Ken Slesarik tomorrow

Hi everyone,

Many of you are already fans and friends of my Featured Guest, Ken Slesarik. When he’s not teaching, you can often find him writing poetry for young people. His poems have been used in fundraisers, cookbooks, and school functions. Once in a while Ken performs at a coffee shop or bookstore, and his principal also turns to him to do mini-workshps on poetry and creative writing. He’s an active member of SCBWI and belongs to two critique groups. He’s at work on a humorous collection of desert wildlife poems as well as a collection of Yeti-Big Foot poems.

I’ve featured Ken twice before. It was a pleasure to have him join our Founders poetry workshop in Honesdale last month to meet in person. His post from July 2010 attracted a lot of comments from readers so I’m reposting that article today. Tomorrow you’ll read his latest remarks. Now, here’s Ken.

Why I Write Poetry
July 7, 2010
By Ken Slesarik

It was the day after my 40th birthday and what should have been a peaceful transition into middle age for me began a five month ordeal. I woke just after 6am with a tremendous pain and ringing in my left ear. Scared and confused I did what most grown men would have done and called my mother. Mom suggested I take something for the pain and get myself to the emergency room.

After an almost seven hour wait the doctor examined my ear, said the drum was completely shattered and asked if I listen to extremely loud music or have been on the receiving end of any blows to the ear. I explained that I went to bed in slight discomfort and woke in extreme pain. Leaving the hospital I was optimistic. With prescriptions for pain and infection in hand I promptly scheduled a follow up visit with a specialist.

The medications I took faithfully and it’s true much of the pain was gone but there was one thing that the meds couldn’t touch. Have you ever heard the sweet sound of a teapot whistling? It’s quite pleasant for about the first twenty minutes. You see, I had a constant, often loud ringing in my ear, never ceasing, twenty four hours of every day, every moment, and every second.

Within a week of my emergency room visit I noticed a slight pimple on the left side of my face, near my ear. In a few short hours it grew to the size of a small egg and protruded from my face. This resulted in another hospital visit where the doctor enquired if I had been taking my antibiotic as prescribed.

The next four months were the worst in my life as several new and reoccurring infections popped up in various places on my body and gradually the pain meds did not work as well. It seemed as if I was on an endless cycle of doctor visits and stronger antibiotics. as the doctors agreed that they could not even think about reconstructing my eardrum until the infections were under control.

I became depressed; sleep deprived, and lost weight. For the first time in my life I could empathize with the person who might consider taking their own life. Before this time I would think such a person was weak and if I wasn’t raising a son who had already lost his mother to suicide I would have seriously considered that option.

The ringing was simply dreadful and I was slowly losing hope as I tried to function in my new job as a special education teacher. Most of my sixth grade students had behavior issues to begin with and took full advantage of the fact that I could not hear out of my left side. It was pure torture.

After a few months my mother came down from San Diego to care for me and I would often cry, curse or lose my temper. I remember being constantly agitated and looking for a fight.

The thing that transpired next literally changed my life. During a particularly painful weekend of anger and self pity my sister handed me some paper and a pen and asked me to write a poem about our dad as I would occasionally write family poems and other silly rhymes before my ear woes.

After snapping at her I decided to try. The next forty minutes went by fast as I wrote three of the most crappy poems you can imagine as well as several short rhymes. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I realized I had been so engrossed in the creative process that I was completely detached from the ringing, that awful, awful ringing. I remember thanking God as it was truly a beautiful moment and a short reprieve in over four months of suffering and chaos. It gave me hope, something to cling to and a little joy amongst the pain.

Within days of this one of the specialists recommended more tests and blood work and a few days later I got the call with my results. It seemed I had contracted an extremely rare staph infection quite likely during my first ER visit. This infection was fast spreading and non-responsive to any known antibiotics but it did respond to one type of medication. So I took that round of meds, all the infections went away and they reconstructed my eardrum with skin from my canal.

It’s been over four years since that defining moment and the best I can describe it is that my brain associates so much pleasure and the absence of pain to writing rhyming poetry. I set a goal that weekend to always improve, write at least one respectable poem a week and at least one a month that would make Shel Silverstein proud.

By K. Thomas Slesarik

Ted the cannibalistic tick
is not so good at arithmetic.
He eats those ticks, yes quite a few,
then loses count before he’s through.
It’s so uncouth to eat your kind,
but don’t tell Ted, he doesn’t mind.
Dear Ted, my pleading don’t ignore,
it’s fine to be a carnivore
but this advice it should suffice,
learn to count and switch to lice.

Thanks, Ken.

Guest Reader, K. Thomas Slesarik today

WOZA WOZA POEM UPDATE: Sorry I fell behind on posting new lines to our poem. This is our 11th day so here are the first ten lines. If you notice, I’ve done a bit of revising to smooth out a line or two and I’ve also added a line that was inspired by Cory Corrado. So far we have Cory, Mary Nida, and Sandy Asher to thank for the poem’s progress. We’ve gone from swirling leaves to elves who claim Woza Woza as their ancestral home. What comes next is up to us. We can leave the elves to their merry making and continue our stroll through the forest, or not. We could use more help!

Today I witnessed something I’d never seen before —
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfed the forest floor.
The reason for the swirling suddenly dawned on me —
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that cinnamon sea!

Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats
Trimmed with golden feathers! Can you imagine that?
They danced in whirling circles, singing to themselves.
I blinked my eyes in wonder, these tiny folk were elves!

They sang of distant places, they sang of sea and foam,
They sang of Woza Woza where elves return to home.

Hello everyone,

I was happy to hear again from K. Thomas (Ken) Slearik and to read his report from a recent conference and encouter with an agent. Thanks to Ken for sharing his experience and giving me this chance to share it with you. Somehow we have to keep faith in ourselves and our futures as writers. Somehow. No matter what. Ken speaks beautifully to this issue.

Luck of the Draw

By K. Thomas Slesarik

Last month I attended a regional writer’s conference and had a pre-conference critique with a well known literary agent. I was particularly enthusiastic because “my agent” just so happened to represent a few children’s poetry authors. I usually approach these situations with a realistic, yet optimistic bent, but this particular encounter I stood taller than usual and with calm assertiveness. I just knew I would soon be welcomed into the fold and decided not to play hardball when she offered representation, instead I would just sign the formalities and my journey would begin.

I entered the room and immediately knew I was on the wrong movie set as I could not seem to locate her. After some searching I found her and we exchanged pleasantries and delved into my critique. The critique itself went very well. It was her comments about the poetry market that threw me for a loop.
“Ken you will be wasting years of your life waiting to be discovered by the four houses that will even accept poetry. You need to do mid grade or even picture books. What else ya got for me?” My answer was “Well nothing. I’m a poet”. She spoke for a few more moments about how incredibly difficult it is to break in as a children’s poetry author and that being talented is not enough. You also have to be very lucky.

Throughout the rest of the conference her words kept playing in my head. I pride myself in being resourceful, so I sat deep in thought, almost ignoring the speakers in the break out sessions as I kept wondering how I could beat the odds and create my own luck. Perhaps I could attend the big New York conference and during the keynote presentation light my lower torso on fire? Surely some publishing house could use the tax write off and sign me if only to help pay for the skin graphs? How much is kerosene anyway? Or maybe I need to start taking acting lessons and win an academy award first to catch the attention of an agent or publishing house? That would increase my luck!

By the end of the conference I was still deep in thought. While they were wrapping things up and giving away cups, pens and these plants by drawing names, I was thinking about just how far I’ve come as a writer and the complete joy I have when I write something truly unique and then I heard my name called. Thinking I won a plant I was confused at why people were clapping so enthusiastically for my plant and not so much for the previous plants. Relax people, I don’t have a green thumb. It’ll die in a week. It turns out my name was picked, but not for a soon to perish plant. I just happened to be the grand prize winner and won free registration to the next conference! It took a few days, but I came to the realization that I was indeed very lucky and it’s for that reason that I keep pressing on.


What’s selling? Does anyone know?

UPDATE ON OUR WOZA WOZA POEM: Yesterday we got skunked. Not a soul advanced the Woza Woza cause after we added Sandy’s brown-clad creatures. As your host I will take it upon myself to add a 5th line to keep us on track. See what you can do with it and send me some 6th lines. Thanks!

Today I saw something I’ve never seen before,
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfing the forest floor.
Leaves you say? And well you may, but more it seemed to me,
Tiny brown-clad creatures surfed that swirling sea.

Tiny brown-clad creatures wearing leather hats

We’ve settled into a poem told in couplets with hexameter lines (six beats per line) composed in mostly iambic meter. Who wants to add the second line of the new couplet?

Hello everyone,

Let’s have a little talk about the market for books these days. This Wednesday you’ll read an article by our friend Ken Slesarik about a recent experience of his regarding the poetry market. In anticipation of Ken’s piece and the general conversation it will generate, I’ll kick things off today with some notes about picture books.

One of the sites I follow is CCBC-Net, a listserv encouraging awareness and discussion of ideas and issues critical to literature for children and young adults. CCBC-Net members explore a wide range of topics in contemporary literature for youth, including multicultural literature, translated books, outstanding, and award-winning books, equity themes and topics, the book arts and book publishing, and more.

A theme during the first half of November is: A Paucity of Picture Books. I quote: “We can see it on the shelves: fewer picture books are being published. A recent New York Times article ( ) says that the picture book ‘is fading,’ noting that not only are fewer being produced but also stating that fewer parents are turning to picture books, especially for school-age children. But production costs and bookstore sales can’t tell the whole picture book story. During the first half of November on CCBC-Net, we invite you to share your stories and observations about current picture book publishing and its impact on children, schools and libraries, as well as your thoughts on the importance of this singular literary form.”

Normally I read these conversations without commenting on them but now and then I venture forth with an opinion. That was the case here. This is my response.

Regarding a Paucity of Picture Books:

I think there’s more than parental pressure and price involved in the equation for the drop in picture books. There seems to be a societal shift in the nature of what sells. I noticed a change in the way children responded to their picture books between my first title in 1969 (The Boy With a Drum) and my 1980 offering, Detective Bob and the Great Ape Escape. Detective Bob was written with the television generation in mind. The missing ape, which Detective Bob would never seem to see, appeared in every scene. The story was essentially a visual joke that appealed to children raised on laugh tracks and quick solutions.

Now I think we’re suffering from the effects of computer games that demand even quicker solutions, tons of action, and a cacophony of noises. Kids don’t think they’re having fun unless their eyes and ears are being bombarded with a fast and furious stream of stimulation.

Give such children a picture book that doesn’t shout or move, the old-fashioned sort that stimulates their imagination, and I fear that many of them are quickly bored. The buzzword among editors these days is “quiet.” As in, “Loved your story but it’s a little too quiet for today’s market.”

The noisy/action factor may be changing the paradigm so that traditional stories, no matter how finely spun, are being ushered out of the market — in part because of the pressure from schools and parents to achieve at a greater rate scholastically — but also by an electronic industry, which is supported in large measure by those same parents and other adults who tend to shop elsewhere these days for recreational activities for their children.

If you have thoughts or comments of your own, I hope you will share them. Thanks in advance.

Poem of the Week – The Dog in School. Also January winners and February word!

From The Mouse Was Out At Recess

My thanks to everyone who participated in January’s Word of the Month challenge. We had a record number of adults and students who wrote poems inspired by “time” and shared their work for us all to enjoy.

In the adult category our January Hall of Fame Poet is talented and prolific Steven Withrow from Cumberland, Rhode Island. Second place goes to Beth Carter from Springfield, Missouri, and the third place winner is Gay Fawcett from Palm Bay, Florida. Congratulations to all of our adult winners!

After an exciting race between the two front runners, the Hall of Fame Young Poet for January is John Sullivan a 6th grader from Maumee Valley Country Day in Toledo, Ohio. Second place goes to Rachel Heinrichs, a 4th grade student at Glen Acres Elementary in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Our third place winner is another Maumee Valley Country Day student, 6th grader Sam Shekut. Good going kids! We’re very proud of you and we know that your teachers, family, classmates, and friends are too.


Start your engines. Cutoff is midnight CST on February 22. Don’t miss out on the fun.

REMINDER: Today is the last day to register on my guest book if you’d like to be in the pool for a free book or a critique of poems or picture book. This must be your first time to register to qualify for the drawing. Right now there are only 21 in the pool. To register, go to my website, open Guest Book, click on Leave a Message (under my name), follow the directions to leave a message, and click post comment.