Poetry Friday February 21, 2020: Introducing Avis Harley

Hello everyone, and welcome to Poetry Friday. I'm excited to be hosting today for my second time! Leave your links below and enjoy a special day celebrating poetry.

This is my second time highlighting and bragging about Vancouver children's poets. We have a wealth of talent here north of the 49th parallel! Today I'm introducing you to Avis Harley. She has been an important influence in the teaching of poetry to children here in Vancouver, across Canada, in the United States, and around the world.




I met Avis (long A sound here) Harley at her home near the edge of where the forest meets the city. Her home is as elegant as she is herself. Avis was warm and welcoming on a very cold and rainy Vancouver morning. Because I was nervous, I wore my comfortable green plaid jumper. Avis was also attired in green. It's both of our favourite colours! While Avis prepared coffee for me, I admired the photograph of the baby on her kitchen counter and learned that she is a great-grandmother! 


She had asked for a list of questions ahead of time so I sent them off. Shortly thereafter I received a written response - it seemed like my blog was already written for me! (Much of it in poetry!) However, as I read it over, I came up with even more questions for her. So while munching on fresh fruit, her favourite food, we sat snug and warm inside, and talked about life and poetry.


I asked her what she was passionate about, (aside from poetry). I hope by the end of reading this, you might be able to figure out what it is.


Early Years and Poetic Influences


 Avis was born in Vancouver, BC in 1941. She and her three siblings were raised in West Vancouver in a house overlooking acres of forest in the foreground (there was no Lions Gate Bridge, or Park Royal, or houses around them when her parents built their home). They had a splendid view of the harbour and Vancouver beyond that.


As a child she listened to her animated grandmother recite nursery rhymes and poetry. Her mother read the A.A. Milne series and Robert Louis Stevenson to them.


"I still have those time-worn copies on my book shelf. Perhaps the rhythm and rhyme patterns of these poets were early influences.


I always enjoyed playing with words, and kept diaries (with a lock and key!) and wrote poems at a young age. During my final year in high school, I had a wonderful English Literature teacher who introduced me to Tennyson, A.E. Housman, Robert Frost, and so many others. I also took a Creative Writing course in Grade 12, and was exposed to many different kinds of poetic forms, and discovered how poets could turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. I wrote and experimented with a lot of poetry in that class, and realized how important it was to me."


Reading has been a part of my daily life. Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott were favourites in my early days. 


Books she recently enjoyed include The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Her favourite poetry collection is COMMITTED TO MEMORY—100 Best Poems to Memorize (edited by John Hollander) It’s full of poems I love, and as I age, I try and challenge my brain to memorize some of them.


These days Avis enjoys the work of Billy Collins, A.E. Housman, Anne Michaels, Robert Frost, (and others).
A favourite poem is one she learned years ago: "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. You can read the poem here.

Until our meeting I did not know of 
Anne Michaels, a Canadian poet. Avis introduced me to "Memorium", a poem I have come to adore. 

Memoriam 

In lawn chairs under stars.  On the dock
At midnight, anchored by winter clothes,
We lean back to read the sky.  Your face white
In the womb light, the lake’s electric skin.

I encourage you to read the rest here

After completing her B.Ed Avis taught in schools in Canada and then travelled around the world with a few friends. She ended up teaching in England where she was introduced to the British Primary System.  She then returned to teach in Canada where she implemented much of what she had learned there.

"My love of children’s poetry grew out of my love of working with children.

I have always wanted to be a teacher, and joined the Future Teachers Club when I was in Grade 9 in high school. I taught Grade 1 to Grade 5, and have been listening to the language of children ever since."

Eventually she returned to University to complete her MA in Poetry in Children's Literature. At that time no poetry courses were offered. After graduating she was asked to put together a program for teachers. For twelve years she taught a poetry course at UBC in the Language and Literacy Department, "exploring with teachers and librarians ways to bring children and poetry together." Throughout her career Avis has been a writer-in-residence, mentor, workshop leader, and has given poetry presentations in Canada, U.S., Hong Kong, and Japan.


On Writing 

As a writer, the best advice she received is to keep trying. Resilience is key. Her advice to new poets is, 
Read lots and lots of poetry. Find your own voice and write what you want to write about.

Avis  has no specific writing routine except when she is on a roll. For her the easiest thing about writing is choosing a topic. The hardest is to get that poem so it feels complete. 
Over time she has become experimental and uses a myriad of different forms. She also edits much more.

Sometimes I stare at a blank white page stuck in the tabula rasa stage.

Before me lies an intriguing task where my chosen subject seems to ask:

What to say? Where to begin?

How to get out what is within?
Should it be free verse? Limerick? Haiku?
A couplet? Acrostic? A Clerihew?

A myriad of forms to find and explore that inner voice not heard before!

My poems go through many revisions. Over and over I edit decisions.
Rework! Rewrite! Revise! Refine! Polishing a poem, line by line.

Always, when writing, I read aloud. Does the rhythm flow? Do syllables crowd?

Does the subject dictate how form should be? Do lines resonate inside of me?
And when a poem won’t cooperate I file it away for a later date.

Like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, poems evolve and modify:


EDITING THE CHRYSALIS


At last,” cried Butterfly,


 Poised

 Over its
 Empty chrysalis,
My final draft!”

Publishing and Published Works


After sending her work off to numerous Canadian publishers and getting rejection after rejection, she was recommended to send her work off to an American publisher in the education market. The rest as they say, is history. Avis has had her work published in numerous collections including those curated by J. Patrick Lewis and Lee Bennet Hopkins.


Her meticulous poetry is tailored for work in classrooms. All writing teachers should have her work in their collection. It is brilliant mentor text. If you are looking for poetry with nonfiction content, Avis presents brilliant examples in multiple poetic formats. All of her work contains additional information in the back matter about either the form itself, or the content of the poem. A few of her poems, were even put to music by Scholastic. Alas I can find no record of them online.




She is most proud of Fly with Poetry: An ABC of Poetry, (2000) "because there is something special about your first published book. 

This self illustrated, alphabetically listed collection of different poetic forms begins with an abecedarian poem. Each poem is presented with a description of the format at the bottom of the page. An illustration references the content of the verse. This collection contains the doublet, turned into a poetic form by Avis, where a word is changed, one letter at a time, into another word.




She also created the "Intravista” which was introduced on Sylvia Vardell's blog, Poetry for Children. 
Avis defines an Intravista as "words within words, arranged vertically, to make a poem within a poem. (The word Intravista has a word tucked inside it!)


How fine a thing am I to be all wing and eye!

A companion book, Leap Into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry (2001) continues with another twenty six poetic forms, each of them highlighting a different tiny creature.


In Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems, Margaret Butschler's gorgeous photographs of ocean life are accompanied by Avis' delightful poetry. The back matter contains additional information about the species in the images.


I was never an acrostics fan until I read African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley and photographer, Deborah Noyes. The book pairs photographs of African animals with delightful acrostic poems. This is not acrostic poetry with one almost unrelated word for each letter! In these examples of different kinds of acrostic poems you will forget you are reading acrostic poetry. I had no idea there were so many variations!  You can read how I used it with a group of students hereI've highlighted the letters to read vertically so you can see that there is a poem inside this poem. 

Eyes read what ears hear.

Another self illustrated book, The Monarch's Progress: Poems with Wings, contains different forms of poetry that inform readers about these magnificent creatures.


Harley's work has received many awards and accolades. She is most pleased with African Acrostics being named one of the best books of the year by the New York Public Library. It is in its 8th printing!


These days Avis has a work in progress about having fun with collective nouns. She showed me a gorgeous self illustrated book about bees that needs to find a publisher.


Avis is a role model for how to age with grace and dignity. When not writing, she keeps herself very busy. For the past 40 years, I have been very involved in two lively book groups, reading a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction and thoroughly enjoying the animated discussions at meetings. Avis is also involved with the Women's Probus Club of Vancouver, and volunteered with the after school music program at St. James Music Academy. Once an avid hiker, she's now part of a walking group that meets daily from 8:15 to 9:15. Birds fascinate her and she keeps track of all the different species who visit her spacious back yard. I suspect she makes the most of birding when she visits Salt Spring Island, her favourite vacation spot. Every Christmas Eve, Avis and her family sit down together to watch her favourite movie, Alastair Sim in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”

She regularly attends opera and live theatre. Her favourite music is Chopin’s piano compositions and Saturday Met Broadcasts. "Music has been a major influence in my life. I have fun with the ukulele, and I take piano lessons, took voice lessons in my youth, and sang for many years in the Vancouver Opera Chorus. The combination of words and music and how everything comes together to create such harmony has always thrilled me." 
(Please note that I put those words in bold to help you figure out what she is passionate about. She still practices her piano every day.)

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?


From the start, every child would receive quality education. This would mean that education in the arts and music would be as important as learning about math, literature, history, and science.


if you haven't figured out what Avis Harley is passionate about, aside from poetry that is, here is your last clue in a poem I scrabbled together using her work as mentor text. 


Mastery of the keyboard
Underpins
Success at the piano, but
Integrated voices are a holy
Commune wherein the sacred rings

I leave you with Avis' favourite quote about poetry:

"Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom" Robert Frost

If you want to learn more about Poetry Friday, click here.

Leave your links below, and let's get this party started!
You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter


44 comments:

  1. Wow! What a fabulous post. So enjoyed learning all about Avis's life and work. I do remember reading African Acrostics when I was a Cybils Poetry judge years ago. But I haven't read any of the other titles you shared here. How lovely that you were able to meet in person. I love that Avis is passionate about education and music in addition to poetry. Her other passion: chorale music? :) Thanks so much for this, and for hosting this week, Cheriee!! (my post goes live Friday morning at 6 a.m.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think she is just passionate about music in general!

      Delete
  2. Cheriee, what an absolutely delightful post. I love learning about new poets and Avis is new to me....but I can't wait to try the intravista! Thank you for your thoughtful interview and poems and book covers. Knowing Avis has been a teacher just makes me so happy. How many lives have been touched by her passions? So many....we are all fortunate.
    I am sharing a cento poem from New Years cards this week. See you soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see so many teachers teaching children forms of poetry here in Vancouver, and think of Avis getting it all started!

      Delete
  3. What a marvelous post Cheriee, I'm so happy to learn about Avis Harley, her life, poetry, and her books! Actually I am familiar with her via her book "African Acrostics" which is an amazing book, and I've also used it in poetry and art workshops that I do. Though now it's even more special to me, for I've learned so much more about the poet and her background. Thanks for hosting this week!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so happy to learn that you know about African Acrostics - It really is brilliant!

      Delete
  4. I love what Avis does with words - so creative and fun, yet quite thoughtful. Thanks for sharing her with us, Cheriee!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so happy to spread the news about Canadian authors of any kind!

      Delete
  5. I love Monarch's Progress and also enjoyed African Acrostics. But I learned so much from your post. I clearly need to get more of Avis' beautiful work to read. Thank you, and thanks for hosting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy that you know about her work. It is indeed beautiful!

      Delete
  6. Wow. Just wow. I am so inspired by this post. I love Avis' wordplay! Thank-you so much for sharing - and for hosting us today. I'm inspired!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fantastic interview and retrospective of Avis's work, Cheriee. It was wonderful getting to know her as a poet and person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this Michelle. I'm thankful for your unwitting inspiration that got me finally moving towards doing these interviews. It turns out they are a lot of fun too!

      Delete
  8. Wow, Cheriee, there's so much to love here, and it's all new to me. Thank you for sharing Avis' work. It really is time for us to spread out to learn about more writers in the world. And thanks for hosting, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we all need to spread out to learn more about other writers. I do it with reading fiction and even nonfiction, but need to 'fly into poetry' of many other kinds of people.

      Delete
  9. Cheriee, thank you for introducing me to another Canadien poet. I am fascinated by Avis' new poetic form, intravista, and her level of word play. This quote of hers about poetry is wonderful and shall go into my notebook. "Like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, poems evolve and modify." Thank you for hosting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so happy to have introduced Avis to you and others today. She really is brilliant!

      Delete
  10. Fascinating interview, Cheriee! Wonderful details. Avis sounds like a delightful person to spend time with, either in person or on the page. I loved "Memoriam" by Anne Michaels, too -- thanks for introducing me to *two* Canadian poets, and thanks for hosting!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really like your "red wheelbarrow" poem, Cheriee! May I include it in the collection?

      Delete
    2. I wasn't sure you saw this comment, Cheriee, so I added it anyway -- hope that's okay! Thanks!

      Delete
  11. Thanks for hosting! I can't wait to read your whole post. Avis Harley is one of my poetry superheroes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes me so excited and happy that you know of Avis and that you appreciate her as much as I do!

      Delete
  12. This was a rich and fascinating post, and I will be back to reread it. I loved learning about Avis Harley and dipping into her world. I was also wowed by the Anne Michaels poem. Thanks so much for hosting this week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm grateful to be able to introduce two Canadian talents today. I plan on reading more of Anne Michaels work!

      Delete
  13. Thank you for hosting Cheriee! I found your post very timely as I’ve considered doing interviews on my blog. Any tips on requesting an interview with someone you don’t know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I started out with someone I did know, Bob Heidebreder
      I asked him for recommendations for who to interview next and he suggested Avis. When I asked for her contact information, he introduced us through email. I was able to direct her to his interview so she would have some idea what she was getting into. I'm hoping that having these posts to show off will be helpful when it comes time for the next interview.

      Delete
  14. Cheriee, thank you for hosting and for bringing to us Avis Harley! I do believe Avis is also passionate about wordplay! Lots of gymnastics in those poems. Brava! I love the image of you two in green, talking words and books and music. Thank you for sharing with all of us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a delightful morning Irene. I feel like I have made a new friend and look forward to getting together and talking about books another time.

      Delete
  15. Thank you for introducing Avis Harley and her poetry and passion. She is amazing, and your post is so full of good stuff. Like you, I was not a fan of acrostics (those single word lines that never seemed to hang together), but the one you shared from her Africa collection blows my mind. I want more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you manage to track down a copy of African Acrostics and that you will be as inspired as I am!

      Delete
  16. Wow, I learned so much about a new-to-me poet. Thanks for this lovely post and lovely introduction to Avis Harley!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad to be spreading the word about our local talent!

      Delete
  17. Thanks for this Avis post, Cheriee! I feel like I know her now, and somehow that we're kindred spirits. Her poetry gave me some good insights and tips going forward, also. I will look further for her work, thanks to you! Bravo on this post, and thanks for hosting today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are most welcome Karen. I'm so glad you feel that way. I think we all might be kindred spirits!

      Delete
  18. What a wonderful post! Thank you! And thanks for hosting, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy to share Avis Harley with the rest of the world!

      Delete
  19. Oh! I had FLY WITH POETRY when I was a new teacher, and it is one of the books which helped me fall in love with children's poetry. Thank you for this rich post. I am copying lines into my notebook and ordering a couple of Avis's favorite books for myself. You are a wonderful interviewer! Gratitude! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It makes me so happy to read that you had this book! Isn't it brilliant with such rich mentor text? Thanks so much for your compliment on my interviewing skills.

      Delete
  20. Thanks for introducing me to Avis Harley! I really enjoyed reading the poems you shared. The acrostic is amazing! And, as any word nerd would, I love the intravista and doublet, too. I'm inspired to try some new forms and read more of Avis' poems. Thanks for hosting, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am happy you are impressed with Avis' work. She is really inspiring!

      Delete
  21. Wow wow wow...I have Avis's African Acrostics book and have used it fre*uently with kids studying habitats, but I didn't know anything about her and had not met my new favorite form, the intravista! Thank you so much, Cheriee, and if she approves, would you send me Avis's contact information? I'm inspired to thank her personally!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thank you for introducing us to Avis. I am copying "Editing the Chrysalis" into my writing notebook. It's brilliant!

    ReplyDelete