In preparation for sharing forms this month, I wrote to a number of poets and asked if they would respond to a short list of questions on poetry, writing, and form. I'm thrilled every time one responds positively and find they have all been extremely generous with their time.
Today I'm sharing the thoughts of Jane Yolen, the author of more than 300 books in a variety of genres, including poetry. Recent publications include Trash Mountain, You Nest Here With Me, Stone Angel, and National Geographic Kids Animal Stories: Heartwarming True Tales from the Animal Kingdom.
How do you begin a poem?
Jane: Such a difficult question because there are a myriad ways. Here are a few:
I am working on a themed book, which if it's for young readers of picture book age might mean we are talking abou 14-20 poems. So I read up about the theme and sometimes a poem happens. For example, I have been working for about half a year now on a book called A CELEBRATION OF BUZZ: Bee Poems. And I was reading some online material about bees. The article talked about the genus of bees: apis. And suddenly the idea for the poem began, but the last line (which I think nicely rounds out the poem) came on its on after I'd worked my way line by line down to it.
Your genus is apis,
Your architecture wax,
Your structure colonial,
Your production max.
Your origin Asian,
Your climate sunny,
Your history Eocenic,
©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved.
Sometimes reading a book spins me into a poem and I use a line that becomes an epigraph.
Sometimes a day--ST Patty's, or a folklore character someone mentions starts a poem off. Sometimes an editor asks for a specific kind of poem. And sometimes a line teases into my head and I think it's the opening of a poem and I found out as I go along that it's somewhere in the middle, or in the end, or it gets revised out entirely somewhere about revision twelve!!!
How do you choose the form of your poems?
Jane: Mostly they choose me. Unless I am writing a book of haiku or a book of sonnets or someone asks for a particular form.
Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Jane: Well, I have tried and tried to do Marilyn Singer's reverso poems, and I just can't get my mind around them. I have tried a number but few of them stick with me except for sonnets, triolets, villanelles, limericks, double-dactyls, and haiku. Many of the seem like one-trick ponies to me.
I invent my own forms, both rhymed and unrhymed, and am particularly fond of doing poems where the verses are all the same line counts, often three lines or six. They seem somehow more polished to me.
What tools (rhyming dictionary, book of forms, etc.) do you use in writing poetry (if any)?
Jane: I only sometimes use a rhyming dictionary though that seems vaguely like cheating to me. And a book of forms as a reminder since I can't seem to keep most forms in my head, especially at 76.
What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Jane: That its fun, that's it's moving, that it's engaging. And that whether they realize it or not, they are listening to and reciting poems every single day. Only they call it songs and lyrics. Or ad campaigns.
Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?
Jane: Do double dactyls count?
Mother Goose riding
Upon a good rhyme
with political ease.
Giving us children
Our first look at poetry,
steering that goose
with a squeeze of her knees.
©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved
Abraham Lincoln, he
Kept us a nation
But gave up his life,
Taking a box
in a theater and thinking
Twas best he could do for
His so crazy wife.
©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved
If not, here's a triolet I wrote about my husband's final illness:
Two Singers Sing Away the Pain: A Triolet
Two singers sing away the pain,
One singing lieder, one singing folk.
Outside the world is washed with rain
As two singers sing away the pain
Of cancer settled beneath his brain,
God’s idea of a cosmic joke.
But two singers sing away the pain,
One singing leider and one singing folk.
©2011 Jane Yolen , HolyCow! Press
A million thanks to Jane for participating in my Jumping Into Form project this month.