Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Poet David Harrison, Writing Exercise, & Book Giveaway for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers, and happy Poetry Friday!  We have an interview, a poetry exercise and a book giveaway for you today--wowee kazowee, let's get started!

I'm proud to introduce poet David L. Harrison, a friend and a gentleman with so much energy I'm sure he wears the Invisible Energizing Cape of Poetry.
Note: it's almost as hard to see as his cape,
but his website URL includes his middle initial, L:

Fun facts about David L. Harrison (read more on his website) :

  • David's first book for children, The Boy With a Drum, a Little Golden Book, sold over two million copies. 
  • He received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories
  • He's published over eighty titles that have sold more than fifteen million copies and earned numerous honors. 
  • He's been anthologized in more than one hundred books and appeared in dozens of magazines and journals. 
  • His work's been translated into twelve languages.
  • David holds science degrees from Drury and Emory universities and honorary doctorate of letters degrees from Missouri State University and Drury University. 
  • He is poet laureate of Drury, MO.
  • There's an elementary school named for him.
  • David and Teaching Authors Carmela Martino and JoAnn Early Macken all have poems in the forthcoming poetry anthology, And The Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems!

I think I want an elementary school after me, too.  Yeah, I do.

And yee-haw--here's another fun fact!  To celebrate summer and his appearance on our blog, David has donated an autographed copy of COWBOYS, perfect poems for your buckaroos!  To whet your whistle, here's what Publisher's Weekly said about Cowboys: "Readers who long to ride and wrangle should be entranced." Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.

So, David--let's begin!  How did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?
Like most authors of children’s books, I’m invited to visit schools. A school visit is a serious responsibility. The first time I spoke in public as an author was at Lindenwood College in Missouri soon after Little Turtle’s Big Adventure came out in 1969. Nancy Polette invited me. I was scared silly. Whether conducting writers’ workshops, speaking at parents’ nights, facing classes of graduate students, or presenting at conferences where you can barely see the back of the room, I’m always a little nervous. I think it’s nervousness that generates the energy we need to stand up and begin. Somewhere along the line I’ve turned into the last thing I ever expected to be: a teacher (of sorts).

Okay...what's a common question students ask and how do you address it?
Questions are experience related. Little ones get hung up on who makes the covers. Second graders ask how many books I can make in a day. Fifth graders wonder where ideas come from. (Wasn’t it Ted Geisel who told people he bought his ideas in a sack at a store with a funny name?) Middle schoolers worry about looking dumb and high school kids are way too grown up to ask a question about writing. Like, duh, who cares?

So you take ‘em as they come, respond honestly, and attempt to wear away natural resistance to having meaningful, two-way conversations about writing. Adult students are another matter. When I began writing, I made all the usual mistakes and didn’t know how much I didn’t know about my chosen profession. (Don Rumsfeld would have approved that sentence.)

So I approach every adult student with the respect he or she deserves, given the enormous amount of time, energy, and sheer cussed determination it’s going to take before they can hold their first victory dance around an acceptance letter. Writers must know their audience. They must study the market. They must seek fresh ways to express their ideas. They must develop the patience to rework the same page, paragraph, sentence, a dozen times, two dozen, as many times as it takes, until it’s ready. If writing for children were a recipe, those would be the main ingredients.

Would you share a favorite poetry exercise for our readers?
I love to work from lists. Begin with themes: family, friends, hobbies, school. Make a list of subjects related to the theme. Turn the subjects into poems.

Theme: hobbies
Subjects: video games, collecting insects, memorizing license plates, writing stories, cooking, taking pictures, gardening, getting autographs, learning another language, swimming, building sand castles.
Poem: gardening

by David L. Harrison

What I planted:


squash galore.

What I got:


sore knees.

Next time

before I plant,
I’ll try the store. 

What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
I worry that too many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching poetry. Some may wish they could have special teachers in the building for poetry just as they have for art, physical education, and computers. I remind teachers that at the very least they know more about language and writing than the youngsters they teach so there’s nothing wrong with standing at the board and working on poems together. Poems written in elementary school are not destined to change the world. 

They are learning experiences. So is everything else during the school years. I say, “Your third graders move on each year but you don’t. And each year you practice with your latest crop, the more comfortable you are writing and teaching the subject and the better your poetry becomes. I offer three rules for teaching poetry in elementary school: 1) Keep it fun. 2) Keep it fun. 3) Keep it fun.

Can you share a funny story with our readers?
I love the telling thank-you note. Standard procedure calls for obligatory notes to authors following visits. I try to hang onto the ones that make me laugh.

Dear Mr. Harrison,

I think you’re the best author in the whole world!
P.S. I like Dr. Seuss better.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
Thanks for coming. I loved getting out of class.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
I love your books! I’ve never read a single one.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
I have to write this thank you note.
Thank you.
"The guy beside me is Ken Slesarik,
a poet and elementary teacher from Arizona.
He attended my poetry workshop

and photo-shopped me as a hunk."

What's on the horizon?
I split my time between trade books and books for teachers. I have fifteen projects in the works at various stages from early talks to manuscripts nearly completed. For trade books I focus on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. If I have a favorite, it would be poetry, but I love all three genres.

My newest venture is a DVD series of writing tips for students in grades 3-5. There are twenty 5-minute tips, four each about Getting Started, Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Revising. Also included in the kit are a Teachers’ Guide, a set of twenty Student Writing Journals, and three of my trade books used as examples in the Teachers’ Guide. The package is published by Stourbridge Distributors and is called LET’S WRITE THIS WEEK WITH DAVID HARRISON. It will be on the market by late July or early August. Teachers can also take this as an online graduate course through Drury University.

Fifteen projects?!?!?!  Wow!  And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share one of your poems with our readers?

Thanks for asking! Here’s one from my e-book, Goose Lake, a collection of prose and poetry about a year in the life of a small lake, which is listed on and Barnes & This selection will appear in the upcoming National Geographic Kids Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis.

What Was That?
by David L. Harrison

If the lake were a mouth opened wide to swallow sky and popcorn 
clouds, the narrow strip of land stretched tight around it would be the lip. Seeds planted by wind and obliging birds sprout tangled gardens of saplings and weeds run amok. In rocky places, stones shoulder to shoulder wear sunbathing turtles like bronze helmets. 

lip of the lake never sleeps. Life and death meet in the twisted underbrush where herons stand like statues of herons awaiting the unwary. A kingfisher that looks like it needs a haircut watches the shallows for a minnowy snack. 

Geese defiant with motherhood hiss away foxes with a hankering for gosling. Finches flit from limb to bank, ignoring sleepy-eyed bullfrogs that need their rest till sundown.

Ducks catapult into the water
and herons’ legs trail like kite tails
in their sudden flight to
somewhere safer.

Flat shells smack the lake.
Bony heads resurface,
stare at their forsaken thrones.

What was that?

Maybe nothing.

A dog barked,

a child ran,
a turtle slipped.

All’s clear

on the lip of the lake,
for now.

poems © 2012 David L. Harrison. All rights reserved

We're SO glad you stopped by, David--and good luck with your gazillion projects!  

Readers, to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Cowboys, post a brief comment about a cowboy (or a cowdog...cowkid...cowdad?) in your life..or comment on anything David discussed that will stay with you. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry deadline Wednesday, June 27,2012 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on June 29th. Good Luck!

And thank you, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at the Poetry Farm,
for hosting today!
And listen to Amy and Barry Lane's song, More Than A Number
on Amy's blog today (or click here to hear it) ~
a powerful anthem to right the wrongs of our education system...


Irene Latham said...

What will stay with me: David's description of what different age groups want from an author visit. :) Also the "lip of the lake." I'm enamored of that phrase. Lovely, all, and yay for keeping poetry fun! Thanks, April and David.

BJ Lee said...

I love David L. Harrison's website so I was delighted to read this interview. I loved his description about what different levels of kids want in a school visit.

Linda B said...

I've been enjoying Goose Lake on my iPad already & this is one that I like because it hits that treasure at the edges (lip) that can be found each visit to a lake. I didn't know that you, David, were the same author as that older "Book of Giant Stories" which I've had for a long time, read to my own children, & now grandchildren, used it in a number of ways in the classroom. It's terrific. And, I just had a lovely visit to my favorite used bookstore yesterday, and found a great little volume titled 'old time Cowboy Songs'. I think it might come in handy next year when I teach some poetry groups. Thanks for all the details, April.

Linda said...

Great interview! I have several David Harrison books on my shelf. I've used his teacher resource books for years. I also love David's books for the I Can Read series.

Anonymous said...

excellent interview! David is such an inspiring writer and I love reading about his numerous projects!

Ellen L. Ramsey said...

Wonderful and funny and inspiring post!

Amy LV said...

Not only is David a delightful poet, he is a very generous man. I so appreciate his words about working with different people, his understand of their questions, needs. This respect and kindness shines through in his work. I will link permanently to this interview on my sidebar - so thank you both! a.

David Harrison said...

I'm in Dallas at the Gift Market, so tired I could go to sleep sitting here. April, thank you so much for your beautiful work with the interview. I'm quite flattered. And thanks to each of you who have left such warm comments. I'm going to hang onto this interview too!


April Halprin Wayland said...

Irene ~ yes, "the lip of the lake." That's what stays with me in the poem, too.

BJ ~ I like how conversational David was when he described the students...

Linda at teacherdance! You always dig in and enjoy all that this world has to offer. You sit down and feast on it all. It's always fun to hear from you.

And the other Linda, David has so many books...thanks for mentioning his I CAN READ books ~

RoxieH & Ellen ~ Thanks for stopping by ~

Wow, Amy ~ thanks for the permanent link! We are HONORED!

Anonymous said...

Super interview! David is an inspiration.

Julie Hedlund said...

Fantastic interview of an amazing, generous, funny and kind poet who I recently had the pleasure of meeting!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for this terrific interview, April. And thank you, David, for your generous responses to April's questions. I so agree with your comment: "A school visit is a serious responsibility."

And fifteen projects in the works? Yikes! I feel like a slug in comparison.

Carolee Dean said...

Maybe I'll check out that graduate course at Drury:)

David Harrison said...

Hello everyone,

Once again I thank you for your kind remarks. April made me look good. Ken, as always your poetry makes me smile. Carolee, I hope you and others will give some thought to taking the course through Drury. My co-author of the teacher's guide just completed her last section. She (Laurie Edmondson) will be the one who teaches the course so you'll be in good hands! David

Lauren Edmondson said...

I am happy to talk to you about the course at Drury. It will be about improving writing instruction in the classroom and we will use the DVD series and activities in the classroom as we learn together. My e-mail is if you would like to talk about it! Thanks!
Laurie Edmondson