Poetry Friday: How to Write a Poem

In the past two weeks, this book has done good work in the world. (Okay, in all fairness…has helped ME do good work in the world!)

I’m a once-a-week Reading Specialist at each of the three sites of our community resource center’s after school program. The first week of May, we had a whole-group read aloud and then in small groups, folded zines that would be the container for our own poems, which we would write the following week.

My young friends and I have a ritual for reading picture books. We examine the dust jacket, opening the book wide to see if the cover illustration spans the entire cover (our favorite), or if there’s an important nugget from the book on the back cover. In the case of How to Read a Poem, there is this nugget that we watched for as we read:

“The words have been waiting to slide down your pencil.”

Next, I lift the dust jacket so we can see if the cover illustration is the same. (Our favorites have a different cover illustration!) Then, we examine the end papers, which, for How to Read a Poem, show the alphabet, and which were the source of a lively discussion:

Me: Melissa Sweet chose the alphabet for the endpapers. These letters are everything you need to make the words for your poems!

Child 1: There’s no A!

Me: I noticed that. I wonder why she…

Child 2: There’s the A! It’s really big!

And then, just like the best optical illusions, the A showed itself to all of us. Now I can’t unsee it!

Before I began reading at one site, one of my youngest friends asked, “But what IS poetry?” After praising him for his insightful question, I quoted Kwame’s back matter. He quotes a third grader’s response to this very question:

“Poetry is an egg with a horse inside it.”

This led to a discussion about what makes poetry poetry: it gets to break rules, it doesn’t have to make the kind of sense we expect, it’s short, and yes it sometimes rhymes and has a form like haiku or acrostic or limerick, but mostly it gets to be whatever it wants to be.

Kwame’s book reinforces these ideas (and Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are just as much a poem as his words). His poem-text hits the notes of wonder, listening to the world, using imagination, playing with words (“…a cotton candy cavalcade of sounds”), accessing both joy and sorrow, and becoming “a voice with spunk.” The book ends with the invitation, “Now show us what you’ve found.”

Here is some of what we found this week:

“Inspiration is everywhere
you just need to look.”

“Lonch youere self to the
MOON with your jet pack
of ceativeaty.”

“Star bright
in the air
let my dreams
fall down
to my hands.”

“There is magic falling
all around us growing tall
roped into our life
like how forks
are roped to food
open your door
and let in the wind
let it go in and out”

“alligators eat
the sun”

“flower birds
sing rain”

“the pizza
is made of

So. Much. Fun.

Here’s wishing you joyful poetry writing!

Robyn has the Mother’s Day edition of Poetry Friday at Life on the Deckle Edge. Happy Mother’s Day to all the men and women and non-binaries who nurture small humans, fur babies, gardens, and the world.

16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: How to Write a Poem”

  1. It truly is a wonderful book and I so enjoyed hearing how you shared it with your young friends. Sounds like all of you are enjoying those after school sessions so much!


  2. Okay, well, now there HAS to be an issue of WHISPERshout Magazine dedicated to your kids’ zines! It is soooo fun hearing expert teachers of poetry at work!
    “open your door
    and let in the wind
    let it go in and out”
    And now I must go and lonch meyself!


  3. I love the book, too, Mary Lee, & only wish I could use it with kids as you are. And I love your post describing all the moments exploring “words”! And then, their own words. Thank you, thank you!


  4. I love how you placed me right in the room with you enjoying those children and poetry. You are living my dream.


  5. What joyful reading! I am up in the middle of the night…who knows why? Not me! But, I’m reading Poetry Friday posts and filling up on goodness. What a wonderful experience for you AND for the kids…I want to be a kid discovering poetry all over again. Wait…I see it now…Iam!


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