In which I wax poetic about … poetry.
The Mortimer Minute Poetry Hop started in September with April Halprin Wayland, who asked poetry lovers to share questions and answers about poetry – especially poetry for children. I got tagged by Jacqueline Jules, an award-winning poet and children’s author whose poems and stories stay with me long after I first hear them. You’ll find her poetry questions (and answers) over on Debbie Levy’s blog. Her list of poems for kids goes on about a mile long, and you can see glimmers of poetry in everything she writes.
My published poetry for children seems to have hit its peak with a counting book I wrote for the Dole Company a few years back — though I do tend to sneak it into my longer pieces, like Canary in the Coal Mine, whenever I can. I’m hoping you’ll see more from me in the next few years. Maybe answering these questions will spur me to submit!
How do you feel about rhyme?
I love rhyming poems, especially for young kids, because it teaches them to have fun with words at an early age. When I read poetry aloud in classes, I often pause at the logical spot for the rhyme, just to hear the kids yell: “Wig! It’s wig!!! I know, I know. It’s WIG!”
When I was a kid myself, I believed all poetry had to rhyme. Even in high school, I remember writing a poem to sum up my confusion about what I wanted in a career, in college, in life and how to live it. And I rhymed it, People, the syllables matching up like socks (well, like socks in someone else’s laundry.) It lost some of its emotional punch in the me/be, fall/all, but it’s etched in my memory for that same reason, making it the only bit of writing I still have from a certain vulnerable year when I burned my journals after a particularly bad break-up with a particularly bad boy. (Note: I have not linked to it here. That is on purpose.)
The first non-rhyming poem I ever adored was probably Ole Ramson’s I Am a Bunny, though I didn’t realize it was a poem at the time. As an adult, I rediscovered narrative poetry through Sherman Alexie, starting with Summer of the Black Widows, and ending only if he ever stops writing poetry. I’m also a big fan of Jane Varley’s slice-of-life poems. In kid-world, in addition to Jackie, I really like Liz Scanlon, Marilyn Singer and Laurel Snyder. Like Johnny Cash, I’ll always have a soft spot for Shel Silverstein, and I consider it a triumph that my kids know Robert Louis Stevenson because they heard Bullwinkle recite The Swing on a the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It’s also lovely to find poetry hiding in plain sight — in a grocery list, or the Japanese-to-English translation for a soldering iron.
Why do you like poetry?
While it’s true that sometimes a good poem can take as long to complete as a full-on book, the length of most poems makes them seem deceptively doable, and therefore, not so threatening. I love poems for their concentrated bursts of emotion – my feelings (or yours) distilled, without the aid of a Bunsen burner. I love that they can paint a picture in so very few words. And I love poetry for its sound. I was reminded of that again recently when my friend Dana Kletter posted the words to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky online — in Yiddish. The poem was already all about sound, but hearing it without knowing what a single word meant – and still being able to enjoy it – drove that point home.
S’iz brilik un di slivne toyves
Goyen un gimlen in di vaybn:
A tmimes hobn di bar-agoyves
Un di mume-roytes tsegraybn.
Why is poetry good for kids?
Milk builds strong bones, poetry builds a strong sense of word play, helps them remember things, and offers them release. With poetry, they are given the license to be funny, silly and clever, as in my son’s poem about a group of vicious, doughnut-eating cows. They are given license to put some of their intense emotions into words, especially valuable for teens who need an outlet for their angst, who are are finding their voice.
Thanks for tagging me, Jackie! Jackie also tagged my friend and writing cohort Anamaria Anderson over at Bookstogether, so be sure to check out her q&a, too. I’m tagging Mary Crockett, another slice-of-life poet I admire, for next week. Mary was a poet before she was anything else (author, wife, mother, Wonderwoman). My writing partner for the YA novel Dream Boy, which is due out this summer, Mary and I met when we were asked to co-teach a creative writing program for teenagers at the YMCA in Salem, Va. Look for Mary’s post next week!
And a last note: I feel like in my own education — and today, in my kids’ education — poetry was barely given a nod, even during National Poetry Month. More, please.
Since this blog hop falls on Poetry Friday, I’m going to double up, so I’m presenting this poem from Canary in the Coal Mine. I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler since I’m taking it out of context. Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Jama Rattigan; to invoke James Bond (and Carly Simon) Nobody Does it Better.
Sing, Little Songbird
Sing, little songbird, safe and sound
Fly, little songbird, glory bound
Feathers float on yonder wind
Pain and sorrow, now rescind
Night has fallen, black as coal
Time has come to rest your soul
Sing, little songbird, sing
Sing, little songbird, sing