Poetry Month 2012: Kenn Nesbitt
After much planning and anticipation and poet wrangling, Poetry Month has finally arrived, and boy, am I thrilled! Before we dive right in with our first poet of the month, I just want to take a moment to thank all the participating poets for their incredible talent, patience, and generosity of spirit. They’ve all been doing a great job of traipsing through the woods to bring you some really delightful poems on video.
If you missed the whole lineup, take a gander at the Poetry Month 2012 Sneak Preview to see what the month has in store. And if you don’t want to miss any of the poets, just subscribe to the blog or “like” NWR on Facebook, and you’ll be notified of each post as it comes off the press.
Now let’s get this show on the road!
author of numerous books of poetry for children, including The Tighty-Whitey Spider and My Hippo Has the Hiccups, and creator of one of the most comprehensive kids’ poetry websites on the Internet
with his poem
“My Hamster Has a Skateboard”[column size=”1-2″]
My Hamster Has a Skateboard
My hamster has a skateboard.
When he rides it, though, he falls.
He takes off like a maniac
and crashes into walls.
He screams, “Geronimo!”
and then goes crashing down the stairs.
He’s good at knocking tables down
and slamming into chairs.
He’ll slalom through the living room,
and then you’ll hear a “Splat!”
which means that he’s collided with
my mother or the cat.
He plows right into cabinets,
and smashes into doors,
I think he’s wrecked on every bed
and every chest of drawers.
It’s fun to watch him ride
because you’re sure to hear a smash.
He doesn’t skate so well but, boy,
he sure knows how to crash.
[heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Kenn Nesbitt[/heading]
Surprise! Not only is Kenn an accomplished children’s poet, he’s also a tech savvy kinda guy who suggested eschewing the pen in favor of a fancy Skype interview. I’m always game for something new, so here is the first video interview on No Water River. Yes, I do sound like I’m speaking to you from another dimension — perhaps Cloud 9? — but Kenn still sounds like an Earthling, and that’s what’s important. An abridged transcript follows.
What’s Up with Kenn
Kenn: We already know who you are, so can you tell us where you are and how long you’ve been a rhyming fool?
I live in Spokane, Washington, and I’ve been writing funny poems for kids for eighteen years now.
So in eighteen years, how many poems do you think you’ve written?
About a thousand, and I’ve put over six hundred of those on my website, Poetry4Kids.com.
We just heard you read “My Hamster Has a Skateboard.” ‘Fess up, now: is this an autobiographical poem? Are you a skateboarder or particularly clumsy or a particularly clumsy skateboarder?
Well, it’s semi-autobiographical in that I’ve never had a pet hamster, but when I was a kid, I lived on a skateboard. I don’t own a skateboard now, but I keep thinking maybe I should get one.
Is your opus focused mainly on smashing, crashing, maniacal hamsters, or do you do other stuff, too?
Oh, I write all sorts of poems. I just like to make kids laugh, so I write funny poems. And one thing I’ve noticed is that I can always improve a kids’ poem by adding some people running and yelling and screaming. (Active verbs and a little bit of chaos?). Absolutely! And The Tighty Whitey Spider has about 50 poems about animals doing extreme sports with plenty of chaos. (So what does the tighty whitey spider do?) That’s the itsy bitsy spider in underwear! He goes down a water slide in his tighty whities and he gets a water wedgie.
So do you write for grown-ups too, or are you strictly a kids’ poet?
I am strictly a kids’ poet. I have written a few poems for grown-ups, but even those are funny. The only thing that makes them for grown-ups is the subject matter; they might be about the presidential election rather than school or lunch or other things that kids relate to. (Or if you’re like my twins, dung beetles!) Ooh, yes, dung beetle poems! I haven’t done one of those yet. That sounds like fun. (We’ll do a dung beetle poem challenge.) Okay!
What’s your favorite part about writing for children?
I visit 60 or 70 schools a year in person and another 40 or 50 via Skype, and I must say that writing poems is great, but probably the best part of my job is when I get an email from a parent or teacher or even a kid telling me that they used to hate to read or write. Then they discovered this funny poetry stuff, and now they’re writing and really enjoying it or won a contest or something — then you know you really inspired somebody and changed their attitude about reading and writing.
Do you remember what your very first poem was? What was the title?
Yes! My first poem was called “Scrawny Tawny Skinner” and it was about a little girl who wouldn’t eat her dinner, so she grew thinner and thinner and thinner until she disappeared. And that poem was inspired by Shel Silverstein’s poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout,” which is about a little girl who wouldn’t take the garbage out. So that first poem led to a few more, which led to a hobby, which led to a career, and now this is what I do!
Do you have formal training in writing poetry, or are you just a natural?
I did take a class in college, but it wasn’t so much a writing class as it was a class about reading the famous poets and understanding poetry technique. So that’s my only formal training, though I will say that this is not a natural skill for me. I’ve read many, many, many books on how to write poetry, so I’ve learned the techniques — and plus, I’ve practiced an awful lot.
Along those lines, what is your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
Oh! The most important advice I can give is to get a pencil and a piece of paper and sit down! That might sound a little flippant, but the truth is that it’s so much easier to do anything else — get a snack, play a game, pet the cat — than sit down with pencil and paper and say “Okay, I’m going to write something.” The second thing I like to tell kids is to write about what they love, whether it’s pizza or soccer or music or bananas, because it’s easiest to write about what you know the most about.
What’s your best advice for poets who want to get their poetry published (other than don’t bother)?
Ha! Yeah, don’t bother — I don’t need the competition! No, I think it’s marvelous. I love it when I discover new poets who are writing wonderful children’s poetry. I will say that it was very hard to get poetry published when I started ten years ago, and now it’s even harder. So what I tell people is, why worry about trying to get a major New York publisher interested in your poetry when you can just start a blog? Just put your stuff out there for the world to see. You may not be getting paid for it — yet — but in the age of the Internet, this is how you get known. And if you really want to publish, nowadays it’s so easy to self-publish for free on Kindle or ebooks or to use a print on demand service.
I really think that’s the way to go for a brand new children’s poet. And then you just keep at it, and in a few years you might find yourself with a body of work that publishers are going to be interested in.
Even if it’s already been published on your website?
I’ve never had a problem with that. In fact, because I have all my poems on my website, I get reprint requests from publishers on almost a daily basis — maybe they want to use a poem in a magazine or anthology or textbook. And they didn’t find the poems in a book; they found them on my website.
Well, that’s good to know! So many of us do have blogs, and that is a concern I’ve heard a lot from writers: But it’s already published on my blog! No one will look at me! I don’t have a problem giving my poems away for free because there’s always more poetry. So I’d also want to say to people, don’t worry about it. If someone doesn’t want a poem on your website, write a new one!
Absolutely! And I used to think, Well, I’ll just put a few poems on the site, so that way people will get a taste of how good they are and then they’ll want to run out and buy my books. Now I’ve totally changed my opinion on that. Now I put everything on my site, and have found that it makes people want to get the books even more. I think lots of readers at No Water River will be pleased to know that, so thank you for the good advice!
Now let’s get back to kids for a second. 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?
Wow, I’d hate to narrow it down to one, but if I had to, it would be one that most kids in this country probably haven’t seen. I would recommend the book Bubblegum Delicious by Canadian poet Dennis Lee, who is most well known for his book Alligator Pie. Bubblegum Delicious is so wonderful, and can make you laugh on one page and cry on the next and give you goosebumps on another. I can’t speak highly enough about that book.
Finally, Kenn, we want to know if we can come visit you and peruse your wares. (Online, of course, not at your house. You clearly have no control over your pets, and we aren’t insured against hamster-induced trauma.)
Of course! All my info is below. Make sure when you get to my website, you click on the picture of the Tighty Whitey Spider, because that’s how you access all the poems. There’s lots of other stuff too, like poetry writing lessons, video games, a monthly contest where I give away a free ebook, and even a rhyming dictionary.
Here are all the places you can find me:
Kenn, I can’t thank you enough for stopping by and adding “My Hamster Has a Skateboard” to the video library here at No Water River, which I hope is going to grow and grow and grow with more established poets like you, and also unpublished poets who are writing good poetry for kids. That’s what we’re trying to do here, and I thank you so much for taking the time to be a part of it.
Well, thank you for having me, Renée. It’s been wonderful.
[heading style=”1″]More Stuff About Kenn[/heading]
- Kenn’s complete bio
- See the complete list of Kenn’s publications or read reviews of his books on Amazon.com
- Frequently asked questions about Kenn
- Kenn’s YouTube channel has lots more animated poetry videos, interviews, and poetry lessons
- Learn about Kenn’s in-person author visits and online Skype author visits
- Check out Kenn’s excellent poetry writing lessons
[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “My Hamster Has a Skateboard”[/heading]
- Kenn’s book The Tighty-Whitey Spider is all about animals, like the hamster, doing extreme sports. Try this: pick your favorite animal and your favorite sport, and write a poem like Kenn’s.
- Find out how and where your favorite sport began, starting with Scholastic’s timeline of skateboard history.
- Check out these engaging skateboard lesson plans covering poetry and history and graphic design, as well as the wonderful Skateboard Science pages at Exploratorium.com.
- A-Z Animals offers fascinating facts about hamsters.
- In this biology lesson plan, students use their senses to determine the similarities and differences between hamsters and frogs.
- Artists Helping Children has compiled dozens of hamster and guinea pig crafts including puppets, games, masks, and origami.
[heading style=”1″]Coming Up Next![/heading]
AMY LUDWIG VANDERWATER
will entertain us on Friday the 6th!
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: Kenn’s broken-down house (blame the hamster!). Spokane, Washington.See more poems in my poetry video library. “My Hamster Has a Skateboard” copyright © 2010 Kenn Nesbitt. All rights reserved.