Congress and Smithsonian Institution Successfully Launches
Critically-Acclaimed Poetry Book Series
For 40 years, Lee Woodman successfully helped bring the world of art and literary arts to America. Her award-winning television and radio production work with the Smithsonian Institution and The Library of Congress – and her collaboration with Hollywood studios DreamWorks, Showtime, and Columbia Pictures -- has reached millions of people.
Now she is creating the art with her own words, in the form of poetry books. Her newest in a series of award-winning, critically-acclaimed books is Artscapes.
An interesting interview with Lee, currently my client, is below:
1. Lee, you have experienced a highly accomplished career in the literary arts and art worlds. When you reflect back, are you shocked at what you have accomplished with the Library of Congress, National Public Radio, several Hollywood studios, and Smithsonian Institution? I am delighted. There’s something incredible about working with people from these institutions –such a range of talent and diverse interests. Working with various experts at Smithsonian, I produced programs on dinosaurs, zoo vets, radar, religion, the Columbus crossings, and African art. For Library of Congress, I interviewed veterans from WWI to the Persian Gulf. My colleagues and I wrote children’s radio drama for NPR.
2. Your books have received lots of praise – from best-selling authors and accomplished poets. What inspired you to launch into writing poetry? I have four published collections, all on different themes. It’s a fun story how I started writing poetry. Essentially, I’ve been writing all my life but in other genres: radio and TV scripts; exhibition films; history, music and art modules for online education, strategic plans for various companies. But, at a certain point, I felt like it was time to return to my own creative work. As a child, my passions were dance, drama and music, and in college, I majored in visual arts. So, when I retired from the Smithsonian, I took my first poetry class at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. I was totally smitten and realized that poetry was an art form that pulled all my other interests together.
3. Artscapes is your newest one, fresh off the presses. What challenges did you overcome in putting it together? The newest collection in Artscapes, published by Shanti Arts Publishing. Luckily the founder, Christine Cote, is both a writer and artist herself. She likes ekphrastic poetry: basically, poetry inspired by sculpture, painting, music, dance. She thought my book would fit well with her catalogue of offerings. I have been a museum enthusiast and explorer for a long time. When I’m in a gallery or sculpture garden, I feel like certain artworks choose me. I go and stare at them, note details, dive into research at home, look again, and then take off with a reaction in writing narrative and lyrics for poems.
4. What is it about and who is it for? I would say Artscapes is for adults of all ages – people who love art, people who love poetry and more. The astonishing thing is how popular poetry has become recently. I think poetry is in a new golden age. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize; Amanda Gorman was President Biden’s inaugural poet; and the huge interest in hip-hop culture and rap music has resulted in slam competitions around the world. Social media has contributed greatly to the interest in poetry. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, poetry book sales have taken a big bump upward in the last five years. Their research and analysis show the biggest increase in readers is among young adults ages 18-24. The performing aspect of poetry and the spoken word is especially appealing.
5. What are some of the artists and art that inspired your poetry for this book? Artists in the book cover a range of ages, gender, and nationalities. The oldest art represented is Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych (Garden of Earthly Delights) from 1510; the most recent is “Danse” by Gabrielle Widjaja, a Chinese-American graphic artist who is in her late 20’s. I have also chosen works by musicians Leonard Cohen (“Hallelujah”), Rimsky-Korsakov (“Scheherazade”), and Stevie Wonder (“Superstition”) for inspiration. I especially love visual art, ranging from Jasper Johns pop pieces to surreal work by Joan Miró. I’ve recently been watching AI inspired work, like robots dancing on YouTube. Maybe there’s a new collection to come about that!
6. How did the arts influence you early in your life, to shape your views and way of being? The arts played a huge part in my early childhood. My family lived in France and India when I was young. We were in Paris when I was 2-4 yrs. old, and then in Madras (now Chennai) and New Delhi from age 4-fourteen. My Dad worked in Cultural Affairs for the State Department and Education for the Ford Foundation, and my mother, who was a dancer, ran a ballet school. They introduced me and my sisters to everything: dance, street theater, parades, folk art, temples, mosques, vast rice paddies, and sugar-cane farms. My Mom and I also studied classical Indian dance, called Bharatanatyam. We all loved learning different languages and my sister and I started writing when she was 6 and I was 4. We performed our plays in our driveway and circulated family newsletters to friends and neighbors – all the news that was fit to print!
7. What is the common theme or approach that you have taken in your Scapes series of poetry books? What is the DNA of a Lee Woodman poetry book? Each of the Scapes books has a particular theme: Homescapes is about growing up overseas and coming to America as a teenager; Mindscapes is about wishes, lies, and dreams; Lifescapes is about separation and divorce during Covid; and Artscapes is reflections on artworks. There is a common approach to all poetry for me. It is about super-close observation, research, exploring all the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and visuals, and allowing the poems to grow themselves. It is fascinating how very specific nuggets, sometimes about mundane things, can expand into a more robust universality. I write free verse, narrative and all sorts of formal poetry: sonnets, pantoums, villanelles, odes. The DNA I hope is a combination of precision, wit, whimsy and freedom. All poems in the end belong to the reader; they are writing their own stories alongside me.
8. Only a small percentage of Americans regularly reads, loves, or even understands poetry. Why is that -- and what can be done to increase those numbers? It is true that Americans are not the world’s best readers of any genre of writing. Less than 50% of U.S. citizens read novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. However, the good news is a great uptick in reading during the past decade. Poetry has become much more popular. Among 18-24-year-olds, the poetry-reading rate more than doubled, to 17.5 % in 2017, up from 8.2 % in 2012. African Americans (15.3 % in 2017 up from 6.9 % in 2012), Asian Americans (12.6 percent, up from 4.8 %), and other non-white, non-Hispanic groups (13.5 %, up from 4.7%) now read poetry at the highest rates. (National Endowment for the Arts) In my opinion, there are several ways to develop lifelong poetry enthusiasts if you can:
· Read to your kids; read a lot; learn a new language with them
· Encourage them to write stories, plays, poems of all kinds
· Go see plays; go to spoken word competitions like slams and “Poetry out Loud” events
· Reward teachers who love poetry, perform it well, and know both traditional and new forms
9. April is National Poetry Month. Shouldn’t we really celebrate poetry every day? Yes, although it is great to have a month where it is singled out. The Academy of American Poets started it in 1996, none too soon. Each year, publishers, booksellers, educators and literary organizations use April to promote poetry: publishers often release and publicize their poetry titles in April, teachers and librarians focus on poetry units during the month; and bookstores and reading series frequently hold special readings. However, all year round, The Poetry Foundation serves as a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry. Journals like Poets and Writers, Writer’s Digest, and Writer’s Chronicle provide great information about contests, awards, and grants. And teachers and readers should check out sites that offer poetry analysis. I particularly like Shmoop.
10. Your childhood included living in France and India. What were those experiences like and how did they shape your international perspective on life? The experience shaped my international perspective in every way: an acute sense of the “haves and have-nots,” an ear for language and music; taste for particular kinds of foods; a broad acceptance of exotic smells and vibrant colors. We were able to witness all kinds of landscapes: the desert, the high Himalayas, the lakes of Kashmir, the beaches of South India. We were considered “Global Nomads” because we grew up in countries where we were not citizens, and we were able to travel around the world at a time when tourism was limited. It was a good learning experience to be the “other,” and to experience unfamiliar cultural habits and traditions. To this day, I like to be in cities that are very diverse where many languages are heard. Overall, I feel proud to be American but sad that our country does not always live up to its stated ideals. We are living in a very broken time.
For more information, please consult: www.poetleewoodman.com
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