Today's guest poetry poster is Rebecca Kai Dotlich, giving a very serious lesson, so pay extra attention.
1. Put yourself in a rhyme trance, focusing only on rhyme.
Hummmmm cat bat hat hmmmmmm sat fat rat hmmmmmm …. Get the point, joint?
2. Make sure the rhyme is forced.
Frog loved to play music and he loved to sing.
To prove it to his teacher, the bells he did ring.
3. Use lots of adjectives instead of verbs.
Batter SPLASHED all over the cat
Batter went all over the fluffy cat
4. Revise only once or twice, or not at all:
It would be very hard to show an example of this, but I will try:
It would be very hard to show an example of this
An example of this might be
An example might be
(pretend those revision steps above do not exist (you are entering the Twilight Zone)
5. Use clichés. A lot. Use 5 of them if you can
The park was covered in a sea of grass.
He saw two bears, black as midnight,
but he was cool as a cucumber.
The air was thick as molasses,
and the sun was hot as fire.
6. Don’t take the time to weave-in poetic elements. It’s too much work, anyway.
And so this space is empty.
7. Make sure the poem never gets to the heart of what it needs to say.
So if a friend moves away, and you are sad, tell the whole story; tell the reader how he went to Ohio and how now he goes to a different school (because it really happened that way) and don’t write with an economy of words like this:
“I loved my friend
He went away from me
There's nothing more to say
The poem ends,
Soft as it began-
I loved my friend.”
~ Langston Hughes
8. A good poem takes time. (Usually. Almost always.) Chunks of it. Hours and days and weeks of it.
So slap down a rhyme and call it a day.
9. Do not read your poem out loud over and over and over and over, and don’t waste too much time listening for the rhythm . . .
And if someone reads the poem and trips over the lines a little, just tell them they aren’t reading it right. Like this, you say, and then you read it the right way.
JoannaApril 19, 2012 - 8:27 am ·
Hahaha, I especially love #9… It’s never me!
Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterApril 19, 2012 - 8:48 am ·
Well, it’s obvious that Rebecca does NOT follow her own advice? Or she’d pay a price! Mice? Thank you for this funny and true post which made me see my sometimes-self. (“Sure this poem sounds good!) a.
Ed DeCariaApril 19, 2012 - 12:27 pm ·
Loved this post.
I’ll offer up a #10: As soon as you’re done with that bad poem, immediately proceed to the next one. Don’t bother trying to get better by reading other poets’ work and reviewing your own with a critical, objective mind. Just keep pumping out whatever you can, as fast as you can, and declare yourself “a poet”!
Rebecca, one thing that I think may be important to communicate is that it’s okay to attempt poetry and enjoy writing it even if you’re perhaps not the best at it and even if you don’t really ever expect or wish to become so. To me, it is the self-recognition that is important. I just read an interview of Laura Purdie Salas (I think the one on Cynsations?) and heard her say how long it took her — Laura Salas! — to feel comfortable calling herself a poet. I wish that everyone had as much respect for the craft and those like Laura who dedicate themselves to it.
None of that is said to confer a sense of elitism. Quite the opposite. Poetry should accessible to everyone, and can be written by anyone. But I do think that people who consistently follow the 9(+1!) steps above are directly harming poetry’s reputation and eroding its audience, not just for themselves but for everyone. Now, speaking for myself at least, I don’t want people that may be guilty of the above missteps to drop poetry altogether. Not at all — please, go write poetry! Rather, I’d just hope for a bit more self-reflection than self-promotion in the process.
IsabelApril 19, 2012 - 3:26 pm ·
You had me until the very last line. Whose self-promotion? Rebecca’s? Please clarify. Thanks!
katieApril 19, 2012 - 4:10 pm ·
What do you mean?
Ed DeCariaApril 19, 2012 - 7:55 pm ·
No, sorry for any confusion — that line did NOT refer to Rebecca!
I was talking about the unnamed, but large number of writers out there who do a lot of the things listed in Rebecca’s post, but still seem to desire or demand recognition or reward for their output. As opposed to working harder to get better, and then letting deserved recognition and reward come to them in due course.
I don’t think I’m surprising anyone by stating that there is a lot of mediocre poetry being put out there. It would be great to see people take Rebecca’s nine lessons to heart, and start pounding out something better with each new write and rewrite.
The world needs more great kids’ poetry! Articles like these help to create self-awareness and, hopefully, will spark potentially-great poets to actually become great poets.
Donna GephartApril 19, 2012 - 1:02 pm ·
This is a FANTASTIC post and reminded me how much I love Langston Hughes’ poetry. Thanks for the fun reminders and the inspiration!
IsabelApril 19, 2012 - 3:37 pm ·
Oh Rebecca. The things you write does something to me. Giggle, gasp or down-right sob (as did your beautiful kitty poem a few month ago), I always enjoy your words. I’d never call myself a poet, mainly because I don’t want to do (ha ha) but also because I never had a teacher or grown-up in my life to make poetry so fun. I love your take on reverse-psychology (psypoetry? [LOL]).
Keep on keeping on! You rock!
Renee LaTulippeApril 20, 2012 - 2:38 am ·
I love this! Especially the “batter went all over the fluffy cat” line. Now I have a deep desire to write a godawful poem…
Rebecca (Heart) ShonikerApril 20, 2012 - 7:21 pm ·
I love these tips and the way Rebecca gives advice with a slice of humor and what not to do. I will use these tips with the students and teachers I work with and know they will love the challenge of raising the level of their poetry writing skills step by step. Rebecca’s poems are so wonderfully written that she makes it look easy. These steps can break down the process and help anyone along their journey to becoming a poet. Rebecca…poet, comic, tipster, teacher! I can’t wait until my Founders workshop at the Highlights “Barn” so I can try these tips out with Rebecca! Woohoo!
rebecca dotlichApril 21, 2012 - 12:19 pm ·
Thanks Katie, for including me in these posts!
And thanks to all for your comments . . .
In the spirit of crafting, writing, reading and loving
poetry, I say let the words reign. Rain. Reign. And rain
Charles WatersApril 21, 2012 - 4:33 pm ·
Oh Rebecca I wish I would have had this advice when I first started writing children’s poems, it would have saved me LOTS of time and energy. Your post should be considered required reading for students and teachers all over this great planet because it’s vital to know what NOT to do when going about our scribbles. The fact that your blog post is done so humorously makes it all the more pliable. When I took your workshop 8 months ago in PA I felt like I got a semesters worth of MFA training in 5 days. Thanks Katie for featuring a woman who I now call Teach because of the influence she has on my writing life. Bravo!
Lara Dotlich AndersonApril 22, 2012 - 10:19 am ·
You don’t usually work your comedic chops like this. Nicely done, Mom. 🙂
katieApril 22, 2012 - 10:27 am ·
ElizabethApril 22, 2012 - 11:36 am ·
LOVE this! 🙂 e
Laura Purdie SalasMay 14, 2013 - 7:13 am ·
Love this, Katie!
Shirley SmothersJanuary 6, 2017 - 8:46 pm ·
My bad poem
Can a Mime
make a rhyme?
Sure a Mime
can make a rhyme.
But who would
KneepointApril 29, 2017 - 9:26 am ·
I would just like to ask why it is that in visual art literally anything goes .There are numerous examples of stuff (usually valued in the thousands) that are only fit for the waste paper basket. Wheras in poetry ,if the technical aspect has some minor flaw it renders the whole poem ‘useless’.
Max RoseMay 5, 2018 - 12:48 am ·
I enjoyed reading the article. However, I would like to express my opinion in the form of a poem.
a poem is a poem
it doesn’t take much
it takes but a few lines
and I think it is quite fine
to just wing it
-Made in under 4 minutes