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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.

WRITING A LIST POEM
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:
fog
frogs
crows
heron
plants
trees
moss

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
trees
moss

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
frogs croak--I'D RATHER HAVE THE FROGS SING
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].

BOOKS ABOUT WRITING POETRY
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