I want to remind everyone that we will not have school on Monday. Our teachers will be hosting conferences throughout the day. Then on Tuesday evening, we will be hosting our monthly PTA Meeting at 7:00 in the library. Wednesday we will be participating in Walk To School Day. Please join us if you are able to walk or bike to school with your Roadrunner. On Friday we will have our Hispanic Heritage Month Assembly in the newly renovated auditorium. The assembly will feature a Tejano band who will teach our Roadrunners about their rich musical roots. That evening, LEAP and Amigos de Russell Lee will cohost a screening of Coco in the cafeteria starting at 6:00. All are welcome and we hope you will join us!
As the 2018 Roadrunner Rally comes to a close, I want to thank everyone who contributed. We had one hundred and seventy families participate and all donations are appreciated. Together we raised over $32,000 this year! We stretched our goal to $25,000 and blew right past it. The Roadrunner Rally is such a positive way to start the year and all of these donations go directly to fund the priorities and programs that make Russell Lee Elementary the school that we love. Thanks so much to Andy Hunt and Rosemary Stewart for all their efforts on this year’s Rally!
Lastly, I want to share the latest installment of our We Are Lee series, this time featuring Lee parent and poet, Carrie Fountain.
Drop off in the morning is a flashflood of parents and kids hustling to class before the bell and Mr. Hewlett’s familiar greeting: “Buenos Dias, Correcaminos!” In that dash, it’s fun to entertain how all those faces you pass in the hall belong to interesting humans with good stories to tell. Like this month’s We Are Lee interviewee, the poet Carrie Fountain, who, with her recent Young Adult Fiction novel, I’m Not Missing, has shown herself to be an important new novelist as well as poet–“a beautiful new voice,” Kirkus Reviews says. Carrie, who has two children at Lee, teaches at UT’s Michener Center for Writers and also hosts a captivating NPR podcast, “This Is Just to Say,” in which she interviews poets about their favorite poems, with an emphasis on young writer, women and poets of color. It’s a really fun listen– even if you think you don’t like poetry! But read on, and let her tell you more about her work. You’ll want to keep reading Carrie Fountain, I promise.
(p.s. this talk was edited for length and content!)
We Are Lee: Congratulations on We Are Missing. I was talking with another parent at Lee who’d also just finished it and we couldn’t help but wonder if there’s a character who might represent you. I’m sorry, that might be lame, I know it’s a novel and not autobiographical, but we couldn’t help but wonder.
Carrie Fountain: It’s very funny because as a poet, people just assume it’s autobiographical, that the poem happened to you. So with this book I was already prepared for that, and it’s manifested itself in so many hilarious ways. I was live on the radio a couple of weeks ago, and the woman said, “You must have just such an incredible relationship with your incredible dad.” I said, “That’s not my dad. My dad is a bartender. He’s not an astrophysicist. My mother didn’t disappear.” The only thing Miranda and I have in common is that I also am bi-ethnic. I’m half Latina.
We Are Lee: I’ll admit that the hardest part about finishing the book for me was saying goodbye to the father/daughter relationship, because the father was so cool, I was taking mental note, “Oh, this is how you parent a teenage daughter.” Because my daughter’s thirteen…But then of course, I realized that he is not real, that you made him up, so actually YOU are the one teaching me how to parent a teenage daughter.
Carrie Fountain: That’s so funny. It was really hard for me for to write this book. It’s such a different experience, writing a novel versus writing poetry. Poetry really is something that I feel is generated by a state of mind, but you have to practice it. It’s like prayer in that way. I have to practice it every morning, or it doesn’t arrive. But with writing this book, I sat down and just slogged and slogged and slogged. The draft that was finally published is the 23rd draft. Between the tenth and eleventh draft, I started from the first word and rewrote the entire story.
We Are Lee: Crazy. You scratched the whole thing and started entirely over?
Carrie Fountain: Yes, but it was the best thing for the book. I’d already spent so much time with those characters, I came to know them more, and I think maybe they said to me, “Use your hands and we’ll tell the story,” or “just let me do this.” I loved those kids. When it was finished, I had a little bit of actual depression, not being able to go to that place everyday and be with those kids. You know, and saying goodbye to them.
We Are Lee: Yeah, that’s the way I felt, too, the morning after I finished it, I missed those characters. Another mom at Lee and I passed each other in the hall, and she said “I need more, we need her to write more!” I hope that this will live on, not necessarily these same characters, but that there will be more novels from you to look forward to.
Carrie Fountain: I’m working on a second one now. It takes place in Santa Fe, and it’s very interesting because this, the second one, the story came to me first, not the characters. Whereas I’m Not Missing, the story obviously didn’t come to me easily, it took me 23 drafts. It was really hard for me to find the story.
We Are Lee: Yeah, but you did it well because it was a page-turner….
Carrie Fountain: Thank you! I really wanted I’m Not Missing to be driven by the characters, and I think that was there before I had to impose the story.
We Are Lee: Yes, well it was, and that’s why it’s hard to say goodbye to this book, because you love the characters and I can’t believe they’re not real.
Carrie Fountain: I know. They’re so real to me, too. I’m glad you feel the same.
We Are Lee: Okay. But I want to talk to you a little bit about my other new favorite thing lately, and that’s been listening to your NPR podcast This is Just to Say.
Carrie Fountain: Oh, my gosh. You’re our listener, our one listener!
We Are Lee: That’s not true, because other people I know were talking about it recently, but the other day on a road trip I was listening to your interview with Mahogany Brown, and she’s reading Black Girl Magic.
Carrie Fountain: She did not read that poem. She recited that poem from memory.
We Are Lee: Which is crazy.
Carrie Fountain: She stopped in the middle, and then she said, “I’m drawing a blank, I don’t know what the next line is,” and that’s when I realized that she was not reading the poem, she was performing it. She’s an amazing writer and performer, but she’s also just such an important and amazing presence.
We Are Lee: I know she went viral and is a really important new voice, but I’d never heard of her. I love that your podcast is doing that for us, to hear the poet’s own voice reading or reciting, it’s just incredible. What do you love about it the most?
Carrie Fountain: You know, I read poetry all the time and for various reasons. I think my tendency is to be over-prepared to discuss a poem, like that there’s gonna be a quiz. I love approaching poems in this open way and in real-time. There are moments on the podcast where I say, this is what I was thinking, and the poet will say oh, that’s really interesting because that’s not at all what I was thinking when I wrote the poem. You just realize it’s okay, there is no one way of reading a poem. There is not going to be a quiz! Famously, a number of years ago they asked the poet Naomi Shihab Nye to answer the questions asked in response to a personal essay of hers that appeared on the STAAR test—she had written the essay, and Naomi got a number of the questions on the multiple choice test wrong.
We Are Lee: Wow, about her own essay.
Carrie Fountain: About her own essay. I think that is one reason many people are turned off by poetry, or scared of poetry. They carry that feeling of, “I don’t want to say what my experience is of this poem because I don’t think my experience is correct or I’m not smart enough to understand what the poet was getting at.
We Are Lee: That’s why your podcast is so refreshing.
Carrie Fountain: When they canceled The Writers Almanac I I said to my friend Rebecca, who produces my podcast, we should take over The Writer’s Almanac! She said, “Okay, cool your jets. But maybe we just can do our own thing.” I think there’s a need for more women’s voices, and more people of color. You know, Garrison Keeler never read enough poems by writers of color and/or younger writers. So we’re focused on showcasing those voices.
We Are Lee: Yeah, right, he was pretty old school. And what you do, you demystify poems—that you, a poet and a professor of poetry can sometimes not understand what the poet means kind of makes it more human for the rest of us, too.
Carrie Fountain: And that’s what it’s all about. You have to have a little bit of faith in yourself as you approach a poem, you know? I see that with Olive in math. Olive taught herself to read when she was three. She was reading Emily Dickinson when she was four, but with math, she doesn’t bring the same inherent feeling of mastery. With math, she goes in with anxiety, and I mean it’s just as plain as day if you watch her. We had to stop doing the online timed stuff, because she would just freak out. We’re lucky she’s had teachers who approach math without anxiety here at Lee. It’s really helped her.
We Are Lee: Do you talk to her or teach her about poetry?
Carrie Fountain: I taught a lesson on writing odes when she was in Ms Thomas’s class, but I hadn’t before. I think it made Olive a little nervous to have me there in her class. Maybe it was disorienting for her to see me in that position.
We Are Lee: Yeah, I can imagine that.
Carrie Fountain: I’m talking to Ms. day about doing something for National Poetry Month through the library. There’s Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, which is great, but there are other ways you can get kids excited about poetry. The kids in Ms. Thomas’s class loved Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks.” They loved it. It’s such a great, funny, beautiful poem. Usually I’ read it in English and then read it in Spanish, too, because it’s just such a beautiful poem in Spanish. They were awesome, too.
We Are Lee: That’s amazing. And that’s so great that you’re bilingual.
Carrie Fountain: I’m not 100% bilingual.
We Are Lee: But I did love that Miranda sometimes speak a little Spanish with her in-laws in I’m Not Missing. I do think people might not know that you’re Latina sometimes.
Carrie Fountain: That was a whole thing. I was worried people were going to think, “Who the hell does she think she is writing that experience?” Because I don’t read as Latina. It really is a different experience. There was a great episode of the podcast Code Switch called “Racial Imposter Syndrome.” It was people talking about the experience of being bi- or multi-ethnic and not feeling enough of one or the other. It was a true driveway moment.
We Are Lee: A true what moment?
Carrie Fountain: A true driveway moment. NPR is always talking about “driveway moments,” where you can’t rip yourself away from the radio. I listened to it a number of times. I was just like: This is exactly how I feel. I never heard it expressed as clearly, and I was like, “Oh my god. There are other people out there feeling exactly how I feel.”
We Are Lee: That’s interesting to hear. I can’t say I know that experience. But I love it, that moment, the driveway moment, especially when someone can articulate something that you’ve been feeling and didn’t even really know it.
We Are Lee: So, when I saw you read at Roundtop, I loved your poem about making Valentines and the ‘no glitter,’ and that was so amazing the way you performed it too, how you use your arms. And you go from the mess of glitter to these big big big questions and then you closed it back with making Valentine’s for school. And it made me wonder, how much your children have changed the way you write or what you write?
Carrie Fountain: That’s a really good question. Usually people ask a question like, “You have children, how do you do it all? How do you find time to write?” Which is a great question, but male writers never get asked that question. My husband is a writer; he never gets asked that question. So I love this question because it’s not that question. I think that it’s totally changed the way I write–I think it’s changed the way that my husband writes even more than it’s changed the way I write. I think about my first book of poems, which is a lot about adolescence. I could just never go back and write those poems again. You get to a certain point in your life experience, if you have children, where you can’t go back to a mindset of not having children. I’m not making judgment, that’s just like a truth, at least in my life. I have tried to embrace the idea of writing about children. I have gone forward understanding, first of all, this is the most incredible thing a human body can do.
We Are Lee: It’s crazy. To make another person.
Carrie Fountain: Yeah. And then the experience of shepherding little lives through the world. And all of the existential questions they bring along. My kids are freaking deep, they talk about death all the time. They talk about, you know, God. Kids are trying to figure out what’s going on, you know? So I feel like I’ve just tried to embrace it.
We Are Lee: Do you do that practice that Naomi Shihab Nye teaches, the one you talked about in your podcast with Marie Howe, about writing down three observations every day?
Carrie Fountain: I was just thinking this morning about how my practice, my ideal practice would be waking up every morning and, before I do any other work, before I work on a poem in progress, before I’m working on the kids book I’m working on right now–before I do anything, I just try to write a poem every morning. A little complete thing with no value attached. I open my journal and just let whatever comes come. That is the way I’d like to begin every day. It’s a kind of proof that something—always, always—will come if you let it.
This Is Just To Say podcast: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/599139246/this-is-just-to-say
Carrie Fountain reads her poetry in the New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/22/poem-without-an-image
Thank you once again to the one and only, Clayton Maxwell for her fantastic work on this series.
Have a wonderful weekend,
Principal – Russell Lee Elementary School