I want to thank you for this opportunity to share with your poetry folks. I had a grand time at
your recent Highlights Founder's Workshop—Somebody Ought to Write a Poem. It is one of
the best poetry workshops I have ever attended. Your knowledge and charm are greatly
appreciated. So let's get started, here are the answers to the questions you posed.
• How and when did you know you were a poet? Describe your journey as a writer.
If poetry is what you breathe and live, you don't think much about it. Or maybe I'm so egocentric
that I thought everyone was just like me. I grew up memorizing verses, nursery rhymes,
and learning the lyrics to songs for our church choir. I loved Dr. Seuss. And I especially
enjoyed the silly rhymes my mother taught me like:
I'll tell you a story about Jack and Norry.
Or John Jacob Jingle Heimmer Smith, Or My name is John Johnson, I come from Wisconsin.
My mother also taught me a crazy family song –One night when I was snug in bed
as snug as I could be
I drempt that I was Grand-papa
and Grand-papa was me.
So in a sense I was always doing poetry. I'd make up songs for jump rope or hopscotch. I
walked to and from school by myself and made up silly nonsense verses to skip to along the
way. Silly me, I thought all kids did this.
When I was in middle school my English teacher encouraged me to enter some of my poems in
a poetry competition. Oh, I had visions of me being famous with poems like:
BUTTONS ON A FLEA
Have you ever seen
buttons on a flea?
Buttons on a flea.
The silliest thing
I've ever seen.
On a field of blue
50 white stars stand
each like a brave soldier
with a gun in his hand....
I didn't win but kept writing. I helped older sister Clo Ann write a Christmas poem for her
sophomore English class. We had lots of giggles writing the poem.
Who goes riding through the night?
Santa Claus, Santa Claus.
Who is dressed in red and white?
Santa Claus, Santa Claus....
Clo Ann got an A+ on her poem and she said it was my help that gave her the highest grade in
When I decided I wanted to write for children. I quickly learned that editors did not want to see
children's poetry or rhymed stories. So all the poems or little stories I wrote in rhymed verse
got shoved into a drawer. I'd kick myself for wasting time and then rewrite the piece in prose.
I went to the Highlights Summer Writers Workshop at Chautauqua to learn more about writing
Standing at a bus stop by the front gate at Chautauqua three other women were chatting up
Bernice Cullinan, Wordsong Editor for Boyds Mill Press. I was just standing, listening and
waiting for the bus. In a moment of insight Bee turned to me and said, “So tell me, about your
I stood there stuttering, trying to think of an intelligent response.
“I know you write poetry.” Bee said.
“Well, yes.” I finally admitted. “But it isn't any good.”
“Now how do you know that?”
I told Bee that I did write in rhyme but I just threw it in a drawer because I knew that didn't sell.
I think it was at that moment I accepted that fact that I could be a poet.
For me, Bee's treating me like a real poet gave me permission to be one. Since that day I have
been honoring what little talent I have, but more important, I love what I do. I have a blast
sharing poetry with children and hearing their verses.
- How can an emerging poet gain experience and confidence when it’s so hard to find
Poetry Society. Most state chapters have an annual contest that includes a category for poems
written for children. It is a way to gain experience and publishing credits. Also you can build
your own audience for your poetry through a web site or blog where you can post your poems.
This is something I have done after seeing the blog of my poetry buddy Bridget Magee. She
posts a poem a day. Her blog is at : www.weewordsforweeones.blogspot.com
When I saw what she was doing, I said, “I can do that.” and I have been posting a poem and
short writing exercises at my site: www.poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com David, your blog
offers support for poets too. Your WOW (Word Of the Month) monthly competition is a great
way to gain exposure. Thank you .
- Which do you think is easier to write, verse or free verse?
writing funny poems, riddles or joke poems I need to write in rhyme. I also like to use the
predictability of rhyme and rhythm when I write for young children. It is when I get to poetry
for older children that I can use other forms like free verse, acrostics, sestinas, or even haiku or
tanka that don't require rhyme. Either way I love it.
- Why poetry? Why not stick with fiction or nonfiction? What attracts some writers to
I don't know why other poets write poetry, or fiction, or nonfiction. All I know is
poetry comes out of my pen and that is what I must honor. I'm happiest when I get to play with
words and feel really great when I can come up with an elegant rhyme.
How much does a children’s poet need to learn about the ground rules of poetry? Since I
have a strong academic background, I think a children's poet owes it to the craft to learn all one
can about the subject. The more one learns, the more tools you have in your tool box. There is a
vocabulary for poetry, just like any other profession that is known and understood by those in
the profession. It is fun to learn about the various kinds of poetry, the forms, the cultural
differences, and the history of various forms. It is just too cool to learn tanka was one of the
earliest forms of poetry published by women in pillow books, or that acrostics are older than the
Bible written 1,000 BC, and there are still examples extant written on papyrus. Or even that
Donald Hall's Caldecott winning picture book OXCART MAN was first published in the New
Yorker as an adult poem. I love learning the stories about the poets and why they wrote the
poem. And the more poetry rules you know, the more you can use the rules and learn how best
to break the rules. This is a real kick, and it is so much fun to continually learn new things. For
instance, from my studies I learned that Theodore Roethke shares my birthday, so he has
become my birthday poet.
Once you know about lots of forms of poetry, you can then make up your own form. Just like
many poets have made up their own sonnet form, you can make up your own syllabraic form. I
have lots of fun with a form I invented which I call Poetry Obscura, this form depends greatly
on reversals or opposites.
Words and how to put them together to communicate really gets my motor running. For me,
it's better than memorizing and collecting baseball cards. I have a grand time sharing my
knowledge with young writers and learning from them.
- What resource do you use most when writing poetry?
phone book thick book has tons of information on poetry—forms, history-examples, etc. I even
have a condensed version I take when I travel. Just yesterday I was working on chants in poetry
and I wanted to reference Urdu poetry, and I pulled my trusty book from the shelf to learn about
the work chant in Africa and its similarity to ghazals.
- Why do you believe children’s poetry is important? I love poetry. I love writing poetry for
overwhelmed, I write poetry. When something exciting happens in my life, I write a poem
about it. I'm sure when I die, I'll still have a pen in my hand writing a poem. Poetry is who I
am and I hope every child has the opportunity to experience the joy and happiness I get from
poetry. Poetry fills a need and I'm sure children have experienced that need too. Poetry can
help make sense of this crazy world.
JOY ACEY, The Princess of Poetry, has consistently won prizes for her poetry from the
North Carolina Poetry Society and the Poetry Council of North Carolina. She’s published in
Footsteps, Main Street Rag, New Review, Kaleidoscope, Urban Hiker, Bay Leaves, Award
Winning Poems, Pockets, Ladies Home Journal, Poets for Peace Anthology, Always on Friday and
Kids News. She has sold poems to Highlights for Children, High Five. She was on the TV game show Joker’s Wild and won enough to pay for a trip to Australia. She has lived in England and Japan. She has walked across a volcano in Hawaii and a glacier in New Zealand. She has gone swimming with iguanas in the Galapagos and was in Ecuador during a recent revolution. She was a performance artist with the Durham Arts Council, Creative Arts in the Public/Private Schools. She teaches workshops in poetry for people of all ages and abilities. She lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband, and a Welsh Springer Spaniel named Spot. She has two grown sons.