Sunday, February 18, 2007

One Poet's Process: Joyce Sidman

"Where I grew up in New England," writes Joyce Sidman, whose Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow was recently awarded the 2006 Cybils Award for Poetry, "there were a lot of forests-turning-to-meadows and meadows-turning-to-forests."

It was in the meadows of her childhood that Sidman first discovered the mysteries of nature-- how plants such as milkweed, for instance, and insects such as monarch butterflies were linked together--and her fascination with these mysteries stayed with her long after she left New England and settled in the Midwest.

"When I decided to write about the meadow," Sidman notes, recalling the process of crafting poems out of memories of the meadows that she explored on her grandparents' farm, "I felt right at home."

Readers will feel at home, too, as they accompany Sidman on her exploration of the meadow in Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, as well as when they join her in discovering the wonders of pond life in Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems, or the delights of dogs in The World According to Dogs, as well as in her other books of poetry for children.

When Sidman's not writing poems, she volunteers three hours a week at a city children's hospital.

"It has a small library," Sidman writes, "and I wheel a large wagon filled with books around the wards, distributing them for checkout. It's wonderful to see the kids' faces light up when they see a familiar book, or one about a subject they love. Books help heal!"

Sidman was kind enough to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: If writing is like do you get into the water each day?

Sidman: I try to get up early, before most of the rest of the world is active. Morning is my best time. I love the feeling of climbing the stairs to my office while it’s dark and everyone else is asleep. I shuffle through current projects to see what my heart alights on before I start working. With poetry, it is pretty useless to work on anything that doesn’t excite you—otherwise you just write drivel. So I do a lot of desk-rearranging, reading old mail, sorting through files, etc.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?

Sidman: All poetry is short work! No, really, it is words that keep me afloat. I search for words or phrases everyday that will trigger something—a waterfall of images—that lead me deeper into the pool of creativity. Then, when I have the words down, it is all sound and beauty—things have to be just right. I tinker with some poems for months—sometimes years. Although I’ve written them, novels scare me. Because they’re so long!

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Sidman: It is tough, tough, tough. No matter where you are on the publishing road, you are only as good (in your own mind) as the last thing you've written. So if you go up to your desk and face a yawning chasm, it is easy to give in to panic or despair. During these times, I set aside writing to work on developing teaching units for creative writing classes (my other job), or I read other poets—always deeply satisfying.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Sidman: The unproductive times. The stretches of emptiness and boredom. We are programmed to produce! There is nothing more wonderful than working on a project you believe in, and nothing worse that wondering whether you’ll ever have the idea for such a project again.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Sidman: I think it’s important as a writer not to spend too much time in the writing realm. It’s so lonely, and so inward-turned. I need an outward life, too, which informs my inward life and makes me feel part of the world. So I try to embrace the family time, the teaching, the volunteer work, the errands.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Sidman: That feeling of capturing in words just what you’ve imagined—and having it lead you to some further, marvelous place. Having that bit of writing in your pocket like a jewel as you head to your writer’s group to share it. Oh, and reading someone else’s jewel, and realizing, “Wow, that’s incredible. I didn’t know that was possible in writing!” And wanting to dash off to your desk, full of new ideas.

Sidman's new book of poems, This Is Just To Say: Poems Of Apology And Forgiveness, will be available this spring. You can read more about it at:

For more information about Sidman and her work, visit her website at

And for another interview with Sidman, visit Tracy Vaughn Zimmer's website at

1 comment:

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks so much for your wonderful interview with Joyce Sidman. BUTTERFLY EYES was an outstanding book. I think Sidman is one of the best poets writing for children. I love her poetry. I admire her versatilty with poetic forms, the way she captures the essence of something with her language. Sidman is a true wordsmith. I look forward to reading her new book.