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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

How To Write Poetry

Poems caught the then 6 year old's attention which led us to seek out poetry books from silly to informative, from thought-provoking to amusing...

And then, this summer, we've been reading about How To Write Poetry.

What is poetry and why is it so? The answer can be a bit ambiguous, especially for a 7 year old. So, we tried not to get too technical, but just learn from other poets and see how it inspires us.

Without further ado, here are a few books that demystified the concept and offered practical tips for writing poetry.

Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry
by Jack Prelutsky
(Children's Poet Laureate)

With a catchy title like that, and an easy conversational tone that engages a young reader, Prelutsky has presented a 190-page volume that am sure will amuse and instruct the kids (and adults).

The book is about sharing the creative process, so no academic discourse about dactyls, quatrains or iambic pentameters (my favorite!)

The one thing repeatedly emphasized in this book is to carry an "Ideas Book" with you always - to jot down an idea for a poem, a story, even just a feeling, which we can then expand later. If not written down, it surely escapes the mind and never returns easily.

Another important message was to use the tools available - like the Rhyming dictionary and  Thesaurus - when stuck for words. Although poems don't have to rhyme always, it helps to have a lilt/rhythm and a format for the words to flow easily.

The biggest tip of all was how the process can range from a few hours to a few days to even a year or more to finish a poem. Prelutsky shares how he sometimes had difficulty finishing a poem - finding the right way to end it so the poem feels complete. And, in fact the book encourages budding writers to write, ruminate, rewrite and repeat till it feels done.

With Writing Tips and sample poetry to illustrate the point, Prelutsky's book seems to have made quite an impact on Ana. Especially anecdotes from his childhood where he seems to not have been Mr.Goody-Two-Shoes.

I read the book first before I handed it off to Ana. The fact that she chose to read it by herself, from cover to cover, bookmarking certain pages to share with me, indicated that this book is quite a hit with her.

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[Sample this book at: Browse Inside Harper Collins]

Words, Wit, and Wonder
Writing Your Own Poem
by Nancy Loewen
illustrated by Christopher Lyles

The team has collaborated on a few of The Writer's Toolbox picture books that inspire readers to turn into writers.

How are poems different from other kinds of writing? is addressed in the first page.

The following pages present 12 tools, one tool per page, with colorful illustrations and sample poems, explained in easy-to-follow language.

Tool 1 is Rhythm, and Limerick is given as an example. Limericks are Ana's favorite form of poems and she creates one every now and then - not that they all make sense, but they at least have the right meter and pattern.

Tool 3 is Alliteration and Going To St.Ives is the poem given as an example, which is also a riddle. There's two great ideas for creating a poem!

Similes, Metaphors, Onomatopoeia are all explained as tools to creating poetry. And then a few poetic forms are discussed, including Acrostic, Cinquain, Concrete Poem, Haiku, and Limerick.

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How To write Poetry
by Paul B. Janeczko

Along the lines of Jack Prelutsky's book above, Janeczko (A Kick In The Head, A Poke In The I) shares writing tips and creative process with "Poet Craft" and "Try this..." sections to inspire the aspiring poet.

Poet Craft sections include tips like using Figurative Language for vivid comparisons that make the poem come alive.

Try This sections sets you to work right away. Like,

Try This... Before you read another word, open your journal to a fresh page and write down some of your favorite words. Don't stop to think or analyze your choices. Just write.

I liked the chapter, Starting To Write, early on that broke down the process roughly with the well-established steps: brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising, and finally publishing.

Submitting Poems To A Publisher section offers a few insider tips for the more serious young poet.

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A Kick in the Head
An Everyday Guide To Poetic Forms
selected by Paul B. Janeczko
illustrated by Chris Raschka

This book has been a favorite on our bookshelf for a couple of years now. Primarily, the illustrations inspired Ana, and since last year she started appreciating the poetic forms therein.

Why have rules like 17-syllables in Haiku or 14 lines in a sonnet? The answer is: rules make the writing of a poem more challenging, more exciting. Robert Frost once remarked that poetry without rules would be like a tennis match without a net.

29 poetic forms are presented in this book, with clever illustrations by Raschka that give pictorial clues about the poetic form on each page, a representative poem, and the rhyming scheme used for this poetic form. Back of the book gives further information about each poetic form.

This book is just amazing and inspiring all-round.

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Nest, Nook, & Cranny
Poems by Susan Blackaby
illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Although not directly a How To Write Poetry book, the poems here are gems - from tongue-in-cheek sonnet to lyrical free verse, the collection presents homes of various animals, be it shoreline, wetland or grassland, or even tide pool!

Yes indeed, we came across this book during our Tide Pool exploration phase and held on to it.

And, at the back of the book, the author explains why she chose a particular poetic form for that poem and how it captures/highlights/represents the theme of the poem well, and what tools she used to get that across. Example:

Tide Pool

Shallow pools in rocky ledges
Etched by sand and scored by sea.
Are beachfront homes for stranded creatures:
Starfish, snails, anemones.
Twice each day the sea seeps in
When the changing tide runs high.
Battered by the salty spray,
Sodden lodgers cling and sway,
Waterlogged before the drought,
Parching when the tide goes out.

Susan explains that: For creatures in a tidepool, living conditions - either all wet or mostly dry - follow certain rules, but the transition period from one extreme to the other is marked by instability and chance. This poem follows similar pattern. It begins at low tide with one rhyme scheme (ab cb), gets interrupted midway through when the tide comes in (an unrhymed couplet to suggest disorder), and ends at high tide with a different rhyme scheme (dd ee).

The notes mostly inspired me, not the resident 7 yo who liked the poems and the sparse yet elegant charcoal pencil drawings on textured paper.

The few pages at the back of the book that deconstruct and explain the poems can easily be expanded to a  How-To book for writing poetry - why choose a particular form, how to bring out the feelings/mood of the poem through clever use of a particular form - all quite informative and inspiring.

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