Poetry

I have been a poet and a poetry lover all my life. My first poem (yes my mother kept it for years) was hardly any guarantee that I would ever become any good. I was in first grade:

Bus, bus, wait for us,
We are going to school
And we know the rule.
We were going to the zoo,
But the teacher got sick…boohoo.
So instead we went to get berries,
But could only find cherries.

By the time I was in third grade, I had improved mightily. I wrote a poem and set it to music, which I also wrote, being an overachiever even then.

Where is the Candy Cane Island,
Where in the world can it be?
Right next to Dreamland, across the Canal,
Just come and follow me.
There’s Santa Claus summer home,
And Jack Frost lives there, too.

Lucky for all of us I have forgotten the rest.

Poetry informed much of my growing up. I wrote my 7th grade essay about New York State manufacturing in rhymed couplets, with a rhyme for Otis Elevators that I have, likewise, forgotten.

In high school in Connecticut, I had poetry in the literary magazine. In college, I was published not only in the Smith literary magazine, where I was a student, but also at Wesleyan and Trinity—where I had boyfriends. (Always nice to have editor friends in high places.) I wrote my final exam in American Intellectual History in rhyme. The professor proctoring the exam was so impressed, he gave me an A+ for a C- worth of knowledge.

By then, I was under the tutelage of poet Anthony Hecht who was teaching at Smith, and I sent out my poems in batches of five to magazines across America. I received many, many printed form rejections and a couple of hand-typed personal no’s from places like the Saturday Review, until I had 113 rejection letters in all. I papered my bedroom wall with them. Then, suddenly, I began to publish in national literary journals and thought I was hot stuff.

My father—who was in publishing and public relations—thought he knew better. He said, “Your poems are very nice, dear, but you can’t make a living that way.”

But if you count (and I do) OWL MOON as an unrhymed picture book poem, HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT as a rhymed picture book, and HERE’S A LITTLE POEM, an anthology I co-edited with Andrew Fusek Peters among over 70 other poetry books, I have made a living that way.

Despite this, Lee Bennett Hopkins wrote to tell me that a year ago he was at NCTE and brought up my name for the Poetry Award. “Oh,” said a newly-minted librarian, “she doesn’t write poetry.”

So here are some of my poems to give you an example of the range that can be found in children’s poetry. Perhaps some of these will find their way into the maze of a child’s ear and lodge there for the rest of his or her life. The first two are very different bird poems, though they both rhyme: one is saucy, one is ecstatic. The first is in an as-yet unsold book about farm life. The second from a book called The Egret’s Day which should be out in 2010.

Duck Parade

Ducks wiggle-waddle,

Ducklings diddle-dawdle

Down to the pond

With a quick-quack-quack.

Tails sassy-saucy,

Drakes busy-bossy,

Down to the pond

For a quick-quack-snack.

Egret in Flight

She’s an arrow

From a bow.

We watch in wonder

From below.

Origami

Neck is folded.

All that we can do?

Behold it.

Angel wings

Of purest white.

Perfect flyer.

Perfect flight.

And this is for the librarian who thought I didn’t write poetry!

To a New Librarian Who Thinks I Don’t Write Poetry

Poets come in many shapes

Tall, lanky girls dressed in drapes;

Moon-round ladies who rhyme;

Well-worn gents wearing chaps;

And sexy ladies who sit on laps

Writing sonnets, and love poems,

And the one poem everyone

Reads out at funerals.

There are white-haired poets who farm;

Curly-haired poets who alarm

The ladies, and howl at the moon.

Poets who dance, and poets who can’t;

And poets who stand at the podium and rant;

Poets who use no capital letters;

And poets who write around the edges of the page.

I knew a poet once who wrote

Between the lines on his palm

Though today he’d probably write

On a palm-pilot instead.

Why do you think I don’t write poetry?

Am I the wrong shape, the wrong age,

The wrong size, the wrong gender,

Or have you just not gotten down to the Ys yet?

The River

The slow Connecticut,

clean enough

for sweet salmon

to run its course again

snakes through

greening grass banks

unstartled by spring.

We drive across

macadam bridges,

River Road

to River Road,

over a millenium

of winding water

never getting wet.

Is progress counted

in the distance

we travel

or the distance

we still have to go?

©1998 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Dino Thought

Oh dinosaur, oh dinosaur,

There are no dinos any more.

The skies are clear of pterodact,

(A very sorry dino fact.)

No more velociraptor gnashes,

No more allosaurus crashes.

No more pounding thunder feet

Of Rex on his revolting beat.

Oh dinosaur, oh dinosaur,

There are no dinos any more.

© 2011 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Five Tips On Writing A Poem

1. Look at the world through metaphor,

seeing one tree in terms of another.

2. Let two words bump up against another

Or seesaw on a single line.

3. Tell the truth inside out

Or on the slant.

4. Remember that grammar can be a good friend

And a mean neighbor.

5. Let the poem rhyme in the heart,

Though not always on the page.

© 1999 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

 

Here are the titles of my collections of poetry.

Adult poetry books:

AMONG ANGELS with Nancy Willard (Harcourt Brace)

EKAERINISLAV (Holy Cow! Press ) out in 2012

THE RADIATION SONNETS (Algonquin)

THE LAST SELCHIE’S CHILD (Midsummers Night Press) out in 2012

SPEAKING IN PEARLS (Papavera Press) out in 2013

Children’s Poetry Collections

ANIMAL FARE (Harcourt Brace)

A SIP OF AESOP (Scholastic)

BEST WITCHES (Putnams)

BIRD WATCH (Philomel)

BIRDS OF A FEATHER (Boyds Mills)

BUG OFF (Boyds Mills) out 2012

COLOR ME A RHYME (Boyds Mills)

COUNT ME A RHYME (Boyds Mills)

DEAR MOTHER, DEAR DAUGHTER (Boyds Mills) with Heidi Stemple

DINOSAUR DANCES (Putnams)

DRAGON NIGHT (Methuen)

EGRET’S DAY (Boyds Mills)

EMILY SONNETS, THE (Creative Editions) out 2013

FINE FEATHERED FRIENDS (Boyds Mills)

GRUMBLES FROM THE FOREST (Boyds Mills) with Rebecca Dotlich out 2013

GRUMBLES FROM THE TOWN (Boyds Mills) with Rebecca Dotlich out 2013

HORIZONS (Boyds Mills)

HOW BEASTLY (Collins/Boyds Mill)

O JERUSALEM (Scholastic)

LAST LAUGHS (Charlesbridge) with J. Patrick Lewis out 2012

LEAST THINGS (Boyds Mills)

MIRROR TO NATURE (Boyds Mills)

ONCE UPON ICE (Boyds Mills)

THE ORIGINALS (Philomel)

RAINING CATS & DOGS (Harcourt Brace)

RING OF EARTH (Harcourt Brace)

SACRED PLACES (Harcourt Brace)

SEA WATCH (Philomel)

SELF PORTRAIT WITH SEVEN FINGERS (Creative Editions) with J. Patrick Lewis

SHAPE ME A RHYME (Boyds Mills)

SNOW, SNOW (Boyds Mills)

THREE BEARS HOLIDAY RHYME BOOK (Harcourt Brace)

THREE BEARS RHYME BOOK (Harcourt Brace)

THUNDER UNDERGROUND GRUMBLES FROM THE FOREST (Boyds Mills) out 2014

TWINSPIRATION (Candlewick) with J. Patrick Lewis out 2012

WATER MUSIC (Boyds Mills)

WEE POEMS S&S out 2013

WHAT RHYMES WITH MOON (Philomel)

WILD WINGS (Boyds Mills)

Children’s Poetry Anthologies

ALPHABESTIARY (Boyds Mills)

HERE’S A LITTLE POEM (Candlewick Press/Walker UK)

MOTHER EARTH/FATHER SKY (Boyds Mills)

ONCE UPON ICE (Boyds Mills)

SKY SCRAPE/CITY SCAPE (Boyds Mills)

SLEEP RHYMES AROUND THE WORLD (Boyds Mills)

STREET RHYMES AROUND THE WORLD (Boyds Mills)

SWITCHING ON THE MOON (Candlewick/Walker UK)

WEATHER REPORT (Boyds Mills)