Poetry Month 2012: Deborah Diesen
You didn’t know there was a giveaway going on? Well, there is! Mosey on over and enter…
Done? Now, dust off your top hats, straighten your white ties, and fluff up your feather boas, because today’s poet brings us spring in a most splendid way!
Hats off to
Debbie is the author of the New York Times bestselling rhyming picture book The Pout-Pout Fish and its sequel, not to mention a picture book about a marauding band of babies.
And she’s also a talented children’s poet. I’d tell you more, but it so happens that Debbie went above and beyond in her video to share with us some of her thoughts about poetry — and I like those thoughts so much, I transcribed them here for those of you who can’t view the video. In fact, it’s kind of a love letter to words and poems. Take it away, Debbie!
I love words. I love the noises they make, the things they mean, the way they fit together, how they can sound like a symphony or they can stick to you like a burr. I think it’s fun to play with words, to mix them up like a chef mixes ingredients. When I stir things up with words, some of my creations turn out better than others, but it’s always fun to try. I especially like small, flavorful packets of words, which is to say…poems.
Poems come in an endless variety. A poem can be tall and fancy and lift its chin confidently. A poem can be plain and small, maybe even a little hunched over. A poem can be carefully structured or a free-for-all of sound and syllable. A poem can nod its head at another poem or strike out completely on its own. A poem can be like the lucky coin in your left front pocket or like a freight train barreling down the track – and everything in between.
…and now, from sunny Michigan, here’s Debbie and her chorus line of daffodils in…
“The Daffodil Dance”[column size=”1-2″]
The Daffodil Dance
Early one spring,
purely by chance,
I happened to witness
the daffodils dance.
They stopped as I neared them,
and stole me a glance,
But soon carried on
with their daffodil dance.
In bright yellow tophats
and splendid green pants,
They all knew the steps
of the daffodil dance.
A fancy fandango
with hints of romance —
A whimsical, wonderful
In all the years since,
I’ve met many fine plants,
But none dance as well
as the daffodils dance.
[heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Debbie Diesen[/heading]
What’s Up with Debbie
Debbie: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I’m a writer who lives in the middle of Michigan’s mitten (technically known as the Lower Peninsula, but “mitten” is more fun to say…and easier to spell). I penned my first poem as a grade-schooler in 1976, which makes me roughly fourteen thousand five-hundred eighty-two years old now (give or take). After a lull in writing during early adulthood, I started writing rhyming stories for kids when my elder son was a toddler. It seems like just yesterday, but given that my son is now taller than I am, I guess it’s been a while!
Your daffodils have top hats and splendid green pants! What dapper daffodils they are! Did the idea for this poem come to you while watching Dancing with the Stars?
Daffodils are rather dapper, aren’t they? And such talented dancers! All you have to do is put on the right music. But sometimes daffodils dance even without music, as long as they’ve got a bit of breeze to sway to. Watching them do just that was what inspired the poem. I was sitting with pencil and paper in my backyard one fine spring day, and I decided to try to capture the dancing image for myself by playing with words and writing them down. Most of my poems are like that – they’re not ambitious or fancy. They’re just a snapshot of a moment in time.
You also write rhyming picture books filled with kissy fish. What are those about and how long did it take you to fishtail your way to publication?
I have three rhyming picture books, two of which star the pouty/kissy Mr. Fish (The Pout-Pout Fish and The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark). My other book, The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered, Baby Brigade, features a bevy of boisterous babies who band together to protest baths, bibs, belly kisses, and more. I started writing rhyming stories for kids around the year 2000; started submitting stories to publishers in 2001; got my first contract in 2005; and saw my first book go into print in 2008. Getting published is a long process, and the path does tend to meander! Which is why you should always pack plenty of pencils (and a candy bar or two).
What is your favorite part about being a children’s writer, other than jitterbugging in the flowerbed?
Jitterbugging in the flowerbed is definitely a close second — tied with owning five, count ‘em, five different rhyming dictionaries. But my Number One favorite part about being a children’s writer is connecting with kids through books. Some I meet through school visits, some through story times at libraries, others at book festivals or book events — but in all cases, it’s inspiring to see the way children bring books to life by hearing and reading them. Whether it’s one of my books or someone else’s doesn’t matter to me: I just love it when kids embrace books and let them sing around inside them. Delightful! (A deep bow to that!)
Do you have formal training in writing poetry?
Nothing formal (terms like “iambic pentameter” frighten me), but my junior high school band teacher’s baton keeps time in my head for me when I’m writing in rhyme. OK, not really…there’s not enough room up there for a baton, what with all the brainspace already taken up by still trying to find a rhyme for orange…but learning a musical instrument is very good training for writing.
What’s your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
1. Have fun with it! 2. Ask your school librarian for a rhyming dictionary. Scholastic has one that’s a very accessible version of Sue Young’s rhyming dictionary – I highly recommend it for kids.
What’s your best advice for poets/writers who want to get their poetry/rhyming PB published (other than “don’t bother”)?
Write because you love to write. Write first and foremost for yourself. And never lose confidence in your writing and in your unique ability to tell a story that no one else can in a way that no one else can. Getting published is hard, and there are many factors over which you have no control. You have to be patient and stubborn in equal measure, and even then, the “getting published” part might not happen. But you can’t let that discourage you from writing. Write because you love to write!
If you could recommend that children read one book of children’s poetry, or one children’s poet in particular, which or whom would it be? Why?
I’ve got a soft spot for the poems in John Ciardi’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You because I loved it so much as a kid (and still do). But really, any book that excites the imagination is the right book to be reading!
Finally, Debbie, can we come visit you and peruse your wares? (Online, of course, not at your house! Much as we like the idea of dancing flowers, we are also a bit weirded out by them.)
Actually, you should come on over – the daffodils have finally stopped dancing and now the lawn needs mowing, so I could use the help! But I’m assuming you don’t really want to do yard work…so just stop by my website to learn more about my books. You can also find some activity sheets for kids there, including a downloadable Pout-Pout Fish cootie catcher that Dan Hanna created. You can print it off, fold it up, and tell (fake) fortunes with it. It’s even more fun than dancing in the flowerbeds! (And much more fun than mowing the lawn.)
Here are all the places you can find me:
Thanks for stopping by, Debbie, and for adding “The Daffodil Dance” to No Water River’s growing video poetry library!
It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me (and my daffodils) over!
[heading style=”1″]More Stuff About Debbie[/heading]
- Debbie’s complete bio
- See the Just For Kids section of Debbie’s site for word games, puzzles, pout-pout masks, and book-related downloads
- Learn more about Debbie’s a school visits and other appearances
- Read more about Debbie’s books
- Read other interviews with Debbie at Mymcbooks and MittenLit
[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “The Daffodil Dance”[/heading]
- Talk about how the daffodils dance in the poem and have students (or the teacher, for pre-K) invent movements to go with the words. Extend the activity with some of these Elements of Movement lessons from Bright Hub Education.
- PBS.org has an excellent lesson plan for telling stories through dance. Though this lesson is based on a particular picture book, it could easily be adapted to any book.
- There are lots of free gardening and plant lesson plans online, including designing a native plants garden at National Geographic; a roundup of all sorts of plant and flower lesson plans for all ages at TheTeachersGuide; lessons, crafts, and activities for preschoolers; and lessons for every subject area at the Royal Horticultural Society.
- Have students illustrate their favorite image in the poem, or complete one of these charming daffodil crafts and activities at The Crafty Crow and Activity Village.
[heading style=”1″]Coming Up Next![/heading]
will be around on Monday with meatballs and sauce!
Here’s the whole schedule:
April 2 ~ Kenn Nesbitt
April 6 ~ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
April 9 ~ Laura Purdie Salas
April 13 ~ Deborah Diesen
April 16 ~ Greg Pincus
April 18 ~ Charles Waters
April 20 ~ Irene Latham
April 23 ~ Julie Larios
April 27 ~ Lee Wardlaw
April 30 ~ J. Patrick Lewis
Video Location: The Mitten, USA (aka Michigan), where daffodils like their pants creased, no starch.See more poems in my poetry video library.
“The Daffodil Dance” copyright © 2012 Deborah L. Diesen. All rights reserved