Sunday, April 19, 2009

Poetry Makers - Bobbi Katz

Today's poetry maker is Bobbi Katz. I thought it might be fun to start with this terrific video interview.

Before I talk about Bobbi's poetry, let's learn a bit more about her.

How did you get started writing poetry?
Bobbi: As a young child growing up during radio years, I heard the songs of Fats Waller and fell in love with rhythm and rhyme. I was making up rhyming lyrics before I knew how to write. I can still remember the taste of words! Honeysuckle rose—what a yummy thing to say! Later when I was in 5th Grade, the teacher gave our class an assignment to write a poem about bronze. I found I could tell a story in verse. In college I became the poetry editor of the literary magazine and won first prize in a state-wide poetry competition for college students. Yet after that without the focus of a contest or a deadline, I hardly wrote poetry.

What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Bobbi: My friend’s son, Scott, was in 1st grade, and he simply had no desire to learn how to read. I found that when I wrote simple rhyming poems for him, he saw just how much fun reading could be. Fast forward twenty years: A handsome young man stopped by my house on a cross-country trip following his graduation from medical school. Later as a mom myself, I started writing funny, rhyming poems for my daughter, who began having some reading and writing problems in school, after an excellent start. I’d put the poems in the breadbox—mice weren’t attracted to them—but my girl-child was! The “Breadbox Poems” eventually became my first collection for kids, Upside Down and Inside Out: Poems for All Your Pockets.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Bobbi: In college I took a course in 20th Century Poetry and became familiar with poetry forms and then took a course titled “Versification”. I especially liked writing sonnets at the time.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Bobbi: Sometimes poems just grow out of particular experiences or strong feelings of joy or sadness and spill onto a page. At times I make a snapshot with words as others might capture a moment with a camera. When I keep a journal, I jot down an image or an idea for a poem. However, for many years I have started my day with yoga as a kind of moving meditation that leaves me quiet and centered. I drink a cup of hot tea and then sit down to write. I write directly on my computer and I find it’s as mobile as a pencil. Sometimes the subject is very focused on form or on subject, such as when I’m writing a collection. Other times, I just write about whatever happens to catch my attention. I print poems out and tack them on a cork board. I let them marinate for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. Then I usually revise and revise.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Bobbi: Writing for children keeps me in touch with the child I once was. Like a pit in a peach that little girl is invisible, deep inside the grown-up me, but she often rushes out to sing me her poems.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Bobbi: I have two favorites: Once Around the Sun, which is a collection of poems deeply rooted in my own experiences as an elementary school child and beautifully illustrated by LeUyen Pham and We the People, a collection of 65 poems that I wrote in first-person voices of both famous and unknown Americans. I loved reading journals and letters to get a personal sense of each of the many people who make up the American chorus. The book was a peaceful way to express my love of country.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Bobbi: I find if I talk about what I’m doing, somehow the energy dissipates.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Bobbi: W.H. Auden for grown-ups and Lilian Moore for children

Your favorite place to write?
Bobbi: Almost any warm corner on our wonderful planet!

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Bobbi: “Words make love on the page…and the poet is only the bemused spectator.” Charles Simic

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Bobbi: J. Patrick Lewis

In her book Once Around the Sun, Bobbi gives readers 12 poems that take them through each month of the year. What I love about these poems is how universal the themes for each month truly are. January finds children sledding, June preparing for summer vacation, September back-to-school, and October is Halloween. Here's the poem for April.

April is
when the earth
parades in a green so brand-new
you can almost hear it playing a tune,
turning tight buds
of forsythia bushes
into tiny yellow trumpets,
waking the dozing daffodils.
    April is
      when your blue slicker
        collects beads
          of misty drizzle
and the walk to Grandma's house
          is a ski-splash-dance!
when you get there
tells you how each spring
she falls in love with the world
all over again
and you understand.
My son is quite fond of the Bobbi's book Rumpus of Rhymes: A Noisy Book of Poems. The 28 poems in this book are all about the sounds around us and beg to be read aloud. Here's one of our favorites. I've bolded words here that are written in fun fonts and formats in the book. I'm sorry I can't reproduce them here.
Mumbo-Jumbo Breakfast

Mumbo-jumbo breakfast
is the meal that talks the most,
from the sizzle of the bacon
to the munchy crunchy toast.
First the kettle starts to whistle.
There goes Baby's bowl—KERPLOP!
Now she grabs her spoon and bangs it,
and she doesn't want to stop.
Glasses clink and dishes rattle.
Pots and pans go CLITTER CLATTER.
Pour some milk on your rice crispies
and they'll start to chitter chatter
while the coffee percolator
keeps repeating blup-blup-blup.
That's the coffee's way of saying,
"Someone, pour me in a cup!"

Mumbo-jumbo breakfast
is a noisy morning diet,
when the folded paper napkin
is the only thing that's quiet.
Bobbi mentioned that one of her favorite books is We the People, a book that contains 65 poems told in the voice of figures in US history. Each poem includes the person's name, location, and a date. The book opens with this poem.
Arriving in Virginia

near the James river, Virginia, April 26, 1607

The swell of the waves
became part of me.
Five months on the Godspeed.
Five months at sea.
My feet don't seem to understand.
They're not on a deck.
They're on land! They're on land!
And all about us green, green, green!
The tallest trees I've ever seen.
Oh, lucky, lucky, lucky me!
This green land is my destiny.
A hundred men
and boys—just four—
with a feast of green
to explore. . . to explore!
Interspersed throughout the text are "timeline tidbits" and interesting pieces of information. For example, on the pages containing the poem "A Song for Suffrage," there are quotes from Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the words from a banner held by suffragettes, and information about when Woodrow Wilson became president. This book, along with Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration, a book containing poems about land, sea, and space exploration, is a must-have for classrooms. Both books offer terrific means for integrating poetry across the curriculum.

Bobbi's poems can also be found in a number of anthologies. You can find one of her poems in Paul Janeczko's latest book, A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout.
Pasta Parade

Ziti marching in a row—
then capelli d'angelo—
wide lasagna—
slim linguine—
itty bits of pert pastina—
piles of penne mezzanine—
ditali and ditalini—
teeny, weeny tubetini—
and capellini—
nest of woven fettucine—
That's enough already,
Fill my bowl up with spaghetti!
And while you're at it, will you please
pass along the grated cheese.

Bobbi's latest book is an anthology called More Pocket Poems. In her author's note Bobbi wrote:
More Pocket Poems comes in response to widespread applause, especially by teachers, for the earlier anthology, Pocket Poems. Teachers find it's just right for celebrating "Poem in Your Pocket Day." For the uninitiated, children celebrate this special day by keeping a poem in their pockets, ready to read aloud or silently, at a moment's notice. Kids usually memorize their poems, and often poems their classmates read. The jury is in about the value of poetry: it's a catalyst for reading skills.
Even though these poems are perfect for "Poem in Your Pocket Day," they're also suitable for the entire year. Here's Bobbi's poem that opens the book.
Put the World in Your Pocket

Pockets are nifty
for holding a quarter,
for holding a key,
            or for holding a shell.
But the world is full of many more things
that don't fit in pockets so very well:
You can't put spring in a pocket—
not summer,
not winter,
not fall.
How could you pocket a giggle?
An elephant won't fit at all!
Yet you can carry a sunset,
people, the sea, or a home
      neatly tucked inside a pocket,
when they're tucked inside a poem.
You can learn more about Bobbi and her work by visiting these sites.
Many, many thanks to Bobbi for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Bobbi Katz. All rights reserved.


  1. Tricia,

    It was great to read this interview with Bobbi Katz. I used many of her poems with my elementary students. Two particular favorites are September--which I shared with my students on the first day of school--and Spring Is--which I think is one of the best children's poems ever written about the season. Her images in the spring poem are amazing--so fresh and inventive.

    Bobbi is also the author of my daughter's favorite childhood poem--Cat Kisses.

    In addition to being an admirer of Bobbi's own poetry, I really like her anthologies Pocket Poems and More Pocket Poems. She did an admirable job compiling books of poems that will sing to young children.

  2. I love Bobbi Katz's poetry. I use her "What Shall I Pack in the Box Marked Summer?" poem at the start of the school year. I love Rumpus of Rhymes and her other books. She is one of my favorite poets. Thank you for doing the interview.

  3. Every poem Bobbi writes is filled with sensory imagery. She knows how to make words come alive on the page.

    I've used many, many of her poems as writing models for my students. I admire her work and kind, peaceful nature.

  4. I've heard so much about Once Around the Sun and have seen a few poems from it -- once again this is a reminder to pick it up!

  5. I was lucky to review Once Around the Sun for SLJ and immediately fell in love with Katz's work. She has a pure, loving spirit in all of her poems. They're about giving something loving to the reader. I admire that tremendously.

  6. Bobbi Katz is such a great name, like a character from a Dickens' novel. How cool is that? Bobbi Katz!