Add Poetry to Your Prose

SAMSUNG CSCApril was National Poetry Month, a fabulous celebration of one of my favorite genres of literature. Earlier this month, we celebrated on this blog with Spine Poems and a wonderful interview with Children’s Poet Amy VanDerwater. But now that the month has drawn to a close, we wanted to give you some ways to keep the lessons of National Poetry Month close to our (writer’s) hearts.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here are three poetic devices that all writers should consider adding to their author’s toolboxes:

  1. Meter. Basically, think rhythm, not rhyme (necessarily). Have you ever listened to a song that was so catchy that you couldn’t keep from tapping your feet?  Find ways to add that pulse to your prose. If you can get your reader so caught up in the cadence of your words, he or she won’t be able to put your book down.
  2. Onomatopoeia. Not only is that the most fun word in the world to say (and if you use it in your writing, you can ask people, “Did you notice all the onomatopoeia?” And that might be your only chance to use that word naturally in a sentence in a given day) but it is actually a very powerful technique to bring more of your reader’s senses into the scene.  Think of how much more powerful it is to use a well-placed crash, hic, achoo!, or BANG! Than simply saying, “All the dishes fell to the floor,” or “Right in the middle of my speech, I started hiccupping.”
  3. Alliteration. Did you notice above when I was extolling the virtues of meter, I used phrases like “pulse to your prose” and “caught up in the cadence”? The simple addition of alliteration makes the phrasing more musical, more lyrical – more poetic. When you’re searching for the perfect word to form your sentences, think about those words in relation to the others – and find the alliteration to elevate your writing.

We’ll see you next April for the next celebration of National Poetry Month!

PictureBy the way, in case you are interested in learning more about incorporating poetic techniques into your writing, please consider joining me for either my new online course From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques  at the Children’s Book Academy or for a free webinar titled Why All Writers Need to Know Poetic Techniques and How to Use Them  on Monday May 12th  at 9PM Eastern/ 6PM Pacific Time!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Poet and Nature Lover

Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterAmy Ludwig VanDerwater is a wonderful person. I can say this because I spent a weekend with her many years ago at a poetry workshop run by the Highlights Foundation.  In 2012 our poems were united under one cover when we each had a poem included in the collection Nasty Bugs, published by Dial. Amy, a writing teacher, loves poetry, spending time outdoors, family, and making things. Her collection of nature poems, Forest Has a Song, was a Golden Kite Honor book and won the Cybils Poetry Award. 

I know you love poetry! What do you like best about it?

I love the way great poets plant and tend each word with care.  I like poetry’s power and brevity and the way one can find a poem to match every emotion and experience.  Reading poems helps me never feel alone.  Writing poems, on the other hand, allows me to braid my feelings and observations with a variety of literary techniques; I adore the puzzle of rhyme and meter.

FOREST HAS A SONG was clearly written by someone who loves nature. What was your primary inspiration for writing the poetry in this collection? 

Forest Has a Song

A year ago today on Earth Day we featured this book and a special poem by Amy! See it HERE.

We live way out in the country, south of Buffalo, NY, and our family spends lots of time out in the woods.  My husband Mark, a science teacher, teaches us about the plants and beasts, and this book simply mirrors out the wonder I feel again and again, each time we hike together.  When I visit schools and share puffballs and owl calls with students, I feel my wonder ripple outward and hope that children and parents and teachers will make joyful plans to poke around in nature.

I hope so too! It seems that most of us spend too much time inside these days. Do you have advice for teachers and parents who want to share more poetry with their children?

Please just do.  Share what you love!  Tuck poems into the nooks and pockets of each day.  Poems are small; they fit into the folds of our hearts.  Offer children poetry that spans the range of human experience, from sadness to delight.  This is how children will know that poems can be friends and that they, too, can find poems to match their moods and worlds.

Amen! One way parents and teachers can share poetry easily and freely is by visiting your blog, The Poem Farm. Can you tell us a little about that?

I began The Poem Farm blog  in April 2010, as a place to write a poem each day for National Poetry Month of that year.  I did indeed write a poem each day of April 2010 and liked doing itso well that I continued writing a poem and mini lesson each day for 365 days, from April 2010 – April 2011.  This is how The Poem Farm established itself, and I continue to share poetry, lessons, and children’s poems regularly in my corner of the Internet.  This month (April 2014) finds me in the middle of a project I call THRIFT STORE LIVE, a series of 30 poems each about an object I’ve found in a real thrift store.  The Poem Farm blog is a place for me to experiment with writing and to connect with children, families, and teachers.

And you live on a real farm! I’m sure this gives you lots of inspiration for The Poem Farm. What is that like?

We actually call our home Heart Rock Farm, but it is also really The Poem Farm in 3-D.  We live in an old farmhouse on 24 acres in Western New York, and we’re usually growing something (latest – gooseberries), making something (latest – butter lambs), or caring for something (latest – newish bunnies).  It’s a heavenly spot with four real seasons, and we feel very grateful to have lived here for the last ten years.

Okay, now I want to come visit!  Just for fun, can you finish these sentences? 

Two of my favorite poets are Naomi Shihab Nye and David McCord.

Two of the best poetry books to share with children are ANOTHER JAR OF TINY STARS: POEMS BY MORE NCTE AWARD WINNING POETS, edited by Beatrice E. Cullinan and Deborah Wooten –  and KNOCK AT A STAR: A CHILD’S INTRODUCTION TO POETRY edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy.

When I write poetry, I usually do not how I will begin.  I write my way into a poem.

I read poetry daily because I hope it will help me become a better person and a stronger writer.

My favorite writing tools are black pens, unlined notebooks, and quiet.

One tip I have for aspiring poets is read the kind of writing you hope to write.  Let the words of favorite poems become part of you.  Learn from others, and listen to the whisperings of your own spirit.

Thank you for your inspirational answers Amy!

As with most nerdy chicks, there is much more to Amy than we were able to cover in one interview. Please visit her comprehensive website to find out more about her and check out her blogs, The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks, a fascination blog featuring the notebooks of writers, illustrators, and more. You can see my notebooks HERE.

Teachers, check out this teaching guide for Forest Has a Song!  Finally, if you are concerned about too much standardized testing in school, you will enjoy Amy’s opinion piece featured in the Buffalo News. Happy National Poetry Month everyone!




Book Spine Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. According to the Academy of American Poets:

“National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

There are many ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, but one of my favorites is to create Book Spine Poetry. These are poems you don’t write so much as “find” in the title ideas of other authors. In honor of National Poetry Month, my children and I came up with a bunch of Book Spine Poems — we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed “writing” them!



Love and longing in Bombay


Time and chance

In darkness




Heavens to Betsy!

Beautiful chaos


My life

Without fail



1397611381552Baby Bear, Baby Bear, what do you see?

The night fairy

Perfect piggies

The witch of Blackbird Pond

The last unicorn

But not the hippopotamus


1397611326858The bad beginning

An offer you can’t refuse

The nasty bits

The enemy

The end of the affair

Game Over



1397611158416The Elephant’s journey

The hard way

Accidentally fooled

A hog on ice




1397611076867Pirate Princess

You’re finally here!

To catch a mermaid

Demon of the waters

Into the deep

With nothing to lose



How will you celebrate National Poetry Month?