How to Be a Poet


Kenn Nesbitt, a children's poet from Washington, USA has been writing poems for children since 1994. His poetry is often humorous and includes such poems as 'My Foot Fell Asleep', 'I've Seen My Kitchen Sink' and more. His poems have appeared in magazines and school textbooks. We spoke to him about everything you need to know about writing poetry.

What are the basic guidelines one should keep in mind while writing poetry?
When writing poems, I believe that one should always keep the reader in mind and try to see the poem through the eyes of that person. If a poem is intended for children, try to see it the way a child might. In my opinion, a good poem always makes readers feel something - whether they laugh or cry or something else. A good poem should always evoke an emotion.

What are the different types of poetry?
There are nearly as many types of poetry as there are poems. Types of poetry are usually called poetic forms. Common poetic forms include sonnets, limericks, haikus, diamantes and acrostics.

Which styles of poetry are most popular among children?
Nursery rhymes are popular with young children and humourous poems tend to be enjoyed most by elementary (primary) school students. As children get into their teens, they begin to discover that they enjoy other forms of poetry as well.

How is writing poems for children different from writing general poems?
Poems written for children address subjects of interest to children. For example, poems for children donít usually involve adult topics such as marriage or driving. Rather, poems for the young involve topics such as pets, food and parents. Poems for elementary aged children often include subjects such as school, sports and television.

Which poems are more appreciated by children - humourous or serious poems?
Both humourous and serious poems are appreciated by children, but I generally recommend that you use
humourous poems to introduce children to poetry and save the serious works for later.

Is it necessary to have complete sentences in poems? Why?
While it is usually a good idea to have complete sentences, it is not strictly necessary. Even in prose fiction, you will often see incomplete the best writers. Let me give you an example. My poem 'Snow Day' begins like this:


As you can see, this poem has incomplete sentences such as 'Had plan.' and 'Got sled.' But it still works.

Is it necessary to always rhyme in poetry? Why?
Rhyming is completely optional. Some poems rhyme and others donít. Rhyming is just one of the many literary techniques that poets use. Other techniques include alliteration (the use of the same sound, especially consonants, at the beginning of several words that are close together) consonance (similar to alliteration) and versification (dividing poetry into verses). However, rhyming does tend to make poems feel lighter and happier. So, generally speaking, light verse or humourous poetry often rhymes, while more serious poetry tends to be unrhymed.

How many stanzas are required in one poem?
There are no requirements for the number of stanzas in a poem. I have seen poems with hundreds of stanzas and I have seen poems with just a single stanza. It all depends on what you, as the poet, are trying to accomplish.

How are poems evaluated? What makes a good poem?
In my opinion, a good poem is one that makes you feel something, one that evokes an emotion in the reader. I also think it is important that the poet successfully and skillfully executes whatever he or she sets out to accomplish with the poem. If readers find themselves stumbling through a poem thinking, "Gosh, this poet
can't spell and the grammar is terrible!", it's unlikely that they will be moved to tears or laughter.

What are the various themes one can write poems for children?
I often tell children that you can write poems about anything, and I believe it. There is literally no limit to the themes or subjects one can choose for a poem. Look around you right now and there are a thousand things within eyesight that you can write about, be it the dirt on the floor, the roof overhead, the trees outside, the computer in front of you, the chair beneath you or the telephone beside you. Extend your imagination just a little bit further, perhaps a few kilometers or more, and there are an infinite number of things to write about.

How important is it to provide illustrations for poems?
In my opinion, with very few exceptions, a poem should be able to stand on its own without an illustration. There are cases where the poem intentionally does not tell you everything and the rest of the story is in the illustration, but these are uncommon. Here is an example from my book, 'My Hippo Has the Hiccups':

On picture day I wore a suit.
My teacher told me I'd
Look cute.
I wonder why she got so mad
I wore the only one I had.

This poem requires an illustration of a child wearing a bathing suit (swimming costume). So illustrations actually depend on the poem. In this poem, the illustration is critical. But in most poems, though an illustration may
enhance a child's experience of the poem, it should not be strictly necessary.

What is the significance of a title in a poem?
I think that depends on the poem. In most of my poems, the title is simply something that allows me and my readers to refer to the poem by name. I say 'most' because I do have poems with titles such as "What I Told Mrs Morris When She Asked How I Was Feeling Today" in which the title of the poem is a significant
part of the experience of the poem. However, I don't do this as much as some other poets do.

What is better - publishing a poem on the web or in a book?
I don't think one is better than the other. In my opinion, they are equally valid.

Does publishing poems on the web lead to copyright issues or plagiarism?
Yes, but it's not usually serious. Occasionally, someone will submit one of my poems to a contest or a website,
claiming they wrote it or perhaps not giving proper credit. These things are usually sorted out quite easily.

What are the educational qualifications required to become a children's poet?
There are no educational qualifications required to become a childrenís poet. It just takes lots of practice and I recommend one read as many books as possible about how to write poetry in order to learn the various techniques of rhyme, rhythm and more.

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