If you come to NCTE in November . . .

I know I told you recently that I’ll be speaking at NCTE in Orlando on Saturday, November 20. I’ll present for seventy-five minutes on two main subjects: Word of the Month Poetry Challenge and the value of two-voice poems in developing readig fluency. I intend to involve the audience in both subject areas, first by brainstorming ideas for poems from a single word; second, by reading aloud several poems for two or more voices and discussing the variety of ways they can be employed in the classroom.

I’ve heard from some of you who plan to attend the conference and come to my presentation. I look forward to seeing you again or meeting you if it’s for the first time. I also hope that you will encourage others you know to come to my session. I’m excited about the opportunity to give Word of the Month a good introduction to as many as possible and I love doing poems for two voices. I intend to post some ideas on that subject soon.

REMINDER: Voted yet for April Hall of Fame Poets? Deadline is Thursday night at 10:00 CST. Current leaders for adults are Liz Korba and V. L. Gregory. Young poets are led by Taylor McGowan and Rachel Heinrichs.


Online chat today

BULLETIN: I just returned home from doing the online chat. My thanks to all of you who joined me and my sincere apologies for all those questions I didn’t get to. I was originally told to expect to be online about 20 -30 minutes. After more than 60 minutes I hadn’t responded to half the long list of questions that kept pouring in.

I am especially sorry that so many students had questions that went unanswered. I needed another hour or more.

You teachers with disappointed students, please send me the unanswered questions. I promise to respond here on the blog over the next day or two. And that goes for any adults who didn’t get an answer. Okay?

My thanks to our December poets who have been sharing delightful efforts inspired by “bone.” So far we’ve heard at least once from Steven Withrow, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Mary Nida Smith, Liz Korba, Barbara Turner, Jackie Huppenthal, Andromeda Jazmon, Diane Mayr, Janet Gallagher, and Marjie DeWilde. The range of format, message, and depth of the poems has shown once again how many stories a single word can hold.

So far this month we have not heard from our student poets. We know how busy December is for teachers and students alike, but I hold out hope that we’ll still be treated to some bone poems by our young poets out there!


Today I’ll be featured on an online chat hosted by 417 Magazine. You can find me at http://www.417mag.com/417-Magazine/A-chat-with-a-David-Harrison starting at 2:00 P.M. CST.Writers, teachers, librarians, parents, and students are welcome to click in on the interview or join in with questions. I hope to hear from a lot of my blog friends. You can read more at http://www.417mag.com .


Cheryl Harness

BULLETIN: Tomorrow (December 9) I’ll be featured on an online chat hosted by 417 Magazine. You can find me at http://www.417mag.com/417-Magazine/A-chat-with-a-David-Harrison starting at 2:00 P.M. CST.

Writers, teachers, librarians, parents, and students are welcome to click in on the interview or join in with questions. I hope to hear from a lot of my blog friends so BE THERE!


Many readers who drop by my blog have a strong interest in poetry. However, when I did the survey not long ago, it was clear that many of you would like to read more about fiction and nonfiction, including picture books. That made me think not only of outstanding writers I know in those genres but also outstanding artists.Today I’m delighted to tell you that Cheryl Harness has signed on to be an upcoming guest. If you haven’t yet met Cheryl through her work, you are in for a treat. She is both artist and author, a witty speaker, and one of those rare individuals who understands history as a continuum of human experience in which we are merely players in an ongoing story. I’m eager to see Cheryl’s remarks when she finishes them.

I hope you are enjoying this month’s poems as much as I am. Through the first seven days we’ve seen ten poets share thirteen poems, each inspired by the December word: bone. We’ve been treated to a haiku, two villanelles, and a number of strong efforts in verse and free verse. I hope to see a number of other poets join us before the cutoff on December 21.


Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks

Today I’ll be one of the authors who will speak to groups of children at the 29th annual Children’s Literature Festival of the Ozarks. The event is sponsored by a group of committed women (mostly librarians) and the Missourit State University English Department and is held on the campus of Missouri State University.

Other authors and artists who will appear are J. B. Cheaney, Lisa Campbell Ernst, Vicki Grove, Cheryl Harness, Veda Boyd Jones, Kate Klise, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, Anna Myers, Brad Sneed, Michael Spradlin, June Rae Wood, Leslie Wyatt, and Judy Young.

I never prepare a formal talk for these occasions when I’ll be in front of young students; no script, no outline, no notes. I feel more comfortable when I can stand in front of the audience, talk for a while about who I am and what I do, and watch their faces to measure level of interest. Before long the first hand goes up and I know we’ve made contact. I love opportunities to visit with young people. Writers need to remain in touch with their audience and the best way to do that is to meet them in their schools and at wonderful festivals like this one.

I don’t know how you’ll spend today, but I don’t see how it can top mine.


How did you get started?

Saturday I’ll begin my hour of reading poetry at the Missouri Literary Festival by discussing how I became a poet. I’m cutting and pasting my prepared remarks below this note. If you write poetry, or think you might like to one day, maybe you’ll find some of this of interest. If you would like to share your own experiences, I hope you’ll post them or join in a conversation about how writers of any genre become writers.

As a young editor in 1963, I was given a book called A Prosody Handbook co-authored by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Karl Shapiro. I read the book twice and loved it. I promised myself that one day I would write poetry. But not yet. Then I was writing stories; reading Hemmingway and Steinbeck, Vonnegut and Friedman, Updike and Caldwell. I kept a copy of The Elements of Style on my desk. E. B. White was my inspiration, my model for elegant application of our language. Poetry could wait.

It waited twenty-five years. In 1988, I picked up A Prosody Handbook again and remembered my old promise to myself. Tentatively, I began to write poetry. I was no longer a story writer. I had evolved into a children’s author. I approached poetry with Shapiro whispering in my ear, but the poems that came out were for children.

I experimented with free verse. I experimented with verse, getting the heft of various patterns of rhythm and rhyme. Some poems turned out better than others. Some were hardly worth the energy to crumple and toss. I wrote poem after poem for a year, then a second year, then a third. By 1990 I had kept 100 poems, some of dubious quality. When I was invited to submit my poems to a publisher, I did so without high expectations.

The publisher said he liked my poetry and proposed to bring out three to five books. By fishing around in my box of poems, an editor identified certain themes such as school and family. We agreed to begin with a book of school poems, which we called Somebody Catch My Homework.

In the twenty-one years since 1988, I’ve written many poems. This year two more collections have been published, bringing the total to fifteen. Shapiro has been joined on my bookshelf by other poets — Collins, Kooser, Simic, Angelou, Missouri’s own poet laureate Walter Bargen . . . Sometimes I read the works of children’s poets, but generally I find my muse elsewhere.

A poem for children should share most of the characteristics of a poem for adults though children’s poetry tends to be more accessible and spontaneous in the reading. Kids live in the same world we do and feel the same human emotions. Writing with their level of experience in mind is not the same thing as writing down to them or winking over their heads. Finger wagging and tsk-tsking drive them off every time.

Children’s poets use words to bridge the gulf of years that separates us from our readers. Children don’t want us to become children again. They want us to be grown up and wise. But they ask us to acknowledge their right to be kids and to respect them as they are. Childhood is their world. We knock at the door and wait. They decide if we’re worthy of admittance.