Wit of the Day: John Ciardi

“You don’t have to suffer to be a poet;
adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.”

~ John Ciardi

I’m not sure if Mr. Ciardi means our own adolescence, or the pain associated with teenagers living in the house. Either way, I’m pretty sure that both instances provide equal opportunities in the suffering department.

Anyway, if you pen poetry, you may know John Ciardi’s book, What Does a Poem Mean? It’s one of those classic books about reading, writing and teaching poetry, and just as relevant today as it was in 1959 when it was first published. He was also a columnist for the Saturday Review (and the poetry editor). He even had a network show, back in the day when really smart people were on TV. But it’s John Ciardi, the children’s poet, that has a special place in my heart.

When the Junior Halls were very junior (and still listened to me), I’d force-read them poetry. It did not always go over so well. And then I came across You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, by brilliant John Ciardi. Holy poetry, those kids loved that book! I loved that book. We almost tore that book up, we read it so much.

Here’s one of the first poems:

About the Teeth of Sharks

By John Ciardi

The thing about a shark is—teeth,
One row above, one row beneath.

Now take a close look. Do you find
It has another row behind?

Still closer—here, I’ll hold your hat:
Has it a third row behind that?

Now look in and…Look out! Oh my,
I’ll never know now! Well, goodbye.

How can you not love that poem? So if you want to spark a love for poetry in your wee, little kids’ heads, try good, old wickedly witty John Ciardi. But please do not blame me if your child grows up and decides to get a degree in English (Creative Writing, heavy on the Poetry). At least said child will have a bizarre sense of humor (which comes in handy when dealing with adolescent angst).

Tuesday Tips (And Okay, a Little Horn-Tooting, Too)

Here’s a simple tip that I live by (or write by, as the case may be):

There’s usually room for improvement. (I used to say “always
room for improvement” but I’ve mellowed with age.)

And sometimes, that improvement can make all the difference. Take a poem I wrote a few years back called, “Taking Out The Trash.”

It was a good poem (she said, modestly). It won an Honorable Mention in a Bylines Poetry contest. Bylines (no longer published) would get quite a slew of entries for their contests, so I felt pretty good about that win.

Time passed, and another poetry contest came along. I pulled out “Taking Out The Trash” and figured I’d send it off. But in reading the poem, I thought the meter was not quite right. I tweaked it, changing a word here, adding a word there, improving it, see? I think it garnered another Honorable Mention.

This year, the North Carolina Poetry Society had a Humorous Verse category in their poetry contest. So back I went to “Taking Out the Trash.” But in reading the poem this time, (the meter was perfect, by the way, she said modestly) I realized that I could make the imagery a bit more vivid. I tweaked it again, trying first one word, then another, working to punch up the humor in the poem.

Did I improve it? Please see the Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Award (she said, modestly).

Every time I read through my YA manuscript, I find a spot that can be improved. Whenever I find a contest where an older work of mine will fit, I almost always find a word, a sentence, perhaps even a paragraph that needs a bit of work. To be honest, I’m usually surprised that I missed that spot, that word or sentence or paragraph the first time. But I think that’s because the harder I work at my craft, the more I improve. I’m able to recognize mistakes that I simply didn’t have the skill and experience to catch the first time, or the second time, or heck, even the 37th time around.

I’m pretty sure that “Taking Out the Trash” has seen its last contest. But then again, a year from now, I might give it another go–and improve that poem yet again.

P.S. I almost forgot my other Tip! You can win a $25.00 Amazon gift card over at Diamonds and Toads, just by answering a simple question. Diamonds and Toads is a sister site to Enchanted Conversation; both sites have wonderful fairy-tale inspired poetry, stories and art. And I’m not just saying that because you’ll find my poetry and stories over there (she said, modestly).

Finding Something Friday: Books, Books, Books, Award!

When I typed in that post title, I thought of that childhood game “Duck, Duck, Goose.” And in a way, I found a few spots all about books for you to zip over to, click on, and then run back to whatever it was that you were doing before you dropped in here. So off we go!

At first, I thought the Gwinnett Library’s page over at Facebook wouldn’t have much significance for anyone but us Gwinettians. But then I had one of those aha! moments when I realized that ALL of my friends, wherever they are, can like this page and help our library get over 1600 Dummies books.

I’ve picked up a few of the Dummies books for the not-so-scathingly-brilliant Halls so I know how helpful these books can be. (Okay, okay. I read the Dummies books, too. Brilliance like this doesn’t grow on trees, you know.) And if your library is participating in the same promotion, let me know and I’ll happily like your page, too. Dummies books for everyone!

Now, a quick reminder that you can still comment to win Nava Atlas’ gem of a book, The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life. I cannot guarantee that you will be a scathingly brilliant writer after reading this book, but I can say unequivocally that you will be the richer for the experience. Type your comment (with your fingers crossed) on this Hall of Fame post.

And now, for all of you poetry enthusiasts (and I’m including myself here), you still have time to dash over to Donna’s Book Pub where she’s giving away Tanka Moments: A Man’s Journey by David Lee Kirkland. She’s shared a few tanka (just in case you need a little refresher, and I’m including myself here, also, on what exactly a tanka is).

Speaking of the wise and witty Donna, she’s bequeathed upon me one of the inaugural Sisters of the Quill Awards. As such, I have been recognized as a quill-driver, a writer, a scribe, and let’s see…oh, yes! A schrivener and an author worthy of recognition. That’s very humbling, isn’t it? I had no idea I was all that. But on the other hand, who am I to argue with the wise and witty Donna? Stay tuned for whom I pass the award on to next.

As you can see, Gladys, my muse of a goose, popped in today because she thought we’d be playing games and talking about her. It’s scathingly brilliant books, books, books, and an award, you silly goose. And now, isn’t it time you dashed off yourself?

Finding Something Friday on Poetry! Contests! Polar Bears!

First, a little poetic inspiration to get you primed and ready to write:

I love myself, I love me so!
I took myself to the picture show.
I wrapped my arms around my waist.
I got so fresh, I slapped my face!

Hahahaha! I wish I could claim that, but it’s one of my mom’s jewels from back in the day. If I could use that little poem, I might send it in to one of the poetry contests I’m considering. To wit:

The Poetry Society of Virginia’s Contest (Deadline: January 19)

The North Carolina Poetry Society’s Adult Contest (Deadline: January 15)

The Pennsylvania Poetry Society Contest (Deadline: January 15)

Now, if I’m being perfectly honest, my poetry skills are not exactly scathingly brilliant. But I do so love poetry. Or at least the poetry I understand.

I love the way a lyrical poem makes words sing. And I love how images spring into my mind when I hear a poem read aloud. I can appreciate the wonder of a beautifully wrought poem, even if I can’t exactly wrought one up for myself.

But that doesn’t keep me from trying. And with the entry fees for these contests, I can afford to send my pitiful poems out into the world. Because …

I love my poems. I love them so!
The ones of joy, the ones of woe.
I send them out all over the place-
Makes judges want to slap my face!

(P.S. About the Polar Bears. Um, that was a shameless ploy on my part to grab folks who like Polar Bears and convince them to follow my blog. I’m not sure if Polar Bear lovers would enjoy a blog about writing and such, but who doesn’t like winning a Barnes and Noble gift card? Of course, you can’t win if you don’t sign on to be a follower. Or get your friends to sign on as a follower. I mean, if you get 20 of your friends to sign on here, that gives you 20 entries. Just make sure your friends let me know. And if you’re a rabid Polar Bear lover who feels shamelessly manipulated, I’m very sorry. I could write you a swell poem if that will make you feel better.)

Pretty Paper (And Good Reads)

You know what happens when you write a blog post while listening to holiday music? Your blog posts have titles oddly reminescent of Christmas songs. Fortunately, I’m a scathingly brilliant writer so I can tie in those songs to what I want to share.

I just wrote a post (on my other blog) about the best children’s books from 2010. You can take a peek right here if you want a few good children’s reads. But that started me thinking about favorite holiday reads. I can name a ton of children’s books I love…How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, and A Cajun Christmas come to mind first because the Junior Halls loved those boooks. And I loved reading them. Though I still get choked up, trying to get through The Polar Express. Seriously. I can get a little ferklampt watching The Grinch, too. Probably because that silly cartoon takes me back to my childhood, sitting in front of an old black and white TV, singing along (the wrong words, of course) when all the Whos join hands to celebrate Christmas.

I love that short story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. And there’s a few novels, though slender, that I’ll read almost every December: Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke and Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. Oh! And who doesn’t smile when reading the editor’s response to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question: Is there a Santa Claus? You can read what newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote here. And one of my favorite Christmas poems is called “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti. You’ll recognize the last stanza, when you see the line, “What can I give him, poor as I am?”

And now, I know just what I want from you this Christmas! What’s your favorite holiday read? Children’s or adult, novel, short story, or poem…it doesn’t matter. And you know what else? You don’t even have to wrap it in pretty paper. Just leave a pretty, little comment.

(You were starting to wonder how I’d tie that song title in, weren’t you? Seriously? I was, too.)