Sunday, April 11, 2010

Poetry Makers - Patricia Hubbell

I've come to know a lot of poets through my work teaching science and leading environmental education workshops. If a poet has written about nature or animals, I've probably found him/her. That's exactly how I found my way to Patricia Hubbell. As is often the case, one book of poetry led me to many, many other publications. Honestly, when someone has been published for more than 40 years, there's a lot to explore!

The book that introduced me to Hubbell's work was Earthmates: Poems. This collection of 35 poems uses a variety of forms to capture the essence a wide range of animals, from shrews and snails to elephants and whales. Many of the poems use shape to explore their subject. I'm quite fond of "Water Snake", but I fear I can't reproduce the slithering shape of the poem here. Instead, here is another of my favorites.

Stuck on stones,
glued to boats, clinging
to pilings, gripping rocks,
clamped to old oyster shells,
wedged in chinks, link in chains,
scumbled in heaps--great
frostings of barnacles,
crusted together,
each in its

Before we read more of Pat's poetry, let's learn a bit about her.

How did you get started writing poetry? What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Pat: I've been writing poetry since I was in third grade. I believe I got started because my mother and grandmother read a lot of poetry to me. I think the rhythms and rhymes and images of the poems seeped into my brain, and made me able to write poems--and want to write them! I still believe that reading lots of poetry is important if you want to write it.

When I was around nine or ten, I would sometimes sit up in a maple tree in our yard and look out over the meadow and reservoir across the road. One day, I saw a fox leaping and pouncing in the meadow. It looked as though he was dancing, and I wrote a poem about him. Many years later, a different "grown-up" version of that poem, titled Prey Ballet, appeared in my first book THE APPLE VENDOR'S FAIR. I knew by then that the fox had not been dancing--he had been busy catching some small animal for his dinner!

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Pat: I think I enjoy most just letting my thoughts roam, jotting them down on paper, and then seeing what happens! I also enjoy playing with words, changing them around, taking some out, putting others in their place. I think the process of writing poetry is a lot like gardening--pulling out the "weeds" setting the "plants" in place, and not being afraid to keep on changing things until you like the final "garden"!

Who/what made you want to write?
Pat: By reading poems to me, my grandmother and my mom definitely made me want to write, as did the words of all the poets whose work they read to me! Also I think I started writing because of the fact that I was a not-very-talkative child--shy, reserved--who discovered that when I wrote I could "say" the things I was thinking about!

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Pat: Although I was an English major at college (having switched from agriculture--my first love!)--I have never taken a poetry-writing course. The classes I took were all literature classes in which we studied a lot of poetry but didn't write any. In fact, although I had written a lot of poetry during elementary school and quite a lot through high school, I don't recall writing any through my college years. But I started in again soon after!

Mainly I think I learned through listening to the poems my mom and grandmother read to me, through the literature courses I took, and through the great amount of poetry-reading that I did. From early-on poetry-writing just seemed to be my natural way to write.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Pat: I really have two ways of writing depending on whether I am writing a poem or a rhymed picture book. For poems, I usually have a subject in mind that I have been subconsciously (and consciously) mulling over, and one morning I just start to write freely about it--then put it away and don't think about it. After a while, I start thinking about it, pull it out, read it, and begin changing things! I cut, add words, change words, switch lines around. At the same time, I'm experimenting with a shape for the poem and trying to think up a title. After a while (sometimes a short while, sometimes a really long while), I decide I've done everything I want to, and I print the poem out on the computer.

Some of my books are single-poem picture books, others are rhymed informative books. The single poem ones, I write in much the same was as I do regular poems, except that I make sure the words will fill 32 pages interestingly, with good possibilities on each page. For the informational ones, I brainstorm facts, then start writing. I try to give each book a "shape"--maybe "morning to night" or "here to there", and to include as much information as I can. Of course, I'm always searching for rhymes to make it work and for wording that will make it fun to read!

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Pat: It's hard for me to choose a favorite--usually it's the one most recently published. But when it comes right down to it, the book A GREEN GRASS GALLOP holds a special place in my heart since many of the poems are about horses I have owned (or known) over the years.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Pat: My collections of poetry are usually made up of poems that I have written over a period of years. I look them over, choose ones which for reason of theme, or subject, or "feeling" seem to "go together" and perhaps write a few more to round the group out. I write poetry all the time, and I have loads of poems in store!

After more than 40 years of having books published, I have many picture book manuscripts in various stages of completion. right now, I am looking them over, choosing a few at a time to work on, hoping for a good outcome and sending some to my agent for submission.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Pat: I have loads of favorite dead poets including Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Eve Merriam, Yeats, E.V. Rieu.

Your favorite place to write?
Pat: My favorite place to write is wherever I get an idea! Also, my glass-walled studio that looks out on a pond, woods, and my barn.

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Pat: I don't have a favorite quote. But I have a number of poems about poetry that I like a lot. My favorite of those is "Autobiographia Literaria" by Frank O'Hara. You can find it on page 31 of Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell's beautiful anthology of poems and pictures, TALKING TO THE SUN. I if had to name my favorite anthology this would be right up there at the top.

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?

Pat: There are too many good candidates for me to choose! I think both Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman were great choices, and I'm sure the next one--no matter who it is--will be great, too.

Since Pat admitted that her book A Green Grass Gallop is one she has a special fondness for, I thought I'd share one of my favorites from this collection, which reminds me of a beloved horse.
Appaloosa Pony

Your spots
are like berries,
sunk in the dough
of your fatness.
Like sunlight through oak leaves,
you dazzle me,
my muffin-child,
my stripe-hooved galloper.
You stand in oak shade
and I cannot find you.
Popcorn covers your rump.
Like a hunter in camouflage,
you slip through the trees.
Your spots turn to shadows,
shifting through pegboard.
Submerged in the depths
of dapple and shadow,
your whinny,
a quivering arrow of sound,
sonars me to you.
I'm quite fond of a number of Pat's poems about the natural world. This one comes from Boo!: Halloween Poems and Limericks.
Pumpkin Surprise

I was picking a pumpkin,
A fat orange pumpkin,
When I spotted a hole
In its side,
A hole like a door,
(A little round door)
A door that led straight
To a house.
In the space of a minute
I saw what was in it--
It wasn't a thing you'd forget--
For curled in that pumpkin,
That plain orange pumpkin,
Was a fat little, gray little mouse!
A mouse in a house in a pumpkin!
On a floor that was covered with seedd,
All curled up and cozy,
Snoozy and dozy,
Asleep on a soft bed of weeds!
When I read this one to kids they often ask if I've seen such a thing. I say I haven't, but Pat describes the scene so vividly I almost believe that I have, though I know it's only in my imagination.

Pat has written a number of single-poem picture books. I'll leave you with the words that open the book Teacher: Showing, Helping, Caring.
Great big school! In we go!
Our teacher greets us, waves "hello!"

She helps us all to find out places--
finds our cubbies, ties our laces.

Gives us paper, crayons, glue.
Brings out paints--red, yellow, blue.
You can learn more about Pat and the books she has written at her web site. I'm sorry to say that a number of her books are no longer in print, but you may be able to find them at sites specializing in used books such as Abebooks or Powells. Your local library is a good source too!

Oodles of thanks to Pat for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Patricia Hubell. All rights reserved.


  1. Each poem is so evocative -- I especially love the fat Appaloosa. I'm also excited to learn of a new poet! I've never heard of E.V. Rieu, and will check him/her out.

  2. Another great interview! I especially liked the poem "Pumpkin Surprise." I look forward to reading more of Patricia's poetry.