Monday, 25 January 2016

Since my middle grade novel sold in 2014, I’ve gotten to know many of my fellow debut authors. Within that group is a small cadre of poets who also write fiction for children. Some of us have had long careers publishing in literary journals and teaching creative writing before we made the cross-over to a big-press contract with a middle grade or YA novel.

One of these poets is Ruth Lehrer. Ruth’s fiction and poetry is widely published in the world of small presses. Her young adult novel, BEING FISHKILL, debuts from Candlewick in 2017. You can read about it here.

Today, I’d like to focus on Ruth’s poetry. She’s celebrating the new year with the publication of her first chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, from Headmistress Press.

Let’s take a look at a poem first, then Ruth will join us to talk about it. In my last post, we were looking at how to create tension between the characters in a poem. The small space of a poem doesn’t give the poet much room for backstory, so tension must be communicate through small, often symbolic, details. Pay attention to all of the layers that Ruth creates between the two people in her poem, “Détente.”

By Ruth Lehrer

A military man
forty years
in the people’s liberation
army, now he grows
a garden in a westchester suburb.
Fight the chemo and
the foreign food
he speaks only chinese
and I only english.
We meet in gestural middle
to discuss his eggplants
qie zi — my one chinese word.
Tempting fate
he plants my two
new england garlics
and the next year
he has eight.

I asked Ruth to give us a little bit of background on this poem.

“This poem came from a memory of an actual interaction I had with a member of my extended family. Memories, though, are always your interpretation of the event or image. A poem is an interpretation of that interpretation. Sometimes a narrative transforms into something less transparent than the original story. Sometimes not. Sometimes a simple image becomes a narrative. The reader also is an interpreter, creating a logic to hold the poet’s words together. Which of course, may be similar to the writer’s interpretation … or not.”

Small size 45k

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry have been published in journals such as JubilatDecomP, and Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, published by Headmistress Press. Her novel, BEING FISHKILL, will be published in 2017. She can be found at 

Find out more about TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH at Goodreads.

2 responses to “Tiger Laughs When You Push”

  1. Elli says:

    What a wonderful POEM!

  2. Jennifer Lewis says:

    Wonderful poem by Ruth. I used to have a neighbor from Laos, who was so lonely and limited by her English. We would gesticulate and speak and laugh – mostly of the vegetables we grew and the food we ate. I like how Ruth spoke of interpretations of interpretations and the reader brings his or her own to the table. Also, she’s a sign language interpreter -adding an extra richness to her filter.

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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