Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. I am saddened and horrified by the circumstances and outcome of yesterday’s Jersey City shooting. I grew up in the same county.
  2. On a more positive note, I have now read two paragraphs of a Sholom Aleichem story, “Hanukkah Gelt,” in Yiddish. I am elated!
  3. I have planned a return to creative writing over my winter break: revising a novella and continuing to write the rough draft of a contemporary YA novel in verse. Do any of you have writing plans over the holidays?

Have a great week, everyone!

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. I’m happy to announce that a short story being published by the literary magazine of Mercer County Community College, The Kelsey Review, has been nominated for a Pushcart. The story is based on the man who sat behind me in shul when I was training for my Bat Mitzvah. He was kind of nasty and then I found out in the 1930s his plastics factory blew up and he was accused of murder. I learned there’s always a back story. The name of the story? “Enough.”
  2. The title of my forthcoming novel in verse has now been finalized as 37 Days at Sea: The Doomed Voyage of the MS St. Louis, 1939, to be published by Kar-Ben in Spring 2021. I can’t wait to see the cover design!
  3. I’ve now learned some Chanukah songs in Yiddish. Check out one of them here. They make me smile.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. Let poetry inspire your writing. See the interview with Devora Busheri about her use of Hayyim Bialik’s poetry in her new picture book, In the Jerusalem Forest (Kar-Ben, 2019).
  2. Are any of you participating in Nanowrimo? I decided not to sign up this year. Instead, I’ve mapped out several days over my winter break to write and I’m on the waiting list for a summer retreat.
  3. Whose writing has punched you in the gut, gave you indelible images, made you think “I wish I could write like that” or “I wish I had thought of that?” Lately, I’ve been thinking about Erika Dreifus’s poem, “Kaddish for My Uterus,” that reminds me of my own uterine cancer in 2014 and subsequent surgery and radiation treatment. I never thought to write about it. If you haven’t yet ordered your copy of Birthright, I highly recommend it!

Have a great week, everyone!

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Two-in-One Author’s Notebook | In the Jerusalem Forest by Devora Busheri and illustrated by Noa Kelner

Devora Busheri

In the Jerusalem Forest by Devora Busheri and illustrated by Noa Kelner, 32 pp., Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019. Israel-based Devora and I met as inaugural fellows at the 2017 Jewish Children’s Literature Tent at the Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, MA.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come to know the work of Hayim Bialik? How exactly did his poem, “The Pond,” inspire you? What was your process for writing this book?
Devora Busheri (DB): One night I read the poem “The Pond” and was smitten: the imagery, of a pond longing for the reality which she reflects was so beautiful, and I had already known that this was actually a metaphor also for the relationship between the Torah and the world (which is it that reflects which in this case? is the Torah a reflection of the world or is the World — as the famous Midrash would have it — an outcome of “God looked at the Torah and created the world?”).

Anyway, I thought: I wish I could paint. I NEED to adapt this thing. I need to own it, BE it. My son paints beautifully, but precocious as he was, (12 years old at the time), “The Pond” by Bialik was a bit much to ask him to interpret.

One night I did what God does in the Midrash I just quoted: I sat at my computer, opened the fat Bialik poem book, steadied it onto the page where “The Pond” begins, stared at it, and started typing. I looked at the Bialik poem like a painter looks at scenery, and I typed. And this little tiny story of reflections came out: the back and forth reflection of city and nature, of mother and daughter, of woods and water-pond, and of monumental-poem and current picture-book.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge? Greatest satisfaction?
DB: The greatest challenge was knowing when to stop: even though it is a small vignette, a slither of life, it is a meaningful one, and I believe children’s days are filled with meaningful little things, and not grand plots. (Please look into Mr. Roger’s wonderful articulation of what he tries to give children in minute 2:10 on the attached link.)

TWM: Do you participate in a writers’ group? If yes, what is the process there? If no, do you ask for feedback from anyone?
DB: I do not participate in writer’s group. My feedback came to me, and often comes to me, when I suggest the manuscript to an illustrator. In this case, the wonderful Noa Kelner said she loved the book, and indeed did wonders with it.

TWM: What do you want readers to take away from this book?
DB: I would love it if any child or parent suddenly sparks up an interest for Bialik’s poems for children or adults. I’d love it if parents and children see how precious it is to just spend time together. I love the moment when the girl is a little afraid and Noa drew her mother so wonderfully attentive and ready with a hug and then a let-go. Because fear doesn’t have to last long. It can go away, much like a ripple in water.

TWM: What’s next for you?
DB: I have a new book about R Akiva coming out in Sifriyat Pijama (Israeli PJ) in Israel. I’d love to see it in English too. Also, my book My Sister Is Sleeping is coming out in PJ library in the U.S. in May.

and this from publisher Joni Sussman…

TWM: What attracted you to this manuscript?
Joni Sussman: I was attracted to this book because I love Bialik’s poetry, introduced to me as a child by my Lithuanian mother, and I knew that many children today – and their parents! – aren’t familiar with his poetry. Devora’s manuscript put a lovely spin on the poem, giving it a new and kid-friendly interpretation for today’s kids. This book received a starred review in Kirkus!


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Poet’s Notebook | Birthright by Erika Dreifus

Photo of Erika Dreifus by Jody Christopherson

Dreifus, Erika. Birthright: Poems. American Fork, Utah: Kelsay Books, 2019. 86 pp., $17.00.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What motivated you to create a poetry collection?
Erika Dreifus (ED): I’m not at all certain that it’s something I set out to do. First came the motivation to write individual poems. I’d written poetry occasionally when I was a child/adolescent, but I’d become much more of a prose writer in adulthood. In 2007, following a move from Massachusetts to New York, and after getting settled in a new office job, I found myself seeking to express myself in new forms. That’s when I began a series of online poetry courses. I didn’t know, then, that I’d eventually create a collection that would include some poems I first drafted in those classes.

TWM: What strategies did you use to organize the poems into this order?
ED: There were several: studying other poets’ collections; literally printing out the poems and arranging them (and re-arranging them); investing in a marvelous poetry-manuscript workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) Postgraduate Writers’ Conference (mine was taught by Kathleen Graber); and asking Matthew Lippman, one of the instructors I worked with in one of those early courses, to review the manuscript and advise me.

TWM: You thanked many mentors and classes. For your work, what benefits did they provide you?
ED: Too many to enumerate! But as I mentioned just above, in some cases, I received concrete advice and suggestions, whether about sequencing poems or revising them (or omitting them from the manuscript entirely).

In some cases, mentors and courses introduced me to poems and/or poets who were new to me—those taught me by example and, in some cases, inspired new poems of my own. And in one transformational series of classes, led by Amy Gottlieb at the Drisha Institute and combining the study of Jewish texts with creative-writing prompts and exercises, I discovered an entirely new direction for my work, which I was fortunately able to continue pursuing with some of my classmates after Amy’s courses ended. (I’ve met some really wonderful people along the way, too! That’s also a benefit.)

TWM: How important is it to submit individual poems for publication before they get incorporated into a collection?
ED: I think that it’s important. Many poetry-book publishers/editors seem to expect that at least some of the poems in a manuscript will have been published elsewhere first. In that sense, it can be something of a prerequisite.

But there’s other value to sending out poems for publication on their own before they’re part of a book. For starters, editorial feedback at that level can also help improve the work before it’s included in a collection. (It can also help you realize that a poem needs further attention/revision.)

Also, having poems published along the way can sustain the ongoing project. It’s validating to receive acceptances, and to have poems published and/or win awards along the way. As I said earlier, I began writing the poems in this collection in 2007. That’s twelve years ago. Twelve years is a long time; publishing individual poems throughout was encouraging.

TWM: How do you know when a poem requires revision? Can you describe your process?
ED: I have one friend who seems to draft perfect poems from the start. I’m not joking when I say that if I drafted poems like hers, I would send them out instantly. Her work is that good.

Alas, my first drafts are nothing like hers. All of my poems require revision. The question is: How much revision? How many drafts? How many seemingly “tiny” changes?

I can’t say that I have a defined process. It varies for each poem. I can say that workshops, and instructor feedback, have also shaped revisions.

And one other thing: Sometimes, even a published poem may benefit from revision. There are some poems in my collection that I’ve revised between their first appearances in journals/on websites and the iterations in Birthright. Again, there’s no single formula or process.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge—and your greatest satisfaction—in writing this book of poetry?
ED: I return to the same answer for both questions. Organizing and sequencing the collection was a significant challenge—so much so that resolving it is probably at least as significant a satisfaction!

TWM: What do you want other writers to know about Birthright?
ED: Perhaps it’s more something that I think other writers may be interested to know: Many poets already understand that the road to getting a first collection accepted for publication can be quite long; it can also be quite expensive, since so much of the poetry-publishing pipeline involves contest and reading fees. I tried to be especially attentive to fee-free opportunities—and especially selective about sending the manuscript to fee-charging competitions and publishers. I think other poets may appreciate knowing that I invested a total of $167 in fees, for 16 submissions over 15 months, in this process.

For more about Erika and Birthright, please visit Erika’s website.

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New Writing Classes from The Whole Megillah

The Whole Megillah is proud to announce online writing classes to take your writing to new heights:

  • It Could Be Verse Workshop
  • Putting the Past on the Page Workshop

Each workshop includes a set of weekly prompts. Participants post their writing to a private Facebook page for feedback.

It Could Be Verse Workshop

In this five-week class, flex your creative muscle to write poetry in response to provocative prompts. Try new forms, experiment with genre, and discover your inner poet.

Cost: $250; add $50 for a 10-page manuscript critique.

Start Date: November 10, 2019

Putting the Past on the Page Workshop

Maybe you’re working on a family history. Or perhaps historical fiction or memoir. In this five-week class we’ll explore how to use imagery, voice, characterization, and selection of details from the past to make your story come alive for others. 

We will also gain inspiration from published works.

Cost: $250; add $50 for a 10-page manuscript critique

Start Date: November 10, 2019

About the instructor

Literary agent and creative writing instructor Barbara Krasner is the award-winning author of numerous short stories, creative nonfiction, several hundred articles, books, and poetry–most with historical foundations. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Jewish Literary Journal, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Peregrine, and other journals. Her poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press and her poetry chapbook, Pounding Cobblestone, was published in 2018 by Kelsay Books. Her historical novel in verse, 37 Days, debuts from Kar-Ben in 2021. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in many literary journals, including Museum of Americana, South 85. The Smart Set, Manifest-Station, and Kelsey Review. Barbara also teaches about the Holocaust, American ethnic history, and family history at the university level.

For more information, contact Barbara at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or reply to this post with a comment.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. Stay tuned for an announcement later this week from The Whole Megillah about forthcoming online classes and workshops. One of them could be just the thing you’re looking for to take your writing to the next level.
  2. I’m contemplating a mini-retreat for myself over winter break, although I haven’t yet told my sister I plan to do it at her house! My goal is to whip my YA contemporary novel in verse into shape after a year of writing one poem a week to a prompt. What are your writing plans to end the year?
  3. Looks like i may not have as heavy a teaching load as I thought for the spring. That means more opportunity for writing! Thinking about returning to an adult historical novel and generating a new picture book or two and some creative nonfiction essays. Trying to make lemonade from a very bitter lemon.

Have a great week, everyone!

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