Former Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Perie Longo has a new collection of poems. However, unlike her previous books, A Mosaic of Poetry for Kids is for children, and it can only be purchased as an e-book. The Independent recently caught up with the Longo, who is a licensed psychotherapist, a longtime staff member of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and a facilitator of Poetry for Healing workshops at Hospice of Santa Barbara.
I know you’ve taught poetry to elementary-aged students for many years, but I think of you as a poet who writes primarily for other adults. I began teaching poetry to children in 1985 as a favor to a poet friend who had contracted to teach two 2nd grade classes at Adams school through California Poets in the Schools (CPITS). It took some arm twisting, as I had been teaching only college/university students up to that time. I said I didn’t know how to teach children.
How old were your own children at the time? Ages 8 and 13. My friend had read some poems I’d written about them, and she advised I read Wishes, Lies, and Dreams by Kenneth Koch. His method is to begin with a poem by a master poet, and then show how he uses it to reach children’s experience and their language ability. I opened to the chapter on metaphor and read a line from a 3rd grade poet, “Your nose is like a banana except it isn’t yellow.” The students reeled with laughter. I had them say something about me. “Your hair is straw but it’s more wiggly. Like worms!” They then said lines about each other, their family members, and other classroom objects. I’d never had so much fun in the classroom — with words!
So they inspired you? I was so taken by the natural ability of children to write poetry, and their genius of imagination and fresh way of looking at the world. In some ways, children have helped me become a more inventive poet.
Tell me how you came to write the poems in A Mosaic of Poetry. Melissa Marsted, the mother of two boys I had in poetry classes at Cold Spring School, approached me to send some of the poems I’d written for children, having recently begun her e-book company, Lucky Penny Press. Melissa asked me to send her six [poems]. She would have artists illustrate them.
But there are 12 poems and illustrations in the book. Melissa began sending me art she loved and asked me to write poems about them. Artist Nancy Shobe sent photographs of her chickens. Actually, I visited her coop and wrote several chicken poems. Originally, we were just going to have the chicken poems be a book of its own, but it morphed into Mosaic as Melissa’s vision changed for what she wanted for this first book. Since then, I’ve also worked with artist Cathy Winton on a single-poem book: In Praise of the Tomato.
E-books are a new medium for you. What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital publication? Definitely, a new medium. This is the first I’ve ever done, and wouldn’t have done it without Melissa’s invitation. I don’t have experience to determine the advantages and disadvantages. I think it is much less expensive to combine text and art than in a print book of the same quality. The art is just so gorgeous! I always felt the art for my poems enhanced the poem a hundred fold. I’m not sure about the other way around.
To purchase Longo’s e-book, visit luckypennypress.com.