Friday, August 5, 2011

Encouraging Words

With fall classes starting at the end of the month, I’ve been thinking about structures and schedules and teaching plans. I’m excited about teaching two new classes, "Writing Poetry for Children and Young Adults" at Mount Mary College and "Writing a Children’s Picture Book" at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Continuing Education.

One of the books I’ve reread in preparation for teaching reinforces my belief that a large part—maybe the most important aspect—of teaching creative writing is providing encouragement. Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko, includes letters and poems from poets who not only write for children but also encourage them, give them specific tips about writing, and understand the roadblocks along the way.

Wondering what to write about? Alice Schertle says, “I used to think that poems could be found only in 'big' subjects like beauty, wonder, birth, death, love. Now I like to find the poems that lurk in unexpected places—on a slice of pepperoni pizza, perhaps, or floating down the gutter after a rain. I once found a pretty good poem in the ear of my cat. Oddly enough, I sometimes find the big subjects lurking somewhere within the little unexpected poems.”

How to begin? Marilyn Singer’s advice: “Observe everyone and everything around you. Learn all kinds of things, especially words. The more words you know, the better you can find the best ones to use when you write a poem. Sing and listen to music. Poetry is as much about rhythm as it is about words. Know that there is more than one way to see, hear, say, and imagine anything. Find what is new in every person, animal, place, thing, and, especially, in yourself. Then, sit down and write!”

Karla Kuskin calls writing “kind of a conversation with myself. It is also a way of keeping myself company. As I write, my thoughts get clearer.” According to Lillian Morrison, “Keeping your eyes and ears and heart open as you write, little by little, you get to see better, hear better, and know and understand more about yourself and the world around you.” Janet S. Wong agrees: “Part of being a poet is being willing to put yourself out there, to open up.”

On persistence, George Ella Lyon says, “Writing is practice, not something you just do in a burst of energy now and then. Most people know if you want to be on the swim team, you don’t jump in the water for the first time at tryouts. And, if you make the team, you don’t swim only at meets. No, you practice, practice, practice. It’s the same thing if you want to sing with a band or play in a chess tournament. Working at your dream becomes part of your every day life.”

Other poets offer suggestions for reading, revising, and revealing true feelings. Seeing the Blue Between: Advice and Inspiration for Young Poets contains practical advice and encouragement for young poets and also welcome reminders for those of us who sometimes need a nudge to get back to work!

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Year of Literacy Coaching

JoAnn Early Macken


  1. All of these excerpts resonate with my writer-heart... but oh George Ella, that gal is speaking to me today: "Working at your dream becomes part of your every day life.” Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is one of my favorite books Paul Janeczko has edited. I take it to every writing conference I attend. It serves as a constant inspiration.

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to dig it back out and peruse it.

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  4. Hear, hear for encouraging words! Thank you for sharing these excerpts, always timely.

  5. You're welcome, everyone! It helps a lot to know we are not alone, right? I also recommend the poems in the book, which not only introduced me to the work of some poets I hadn't heard of before but also provide more inspiration.

  6. Oh, I love this book too. And now I will be another person pulling it from the shelf for a reread. Thank you! A.


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