Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meet Tiffany Stone

Here's the first of what I hope will become many interviews with Canadian writers. This is the email "conversation" I had with the kids' poet, Ms. Tiffany Stone. This fab photo of the fun-loving Ms. Stone is courtesy Photography by Raegan.

Tiffany's books, Floyd the Flamingo and Baad Animals are favourites of mine. They're filled with fun, wacky poetry with ditties like this:


Do not tie knots
in unsuspecting snakes.
Do not hop on hippo's heads
to get across the lake.
Do not cheat when playing chess
with cheetahs late at night.
It may not be illegal
but that doesn't make it right.
Do not connect a leopard's spots
or toot a rhino's horn.
Laugh at a hyena
and you'll wish that you weren't born.
Do not subtract with adders.
Do not pinch a chimpanzee.
Do not, do not, do not, do NOT
times ninety-nine
times three!

from Baaaad Animals

Tough City Writer: What's the best thing about being a writer?

TS: When a kid comes up and recites one of my poems to me from memory and entirely of his or her own volition. Something created by little ol’ me is now an actual factual part of someone else. How cool is that?!? It’s especially sweet when that kid is the one I’d never expect to care about what I write. To make that kind of a connection is…well, indescribable!

You know, the feeling when I finally finish a poem and I just know it works is pretty good, too.

The worst thing? Rejection letters from publishers. And lines that won’t scan no matter what.

TCW: Do you remember any favourite books from your childhood?

TS: The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I copied Arrietty’s diary out of the book into a little journal so I would have my very own handwritten copy of her diary to keep. National Velvet. I really wanted to be Velvet Brown. The Secret World of Og because of course there were other worlds my parents didn’t know about! Rumer Godden’s The Doll House because at one point in elementary school, it was the thickest book I had ever read. Wind in the Willows—both my parents came from England. And the What Katy Did books. Oh yeah—Little Women. My friends and I set up our own book club based entirely around that one book. Alice in Wonderland because it abandons so many of the ‘rules’ of reality (whatever that is!). I could keep going. I read A LOT.

With three young kids, I don’t have time to read for myself as much as I used to but when I do, I still prefer kids’ books. I think it’s because there’s so much hope and possibility in them. Grownups need more of that! There are tonnes of Canadian children’s books I absolutely love but for fear of leaving out someone I know, I’m going to wimp out and not be specific here. What I will say is look for Canadian children’s authors at your local library and at bookstores worth their salt everywhere!

TCW: If you could live in one book, which one would it be? (And what character would you be?)

TS: I would be Pippi in Pippi Longstocking because in real life I live in my head too much and am not brave, adventurous or athletic—although I aspire to be! I also care way too much about what people think of me. Pippi couldn’t care less! Plus I love the funky way she dresses and who wouldn’t want bright red hair and sticky-out pigtails?!?

TCW: Is your fridge covered in magnetic poetry?

TS: Not officially. Besides magnetic Lego and gears, it does have some magnetic words from CBC’s Early Edition on it that my son Emory won at a book event I was part of. But thanks to my two year old, Kaslo, these words have been ‘edited’ quite a bit. (They’re under the fridge, I think.)

Here’s one of my fridge poems from awhile ago that I liked enough to write down:

crave dynamite anatomy always
get not good enough anxiety only
hooray to pain
love being vain
how else is there
I am a cartoon
and you?

TCW: Do you have a favourite time and place to read?

TS: All day long on a tropical island. But seriously. I read at nighttime. In bed. Once the kids are asleep. If I can stay awake.

TCW: Do you write in other genres than poetry? Can you share?

TS: My very first book, Tall Tale: The True Story of the World’s Largest Tin Soldier, is non-fiction and tells, you guessed it, the true story of the construction of the world’s largest tin soldier, which is located at the New Westminster Quay in New Westminster, BC. The book was a commissioned piece so it’s pretty hard to get hold of. It was a terrific learning experience, though, because the illustrator and designer, Elisa Gutierrez, and I were responsible for most of the book’s production. And Tall Tale turned out not half bad if I do say so myself—thanks mostly to Elisa! By the way, check out her fabulous wordless picture book, Picturescape, published by Simply Read Books.

That said, my genre is really poetry. It’s taken me a long time to figure out something I knew back in elementary school but obviously forgot somewhere along the way: I’m a poet. I love writing poems. I enjoy editing other people’s picture book stories for Tradewind Books and as a freelance editor but I have absolutely no talent when it comes to creating my own prose stories. And that’s okay. I just wish publishers weren’t so reluctant to publish collections of kids’ poems by poets who aren’t already dead. And that bookstores, etc. would put more effort into drawing people’s attention to good books of good poems. Poetry has a lot to offer. I believe that the more you play with words, the more they become your friends. Plus reading poems aloud—and lots of poems are meant to be read this way—exercises your tongue and trains your ears to hear the music in language. In fact, I double-dog-dare-you to go find a poem and read it out loud right now! Just remember to come back because there’s still a little more of this interview.

Yes, ma'am. I went and read The Secret Life of Slugs . See how obedient I am?

TCW: Your poems are wonderful and funny. Lovely word play, and well, just fun. Do you play around with other forms of poetry too?

TS: Thanks! There are many, many fantastic serious poems out there but I prefer to be silly. I figure the world is a serious enough place without me adding to it!

I first got really into writing poetry in grade six. My teacher, Mrs Pudek, wrote poetry. Mostly unrhymed descriptive poems to go with photographs she (or maybe her husband) had taken. She encouraged the class to write these kinds of poems, too. Man, I loved Language Arts that year! And, you know, I totally recommend that when kids start writing poems they don’t worry about rhyme. Although rhymed verse often seems quite simple when you read it, it can be amazingly difficult to write. Plus worrying about getting the rhyme and rhythm right can put a cramp in what you’re trying to say. In fact, I only started writing rhymed poems after submitting a collection of free verse to a publisher who read it, liked it but told me that I should try writing in rhyme if I wanted to write for kids because the only thing harder than getting a rhymed collection of poems for kids published if you’re an unknown poet is getting an unrhymed one published. So I switched and have enjoyed it so much I haven’t written any free verse in a long time. Just to prove I did actually write something other than “humorous nonsense verse” (as reviewers tend to call what I currently write), here’s one of those descriptive, unrhymed jobbies I wrote in university that actually got published in several poetry anthologies:

rush hour in the rain

wet streets
shiny black like licorice
twisting through the city

traffic tastes its way home

TCW: On that note, what's for dinner?

TS: Leftover homemade mixed vegetable and bean curd pulao (rice, tofu, cashews, mixed veg and spices). I had planned on cooking something tonight but my kids wanted to paint this afternoon and, well, there was a lot of cleanup. Kaslo thinks his body makes a fine canvas!

Before I finish off, I realize I’ve mentioned my two sons but not my daughter, Jewell. This could put my life at risk so I’m going to end by saying, “Hi, Jewell!” Oh, and go read another poem!

Roger! I'm happy to obey. Thanks for the chat, Tiffany. We look forward to your next work, "humorous nonsense verse" or otherwise!


Anonymous said...

I am leaving on an airplane today. I hadn't thought about bringing poems to read. That is, I hadn't thought of it before reading this Blog entry. This piece is inspiring for both readers and writers.
Warm Winter Wishes,

Aitch4H said...

Tiffant Stone is an extremely talented poet. I have both 'Floyd' and 'Baad', and read them to my chidren on a regualr basis.

I would recommend TS's books to anyone with, (or without), children...mind you, I'm bias as Tiffany is my Canuck cousin.

Howard & family in the UK XXX