One Writer’s Journey

August 13, 2019

David Harrison: Happy 50th Anniversary

“Don’t you just hate it when one of your friends makes a sale?  Don’t you get jealous?”

I was a fairly new writer when someone asked me this.  I had some sales, no books, but I was still surprised.  Jealous?  No, why?  Although when my writing friend David Harrison announced he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first book, it came close.  Isn’t that just the coolest thing?

In 1969, The Boy with the Drum was published as a Little Golden Book. I remember going to the grocery store with my mom or grandmother and flipping through all the Little Golden Books on the spinner.  They rarely said yes but every now and again I got to come home with a new treasure.

Earlier this year, book #96 for David came out.  I reviewed And the Bullfrogs Sing here.  Ninety-six books!  Okay, maybe I’m just a little jealous, but I can deal with it.  If you aren’t familiar with David’s books, be sure to check them out.  And the Bullfrog Sings combines his talents for teaching science and writing in rhyme.  David is a noted children’s poet and if poetry is your thing you might want to read Now You See Them, Now You Don’ta book of poems about how animals hide.

I’ve known David since I was a new writer and he has always been encouraging although I think I made him cringe when I called myself the anti-poet.  To say that my education in poetry was lacking is an understatement and David took it upon himself to help me find poetry to read.  It may be David’s fault that I’ve had one rhyme, I still hesitate to call it a poem, accepted for publication.

I’d encourage you to get to know David and his work. For a full list of his books, be sure to visit this page on his web site. You can read more about his first sale on his blog.


August 12, 2019

Lee Bennett Hopkins: RIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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Sadness.  Last week, poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins passed away.

I can’t even tell you how many poems he published or how many anthologies he produced.  What I can tell you is that he is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most productive anthologist of poetry for children.

Hopkins created his first anthology because he was a teacher.  When Langston Hughes, died in 1967, Lee Bennett Hopkins wanted to share Hughes writing with his students. “I was introducing language arts curricula into classroom programs, with an emphasis on poetry, and I realized when Hughes died that I could not share with students his only book for children, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, published in 1932, due to the art’s stereotypical depiction of blacks.”

Hopkins settled on a solution.  He would create a new anthology and thus Don’t You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hughes was published by Knopf in 1969.

Poet and anthologist, our library has twenty-six of his books.  Although I periodically read poetry, I can’t say that I always have his books on my library shelf.  Yet, when I got the news that he had died, I had just picked School People up from the library.

While it is sad that he is no longer with us, what a blessing that he was creating both poetry and anthologies for so many years.  Why not celebrate his work by checking out one of his books this week?  World Make Way is on my hold list.  And I realize that I’ve never read Manger.  Do I request it now or wait until Christmas when it is seasonally appropriate?

If you have a favorite poem or collection by Hopkins, share it below.


July 10, 2019

Poetry: The Zejel

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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Maybe it is because I just finished reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners, but I’ve been playing around with poetry a bit more than usual lately.  My latest attempt is a zejel which you can find described by Robert Brewer here.

The zejel is known as an old Spanish form but Brewer points out that it may actually be a really old Arabic form.  Each lines has 8 syllables and the rhyme scheme works like this:  AAA, BBBA, CCCA, DDDA, EEEA, etc.

Eight syllables is bound to be easier than the eleven syllables in the stornello, right?   Seriously, let me maintain my illusion just a bit longer.  Poking around online, I also see that the zejel is meant to be spoken or recited, not written.  Alas, mine will be written because no one but no one wants me to try to recite a poem.  I haven’t done that since we memorized Poe in . . . grade 8?  I’m not even sure the world was in color way back then.

So anyway, here is my attempt at a zejel.

Super Powers

Are all super powers something
about which we would brag and sing?
Or would many more likely sting?

Sure, some would be able to fly
And others detect every lie.
But somewhere a hopeful young guy
only bends like a chicken wing.

And a woman afraid of heights
Cannot see far distant sights
Or fight like a long ago knights,
But flies like a bird on the wing.

Nope.  No one with a skill for rhyme or poetic form as anything to fear.  But it is still fun to play around with various poems throughout the week. If nothing else, it sharpens my sense of word play and the sound and feel of words.

Even if I’m no kind of poetic threat.




July 2, 2019

Poetry: The Stornello

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:42 am
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Maybe my next frightening stornello should be about Venice.

Every now and again, I play around with writing poetry.  I am not, repeat: AM NOT, a poet.  But it is fun to try something new especially something that is never going to be published.

If you enjoy writing poetry but haven’t checked out Robert Lee Brewer’s Writer’s Digest blog, Poetic Asides, you will be surprised at the number of poetic forms he explores.  There’s a new one every week and the most recent is the Stornello.

The stornello is an Italian tercet (3-lined stanza).  Each line contains 11 syllables.  And all three lines rhyme.

Of course, when I saw this, I thought, “That’s doable.  It sounds like a super haiku.”  Next thing you know I’m typing away and pausing to count syllables.  The first line was relatively simple.  Oh, wait.  The second line needs to rhyme with the first, and I’ve ended line 1 with “liquid.”  No problem.

Ha.  That’s a good one.  I have come to the conclusion that I can count syllables or I can rhyme.  Both is really pushing it.

Yes, I did finally come up with a rough attempt.  Don’t laugh.  No really.  It is sooooo bad.

Summer Air

Summertime air, less gaseous than liquid
Even in morning steamy, close, and languid
Clinging barrier that crossed leaves you winded.

And this, my friends, is why David Harrison and Jane Yolen have nothing to fear.  I will never, ever pose a threat to anyone who is a poet.

Now in all truth, this is my first draft.  Yes, first.  It has the right number of syllables and it rhymes.  The rhymes really stumped me so I trotted on over to RhymeZone.  It gave me rhymes (frigid, languid, liquid, livid, rigid, timid and vivid) but it also gave me near rhymes (beareded, drifted, fitted, gifted, lifted, listed, printed and more).  It even gave me one I had to look up likud.  It is a center to right wing political party in Israel.  Nope.  Not going to use that one.

Yeah, I’ll keep playing with this form.  I may even rewrite that one.  Submit it?  Uh, no.


June 7, 2019

False Apology Poem

I am not a poet.  Every now and again I read poetry especially the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye.  Then there are the days I attempt poetry.  One of my favorite forms is the false apology poem. Have you ever done something and felt compelled to apologize although you didn’t mean it?  That’s basically the point of a False Apology poem.

False apology poems are inspired by the poem that William Carlos Williams penned after eating the plums his wife was saving for breakfast.


This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

The rules are simple — you have to apologize for something and not really mean it.  One way to think of this poem is to think insincerity although that doesn’t work for me.  I tend not to apologize if I don’t mean it.  I don’t consider “I’m sorry you’re upset” an apology.

But sarcasm?  I ooze sarcasm on a daily basis.  Is is my first language.  Yes, sarcasm can be mean and Williams’ poem does not feel mean.  But when I write this type of poem, it has to sound a bit mean to work.

Darwin Dilemma

I’m sorry my belief in science
gives offence. On the other hand,
It must be hard to believe so much
with no basis in fact.

The monkey from which I descend?
He’d be cute and smart and
probably fling poo.
At you?
It happens.  My apologies.

Then again
Darwin never claimed
we descended from monkeys.
You should read his work.
But first, you’ll have to learn
the science.

Not great but then I never claimed poetry as a talent!


January 18, 2019

Mary Oliver: RIP

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Mary Oliver.  Even a non-poet like myself knows Oliver’s name. For those of you who may not have heard, Oliver died yesterday from lymphoma.

Personally, I always appreciated the straightforward truth of her poems, many of which were set in the natural world.  Even when I didn’t think I got poetry, I knew that even someone with a linear, logical mind like mine could appreciate her work.

One of the things that I appreciated most about Oliver is that she didn’t forget about the people who just weren’t sure they understood poetry.  In fact, she wrote a book to help them out.  A Poetry Handbook:  Prose guide to understanding and writing poetry was published in 1994 and reissued in 2015 by Harcourt.  That’s one of the books that I requested yesterday from the library. Maybe it’s just me, but I often feel the need to check out a book by an author when I hear that they have died.

In addition to poetry and books about poetry, Oliver also wrote essays.  Like her poems, her essays also celebrate nature.  She also wrote about others who have written of nature – Wordsworth, Shelley, Poe and Frost.

Not that Oliver’s work was without critics.  Feminists especially thought that Oliver simplified the relationship between women and nature. I can read that they felt Oliver’s attitudes put women at risk and somehow disempower women.  I can repeat it but I don’t get it.

Me?  I think she found herself and her own power in the natural world where she found freedom and a connection with something larger than herself.  I think she invited others, readers and writers, to do likewise.  If you don’t, you don’t.  Oliver isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but she definitely spoke to me and encouraged me to try my hand at poetry.


July 18, 2017

A New Type of Poem (New to Me Anyway)

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:13 am
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I don’t consider myself a poet but I like to dabble.  Because of that, I keep an eye out for new-to-me types of poetry. Here is one that Jane Yolen wrote about in her June 19 daily poetry mailing – the Golden Shovel.

Terrence Hayes recently created this form in homage to poet Gwendolyn Brooks.  The writer selects a favorite line or lines of poetry and uses the words, on order, to create a new poem.  Each word becomes the last word of a line in the new poem.

In this article, the Poetry Foundation says that often the lines come from a Brooks poem.  Yolen took hers from an Emily Dickenson poem.  Yolen wrote hers as something of a poetic conversation between her poem and Dickinson’s.  The Poetry Foundation article doesn’t mention this, nor does Robert Brewer in his post on the form.  Like Yolen, Brewer took his line from something other than a Brooks poem – his is from Basho.  The name of the form comes from the poem that Hayes originally created, The Golden Shovel.  You can read it here.

My first attempt involved working with lines from Wynken, Blynken and Nod by Eugene Fields.  Wynken and Blynken? Oh, help. So I chose two other lines.  “Sailed on a river of crystal light/Into a sea of dew.” But the words “a,” “of,” and “on” weren’t a whole lot better.  Pbbt.

Ok.  Let’s switch poets.  What about Poe?  Not a children’s poet by a longshot but I sure won’t be encountering words like Wynken and Blynken.  I flipped to Eldorado, knowing from the start that I’d have to avoid that botched Spanish name.  Let’s go with something super simple – a single line. “Ride boldly ride.”

I can’t say that what I came up with is brilliant but it sure has a different tone than Eldorado.

Giddy-up we ride
Horses galloping boldly
Down the hall we ride.

In truth, I only strongly dislike the last line.  But nothing I try feels like an improvement. Different? Yes.  Improved?  No.

The key to making this one work may be abandoning the Golden Shovel format.  Why? Because I can see it working much better in four lines.  Three?  That just feels too short.  Four or six?  Much more do-able.  So if you’ll excuse me, my stick pony and I are going to go rework a poem.



April 18, 2017

Poetry Terms: A Few Key Words You Need to Know

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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April is National Poetry Month.  Whether you are a serious poet or just someone who dabbles like I occassionally do, this Writer’s Digest post includes thirty-seven key terms that will help you know what everyone else is talking about. Of course, if you are a serious poet, you probably know most of them.

Rhyme, rhythm, and stanza I already knew but another term I’ve frequently seen, but never seen defined, is chapbook. If you write for children, that sounds a lot like chapter book, a type of book for newly confident readers who can handle chapters but still need fairly direct, straightforward text.

In poetry, a chapbook is a small book of approximately 24 to 50 pages.  Not what the “chap” stands for but when I looked deeper into it I found that they are also called brochures or pamphlets.  Traditionally they were stitched but they can also be stapled and generally have a paper stock cover.   They are often themed and have kind of a DIY feel so if you have the urge to try self-publishing something you might want to study up on chapbooks. You can read more about chapbooks here and here.

A lot of other poetry terms, including anapest and dactyl,  have to do with stressed and unstressed syllables. Then there are the terms that have to do with sounds other than rhyme — assonance and consonance, for example.

If you only dabble, you may not feel the need to know all of these terms but if you write picture books it is important to know about word play and how to make your story a fun read-aloud experience.  That means poetry.  You may not need each and every one of these words to know if your piece “works” but an editor or other critiquer may use one of these terms to explain why your rhythym is off.

This list made it obvious that I have a whole lot to learn. I have to say that I knew only about 25% of the terms but now I have a good source for new things, including chapbooks, that I want to learn more about.


March 28, 2017

The Chant: Another Poetic Form

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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trout trout troutOne of the poetic forms that we studied in Peggy Archer’s workshop was the chant.  The example that Peggy gave was from April Pulley Sayre’s Trout, Trout, Trout!  I have to admit, I didn’t see myself writing a chant so I didn’t take a lot of notes.

Bad, bad me.  Because the other when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else (like choir rehearsal), I started playing with the rhythm’s of bird names.  Single syllable names were slower.  Multi-syllable faster.  I needed both and I was going to need quite a few. Before long I was compiling a list by first letter with different columns for different syllable counts.  That a word list came into play isn’t entirely surprising since Peggy emphasized how helpful create a list can be as she works on a new poem.

In about ten minutes, I had a fair list bit I also had almost no idea what had been going on around me.  Sigh.  I put away my list and decided to pay attention instead of reading more about chants.

When I did get home so that I could do a bit of reading, here is what I discovered:

The chant may be the oldest poetic form.

It is called a chant because of the rhythm formed by repetition.

This repetition can be a single word or a line.

The repetition is important but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the chant.  Something in the poem has to change.  That’s what makes it interesting.

Rhythm is a bit part of the chant, which could be why I was inspired to play with this form in choir.

Do a Google search and you can find numerous examples of chant poetry.  Some are short while others are quite long.


Me?  What I was playing with didn’t resemble any of the examples I found online. I want to read all of Trout, Trout, Trout! since it was the catalyst.  I just hope I can pull something together without getting totally lost in choir.


March 22, 2017

Poetry? Nah, I just write rhymes.

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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Last weekend, I attended Peggy Archer’s poetry workshop.  I sat and listened as she discussed rhythm and beats, near rhyme and true rhyme, soft and hard sounds and much, much more.  I was out of my element.  I’m a prose writer, honey.

Imagine my surprise when later that week I got an acceptance letter from Highlights Hello for a “humorous poem.”  I’d already blogged about the workshop in my post titled Poetry, Writing in Rhyme and Wordplay.

The irony of it all?  I still don’t consider myself a poet.

Poets write pieces fraught with meaning.  There’s symbolism and they use the rhythm of words and phrases to great effect.  What they write has layers and it is deep.

On a good day, I can pull off both rhyme and rhythm.  On an insanely good day, the rhythm doesn’t sound like a kid galloping across the hard wood floor — duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum.

Meaningful? Not so much.  There’s a twist at the end but rather than meaningful it tends to be quirky and funny (a little like me).

That doesn’t mean that I’m giving up.  Far from it.  As I walk the treadmill, I catch myself playing with the rhythm of words.  One, two, one, two, three, one, two, one, two, three.  Slower, faster, slower, faster.  Peggy has managed to arm me with a bit of knowledge so I’m quicker to recognize what isn’t going to work (galloping across the floor) and I better understand what does work.

I’m still not a poet but I’m a slightly less pedestrian creator of rhymes.  Hmm.  That’s sure going to be hard to fit on a business card.


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