Saturday, August 04, 2012

How To Write Poetry

Poems of all sorts, from silly to informative, thought-provoking to amusing, was sought after and enjoyed last year by the older child at home. And then, this summer, we've been reading about How To Write Poetry.

What is poetry and why is it so? The answer can be a bit ambiguous, even for an adult. So, we tried not to get too technical, but just learn from other poets and see how it inspires us.

Without further ado, here are a few books that demystified the concept and offered practical tips for writing poetry.

Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry
by Jack Prelutsky
(Children's Poet Laureate)

With a catchy title like that, and an easy conversational tone that engages a young reader, Prelutsky has presented a 190-page volume that am sure will amuse and instruct the kids (and adults).

The book is about sharing the creative process, so no academic discourse about dactyls, quatrains or iambic pentameters (my favorite!)

The one thing repeatedly emphasized in this book is to carry an "Ideas Book" with you always - to jot down an idea for a poem, a story, even just a feeling, which we can then expand later. If not written down, it surely escapes the mind and never returns easily.

Another important message was to use the tools available - like the Rhyming dictionary and  Thesaurus - when stuck for words. Although poems don't have to rhyme always, it helps to have a lilt/rhythm and a format for the words to flow easily.

The biggest tip of all was how the process can range from a few hours to a few days to even a year or more to finish a poem. Prelutsky shares how he sometimes had difficulty finishing a poem - finding the right way to end it so the poem feels complete. And, in fact the book encourages budding writers to write, ruminate, rewrite and repeat till it feels done.

With Writing Tips and sample poetry to illustrate the point, Prelutsky's book seems to have made quite an impact on the 7 year old. Especially anecdotes from his childhood where he seems to not have been Mr.Goody-Two-Shoes.

[image source:]
[Sample this book at: Browse Inside Harper Collins]

Words, Wit, and Wonder
Writing Your Own Poem
by Nancy Loewen
illustrated by Christopher Lyles

The team has collaborated on a few of The Writer's Toolbox picture books that inspire readers to turn into writers.

How are poems different from other kinds of writing? is addressed in the first page.

The following pages present 12 tools, one tool per page, with colorful illustrations and sample poems, explained in easy-to-follow language.

Tool 1 is Rhythm, and Limerick is given as an example. Limericks are possibly the most amusing and much-enjoyed form of poetry around the world, something about the format and meter tickles the young minds.

Tool 3 is Alliteration and Going To St.Ives is the poem given as an example, which is also a riddle. There's two great ideas in it for creating a poem!

Similes, Metaphors, Onomatopoeia are all explained as tools to creating poetry. And then a few poetic forms are discussed, including Acrostic, Cinquain, Concrete Poem, Haiku, and Limerick. All in compact one double-page spread with the sample poem and illustrations.

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How To Write Poetry
by Paul B. Janeczko

Along the lines of Jack Prelutsky's book above, Janeczko (A Kick In The Head, A Poke In The I, A Foot in the Mouth, Poetry from A to Z) shares writing tips and creative process with "Poet Craft" and "Try this..." sections to inspire the aspiring poet.

Poet Craft sections include tips like using Figurative Language for vivid comparisons that make the poem come alive.

Try This sections sets you to work right away. Like,

Try This... Before you read another word, open your journal to a fresh page and write down some of your favorite words. Don't stop to think or analyze your choices. Just write.

I liked the chapter, Starting To Write, early on as it broke down the process roughly with the well-established steps: brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising, and finally publishing.

Submitting Poems To A Publisher section offers a few insider tips for the more serious young poet.

This book is geared towards Upper Elementary and Middle School writers than younger writers but is very useful for anybody who wants to try their hand at this beautiful and creative form.

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Nest, Nook, & Cranny
Poems by Susan Blackaby
illustrated by Jamie Hogan

Although not directly a How To Write Poetry book, the poems here are gems - from tongue-in-cheek sonnet to lyrical free verse, the collection presents homes of various animals, be it shoreline, wetland or grassland, or even tide pool!

Yes indeed, we came across this book during our Tide Pool exploration phase and held on to it.

But the reason I wanted to include it in the How To books is that: at the back of the book, the author explains why she chose a particular poetic form for that poem and how it captures/highlights/represents the theme of the poem well, and what tools she used to get that across. Example:

Tide Pool

Shallow pools in rocky ledges
Etched by sand and scored by sea.
Are beachfront homes for stranded creatures:
Starfish, snails, anemones.
Twice each day the sea seeps in
When the changing tide runs high.
Battered by the salty spray,
Sodden lodgers cling and sway,
Waterlogged before the drought,
Parching when the tide goes out.

Susan explains that: For creatures in a tidepool, living conditions - either all wet or mostly dry - follow certain rules, but the transition period from one extreme to the other is marked by instability and chance. This poem follows similar pattern. It begins at low tide with one rhyme scheme (ab cb), gets interrupted midway through when the tide comes in (an unrhymed couplet to suggest disorder), and ends at high tide with a different rhyme scheme (dd ee).

The notes mostly inspired me, not the resident 7 yo who liked the poems and the sparse yet elegant charcoal pencil drawings on textured paper.

The few pages at the back of the book that deconstruct and explain the poems can easily be expanded to a  How-To book for writing poetry - why choose a particular form, how to bring out the feelings/mood of the poem through clever use of a particular form - all quite informative and inspiring.

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A Kick in the Head
An Everyday Guide To Poetic Forms
selected by Paul B. Janeczko
illustrated by Chris Raschka

A Kick in the Head was much-loved book for Sandhya as she shared here at ST a while back.

However, not including it here among the How To Write Poetry books seemed incomplete somehow for me as it inspired us to try out at least a dozen if not all 29 forms therein. So, here it is.

Primarily, the torn-paper-and-paint collage illustrations inspired us first, and then the clever, succint presentation of the poetic forms.

29 poetic forms are presented in this book, with skillful illustrations by Raschka that give pictorial clues about the poetic form on each page, a representative poem, and the rhyming scheme used for this poetic form. Back of the book gives further information about each poetic form. This book is just amazing and inspiring all-round.

More about this book at Sandhya's inspiring post.

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1 comment:

Choxbox said...

Lovely picks Sheels, thanks. Will keep eyes and ears open for these.

The last one has been a favourite in these parts for a few years now, totally agree with all the praise it has been getting.

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