Friday, October 7, 2011

Talkin' back to your first draft...and Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers and happy Poetry Friday! Today's poem and Writing Workout--a poetry prompt--are below.
Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Mary Ann Scheuer
over at Great Kid Books.  Thanks, Mary Ann!

Before we begin today's dance around the campfire, I have an exciting announcement: professor and author Sylvia Vardell and poet and author Janet Wong have done it again!  Just in time for Teen Read Week (Oct. 16-22 this year) they've edited another affordable and fabulous ebook anthology called P*Tag, this one for teens--which you can read even if you don't have an ereader!  
While the 30 poems in Poetry Tag Time,
their first anthology, are for young readers,
the 30 photo-illustrated poems in P*Tag,
their newest anthology, are for teens.

(Yes, I have poems in both anthologies--but that's not why I'm jumping up and down about these two books--they are brilliant and original and poetry tag is a game you can play with other poets and  your students!)

And now to today's TeachingAuthors topic of the week.  After five terrific posts on First Drafts: Quieting the Internal Critic, it's my turn to wrap up this topic--for now.   Just so you know, my internal critic is going nuts right this very minute because I am writing something that someone is going to actually read.

Like JoAnn, I enjoy first drafts.  Mostly.  First drafts aren't promising anyone anything.  First drafts are splashing around, figuring stuff out. First drafts are swirling paint onto the page to see if I can convey what was dancing in my brain last night.
And like Jeanne Marie, I am good at starting and not so good at finishing.  So I guess one way I quiet the voices in my brain is by ...starting.  Promising nothing to anyone, pouring a little finger paint on the page and ...starting.  So, let me see if I can write the first draft of a poem about first drafts right now...

by April Halprin Wayland

Dearest unlicked cub,
darling crude outline,
raw unpolished stone,
clumsy, first design:
don't pick up the phone—
keep writing, we're not home.

Do you think you might need trimming? 
Do you think you may need bulk?
You're just stalled, you're not a slacker—
and I hate it when you sulk.
You're a great extra-word whacker!
Have some warm milk and a cracker.

We are pioneers in this story,
darling sapling, dear first draft,
in a river overflowing
you're a rough-hewn wooden raft.
Yes, it's dreadful, this not knowing... you know where we're going?
c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

My first step was to look up the term "first draft" in a thesaurus.  The results were rich, including the term unlicked cub which is odd and interesting, so I began with that. Then I wandered into a rhyme scheme: ABCBCC / DEFEFF / GHIHII (each letter stands for a new rhyming sound; slashes indicate a new stanza)--and I was off and...stumbling!

The phone rang while I was frowning into the computer screen and I did not answer it...(I did look at the caller ID), so I stuck that in; I got up to make a snack in the middle of writing it because I was scared that it was so bad, so I offered the poem a snack as well (I gave it milk and a cracker because I couldn't find many words to rhyme with "tortilla with peanut butter and honey.")

And then I wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote--twelve drafts so far.  
It's clearly not done yet. I think I'll delete the first stanza--it'll be stronger. I've just sent it to my friend, Bruce, who critiques my poems every day.  We'll see what suggestions he has.  

When my very smart husband came home, I moaned, "Why am I always so COMPLICATED?  Why can't I write a SIMPLE, CLEAN, SHORT poem?" 
"Did Carl Sandburg say that?  Did Robert Frost?" he asked.  
"Robert Frost wrote clear, clean poems," I whimpered. 
"How do you know what he did in private?" he said.
Sweet man.  Smart man.

So...what do you do in private?  Write poetry?  
Perfect--because it's time for a
Today we're writing Apostrophe Poems

I name things.  Do you?  My car is Mortimer, my bike is Neon Leon.  I talk to them, too.   When poets talk to things that can’t answer, they are writing in the voice called apostrophe. In the poem above I talked to my first draft.  Do you talk your pet?  Write an apostrophe poem to your snake or your bike or the toaster or the moon.  And it doesn’t have to rhyme!

Then, brave ones, send us your poems.  Reassure me that I'm not the only one who talks to inanimate objects!
And always, write with joy!

poem and drawing c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved


Amy L V said...

Oh, I love that "unlicked cub...unpolished stone...darling sapling" and that question at the end! Thank you for sharing this - and the conversation with your husband too. Have you read Cynthia Rylant's THE OLD WOMAN WHO NAMED THINGS? Happy Poetry Friday! A.

Ruth said...

I absolutely love this. And thanks for the glimpse of your writing process.

Carmela Martino said...

April, I know you're a genius, but I didn't know your husband was one too. :-)

Steven Withrow said...

I second what Amy said about "unlicked cub" -- that woke my brain right up!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Another vote for the "unlicked cub" - if you toss the first stanza or part of it, can you/we keep the cub? ;0) This morning, I conjured up a first draft that's been playing in my mind for weeks - how fun to then read all of this! And your "Listening" poem in p*tag is great. Readers will nod knowingly.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Amy, Steven and Robyn, Yes, that "unlicked cub" is a fresh way of seeing a first draft, isn't it?

And Robyn, that's a good idea...I'll try to keep "unlicked cub"--if I can.

Amy, I haven't read that one from Cynthia Rylant...but I am a fan of all her work, so I'll check it out--thanks!

Ruth, thanks for the encouragement to show my process...I swear, it's like opening up my messy drawers and showing you what a slob I am!

And Carmela--yes, my hubby is a very smart man indeed!

And Robyn--SO GLAD you liked my poem in P*Tag!! Yours is my very first review in this book--yay!

Tabatha said...

I love it, April. I like the first stanza, so I hope you keep it. The only line that gave me trouble was "You're a great extra-word whacker!" I don't know why I just couldn't get the words out (in my head).

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thank you for that feedback, Tabatha--very helpful!

MrBibleHead said...

Great blog. I’m not an author, I’m an illustrator, but I love the inside look into the writer’s world. I think that getting to know the mind of the author helps me interpret better.... which connects the illustration to the words better. Thanks for a peek into the process April and thanks to all the authors .

April Halprin Wayland said...

Hi, Jack, I love peeking into illustrators' worlds, too! Thanks for stopping by!

Janet Wong said...

Add me to the list of "unlicked cub" fans! I didn't believe you: unlicked cub? So I looked it up on Yes, it was there...along with a pop-up ad about "Why Men Lose Attraction." (Presumably those are "first draft" men.) Great post, April!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Hi, Janet! Did you know that you can take away all those ads for free? I kid you not. Go to

Really. My computer guy told me about this and it REALLY works.

Thanks for reading my post!

Charles Waters said...

I love you, I love your writing and I love children's poetry!