Selected Works

Doctoral dissertation
A model and implementation suggestions for integrating music into the elementary school day, using themes common to the literature of sub-Saharan African music, New Orleans second lines, old-time music and dance, and summer camp music-making.
The life of an amazing 12th-century woman!
Salmon Life Cycle
Cumulative, rhyming verse showing the salmon's life cycle, with science information at the back of the book.
Old-Growth Forests
Cumulative verse about the interdependence of plants and animals in an old-growth forest, with science information at the back of the book.

Write Poetry

The five senses are sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. When you describe an object, tell the reader: what did it look like, sound like, feel like, smell like, or taste like (sometimes you can taste the smell of something--you don't want to go around tasting toxic substances!)? When was it like this? Where? You can use the five senses to enrich all your writing, not just poetry.

Here is the process I used to write a list poem. List poems are an actual form, also known as catalog verse. I decided to write a poem about things I could find in the woods, so I wrote:

Things I can find in the woods:

Now I look at the list I have and think of details: what is each thing DOING? That means adding a verb to each item in my list.

Things I can find in the woods:
fog drapes the trees
frogs croak
crows caw or squawk
a heron flies overhead
plants bloom

Hmm. What can the trees and moss do, besides grow? I think I'll have the trees wear the moss, as if it were a garment: (That's personification, where I am describing the trees as if they were people.)

Each tree wears moss over its bark.

Now, how can I add the five senses to this list? We can already "see" everything on the list, although I think I'll add more sight details later. We can hear the frogs and crows. The plants are blooming--that's it, I'll change that to "blooming plants"--so we can smell them, but how about if we can taste the plants in the air?

Things I can find in the woods:
fog drapes the trees
like gray scarves
crows caw or squawk
a heron flies overhead
blooming plants exhale a sweet perfume
and the taste of growing things is in the air.
Each tree wears green moss over its bark.

If I say the moss is green, we can see it, but it doesn't use the other senses yet. I'll add the words "soft" and "moist" to the description of the moss, and give the bark some texture with the words "rough" and "dry."

Things I can find in the woods:
fog drapes the trees
like gray scarves
frogs sing and crows squawk,
a heron flies overhead TRY THE VERB "FLAPS"
blooming plants exhale a sweet perfume
and the taste of green growing things is in the air.
Each tree wears soft, moist green moss
over its rough, dry bark.

The poem still needs some more details and polishing, and the title needs some work. If I make the title shorter (In the Woods), I could start each line or sentence with those words, like a refrain.
Many drafts later, this is what I decided upon:

In the Woods
In the woods, scraps of fog
drape themselves
like gray scarves on the trees.
In the woods,
frogs sing and crows squawk,
and one heron flaps past on silent wings.
In the woods, blooming plants
exhale a sweet perfume,
and the taste of green growing things
is in the air.
In the woods, each tree
wears soft, moist green moss
over its rough, dry bark.

I rewrite and rewrite before I feel that my writing is finished. Then I put it away for awhile, anywhere from a day to a month, and work on other writing projects. When I come back to it, I can see things that can be improved, and I make further changes. My poem, "Winter Wraps," is only 17 words long. I rewrote it 21 times before I submitted it and had it published in the anthology Once Upon Ice [edited by Jane Yolen, Boyds Mills Press, 1998].

For children, my favorite general poetry writing resource is A Crow Doesn't Need A Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry From Nature, by Lorraine Ferra. Gibbs Smith Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0-87905-600-2

For teachers, I recommend Kenneth Koch's Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry. Harper & Row, 1979, 1980. ISBN 0-06-080530-7

For adults who may or may not be teachers, there is John Drury's Creating Poetry. Writer's Digest Books, 1991. ISBN 0-98979-443-9

For more on writing list poems, see The List Poem: A Guide to Teaching and Writing Catalog Verse, by Larry Fagin. Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 1991, 2000. ISBN 0-915924-37-4

A Poetry Type for Everyone

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry. It is usually about a moment in nature that impressed the writer, and can describe an animal, the weather, flowers, trees. It traditionally included a word that told the reader what season was being described. In Japanese, it is customary to write haiku in three lines:

By the crowded pond
two ducks swim in a
puddle by themselves.

I wrote the haiku above after seeing just that--on a warm summer day, a small lake near my house had lots of quacking, squawking ducks swimming in the water. As I walked around the lake, there, in a three-foot-wide puddle, were two ducks swimming peacefully, apart from the crowd.

The lines in haiku usually have a certain number of syllables, at least in the traditional Japanese form:
first line: five syllables
second line: seven syllables
third line: five syllables

If you have trouble deciding how many syllables a word has, look it up in the dictionary. Good dictionaries divide words up into syllables.

It is also possible to write haiku that does not have a strict 5-7-5 syllable pattern. If a line isn't working out in exactly the right number of syllables, try fewer or more syllables. Haiku is meant to be "one breath poetry," which means it should be short enough to be spoken on just one breath. If you have to decide between the right number of syllables and the right sound, choose the right sound.

My favorite resource on writing this type of poem is Haiku: One Breath Poetry by Naomi Wakan [Pacific Rim Publishers, 1993; ISBN 0-921358-18-0]. Written for intermediate students and up, it has many fine examples and writing exercises.

Writing rhyme is like walking a big dog--sometimes it takes YOU for a walk. If you find that your rhyming story has to be changed to make a word fit into a rhyme, you're not in control of the rhyme--the dog is walking you. To make a story rhyme, like I did in Salmon Stream, first I write out what I want to say WITHOUT rhyming:

Salmon eggs are in a gravel nest. The nest needs cool, flowing water to bring oxygen to the eggs. The stream the eggs are in needs trees to shade it to keep the water cool so the fish stay healthy.

What I ended up with, after a zillion drafts and rewrites, was:
This is the nest of rocky gravel,
far beyond the shady pool,
filled with water clear and cool,
that flows in the stream in the forest.