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Michael J. Rosen: ‘Read poets from other countries, in other languages, if possible.’

Michael J RosenHappy National Poetry Month! All throughout April, we will interview poets about working in this digital age. Recently, we spoke with writer Michael J. Rosen.

Throughout his writing career, Rosen (pictured, via) has authored more than a dozen books. Recently, he wrote two installments of a children’s book series that focuses on animal-themed haikus, The Cuckoo’s Haiku and The Hound Dog’s Haiku. Next Spring, Candlewick Press will release book three The Maine Coon’s Haiku. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: How did you publish your first book of poetry?
A: After I received my MFA in poetry from Columbia—which was after a long stint in pre-med and a semester of medical school—I spent another two years writing and preparing a book-length manuscript. At the time, many university presses had solid, ongoing publishing programs in poetry. I can’t remember how many copies of my manuscript I made and mailed out for each particular submission deadline, but John Hollander, the series editor at Princeton University Press chose my book, A Drink at the Mirage, which was published in 1984, the year I turned thirty.

Q: Has the internet changed the way you interact with readers?
A: These days, most of the poetry I write is for younger readers, so the online connection isn’t significant when compared to the experience of sharing poetry at schools or libraries. What I relish most is the chance to guide young writers—their teachers as well—through a mining-and-moulding composition process that I’ve honed over some 35 years of teaching.

Q: Any tips for reading poetry out loud?
A: One of my mentors and greatest supporters, Richard Howard, taught me that the reading of a poem should be a genuine experience in and of itself—not just reciting the words on the page. Read slowly, dramatically, and reveal the pleasures of the poem—the structure, rhythm, character, tone, logic, and emotion that created the poem. It is a performance of the poem, and, like any performance, practice, polish…and take pleasure in delivering it.

Q: What advice can you share for aspiring poets?
A: Be more humble than proud. (Pride is easy to come by; not so, humility.) Read voraciously. Imitate what you love about other poets. Many other poets. Read poets from other countries, in other languages, if possible. Join a writing group, find a colleague with whom to share work continuously—and be nimble with revisions, experiment with forms, give up original intentions and follow up new possibilities are suggested. Your “voice” will emerge from this kind of honest and ongoing apprenticeship.,

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I tend a few projects at any given time. Novel, picture books, YA nonfiction. But through it all, I’ve been writing haiku in a manner similar to a yoga practice. Something that challenges me every day, focuses attention, holds me in a given moment. And recently, I’ve been enjoying composing haibun, another Japanese form that combines a short prose section with haiku—a record of a passing moment in a journey or journal. I’m trying to relish the “composure” in this sustained act of composition. So I’m using my daily walks in the foothills of the Ohio Appalachians as the borders of my “yoga mat.”

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