Tracking Missouri children’s poets

Hi everyone,

A few days ago Marcus Cafagna and I began planning for a poetry reading event to be held in Springfield (tentatively) on Friday evening, September 8. Marcus is inviting two of his star MSU student poets and the three will read from their original work.

Taken at spring 2018 photo day. February 6-7, 2018. Kevin White/Missouri State University


As I have before when Marcus and I join forces, I’ll read some poems of my own. Marcus asked if I had any other children’s poets in mind to invite onto the program. In the Springfield area I couldn’t come up with anyone I know who has had at least one book of his/her own poetry published by a trade publisher.

I don’t pretend to know all the children’s writers in the state but the only other poet I know who fits the criterion is Constance (Connie) Levy, a wonderful poet and old friend in St. Louis.

I contacted Connie and put the question to her. She doesn’t know of anyone either and believes we are the only two established children’s poets in Missouri.

There are, of course, other talented poets. Cheryl Harness lives in Independence. Jody Jensen Shaffer lives in Liberty. There must be others scattered around the state. But as far as Connie and I know, poetry is not their focus and their publications of children’s poems have appeared in anthologies and magazines such as Highlights. There may also be poets who have paid to have their work published through one of the vanity presses.

All this has fanned an interest on my part to learn if there are indeed other living poets in our fair state with one or more books of their own poems issued by a trade publisher. I’d love to be wrong about this so please correct me if you know about someone I don’t. At a time when more elementary school teachers and librarians are learning how to put poetry to work in the classroom, this is not a good time to be running low on Missouri poets!

On break

IMAG2042

Hi everyone,

I saw this gull and immediately thought of Constance Levy’s wonderful poem, “Seagull Tricks.” I contacted her to ask for permission to post the poem and I’m delighted that she agreed. It’s from A CRACK IN THE CLOUDS. Thanks, Connie

Seagull Tricks

You may think
he’s not thinking
about your sandwich
because he is looking
the other way.

You may think
he’s not scheming
because he is dreaming
and stands like an innocent
statue in gray.

And the place where he lands,
which is three feet away
seems a safe enough spot.
Well, I warn you, it’s not.

You will soon be
“un-sandwiched”
As I was today!

Constance Levy

When words surprise

Hi everyone,

Do you ever surprise yourself by how quickly and easily you dashed off that last poem? Sometimes I do. And it worries me. Taken on average, poems don’t roll off our assembly lines without blemish. We may focus on meter at the expense of metaphor, narrative that still begs for similes and telling idioms, convenience over struggling for assonance and internal rhymes.

Best thing to do when those “easy” ones come along is put them aside for a while and return with a critical review. At this stage I’m searching for a fresh way to say it, a surprise for the reader, a more unique voice. I want my muse to earn a 20% tip.

I just took a few books down from the shelf to see if I could find examples of what I mean. It didn’t take long. For example, here’s Douglas Florian, (INSECTLOPEDIA, Voyager Books, 1998) in his poem, “The Caterpillar.” About the caterpillar he writes:

“She eats eight leaves at least/To fill her,/Which leaves her like a/Fatterpillar.”

Douglas is a master at juxtaposing unexpected sounds, fabricating words that make perfect sense, and just plain having fun playing with words, as in the double use of “leaves.”

In Valerie Worth’s delightful book, ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND 14 MORE (A Sunburst Book, 1994), she charms the reader in the poem, “sun,” by describing the burning sun in her opening stanza but then presenting it in a different light:

But it will still/Lie down/In warm yellow squares/On the floor
Like a flat/Quilt, where/The cat can curl/And purr.

Isn’t that a marvelous image? Here’s another Worth-y example. In “tractor,” she compares an old tractor poised in the shed doorway to a grasshopper. Tricky? Sure, but she pulls it off with flair.

But with high/Hind wheels/Held so still
We know/It is only waiting,/Ready to leap –
Like a heavy/Brown/Grasshopper.

Next I opened N. M. Bodecker’s, SNOWMAN SNIFFLES AND OTHER VERSE (Atheneum, 1983) and immediately fell in love again with his title poem in which he describes how a melting snowman’s drippy nose leaves snowdrops as a reminder that he existed.

until you wake/and find one day/the cold, old man/has run away,
and winter’s winds/that blow and pass/left drifts of snowdrops/in the grass,
reminding us:/where such things grow/a snowman sniffed/not long ago.

In “possum,” we learn:

The possum’s tail/is called/prehensile,
and is/her usefullest/utensil.

Clever rhyming, not to mention arranging syllables to remain true to the meter while also maintaining perfect, puckish sense.

Constance Levy is another favorite poet of mine. In A CRACK IN THE CLOUDS (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1998) she concludes a trick of the wily seagull (“Seagull Tricks”) like this:

You will soon be/“un-sandwiched”/as I was today.

“Spring Watch” opens with this marvelous simile.

As tight as misers/grip their gold,/that’s the way/these leaf buds hold.

Barbara Juster Esbensen describes “First Day of School” in her book, COLD STARS AND FIREFLIES (HarperCollins, 1982). Note: I’m deleting parts of the poem to focus on her great descriptions and personifications.

No more barefoot/days . . .
/Inside the school-shoes/my toes are stiff/and afraid of the dark.

The sidewalk is bright/With sun . . .
/We can’t feel its rough/skin/through our soles now
/and it really doesn’t know us/anymore.

As is frequently the case I quote from poetry because poems are short and examples of excellence are easy to spot. But poetry doesn’t hold the franchise on good writing. Nor does good writing belong to people who have attained some sort of legal age that entitles them to a permit to use imaginative language. Ruth Culham shared this poem written by a second grade student.

Ruleless Playground

Poetry
is a ruleless playground
no adults saying
do this
do that!
poetry
is a ruleless playground
you can do…

anything you want.

A journal provides a place to collect examples of our language beautifully expressed. Kids in school are often told to “steal’ words and expressions they like. It’s good advice for us too. If you don’t already have the habit, I recommend it.

A potpourri

rubberman

REMINDER: The Word of the Month word for April is SPRING. Check the W.O.M. boxes above this post for further informaiton. We’re already seeing some strong efforts from adult poets and also a good one, actually two, from our young poet Taylor. Think about the various meanings of spring and, uh, spring into action.

I’ve asked Sandy Asher to present AMERICA WRITES FOR KIDS and its sister site, AMERICA PLAYS FOR KIDS. I’ll post her article in the next few days. These sites have grown over the years into valuable resources for anyone in search of favorite authors. Hundreds are now represented.

I want to remind everyone that the Writers Hall of Fame Tour of Missouri Children’s Authors and Artists is coming up June 4-7. If you haven’t signed up for it, you need to make your reservations. During the tour you will meet and visit with Cheryl Harness http://www.cherylharness.com/, Dorinda Nicholson http://www.childrenslit.com/bookingservice/nicholson-dorinda.html , Kate Klise http://kateandsarahklise.com/, Vicki Grove http://mowrites4kids.drury.edu/authors/grove/,  June Rae Wood http://usawrites4kids.drury.edu/, J. B. Cheaney http://www.jbcheaney.com/, Lynn Rubright http://www.lynnrubright.com/wordpress/, Constance Levy http://www.squidoo.com/ConstanceLevy, Eileen Bluestone Sherman www.theoddpotato.com , and Leslie Wyatt http://www.lesliejwyatt.com/. For more information, about this unique opportunity contact me at davidlharrison1@att.net .

Have you visited the KIDS page on my website? You must! Kathy Temean is a wonder at presenting fascinating word puzzles and activities each month. If you are a teacher or have children or grandchildren, please check out the page on my website menu and prepare to be impressed and engaged.

I’m also inviting Kathy for an update on the upcoming New Jersey SCBWI conference in Princeton. She’ll use the space below or chime in later when she has time. I was happy to have an article, “Matter of Meter,” in this issue of SPROUTS, the New Jersey SCBWI publication edited by Kathy in her spare time.

Hello, everyone.  Plans for the conference are in full swing.  The hotel is all set up.  I’m picking out the menus for all the meals.  Each year we give out stickers that the attendees can use when submitting to the editors and agents on the faculty.  This is something every loves, because it helps highlight their submissions and helps to keep them out of the slush pile.  I have the design done and tomorrow I will order them.  In another week, I will have all the entries from the Logo Contest and then I will be able to order the bags that you will receive when you check in at registration. 

The last few day I have been matching up the attendees who signed up for one-on-one critiques with an editor or agent.  I have assigned everyone, but I still have to go over the list again and make adjustments.  Right now we have 182 people getting critiques, but registration is not closed.  There are still some additional spots.  Agent Scott Treimel was only supposed to do 6 consultations, but we had some many on the waiting list that I asked him if he would do 3 more and he said, “Yes.”  Simone Kaplan is doing 15 consultations and has a waiting list, but I really can’t push more on her, unless I would add another day – and that’s not happening.

The next thing I have to work on, is rounding up people to donate to our auction.  Each year we ask for donations, so we can raffle them off to help make money for our Scholarship Fund.  It seems like it is even more important this year with so many people out of work.  I use that money to help members who are out of work or having financial difficulties get the support they need to be able to attend events.  It is a good cause.  We have had people donate printers, books, baskets, gift cards, artwork, baseball tickets, facials, messages, dinners, theatre tickets, a get-a-way to a cabin in Maine, and more.  But the exciting part is that I get the editors and agents to donate critiques.  Last year Carolyn Yoder donated a full manuscript critique.  So did Steve Meltzer and Susan O’Keefe.  All the editors donated a critique of some amount.  Even Richard Peck donated a 30 page critique. 

Last year we even got editors and agents who attend the conference to donate and evening at dinner with them.  They were held all summer in NYC and Princeton.  We will be doing something like that again this year.  Critiques are great, but networking is important, too.  Everyone who came out loved them, even the editors and agents.

Anyway, I am excited about this year.  I don’t know how long we can continue improving each year, but somehow we do.  With all the success stories that came out of last years conference, we are really building our reputation.  We have people fly in from all over the country and they are repeat attendees.  I know many of you are not from New Jersey, but you should give some thought to coming out.  Most people say it is the best conference for Children’s writers, bar none.  (Did you just hear me patting myself on my back?)

And David is going to kick off Friday with his keynote speech.  He also is doing a poetry Intensive workshop on Friday morning and a short workshop on Saturday.  He also will be meeting people and doing critiques.  If you haven’t looked at the line-up, here is the link.  http://www.newjerseyscbwi.com/events/100604%20conference.shtml  Kathy

Poetry tip #4

REMINDER: This is your last day to vote for the March Hall of Fame Poets and Young Poets. Go the boxes posted on March 25, scroll down the list to the poet of your choice, click on the circle beside his or her name, go to the bottom of the ballot and click on VOTE. That’s all there is to it. Cutoff is tonight at 10:00 CST and tomorrow I’ll announce the month’s winning poets.Headed inito our final day of voting, Laura Purdie Salas leads the way among adult poets with Jackie Huppenthal in second and Fahad in third. Among young poets, Josh and Colin are tied and Sophie is close behind. Good wishes to all!

POETRY TIP #4: VISUAL ELEMENTS

A poem’s shape may lend a visual dimension to how we experience the words. In some cases the poet may arrange lines to create a spatial effect that provides the reader/viewer with clues to the mood or premise of the message. Georgia Heard helps us “see” the flight of her hummingbird in this poem from Creatures of Earth, Sea, and Sky (Boyds Mills Press, 1992) by staggering the lines on the page the way a hummingbird hovers and zigzags through a garden. I can’t get the lines to do that here but believe me, in the book they do indeed zig and zag!

HUMMINGBIRD

Ruby-throated hummingbird

zig-zags

from morning glories

to honeysuckle

sipping

honey

from a straw

all day long.

In Paint Me a Poem (Boyds Mills Press, 2005), Justine Rowdon arranges her lines, screened colors, and even the sizes of her words to add a sense of galloping urgency to her poem about George Washington. Again I cannot duplicate the layout here but the lines, which begin like this, rush forward as the words grow in size and intensity.

Why, of course, it’s George
Riding toward Valley forge.

faster, Faster, FASTER!

Trotting into surrounded towns,

faster, Faster, FASTER!

In more obvious cases of line arrangement and shapes (concrete poems), the poet intentionally forms a picture with his/her words in a recognizable shape. I lack the tools and skills to present samples here of concrete poems but there are plenty available if you search the Internet.

More commonly poets use line breaks, punctuation, and capitalization to add visual effects to what they write. Paul Muldoon is a Pulitzer winning poet and one-time professor of poetry at the University of Oxford. In his rhyming verse poem, “You Gotta Take Out Milt (Peotry, The Humor Issue; July/August 2006, pp 293-294) Muldoon divides 46 lines into five stanzas and three refrains without punctuation but for a single question mark and not even a period at the end. Why?

For one thing, it’s a funny poem and gets funnier if you read it aloud the way a guy might sound given his discovery that his wife’s out to get him. Who would break for commas under such circumstances?

On the other hand, each and every line begins with a capital letter, a reminder to the reader that this is indeed a poem and the poet is aware that he’s breaking rules at one end of the line but is observing traditional etiquette at the other. Somehow the effect of starting each line with a straight face enhances the surprising antics of the lines themselves.

In “An Earl Martyr,” (William Carlos Williams   Selected Poems, A New Directions Book, 1985, page 89) the poet begins the first word in every other line with a capital letter whether it needs it or not and even though the poem is told in free verse, which normally doesn’t require capitals except to start a new sentence or stanza.

Rather than permit him
to testify in court
Giving reasons
why he stole from
Exclusive stores

Why? In my case as a reader, this tactic makes me slow down in reading to examine each line and consider why the poet chose to alternate capitalization while ignoring most punctuation.

You can find many other examples of poets who choose to punctuate, arrange, and capitalize their work to gain a certain desired effect. Here’s Constance Levy in A Crack in the Clouds (McElderry Books, 1998) with her poem, “Seagull Tricks.”

You may think
he’s not thinking
about your sandwich
because he is looking
the other way.

You may think
he’s not scheming
because he is dreaming
and stands like an innocent
statue in gray.

Notice how Connie arranges her lines and chooses her capitalization. These stanzas end in rhyme: way/gray, yet her lines all run over into the next (enjambment lines) so she begins them all with lower case letters to allow the reader freedom to keep moving.

In Music of their Hooves (Boyds Mills Press, 1994), Nancy Springer’s title poem is told in two 4-line stanzas. She chooses iambic and anapestic meters to echo the thundering hooves of galloping horses but also omits punctuation, capitalization, and even standard borders to free our spirits to run with the horses:

The earth is a drum
their hooves pound the beat
the cantering cantering
rhythm of their feet

My heart is a drum
every beat of it loves
the galloping galloping
music of their hooves

Let me know if these occasional poetry tips are of interest to you and/or helpful. I don’t want to bore readers with information you don’t care to receive. Thanks.
David