Sunday, May 01, 2016

A Menagerie of Poems

I was debating whether to try tackling NaPoWriMo again this year, unsure whether I really felt up to doing a poem a day for a whole month again. But then I got a great jumpstart inspiration when I found a delightful book to give to Guy for his birthday that was an illustrated anthology of kid-friendly poems about animals. And not only some of the Edward Lear and Jack Prelutsky type stuff that you might expect, but also Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Bible verses, haiku, and more. I read it twice before sending it (late) up to Portland.

So then, right at the beginning of April, I had a whole menagerie of animals queueing up inside my head, asking for poems, and I’ve been having a ball writing them. Some are, yes, “for kids,” and some less so, but I love them all.

I was thinking about why this was such a fruitful way to generate poems. I think a big part of it is that simply choosing an animal to write about immediately gives you something very specific and concrete to focus on. When you sit down to a blank page, it can be all too easy to say “I’m going to write a poem about… Love!” And then something vague and mushy comes out because that’s way too broad a topic. On the other hand, you can say “I’m going to write a poem about a… Giraffe! Now what do I know about giraffes? They’re tall. Okay, let’s work with that.” And then you’re off and running with something that both writer and reader can really get a grip on. Zebras: black and white. Boom. And so on.

In some cases, the animal can even suggest the form of the poem, as with the Turtle, who made his own new type of sonnet by pulling the rhymes inside his shell with him. And then some of the animals just start telling you stories. I was a bit surprised with how the Manatee turned out, but apparently that’s what she wanted to say. (On the other hand, I got pretty much what I expected from the Buzzard.) One way or another, nearly all of my 30 poems for the month turned out to be about animals (though I did take a break to write The Danube Blues, just entirely for the sake of the title).

So now it’s May, and the poetry spigot is getting turned off. But I’m really starting to think this needs to turn into a book, especially since I have a very large number of small friends and relatives to whom I would very much enjoy giving such a book. Of course, these poems naturally beg for illustrations. So I may change the poem-a-day challenge into a drawing-a-day challenge and see how long it takes me to get marginally competent enough to do this. I really have no idea how it’ll work out, but wish me luck!

[P.S. A few more favorites include the Sloth, the Otters, and the Honeybee’s Lullaby. Or you can just read all the animals, if you like.]