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poetry or "lowly" verse?

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I don't mind it when people criticize the quality of my writing, but when somebody criticizes the whole genre, it bothers me.

As some of you may know, Mem Fox is a children's book author. On her Website, she has a list of DO's and DONT'S. There is one line in particular that really resonates with me: "DO NOT expect to be accorded real respect as a writer of children’s books. It will never happen."

There are times when I feel discriminated against, both by authors who (only) write for adults and people in other fields. It's possible that Mem Fox is right and we are doomed to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the writing world, but I hope not. In my opinion, it takes just as much talent and skill to get inside the mind of a child and spark imagination, as it does to end couplets by rhyming with "Kierkegaard" or making clever plays on Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk". Of course we need deep poetry too. I just wish the respect was mutual.

I saw an interesting article on the Poetry Foundation's Website recently. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/feature.onpoetry.html?id=178645

It discusses the difference between "Poetry" and "Verse", which they say is often used as a term of disparagement. Although the article seems to insist that children's poetry is in some ways lower class, there was one heartening statement:

"the Foundation supports [children's poetry] because of its importance to the future of the entire art form. Findings from our major study—Poetry in America—show that a lifelong interest in reading poetry is most likely if developed early and reinforced thereafter. "

I think I will put that in my arsenal so I'm ready the next time somebody puts down children's writing.
#1 - April 07, 2008, 08:22 AM
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Ohhhh, well said, Diana!  It's sad but true that many people think picture books are very easy to write, because they are so short.  Ha!  In actual fact, it's very difficult to write a good picture book, because every single word has to count.  In a novel, you have the luxury of slowly building tension, exploring the main character's problem, then solving the problem in a dramatic and interesting way through multiple scenes. In a picture book, you have to do the same thing -- in just a few well-chosen words.   When it comes to poetic children's stories, it gets even tougher, because you still have to tell that same incredibly wonderful story with the same few words, but now your words not only have to be perfect for the story, they also have to have perfect rhythm and perfect rhyme. (Add a historical book to the equation and another layer of difficulty is added because then you have to do all of the above AND stay true to history, as well!)

Whoever said writing good rhyming picture books was easy obviously never tried it -- or they didn't know what a good picture book WAS. :mob
#2 - April 07, 2008, 09:43 AM
Verla Kay

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I find this quote( by Mem Fox, I believe) to be quite appropriate: Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in haiku. 
#3 - April 07, 2008, 10:03 AM

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Thanks Verla! I think you hit the nail on the head. People who look down on children's writing have probably never tried it or don't understand what good children's writing is. Or possibly they've just forgotten what it's like to be a kid.

And given our target audience, not only do we have to limit the number of words we use but we also have to limit our vocabulary. Yet another layer of complexity. They have no idea!

YAmom- that's hysterical!
#4 - April 07, 2008, 10:38 AM
« Last Edit: April 07, 2008, 10:54 AM by luna5000 »
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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"War and Peace" is great

lots of people interact

some die at the end


--
Sorry, had to try it.  :P



#5 - April 07, 2008, 10:18 PM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
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Luna :lmao  I love it! :hooray
#6 - April 08, 2008, 05:22 AM
Verla Kay

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LOL!
#7 - April 08, 2008, 05:31 AM

Funny, Diana. 

It reminds me of the Woody Allen routine.  He says he took the Evelyn Wood speed reading course and then read War and Peace in fifteen minutes.  When asked to summarize what he read, he said, "It's about Russia."

I agree that writing children's books is hard.  People don't understand that one must be an actor or a rock star for many years before learning how to do it.   
#8 - April 08, 2008, 05:40 AM

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Thanks guys!!

I always knew someone would compare me to Woody Allen one day. But I assumed it would be my neurotic behavior that would lead to the comparison. Never suspected it would be a haiku.

Bob, I think you may be right. Well I did some drumming in college, plus I had big hair in the '80s. Is that good enough? Yeah, that oughta do it. :band

-Diana
#9 - April 08, 2008, 08:51 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
CITY SHAPES, DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS, ONE SNOWY DAY, PIZZA PIG, and more...
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I have totally gotten vibes (and sometimes comments) from poets for adult audiences regarding my poetry for children that my work is not as . . . demanding or well thought out. I just shrug it off because I know better.
#10 - April 08, 2008, 06:03 PM
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It's good you don't let it get to you, Funnygirl.

Also, I feel the need to come back and say that many authors who only write for adults are indeed very nice. Didn't mean to say that they were all bad guys. That article I read (and some other things) kind of set me off on a rant. I feel much better now!
#11 - April 10, 2008, 05:29 AM
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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I come from the "adult poetry" community, and my experience has been very different.  These are the poets who taught me the most and encouraged me the most in writing children's poetry, and my efforts were always taken very seriously.  I would not be actively working on children's poetry now had it not been for the encouragement of various poets who never write children's poetry themselves.  Just about every adult poet began to love poetry as a child, and few of them have lost the taste. 
#12 - April 10, 2008, 06:32 AM


I agree that writing children's books is hard.  People don't understand that one must be an actor or a rock star for many years before learning how to do it.   
:applause
#13 - April 10, 2008, 10:01 PM

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Bob, I think it's great that you have had a positive personal experience. But in the article I mentioned, what set me off is that they quoted a Prelutsky poem, a Tupac Shakur poem/lyrics, and a country singer poem/lyrics. What do these all have in common? The President of the Poetry Foundation writes,

"It’s not just snobbery. People who care about their poetry often experience genuine feelings of embarrassment, even revulsion, when confronted with cowboy poetry, rap and hip-hop, and children’s poetry not written by 'adult' poets."

I guess the good news is that this is just a generalization (or maybe just this one guy's point of view).

-Diana
#14 - April 12, 2008, 06:41 AM
« Last Edit: April 12, 2008, 01:00 PM by luna5000 »
NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, GRIMELDA series,
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That's a pretty disturbing quote, Diana.  I must admit that the "adult" poets who have encouraged my children's work got to know me as an "adult" poet myself, and tend to like children's poetry by other "adult" poets, like XJ Kennedy and Richard Wilbur, who made their giant reputations in the "adult" field.

However, these same people are also huge fans of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.  These are poets who have not written much "adult poetry" but whose best poems can be, and are, enjoyed by adults.   I think that the scorn is for children's poets who think that it's okay if ONLY children like their poems, as if there were a lesser standard when writing for children.  The best children's poetry, of course, can be enjoyed by both children AND adults. 

I'll let someone else defend cowboy poetry. 

#15 - April 13, 2008, 06:42 AM

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I think what those three types of poetry have in common is that they are all written with very specific target audiences in mind. But as you said, both children and adults can enjoy good poetry. I also think city slickers can enjoy good country lyrics (personally, I love Johnny Cash).

I think the next time I come across a negative statement, I'll just move on. It's not like it's going to change how or what I write.

#16 - April 14, 2008, 07:09 AM
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I often hear how "cute" it is that I write for children.  My new policy on this is that I repeat it to the speaker, "Oh yeah, it is so CUTE!"  I feel then they hear how stupid and insulting it sounds. 
#17 - April 14, 2008, 07:54 AM

No one ever told me it was "cute" that I write for children. 

Try telling people that you write adult poems that children can also enjoy because the poems do not involve subject matter that only an adult could understand.   It's sort of like pizza.  Kids love pizza, but so do adults.  Would you say that a pizza chef cooks children's food?  Are Ben & Jerry purveyors of children's desserts? 

If I made skittle and sour balls, perhaps I would be a "children's" chef, because most adults don't like such things, but the mere fact that children (ideally) may like my poems does not mean that my poems are skittles rather than gourmet ice cream. 

Anyway, after Shel Silverstein sold his 20 millionth copy of his poetry, I'm not sure he was bothered by the ridicule.

I'm also a big Johnny Cash fan, by the way.  And remember, Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics to "A Boy Named Sue."
#18 - April 14, 2008, 08:50 AM

rj,

I love the skittles/chef analogy. Poetry has to be written for the audience. I write about burps and food and toads because that's what appeals to children.
#19 - April 15, 2008, 09:00 AM
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Gla - it's true. Some people just say that because they don't realize they're being insulting.

Poetrygirl- me too! I love trying to get into the mind of a kid.

Bob - I had no idea Shel Silverstein wrote that! I'm completely shocked and amazed! I love that song. I also adore Folsom Prison Blues which not until recently did I realize was written in iambic trimeter (I'm trying to notice these things now).

Your analogy is hysterical. But I don't know if I could claim that I write adult poetry that children happen to like. This may be partially because there's a difference between writing for 4 year olds and writing for 8 year olds. But seriously, I don't think I'd write about stinky socks for an adult audience. On the other hand, on Halloween, I get to enjoy some of my daughter's candy. Last Halloween, I had M&M's for the first time in about a decade. And boy, were they delicious. So I don't mind if my poems are like that colorful bit of candy that you forgot you liked. But sure, it would be nice to be gourmet pizza sometimes too.
#20 - April 15, 2008, 05:32 PM
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M&M's are one thing, Diana, but Skittles quite another.   I am current in my research.

You might not write about stinky socks for an adult audience, but I do think that if you wrote a poem for children about stinky socks, you would try to do it so well that an adult audience could like it, too.  I doubt you'd have written the Rubber Ducky song for an adult audience, but, especially if you've caught Little Richard's version of it on Sesame Street, you know how much fun it can be for adults as well.

The thing about four or five year olds is that you can make them laugh just by saying the words "poop" and "tooshie" over and over again, particularly if you are able to burp during the pauses.  So why isnt' the following "poem" a fine work of children's literature:

Poopy

I love the yucky goop
whose name is poop.  (burp burp)
I wish I had some poop goop in my soup.(burp burp)

**

Oops!  I typed this out as a silly example, but I might have made it too good. 

No, not really.  My point is that this would probably make a lot of children laugh, but would not be a good children's poem because it doesn't meet my test of also appealing to adults.  We must use adult literary standards, I think.  That's why writing for children is hard, because there are two constituencies to please and not just one (as is the case when you write solely for adults).

#21 - April 16, 2008, 08:09 AM

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Bob, that's a real crowd pleaser.

It's true, the double audience does make it harder.

If they wanted to make M&M's even more appealing to adults, they could come out with a dark chocolate variety. So basically, we could squeeze some antioxidants into our "candy" so that grown-ups would like it better and kids would secretly reap the benefits even though it would be fun.
#22 - April 17, 2008, 10:43 AM
« Last Edit: April 17, 2008, 03:04 PM by luna5000 »
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I live in the mountains of N. GA, but belonged to a great group affiliated with the N Carolina Writers Network. Once a year members can read their work at the John Campbell Folkschool--a magical place where people come from all over to learn woodturning to quilting to writing to Old English Dancing and on and on. I get a real boost of energy because I read my poems for children to the adults who come, and they really seem to have so much fun and enjoyment. My husband alsways says--who are you? how do you think that way?--but he is so supportive. Sometimes you have to get your kicks where you can, but it keeps me going.
#23 - April 18, 2008, 04:05 PM

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Paws, thanks for sharing your positive experience. That's good to know. Also, I know what you mean about your husband's reaction. I feel fortunate that I get an opportunity to be wacky.
#24 - April 20, 2008, 07:28 PM
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