We've been delving into children's poetry in our house.
Chicken loves Jack Prelutsky, and I just got a book of back to school poems from the library.
This afternoon, while we were reading, Chicken and I started talking about what makes a poem a poem.
Chicken had some great questions. Like, I started sweating.
Damn, this kid digs in. He has not yet found the end of any line of questioning, ever in his life, except the line of questioning that ends in Mommy and Daddy offering him a cookie to stop talking because WE ARE FREAKING OUT.
Question: "Poems always rhyme, right mom?"
Answer: "Some poems do, but many poems don't rhyme. When I write poems they hardly ever rhyme."
Question: "But I've only ever heard rhymey poems."
Answer: "Children's authors use rhymes as a way to engage young readers, to get you to pay attention, and to help you remember the words, and also to teach you about meter, which is like the beat of the words in the line, like da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM. But a lot of writers don't use rhymes because it restricts which words you can use to tell your story, and sometimes rhyming poems feel a little bit sing-songy, or silly, and you might not always want that."
Follow-up question: "Sing-songy?"
Answer: "Yeah, it means, like a song or chant."
Follow-up question: "But how is a poem different from a song?"
Answer: "A song is just like a poem set to music, a poem you sing."
Follow-up question: "But what about Hamilton? They don't, like, do all singing in Hamilton."
Answer: "Oh, well, there are lots of different ways to create music. Sometimes a song isn't sung but is rapped, which is like talking and chanting and singing."
Follow-up question: "Okaaaaaay but... how do you know if it's a poem or a song when you read it on paper?"
Answer: "Gosh, I mean, it depends on who wrote it and where you're reading it, but I guess it doesn't really matter because either way, it's a collection of words that someone picked very carefully--"
Interjected comment: "You mean selected? With care?"
Answer: "Yes, exactly, either way it's a collection of words that someone selected with care to tell a story or describe an experience in a particular way, and when you're reading it on paper you can think of it as a poem or as a song, either one is okay because when you read it on paper the experience belongs to you."
Follow-up question: "But how does THAT work?"
Answer: "Well, every time you read a story, there are two elements in that relationship: you, and the story. And depending on what's going on in your life and how you're feeling, your relationship with the story can change all the time. Sometimes a story might be scary, and other times it might be sad, or funny, or just nothing at all."
Follow-up question: "But if you write a story how do you know the feelings of the people who are gonna read it?"
Answer: "Well, you don't, and that's why writing stories is very hard work, and is also very important. And that's why we really care about what stories we read in our family."
Follow-up question: "OK, it seems like it's time to watch Dino Trux."
Follow-up question: "Buuuuuut it seems like Dino Trux is an important story to our family."
Follow-up question: "What's touche?"
I asked Chicken if he'd like to write a poem, and he said, "oh yes!" I said okay, and went to get some paper and markers.
We wrote a poem together.
I've italicized his lines.
TIGERS OF ALL THE WORLD
by Katie and Chicken
We love tigers an awful lot.
Tigers live on a jungle plot.
All day long, tigers sleep and play.
Tigers play in the day,
at a million spots in the year.
Tigers use their stripes to sneak.*
Tigers chase birds with beaks.
Mostly, tigers live alone.
They're strong with muscle tone.
I love tigers a lot and they're my favorite,
and my superhero name is Tiger Man.**
*Originally he wanted to use the word "camouflage" instead of "sneak" but we couldn't come up with any words that rhymed with camouflage except "blamouflage," which I was TOTALLY ON BOARD WITH but Chicken pulled the plug and said, "Nah, cross that out. Let's pick a different word with more rhymes."
**How interesting that he wouldn't do camouflage-blamouflage (and we are all the poorer for it), but that he then pronounced that last couplet at the end of the poem, and when I said, "Okay, what do you want to rhyme with Tiger Man?" HE said, "No, I don't want to rhyme the last part." What does that deviation from the established structure show us about the speaker of the poem? Why is this couplet set apart? #workshopquestions #style #structure #assumethereisareasonforeverything #thatswhatrespectinganauthorlookslike
PS, my favorite part? "Tigers eat / meat." FEROCIOUS stanza, yo.