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Ruby Poet in Residence: Linda Ann Schofield

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lindaIt is my great pleasure to introduce not only the 2012 Ohio Poet of the Year, but also my mother, Linda Ann Schofield (and Ruby poet-in-residence, at least for today). ;) I thought it might be fun to talk about the process of taking stories and turning them into poems. Most of us spend our lives taking a snippet of an idea and turning it into a 90,000 word cohesive novel and she does the exact opposite.

psalmsofthehood_digi-cover-200x300Her book, Psalms of the Hood, is a collection of Poems that tells the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting stories of my younger sister, Katie’s, time teaching in an inner city school.  When Katie began relating some of the struggles her students faced, Mom felt compelled to share in the best way she knew how and part of that process included pairing excerpts from the Book of Psalms.

katieI’ve also brought along Katie, to answer some questions about the stories behind Psalms of the Hood. Sara Kathleen Roark (Katie to the family, Sara to most everyone else) began teaching Social Studies in 2006 at a “last-chance” charter school for students, aged 16-21 who, because of age or other circumstances were not able to function in traditional schools. Many of her students were gang affiliated, had police records and came from truly heartbreaking family situations. She has a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and a Master’s Degree in Education (with an Intervention Specialty), and currently works as an Intervention Specialist at an elementary school in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Which is your favorite of the poems in the collection and why?

Linda: A Safe Place to Cry.  I think it best illustrates the agony of some of these kids’ lives… and also it shows that there was someplace safe that Katie’s kids could go for support.

A Safe Place to Cry

For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Psalm 9

Babies cry; men don’t.
At least that’s what you’re told,
what you tell yourselves.

But what if your friend is shot
while waiting for the bus
to take him to graduation?

What if the only answer
your girlfriend has to your baby
is abortion?

What if you receive a phone call
that a rival gang banger is gunning for your best friend
and you get there just in time to see him shot?

What if on your eighteenth birthday
your mom hands you your clothes
in a black plastic bag and says, “You’re on your own.”?

Where do you go when life is unbearable,
when no matter how hard you push
down the anger and sorrow

it pushes right back up again?
You go to Mrs. R.’s classroom
where she lets you put your head

on her shoulder even though
you’re 6’5” and she’s 5’4”
or you’re black and she’s white

or you’re a gang banger and she’s never
even had a parking ticket,
and you cry.

Katie, which is your favorite… and why?

Katie: It is hard to choose just one, for me they aren’t poems they are stories about kids that I loved as my own; they were my gift for being a teacher.  Choosing a favorite poem feels like choosing a favorite student.  I guess if I had to choose one it would be “Teacher” because it represents what I was trying to accomplish, giving them a safe haven for a short period of time, so they could recharge and be stronger when they left.  I tried to give them the knowledge and the hope to be better, better students, and better citizens.  I knew they were more than capable I just wanted them to know they were able.

Teacher

What man can live and not see death,
or save himself from the power of the grave.
Psalm 89

She’s his drug of choice.
When school is impossible,
people unbearable,
life unmanageable,
he walks into her classroom,
scrunches into a seat
in the far back corner
until she’s free.

She sits beside him;
he leans into her, arm-to-arm.
She asks him how he’s doing:
“Fine.”
how school’s going:
“O.K.”
if he needs to talk about anything:
“No.”

She’d like to believe her presence helps,
but knowing his history, his affiliation,
she wonders.
He’s one of those she tenderly calls
her baby bunny gang bangers.
Will he, at best, quit school
before he graduates?
Will he land in jail
for a serious offense,
or just for being black?
Or worse, will she see his name
spread across the front page
as his life spreads
across the pavement.

What’s your process for turning an idea into a poem?

Linda: For this particular project, there were three ways the poems were written.  The majority of the poems began as an event my daughter told me about, I then expanded that idea and put it in poetic form.  I believe there were several poems that were written almost exactly as they happened, such as Hiding Place.  Finally, there were those that were entirely made up.  One of those was One Block Shy.  Katie read all of my poems to answer the questions:  “Is this the way it happened?” for the poems that were completely true and “Could it have happened this way?” for those poems that were either partially true or were completely fictional.

Katie, What does it feel like to be the subject of this kind of work?

Katie: The book gives me a lot more credit than I deserve.  My students inspire me every day, I feel so incredible lucky they allowed me to be part of their lives.  I still have kids call or email to let me know they are doing okay, working, taking care of their families, going to college.  This is on them, they are accomplishing their goals and it makes me so proud.  I have been blessed to work in a field where I do what I love, where I have worked and continue to work with amazing professionals who give their all to kids that aren’t their own, for a society that does not appreciate or recognize until they are caught doing something wrong.

How has your poetry (and the way you approach writing) changed over the years?

When I got serious about my writing, I wrote what I thought people would like or that might win at contests, or be published.  Eventually, as I discovered my own voice, I felt comfortable about writing what I thought was valuable no matter what others thought.  Psalms of the Hood is the result of that change.

Is there a lot of revision in poetry? How does your revision process differ from your new writing process?

Poetry, like (I presume) fiction and non-fiction, involves a great deal of revision.  I’ve found that spending years revising the poems in the manuscript, it’s now very difficult for me to get back to writing original work.

Linda will be giving away a copy of Psalms of the Hood in print or ebook to one lucky commenter.


2012 Ohio Poet of the Year, Linda Ann Schofield has lived most of her life in western Ohio. She earned her B.A. in English from California State University Los Angeles, an M.Ed. from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and an M.A. with a creative thesis from the Ohio State University where she had the good fortune to work with the poet, David Citino. She is a member of the Cincinnati Writers Project, Ohio Poetry Association, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. She participated in the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. She started her retirement from 31 years in the education field—most as a high school librarian—in June of 2005 when she moved to the Cincinnati area to be near her two daughters and grandchildren. You can find out more information about her at www.lindaannschofield.com.

Psalms of the Hood has clarity and purpose. What a thought! – Matching a teacher’s experience in the “hood” with excerpts from the Psalms. This book is about the impossible job of teaching in an inner city school. The poems go right to the heart of the matter – poverty, abuse, drugs and gangs. The “boy who lies in the morgue” will stay with the reader, as well as an understanding of why the problems, such as drugs, exist. This is a moving story of a journey of faith that brings hope to the hopeless, yet it has a heart-breaking end, when a good teacher finally withdraws from the war zone in the inner city. All poems are focused on the lasting impact of the uphill battle for the students and teachers as well.

Diane Glancy, judge for the Ohio Poet of the Year award

Psalms of the Hood is available on Amazon in print and ebook.

29 Responses to “Ruby Poet in Residence: Linda Ann Schofield”

  1. Linda and Katie, what an amazing interview! You’ve found a way to cut to the heart of what must be an incredibly complex issue, and express it with emotion for the heart that lies beneath all of the anger and desperation. I am blown away by the simplicity and power of the two poems you shared–thank you in particular for doing that.

    What is your next project, Linda??

    • Thanks for your lovely comments, Jennifer. Sadly, I can’t seem to get out of my revision mode. A friend suggested that after my chapbook had been out for a while, I might want to revise the remaining poems and add them to the original (revised and expanded). There are actually 51 poems in the whole collection. Time will tell, although I’d really like to get back to writing original “stuff”. :)

  2. Sienna Condy says:

    Great interview, Linda and Katie, and the poems are so emotionally powerful and honest. And kudos to you for writing something from the heart, Linda, not for the praise or the contests.

    I think that’s probably one of the hardest things to do sometimes as a writer, to write what you want to write, instead of what you think will sell or win.

    That and getting out of revision mode. :)

  3. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    Congrats on becoming Ohio’s Poet of the Year. From reading just two poems, the title is well deserved. Both seized my heart, and isn’t that the purpose of poetry–to move the reader? Well done!

    Thank you, Linda and Sara, for being our guests today and sharing your lives and work. You’re both an inspiration.

  4. Addison Fox says:

    What a wonderful interview, Linda & Katie – thanks so much for spending the day with us.

    This is such moving work – so glad you’re our Poet in Residence today! :-)

    Addison

    • Addison, it’s such a thrill to be in contact with women whose names I’m familiar with either through their books (on Liz’s shelf or my Kindle) or through a blog. As far as being Poet in Residence, it’s my pleasure.

  5. Wonderful, thought-provoking, tear-tugging, heart-thudding poetry. You are amazingly talented. Thank you for putting your talent toward such a worthy project.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Heather

    • Thank you, for your encouragement. This project was such a joy to do. Katie told me the stories, I turned them into poems, my older granddaughter took the back cover pictures and Liz designed the cover and the layout, a real family affair. …painfully wonderful experience!

  6. Thanks so much for being here today, Linda (and Sara). Whenever I read poetry, I’m struck by the power of words. I love your title, and how you incorporate psalms as an “intro” to the poem – what a unique concept. (At least to me. :) )

  7. Rita Henuber says:

    Congratulations on the award and on having two brilliant and beautiful daughters. This is a thought provoking post. Thank you for visiting.

  8. Diana Layne says:

    Amazing poems and congratulations for being so deservedly recognized. And it appears the apples don’t fall too far from the tree. Thanks for visiting and sharing!

  9. Elizabeth Langston says:

    all i can say is… Wow. We are not worthy. You’re changing the world.

    • …changing the world. That’s my hope. I truly believe that these poems are God inspired and that somewhere, someone will read them and say, “I can do something about kids like these.” They’re so desperately in need of love and support.

  10. Tamara Hogan says:

    Such beautiful work, Linda. Thanks for being our Poet In Residence today! Sara, thank YOU for caring for these kids, for giving them some tools to manage challenges most of us cannot begin to imagine.

    • It’s kind of fun to be a poet among novelists. I feel like a little kid who wonders if she’s going to be in trouble for being someplace she shouldn’t be. In any case, it was fun to join the group, if only for a day.

  11. Elise Hayes says:

    Wow, Linda, the two poems posted just brought tears to my eyes. Simple, spare language for such huge emotions. Thank you for writing these, and thank you for sharing them.

  12. Suz Wipperling says:

    Congrats Linda, on a great interview, well deserved accolades, and timely recognition! Hope to see you up north this year?

    • Hi, Suz! I’m not going to be able to go to NFSPS Convention so I’m hoping to be able to go to Woodtick. I’m thrilled with all the wonderful comments on this blog. It’s quite humbling.

  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    Such beautiful and moving poems, Linda! Thank you so much for being with us today.

    The “baby bunny gang bangers” need a loving voice like yours to help make their world more hopeful.

    • I cherished every story that Sara told me about her kids. Even within the horror of their lives, she was able to release a touch of humor. She got away with teasing them as many teachers would never try to do. The two poems included here, tell so much about their lives.

  14. Amanda Brice says:

    Linda, I had the fortune to read these poems a couple of weeks ago and was just blown away. So powerful and touching.

    Many thanks to both you and Katie for your wonderful work in changing lives.

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