Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kenn Nesbitt, Interview

Tuesdays with Morzant:
Getting to Know a Poet

MORZANT: Zulko, humans. Today Ill be interviewing Kenn Nesbitt, the writer Bigfoot names as the person he’d most like to attend a monster truck rally with. Zulko, Kenn.

KENN NESBITT: Zulko, Morzant.

MORZANT: Those acquainted with my studies of Earth literature know poetry holds a particular fascination for me. Studying your work has introduced me to many new aspects of this creative writing form. Eager though I am to delve into my prepared questions, I feel the need to first qualm any trepidation you may have about this meeting. Given how you depict extraterrestrials in your poems, most notably “The Aliens Have Landed” which is included in the collection of poems titled THE ALIENS HAVE LANDED AT OUR SCHOOL!, you seem to view beings from other planets as menacing invaders. I want to assure you I have no intention of plotting to take over your planet or creating an army of Kenn Nesbitt clones. I’m a peaceable traveler interested only in expanding my knowledge of the universe, with a special interest in Earth literature.

KN: Thank you for letting me know. I feel better already. 

MORZANT: Now that I’ve set your mind at ease, let me congratulate you on your recent appointment as the new Children’s Poet Laureate. My friend Norman the Half-Invisible Turtle told me you had to best the previous Children’s Poet Laureate in an arm-wrestling match to attain the title. What exactly is the correlation between arm strength and poetic prowess?

KN: Norman is correct, of course. My predecessor, J. Patrick Lewis, was a worthy adversary but, in the end, it was my overdeveloped flexor carpi ulnaris that brought him down.

Although it has yet to be proven, it is widely believed that increased forearm strength causes improved pencil grip, which, in turn, leads to bolder, more adventurous poetry. As with all things scientific, further study is needed.

MORZANT: Give me a moment to add this to my ever-growing “to-do” list of topics to research as I study Earth literature.

Your poetry collection MY HIPPO HAS THE HICCUPS includes a compact disc with audio presentations of your work. Visitors to your Web site Poetry4kids.com can also enjoy poetry recitations. Must poetry be read aloud to be fully appreciated?

KN: While some poems are best read aloud, others, like noisy children, should be seen and not heard. For example, some poems contain “sight gags”—such as my poem “Swimming ‘Ool” (from THE ALIENS HAVE LANDED AT OUR SCHOOL!)—and are meant to be viewed on the page. Others, such as “concrete” or “shape” poems are visual in nature and would lose much of their meaning if reading aloud were allowed.

MORZANT: I see. You’ve also composed song lyrics. At what point does a poem become a song?

KN: Not all poems are songs, but some poems do grow up and leave home to become song lyrics, much in the way that some children grow up to become dentists. A poem graduates and becomes song lyrics as soon as it is sung or recited rhythmically (e.g., rapped) to music. Song lyrics also often include refrains or choruses that poems do not necessarily have, just as dentists often have drills and special chairs that other grown-ups do not.

MORZANT: You frequently employ rhyming words in your poetry. None of the native Zeentonian languages include words that rhyme. Having never experienced rhymes prior to visiting Earth, I’m at a loss to understand why I find them so immensely gratifying. Please explain to me the appeal of lines of poetry ending with words that share similar internal sounds?

KN: I’m afraid I’m at a loss to explain this any better than I could explain why chocolate tastes better than pickled herring, or why fluffy kittens feel better than splenetic porcupines. It is just a universally established fact that rhyming words sound better than non-rhyming words. For example, I think everyone would agree that “alleyoop nincompoop” is a much more pleasing combination of words than “goodbye monkey.”

MORZANT: Another hallmark of your work is wordplay. As with rhymes, Zeentonian languages are devoid of words with multiple meanings; therefore, wordplay is nonexistent on my planet. My tendency to observe the universe from a scientific perspective provokes me to wonder if there are significant differences between the part of Earth beings’ brains responsible for processing language and the corresponding region in Zeentonians’ brains. That would certainly account for a number of discrepancies I’ve noted between the literary styles of…I beg your pardon…I frequently become distracted by potential new avenues of study. But a neurolinguistic approach to studying Earth literature would be intriguing, don’t you agree? In fact, I’d be grateful for your assistance in this emerging branch of my studies. As a master of wordplay, would you be willing to submit to some virtually painless cerebral experimentation?

KN: I wholeheartedly agree that this would be a worthwhile and fascinating field of study. Unfortunately, my calendar is completely full, what with all the mambo lessons and improvisational ice sculpting that being Children’s Poet Laureate requires. Perhaps I could refer you some previous Children’s Poets Laureate for your “virtually painless cerebral experimentation”?

MORZANT: That would be wonderful. I’ve been wanting to get a closer look at Jack Prelutsky’s temporal lobe.

I’ve studied various poetry forms and even tried writing haiku. I felt comfortable experimenting with that form because of its adherence to a strict structure dictating that each of its three lines consists of a fixed number of syllables. The difficulty for me was deciding what to write about. On MY HIPPO HAS THE HICCUPS’s accompanying compact disc you state that a poem can be written about anything. As a scientist, I wanted to test this claim. I composed the following poem about my Rice Krispies Treats experiments; I aspired to incorporate rhymes and wordplay:

When I want to know the truth,
I step inside the Hortozapher booth.
Inside I place Rice Krispies Treats
to test the strength of marshmallow sweets.
Heat, humidity, and temperature
are all I need to know for sure,
the way tensile properties can change
when matter steps outside its range
of standard conditions to rare extremes—
then pulling apart becomes more than its seams.

I don’t feel qualified to evaluate the outcome of this experiment. Do you think my poem supports or deflates your theory pertaining to the limitless possibilities of poetic subject matter?

KN: Your exquisitely rendered verse only strengthens my contention that one can write a poem about anything. In fact, assuming you have the necessary forearm strength, I think you yourself could become the Children’s Poet Laureate with only a few more decades of practice and study.

MORZANT: Barring accidents or maladies, Zeentonians can live to be nearly 30 years old, or roughly 1000 Earth years old. That should afford me sufficient opportunity to achieve the honor of becoming Children’s Poet Laureate. In that event, I shall invite your great-great-great-great grandchildren to the induction ceremony. 

Your poems cover a wide range of subject matter from invisible artists to pet amoebas. I applaud your appreciable use of one especially noteworthy subject—snails. Penning a companion to your picture book MORE BEARS! would be an excellent opportunity to extend snail themes to your non-poetry writing endeavors. I believe MORE SNAILS! would be tremendously popular. Incidentally, can you provide any supporting evidence for my hypothesis of a direct relationship between the inclusion of snails in books and the financial success of those books?

KN: I have been a fan of snails myself ever since my pet snail, Smedley, won the eighth-grade snail race. (That is to say, I was in the eighth grade; Smedley never made it out of kindergarten.) Although Smedley did all the heavy lifting that day, so to speak, I got all the accolades, and I am forever grateful to him. I now try to include snails in my poems whenever possible.

Sadly, I cannot provide supporting evidence for your hypothesis, as it presupposes that any of my books were financially successful.

MORZANT: While I have enormous respect for your poetry, I must express my misgivings regarding another of your written works, THE ULTIMATE TOP SECRET GUIDE TO TAKING OVER THE WORLD. Forgive me for being so direct, but since you have clearly never taken over the world, isn’t it unethical to present readers with an instructional manual based on untested methods?

KN: Yes. It is. What is your point?

MORZANT: From my previous experience with the conventions of conversation on this planet, I recognize that to be a rhetorical question. Which reminds me, I traditionally ask my interview subjects a hypothetical question. In THE ULTIMATE TOP SECRET GUIDE TO TAKING OVER THE WORLD you list one of the benefits of taking over the world as the privilege to establish holidays. If you were Earth’s supreme ruler, what special holiday would you declare?

KN: That’s easy. I would declare a worldwide “Sleep as Late as You Possibly Can and Have Ice Cream for Breakfast at 6pm Day.” But, since that name is likely to be a little unwieldy, I expect people will find it easier to just call it “Kenn Nesbitt’s Birthday.”

MORZANT: Hypothetically speaking, I would be happy to celebrate such a holiday.

In TIGHTY WHITEY SPIDER you acknowledge the creative support of an invisible long-eared Norwegian spider monkey named Elbert. Where did you meet him?

KN: Being invisible—and not just half-invisible—as he is, Elbert and I have never in fact met. Rather, he communes with me telepathically, usually when I am trying to write poetry in the bathtub. Though often enigmatic, I find his mysterious chatter soothing and occasionally edifying, whatever that means.

MORZANT: I was distressed when I heard the title of an upcoming poetry collection you and J. Patrick Lewis recently collaborated on—BIGFOOT IS MISSING. Thankfully my concern was short-lived; immediately thereafter, Bigfoot stopped by for a game of cribbage.

I understand even works of fiction require a factual foundation to create an aura of believability. Should either you or Mr. Lewis desire to confer with Bigfoot or any of my other cryptid friends for research purposes for your book, I’d be delighted to make the necessary introductions.

KN: Indeed. And I am glad I waited until after our collaboration to challenge him to an arm-wrestling match. He might not have been so willing to join forces after being roundly trounced by my superior flexor carpi ulnaris.

I appreciate your offer of introductions. Although we have already finished researching and writing this book, could I possibly impose on your cryptid friends to fact-check our work? Being a poet, accuracy is not one of my strong suits, as my bank enjoys pointing out to me over and over. It would mean the world to us to obtain the opinions of such knowledgeable experts.

MORZANT: After further consideration, it occurs to me that my jokester friends may not be the best consultants for your needs. I, however, respect truth and accuracy in all things, at all times. I would be honored to fact-check your work. It’s the least I can do after you’ve contributed so much to my studies of Earth literature.

Thank you for talking with me today, Kenn. Please give my regards to Elbert.

KN: Thank you. I will do that. And please tell Bigfoot, Norman, Violet the Telekinetic Puppy, and your other cryptid friends that I said, “Zulko.”

MORZANT: I certainly will.

Good-bye for now, humans. While I’m practicing writing poems and performing arm-strengthening exercises, why don’t you take a look at some of Kenn’s work:

(illustrated by Margeaux Lucas; Meadowbrook Press, 2001)

(illustrated by Mike Gordon; Meadowbrook Press, 2005)

(co-authored by Kenn Nesbitt & Linda Knaus,
illustrated by Mike & Carl Gordon; Meadowbrook Press, 2006)

(illustrated by Mike & Carl Gordon; Meadowbrook Press, 2007)

(illustrated by Ethan Long; Soucebooks Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2009)

(illustrated by Ethan Long; Soucebooks Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2010)

(illustrated by Rafael Domingos; Purple Room Publishing, 2012)

(illustrated by Troy Cummings; Soucebooks Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2010)

(with illustrations by Ethan Long;
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks 

(to be released August 27 2013,
as predicted by Briar the Psychic Beagle)
(illustrated by Rebecca Elliott; Cartwheel Books-Scholastic)


Becky Shillington said...

I enjoy Ken Nesbitt's writing, and visit his great website often. Thanks so much for this terrific interview! = )

Violet the Telekinetic Puppy said...

Hi Becky, I like his poem site too but even more than that I like his book MORE BEARS! You should read it because you will like it and you won’t believe how many bears are in it because as many bears as you think are in it there are even more bears than that! I wrote about MORE BEARS! on this blog and you can read what I wrote here: http://bigfoot-reads.blogspot.com/2011/01/more-bears-picture-book.html. Good-bye.

Kelly Bingham said...

I enjoyed this interview very much. Morzant and Kenn make a great team! And wouldn't you know it--I've been looking for a guide for taking over the world! I'm going to check that out! Thank you, Morzant and Kenn.

Janet Wong said...

Brilliant interview, Morzant! No human I know could've extracted this kind of info. (And Bigfoot: you really caught the essence of KN in that photo. The man is ALWAYS on the move!)

Author Amok said...

I think Kenn just invited an alien to be our next children's poet laureate. That would be (wait for it) out of this world.