“Braiding the Verse Novel” is a series of interviews I did with writers of novels – and one biography - in verse. We had our conversations over the summer of 2012. I’ve written articles about verse novels for School Library Journal and NH Writer which draw on these conversations in different ways. Here, I’m posting the generous responses from each of the writers who allowed me to ask them questions.
Some people call me a child-witch,
but I’m just a girl who likes to watch
the hands of the women
as they gather wild herbs and flowers
to heal the sick.
I am learning the names of the cures
and how much to use,
and which part of the plant,
petal or stem, root, leaf, pollen, nectar.
Sometimes I feel like a bee making honey,
a bee, feared by all, even though the wild bees
of these mountains in Cuba
are stingless, harmless, the source
of nothing but sweet, golden food.
I imagine only a Cuban would notice that the part of this poem that refers to the names of cures is an echo of one of José Martí’s Versos Sencillos (Simple Verses) about finding comfort in knowing the names of wildflowers. However, I believe that everything else in this poem is universal. All young people experience times when they feel misunderstood. Nature, healing, and hope are also aspects of life shared by all cultures, and all ages. Rosa la Bayamesa healed soldiers from both sides during thirty years of warfare, so I knew I had to carry her character into adulthood. I also knew that later in the book, there would be a scene with children saving her hideout by placing beehives in the path of enemy soldiers. It was an incident I had read about, one too important to omit, but I can’t say that I consciously used the bees in this first poem to foreshadow the later scene. I spent so much time immersing myself in the research that real events floated around in my head, searching for places to land. Throughout the imaginary thoughts in this novel, documented historical events wove themselves into the poems.
Terry: Can you draw a parallel between your use of poems to create the novel and cultural or literary traditions of the community represented in the novel?