Friday, April 09, 2010

Poetry Makers - Charles Ghigna (Father Goose)

Since joining the kidlit blogging community I have discovered a number of poets I might not have known otherwise. One of them is Charles Ghigna, better known as Father Goose. (Okay, I did know him as the author of One Hundred Shoes, but not as a poet!) So just who is Father Goose? Watch this video to find out.

Before we explore some of Charles' poetry, let's learn a bit about him.

How did you get started writing poetry? What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Charles: I had a wonderfully inspiring high school English teacher who gave us “Free Writing Fridays” and challenged us to keep a daily writing journal. I couldn’t wait for Fridays so I could sit in class, look out the window and write. I also kept a journal at home under my bed. I would get it out every night to write in before I fell asleep. It was like having a secret best friend I could tell all my secrets to. That’s when the writing bug first bit. I wrote a love poem for a girl. When I gave it to her she kissed me on the cheek. In that instant I understood the power of poetry and knew then that I would be writing poems for the rest of my life. I majored in English in college and continued writing poetry, later serving as poetry editor for the NCTE English Journal during my postgraduate studies at Florida State University. It was not until my children were born that I finally discovered the joy of writing poems for children.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Charles: I love the way poems for children help them celebrate the joy and wonder of their world. I love the way humorous poems tickle the funny bone of their imaginations. I love the way their faces light up when we share poems together during school visits. I love seeing my poems in their books and magazines and thinking about all those children, parents and grandparents who might also enjoy sharing in the joy of poetry.

Who/what made you want to write?
Charles: The poem itself is what made me want to write. The size and shape of the poem has always provided me with the perfect little package I needed to say what I wanted to say. It was love at first write.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Charles: Yes, I took as many undergraduate creative writing courses as I could, as well as graduate and postgraduate poetry writing workshops. It took me several years to get over writing those academic-sounding poems and to rediscover the sheer joy of writing.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Charles: I always have to stop and think about that question. I’ve been writing almost every day for the past forty years. For me to describe how I do it is like trying to describe how I breathe. In and out. In and out. When I breathe in and listen close enough I can hear that little voice that wants to tell me something, that wants me to let it out.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Charles: We often refer to our books and poems as our “children,” our new books as our “babies.” I like to think of my books and poems as little magic carpets that take me, and hopefully others, to places we’ve never been, unexpected places that make us see and experience new things and old things in new ways. One of my favorite books was my first child, Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose. All the poems in that book were inspired by my newborn son. That book ends with a poem that others tell me is one of their favorites, “A Poem Is A Little Path.” Another of my recent favorite books is SCORE!: 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire. Some schools have adopted that book as part of their character education programs with principals reading a poem-a-day from it during their morning announcements. Another favorite is Barn Storm, the new baby my wife, Debra, and I will be welcoming into the world from Random House in September. Can’t wait to see where that little magic carpet will take us.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Charles: Debra and I are finishing up a new picture book of poems that we have been working on together for the past couple of years. We both also have separate picture books that we have been working on individually, as well as new beginning readers and YA manuscripts.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Charles: Just one? I have so many! My favorite children’s poets are Robert Louis Stevenson, Myra Cohn Livingston, Rachel Field, Dorothy Aldis, Aileen Fisher. My favorite poets for all ages are John Updike, Robert Hayden, Virginia Hamilton Adair, James Dickey, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg. My favorite lyrical poets are Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, Sara Teasdale. My favorite light verse poets are Richard Armour and Dorothy Parker.

Your favorite place to write?
Charles: My upstairs attic writing room that I call my “tree house.”

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Charles: Here are a couple of my quotes, if I may:
    “Style is not how you write.
    It is how you do not write like anyone else.”

    “When you write for children, don't write for children.
    Write from the child in you.”
Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Charles: There are many deserving poets writing for children today. How does one choose one?!

Charles has a way of playing with words that often turns a poem on its end. I love the surprise and humor that accompanies these turns. Here's a favorite that can be found in Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to Poetry.
Chess Nut
There's nothing like a game of chess,
      It's patience at its height;
Where else can you just sit and take
      All day to move one knight.
I'm also quite enamored of the puns the are often liberally sprinkled throughout his work. Here's one from Animal Tracks: Wild Poems to Read Aloud.
Wild Romance

I love EWE.
I'm not LION.
I really GOPHER you.
I never GNU this would happen.
You are so DEER to me.
It's more than I can BEAR.
Let us SEAL our love with a kiss.
I will always BEE yours.
I will never have any EGRETS.
You are my one and only GULL.
OWL always love you.
As fond as I am of the poems in Animal Tracks (it is one terrific collection!), my hands-down favorite is Riddle Rhymes. This collection of fifteen "Who Am I" poems are a perfect introduction to problem-solving and rhyme for young children. When I use them, I leave the answers out and ask listeners to fill-in-the-blank. Here's one example.
The Everlasting Light

I shine forever free.
I do not cost a cent.
I need no bulb or battery.
My light is permanent.

You'll find me way up in the sky,
When each new day's begun.
But do not look me in the eye--
I am the shining _____.
You can see how focusing on end rhyme and clues in the poem can lead to some fun-filled riddle solving. (YOU know the answer, right?)

While I was doing some research for this post I read quite a few of Charles' poems published in a variety of academic journals. I came across a piece in the 1976 issue of the Mississippi Review (Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 28-29) entitled from Circus Portraits. Of the four poems included, I am crazy about this one.
The Human Cannon Ball

He climbs into the barrel
through a thousand children's eyes
and is shot a wingless bird
through canvased air.

Leaping from the ropes,
he dusts his hands
and walks away,

the proud human bullet
who came to kill
the silence in our hands.
Charles is very generous with his poetry and shares new poems regularly on his blog and web site, so be sure to visit them and the other links below to learn more about Father Goose.
Three cheers for Charles and a big thank you for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Charles Ghigna. All rights reserved.


  1. I love Charles' poetry, too, and I'm so thrilled he's joined us in the blogosphere. He's also among the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of corresponding with... which is good, really, because you wouldn't want Father Goose to be anything else!

  2. Huh. I'm intrigued -- I've known of FG's poetry, but YA?? Interesting!

  3. Yet another great interview! I really liked "Wild Romance." I'll have to read the whole collection, I think.

  4. I got to host Charles' session at the Southern Festival of Books two years ago, I think it was, and he's a lovely man.

  5. Charles is coming to the Poetry Potluck next week!

    Thanks for this wonderful interview. I agree with the others: he's a genuinely lovely person. :)

  6. Thank you, Tricia. I'm overwhelmed and deeply appreciative. What impressive research! You found poems of mine I haven't thought about in years!

    Thanks, too, to you all who are stopping by and leaving such kind comments. It was because of you all this old Goose finally found his way into blogosphere.

    I just returned from the Children's Book Festival at USM. How nice to arrive home to the wonders of The Miss Rumphius Effect!