Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poetry Makers - Pat Mora

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, but there's no reason to be sad because today is a day for celebration! It is El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children’s Day/Book Day. Here's what Pat had to say recently about this special day.
Since literacy is essential in our democracy, Día which means “day” in Spanish, is a call to action. Día emphasizes daily commitments to:
  • the importance of children,
  • linking all children to books, languages and cultures,
  • the importance of children’s books that reflect our national diversity,
  • and to parents and families as partners with libraries and schools in the literacy process of sharing bookjoy.
Día culminates in annual celebrations of these daily commitments across the country on or near April 30th, community book fiestas. 2009 is its 13th anniversary.
Here is a poem Pat wrote in 1998 to celebrate Día.
Song for April 30th

This is the day of the children,
los niños, the children.
This is the day of the children
the children and their books.

Día de los niños: Día de los libros,
the children and their books,
ta-lán, ta-lán, tan-tán, ta-lán,
los niños and their books.

Celebrate with piñatas
and musica de colores,
add the papel picado
and baskets and baskets of books,

silly and sad, scary and glad,
baskets of delicious books.

Read to a favorite person,
read to lizards and cats,
read to the moon humming a tune
as you read from your baskets of books

on Día de los niños: Día de los libros,
the day of children and books,
ta-lán, ta-lán, tan-tán, ta-lán,
los niños and their books.

This is a song that keeps growing,
in Chinese or Navajo too,
so add your verse and sing along,
on this day of children and books.

Día de los niños: Día de los libros,
day of children and their books,
ta-lán, ta-lán, tan-tán, ta-lán,
los niños and their books.
Pat does such a wonderful job talking about her work that I want to share this video before we learn a bit more about her.


How did you get started writing poetry?
Pat: Early in my life, I experienced what I now call bookjoy. I fell in love with words and reading when I was a little girl in my home city of El Paso, Texas. Poetry was delightful to read; and in school, I had excellent teachers who made us memorize many poems. I probably griped then, but I say “thank you” now. My parents gave me a box of pretty stationery and a gray, portable typewriter when I graduated from eighth grade. I remember sitting and typing rhyming poems with these gifts. I returned to writing poetry years later when I was expecting my first child, and again years later, I made a commitment to myself to write regularly.

Who/what made you want to write?
Pat: I’m a writer because I’m a reader. Words and languages lured and lure me to the page. I’m attracted to both the pleasure and power of writing.

What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Pat: Questions and ideas from teachers and librarians have been catalysts for a few of my books. Standing in a line to have a book autographed at a conference in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, I was asked by a teacher or librarian, “If you write poetry for adults, why don’t you write poems for children?” Great idea, I thought, and began poems that became Confetti: Poems for Children, also now available in Spanish. It makes me happy that April 30th, celebrated across the country as El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children’s Day/Book Day, is the last day of National Poetry Month. We can foster lots of young poets.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Pat: I majored in English for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. That was before creative writing programs existed. I briefly audited one adult creative writing poetry course about thirty years ago. I read poetry, attend readings when possible, and occasionally teach writing poetry workshops. Mostly, I practice.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Pat: Yes and no. I’m currently revising a book of letters to teachers and librarians about creativity practices for ourselves and for our diverse students. The book will be published in 2010 by Corwin Press, so I’m mighty busy at present.

At this point in my life, I often write poems whether for children, teens or adults, as part of a book project. For example, I recently completed a collection of poems I wrote in the voices of teens that will be published in 2010 by Knopf. In brief, I select a topic or voice or line or situation that intrigues me, and then I begin to play a bit on the page. I let the poem lead me along. Moment of confession: Revision may be my favorite part of the process.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Pat: It’s a privilege and a blessing to sit in a safe place in our unsafe and often unjust world and to have the opportunity to listen to words in both English and Spanish. I enjoy the challenge of connecting with the heart of someone I may never meet or of bringing verbal delight to a child or adult.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Pat: I resist questions about favorites whether about my three children or my books. I tell students—whether little ones or grad students—that my favorite book is the next book. At present, I’m curious to discover how teens will respond to the book I wrote for them. My hope is that any teen will find at least one poem that connects with her or him.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Pat: I didn’t tell you that the tentative title for the new book for teens is Dizzy in Your Eyes: Love Poems. Incidentally, the idea was given to me by a Texas librarian. My previously published collection for teens, My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults as suggested by a California librarian.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Pat: Pablo Neruda is one of my favorites.

Your favorite place to write?
Pat: I usually write at my dining room table. That may not sound evocative, but I like having my books around—thesaurus, English and Spanish dictionaries, books of poetry forms, etc.

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Pat: I cherish many quotes. Among them, by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, “In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient . . . . I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen.”

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Pat: I have problems enough without thinking about the complex world of awards. Wishing you all bookjoy!

Pat's book Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico!: America's Sproutings, was awarded the Américas Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature in 2008. Accompanied by the gorgeous artwork of Rafael López, Pat's text combines factual information about edible plants native to the Americas with crisp, sense-filled poems all in the form of haiku. Kids reading this book will be hungry to try out some of the foods so deliciously described. Here are a few yummy examples.
Fudge, cake, pie, cookies.
Brown magic melts on your tongue.
Happy, your eyes dance.

Leaves sprout silk-snug house.
Smell grits, tortillas, corn bread.
Pass the butter, please.

A stiff, spiky hat
on thick prickly skin, inside
hide syrupy rings.

Prickly Pear
Red desert wonder.
Cactus fruit becomes syrup
and dulces. Surprise!

Each of the descriptions of the plant/food describes where the plant originated. Last fall I used this book to teach a lesson on geography and natural resources (things we get from plants).

I first found my way to Pat's work while looking for bilingual poetry to share with students. Even though the book I found wasn't entirely bilingual, it included a lot of Spanish words and had an extensive glossary in the back. That book was Confetti: Poems for Children. Here are two of my favorite poems from this work.
Cloud Dragons

What do you see
in the clouds so high?
What do you see in the sky?

Oh, I see dragons
that curl their tails
as they go slithering by.

What do you see
in the clouds so high?
What do you see? Tell me, do.

Oh, I see caballitos
that race the wind
high in the shimmering blue.

Colors Crackle, Colors Roar

Red shouts a loud, balloon-round sound.
Black crackles like noisy grackles.
Café clickety-clicks its wooden sticks.
Yellow sparks and sizzles, tzz-tzz.
White sings, Ay, her high, light note.
Verde rustles leaf-secrets, swhish, swhish.
Gris whis-whis-whispers its kitten whiskers.
Silver ting-ting-a-ling jingles.
Azul coo-coo-coos like pajaritos do.
Purple thunders and rum-rum-rumbles.
Oro blares, a brassy, brass tuba.
Orange growls its striped, rolled roar.
Colors Crackle. Colors Roar.
Many people (including me!) will be celebrating Día this year by reading Pat's new book, Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros. Illustrated by Rafael López, this book celebrates children and reading. It even includes a letter from Pat with suggestions for celebrating Día. You can hear echos of Pat's "Song for April 30th" in the text of this vibrant book. It begins this way.
Hooray! Today is our day.
¡El día de los niños!
Let's have fun today
reading our favorite books.
Toon! Toon!

¡Viva! Hoy es nuestro día.
¡El día de los niños!
Nos vamos a divertir,
con nuestros libros favoritos.
¡Tun! ¡Tun!

We read in English and Spanish
in Chinese and Navajo too.
We read by ourselves,
we read with a friend,

Leemos en inglés y en español
en chino y en navajo también.
Leemos solitos
o con un amigo,
Here's wishing you a fabulous Día and, to use Pat's word, much bookjoy today and the whole year through.

To learn more about Pat and her work, consider visiting these sites.
Please give a rousing cheer to Pat for launching Día 13 years ago and for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Pat Mora. All rights reserved.


  1. Well, WOW, I can't say I'd heard of the Día before now, but I'm all over another holiday! This is a fun one, as are her Spanish-English poems!

  2. Tricia, how can we all thank you enough for this series? I've been able to see some but have on my mental-to-do list to come and read them (and read them all) again. It has been amazing amazing amazing and wonderful.

  3. I can't wait for Pat's newest book for teens. I loved My Own True Name, so I'm sure the next one will be excellent too!

  4. I so enjoyed starting my day by reading this post. Thank you!