Guest Post & Giveaway: Carolee Dean on a Brief History of Novels in Verse

By Carolee Dean
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

With authors like Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, and Lisa Schroeder, there has been a virtual explosion of verse novels in the past decade, but do we really understand their place in literature?

Are verse novels a YA or middle-grade fad, a new art form, or something else? Are they even really poetry? Were there verse novels before Out of the Dust won the Newbery in 1998?

In truth, verse novels have quite a long history.

Looking back just a few years, we find that before Out of the Dust there was Soda Jerk by Cynthia Rylant in 1990 and Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff in 1993.

And if we go back just a litter further in time we find Homer (not Simpson), who lived around 850 B.C.E. – the presumed creator of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” two Greek epic poems. Two of the oldest surviving works of Western literature happen to be written in verse. There was a very good reason for this. When they were first created, these epics were not written down at all. The bard would travel from town to town reciting the stories from memory and using the structure of verse was, in part, a mnemonic strategy.

Going forward a few hundred years, we find two Latin narrative poems; “Metamorphoses” by Ovid (around 8 C.E.) and “The Aeneid” by Virgil (around 20 C.E.)

These four classics were all written in Dactylic Hexameter, a type of meter with six feet (or beats). A dactyl has one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

There are additional rules, but it gets complicated, and this form is rarely used in English because of the way our language stresses vowels and consonants.

A few hundred years later came “Beowulf,” written by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries. It is an Old English heroic epic poem, written in alliterative long lines and it represents one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature. Alliteration was the mainstay of Old English poetry. Two syllables alliterate when they begin with the same consonant sound.

Sometimes we don’t recognize that these older works were written in verse because the poetry form is lost in the translation, but in “Beowulf,” Seamus Heaney (2000) tried to stay true to the original poetry form. Note his use of alliteration in this line:
“a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.”

Written between 1308 C.E. and 1321 C.E., Dante’s “Divina Commedia” is considered not only the paramount work of Italian literature, but one of the greatest works of all time. Dante Alighieri is believed to have created the form called terza rima for this epic. Terza rima consists of a series of tercets, three line stanzas, with an interlocking rhyming structure of ABA, BCB, CDC, etc. Any number of stanzas may be used, but the sequence always ends with a rhyming couplet.

The following is an example of terza rima from Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse, October 2012), my new paranormal verse novel.

“My House” page 171

Back in my room I lie awake all night,
tossing, turning. Getting out of bed,
I look out the window at the sky,

say a silent prayer, and bang my head
against the glass. Hear my father’s voice
as he complains about the cost of bread,

ingratitude, why Mom can’t make a choice
to leave the couch. She’s stuck to it like glue.
I hear him threaten that he’ll use some force

to get her moving. Says he’ll show her who
is boss. I hear him stumble as he falls
into a chair, too drunk to follow through.

I sneak out of my room and down the hall.
Heading for the door, I hear him cry.
Hear him whisper even as he bawls.

If there really is a God then why
did Frankie have to be the one to die?

Although they aren’t novels, parts of some of Shakespeare‘s plays (i.e. “Julius Ceasar” and “Hamlet”) were written in blank verse – unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter consisting of ten syllables per line with a stress on every second syllable. Other plays like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” contain a significant amount of rhyme. Other examples of verse novels include Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning, and Idylls of the King by Tennyson. Shorter narrative poems similar in length to short stories include Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”.

Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this article, we find that verse novels are one of the oldest forms of literature. Many of our best known works, classics that have withstood the test of time, were written in verse. This is not always recognizable because the form is often lost in the translation. Like many modern verse novels, most of these structures had little to do with rhyme.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of this art form, mostly in YA and middle grade novels. Verse novels have been the recipients of coveted awards in recent years such as Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newbery, 1998), Keesha’s House by Helen Frost (Printz Honor, 2004), Your Own Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (Printz Honor, 2008), and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (National Book Award, 2011).

The poetic merits of verse novels are not always obvious, especially those written in free verse. With this loose structure, some pose the question of whether or not the contents are true poetry. If the reader turns to any given page, the offering found there might not be apparent as a stand alone poem. It should be independent, true, but it is also part of a larger mosaic.

 
As Caroline Starr Rose, author of the middle grade verse novel May B. (Shwartz and Wade), likes to say, “Each poem is like a square in a patchwork quilt. It is complete, and yet at the same time part of a larger design.”

Visit Carolee Dean

When judging the value of an individual poem found within a verse novel, it might be interesting to think about it in terms of picking up a collection of one of the great poets and turning to any given page in the volume. Most of the time we read these fine wordsmiths in anthologies containing several poets, with only their finest and most well known works included.

Try reading two hundred pages of Robert Frost or William Butler Yeats at one sitting. Not everything they produced will seem as brilliant and inspiring as their “Greatest Works.” For that matter, read a random page of “Beowulf” or the “Divina Commedia.” The whole is more important than the sum of the parts, and a single page may not work as a stand-alone poem.

It is important to remember that a verse novel is both verse and a novel. We would never judge the merits of a novel by assessing the worth of one page at a time.

The bottom line is that whether a novel is written in verse or traditional prose, the most important question is whether or not it is a good story. That is, after all, the real reason why tales like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” “Metamorphoses” and “The Aeneid” have survived the test of time.

Cynsational Notes

Carolee Dean is the author of Take Me There (Simon Pulse) the story of a boy who can’t read or write but dreams of becoming a poet. Her paranormal verse novel, Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse, October 2012) explores a girl facing her demons in a high school filled with ghosts.

Join Carolee on The Ghost Tour, starting Oct. 3. See also Carolee on The Making of a Book Trailer: Behind the Scenes and Can I Write If I Can’t Read? Famous Poets Who Overcame Reading Disabilities.

Enter to win a signed copy of Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean (Simon Pulse, October 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada).

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Celebrating Poetry: Margarita Engle

By Kate Hosford
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American author of young adult novels in verse. Most recently, The Wild Book (Harcourt, 2012). The Surrender Tree: Poem’s of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom (Henry Holt, 2008) received many awards, including the first Newbery Honor granted to a Hispanic writer.

Margarita has received two American Library Association Pura Belpré Awards, and two Pura Belpré Honors. Her books have been honored by the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the International Youth Library in Munich.

She lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.

Congratulations on the release of your latest novel in verse, The Wild Book (Harcourt, 2012). Could you tell us a bit about the evolution of this project?

Thank you! I’m really excited about The Wild Book. It was inspired by stories my grandmother told me about her childhood. She was born in 1901, and grew up on a farm in Cuba during the chaos that followed U.S. occupation of the island after the Spanish-American War.

She also suffered the inner turmoil of dyslexia, so I wanted to write about her struggle to learn to read, and her fear of being kidnapped by bandits.

I tried to portray traditional rural aspects of Cuban culture. For instance, poetry was an essential part of daily life on farms at that time.

What was your connection to poetry as a child?

I was a bookworm, constantly reading. I copied poems out of books and tried to memorize them, although I was never great at reciting. I’m more of a silent reader and writer than a performer.

My love of books led to writing poetry while I was very young. Later, during my teen years, I experimented with all sorts of complex rhymed forms, eventually discovering that I love the simplicity of Japanese forms. Free verse now seems to combine complexity and simplicity in a way that feels natural to me.

Almost all of your books are set in Cuba. What is your personal relationship to that country?

At a Havana book fair with old books representing research.

My parents met when my American father traveled to my Cuban mother’s hometown after seeing pictures of the colonial architecture in National Geographic Magazine. He’s an artist, so he decided to paint the quaint town. They met on his first day there, which happened to be Valentine’s Day. They didn’t speak the same language, so they communicated by passing sketches back and forth.

I was born and raised in my father’s hometown of Los Angeles, but during long summer visits to Cuba, I grew close to my mother’s extended family and fell in love with Cuban culture. My passion for tropical nature eventually led to the study of botany and agriculture, but I never stopped writing.

Tragically, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba broke down during one of my childhood visits, in 1960, right around my ninth birthday. Two years later, after the Missile Crisis, travel restrictions isolated the island. I was unable to visit again until 1991, but since then, I have been back many times, to visit relatives.

I live with constant hope that someday soon, travel and diplomacy might be normalized.

All of your novels are historical fiction written in free verse. Why is free verse the right vehicle for your books?

There’s something about the flow of emotions that fits the form. Free verse has a lot in common with dreaming. Things happen that aren’t expected, even by the author. Images that don’t seem to belong together suddenly join: The Poet Slave of Cuba, The Surrender Tree, Tropical Secrets, The Firefly Letters, Hurricane Dancers, The Wild Book.

All my titles feel as if they’ve emerged from dreams, when really, they just come from the flow of visual images.

I love the way writing a historical novel in verse allows me to distill complex situations down to their emotional essence. I hope to offer an un-crowded page that will invite reluctant readers, while at the same time tackling the mature themes that young adults deserve. They don’t need baby books. They’re bursting with ideas and emotions. They can understand history.

I love it when middle school students send me letters telling me they think my books are easy to understand. The stereotype of poetry as difficult to understand is a relic of the past.

Besides the connection of setting, what are some of the other themes that you see emerging in your body of work?

No matter what story I tell, I usually discover, somewhere along the way, that I’m writing about freedom, whether social, emotional, or spiritual. All my stories have hopeful endings. If I research a topic that I find fascinating, but I find that in real life it had a depressing outcome, I don’t choose that story as one for young people.

When I find real life people who were far ahead of their time, such as Juan Francisco Manzano in The Poet Slave of Cuba, Rosa la Bayamesa in The Surrender Tree, Fredrika Bremer in The Firefly Letters, or Maria Merian in my picture book, Summer Birds, then I know that those are great role models for young people. They are people who became independent thinkers while they were young, rather than accepting unjust concepts taught by the adults around them.

There is also a common theme of nature. Cuba is tropical, lush and green. Everything in the hot, wet tropics grows swiftly, and rots swiftly. There is a duality that suits my perception of human cruelty in places of great natural beauty. Paradise lost, in a sense, yet always with hope.

Your books are filled with descriptions of nature, and I see you also have a background in agriculture and botany. What role did nature play in your childhood?

There were two great contrasts between my life in Los Angeles, and those childhood visits to Cuba. One was contact with my mother’s extended family, the Spanish language, and Cuban culture. The other was nature.

In Los Angeles, I was forced to live as a city mouse, but I always felt out of place. I am a country mouse at heart. In Cuba, I was in the small town of Trinidad, and on a nearby farm, where every plant fascinated me, every animal, every bird…I just couldn’t get enough of nature.

I am still the same way. I became a botanist. My husband is an entomologist, and a volunteer trainer/handler for wilderness search and rescue dog programs.

On a typical Saturday morning, I hide in the Sierra Nevada forest, so our dogs can practice finding a “lost” hiker.

My next picture book is When You Wander, a Search-and-Rescue Dog Story (Holt, March 2013). It will help children understand how to stay found in the woods, and what to expect if a dog is coming to the rescue.

What are some of the daily rituals that feed your poetry?

I love peace and quiet. I write best when the weather is pleasant enough to be outdoors a lot, walking or swaying in a hammock, pen and paper in hand. I’m a morning person. I like to write as soon after dreaming as possible, during that phase when magical realism works its way into the mind, and onto the paper.

For later drafts, I have to come indoors and work at a computer, but at that point, it starts to feel like real work, not just daydreams. Also, I dread deadlines.

I work best when I pretend that time does not exist.

Historical novels in verse require a great deal of research. What was your most difficult research project?

Definitely Hurricane Dancers! The farther I moved back in time, the less reliable information I found.

In the case of this first-encounter tale of Cuban Indians and a shipwrecked pirate, the only first person accounts of the native culture were by Spanish priests. Without a written language, the indigenous point of view has survived only as legend, so I tried to combine what is known with what I feel free to imagine.

Halfway through the research process, I was invited to become a subject of the Cuban DNA Project, and discovered that my maternal mitochondrial DNA is Amerindian. In other words, I learned that I am a descendant of the people I was writing about, Ciboney or Taíno, both considered “extinct” for nearly five hundred years. I carry Haplogroup A, the same genetic marker found in Plains Indian tribes.

Essentially, five centuries of history books were wrong. This not only shows how little we know about history, but also how powerful the survival of a few individuals can be, in an era of genocide. For me, it made the writing of Hurricane Dancers extremely emotional.

I’m so grateful that the book has received the American Library Association’s Pura Belpré Honor, is on the International Youth Library’s White Ravens List, and on Oct. 5, will receive the Américas Award at the Library of Congress.

You were recently invited to speak at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. What was it like to know that your books have traveled so far from home?

It was amazing. The conference was truly multicultural, with participants from all over the world. This year’s regional theme was the Philippines, so I had the chance to meet teachers who are using The Surrender Tree in their classrooms. There is a shared love of poetry, and also the shared colonial Spanish history.

I also had the chance to visit some wonderful museums in Singapore, and learn a bit about the local cultures, and since my husband was with me, we took the opportunity to spend a few days in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo.

Seeing orangutans in the rain forest was one of the most magical wilderness experiences of my life.

Would you like to tell us about a project you are working on presently?

My next novel in verse is The Lightning Dreamer (Harcourt, March 2013), about the childhood and youth of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Cuba’s great nineteenth century abolitionist/feminist poet.

Unlike male abolitionists, she paired her anti-slavery views with a campaign against arranged marriage, which she regarded as the marketing of teenage girls.

While she was very young, she wrote a daring interracial romance novel that was published eleven years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was far more influential in Europe and Latin America.

I’m also working on a search-and-rescue dog middle grade chapter book in verse that grew out of my story, Trail Magic, which is included in Ann Martin’s anthology titled Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories (Holt, 2012).

I was amazed when Ann Martin asked me to expand it into a full-length book, to be published by Holt.

I don’t know the exact publication date yet, but it is a contemporary setting in the California mountains, not Cuba, so it was a challenge, an opportunity that was both difficult and thrilling.

What advice do you have for emerging children’s poets?

Never give up. Summer Birds sat in a drawer for thirty years before I pulled it out and finally got it published. Only submit your best work for publication. Think of the rest as practice.

Writers need to rehearse, just like dancers or musicians. We don’t like to admit this, because writing is so slow, but we really do need to practice, so don’t rush. Be calm.

Cynsational Notes

Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield,
Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to
return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
teacher, and an illustrator. Kate is publishing three picture books with
Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant
(spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity
and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry
and middle grade novels.

She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

Career Builder & Giveaway: J. Patrick Lewis

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A Ph.D. in Economics (The Ohio State University, 1974), J. Patrick Lewis (“Pat”) turned to children’s poetry at age forty.

He has since published 80 children’s poetry and picture books to date with Creative Editions, Knopf, Atheneum, Dial, Harcourt, Little, Brown, National Geographic, Chronicle Books, Candlewick, Sleeping Bear Press, Scholastic Teaching Resources, and others.

Over one hundred of his adult poems have appeared in small magazines and journals. His first book of adult poems, Gulls Hold Up the Sky, was published by Laughing Fire Press in 2010.

Pat has made nearly 500 school visits all over the world, and he has collected a T-shirt with logo at every school. He was recently given the 2010-2011 NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award, announced every two years.

In May 2011, he was named the third U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate (2011-2013).

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

Never having had that electrifying teacher or librarian who turned me to poetry as a kid, I came to it very late in a career that was already “Over there — Behind the shelf” (teaching college economics).

Poetry, once discovered, led to three years of poring over untold numbers of poetry volumes and texts, though I was hardly able to quit my day job.

Included in the multi-book giveaway!

Self-teaching is a bracing experience. The best metaphor to describe my circumstances is the rapids. But there was no “hop-scotching” about it, unless you define the occasional poem accepted in a small journal a success.

I raced down those roiling rapids for seven years, passing hundreds of signs that from the shore that shouted “No!” Rejection followed rejection with the rapidity of tracer bullets.

But my message to schoolchildren is advice that I have always taken myself: Nothing succeeds like failure. Make failure your friend. Ignore the Muse, who is usually on vacation at Richard Wilbur’s.

A sweet whisper from the Muse—inspiration—is overrated anyway. Poetry is mostly dedicated hard work. Create your own Muse by reading, reading, reading. Then and only then are you ready to take up arms against the beast. If you consider yourself a writer, giving up does not enter the conversation.

How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

Despite the hard work (and pleasure) of learning the poet’s trade, enthusiasm was not the key to an invitation that I was hoping for. Frankly, but unbeknownst to me at the time, my first poems were embarrassing. And it took some good people, most often my twin brother, to hold up the mirror of my pedestrianism. As Maxim Gorky once said to Chekhov, “When I read your stories, I feel as if I am writing with a log.”

Passion alone is not enough. If I have developed anything over the years, I like to think that my ear has become better attuned to distinguish the great from the good, the middling from the awful, and can tell me just where my own work has gone off the tracks.

The poet Donald Hall once said that poets should wake up every day and tell themselves that they are going to write great poetry. Will they succeed? Not very likely. And yes, that flummoxes me, as it must every poet. But when was that ever the point?

The point is in the trying. You can substitute music, dance, painting or any of the other arts for poetry, and Hall’s assertion would be just as valid.

Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you should have done differently? What and why?

Occasionally, I regret that I didn’t start writing poetry when I was twenty instead of forty, that I didn’t get a Ph.D. in English, or at least an M.F.A. instead of Economics.

But, cliche though it is, good things happen to those who wait.
And I’m pleased that I was never one of the “insiders” who, I think, must unlearn so many bad habits of creative writing classes, not the least of which is trying to write the way their poetry professors do.

I do regret that I wasn’t weaned at an earlier age on classic poetry—adult poems and children’s verse alike. It’s been a long process of “catching up” during my second career.

But I love the chase, discovering minor poets whose work has been overlooked or underrated, stumbling upon new, sometimes foreign, verse forms, and knowing that there is so much poetry to look forward to.

Of all of your books to date, which one are you the most proud of? Why?

I’m asked this question at virtually all of my school visits. My stock answer is that my books are like my three children: I love them all for different reasons.

But of course I do have favorites as far as the art goes, and here I have been
blessed beyond the telling. Pure dumb luck. I’ve been assigned some of the world’s greatest illustrators, for which I can take no credit. These are artists who have evoked my words with unspeakable grace. So there are at least a dozen titles that I would be proud to let stand as a legacy.

As much as I love writing nonsense verse, I am especially gratified with the poems I have written to honor minorities, such as, Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans (Creative Editions), and a forthcoming 2013 book in that vein, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (Chronicle Books).

For sheer beauty, though, the two books I have been honored to do with the incomparable illustrator and Hans Christian Andersen winner Roberto InnocentiThe Last Resort and The House (both from Creative Editions)—hold pride of place.

Super Cynsational Giveaway

Wow! Enter to win a signed copies of all of these 2012 titles by Pat:

Take Two! A Celebration of Twins, with Jane Yolen, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick)

What’s Looking at You, Kid? illustrated by Renee Graef (Sleeping Bear)

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, illustrated by Michael Slack (Harcourt)

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs, with Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmons, (Charlesbridge)

Plus, three books in the Tugg & Teeny series: Tugg & Teeny; Tugg & Teeny: Jungle Surprises; and Tugg & Teeny: That’s What Are Friends For (Sleeping Bear).

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only. Deadline: midnight CST July 17.

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    More Information

    Pat’s 2012 books also include:

    However, they’re not yet available (and, thus, not included in the giveaway). So keep a lookout for them this fall/winter!

    Cynsational Notes

    The Career Builders series offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

    Guest Post: Carolee Dean on Can I Write If I Can’t Read?: Famous Poets Who Overcame Reading Disabilities

    By Carolee Dean
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    William Butler Yeats is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century, and yet he struggled with one of the most basic skill needed for his craft, the ability to read.

    An article by Marylou Minder and Linda S. Siegel in the 1992 (Vol. 25, Number 6) issue of the Journal of Learning Disabilities, entitled “William Butler Yeats: Dyslexic?” sites several examples from The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats that indicate that he may have suffered from this reading disability.

    The authors begin the article with a quote from his book:

    “Several of my uncles and aunts had tried to teach me to read, and

    because they could not, and because I was much older than children

    who read easily, had come to think, as I have learnt since, that I had

    not all my faculties.” (Yeats, 1965, p. 14)

    The article goes on to describe how Yeats reports having significant difficulty remembering what he read, but a keen recollection of and fascination with spoken language, in particular, the fairy tales, folk tales, and poems of his mother.

    In my occupation as a speech-language pathologist I’ve worked with many struggling readers. I also write novels for young people. In my second novel, Take Me There (Simon Pulse, 2010), I explore the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who can’t read or write, but dreams of becoming a poet and escaping a life of crime and poverty. (The correlation between incarceration and illiteracy rates is disconcertingly high, especially for teen offenders.)

    Dylan Dawson, the teen protagonist of Take Me There, was exposed to poetry as a young boy by his mother who read to him from a collection by W.B. Yeats. After a botched gang initiation, Dylan goes to Texas to reconnect with his father who is in prison. He wants to find out if badness is in his blood, or if it is something he can outrun. He soon becomes convinced that his father couldn’t have committed the murder for which he’s about to be executed. It is Dylan’s love of poetry and his mother’s three favorite Yeats poems that help him solve the murder.

    Ironically, I didn’t know Yeats struggled with reading when I wrote the
    book. I stumbled upon the article much later. I did draw inspiration
    from another poet though. Before leaving for Texas, Dylan’s reading
    tutor gives him a collection of poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca, an Albuquerque poet who taught himself to read and write in prison. 

    His autobiography, A Place to Stand, is filled with stories of his struggles to read and write. It was overcoming these obstacles and finding comfort in the written word that helped him survive the chaos of prison.

    In his book he states:

    “Poetry became something to aspire to, to live up to. It informed how I saw the world and my purpose in it.”

    It’s important to remember that poetry began as, and still is, primarily an oral art. Bards and storytellers often created entire epics in their heads. It was the meter and rhythm of verse that helped them remember their stories.

    It’s no wonder that poetry and novels in verse are such great ways to engage teen readers. Each poem encapsulates a complete concept so a reader doesn’t have to struggle through an entire chapter before thinking about the main idea. Sentences tend to be spare, rather than complex. Punctuation encourages frequent pauses. The amount of white space on the page is much less daunting than a dense text. Even so, these stories don’t come across as “easy readers.” Literary devices such as simile, metaphor, and personification abound.

    One verse novel I frequently explore in the classroom is Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (Square Fish). We use it at the high school where I work because it integrates with the ninth grade study of African culture. It’s the story of a boy named Kek who comes to America from a refugee camp after his father is killed.

    Another fabulous verse novel is May B. by former middle school teacher, Caroline Starr Rose (Schwartz & Wade). Mavis Elizabeth Betterly is a twelve-year-old girl who finds herself spending the winter alone in a sod house on the 19th century Kansas prairie.

    Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder, May has to struggle for her very survival, but her isolation is compounded by the fact that she cannot read.

    All of my novels contain original poetry, but I recently tried my hand at writing a novel completely in verse. Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse) is the story of a high school filled with ghosts and a fifteen-year-old girl’s desperate attempt to fit with the in-crowd, no matter what it costs her.

    If you’ve never read a book from this fun and exciting genre, check one out.

    They are often fast and easy reads, but don’t be fooled, they are more complex, beautiful, and fascinating than they sometimes appear.

    Celebrating Poetry: Marilyn Singer (Part Two)

    By Kate Hosford
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    Hello, Marilyn! 2012 is a big year for you with five poetry books coming out. 

    In the first part of this interview, we discussed your rhyming picture book, The Boy Who Cried Alien, illustrated by Brian Biggs (Hyperion), and A Stick is An Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Clarion). 

    Today, we will discuss Every Day’s a Dog’s Day, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto (Dial); The Superheroes Employment Agency, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones (Clarion); and A Strange Place to Call Home, illustrated by Ed Young (Chronicle).


    Can you describe Every Day’s A Dog’s Day?

    I love dogs big time. I’ve noticed that there are some human holidays they prefer—food-oriented ones, of course, and Christmas when they too get gifts—and some that they dislike.

    Years ago, I had a beagle who loathed the Fourth of July because of the fireworks.

    Marilyn & Oggi

    My present poodle, Oggi, is a good watchdog and gets loud when the bell rings, so for Halloween, I’ve learned to sit outside with him where he can wear his Pierrot ruff and happily (and more quietly) greet the treat-or-treaters. My experiences with dogs led me to think about holidays they love or hate and ones they couldn’t possibly understand (St. Patrick’s Day?), and also come up with times that might be exclusive to the dogs themselves. That’s how this book came about.

    What inspired you to write about holidays and seasons from a dog’s point of view?

    I’ve had dogs since I was a kid. In fact, I would never be without a dog. I’m always “talking” as my dog—verbalizing what I imagine him saying. So that’s where the dog’s point of view comes in.

    I like writing from animals’ points of view. My first poetry book, Turtle in July, featured animals each month of the year speaking in their voices (if they could speak English). That book was more serious, and I tried to create the rhythms and sibilance and vocabulary that would fit these animals.

    The dog poems are jauntier, and they often rhyme. But then, I think dogs are jauntier and would rhyme if they could.

    A Strange Place to Call Home, which will be out this fall, also has animals as its subject matter. Can you describe the book in more detail?

    It is a collection of poems about animals that survive and thrive in difficult habitats—tube worms by hydrothermal vents deep in the ocean; mountain goats on peaks; camels in the desert, etc.

    I used different forms for the poems—sonnets, triolets, cinquains, haikus, etc. I hadn’t written sonnets in years, so that was fun and challenging. And I also wrote prose bits on each of the animals, which required a lot of research.

    I enjoy research, so that was not an onerous task. My research not only involves reading and watching films and shows on nature, but talking to zoologists, which is a total blast!

    Over the course of your career, you have written both fiction and nonfiction poetry collections, as well as prose nonfiction, about animals. What role do animals play in your personal life and in your writing life?

    Well, I’ve had pets for most of my life—dogs, cats, parakeets, chinchillas, fancy pigeons, and a pet crow named “Quoth” that used to fly around the neighborhood and return to his cage in the evening (on my birthday, many years ago, he or she—we never found out which—left with a flock of crows for good, which was both touching and apt).

    Currently, I have two domestic doves and a starling that my husband rescued from the gutter. But I also really like observing animals that aren’t and shouldn’t be pets in zoos, parks, and the wild.

    I find all animals fascinating. I’ve never met one I didn’t like (except mosquitoes and ticks!).

    I’m grabbed by the similarities, the differences, the deep connections and the lack thereof that we have with these creatures.

    I have a sense of wonder about animals and the natural world in general.

    I really do believe that maintaining that wonder keeps one young and happy. There’s so much to see and hear and learn that it’s impossible to be bored.

    Can you describe your poetry collection, The Superheroes Employment Agency, coming out this summer?

    It’s a series of comic poems about B-list superheroes who are in need of jobs. The poems are kind of their resumes. I got to create a whole roster of characters for this book.

    One thing I did was look up “existing” superheroes to see what abilities I could use—or parody.

    The title is so fabulous. I giggle every time I say it. How did you come up with this idea?

    I think it grew out of a discussion about what topics are popular with kids. Somebody—it could’ve been me or an editor—said “Superheroes.” I let that cook for a while and thought it would be funny to write about B-listers, and then to shape it with the employment agency idea.


    Humor plays a large part in the majority of the poetry books you have coming out this year. Can you talk a bit about the role of humor in your larger body of work?

    I always prefer comedy over tragedy. I prefer to laugh. I’m not particularly sentimental, and I don’t like tear-jerkers at all.

     That’s not to say that I don’t cry. If anything, mushy things make me cry too easily, which is why I don’t gravitate to them. I often cry at happy books, films, and shows where things work out wonderfully.

    It’s also not to say that I don’t like serious and thoughtful stuff. My nature poetry is often in that vein, as are some of my other works. But I think that laughter is good for the soul.

    I also think that humor can sometimes reveal even deeper truths than drama. It may be less likely to win awards or to be taken seriously, but comedy can be quite serious indeed, both in the message delivered and the skill required to write it.

    Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?

    As some readers may know, in 2010, my book Mirror Mirror (Dutton), poems based on fairy tales, was published. For it, I came up with a poetry form called the reverso—which consists of two poems.

    Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it says something else.

    I’m thrilled to say that next year I have another book of fairy tale reversos coming out. It’s called Follow Follow (Dial) and it’ll be illustrated by the sublime Josee Masse.

    I’ve also been writing a series of prose picture books, published by Clarion and illustrated by the amazing Alexandra Boiger, about Tallulah, a ballet student with rather grandiose ideas, which inevitably get deflated. The first, Tallulah’s Tutu, came out last year. This spring, Tallulah’s Solo, appears. Following that, we’ll see Tallulah’s Toe Shoes and Tallulah’s Nutcracker.

    Currently, I’m working on a collection of poems for Hyperion about the U.S. presidents and a kind of “musical comedy” based on Little Miss Muffett for Clarion, as well as some other possible poetry projects.

    This will certainly be a busy year for you in terms of book promotion. Which forms of promotion do you find work for you?

    I like to attend conferences, to speak to educators, and to do performances of my books. We’re going to have a performance of Tallulah’s Solo, at the Third Street Music School in N.Y.C. this May.

    I also do bookstore signings, some library appearances, and I use Facebook. I can’t say whether these have sold lots of copies of my books, but they are mostly enjoyable and they’re what I have the time and energy to do.

    While there are many educators and parents who embrace poetry, there are others who seem unsure how to use it in the classroom or approach it with their children. Do you have any tips for demystifying poetry for the public?

    One thing is for them to read lots of poetry. Another is to listen to it being read. My husband said he began to understand poetry a lot more when he heard it.

    For more tips, I’m going to suggest that folks go to my web site to read my article on the topic (“Knock Poetry off the Pedestal: It’s Time to Make Poems a Part of Children’s Everyday Lives”) in School Library Journal and to watch my Reading Rockets interview.

    Finally, do you have any advice for new poets who are trying to enter the children’s book market?

    Here are my Ten Tips for Writing Poetry, also found on my web site:

    1. Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?

    2. Listen to words and sentences. What kind of music do they have? How is the music of poetry different from the music of songs?

    3. Read all kinds of poetry. Which poems do you like and why?

    4. Read what you write out loud. How does it sound? How could it sound better?

    5. Ask yourself: does this poem have to rhyme? Would it be good or better if it didn’t? If it should rhyme, what kind of rhyme would be best? (For example, first and second lines rhyme; third and fourth lines rhyme—“Roses are red/So is your head/Violets are blue/So is your shoe”; or first and third lines rhyme; second and fourth lines rhyme—“What is your name?/Who is your mother?/This poem is quite lame/I should try another.”

    6. Ask yourself: does this poem sound phoney? Don’t stick in big words or extra words just because you think a poem ought to have them.

    7. A title is part of a poem. It can tell you what the poem is about. It can even be another line of the poem.

    8. Before you write, think about what you want your whole poem to say.

    9. If you end up saying something else, that’s okay, too. Poet X.J. Kennedy says:

    “You intend to write a poem about dogs, say, and poodle is the first word you’re going to find a rhyme for. You might want to talk about police dogs, Saint Bernards, and terriers, but your need for a rhyme will lead you to noodle and strudel. The darned poem will make you forget about dogs and write about food instead.”

    10. Go wild. Be funny. Be serious. Be whatever you want! Use your imagination, your own way of seeing.

    Cynsational Notes

    More on Kate Hosford

    Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield,
    Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to
    return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

    Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
    teacher, and an illustrator.

    Kate is publishing three picture books with
    Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant
    (spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity
    and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry
    and middle grade novels.

    She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

    Celebrating Poetry: Marilyn Singer (Part One)

    Oggi & Marilyn Singer

    By Kate Hosford
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations
    Photo of Marilyn & Oggi by Laurie Gaboard of the Litchfield County Times 

    Marilyn, congratulations are in order. You have five poetry books, as well as a prose picture book, coming out this year:

    We’ll focus on poetry and talk about two of the poetry books today: The Boy Who Cried Alien and A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, and cover the other three in the second part of this interview.

    What was the inspiration behind The Boy Who Cried Alien?

    I grew up in the 50’s—an era of rather silly (though maybe not at the time) science fiction movies. I also grew up reading fairy tales and fables, including lots of Aesop. Stuff like that tends to stick in my subconscious mind and surface when I least expect it—and that’s pretty much what happened with The Boy Who Cried Alien.

    In this rhyming picture book, you use a ‘silent movie’ structure. Could you describe this in more detail and explain why you chose to use it?

    I’m a movie fan. One thing I like about silent movies is the placards that introduce scenes and provide transitions, and I used that device in this book.

    I also like how many silent movies keep the plots tight and spare, so that influenced the storyline in this book—which, by the way, I wrote about eight years ago, way before “The Artist” won the Oscar.

    The illustrations are cinematic, too, thanks to the wonderful Brian Biggs—different “camera” perspectives and “split screens.”

    I do hope to see the book performed not so silently, though, in a reading with different people playing the different characters.

    You have also invented an alien language that you use for portions of this book, without ever giving up your rhyme scheme. Could you talk about the process of inventing a language that works in rhyme and that children can decode?

    Hoo, boy, that was tricky—but, as I said, I like a challenge. Actually, what I did first was come up with how the alien language would work. I chose a simple code—reversing the first and last letters of words (except plurals and past tenses)—knowing that making these words rhyme would be tricky enough. For example, “worthy” is “yorthw,” but “liars” is “rials.” “Pulled” is “lulped,” but “pleased” is “dleasep.” And some words aren’t translatable, such as “zon,” the word for a cow-like creature that lives on the aliens’ home planet.

    Once I knew what the code for the language would be, I set about writing poems that would rhyme in that language. I think that when we’re kids, we like to decode things (maybe more than we do when we’re adults—when we seem to be more impatient, have less steam). But so that frustration doesn’t set in, it’s important to include the key for decoding.

    You translate the alien language at the end of the book both literally and poetically. Why did you choose to provide both kinds of translations?

    Yes, I wrote not just verbatim translations, but literary translations, the kind that translators would do for books in foreign languages, and those translations also had to rhyme.

    I kept going back and forth between the alien speak and the translations to make things work. That was the hardest part, and I did it because a) I’ve never had to translate anything before and I was curious about how that might work; b) Because I respect the work of translators and how difficult it is; c) Because I’m nuts.

    In your poetry collection, A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, you focus on the simple outdoor games that children have played for generations. Why is this topic important to you?

    From the ages of 5-19, I lived in North Massapequa, Long Island. We had a small backyard and ample streets with little traffic. All the kids played outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall (and even a bit in the winter).

    That was one of the few things I remember loving about growing up in suburbia.

    My favorite game was our version of “Statues.” I’m not an especially nostalgic person, but I do remember those times with fondness.

    I think that children who play outdoors not only tend to be healthier, but more imaginative and definitely more social, able to develop skills that are necessary for a happier adulthood.

    I hope that kids reading this book will be encouraged to go out and play—and I hope that adults will join them.

    You celebrate a variety of country games and city games in this book. What was your relationship to the outdoors both as a child and an adult? How does this inform your work as a poet?

    Besides playing outdoors as a kid, I always liked to watch animals, but I didn’t really get to do that in a major way until I was in my twenties and my husband and I were able to travel and go bird-watching and hiking in natural areas.

    Nowadays, we not only live in Brooklyn, N.Y.—right across from a public school, where kids are constantly playing games—but also in Washington, C.T., a rural area with lots of wildlife. It’s the best of both worlds for us. I spend a lot of time studying the natural world and writing about it.

    Many of my poetry collections and all of my nonfiction books are about animals and/or plants. However, I also like to watch and write about people, and the city’s great for that.

    You have written over ninety children’s books in many different genres, but I’ve read in several interviews that poetry is your favorite. What is your particular attraction to poetry?

    I’ve loved poetry since I was a little kid. My parents both sang popular songs with great lyrics to me, and my mom read me poetry.

    Though I don’t play an instrument, I am musical. I love to sing and dance. Poetry fits in with my musicality. I’m also fond of words and wordplay—always have been—and poetry lets me fool around with words. I really like the way poems can say a lot in a few lines. I don’t like to bore people (or to be bored, for that matter), so the spare quality appeals to me.

    Then there’s the way that certain poems are photographic—can capture an image, a moment in time. I like the contradiction of both holding on to a moment and knowing that it’s gone.

    What role did poetry play in your own childhood?

    I began to write poems at a very early age. I showed them to my teachers and even read some at show-and-tell (probably to the annoyance of my classmates). I got a lot of good feedback and continued to write throughout high school and college.

    During my junior year, I went to Reading University, England, and got some tough love there on my poetry from teachers and fellow students, which helped me enormously. These days, I get that tough love from my editors, fellow poets, and, especially from my husband, a great critic.

    What rituals or routines do you build into your day to ensure that you stay inspired and focused?

    I usually read, take walks, play with my dog, and research topics that interest me. I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I can. I spend a lot of time thinking.

    I play Scrabble and other word games (against robots!), and I watch TV—“The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, “Real Time with Bill Maher”, series featuring handsome detectives (“Castle,” “The Mentalist,” “White Collar”), singing competitions, and every dance show on the tube.

    My husband and I take swing/ballroom/Latin dance classes twice a week, as well as dance workshops. That helps me get out of my head and into my body, which is very good for creativity.

    On a regular, though not daily, basis, I go to the theatre, watch films, garden a little. Maybe I should sleep more?

    Cynsational Notes

    Don’t miss part two of Celebrating Poetry: Marilyn Singer.

    More on Kate Hosford

    Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield,
    Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to
    return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

    Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
    teacher, and an illustrator.

    Kate is publishing three picture books with
    Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant
    (spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity
    and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry
    and middle grade novels.

    She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

    Celebrating Poetry: Sylvia Vardell on Teaching, Awards, Trends, Challenges & New Releases

    By Kate Hosford
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

    Sylvia Vardell is a professor at Texas Woman’s University. She also is the author of Poetry Aloud Here! Sharing Poetry with Children in the Library (ALA, 2006), Poetry People: A Practical Guide to Children’s Poets (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), and Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarians Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2008). In addition, she edits for Librarians’ Choice.

    Sylvia is a avid reader, movie lover, and zealous traveler.

    As a writer, a professor of library science, a blogger and an anthologist, you have devoted yourself to the celebration and promotion of poetry for young people. What role did poetry play in your own childhood? How did that interest continue to develop?

    My parents were new immigrants from Germany, so German was my first language. Rhymes and poems helped me to learn—and enjoy—my new language, English. I felt tuned in to the music of language—how words sounded in German and English—and I still enjoy the sound qualities of poetry, in particular.

    In school, I enjoyed hearing poetry read aloud by teachers and librarians (again, that pleasure in the spoken word), but I didn’t seek it out to read in print, although I was an avid reader.

    I found an outlet in writing poetry in my angst-filled teen years, and in college, I had a knack for analyzing poetry. (I was good at identifying the appropriate symbolism!)

    I taught sixth grade in the late 1970s and shared all kinds of books with my students. Shel Silverstein was a new author, and I saw firsthand what a huge hit his work was with my students. That led me deep into exploring contemporary poetry for kids—and I haven’t quit since!

    What are some of the new and innovative ways in which librarians and teachers are promoting poetry? 

    Teachers and librarians who love poetry have long been creative in getting kids excited about poetry—from creating classroom poetry cafés, complete with tablecloths and bongos, to holding open mike readings, to filling school hallways with favorite poem displays, to starting the school day with a school-wide poem to linking poetry across the curriculum.

    And now with technology tools, they’re hosting guest poets via Skype, creating digital trailers to promote poetry books, using blogs to encourage student responses to poetry, etc.

    One of the things I find especially gratifying is how educators now promote a more multidimensional approach to poetry—listening to it, performing it, filming it, as well as reading and writing it.

    Are there any poetry collections, anthologies or novels in verse that you are particularly excited about in 2012?

    I’m excited at the abundance of titles I’ve seen scheduled for publication in 2012—over 50 so far.

    Some of my favorite poets have new books coming out. They include Douglas Florian, Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, Margarita Engle, David Harrison, Helen Frost, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, and even Jack Prelutsky.

    My friend and collaborator Janet Wong has a very timely new book of election year poems, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems on Liberty (CreateSpace, 2012)!

    I’m looking forward to not one, but two collections focused on featuring poems for performance since that’s one of my favorite angles on poetry: Mary Ann Hoberman (Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, April 2012)) and Caroline Kennedy (Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated by Jon J. Muth (Hyperion, March 2012)).

    And I’m always especially to read the work of new and up-and-coming poets and anthologists, so I’m excited to get my hands on: Jill Corcoran’s collection, Dare to Dream…Change the World (Kane Miller, fall 2012), Carol-Ann Hoyte’s and Heidi Bee Roemer’s anthology with poets from around the world, And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester (Friesens Press, 2012), and Tim McLaughlin’s book of poetry by young people themselves, Walking on Earth and Touching the Sky; Poetry and Prose by Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School, illustrated by S.D. Nelson (Abrams, April 2012).


    Are there any trends in poetry that we should look for this year?

    Last year was a bumper crop for novels in verse with some amazing works by first-time authors—like Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011), the National Book Award winner.

    I’m seeing more interesting verse novels on this year’s lists, and I’m looking forward to checking them out.

    I hear Leslea Newman’s October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (Candlewick, 2012) is very powerful, and I am always blown away by Stephanie Hemphill’s work (look for Sisters of Glass (Knopf, March 27, 2012)).

    I’m also so excited to see more multicultural poetry on the docket, including bilingual works by Jorge Luján and Jorge Argueta.

    You have worked hard to raise the public’s awareness of poetry awards. Why are these awards so important, and what can the reading public do to support them?

    Yes, I do believe promoting the awards is critical primarily because we work in such an award-conscious culture. Awards help people notice poetry.

    The downside is that awards by their very nature recognize only a few books, so many wonderful works of poetry don’t get the attention they deserve. That’s one reason that I try to promote lists, rather than single titles alone, to give a taste of the poetry diversity that is possible and available.

    I would love it if the reading public would take notice of the poetry awards, buy multiple copies of each winner and honor book, and then hold their own “mock” awards to get kids (and families) reading and talking about even more poetry.

    Could you talk a bit about the challenges that both new and established poets face at this time, both in terms of getting published and getting their poetry into the hands of readers?

    Yes, there are so many challenges in poetry publishing—getting it accepted and published to begin with, then getting the book sold and promoted, too. Most poets are now heavily involved in the “after” part, using web sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to get the word out about their books. And it’s still a tough sell in a fiction-centric world!

    As the writer Robert Graves noted, “There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money either.”

    Digital publishing offers promising opportunities for new writers and my collaborator, Janet Wong (herself a poet) and I have tried our hands at that. We published three e-book anthologies of poems by some of the biggest names in poetry for children (PoetryTagTime for kids, P*TAG for teens, and Gift Tag, holiday poems for all ages).

    If it’s any consolation, poetry has the longest “shelf life” of all the genres, in my opinion. It has staying power. Just look at Mother Goose (1695), “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (1806), or even “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout/Would not take the garbage out” by Shel Silverstein (1974).

    Poetry has legs. We just need to be sure not to cut it off at the knees by our short-sightedness!

    Cynsational Notes

    More on Kate Hosford

    Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield,
    Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to
    return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

    Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a
    teacher, and an illustrator.

    Kate is publishing three picture books with
    Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant
    (spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity
    and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children’s poetry
    and middle grade novels.

    She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

    Celebrating Poetry: Kate Hosford on A Place of Wonder

    By Kate Hosford
    for Cynsations

    A couple years ago, my son came home from school and informed me that one of his teachers was “rusted from the inside”.

    While another parent might have probed further into this state of affairs, I immediately lunged for my writing book and scribbled down the phrase.

    “Rusted from the inside?”

    That was too good to pass up.

    As poets, we strive to see the world with childlike wonder. In his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska, 2005), 2004 poet laureate Ted Kooser says that poetry can result in a “re-freshening of the world.” He goes on to say, “it is the device through which the ordinary world is seen in a new way, engaging, compelling, even beautiful.”

    This is true for all good poetry, whether it is meant for an adult audience or for younger readers.

    So what happens to the potential poets on the road to adulthood? Why is it that so many of us struggle to perceive the world in a fresh way? Is it simply a function of getting older and more desensitized? Or is it more complicated than that?

    In her book, Poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press, 1996), poet Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says, “children naturally express things in a fresh way, until we teach them the right way.” She remembers waiting at the bus stop as a child and noticing a beautiful snowflake that fell on her mitten. When she showed it to another girl, that child began to mimic her, “Look at the pretty little snowflake!”

    “I learned that day,” she says, “that there didn’t seem to be a place for a person describing a snowflake on a mitten. After that I was quiet about what I saw so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. I learned to be quiet about beauty.”

    As we get older, most of us learn to become quiet about beauty, or ugliness, or anything else that might reveal that we are observing our world carefully. By the time we are willing to go public with our observations, they may not be as fresh or original as once were.

    It is the job of the poet to unlearn this quietness and return to a place of wonder.

    In the upcoming months, I will be interviewing poets who are able to speak from this place. I will focus on poetry for young readers released in 2011-2012, and will also interview librarians and anthologists who are responsible for making sure that the poet’s words are heard.

    I hope you will join me for conversations about craft, connecting with one’s audience, and the role of poetry in children’s publishing.

    Cynsational Notes

    Celebrating Poetry will be a series of posts by author Kate Hosford throughout 2012 at Cynsations.

    From Carolrhoda Books: “Kate Hosford read constantly as a child, even reading through a school fire alarm at one point. She grew up in Waitsfield, Vermont, with lots of animals, including a miniature cow named Mini Moo. Kate attended Amherst College, and also spent a semester studying Buddhism in India.

    “Kate has worked as an adoption and foster care worker, a teacher and an illustrator, before turning to writing full time. She has taught in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.” 

    She lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.