Friday, February 20, 2015

"Just the Facts, M'am"--fiction vs non-fiction on Poetry Friday

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (the link to this week's PF host is below.)

First: welcome, welcome to our newest TeachingAuthor, Carla!  I am in awe of your writer's journey, Carla, because when I learned that we would be discussing non-fiction, my legs trembled and my palms grew cold and damp.  Unlike you and Mary Ann, in her wonderful first salvo on this topic, I am not, by nature, a researcher.  I am NOT a "Just the facts, M'am."

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia

But... is this really true?

Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps.  Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.

Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books).  By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.

But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)

In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself.  But if I have to convey facts?  And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie?  I get tied up in knots.  My writing becomes stiff as a board.  I'm afraid of...

But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."

Wow. Think of the water you drink.  Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:

by April Halprin Wayland

I am having a soak in the tub.

Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.

Water sloshes against the sides.
H2O's seeping into my eyes.

The wet stuff running down my face?
She says it came from outer space!

The water washing between my toes
was born a billion years ago.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
(c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this science/poetry anthology is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River.  Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)

Here's a terrific vimeo of "Old Water" produced by Christopher Alello:

And thank you, Linda Baie, fabulous friend of TeachingAuthors, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted safely and scientifically by April Halprin Wayland wearing safety goggles


Mary Lee said...

Three cheers for a weaving of facts into poems...and for the PFAS!

Linda B said...

A teacher friend used to keep an old jar of water on her desk, and tell students about its age, that it was found in a little known area and taken as a sample of from a water hole where dinosaurs drank. Oh those students were impressed. She would have loved your poem, April. Those PFAs are terrific!

Carmela Martino said...

Wonderful post, April. Though I'm sorry to hear that writing these blog posts scares you--you always do an AMAZING job! <3

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

This post made me laugh, April! That big beige monster of second-rate writing has been known to hide out in my closet as well. But hooray for your poem! Hooray for old water! Hooray for that adorable video! And hooray for the PFAS!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

I am also afraid of the Big Beige Monster, April! I love the leap you took from drinking water to taking a bath--& also the image of you wearing safety goggles. How about a picture of that some day?

April Halprin Wayland said...

Mary Lee, Linda, Michelle ~ we're all in this fiction/non-fiction writing world together...thank you for reading this post!

Carmela ~ it's true. Quake in my boots every single post. Oh, how I wish I were like JM--who seemed to blithely toss off honest, pithy posts without a thought!

JoAnn ~ It's good to know I'm not alone! Hmmm...a photo with safety goggles? But that would be FICTION!

Buffy Silverman said...

You know that big beige monster of second rate writing? I'm sure she'll pop her head up every time I fly to Bodiddley and attempt to write fiction! Give me some facts and I know where to start...

I always enjoy your blog posts, April!

Margaret Simon said...

I love the Poetry Friday Anthology of Science. Such wonderful fact-filled poetry. I use it with my students not only to teach poetry, but also to teach facts. We love learning new and cool stuff. Thanks for posting the videos. I need to add them to my lessons.

Sylvia Vardell said...

April, thanks for the lovely plug for THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR SCIENCE, for your fabulous poem, and for this insightful post too! Love you and all your work!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

April, I love this post and your poem. I couldn't write a poem if my life depended on it. That is what one of the many great thing about writers, we each fill a need.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Buffy & Carla--you're both like my older sister. She was dealt the journalistic brain--which left the making-up-stuff parking space in our family available to me. :-)

Margaret--I'm so glad you're using this anthology in the trenches--lucky students!

Sylvia--I'm in awe of you and all you do in this world. Truly.

laurasalas said...

That's one of the facts I love most about water, April. And your poem is fabulous!