Billy Collins at D.G. Wills Books, San Diego, Oct. 2008. (Wikimedia Commons)

Billy Collins at D.G. Wills Books, San Diego, on Oct. 20, 2008.
(Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy Collins was a guest on the Diane Rehm show this week. It was, as always, a pleasure to hear his voice reading his poems and talking about poetry and life. The show also includes a very cute 3 year-old reciting one of Collins’ poems and a great idea for a dinner party.

Collins did say one thing I took exception to. He said he didn’t think you could teach the rhythm of language or metaphor.

Maybe you can’t teach the rhythm of language in an afternoon or even a semester, but what about over the course of many years? I think I learned about rhythm of language from taking my three kids to early childhood music classes over many, many years. I think I learned about the rhythm of language from reading them picture books and poetry over years and years. I also think I learned and relearn it from walking and feeling the rhythm in my body as I walk.

Metaphor too, I think can be taught. Maybe you can’t teach someone to be a genius, but surely you can help a writer move ahead from where they are. I think the first step is to teach writers to be alert to and reject the cliché. Encourage them to push on and find a new, fresh comparison. I find it helpful to make long lists of possible metaphors. The cliché’s seem to fill the beginning of the list, but then once I’ve gotten them out on paper, other ideas seem to come—brighter, fresher ideas.

Here’s a quick example, using perhaps the most clichéd object around.

Possible metaphors for the moon

A cookie
A cake
A bowl of milk
A cracker
A plate
A face
A bunny
A spoon
A medal
A coin
A balloon
A mirror
A marble
A ball
A baseball
A soccer ball
A saucer
A raindrop
A tear
An eye
A belly button
A button

I don’t think my ideas start to get interesting until pretty far down the list.

Here’s a quick draft, using tear.

Moonfall

The moon
slips down
the cheek
of night
drawing
sorrows
through
the dark.

There’s no time now but I think a second stanza about the sun might work.

 

What do you think? Can we teach the rhythm of language? Can we teach metaphor?

Would you like to give the list strategy a try and report back?

 

For more Poetry Friday, visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem…

(c) Elizabeth Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved

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Have you seen Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s TED talk about cloud-watching? It’s one of my current favorites. He sounds like a poet when he talks about the importance of slowing down, doing “nothing,” using your imagination to find shapes in the clouds, and feeling connected to the natural world.

 

 

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This poem, a first draft at this point, was inspired by his talk and by his Cloud Appreciation Society.

 

Cloud Watching

Look up!
See the sky?
Drop what you’re holding.
Ignore its thud.
Find a cloud’s ragged edge.
Watch it glide across the snow globe dome above your head.
Name the cotton creatures evolving as they go by.
Let your thoughts fly.
Feel yourself grow.
Remember, you’re not looking at the sky.
You’re standing in it.

 

My friend Cynthia Grady is hosting Mortimer today. I hope you’ll hop on over to visit her.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Merely Day By Day.

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Rest in Peace, My Guinea Pig

She didn’t squeak hello when I came in the room.
She didn’t twitch her nose at my carrot.
Her small furry body didn’t rise or fall.
She didn’t hear me when I whispered good-bye.

 

Last week Mortimer visited me. This week he’s visiting Ruth at There is no such place as a God-forsaken town. Next week he’ll visit Cynthia Grady at this is just to say.

For more Poetry Friday visit Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

 

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(c) Elizabeth and Naomi Steinglass, 2013, all rights reserved

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Today I’m participating in The Mortimer Minute, a bunny hop through the children’s poetry blogosphere. The Hop was started by April Halprin Wayland with these guidelines:

1) Pose and answer three questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry. (Ideally, use one question posted by the person who invited you to the Hop.)

2) Invite one, two, or three other bloggers to go after you.

3) In your post list the names of the bloggers you invited and give the dates when they’ll be posting.

April tagged Laura Shovan who tagged Janet Flagal who tagged me. Unfortunately, Janet’s post has been delayed but I will jump ahead.

 

Do you compose on paper or on a computer?

I like starting poems in my notebook on old-fashioned paper. Starting on paper with a carefully chosen pen allows me to get the flow and rhythm going without interrupting myself with revisions. It also allows me to write when I’m away from my desk (otherwise known as the kitchen table). After I have a first draft, I move to my computer so that I can revise more easily. I try to save my drafts. I write one, copy it, paste it above and revise. I do this over and over until I have a draft I’m happy with. I save my drafts so I can see how far I’ve come, so I can go back if I prefer something in an earlier draft, and so I can show students how terrible my first drafts are.

 

What’s your favorite “serious” poem for kids?

I love funny poems and looking-close-at-nature poems, but I also love poems that address the harder parts of being a human. One of my favorite poetry anthologies is The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury edited by Jack Prelutsky. The theme of pages 64-65 is hard feelings. I love these poems: “The Bad-Mood Bug” by Brod Bagert, “Mad Song” by Myra Cohn Livingston, “When I Was Lost” by Dorothy Aldis and “Moving” by Eileen Spinelli. Can’t we all relate to the heavy feeling of being lost, the pain of moving, and the urgent need to slam a door?

 

If you could have any “superpower” what would it be?

I wish I could talk to animals. I have some questions for the squirrels who have been pelting me with hickory nuts.

 

I have tagged Cynthia Grady who is a poet and a middle school librarian and has written a gorgeous book of poetry entitled I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery. The poems incorporate history, quilting, music, religion, art and so much more. I hope Cynthia will have time to hop next Friday.
 
I have also tagged Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town. I always enjoy Ruth’s posts and I saw this hop as a chance to get to know her a little better. She plans to post next Friday.
 
For more Poetry Friday, visit DoriReads.