Marilyn On Writing

Knock Poetry Off the Pedestal: It’s time to make poems a part of children’s everyday lives

Published in School Library Journal, April 2010

It was last October, and I was feeling self-congratulatory. I had already booked the 11 participants for the next “Poetry Blast,” the reading by children’s poets at the American Library Association’s annual conference. Once again, we were going to spread the good word that poetry is an aural art.

Then I got an email from Richie Partington, friend, critic, and kids’ lit missionary. He’d been invited to teach a class on children’s and young adult poetry at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. “What important concepts about poetry would you like library school students to learn about?” he asked.

“Well, Richie,” I started to reply, “as I’ve always said, to appreciate poetry, you have to hear it.” But then all of my assurance went out the window. Surely, I thought, that isn’t the only concept that future school librarians need to embrace. I know firsthand that most kids seem to like poetry. But something amiss happens along the road to adulthood, and many of those same students end up actively disliking poetry or not relating to it. And who can blame them? Poetry is often presented as a rarefied thing that exists only to be analyzed by professorial types or as greeting-card sentiments to be enjoyed by love-struck girls (and the guys who hit on them). So, I mulled, what can librarians do to buck this trend? I know! I’ll ask some other poets who write for young readers.

(Click here for article.)

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Ten Tips For Writing Poetry

1. Pay attention to the world around you—little things, big things, people, animals, buildings, events, etc. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel?

2. Listen to words and sentences. What kind of music do they have? How is the music of poetry different from the music of songs?

3. Read all kinds of poetry. Which poems do you like and why?

(Click here for all ten.)

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Poetry Goes Full Blast

Published in School Library Journal, October, 2005

It began where lots of good ideas do—in the library. To be specific, in the cafeteria of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch. I was having lunch with Barbara Genco, Director of Collection Development, former president of the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC), and an old friend. We were discussing one of our favorite topics—how to give poetry more press. I’d coorganized and participated in a panel about poetry at a previous American Library Association conference, and I wanted more. So did Barbara.

“Poetry needs to be heard,” one of us said. The other one of us nodded. And who better to read it than the poets who wrote it, we agreed. Excited by the prospect, we wrote out a wish list of poets and an outline for the event—there would be 15 poets whom Barbara and I would alternately introduce and each would read for seven minutes. We named it the First Annual ALSC Poetry Blast, to be held in Orlando, FL. A bit cocky, those words “first annual,” but we hoped to establish a tradition. Then we submitted a proposal to ALSC detailing the program. We were thrilled when it was accepted. Easy, right? Well, not exactly…

(Click here for article.)

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A Blast of Poetry

Published in School Library Journal, September 2004

Some kids like to play baseball. Some prefer playing “house.” And more than a few enjoy both. I was a kid who liked to play with words. I was fascinated not only by their sounds and their definitions, but by their shades of meaning. I would take my paper dolls and concoct elaborate descriptions of their costumes: “This stunning magenta sheath is made of watered silk with a tulle peplum. The matching cloche hat has hand-sewn paillettes.” What a joy it was to be able to distinguish magenta from rose, paillettes from mere sequins.

I was enchanted by words then—and I still am. And what better to do with such enchantment than to bring the magic to others, children in particular, by becoming a writer—and, more specifically, a poet? For what genre is as much about gorgeous, glorious, perfect words than poetry?

(Click here for article.)

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Nurturing Wonder

Published in School Library Journal, January, 2003

I can’t think of a novel of mine that was inspired by sheer irritation. Nonfiction is another story. When I heard one too many folks call a wasp a “bee,” a gorilla a “monkey,” and even a heron a “duck,” I got bugged enough to write A WASP IS NOT A BEE (Holt, 1995). Then there was the time at the Prospect Park Zoo when a little boy asked his mom why baboons have such big red butts. Despite a series of placards explaining the reason for these simian endowments, the mother loudly replied, “Because they’re sick.” Instead of howling at her, I came up with BOTTOMS UP!: A Book About Rear Ends (Holt, 1997).

What’s so important about taxonomic distinctions or the reproductive habits of animals? For that matter, why bother to study other creatures at all? The answer lies in how we view the world, in our ability to see ourselves as a part of the universe or as the center of it.

(Click here for article.)

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