In my travels to schools and libraries doing readings of my poetry, I tell my listeners that word choice is the vehicle of writing, and imagination is its unlimited supply of energy.
For poetry, because it is such a distilled and precise form of writing, word choice is even more important. I tell them: find words with pizzazz, which say something about you, which are not expected and are not clichés. Be thoughtful, be playful, see where the words take you, let your words reflect who you are.
Here are a few of my poems that show this.
A friend of mine, a giraffe named Lizzie
Also has the nickname Dizzy.
Her neck is very, very tall,
So tall she towers o’er us all.
She’s so tall it makes her proud,
For only she can eat a cloud.
Well of course giraffes have long necks, so how can you make a giraffe poem not be a cliché? So I made her different from the other giraffes. I think all of us at times have felt we were different from the other kids, so there is a lesson here. Lizzie likes her difference because it allows her to do something none of the other giraffes can do, and that is to eat a cloud. I then ask, What do you think a cloud tastes like? The answers usually start off with a scientific approach such as “water” and “fog” but then someone says “cotton candy!” Off we go! Imaginations kick in and soon we cover practically every food group!
Bitty and Bobby
Bitty the Bedbug bit Bobby the Bat
While he was tucked into his bed.
But he sleeps upside down
So she got turned around
And instead of his toe bit his head.
Ouch! This limerick form has a few elements going on. The ending is a bit unexpected and makes for a punchier poem. It is the first line, though, that I go back and reread and then have everyone repeat along with me. It’s a tongue twister, yes, but what is going on? I am having fun using the same letter, B, for most of the words. I am delighted when a 3rd Grader can tell me that this is a device called alliteration. (So is the teacher!) This is some of the fun found in writing a poem.
As you can see, I inhabit an imagined world where the animals are my friends, and sometimes they talk to me, but in certain ways they always maintain their natures. I let each poem take me – and the reader – to a new place, using language and word choice to define the situation and personalities. What joy when I find the right combinations! Try writing poetry yourself and see what happens. You will be amazed at what you discover.
“He spends a lot of time looking out the window,” read one of Robert Forbes’ 7th grade report cards. Even so, he managed to graduate from school and university, and had a full-time career in the family business, Forbes Media. After 25 years in New York City and six in London, he and his wife and new dog Luna now reside in South Florida. Luna is a Jack Russell Terrier mix and is full of beans. Robert is the author of three books of poetry for children, BEASTLY FEASTS! A Mischievous Menagerie in Rhyme, 2007; LET’S HAVE A BITE! A Beastly Banquet in Rhyme, 2010; and, BEAST FRIENDS FOREVER!, Animal Lovers in Rhyme, published in 2013. All three are from Overlook Press and fully illustrated by master caricaturist Ronald Searle. Visit him at his website robertlforbes.com.