Monday, April 05, 2010

Poetry Makers - Sharon Creech

Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech is here today, but we're not talking about her prose novels. Instead, we are talking poetry and verse novels. This is a bit ironic as just a few weeks ago I admitted that I'm not a huge fan of verse novels, but years ago I fell in love with Love That Dog from the very first page, where misconceptions about poetry abound!
September 13

I don't want to
because boys
don't write poetry.

Girls do.
This first page always makes me smile, and I find that the sentiment connects me to Jack almost immediately. Before we read more from Love That Dog and explore Sharon's poetry, let's learn a bit more about her.

How did you get started writing poetry? What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Sharon: I’ve always written poetry, from the time I was eight or nine years old. As an adult, I lean more toward writing prose, but every few years poetry ‘overtakes’ me. I rarely set out to write poetry; what happens is that a voice appears, and sometimes it is so lyrical and rhythmic that it comes out on the page as verse..

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Sharon: I don’t think of the poetry in, say, LOVE THAT DOG, as ‘poetry for children’; it is a boy’s tale that happens to be told in free verse. Whether verse or prose, I don’t think of what I write so much as for children/young adults, but as stories about them.

I love the economy of verse and the joy in unearthing images and conveying them in rhythmical lines.

Who/what made you want to write?
Sharon: I’ve always loved words and the musical ways they can be combined, whether in verse or prose. I can’t think of someone or something that ‘made’ me want to write. That desire was always there.

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Sharon: I studied literature (including poetry) and writing in college and graduate school. Later, I taught English/writing/poetry for fifteen years.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Sharon: It’s like a wind coming across the plain (I think another writer described it this way, but I can’t remember who it was), and if you’re alert you notice it and you can grab it as it rushes by. That’s the first draft. It just whips onto the page. Later, I pay attention to scansion, images, etc., but I don’t mess with the original too much.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Sharon: I suppose it’s Love That Dog because it seems to have had such an impact on so many readers.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Sharon: I’d love to do another novel-in-verse, but right now I’m working on a longer prose novel that is more glop than anything. It’s going to take many drafts . . .

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Sharon: So many. Some include: Frost, Keats, e. e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Coleridge.

Your favorite place to write?
Sharon: At home, in my office, with view of a lake.

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Sharon: “I’m trying to change my habit of seeing.” John Cage. This may have been written about music or painting, but it applies to writing as well.

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Sharon: Naomi Shahib Nye? Lee Bennett Hopkins?

If you haven't read Love That Dog (heck, even if you have read it), you can and should watch this fabulous video performance of Love That Dog featuring Sharon Creech, Walter Dean Myers, Avi, and Sarah Weeks. I promise it will be 14 minutes very well spent. I also dare you to keep a dry eye.

I reread Love That Dog nearly every year, and when I do I try to determine what it is I love so much about it. It could be that reading about Sky reminds me of a few of my own dogs. It could be the soft spot I've developed for Miss Stretchberry. (I love that she shares poetry all year long and not just during the month of April or a single unit on poetry.) It could be as simple as great storytelling using a form that I adore.

In reading Jack's story we learn firsthand his reactions to the different poems his teacher's been sharing. Here's an excerpt.
February 21

That was so great
those poems you showed us
where the words
make the shape
of the thing
that the poem
is about--
like the one about the apple
that was shaped like an apple
and the one about the house
that was shaped like a house.

My brain was pop-pop-popping
when I was looking at those poems.
I never knew a poet person
could do that funny
kind of thing.
Not only are kids exposed to shape poems, but also to some classic pieces by Frost, Blake and others. Of course, it's the Walter Dean Myers poem Love That Boy that makes all the difference.

In the follow-up to Love That Dog, Hate That Cat, Miss Stretchberry moves to the next grade and takes her class with her. Jack is happy about this turn of events.
September 14

More poetry?
You probably think
we will remember
what we learned
last year, right?

What if we don't remember?
What if our brains shrunk?
What if it's too hard?

But I am glad
you are my teacher
I hope you will
keep moving up
a grade
every year
along with me.

You understand
I love that Hate That Cat shows Jack experimenting more with his own writing, and thinking more about the mechanics of poetry. But most of all, I love Jack's relationship with his mother, summed up beautifully in the last poem. Since I don't want to spoil the ending, I'll just share a bit.
June 5

This is Just to Say
I will listen
for you

I will hear
all the sounds
in the world

all the
Between the release of Love That Dog and Hate That Cat came the book Heartbeat, a verse novel about a young girl dealing with the impending birth of a new family member, her grandfather's failing memory, and the concerns of any 12-year old girl. Told in free verse, the poems in the book help readers come to know Annie as she tries to find her place in the world. As she tries to remember what it was like to be young (an infant) and imagines what it might like to old (like her grandfather) she deals with some deep and haunting questions. Here's an excerpt.
From Fried Chicken

And what did I think
when I was small
and why did I forget?

And what else will I forget
when I grow older?

And if you forget
is it as if
it never happened?

Will none of the things
you saw or thought or dreamed
Good questions, don't you think?

To learn more about Sharon and her work, check out these links.
Let's give a rousing cheer to Sharon Creech for participating in the Poetry Makers series.

All poems ©Sharon Creech. All rights reserved.


  1. Love That Dog is just fantabulous to read and, in my writer hat, always an inspiration, too. And to think there are all those pure prose novels of hers, too!

    Thanks for all these Poetry Makers profiles. I'm on the west coast, so I get to read them pretty much when they hit. Makes my night!

  2. Oh, I love Sharon Creech!!!!!!! Let me count the ways...

  3. Love That Dog is just so hilarious that when I heard about hte sequel, I did a happy dance. YAY!

  4. I must read Love that Dog! Thanks for the interview and excerpts. :)

  5. Yay, Sharon Creech! Thanks for this.

    I second the vote for Naomi!

  6. Oh, swoon! Sharon Creech!!! Thank you, Tricia!

  7. To this day Love that Dog (and Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson) is one of my favorite verse novels. I'll be reading Creech's others soon. Thanks for interviewing her, Tricia!

  8. Jack is a well known character in our classroom. We all fell in love with him in Love That Dog and will soon be reading Hate That Cat. The Sharon Creech book box is very popular with my fourth graders. Thank you Tricia for the Poetry Maker feature.

  9. No, I did not know you were from Churchville. We live in Chili, practically neighbors. I have been following your blog since learning about it at a presentation by Amy Vanderwater in the fall. I feel like a late bloomer in the blogging world. Your blog and many others managed by educators have been enormously motivating.