Poetry Friday: One Impossibly Quick—But Fun—Q & A Before Breakfast with Bobbi Katz

h1 November 6th, 2009 by jules

Bobbi Katz; photo credit: Jennifer MayWhy is my Q & A with Bobbi Katz—accomplished poet, writer, activist, and workshop-conductor extraordinnaire (that is, writing workshops for children, teachers, and librarians)—so impossibly quick this morning? Well, I talked a bit about—and featured some illustrations from—her newest title, the ever-so creepy yet also strangely beautiful The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, released by Sterling in September, in my recent breakfast interview with Adam McCauley, the book’s illustrator. I had been presented the opportunity to ask Bobbi some questions as well, which I was all about, and I figured I’d work her interview responses into Adam’s interview, making it a sort of joint interview over coffee. Well, then I decided to separate their interviews. Adam had sent so much beautiful art that I didn’t want Bobbi’s answers to get drowned out by all the images. So, yeah. Her interview now comes across as rather brief, and consarnit it all, we don’t get to find out such things as her favorite sound or noise with that wacky Pivot Questionnaire. But maybe she can stop by again another day. I’m happy she’s here, if only briefly, this morning. And I thank her for stopping by. (Don’t miss Tricia’s late-October interview with Bobbi at The Miss Rumphius Effect.)

You still haven’t seen this book yet? Okay, here’s my last attempt to get you to see one of the most beautifully-designed children’s titles of 2009. (I’ll be sure to re-post in this interview some of the spreads from the book that also appeared in Adam’s interview.) It’s also one of the Most Fun of ’09.

Katz’s Monsterologist is presented as a scrapbook of sorts, a collection of letters, notes, and interviews of one monsterologist’s research, a man who has devoted his life to the study of monsters, both the kind you can see and can’t see. I asked Bobbi about writing the poetry for this bone-chilling collection—again, briefly…so I hope she’ll stop by 7-Imp again one day for a longer chat—and I also asked her what’s next on the horizon. Oh, and since in college she trained as an art historian, specializing in rare books, I was especially curious to know what she first thought of Adam’s art. Let’s get to it:

Jules: Can you tell me how long it took to write The Monsterologist and what it was like to first get the idea for this one?

Bobbi: The short answer: over 10 years!

The background story:

I’d been growing a collection of poems packed with onomatopoeic words that ultimately became A Rumpus of Rhymes: A Book of Noisy Poems. Reading all the poems aloud before sending them to a publisher, I realized that once I got past the title, “Ping Pong with King Kong” wasn’t very noisy. I removed it before I sent the manuscript to a publisher.

As I labeled a new folder “Monsters” and slipped “King Kong” into it, I wondered who might really play ping pong with King Kong. Then and there, an image started evolving of a bachelor, an arcane, meticulous, scientist devoted to the study of monsters, and, not surprisingly, eminent in his field: a monsterologist! That was in 1996. I added poems to the folder for about a year. I could see that there were enough poems for a collection. I was consumed by another project for a good few years. However, ideas for more monster poems popped up. I was inspired by a new translation of the ancient story of Beowulf, for example, and when I watched a DVD of The Sound of Music, I imagined what a witch’s favorite things might be. Finally, I sent the collection to Sterling, where I knew a star — bright editor who had a Master’s in poetry! She took out a few poems and wanted replacements. Voila! The manuscript went to Adam McCauley!

Jules: What was it like to see Adam’s art for the first time for this title?

Bobbi: Wow! Only having seen Adam’s black-and-white illustrations for Oh No, Not Ghosts, a text-light picture book, and his occasional line-drawings for Jon Scieszka’s nifty novels, I admit that I was worried. Could Adam handle the more complex challenge of a poetry collection, where a more equal balance between text and art is critical? Could he keep the continuity of a memoir/scrapbook? An art historian by training, I was thrilled to find a first class designer with a great sense of humor. I’m delighted with his work and hope we might collaborate again.

Jules: Can you tell me about your writing workshop for kids? Have you done school visits for The Monsterologist yet?

Bobbi: My workshops with kids vary. I mostly try to keep things interactive and follow the same flexible format that I use for my workshops at Poets House in New York City. We talk about what makes poetry different than prose: rhythm, frequent use of rhyme, and most important (and usually without using the formal terms) poetic devices such as metaphor, simile, and personification. We usually write collaborative list poems.

I haven’t done any school visits featuring The Monsterologist as yet. I think I’ll read a few poems, particularly featuring those monsters which I created, such as “The Compu-Monster,” “The Verbivore,” and “The Suds-Surfing Sock Eater.”

Then I’ll encourage the students to create a brand-new monster, either collaboratively or individually. As they do so, I’ll have them list descriptive words specific to that character. The list will be like a button box from which they can select just the right words when they write a brief paragraph or a poem individually.

There’s never enough time to do all I’d like to do with kids. So, I’ll try to leave teachers and librarians with some suggestions: Use the attractive subject of monsters as springboards for studying Greek mythology. Introduce kids to Medusa and Cyclops as openers. Read “From the Desk of Count Dracula” and have kids write letters.

{Ed. Note: The two illustrations below comprise one spread from
The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme.
Click on each to see the spread in its entirety.}

Jules: What’s next for you?

Bobbi: Chris Vaccari, the library marketing director at Sterling, asked me to write a short piece about “My First Library” for his newsletter. It brought up a treasure of memories with the “friend-for-life” friendship I started with Patty O’Donavan in first grade which has inspired me to write a memoir — maybe essays or novelettes for kids, I’m not quite sure.

I’ve also been studying astronomy for a few years, which has inspired a few poems that I don’t know what to do with just yet! I’m also working on a collection of poems based on works of art.

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Note: Elaine Magliaro is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up at Wild Rose Reader.

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Photo of Bobbi taken by Jennifer May. Used with permission of Sterling.

THE MONSTEROLOGIST. Copyright © 2009 by Bobbi Katz. Illustrations © 2009 by Adam McCauley. Published by Sterling, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

6 comments to “Poetry Friday: One Impossibly Quick—But Fun—Q & A Before Breakfast with Bobbi Katz”

  1. How have I not seen this book! FABULOUS! I can’t wait to read all the poems and pore over the illustrations!!

  2. Jules,

    I couldn’t find out where the Poetry Friday Roundup was this week. I’ll do it at Wild Rose Reader.

    I’ll have to come back and read your Q & A with Bobbi Katz later.

  3. Loved hearing how this developed over 10 years. Ping Pong with King Kong cracks me up every time I even look at the picture. Maybe it’s all those games I lost to my son…

  4. Looks wonderful! Thank you!

  5. This book looks so cool. Ping-Pong with King Kong: love it! 🙂

  6. I ca’t wait to get my hands on this book! I called my favorite children’s book shop yesterday to order a copy of “Monsterologist”–and was told they had the book in stock. I’m going to pick it up today.


    My daughter’s favorite poem when she was little was “Cat Kisses.”

    Your poem “Spring Is” is one of MY all-time favorite poems about the season. I just love the language and images you used in it:

    “the morning sputters like bacon”

    “your scrambled eggs jump off the plate and turn into a million daffodils trembling in the sunshine.”

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