Friday, July 5, 2013

The Joy of Prosody: Children's Poetry

By Liz Mastin

Children’s poetry need not consist merely of lines which are appropriately child-like and rhyme. Today’s children’s poetry can contain good-quality poetry and may serve as an excellent introduction into the world of poetry in general.

I was fortunate in sitting next to a children’s book agent at a luncheon last year during the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference in Langley. As I had an opportunity to find out something about what is in demand for children’s books, I also asked her if there were any children’s books featuring poetry that were doing well. 

She suggested several books.  I looked online at Amazon, hoping to read a few sample pages. Right away, one of the recommended books stood out. The name of the book was “A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk” by Deborah Ruddell. This book also had lovely illustrations by Joan Rankin. Reviews on the back of the book stated “A terrific introduction to poetry, with a smile attached” Kirkus Reviews, “Delightful” School Library Journal, and “Lyrical” Publishers Weekly.

I felt that as an incentive, when writing children’s poetry, it would pay to buy this book for reference, and I will be happy to share with you some of the unusual poems it contains and how they are written!

A Wild Turkey Comments on His Portrait

I find it most insulting
that you’ve traced around your hand
and colored all my feathers
either plain old brown or tan.

Where’s the copper? Where’s the gold
that a turkey should expect?
Where on earth is raw sienna,
And where is the respect?

Finally, I’m baffled
That you’ve made me look so dumb.
My head is quite distinguished
And it’s nothing like your thumb.

This poem is written with alternating trimeter (three beats) and tetrameter (four beats) lines.  While there are other feet, (substitutions), the poem is in iambics with da DUM  da DUM sounds.)  Yet what makes a poem like this more exceptional is that the messages in the poems are not the tired, so expected ones. This poem opens the door for learning, as well. A child may want to know, exactly what is raw sienna? The vocabulary is more elevated, as in the word distinguished.

Here is another:

Moonlit Raccoon

In a watery mirror
  the rugged raccoon
admires his face
by the light of the moon:
the mysterious mask,
The whiskers beneath,
the sliver of cricket
still stuck in his teeth.

This poem is written in anapestic dimeter. That means it sounds like da da DUM, da da DUM.  Anapests have two soft accents and one strong. Again, the poem is very clever, and you can hear techniques like alliteration in the way the animal is called a rugged raccoon (two r’s)  and in mysterious mask with its two m’s. The last two lines have alliterative quality with all the s’s: sliver, still and stuck.

Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.


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