Poetry Month 2012: Deborah Diesen

Deborah Diesen

[heading style=”1″]Poetry Month 2012: EPISODE 4[/heading]

But Wait!

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

Deborah Diesen

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.

–Debbie Diesen

…and now, from sunny Michigan, here’s Debbie and her chorus line of daffodils in…

“The Daffodil Dance”

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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
daffodil dance!

In all the years since,
I’ve met many fine plants,
But none dance as well
as the daffodils dance.

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Daffodil Dance
May I have this dance?

 [heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Debbie Diesen[/heading]

Deborah Diesen

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:

Author website: DeborahDiesen.com
Blog: Jumping the Candlestick
Facebook author page: Debbie Diesen
Twitter: @debbiediesen

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]

[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.
Debbie wrote these!

[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

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  1. I am enjoying my stop here each day. There’s nothing like hearing a poet read her/his own poem. Today was no exception. Daffodil Dance is a delightful poem full of beautiful rhythms and language. It was a bonus to hear Deborah talk about her love of words. Inspiring!

  2. What a joyful post…and now I will never see my daffodils the same way again! It’s true – they really ARE the best dancers…I just never thought about it that way before. Thank you for this post, both Renee and Deborah. Hearing Deborah speak about wordlove before her reading was wonderful… a.

  3. I wrote today about the flowers of spring, but you’ve seen those daffodils in a very different way, beautiful. They do tend to bow & sway, don’t they? Thank you for the good poetry words, too, Deborah. I am helping a teacher start a study of poetry soon & will share this with him. Thank you Renee for all of this. I love the lesson ideas at the bottom too!

  4. How much do we love that voice! How much do I love that you used “fandango” in your poem. Thank you for sharing this delightful tribute to spring’s dance. My favorite: ” A whimsical, wonderful daffodil dance!.”

  5. Fancy fandango, indeed! Love me some daffodils. And Deborah’s advice is so true, to write because you love to write. All this publishing biz will make your crazy! Thanks for sharing this, Renee. You are an inspiration!

  6. A fancy fandango
    with hints of romance –
    A whimsical, wonderful
    daffodil dance!

    Just LOVED this, and shared it with my students right away. Now they all want to go home and check out the flowers in their yards so that they can create their own blossom poems. Thank you!

  7. Reading these comments has me feeling the joy of poetry! I love how words connect us all to one another. Thank you Rena, Cathy, Amy, Linda, Pam, Ann, Irene, and Tara, for your kind words.

    And an all-caps thank you to Renee, for hosting such a great celebration of poetry! I’ve enjoyed all the posts. Can’t wait for more!

  8. Great interview and Debbie is funny. What a pretty daffodil poem. I can picture myself in A Secret Garden of My own as I read the poem.
    It would be nice to know the titles of Debbie’s useful rhyming dictionaries. 🙂

    1. Brenda, thank you!! As for rhyming dictionaries, I use several, but the one I find the most useful (both in terms of structure and rhymes) is “The New Comprehensive Rhyming Dictionary” by Sue Young. Scholastic puts out a kid-friendly version of it called “The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary.” Both are great fun!

  9. Such a lovely spring poem for a lovely spring day. I have not read Pout Pout Fish yet, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Every time I search for it at my local library, it is checked out! 🙂 I think that speaks for itself. Congratulations on all of your success.

  10. This was a great interview, loved all the questions and responses. Debbie definitely has a great sense of humor and understands the type of humor children are drawn to. Lovely poem with great description characterizing the daffodils.

  11. To see the poet reading her poem is such a treat. I loved the way Debbie spoke about poetry. The words danced in her poem. To have the interview and additional resources available is a gift. Thank you, Renee, for sharing all of this with us.

  12. I loved your introductory poem about words/poetry and the imagery from Daffodils Dance. My mom had daffodils around our house, and they are one of my favorite spring flowers. Now when I see one, I’ll think of them wearing a top hat and dancing!
    Thanks, Deborah and Renee!

  13. Oh, that was fun! Nice to meet you, Debbie. I must say, though, even more than The Daffodil Dance (which I shall be sharing next year in my classroom the same week that we paint daffodils), I like your preamble to the poem, which I think IS a poem in itself….

    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 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.

    All it needs is a title!

  14. “Most of my poems are like that – they’re not ambitious or fancy. They’re just a snapshot of a moment in time.” Yes, I love this sentence. It’s the same view I have of my art, a snapshot of a moment in the characters lives.

    Ethan and I were very happy to see the daffodil poem as our yard has just sprouted a large crop of the top hat dancing beauties this week! We spent some time talking about words after listening to Deborah’s introduction (opposites, adjectives, verbs), it’s wonderful when something that is 2 minutes long can inspire so much conversation.

    Thank you!

  15. Thanks for this poem! I missed the daffodils in my backyard this year (moved) so this filled the void. Got to love daffodils: they are so loyal–popping up every year without any fuss and announcing all the rest of the flowers that will follow.
    Fun stuff, Deborah & Renée!

  16. The way your described your love of words was pure music. I read it and just swooned! Your daffodil poem is delightful. All your answers were really great, but I loved the line “terms like “iambic pentameter” frighten me”. That’s me in nutshell. It’s wonderful to know that at my age (which is older than your age) I am not going to have to go back and learn all this just because I love to write in rhyme!
    Great post Renee and Debbie!

  17. What a fun poet, and what a fun interview. I also just checked out your interview with Kenn Nesbitt– an old favourite. (Loved what he said about publishing all his poems on the internet these days.) What a good way to celebrate April.

  18. Renne, Great interview. I love the imagery- I can picture the daffodil’s dancing at a ball like in a Disney Movie. Thanks for sharing! Happy writing.

  19. I am a little late, but I made it before you posted the next poem! My kids and I are huge fans of the Pout-Pout Fish. It might be in the top ten of our most memorable read aloud books.

    I am so happy your transcribed Debbie’s words from the beginning of her video. It made me stop to read them — and appreciate them. So perfect for Poetry Month!

  20. I love both the poem and what Debbie had to say about poems and poetry. And since I write in rhyme, I HAVE to ask Debbie – what are the names of those five rhyming dictionaries? How are they different from one another. Call me intrigued… 🙂

  21. Greetings from England. I found your site three days ago and loved Deborah’s poem. Yesterday I led a “Daffodil walk” in Gloucestershire, England with a poetry theme. The walk was through the countryside around Dymock, a small village, noted for it’s wild daffodils. Between 1912 -1914 it was home to a group of young poets who wanted to reflect realism, nature and the countryside in their poems Now known as the Dymock poets, they included Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Wilfred Gibson and Lascelles Abercrombie. One visitor for the summer of 1914 was your own Robert Frost. It is believed his famous poem The Road Not Taken, of which the first line is: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”, is based on a walk and discussion with Edward Thomas in the daffodil carpeted Dymock wood and reflects the decision Thomas took to turn away from writing prose and try his hand at poetry. Thomas, one of England’s best loved poets wrote 170 poems in the following three years before being tragically killed in WW1.

    During the walk various people read poems, many with daffodil references but you’ll be pleased to hear I read Deborah’s poem – it was very well received. Another favorite was by the famous Anon

    A little yellow cup
    A little yellow frill
    A little yellow star
    and that’s a daffodil.

    1. Peter, thank you so much for stopping by and telling us about this wonderful experience! I am fascinated by the tale of Robert Frost and the Dymock poets, and love the little poem you shared. I’m thrilled you read Deborah’s poem on the walk, and no doubt she is too. Hope to see you back again! 🙂

  22. I’ve been so enjoying all the comments! They’ve been inspiring and rejuvenating to me.

    Julie asked about rhyming dictionaries. I have at least five (more scattered about the house; but five in my home office). Of the five, the one I use most is “The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary” by Sue Young. The layout of this one really works for me. The book is organized by accented vowel sound; within each section, words are divided by syllable count.

    “The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary” is based on Sue Young’s book, but has a kid-friendly format and reduces the 65,000 words in the Sue Young book to 15,000 kid-friendly words.

    “The Complete Rhyming Dictionary” by Clement Wood — in the edition I have, the book is organized first by type of rhyme (single; penult; antepenult) then by vowel sound. I find this book much harder to use, but it’s the first rhyming dictionary I ever bought, so it gets my sentimental vote.

    I also use “Nothing Rhymes With Orange,” by Bessie Redfield and the wonderful children’s book author Hope Vestergaard; and “Merriam-Webster’s Rhyming Dictionary.” I can’t quite get my head around the M-W layout in the same way I can around Sue Young’s book; but it has come through for me a time or two with a rhyme I couldn’t find elsewhere.

    Mostly it’s a matter of finding the rhyming dictionary style that works for you and then supplementing it with one or more of the others.

    Does anybody else have a favorite rhyming dictionary? I’m always in the market to expand my collection, so if you’ve got one you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about it!

  23. Hi, Renee. We love the Pout -Pout Fish at our house, and I love love love this poem by Debra Diesen! The videos you post always bring the poems so much more to life 🙂 Would you mind if I linked to your post for my April Read & Romp Roundup (which features picture books or poetry related to dance)? This is such a nice “dancing” poem for the spring!

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