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Interview: Jennifer Thomas


A photograph of Little Thoughts Press Issue Six: Fantastical Fall with a sneak peek of the poem "On the Pond" by Jennifer Thomas. A white page with black text.

 

Jennifer Thomas is a Canadian poet. Her children’s poetry has been published in The Dirigible Balloon, Little Thoughts Press, Tyger Tyger, Paddler Press, and The Toy. Jennifer comes up with her best ideas for poems while she’s walking her dog, and as a result, her dog gets lots of walks. This makes her dog very happy.

 

Little Thoughts Press: Our Fantastical Fall issue includes poems and stories based on fairytales and imagined worlds, but both of your poems, "There's Magic Right There," and "On the Pond" are about the magic and mystery that exists in more ordinary settings. How do your environment and the natural world influence and inspire your writing? 


Jennifer Thomas: I live in Canada, a big country whose human inhabitants are mostly clustered in cities along the southern border. The rest of the country is populated by mountains, glaciers, and seemingly endless forests, and I think the knowledge that we as humans are tiny creatures in a vast landscape influences how Canadians think. The natural world is a huge influence for me — I get out into the woods near my house as often as I can. I do much of my writing while I’m out walking. 


I started participating in Haiku Saturday on Twitter (I can’t bring myself to call it X) about 18 months ago; it’s a very supportive environment where everyone is welcome to write and share haiku, even if they’ve never written poetry before. It’s been a great exercise for me in learning to look closely at things that I might otherwise have overlooked, like the way the snow is melting next to a stream in the spring, or the way a leaf has fallen on a rock in the autumn. I’ve become a lot more observant, which has really helped me in writing children’s poetry, because children often notice small details in the natural world that adults miss.


In addition, I’m a person of faith, and believing that the trees, lakes, and sky I see were designed by a Creator infuses them with extra beauty and a touch of magic. Each time I look around when I’m in the woods or by a lake, I feel like I’m looking at a picture that was painted with a purpose in mind. I feel like I’m being invited to turn over rocks, peek into hollows in trees, or imagine what’s underfoot, because there’s always more in front of me than my human eyes can see.


Little Thoughts Press: Issue 6: Fantastical Fall is all about imagination and adventure, things that children more naturally and easily gravitate toward than adults often do. What techniques do you use to tap into your imagination and maintain a childlike sense of wonder and exploration when writing for a young audience? 


Jennifer Thomas: When I’m writing a poem, I’ll sometimes start with a single word — for example, with the weekly word prompts that The Toy Press posts on Twitter. I try to shed all the things I know about the word as an adult and focus on the sound and bounce of the word, and what the word might mean to a child.


I ask “What if?” a lot. If I’m washing dishes in the kitchen, I might ask myself “What if songs flowed out of this tap rather than water?” or “What if I couldn’t turn off the tap?” If I’m out walking my dog, I might look up and wonder “What if the clouds were having a conversation?” Once I’ve got the first wisp of a poem, I try to let my mind run free, without putting any constraints on ideas as they float by (“This makes absolutely no sense” or “That will be too hard to write” or “I’m sure someone has already done this”). 


I work as a medical editor, and that type of work is all about following rules and checking for accuracy. After a few hours of editing medical texts, it often feels like my brain is itching to run out the door and start doing cartwheels in the sunshine. 


Little Thoughts Press: What do you find most challenging and rewarding about writing for a young audience?


Jennifer Thomas: For me, the most challenging part of writing poetry is the business side. There are far more good children’s writers than there are opportunities for publication. I’m very grateful for the volunteers who run children’s literary magazines like Little Thoughts Press, giving writers a place to share their work. Kudos for all of the hours you devote to supporting your fellow writers!


The most rewarding thing for me is playing with the sound and rhythm of words. I’ll often start with a short string of words; for instance, “all things mathematical” was the jumping-off point for a recent poem about a government department filled with people who count absolutely everything, including all the water droplets in all the lakes. If it’s going to be a rhyming poem, sometimes that string of words will require that the poem be written in a certain meter, and then it’s fun to fit together other words that will work with that meter, a bit like putting together a puzzle. 


I love writing for kids because they haven’t yet put boundaries on their imaginations or their interests (the way we adults tend to do), and they still believe that anything is possible. 



Little Thoughts Press: Which kid-lit authors and books were your favorites growing up?


Jennifer Thomas: My dad read the Narnia books to me at bedtime — I still have my childhood copies, and whenever I open one of them, I hear his slow, resonant voice. Later, I loved books by Enid Blyton and Mary Norton; the Borrowers series left me with a lifelong conviction that tiny people might very well be living under the floorboards. We also had a couple of books by the Canadian poet Dennis Lee on the bookshelf when I was growing up, Alligator Pie and Nicholas Knock and Other People. Like countless other Canadians, I start bouncing in my seat whenever I hear “Alligator pie, alligator pie / if I don’t get some I think I’m gonna die.”




Little Thoughts Press: And what about today? Any kid-lit writers you love and want to shout out?


Jennifer Thomas: I’ve borrowed many, many children’s poetry collections from my local library but, honestly, some of the best writing for children I’ve read lately is work that’s been posted on Twitter or published in children’s literary magazines. There are lots of talented children’s writers sharing their work these days — I won’t attempt to list all the ones I love, because I’d be bound to leave several out.


Of the children’s poetry collections I’ve read recently, Kate Wakeling’s Cloud Soup and Moon Juice stand out. These two books sit on a shelf within easy reach of my desk. I admire her imagination, her masterful use of language and rhythm, and her ability to write poems that acknowledge and explore the full range of emotions that kids experience, in a way that feels unforced.    



Little Thoughts Press: What advice would you give to young writers?


Jennifer Thomas: I’d give them the same advice I was given: read everything you can get your hands on. Novels, poetry collections, magazines, comics, game instructions, song lyrics, the back of the cracker box … you’ll find interesting words and ideas everywhere.


Also, never assume that your work isn’t “good enough” (whatever that means). If what you’ve written is meaningful to you, then it’s good work.


One last thing: when you’re cleaning up your room, please don’t throw away the scraps of paper with poem ideas, or the notebooks with half-finished stories, or the writing assignments you did for school! When you’re 40 years old, you’ll want to know what 8-year-old or 10-year-old or 12-year-old you was thinking and writing.



Little Thoughts Press: Is there anything else you wish I had asked? Any upcoming projects, publications, or other news you'd like to share?


Jennifer Thomas: I co-wrote a zine of children’s poetry called Invisible Things with three talented writers I met on Twitter, Susan Andrews, Jerrold Connors, and Laura Cooney. It’s about the gnomes, sprites, and other magical creatures who live at the periphery of a modern child’s world, and it’s fully illustrated by Jerrold. Co-writing it was a wonderful experience, in every sense of the word. It’s available on Etsy at www.etsy.com/ca/shop/InvisibleZines.


My dream is to have a children’s poetry book published someday. Whether or not that happens, I’m having lots of fun writing and sharing poems. I’ve just started offering poetry-writing sessions for kids in my area, and I’m compiling some of my poems into a homemade booklet that I can use in these sessions. I’ve also launched a website: www.jenniferthomaswords.com. And there’s always another idea to explore! 


It's an honour to appear on the Little Thoughts Press blog. Thank you so much for having me. 













2 Comments


Guest
Feb 07

I enjoyed this interview with Thomas. I love her advice to young writers.

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Guest
Feb 03

Fabulous interview with a fabulous person!

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