Happy Poetry Month! Happy Spring! For poetry month I thought I would show you the process that I went through when I wrote, and re-wrote, one of the poems from my picture book, NAME THAT DOG!
My inspiration for Melody was my friend's dog, Mellie. Every time I would go to Karen's house, Mellie barked like crazy, even before I got to the front door! I told Karen, "You don't need a doorbell. You have Mellie!"
My first idea was to write about a dog who loved to 'sing,' and with his barking he would get all of the dogs in the neighborhood to join in. I called him Maestro, like a very talented leader of an orchestra. Here's the first draft:
He sings along
When I play the piano
He hits the high notes
In perfect soprano.
He can hold it long
He can sing it low
Dogs follow the lead
Of my dog, Maestro.
Ok. I wasn't really happy with this poem--yet. Here are some reasons why.
Rhythm: This poem didn't just roll off your tongue with easy rhythm.
Stress and natural language: In this first draft the stress falls on different syllables in the lines. I try to have each line stress the same syllable, usually the first or the second, to make it flow and easy to read. It doesn't always work out that way, but at least it feels right when you read it out loud. And poetry needs to be read out loud. The stress here falls on the second or third syllable. The last line puts the stress on the word 'my,' which doesn't feel natural. In addition, the lines don't have the same number of syllables. It doesn't always need to be the same, but I felt that it was too far off.
Imagery: I didn't feel that the end result put any special pictures or images in the reader's mind. Okay, maybe a piano, maybe an orchestra conductor. Boring!
Language: Word choice, or language, is what creates the images that the readers see when they read a poem. It's also what makes the readers feel something when they read a poem. I definitely thought I could do better here.
So I started to make lists. I made a list of words that were sounds that a dog makes: bark, howl, yap, etc. I made a list of words that were synonyms for 'sing': croon, tra-la-la, chant, hum, wail, moan.... I made a list of types of music: country, opera, pop, rock, rap.... I made a list of musical instruments: piano, saxophone, flute, violin....
I decided to re-name my dog Melody, after Mellie, who barked whenever someone came up the walk, and made her a girl, like the real Mellie. I looked at my lists and tried to relate the different words to a dog, in particular a dog who liked to 'sing.' Here's what I ended up with.
She sings when I play the piano.
She croons to the saxophone blues.
She wails to that sad country music
And moans to the nine o'clock news.
She boldly increases her volume,
enjoying the voice that she's found,
And sings a duet with the doorbell--
That howling, melodious hound.
Poems are meant to be read out loud! I ended up with a much better rhythm and a poem that was fun to read. The language was fun, too. And the images are there in every line for the reader to enjoy. I hope that you enjoy these poems, as well.
NAME THAT DOG! by Peggy Archer, illustrated by Stephanie Buscema, Dial Books for Young Readers 2007, ISBN: 978-0-8037-3322-0
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NOTE: This post originally appeared on Peggy's blog (www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm) on April 26, 2011. IWC thanks her for permission to reprint it.