Friday, July 10, 2020

The Best Poetry Tip Lee Bennett Hopkins Ever Taught Me

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (my poem and the PF link are below)

Perhaps some of you really ARE camping right this very minute! Boy, that sure sounds good now: aromatic pines, refreshing dips in a clear lake, scent of wood smoke and that close-your-eyes crackling as you gather 'round to roast marshmallows and sing...ahhhhh.

This round, TeachingAuthors will each share a favorite piece of  writing advice.

Mine came from Lee Bennett Hopkins, who told me: 

Root out all unnecessary "the"s.

It's such a simple idea, yet it can change a poem profoundly.

Or at least clean it up.

(In the paragraph describing your camp-out above, I deleted four "the"s.)

by April Halprin Wayland

It's a simple word, really,
but you need it?

Watch deer tug a tree
for a banquet of greens...

he steers clear of each "the,"
but devours those leaves.

poem © 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Or, as Laura Shovan just shared so succinctly in the comments below, "every word must earn its place in a poem."

So try Lee's tip...and then report back and tell me about it--I can't wait to hear!

Thank you, Ruth, for hosting a Poetry Friday party at 

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland and Eli, who is tuckered out after this morning's walk:
you can see Eli in the distance

writing poetry can be exhausting!


  1. This is a great tip! Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Fabulous advice....the best usually is simple! But this advice in poem form is perfect. Love your pics.

  3. It's amazing how those little words like "the" and many others creep into a poem. That was very good advice from Lee who has probably edited more poems than anyone. Your poem and post conjured camping and my past trips to the outer banks of N.C. Thank you for that!

  4. Terrific advice! So often simple advice helps most! (Did you notice I didn't use "the" at all? Haha.)

  5. Aw, Eli! Thanks for sharing this great tip from Lee, April. It's a good way to remind ourselves that every word must earn its place in a poem.

  6. Ruth ~ It's lodged in my brain, and one of the first things I look for when I'm rewriting a poem.

    Linda ~ Thank you. To be honest, I wasn't sure if that poem would make sense to anyone but me. The idea came to me on a hike. Of course it did!

    Janice ~ I've never been to the outer banks of anywhere, and I've always wanted to go to North Carolina. Glad it brought back memories.

    Carmela ~ I did NOT notice that you hadn't used "the"...which is exactly the point, isn't it?

    Laura, I've edited my post to include your succinct comment...thank you!

  7. I will look through my poems and make adjustments. Great tip.

  8. Just what I've been doing as I fine-tune my collection of trimeric poems, now a favorite story-telling form, thanks to your TA earlier blog post!

  9. Such a simple idea and yet, so effective. I love getting poetry advice in a poem. One of my critique partners has a good eye for this simple word.

  10. Thanks for sharing this pearl of wisdom from Lee, April. My the-detective eye is high alert now! :)

  11. My main revision strategy is to remove unnecessary words. If only losing weight were so easy! Good to know my strategy has the "Lee Stamp of Approval."

  12. I picked up this tip of omitting "the" sometime ago, can't remember where… He also suggests omitting "a" –for both of these words I think of Lee when I've tried to delete them and decide if it will stay or go… Fun poem, and an apropos teaching model too. Wishing you well in CA, thanks April!

  13. David ~ it'll be interesting to see if it changes a poem for you

    Carol ~ I'd forgotten all about trimerics thanks for reminding me! I can't wait to read your collection!

    Margaret ~ My critique partner has an eye for it, too. He and I share that eye for an eye!

    Bridget ~ it's nice to have you here! I hope your new detective eyes change your poetry.

    Mary Lee ~ yes, if only the cure for the addiction to food were as simple as staying away from too many "the"s!

    Michelle ~ waving to you from my nunnery in Southern California! Yes, originally in this post I said omit unnecessary "the"s AND "a"s...(which, as you say, Lee advocated)... But I decided to unclutter the advice.

  14. O April ~~ groovy to see your pooch, who shares what is often. my opinion on word-work.

    To invoke Lee Bennett Hopkins - brings on a warm feeling & heart-tug.

    And right on, to share Laura's similar tip.

    The deer picture & poem are perky, like you.


  15. Excellent writing tip and and tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins! I so love this!

  16. Dear Jan, you sound so happy! Thanks for your kind and hilarious comments!

    Bobbi ~ thanks!

  17. That's probably the best advice Lee ever gave me, as well - and it's not only something I continue to do, but I advise others to do, too. Although there are times a "the" is necessary, hitting the 'delete' button on most of them really does tighten up a poem!


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