Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Poetic Ponderings ~ by Christy Mihaly

When I set my writing goals for the year, a big one was to write more poetry. I've dabbled in poems, and published a few. I offered some poetry ponderings in past GROG posts (one is here) but mostly I write nonfiction books. This year I wanted to develop my poetic side. I joined an online poetry critique group, and I've tried to find inspiration for a new poem every day.  I've also started submitting more poems to anthologies and magazines. It takes persistence! Here are some thoughts after a half-year of paying attention to poetry.

What's so great about writing poetry? Consider these points:

 The right words: In a poem, the selection of each word is crucial. Each word affects the rhythm, the meter, the "mouth feel" of the poem. Writing poetry helps strengthen my word choices in other writing.

 Playful words: Poetry encourages the writer to play with words. A poem doesn't need a plot. Its words may simply evoke a feeling, or describe an object or a moment, or entertain. Developing this in-the-moment mindset can enliven your prose writing too.

 A few words: You can easily write a poem in a morning--and it might even be publishable (after a little polishing). Of course you can write a poem just for the pleasure of it. But, if a writer is struggling through year seven of revising a major work in progress, selling a poem--and seeing it in print--can be a big boost. Kids' magazines, in print and online, often seek kid-friendly poems – the Cricket magazines have been particularly interested lately. (Check out their active calls for submissions, here.) 

Plus, a special bonus for aspiring authors: A  series of related poems can become a published collection, like Fresh-Picked Poetry, about farmer's markets by Michelle Schaub, or Rainy Day Poems, by James McDonald -- and so many others that kids love.
And once in a while, a poem grows into an entire picture book. Think of Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? It's basically an expanded poem, like many other Jane Yolen books.

The text of Snow Sisters, published this year by Kerri Kokias, is a mirror poem, or palindrome poem, in which the same words are used in the first half and the second half, but in reverse order. Simple? Yes! Hard to write? Yes, to get it right. Brilliant picture book? Absolutely!

My debut picture book, Hey, Hey, HAY! (coming August 14) got its start as a simple rhyming poem about making hay. You never know! 

For more examples of picture books that are poems, check out Marcie Atkins's GROG post, here.

Interested but unsure how to begin? Some writers have a  practice of writing a poem every morning. I can't always make this happen, but when I do, it starts my writing day off with a creative splash. It's a great habit to cultivate. Your morning poem doesn't have to be great literature. It's good practice to just do it. 

If poetry still seems intimidating, try working within the structure of an established poetic form. I've found that experimenting with different forms often helps me get a poem started. Here are a few fun forms to try:


In an acrostic poem, a word or phrase is spelled vertically down the page. This word is the poem's theme or topic. Each line begins with the next letter in your topic word. Rhymes are not required.
(Variations: Each line of poetry ends with the letter of the topic word, or the topic word runs down the middle of the lines.)

Here's a simple example, using "Cat":

Content to snooze
and soak up the sun ...
till Songbird shows up.

© Christy Mihaly

A diamante is seven lines long and is printed so that it forms a diamond shape. Again there are variations, but here's the basic idea: The first half describes one subject and the second half describes a different subject, which is often the antonym of the first but may be a synonym. 

The diamante's lines are prescribed as follows:

1: Starting subject
2: Two adjectives about line 1
3: Three gerunds (or -ing verbs) about line 1
4: Four words, consisting of two about line 1, and two about line 7. (This line sometimes has more words, and may be written as one or two short phrases.)
5: Three gerunds/-ing verbs about line 7
6: Two adjectives about line 7
7: End subject

Here's a quick diamante that I posted one recent sunny day—the end of April—when confronting a persistent pile of snow atop my long-suffering garden: 

Double dactyl
I'm a big fan of the double dactyl, which can produce some very entertaining light verse. (A "dactyl" is a three-syllable word with the accent on the first, such as "holiday.")

In a double dactyl, there are eight lines broken into two quatrains, or 4-line stanzas. Each of the first three lines of the quatrain consists of two dactyls. The fourth line contains one dactyl plus another stressed syllable. The last syllable of each quatrain rhymes with the other.

Other requirements: Line 1 is a nonsense phrase; line 2 is a proper name of a person or place. One of the other lines, usually line 6, is a single word that is double dactylic. (And, technically, it should never have been used in a double dactyl poem before.)

It's easier to see how this works by reading an example. Here's one of mine published in April in Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes, an anthology for middle schoolers edited by Tabatha Yeatts. This wonderful collection contains a broad range of middle-school-friendly poems about making mistakes (and learning from them). I included a factual note with this poem in the book – because, as most GROG readers know, it's nonfiction!

Rejecting Harry Potter

Hippogriff, schnippogriff,
Salazar Slytherin.
Publishers dissed Rowling’s
Sorcerer’s Stone.

“Magic won’t sell; we need
They’d be much richer, had
they only known.

© Christy Mihaly

Of course there are many more poetic forms, including the mirror poem, mentioned above, and one I've been meaning to tackle but haven't yet tried myself: the roundel. Children's writer B.J. Lee wrote about roundels recently over on Michelle Barnes's blog "Today's Little Ditty" recently, and rather than try to repeat what B.J. said, I urge you to check out her post here.

If you are interested in writing more poetry, you can read and listen to poems--in books and online--and talk with others who are writing them. Attend poetry readings and other events, and/or seek out a poetry group to join--or form one. Consider taking a class or two. I learned so much from Renee LaTulippe's wonderful "Lyrical Language Lab" online course. 

For more pointers on poetry resources and how to get started, see poet-author Patricia Toht's  GROG posts here and here. Other prior GROG posts about poetry include guest posts by Margarita Engle and Penny Parker Klostermann. And GROG poetry maven Jan Annino offers ideas about prompts, poetry month, and Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Go forth, poets, and good luck. If you're so inclined, please leave a favorite poem in the comments. And happy writing!


  1. This post has encouraged me to dabble more in poetry, Chris. To intentionally make ones craft better in areas one doesn't usually go is a great challenge. Ty for so many examples.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, I'm glad to hear this -- and I'd love to see what you come up with!

  2. Chris, this is so good. I need to start back on some poetry, and this is just the jump start I need. Hey, hey, hey, you made my day!!

    1. Sherri, I hope you'll have fun with it and I can't wait to see what you write!

  3. Thank you, Christy. Such fun playing with words.

    1. Thanks, Janie, playing with words is always fun!

  4. Great post, Chris! If you come across anything about writing a MG in verse, let me know. I'm studying that format currently.

  5. what fun! I was scribbling some garden haiku in my notebook this morning... and feeling the need to play around more with poetry.

  6. I forget, too often, that my writing would get a jumpstart every day if I were to play with poetry before I start work on my prose. That, and I might have more work to send out! Thanks for the reminder. I loved Renee LaTulippe's class, too!

    1. I know, it's so easy to get out of the habit! And yes, completing those assignments for Renee is what made me realize how wonderful it is to start the day with a poem.

  7. I've dabbled in poetry and you've given thought to try again. Thank you, Christy, for the incentive and terrific examples in your post :)

    1. Charlotte, you're most welcome and I hope you have fun with it!

  8. Very helpful post! Thank you for this information Christy! Love this blog. Always informative!

  9. I, too, have been wanting to write more poetry, but didn't know where to start. Thanks for the inspiration and great resources!

  10. First Christy - YEY!! & YAY!! about your poem in a picture book:
    HEY, HEY, HAY! With such a fabulous Kirkus review, too. We will all be reading & loving this, I can foretell.

    Second, appreciations for all these links.
    I am glad I went back to your Thanksgiving poetry post for all that goodness.
    And the others, too. I'm blushing that you included article links from moi.

    Third, In response to your lovely invitation, although I hold close beloved poems that go back to child days such as (The Village Smithy my Mother recited) and school days (The Fog) & a shelf more, I'd like to share poem excerpts that are part of my current days & nights lately which are free verse.
    "stevie and me"
    Jacqueline Woodson
    "Every Monday, my mother takes us
    to the library around the corner. We are allowed
    to take out seven books each. On those days ,
    no one complains that all I want are picture books."
    from BROWN GIRL DREAMING, free verse story
    of Jacqueline Woodson's life

    "Maria Del Pilar"
    Margarita Engle
    "He keeps me alive with his whisperings
    about poets born long ago
    and poets forced to flee for their lives
    and poets catching words in flight
    like wild birds!"
    from page 78, untitled poem in voice
    of Maria Del Pilar, THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA
    a biography of Juan Fransisco Manzano
    by Margarita Engle

    by Juanita Havill
    "At the garden early,
    my hands full of weeds,
    I hear a voice holler,
    'Got the manure lined up!'
    I look up,
    first thing I see:
    Berneetha beaming
    as she marches across the street,
    a drum major leading a parade."
    from GROW, a novel in verse by
    Juanita Havill
    I love everything about your poetry post.
    Appreciations for your nurturing & joyful sharing.

    1. Oh, thank you Jan, these are beautiful! I love all three of these poets, and their work.
      And I'm so glad you enjoyed my post. And of course your archived posts were wonderful and most helpful. We all need poetry these days, it seems, more than ever.
      Finally -- yes to the Kirkus review -- I was so glad that the reviewer "got" my story!
      Happy days of poetry to you.

  11. Nice post, Christy. I'm a big fan of double dactyl's too— you have quite a knack for them! I love both of yours in IMPERFECT. Thanks for linking to B.J.'s post on TLD.

    1. Thank you, Michelle! I was happy to defer to you and BJ on the roundel ... it sounds like lots of readers will be trying out one or the other of these forms.

  12. Christy, Is there anything you can't write? I love this post - it's inspiring me to try to write some poetry.