[Writing & Craft, Poetry]

April Pulley Sayre is No Poet

Go Go GrapesToday’s guest poetry poster (despite the title) is my talented friend April Pulley Sayre. When I got to the part about what her teacher did to her, I gasped.

Here is what April sent me:

I don’t think of myself as a poet. The moniker “poet” kind of scares me. Like I’d have to act more dignified, or serious, or something if I say I’m one. I only went to my first poetry reading last year. That might be a crime if you’re a poet. Not sure.

Admittedly, thirteen of 32 my picture books and out and under contract have regular rhythm and rhyme and, if typed out, look like poems. (Hear some kids read my chant poems here.) But I don’t know the words for different kinds of meters or why something works or does not. I can scan for meter but I make up my own markings and have no idea how anyone else does it.  It just feels right or it doesn’t feel right. That is my measure.

I love lyrical language and just plunking, revising, and playing around with language. When I started doing school visits, an elementary school teacher informed me that my books are full of alliteration, onomatopoeia, and internal rhyme, I was amazed. Really? I’d forgotten what you actually call these devices because they are organic to how I work. I just call it playing with words.

My first instinct is almost always to write in rhyme but for the first ten years of my career, on purpose, I broke that rhyme and wrote in prose because I didn’t think I could “get away with rhyme.” Then I gave up, went ahead and rhymed, and sold three rhymed picture books in a row. Well, why couldn’t I have done that all along?

Okay, so maybe I write poetry. Does that make one a poet? I don’t have cool reading glasses yet. But I wrote lots of poetry when I was a little girl in the back of the car as the dog shed all over me and my parents drove me up into the snowy mountains to ski. That was before I guess I realized “poet” wasn’t something you just were.

I once thought I won a county art museum’s contest because of my poetry. It turned out that I won the category for essay, instead. From then on, I thought, I’m not a “poet” but an “essayist.” Then, I was labeled “science journalist” then “nonfiction writer.”

Perhaps I first abandoned my “poet” moniker in high school. My high school A.P. English teacher disliked me because I thought a lot of her interpretations of poetry were a crock. Maybe that’s why, when my poems were published in the state poetry magazine, she never told me or took me with the others on the award trip. It was fine; we would have driven each other crazy in the car. Thankfully, another of my high school English teachers gave me Japanese poetry to read and many other teachers were supportive along the way. Thank you, Mrs. Kobelt, Mrs. Joye!

Still, I wasn’t a poet. No, not when I ducked out of my journalism job at National Wildlife Federation and secretly left a moose poem on a wildlife biologist’s door, just for fun.

No, surely  not when I wrote political (or, you might say non-political poetry) for my sister’s graduation from graduate school.

Okay, so maybe I published poetry, work for hire, to go with some science curricula for Delta Education. But that was just a little detour from prose nonfiction. Does that apply? I’m not sure exactly what the requirements are, but I’m pretty sure you have to be extremely cool to be a poet. I’m still working on that. I’m looking for a better hat. (I aspire to Anita Silvey’s hats.) Perhaps I’ll start with an excellent scarf, because you need that, too, right? I’ll let you know when I find them and I’m ready to be a poet. In the meantime, I’ve got to polish up a chant.

 

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