Iambic pentameter anyone? How about a (bad) haiku?
Before I met you,
Poetry was my respite.
From a very young age, I both read and wrote poetry. Poems spontaneously erupted in my head, and I wrote them down ferociously before the spark fizzled. Poetry was my creative juice. I wrote them only from and for joy. I never imagined publishing them or becoming a “real” poet. My poems were too personal. Just for me.
I did, however, love to read “real” poems, and I had deep desire to learn more about the art, inspiration and interpretation of poetry. With that in mind, I signed up for a “Poetry 101” or some such class during my second year of college. Enter Professor Killjoy (I can’t remember his name, so I’ve improvised).
Killjoy didn’t teach us anything about the form, technique and art of poetry. He didn’t teach us about poetry interpretation. What he did was spoon-feed us his interpretations of the poems, rooted in his extensive study of the poets’ lives and backgrounds. Never could I have imagined poetry being so monumentally boring. Seriously. Having someone suck my bone marrow out with a straw would have been less painful than sitting in this class.
Which all would have been harmless enough if it hadn’t been for his approach to student work. I started getting C’s on my papers because I wasn’t providing the “correct” interpretations of the assigned poems. Forgive me a brief moment of boasting, but up to that point I had never, ever gotten a C on an English paper. I started to fear for my grade point average, so I started going in for office hours before papers were due. Killjoy would give me his thoughts on the poems, and I would regurgitate those back to him in my papers. I started getting A’s again.
So I sidestepped the blight on my college transcript, but my relationship with poetry was permanently broken – or so I thought. My experience in that class had me shaken. I did not yet have the maturity to realize that I’d fallen prey to an imbecilic teacher and nothing more. Instead, I believed I really didn’t know anything about poetry and that I had nothing to contribute. I still wrote a poem here and there, but the love affair was over. I still loved writing – just not writing poetry.
Until I started writing children’s picture books. It didn’t even occur to me that I was writing poetry again until I read Ann Whitford Paul’s book, Writing Picture Books. She writes, “…(T)he best help you can give your reader is to understand poetry and use its techniques in your writing.” Argh! After reading the chapters on rhythm and rhyme and poetic prose, however, I realize that I still have poetic instincts, even if the skills have been dormant for a while. Time to dust them off. Starting tomorrow.
Tomorrow I’m taking a course with author Linda Ashman on writing in rhyme. I am also reading and studying adult poetry again. So part of this writing journey is taking me back to one of my first loves – poetry. So, Professor, you didn’t kill my joy after all.Categories: Children's Books, Poetry, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: Bad Professors, Haiku, Picture Books, Poetry, Writing