with David L. Harrison:
Bugs Inspire Playful Poetry
Stanley: How about sharing a poetry break and telling us where to
find ideas for writing?
Harrison: Sometimes it doesnít take much to get started on a poem.
When kids ask me how I do it, they are often surprised at how easy it can
be. Here are three poems from my most recent collection of original poems:
bugs, poems about creeping things (2007). If you notice that there arenít
many ďbigĒ letters in this book about small things, thatís on purpose.
With each of these poems I offer a quick suggestion that might get your
kids off and running. I hope they (and you!) have fun with these.
Have fun being silly.
Put two things together that donít make sense. How about a flea that
swallows a horse? Make up a poem about what happens. Let your imagination
run wild. Thatís why being silly so much fun!
A flea known as Ralph swallowed a cow. Itís a mystery how.
After the cow he swallowed a horse (a huge one, of course.)
But with a giraffe he ran out of luck Ė its legs got stuck.
Itís impossible now to understand Ralph wif giraffe in hif mouf.
Look around and ask a question.
Have you ever wondered how to tell if a Ladybug is a boy or a girl? I
did, and this is what happened when I wrote a poem about my question.
Is it a boy?
Is it a girl?
To me it looks like neither.
I wonder if a ladybug
can tell the difference either.
Make a poem with as few words as possible.
Can you do it with only seven words counting the title? Thatís how many
this one took. Using as few words as possible is a great way to have fun and
also sharpen your writing skills.
downright tacky --
If you are feeling ambitious, start collecting your childrenís poems and
bring them together in a collection. That is just what I did with my book.
Stanley: What was the inspiration for bugs, your latest book?
Harrison: The 4-H Club when I was in fourth grade. At least that
was when I decided to collect insects in an organized way. My earlier
efforts consisted of fruit jars swarming with small, puzzled creatures Ė
scorpions, crickets, centipedes, roaches -- that crossed my path. For my 4-H
Club project I really wanted to raise a calf or a pig but we didnít farm.
Insects came in a distant second but I soon fell in love with the world of
ďbugsĒ and recycled many of my fatherís cigar boxes to
hold my prizes. Today at
the ripe old age of post-fourth grade I still love small creatures. Now I
collect them with a pen instead of a pin. I write about things I like.
Sooner or later, bugs was inevitable.
Stanley: Which is better in your opinion for children to start
writing rhymed or free verse?
Harrison: The question doesnít seem to occur to kids. Some adults get
fussy about their differences on the subject: ďFree verse is easier and
leaves children free to express themselves!Ē ďChildren are marinated in
meters and rhythms from the womb on. Their favorite poems are verse!Ē When
Iím in the classroom, it rarely occurs to me to specify how students should
express themselves. I model both kinds of poems and move on to what I think
are meatier issues. Some student poems come out roughly in verse while other
children write prose, which we praise as an approximation of free verse. My
motto is to do what feels good. My own first poems, as a child of five or
six, came out in couplets and triplets. What did I know?
Stanley: How does an aspiring poet get published, a book contract?
Harrison: Aspire for a long time. Nothing in this world
than the progress from dream to book. This is a tough business. Anyone who
wants in can expect to pay dues in the form of endless efforts that garner
an unending supply of rejection slips. If it were easy to write poetry at a
professional level, there would be more published poets. The good news is
that writing a poem is its own reward. Letís say you write 100 poems in
three years, which is what I did, and after each one you celebrate a strong
personal sense of accomplishment, which I did. Thatís a pretty good reward.
Besides, when people ask what you are working on, and you say, ďIím writing
poetry,Ē they think thatís very cool. Raise your eyebrow and keep writing.
In the meantime, try the magazine markets until you start having some
success. Publishing a book of poems before youíve been published elsewhere
Stanley: Who are your influences?
Harrison: I donít have a good answer to that. It seems to me that
we keep changing throughout life, so much that itís even hard to remember
why we thought the way we did ten years ago. We absorb lessons, good or bad,
from daily experiences. Family members die. Babies are born. We change jobs.
Maybe thatís a way of saying that life is my influence. Iím me now
for a while. Next year Iíll be different in various ways and my writing will
reflect who I am then.
Stanley: What are you reading these days?
Harrison: Currently or lately: Odyssey to Excellence (James
Slezak), The New Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease), John Adams
(David McCullough), The Voice at 3:00 A.M. (Charles Simic), Poetry
(October 2007), The Art of Drowning (Billy Collins), A Brief
History of Time (Stephen Hawking), and Lean Mean Thirteen (Janet
Helpful titles by David L. Harrison
Harrison , D.L., & Shepperson,
R.(Illustrator) (2007). bugs:
poems about creeping things. Boyds Mills
Press: Honesdale, PA.
Harrison, D. L. , & Duncan, D.
(Photographer) (2006). Sounds of Rain: Poems of the Amazon.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA.
Harrison, D. L., & Jane Kendal
(Illustrator) (2003). The Alligator in the
Closet: And Other
Poems Around the
House. Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA.
Harrison, D.L., & Lewin, B. (Illustrator).
(1995). Somebody Catch My
Homework. Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA