Friday, April 17, 2009

Poetry Makers - Jaime Adoff

In late 2002 I was working developing a unit on the teaching of sound and found myself looking for related poems. I came across an amazing book of poetry called Song Shoots Out of My Mouth: A Celebration of Music. The name on the spine was Adoff. I distinctly recall the words "Jackpot!" echoing in my mind (who wouldn't love a book by Arnold Adoff?), but when I pulled the book off the shelf I realized the author was Jaime Adoff. I opened the book, loved what I read, and at the end, learned that Jaime was Arnold's son. Hey, apples don't fall far from the tree—a family tree with an amazingly talented mother AND father.

Before I talk about Jaime's work, let's learn a bit more about him.

How did you get started writing poetry?
Jaime: It started as a cathartic form of therapy for me after a ten yr failed attempt at becoming a rock star!!

Who/what made you want to write?
Jaime: Again, in the beginning it was pretty much for myself, as a way to get through a tough time. One thing led to another and eventually I was lucky enough to get published.

What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Jaime: It was just something initially in my career that I felt I had to say, in my particular way to that particular age group. My first two book contracts were for poetry picture books, both of which have yet to be published, but will be I'm sure, sometime before I'm eighty!

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Jaime: No formal training. Just a progression of style from songwriting/ writing lyrics to poetry to poetic novels. Also, playing in my father's study as a child while he worked. Hearing him read his poems, seeing them on the walls like wallpaper . . . I think that soaked into my pores and my soul . . .

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Jaime: I really just let it flow, getting the first draft down without any second-guessing. Making sure I get that first burst of inspiration and emotion splat down on the page. After that, the real work begins. Revising, revising, revising, revising . . . did I mention revising ?

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Jaime: I love the whole process, even though at times it can be quite painful and frustrating. The reward is always seeing and hearing what the kids have to say about it. Visiting schools and seeing where all those words have landed is probably my favorite part. Talking to the students and hearing how something I wrote has affected them or influenced them in a positive way is why I do what I do.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Jaime: I look at all my poems and books like a parent looks at their children. I love them all equally.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Jaime: I would but I'm not sure of your security clearance :)

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Jaime: That's a hard one. I'm going to go with Rumi.
"A story is like water
that you heat for your bath.
It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you! . . ." (From Story Water by Rumi.)

Your favorite place to write?

Jaime: In my office

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Jaime: "You just have to dig deep "- Virginia Hamilton

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Jaime: Arnold Adoff

There are many poems in Song Shoots Out of My Mouth that I'm crazy about. First, the teacher in me LOVES (and laughs) at this one.
Multiple Choice

    A    lan
    B    Quiet!
C        I told you so
    D    on't you tell Mr. Ryan I dropped his Stradivarius on the gym floor.
    E    mail me when you get to Siberia........
The twenty four poems in this book reflect a variety of musical styles and instruments in content and form. The poems sing with the same rhythms you would expect to hear in the music. They are perfect for read aloud and almost demand to be sung, or swung, tapped, rapped, drummed, and more.

Here's a poem that fairly describes how I used to feel singing for assemblies in school.

You have exactly
one measure's rest
before you have to sing
a solo in front of the whole school.
You sang it perfectly in rehearsal.
Now your mind is blank.
Susie, who you've had a crush on since the 4th grade, is in the front row.
Katie, who you've had a crush on since the 5th grade, is in the second row.
You've just ripped your pants,
your sweating buckets,
your shoes are untied.

Good luck.....
Here's an excerpt from one more poem.
Today's Specials

        I start the day with
my music buffet:
Morning fuel burns—cool jazz jams
on buttered toast.
        Hot salsa
        floats over
        everything I
        eat and drink
        in the
So much to choose from, can't pick
just one.
Fresh Squeezed Tina Turner—tastes so smooth.
Add a stack of Marvin Gaye—out the door to school.
Grab my James Brown bag lunch
ready for my funk.
my bologna for your Joni
Mitchell mashed.
Wash it down with a tall glass of
Beatle juice—stir with Ice Cube
The back matter for this book includes a section called Backnotes which includes musical terms and descriptions, as well as an overview of selected artists and suggested listening material. If you haven't seen this one, you're really missing something special. (If you didn't know it, this book was named an honor book for the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 2003.)

Last year Jaime released a new book of poems called Small Fry, which is focused on what it's like for a child to be small. The first poem lends the book its title.
Small Fry

I'm small for my age.
My line on the wall
doesn't change.
Brother Bill gets taller
every day.
I stay the same.
I hate this
waiting game.
One day
I'll be like Bill
and grow.
I'll be able to see from
the back row
swim in the deep end.
I'll climb as high
as I can
to the top
of my favorite

My name
won't always be

Small fry.
Another poem in the book brought back memories of childhood. I wonder how many kids still experience this today?

Big head in front,
left, right, big head on every side.
Dad brings encyclopedia
A through G, props me up so I can see.
High above these big head trees.
Now I have the very best seat.
The lights go out.
Time to eat!
I dive into my
BiG bag of
Chocolate Gobs,
take a sip of my Soda pop.
Now I'm ready to watch the
You gotta love a poem that uses the word pop for a drink!

In addition to his poetry, Jaime has also written three novels. If you want to learn more about Jaime and his work, check out these sites.
Boatloads of thanks to Jaime for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Jaime Adoff. All rights reserved.


  1. Reading these is so much fun -- I love the "tuning" sound I get from them -- a cacophony of sounds like an orchestra tuning, a jazz CD playing, a little kid dragging a stick across a fence-- so much music in them, and so much fun!

  2. Wow! Such richness in the poetry and such richness in the interview. I love the alphabet and can't wait to share Multiple Choice with my class. I also know they will love Nightmare-- what a good poem to demonstrate a universal feeling through carefully chosen words and images that a tell a story: "a story like water." All these poems are so fun to read; will be fun to share; and I know will inspire my students.