Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Poem That Will Not End - Talking With Joan Bransfield Graham

What happens when poetry takes over your life? Ryan O'Brian finds out when he spouts poetry and writes poems all day long!

While at recess he says:

I beg you, won’t you help me?
Please help me, be a friend.
Rescue me, I’m captured—
this poem will not end!

Then later in the evening while taking a bath he proclaimed:

My brain went into overdrive,

I started writing faster,
careening wild at breakneck speed—
a poetry disaster.

Early the next morning he laments:

I spent a restless night and thought,
Whatever can I do?
When I woke up, I found my pillows
covered with . . . haiku!

THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END: FUN WITH POETIC FORMS AND VOICES, written by Joan Bransfield Graham and illustrated by Krysten Brooker, is a fun-filled romp through the day in the life of a young boy who gets caught up in poetry.

While the rhyming text of the story keeps readers moving forward, it's the poems written in the illustrations that make you stop to soak in all the poetry goodness. You’ll find a villanelle, sonnet, acrostic, haiku, limerick, and many more forms. This triolet describes just how caught up Ryan is in writing poetry.

|’m captured, won’t you help me find a way, 
to free me from this urgent need to write? 
|t follows me and hounds me night and day. 
|’m captured, won’t you help me find a way,
 to toss aside this curse—| want to play! 
You must admit . . . this is a scary sight. 
|’m captured, won’t you help me find a way, 
to free me from this urgent need to write?

All poems ©Joan Bransfield Graham. All rights reserved.

While reading this book I found myself thinking back to MATH CURSE, written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. In it, readers follow a nameless student who lives a day filled with math problems. This book is different in that Graham has given readers a boy with a name, a family, and an ordinary life filled with poetry. Kids will love the story, while teachers will love the fun poems and poetic forms that are introduced.

Reading this had me wanting to ask folks around me, "how do you use poetry in your own life?" I think that’s a great question to put to the very talented author of this book. Here are her thoughts about that and some more on her poetry writing process.

How have you used poetry in your own life?
Joan:  I make my own cards with my original photos and poems.  Isn't poetry what we reach for in life's most important, emotional moments? But I think poetry is how you see the world. It expands our vision, helps us see higher, wider, deeper . . . longer.  It captures a moment in time. Sometimes life can take over your poetry. I found if I didn't make poetry an important part of my life, I wasn't the person I was meant to be. It can be a continuing challenge to fit everything in . . . a juggling act. While POEM is written in a humorous vein to let children see that poetry is FUN, I hope it also makes some small statement that we must embrace our creativity, our uniqueness, and weave it into our lives; we are all richer for it. Ryan O'Brian, in the end, does "make it work." I love how poetry connects us to ourselves, to each other, to the world. We have such a vibrant poetry community! Here's to celebrating each other's imagination, sharing a healthy, joyful creative "Fever," and staying connected. 

When was the main text/poem of the book composed? How did it start? 
Joan: Many years ago, and "It started with a rhythm,/ a rhythm and a rhyme." and I couldn't stop--I kept adding more ideas. The line "My mom called up, "Are you in bed?" is directly from my life. I was a "night owl" even as a child and was probably reading a book or writing poetry as late as I could. I never wrote on the mirror with toothpaste though.

Did you share your drafts of the poems before you finished the book? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work? 
Joan: Yes, I did. When I first moved to California, I met some wonderful poets (They were writing for adults.), and they are still dear friends. I'm in a terrific, helpful critique group of fellow SCBWI writers (I'm the only poet.), and we meet at my home once a month.  I'm also a founding member of the Children's Authors Network (CAN!)--a marvelous group of authors and illustrators, which includes poetry dynamos Janet Wong and April Halprin Wayland (also with Teaching Authors). If you click here, and then again on "Classroom Resources,", you'll find my Teacher Ideas, across the curriculum, for POEM and other useful guides. As Co-coordinator of Ventura County for our SCBWI Central-Coastal California region, I help to plan a variety of events throughout the year for writers and artists in our area.  

How long do you let your poems “sit” before you let them go? Do you finish poems or abandon them?
Joan: As long as they need. Rather than "abandon" poems, I think of them as being in various stages of incubation. It does help to let a poem "cool" for a few days and then look at it anew with "fresh eyes." 

Do you have a favorite poem from the book? Or a poem that you loved that didn’t make it into the final manuscript? 
Joan: I'm fond of "Bike," the poem from yesterday's prompt. Couldn't "Bike" be a metaphor for poetry? When you "step on," you are in for a ride that can "take you anywhere." I hope "the road ahead" is filled with poetry for all your readers. Tricia, you are doing an incredible job of seeing to that for both the fans of your blog and your students! 

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Joan: So many things! Lee Bennett Hopkins has a new book, MANGER, scheduled for Sept., 2014, and I am fortunate to have a "Rooster" poem included--in fact, I see my rooster is on the cover! I have many other poems in forthcoming anthologies. When a friend whose son teaches high school English mentioned his students wondered why they needed to study poetry, I started writing an article--FIVE REASONS TO GIVE CHILDREN THE GIFT OF POETRY. I'm not sure where I'll send that piece when it's finished, but I need to write it. I guess I'm Ryan O'Brian.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Joan nearly 5 years ago for a National Poetry Month series. You can read more about her and her poetry at Poetry Makers - Joan Bransfield Graham.

THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END is a welcome addition to the world of children's poetry. I do hope you get a chance to enjoy it.

Thanks so much to Joan for inviting me on this blog tour. You can check out the other stops on this electronic journey at:
Monday, Jan. 27 - Poetry for Children
Tuesday, Jan. 28 - Tales from the Rushmore Kid
Wednesday, Jan. 29 - Double Olympic Poetry Challenge and Teaching Authors
Friday, Jan. 31 - Jama's Alphabet Soup

So now for the fun! If you'd like to win a copy of THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END, please enter below. A winner will be chosen on February 5th.


  1. I've always read and wrote poetry, but now as a youth services librarian, I love sharing it with kids at the library whether through a special storytime or a book spine poetry program.

  2. Using poetry, with friends, writing it, and sharing with all the teachers with whom I work. (I'm a lit coach at my school.) Thanks for sharing more information about Joan, Tricia!

    1. Hi Linda, I've enjoyed reading your poetry--keep writing! Thanks for "touring" with me this week. Where do you teach?

    2. I teach at an Independent School called The Logan School for Creative Learning, Joan, in Denver. It's a joy, did middle school for many years & now working with all the ages K-8. Thanks for asking! I am writing, have for a long time with students and personally!

  3. Bridget, hooray for you for sharing poetry with young readers--you're giving them a wonderful gift! Tricia, thanks so much for hosting today on my Blog Tour--your blog is such an amazing resource!

  4. What a treat to stop by early for Poetry Friday and find this post. I also read Joan's prompt on Teaching Writers. My favorite quote from this interview is " we must embrace our creativity, our uniqueness, and weave it into our lives; we are all richer for it" I am richer having read this post. Now I'd love to read her book, too. I am a huge fan of poetry forms. In April, my class and I take on a different form each day.

    1. Thank you, Margaret, for your kind words! Wow, a different form each day--you and your class are adventurous indeed!

  5. Like Margaret, I'm happy to have discovered this post since this book sounds like quite a treat!

    1. Hi Michelle, it's a treat to read your comments--thanks!

  6. What a great idea for a character. I can't wait to read this book!

    1. Thought it would be fun to do the "opposite" of Writer's Block! But wait until you see what finally brings Ryan to a halt . . . .

  7. I love Joan's work--can't wait to read this one!

  8. This sounds fabulous! I was totally thinking Math Curse even before you mentioned it! Can't wait to get this one into my classroom!

  9. I have used poetry to save my own life. It makes me a better human by helping me linger in mystery and pay attention to the world. Thanks for the giveaway!

  10. As a teacher, I used poetry to introduce students to the music of language. Now as a nonfiction writer, I use poetry to remind myself to look everywhere for the details. Poetry soothes the soul and engages the heart.

  11. This book sounds just wonderful. Poetry is one form of writing that has helped me find my own voice, although I like writing in other people's voices, too.

  12. I loved everything about this. Thanks Joan and Tricia for all that you do for children's poetry!

  13. I really enjoyed reading this book aloud to the children.

    She did a fantastic job and the illustrations are wonderful.