writers, prose and rhyming PB writers, children’s poets, and MG and YA writers, from beginner to advanced. Recently an accomplished published poet used the class to polish a new collection for submission.
What about writers, like me, who already have a grasp of meter and writing in rhyme? Are we candidates for the course too?
While I do teach meter at the beginning of the course, it’s a small part of the whole, and all the concepts covered are beneficial to all writers. I go into enough nitty-gritty detail that I think everyone will learn something new.
But don’t just take it from me! Here’s a great article by Jane Yolen on revising for lyrical language, and some words of wisdom from Ann Whitford Paul on the need to be familiar with poetic concepts.
What do you hope your students will walk away with at the end of your course?
• The knowledge that every word we use is more than just a verb or a noun or an adjective; it’s also an emotion, an image, a sound, and a memory that can elicit a specific response from the reader.
• The skills to put that knowledge to work to make their own stories and poems more powerful and memorable.
Two questions to finish (and to satisfy my curiosity)
If you had to choose two of your No Water River poetry performances that are your favorite, which would they be?
The only full performances I do are of those poems in my Classics series. Of those, I’d say my favorites are “Jabberwocky” because of the delicious sounds and language (and the costume!) and the three witches from Macbeth because it took me fifteen hours to figure out how to get three of me talking on screen at once.
I also have a whole lot of amazing guest poets, from Joyce Sidman to J. Patrick Lewis. One of my favorite videos of all time is Janet Wong’s performance of her poem “GongGong and Susie.” What a storyteller!
You live in Italy with your husband and two children, and you are fluent in Italian. Do you think having a second language, especially one as beautiful as Italian, informs and enriches your poetry and other writing?
Definitely. As a girl, I wanted to be a multilingual interpreter, and at some point or other I’ve studied French, Portuguese, and Italian in depth and dabbled briefly in Spanish and German. And I love accents of every kind. Studying foreign languages attunes your ear to all the different cadences and nuances of speech and heightens your awareness of sounds and rhythms. Idiomatic expressions also catch my fancy and can spark new writing ideas.
And even the syntax can make me look at things in new ways. For example, in English we say “This flower is beautiful,” while in Italian the syntax is reversed: “È bello questo fiore” (It’s beautiful this flower). I have been accused of Yoda-speak when I use this syntax, but to me “It’s beautiful, this flower” says something completely different than “This flower is beautiful.”
Thanks Renee! I had to ask that last question because I SO want to learn Italian and become fluent. In my spare time – LOL. But on my recent trip for Writer’s Renaissance 2014 I learned that instead of saying “sweet dreams” to someone at bedtime, Italians say “sogni d’oro,” which translates to “dreams of gold.” Talk about a phrase that’s used the same way but says something completely different!
Thank you for this fabulous and heartfelt interview, Renee! I hope I’ll some of my readers will sign up for the Lyrical Language Lab and be classmates with me in July!! 🙂
Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a volume of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology Middle School and Science editions (Pomelo Books). She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and creates children’s poetry videos for her blog NoWaterRiver.com. Renée holds theater and English education degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, and taught English and theater in NYC before moving to Italy, where she lives with her husband and twin boys.