Hi everyone,

By request, let’s talk about revising poems. I have no absolute formula but in general the process from beginning idea to finished poem goes something like this.

The idea is the easy part. It may come from a prompt such as the word of the month challenge. It may come from a thousand places: thoughts, conversations, quotations, pictures, jokes, cartoons, joyful moments, embarrassments, sadness. Reach your hand into the air and grab one. Ideas are everywhere.

Getting started is just as generous with pathways. Maybe I’m responding to a challenge to write a limerick or a haiku. Maybe the challenge is to write about a particular subject. Now and then I simply make a list of subjects of interest, choose one from the list, and set out to capture the essence of it in a poem. Be patient and don’t set the hook too soon.

I’m sure that everyone has his/her own method for getting into the poem itself. My typical beginning is rather willy-nilly. I try any number of first statements, probing to see if this is coming down as free verse or in something with rhyme and meter. There are times when it takes several stabs at it before an answer seems to appear. Once a pattern, or lack of one, seems dominant, I slavishly follow that lead to see if what I’ve chosen is do-able.

In a sense, I revise as I go but only enough to allow the rough poem to expose itself with its faults and possibilities. Unless the poem has a strictly dictated form, I have to determine as I go how many stanzas I need to tell my story. Too few kills the tension. Too many bores the reader.

Finally comes the last two steps. The first is revision. I come to this with a heavy hand. Stanzas meet their maker. Lines trade places. New information is introduced. Sometimes the first “final” version is hard to recognize from the last one. The second last step is rewriting. This means, to me, polishing. Looking for better metaphors, stronger verbs, more exciting nouns, more surprising rhymes.

Now and then a poem just plops itself down with a smug, “Aha!” When that happens, I look around hoping no one saw how easy it was. Mostly, I work at it. My record number of revisions/rewritings was something over twenty. My average is probably half a dozen.

By example, here are the first two stanzas of a recent poem:
The Robin

When nights turn bitter
and worms tunnel down deeperdeeper down
to hide from the cold winter’s frosty breath,
robins band together leave for warmer places.
When the ground turns hard and cold,

Somewhere south the air is warmer
and berries beckon.
Somewhere south their strong wings take them
hundreds, maybe thousands of mile.

Here is the last draft of those same two stanzas.

When ground turns
beak-chilling cold
and worms tunnel deep
below winter’s breath,
robins take wing,

Sometimes for weeks –
a thousand miles –
guided by sun, gravity,
remembered streams, roads.

Time is another partner in this pursuit of a fitting end. My writer’s need to finish sometimes gets me in trouble. A year or two ago I wrote something for one of Pat Lewis’ anthologies. He read it and pronounced it pap, or something akin to it. He was, of course, correct. I think Jane Yolen still belongs to a writer’s group. Is that right, Jane? Getting writing right is not easy but for me that is the joy of writing.

The floor is open for conversation. Thanks in advance.


Today will have to go some to beat yesterday

Hi everyone,

Does my wife make pretty children or what? Happy birthday yesterday, sweet Robin. We loved sharing it with you!

Not only did I have a good evening, the day was fine too. It began with a SKYPE session with my writing partner, Mary Jo Fresch, about the book we’re winding up for Scholastic, BEFORE THE FIRST DRAFT, that’s due out next spring. Several teachers are involved with that one and it’s looking good.

Within hours apart I received the jacket copy for CRAWLY SCHOOL FOR BUGS, due out next spring, and hi-res art for the whole book of A PLACE TO START A FAMILY, also due next spring. Both books are looking glorious.

While I was walking around the house grinning into mirrors, I heard from a music professor in Texas that she is writing a score for men’s chorus based on my poem, “I’m Signing on a Crew,” (from PIRATES), which she found on The Poetry Foundation website. She attached the first few pages of the sheet music. So I stopped grinning and starting singing”Argh!”

And then I heard back from someone who can be helpful to me as I consider the possibility of a new nonfiction book that may take a few years to develop. So “Argh!” turned into “Wowzers!” It was a good day for vocalizing. Oh, got a school visit invitation in there too.

I also completed my part of the three-way poetry manuscript with Steve Withrow and J. Patrick Lewis.

Today I’ll get back to tweaking the poetry chapter for CHILDRENS’ LITERATURE IN THE READING PROGRAM. (Yup, due out next spring.) My deadline is May 12 but I’ve got Chicago to do between now and then.


Hi everyone,
J. Patrick Lewis
J. Patrick Lewis’s latest anthology is out. It’s called NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK OF NATURE POETRY: MORE THEN 200 POEMS WITH PHOTOGRAPHS THAT FLOAT, ZOOM, AND BLOOM! Publishers Weekly says, “Few books make it clearer why nature inspires so many poets to reach for the pen.” It’s a highly entertaining and inspirational book and I recommend it. The poets who are in it have been sending high-fives to one another. It’s that kind of book. Pat Lewis and Book of Nature Poetry

My contribution reflects on the act of union between a stalagmite and stalactite that touch at last and join as one after eons of reaching toward one another in the dark.

You’ll find many of your favorite poets in this collection as well as several talented names you need to know better. Thanks, Pat!

Pat Lewis’s book and Sandy Asher’s play

Hi everyone,

First, a reminder about Sandy Asher’s upcoming play, WALKING TOWARD AMERICA, at the United Solo Festival at Theatre Row. Sandy Asher See for info about the festival, the play, ordering tickets to the Saturday, October 17, 4 p.m. performance — and possibilities for the earlier sold-out performances. Please share. For those who want to support, consider boosting Sandy at GoFundMe campaign at

Pat Lewis and Book of Nature Poetry
I’ve now received my advance copy of National Geographic’s BOOK OF NATURE POETRY, edited by J. Patrick Lewis. Here’s the cover and here’s an Amazon link: .
J. Patrick Lewis
The combination of Pat Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge of poetry coupled with National Geographic’s treasury of stunning photography combine to make this latest partnership a book for everyone of all ages. The contents are arranged into general categories such as In the Sky; In the Sea; Across the Land; In Season. The range of poetic voices represented throughout makes it one of the best anthologies of this scope (192 pages) you’ll find.

Of course if I weren’t in it, I wouldn’t like it nearly as much. But I am so you can’t go wrong.

Comes out October 13. Order as soon as you can. You’ll be happy you did.

What does poetry mean to you?

Hi everyone,

I appreciate your contributions to the chats about increasing our poetry reading audience, how we keep records, and turning our thoughts to poems about bugs for the wee set. Next up is none other than J. Patrick Lewis, former United States Children’s Poet Laureate. Here is Pat’s suggestion for a topic to chew on.

Robert Frost said that ‘a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.’ My friend John Barr, former President of the Poetry Foundation, said that a children’s poem ‘begins in delight and ends in delight.’ The definitions of poetry are endless, but do you suppose your readers might be interested in weighing in with their own descriptions of poetry or children’s poetry? Who knows? They might just come up with one as simple yet brilliant as William Carlos Williams’s line: ‘If it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem.’”

So there you have it. How do you define poetry? Do you define poetry for children differently? I’ll leave this up today and tomorrow.