How I Spent Poetry Month…and a Giveaway!

NPM2013_logo_350April has FLOWN, a swirl of dandelion seeds dancing away on a warm spring breeze. It’s a wonderful month to celebrate poetry…the world is waking up from winter and beautiful things are springing forth from their long, dark slumber, delighting us every day.

I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to for poetry month, but there’s no reason why these celebrations have to be contained within the month of April. Here are a few of the things I did. Leave a comment and tell me how you celebrated!

For me, the normally bright feel of April was darkened by the events of April 15, as I watched the Boston Marathon with my family at mile 23—a tradition of 35 years. The bombing and subsequent manhunt and lockdown of our towns felt surreal as I watched on TV, as I tried to explain to my 7-year-old what was happening, and as I responded to far-flung friends who wrote to check in. We’re now making our way back to “normal” — far easier for us than for those who were injured and lost family members and friends, and for that I am thankful. But still, I am not sure what normal is anymore. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky responded to this feeling in the Boston Globe the week after the blasts, and shared this poem.

ATCGW coverA Poetry Giveaway…

As my final tribute to poetry month, I am hosting my first-ever GIVEAWAY on this blog. Up for grabs is a copy of And the Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems (which contains my poem ‘Superfan’) signed by me and several others included in the anthology. Just leave a comment to share how you celebrated Poetry Month to earn one point. (Bonus point if you are a follower of this blog!) I’ll tally the points and draw a winner.

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – The Beat


It’s been a little while since I posted in my blog series about WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I’ve been a little busy…well, writing picture books, among other things. But I did want to check in sometime during poetry month about Chapter 13, “Rhyme Time.”

When I was in high school, my Latin teacher thought it was fun and educational to have all us students sweat blood while translating Virgil’s Aeneid. I’m sure you all know it. It’s the one that starts out, “Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris/Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit.” No? Not ringing any bells?

In addition to translating (and memorizing large chunks of) this Latin tome, another assignment was to scan the poetry, marking the stressed and unstressed syllables of Virgil’s dactylic hexameter.

Dactyli-who Hexa-whatsit?

Fast forward several years (OK, decades) and this seemingly impractical skill is now very helpful to me as I write poetry and rhyming picture book stories. Yes! I am actually using something I learning in high school. Thanks, Mr. Esposito.

One thing I like about the way that Ann Whitford Paul addresses poetry in Chapter 13 is that it feels approachable, even for someone who forgot terms like consonance and alliteration from high school English class. The examples she gives, using a nursery rhyme as a starting point, show some of the common ways that poems can go wrong. I highly recommend reading this chapter, even if you don’t write in rhyme, simply because adding poetic devices and musicality to prose is helpful for all picture book writers.

Back to meter, Chapter 13 doesn’t go overboard with complex metrical analyses but she does define some important basic rhythms. When thinking about meter, I always find it helpful to think of a well-known poem that is written in a certain meter — and try to make my poem sound like THAT.

Sounds like: da-DUM
To write in an iambic rhythm, make your poem sound like Sick by Shel Silverstein:
“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
(Do you hear it? da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM/i CANnot GO to SCHOOL toDAY/said LITtle PEGgy ANN mcKAY)
Note: Very common meter, fun, upbeat

Sounds like: da-da-DUM
To write in an anapestic rhythm, make your poem sound like Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
(Do you hear it? da-da-DUM da-da-DUM da-da-DUM da-da-DUM/twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas when ALL through the HOUSE)
Note: Very bouncy rhythm, good for humorous poems

Sounds like: DUM-da
(Note it’s the opposite of an iamb)
To write in an trochaic rhythm, make your poem sound like The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
(Do you hear it? DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da/ONCE uPON a MIDnight DREARy WHILE i PONdered WEAK and WEARy)
Note: A dreary rhythm

Sounds like: DUM-da-da
(Note it’s the opposite of an anapest)
To write in a dactylic rhythm, make your poem sound like Virgil’s Aeneid. Or “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Lennon/McCartney (but I’m guessing it was probably mostly Lennon)
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
(Hear it? DUM-da-da DUM-da-da DUM-da-da DUM-da-da/PICture your SELF in a BOAT on a RIver)
Note: This meter works better in Latin than English, apparently.

These are the basics, and there’s a lot a writer can do to mix and match these rhythms in ways that are tried-and-true, and also new. It helps me to look at lots and lots of examples and have templates in my mind as I am writing and learning about all this meter stuff and rhyming stuff and poetry stuff.

Last night as I was slaving over this post about meter, Laura Purdie Salas came up with her own fantastic post on the same topic with great examples and LOTS of helpful links. Go read!

Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem – Day 9

bricks.3In celebration of National Poetry Month, today I’m doing my bit by adding a line to the Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem. The idea started with Irene Latham. The poem started with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and tomorrow it will continue at Linda Baie’s TeacherDance blog. The other stops are listed on the sidebar, so follow along and enjoy watching it grow!

As I prepared this post, I thought a lot about what  the middle of this poem, or any poem, does. I don’t have to set the tone or decide the topic or theme — that’s set up at the beginning of a poem. I don’t have to bring the poem to some sensible conclusion or work in a twist or ‘a-ha’ moment — those responsibilities fall to those who will conclude the poem at the end of this month. Middles are about expanding, and exploring. They emphasize, and repeat. They can sometimes be about changing direction.

This poem is starting to unfold itself. It’s about writing. (Trust a bunch of writers to write a poem about writing!) It’s about words as dancers, each with its own meaning and rhythm. This started out as a ‘private pirouette, a solitary samba’ but is this just journaling? Or will it become public? Will there be an audience for these words? Will they work together to create a whole — a whole that is trained and shaped by the writer as choreographer? I’m curious to see where this middle leads us.

When you listen to your footsteps
the words become music and
the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
Your pen starts dancing across the page
a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
of the words, one dancer to another, saying
Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.

Twirl it away, Linda!

Giving Away Poetic Goodness!

In honor of Poetry Month, I’m hosting my first-ever GIVEAWAY on this blog. Up for grabs is a copy of And the Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems (which contains my poem ‘Superfan’) signed by me and several others included in the anthology. Here’s what you need to do to enter the drawing:

  • Earn 1 point: Leave a comment with a suggestion for a fun way to mark Poetry Month
  • Earn 1 point: On my April 30th post, share what you did to celebrate Poetry Month
  • Bonus point if you are (or become) a follower of Story Patch.

I’ll tally the points and draw a winner after April 30.

So…how DO you plan to spend Poetry Month?

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – A New Way to Think about “Show, Don’t Tell”


I was cruising through Chapter 12 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, ‘show, don’t tell,’ we all know that old rule.” when something stopped me in my tracks. Something I’d never thought much about before. Something NEW about the ubiquitous ‘show, don’t tell’ advice that actually has changed the way I think about it.

We all know showing is more interesting to read than telling. When a writer shows, instead of tells, it brings scenes to life with vivid detail. But here’s what Ann Whitford Paul had to say:

When you tell in a general statement, the reader must imagine what your character might do. Showing instead of telling makes you, the writer, define your character and paints a full picture for the reader and listeners of what is going on. It breathes life into the scene.

Every reader brings her own set of experiences and feelings about life to a book. If you tell instead of show, you give the reader too much power in creating your character.

Imagine if Maurice Sendak had simply told us that Max was a rambunctious child. Would that be memorable? No. Instead he showed us Max’s character, with details — Max wore his wolf suit. He made mischief of one kind and another. He told his mother he would eat her up. Did Russell Hoban tell us that Frances was an inventive girl who liked to sing? No — he put us under the kitchen sink with her and let us hear her bang her homemade drum. And Eric Carle, who told us in the title that his character was very hungry, then proceeded to show us exactly how hungry that caterpillar was. Pickles and chocolate cake, anyone?

Don’t give the reader the power to define your characters. When we show the reader our characters, instead of telling the reader about them, WE get to define them.

I’ll post again next week about writing in rhyme (chapter 13) and the following week about word count (chapter 15). I’m headed to the New England SCBWI conference the first weekend of May, and that might slow me down a bit…but if you are reading along don’t let it slow you down (or maybe use the time to catch up!).

National Poetry Month Starts Now…and a Giveaway!

NPM2013_logo_350Today marks the start of National Poetry Month. I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to bring more poetry into my life this month. The Academy of American Poets has a list of suggestions on their site.

Here are some things I plan to do this month:

  • April 3: Read the final two poems (and vote for one!) in the March Madness poetry tournament over at Think Kid, Think.
  • April 9: Participate in the 2013 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem, which starts today, April 1, at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog. (See the sidebar for a complete schedule.)
  • April 18: Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket day.
  • Read, read, read, plenty of poetry books.
  • Post (I hope) some poetry here on my blog throughout the month.
  • Put a poem or two in my son’s lunchbox. I’m open to suggestions for this one. My first thought was ‘Peanut-Butter Sandwich’ by Shel Silverstein (for obvious reasons) but it’s a little long. Will keep thinking about this one.
  • Write a poem on the pavement. There’s a good stretch of sidewalk by our house. It’s practically begging for a poem.

ATCGW coverAnd finally…this month I’ll be spreading the poetry love around by hosting my first-ever GIVEAWAY on this blog. Up for grabs is a copy of And the Crowd Goes Wild: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems (which contains my poem ‘Superfan’) signed by me and several others included in the anthology. Here’s what you need to do to enter the drawing:

  • Earn 1 point: Comment on this post to suggest a fun way to mark Poetry Month OR suggest a poem to include in my 7-year-old’s lunchbox.
  • Earn 1 point: Comment on my April 30th post and share what you did to celebrate Poetry Month
  • Bonus point if you are (or become) a follower of Story Patch.

I’ll tally the points and draw a winner after April 30.

So…how DO you plan to spend Poetry Month?