National Poetry Month: “The Bubble Collector”

This year, I’ve had the good fortune of being able to interview two extremely talented and beloved children’s poets, Douglas Florian and Charles Ghigna.  Today, on the last day of National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to present this interview with one of our country’s newest writers, Vikram Madan, whose first book, “The Bubble Collector,” has just been published.  Madan wrote, illustrated, and self-published the book, so it’s been a major project for him; I thought it might be interesting to get some perspective on how this project came to be, and the path he has taken to publication…


Vikram Madan was born and raised in India, where he developed an early love for poetry and cartooning. Arriving in the U.S. for graduate studies, Vikram found himself drawing editorial cartoons for a Seattle newspaper, The Daily, garnering multiple awards in the process from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Washington Press Association, and others. Vikram subsequently worked in the Seattle hi-tech industry for many years while continuing to cartoon and write poetry on the side. The Bubble Collector, a collection of original, self-illustrated humorous poetry is his first book. (view the trailer for the book HERE.)  Vikram currently studies traditional art technique at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle.


Vikram, you have said that growing up in India, you had “fairly limited access” to books…so tell us, how did you come to not only appreciate reading, but writing, particularly for children?

My mother was an elementary school teacher and instilled an early love for reading in my family. At the time I was growing up, books were a rarity in that few people I knew could afford to buy them. I was a voracious reader as a kid, but most of the time I was usually reading the same book over and over again! It was hard to come by books that you actually wanted to read, particularly poetry. I still remember that the first time I read Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’, was inside – of all places- a dog-eared copy of MAD Magazine!

I am an engineer by training and learned to write by doing it, primarily through trial and error. It was after my children were born that I discovered the delightful world of kid’s books and it felt like a natural evolution to write for younger audiences, particularly since I never really grew up myself after all.

How did children’s poets like Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein influence your writing or artistic style?

When I first started reading aloud to my kids, Dr. Seuss was an early favorite. I hadn’t really thought about writing/illustrating kid’s poetry till the day I accidentally wandered into a travelling exhibit of Dr. Seuss manuscripts at a local mall and was amazed to see the struggle and rework that had gone into each of his books.

It was an epiphany to look behind the curtain and realize that genius is indeed 99% perspiration! For the first time I felt that if I ‘worked hard enough at it’, perhaps I too might be able to create some decent illustrated poetry for kids.

Jack Prelutsky’s work propelled me from thinking about ‘poetry’ to thinking about ‘humorous poetry’. Mr. Prelutsky’s work also set forth a whole new high bar (for me) for where I needed to take my rhythm, meter, and use of language.

Shel Silverstein’s work was (pardon the mixed metaphor) the final missing smack to my head. Here was humor sculpted out of the mischievous interplay of funny poems and cartoon-like drawings! I finally saw a way to pull my three interests – humor, poetry, cartooning – together.

I’m sure the connection of you and Silverstein both being cartoonists is not lost on you!  How does it feel when people make that comparison, and how do you make your own work unique?

Somewhat ironically, one of the most common bits of advice out there for fledgling poets is “Don’t say your work is ‘Just like Shel Silverstein’ unless you’re actually Shel Silverstein.”  Shel was a master of the medium (and much, much more fabulous at everything he did). I don’t think I’ve earned the right to even occupy the same paragraph as himJ. His voice remains unique – I can’t replicate it even if I try (so I don’t have to worry about differentiating myself).

Vikram - book spread

While most poetry collections these days focus on one subject, The Bubble Collector covers a variety of different topics.  Many are silly rhyming poems like “Ballrus” and “I Poked a Cyclops in the Eye,” but then you throw in more contemplative pieces like “Shark,” that elicit more thoughtfulness than humour.  How did you determine which poems to include?

My understanding is publishers prefer thematically-linked collections because this makes for an easier sales pitch to buyers – and buyers in turn know exactly what they’re getting (“Cat Poems”, “Poems about Robots”, etc.).

When I started working on ‘The Bubble Collector’, I found it hard to restrict myself to one particular topic or theme because the vision I had in my head was closer to Jack Prelutsky’s and Shel Silverstein’s collections (“Pizza the Size of the Sun”, “Everything on It”, etc), in which the endless variation is what, IMHO, makes them such fun to read.

Poetry is always open to interpretation and poems are what you personally make them out to be. What’s contemplative for one person may well be humorous for another.  (For example, the title poem in my collection is a light-hearted, silly poem on the surface, but reads very differently if you treat the ‘bubbles’ as an allegory for ‘happiness’ or ‘dreams’).  I tried including poems that span a wide range of styles, language-levels, and ‘angles’. It’s been particularly gratifying for me that every single reader of the book seems to have a different favorite poem, so there truly is something for everyone in there.

46961_288704911263564_2102366374_nVikram, you and I have both been part of the Kidlitosphere phenomenon that is Poetry Friday, where poets and bloggers share their material, interviews, and thoughts with the world.  How has Poetry Friday helped you, and what have you learned from the relationships you’ve developed?

I was excited to discover the Poetry Friday (PF) community last year and amazed at how quickly they welcomed me into their fold. Prior to this, I had a hard time calling myself a ‘poet’ (because I didn’t know who all these people were who called themselves ‘poet’ were). Now I proudly call myself one (Thanks, PF!)   The ongoing feedback from the PF community really helped me keep my momentum going, especially when it came to the slog it takes to finish the book. I’m looking forward to getting to know more and more of the PF folks better.

Why did you decide to self-publish? Had you tried submitting to agents or publishing houses, or was that never a consideration?

Based on my past experiences (i.e. several years spent contributing to slush piles everywhere), I knew that pitching ‘The Bubble Collector’ – a non-thematic, self-illustrated, eclectic and large poetry collection targeting a wide range of ages from a previously unpublished author/illustrator – was going to be a tough sell to any editor or agent. I made a few agent queries early in the life of the project and wasn’t surprised by the response.

I had also been tracking the growth of the self-publishing industry over the last few years, and had been intrigued with the possibility that it would allow me to get the book out not only sooner, but also in the way I envisioned it. At some point I just decided I would give self-publishing a shot for this particular book. If nothing else, it would be an educational journey that would inform my future choices.

I bith intho an apple
For I love the tasthe of fruith
Now I have a bith of apple
And the apple has my tooth

I chose the print-on-demand (POD) model, where the books themselves aren’t actually printed till someone places an order. This saves authors from having to make large upfront investments.

I went with as they offered: good templates; a free ISBN; automatic listing on Amazon sites; predictable author royalties; ‘expanded book distribution’ (so books can be ordered through any bookseller anywhere); and a thriving user community forum (essential for getting help).

At no point in the process was I irreversibly bound to utilizing their services, which gave me the option of changing my mind if I needed to.

I decided on black & white illustrations for the book to keep the overall print costs low. CreateSpace requires books be submitted as print-ready PDFs. I used Microsoft Word for laying out my book and created all the images digitally. After ~8 months of writing, drawing, editing, adjusting, tweaking and reaching my goal of 100 acceptable poems. I submitted my files and was excited to shortly thereafter hold a physical copy of the book in my hands. Up until then the entire effort had been a leap of faith but I’m happy to say I was very satisfied with the end result.

After another 2 months of correcting proofs I finally went ‘live’ earlier this year. Since then I’ve been spending a lot of time on publicity and marketing. They say the real work starts after the book is written – it’s certainly beginning to feel that way.

What surprised you most, along the way?

One surprise was how few obstacles I actually ran into in the process of putting the book together – the tools, technologies, and processes are maturing quite well. The other (bigger) surprise was how much I had underestimated the challenge of marketing and publicizing the book. I should have given the post-book phase more thought much earlier in the project.

So with 100 poems and 150 illustrations in this book, how soon do you think it will be before you’re ready to put another one together?

It’ll probably be a while – another book like this will take a minimum of a year from when I start, which won’t be till I’m done promoting this book, which will be a while.

Any plans to write in any other genres?

I have a few ideas for kid-friendly graphic novels that I hope to get to someday.

What advice would you offer other writers and poets who are trying to get published, either traditionally or via self-publishing?

This self-publishing experience has filled me with a lot of respect for the traditional publishing process. When you’re self-publishing, you’re wearing all the hats yourself, and have to ramp up on a lot of areas in order to make informed decisions – it is very much like doing a one-person startup! Traditional publishing automatically brings the expertise of dozens of specialists to the table, freeing the creator to focus on the creation itself.

What I would tell aspiring writers is that, if a project falls into an established category, and you have the patience to wait for decisions, there are definite rewards to submitting your work to the big publishers (e.g. credibility, quality, time to focus on future works). If, on the other hand, you believe strongly in your work and/or your work doesn’t fit in a defined category, you aren’t intimidated by technology and tools, and are willing to do – and learn – whatever it takes to get your work out there, then by all means look into self-publishing.

Just be aware that self-publishing today is a bit of a ‘gold rush’ – there’s only a handful of success stories – but because of the low barriers to entry, just about everybody Bubble Collectoris doing it. As a result one has to work hard to rise above the ‘noise’. In a recent interview on this blog Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) talked about the need for having a ‘platform’. I have to agree – building up an audience before you publish will make you more likely to succeed with self-publishing.

In the end, whichever path you choose, you have to hold a high bar for yourself and … just keep on writing!

Well, all the best to you, Vikram…and thanks for stopping by to chat!

If you’d like to learn more about Vikram’s book, visit or Vikram’s website,!  It’s available to purchase via

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Can you believe today is the last day for Irene Latham’s 2013 Progressive Poem?!?  This poem started with one blogger April 1 and has beentravelling from blog to blog all month long, with a different blogger adding a new line to the poem every day.  Finally, today, we have a completed poem, thanks to April Halprin Wayland!

Here’s the list of all the participating bloggers:

Prog poem 2013 graphicApril Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

Poetry Friday: “The Gnat and the Gnu”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllHave you ever had one of those times where you think you’re being totally original, only to discover your ‘uniqueness’ has all been done before?

Yeah…this is one of those times.

During a critique group meeting in 2010, a fellow member had written a short rhyming PB manuscript about a fly and a gnat.  It was a cute story, and the word ‘gnat’ got stuck in my head.  After a week or so of mulling ideas over, I wrote the first draft of this poem. I revised it, revised it, and revised it some more. And the day before I planned to bring it to the critique group, I discovered…

Shel Silverstein had written a poem with a nearly identical title.


Now, I don’t think I’d ever seen his poem before (of course, anything’s possible, with my memory being what it is) so my heart sank, knowing a title like this would be a tough sell to an agent or editor.  I read Shel’s poem, which you can find HERE, and was relieved that is really wasn’t similar to mine at all – but still, titles are important things, and I’d be mortified to think that someone might read my poem and get the impression I was trying to rip him off.

And no, ‘mortified’ is not too strong a word.

I never want someone to read my material and think I’m trying to ‘be’ someone else. Not only do I want to be my own person as a writer and poet, but I take pains to try not to write similarly to anyone else, for that very reason.  So, having said this…I present to you:

The Gnat & The Gnu

Gnat said, “Hey there, what’s up, Gnu?”
Gnu said, “not much— how ‘bout you?”
Gnat sighed, “Nothing, kinda blue.”
Gnu asked, “Something I can do?”

Gnat said, “No, just wish I knew
why I’m small – not big, like you.
I have no horns, and no fur, too;
no one wants me at the zoo.
Nothing special, nothing new,
just a gnat without a clue
how to feel and what to do.
Oh, I wish I was a Gnu.”

Gnu thought hard, then said, “It’s true
I’m large, but all I do is chew;
never sprouted wings and flew,
never bathed in morning dew,
just grazed on grass and grew and grew.
Things I do are pretty few,
but I’m glad that I’m a Gnu –
so I’ll be me, and you be you.”

Satisfied, Gnat bid ‘adieu,’
happy he was not a Gnu;
And as he flew away, the Gnu
watched longingly

and Gnu…felt blue.

– © 2010, Matt Forrest Esenwine


Not only is Laura Purdie Salas is hosting Poetry Friday today, but all month long she has been providing video ‘poem starters’ – suggestions to get your brain working!  So be sure to visit her blog and check out all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings as well as all her terrific ideas for creating poetry!

Prog poem 2013 graphicIrene Latham’s 2013 Progressive Poem is winding down!  This poem started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog, with a different blogger adding a new line to the poem every day. (By next Tuesday, April 30, we’ll have a completed poem!)  Here’s a complete list of all the participating bloggers, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

Interview with Father Goose, Charles Ghigna

 As part of a month-long celebration of national Poetry Month, I am very pleased to bring you an interview with one of this country’s leading children’s poets!

Ghigna -Homewood Life pic - 4_13 Brigid Galloway
Photo courtesy of Brigid Galloway

Charles Ghigna (pron. GEEN-yuh), a.k.a. Father Goose,  is the author of more than 5000 poems and 60 books of poetry for children and adults from Random House, Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Abrams and other publishers.  His books have been featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” PBS, and NPR.  His poems appear in hundreds of textbooks, anthologies, and magazines from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Cricket and Highlights His poems also appear in the national SAT and ACT tests.  He serves as editorial advisor for the U.S. Kids magazines and is a former poetry editor of The English Journal for the National Council of Teachers of English, and nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services.

He is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation.  He has presented poetry readings at the Library of Congress, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Library in Paris, the International Schools of South America, and at hundreds of schools, conferences, libraries, and literary events throughout the U.S. and overseas.
Ghigna lives in Homewood, Alabama, with his author wife, Debra, and their artist son, Chip.  Ghigna’s writing studio is in the attic of their home, a 1927 red brick English Tudor.  He calls his writing space his “treehouse.”

  Ghigna -christmascomingGhigna - FuryGhigna -Litle PlanetGhigna -BARN_STORM

It’s a pleasure to be able to chat with you, Charles. I mean, Father Goose! Or is it Mr. Goose? OK, so how exactly did you get that moniker…was it after your book, Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose (Disney-Hyperion Books for Children, 1994) came out, or had you already been using the name before that?

Kids and teachers began calling me Father Goose sometime during my early days of making school visits.  My editor at Disney and I decided to use that moniker in TICKLE DAY: POEMS FROM FATHER GOOSE.  Artist Cyd Moore created the first image of Father Goose for that book.  Other illustrators began playing off the original image with their own interpretations, often including their new images of Father Goose in some of my newer books.

Sometimes my illustrators show Father Goose peeking out from behind a tree or hiding among the scene.  Readers tell me it’s fun for them to search for Father Goose in my books. The scary part for me is I’m starting to look more and more like my moniker every day!

You were born in Bayside, Queens, New York, but your folks moved to Fort Myers, Florida, when you were quite young, correct?  Looking back on things now, how did your childhood shape your interest in writing and career path?

Growing up in Florida in the 1950s and 1960s provided me with an abundance of outdoor activities, as well as an appreciation for Nature and animals; subjects I still write about today.  My early interest in writing came from a a couple of different sources.  My mother was one of the most creative people I’ve ever known.  She would make up stories and we would often act them out with homemade costumes and props.  Later she gave me my very own hand-me-down typewriter, an old 1923 Underwood.

I used to love watching the words magically appear on the paper and hearing the rhythmical clicking of the keys and the sound of the ‘bing’ at the end of each line.  It was fun getting lost in my own little world, making up my own stories and poems.  It still is.  I still have that old typewriter.  It sits here in my treehouse reminding me of that boyhood magic that got me started so many years ago.

Ghigna - 5152yTwM3-L._SS500_

I was recently asked why I wanted to write for children; I replied, because I feel like I still am one, in many ways! How important do you think it is, to keep that connection to our childhood? Or is it more important to try to connect to today’s children and their wants, needs, and interests? Have the basics even changed at all? 

Great questions!  No, I don’t think the basics have changed at all.  The trappings and contraptions that fill a child’s world today may be a little different from those of previous generations, but the human need for adventure, curiosity, and wonder are still the same.

When I speak to writers groups, I like to remind them to look at today’s world through the eyes of their inner child, as well as their own past experiences as a child.  It is the voice of the inner child that other children want to hear.  Children know that voice.  They trust that voice.  All other voices are inauthentic to children.

I tell them they can find their writer’s voice by simply listening to that little muse inside that says in a low, soft whisper, “Listen to this…”    I tell them that when you write for children, don’t write FOR children. Write FROM the child in you.  I tell them that the act of writing brings with it a sense of discovery, of discovering on the page something you didn’t know you knew until you wrote it.  I invite them to enter the writing process with that sense of wonder and discovery, and let it surprise you.  If it does, it will surprise your readers as well.

Ghigna -Halloween_NightYour recent My Little Planet series (Picture Window Books, 2012) is geared toward younger readers, while other books, like Halloween Night: Twenty-One Spooktacular Poems (Scholastic, 2003) for example, are geared for older kids.  As someone who writes for such different age groups, how do you keep your audience, vocabulary, and subject matter focused?

Writers are actors!  The only difference is, we get to make up our own lines.  We try to get inside the minds and imaginations of the age group for whom we are writing.  We become them, then we act out on the page what we are feeling, seeing, hearing, and saying.  When I write for toddlers, I am four years old.  When I write picture books, I’m five or six or eight.  When I write for YA, I become a teen again.  When I write for adults, I am myself.

I try not to think too much about “audience, vocabulary, and subject.”  Many years ago when I first began writing early readers for Random House and other publishers, I was given charts of vocabulary appropriate for each age group and lists with the number of words appropriate for each age group.  I was encouraged to read the latest books to see what subjects were popular.  I put all of that nonsense in a drawer and forgot about it.  I didn’t want all those facts and figures getting in the way of what little confidence and inspiration I could muster.  I began writing from the only way I know how, from the inside-out, rather than from the outside-in.  I knew I could go back and edit AFTER the creative process cooled off.

More than sixty-some books later, I think my contrary techniques seem to be working out just fine.  Now having said that, I do hope my editors are not reading this.  😉

As writers, we can find inspiration anywhere: our families, nature, the kitchen sink, you name it. Is there a well you go to for inspiration, like your wife, son, daughter, or back porch…or do you follow the B.I.C. rule of Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis (“Butt In Chair”) and eschew inspiration for good old-fashioned hard work?


Simple enough!  Now, you have said, “Style is not how you write. It is how you do not write like anyone else.” So how does one keep themselves from writing like all the folks who inspired them in the first place?

Enter your own world.  Listen to your own voice.

Ghigna - 31KJBMN2FTL__SY320_As much as I enjoy writing for children, I also write for adults, as well – it’s sort of a spontaneous release of maturity I need to do to clear my mind and sharpen my skills.  Why do you write for adults, and how is the process similar or dissimilar to writing for children? Are fans of Father Goose surprised when Charles Ghigna publishes a book of adult-oriented poetry, like Returning to Earth (Livingston Press (AL), 1989)?

I like to think of writing in different genres as cross-training.  Each genre exercises a different set of imagination’s muscles.  Those reinvigorated muscles bring new strength and flexibility to each new genre, from one to the other.  By staying open to writing for different age groups and in different genres, we are able to write about any and all ideas that come our way.

We never have to discard a good idea just because it might not be right for a certain age group or for a certain genre.  I enjoy writing poetry and prose.  I enjoy writing rhymed verse and free verse. I enjoy writing light verse and serious verse.   I enjoy writing for children and adults … and pets when they sit still to listen.  I get excited whenever any new idea pops into my head.  Then I try to write it out as best I can.  If I like it and it surprises me, I submit it.  If it falls short, I delete it and move on to the next idea.  Like you, I’m lucky.  I have more ideas than I have time to write!

You’re currently in the process of melding those two styles with the creation of a Young Adult novel in verse – a new genre for you. How’s it coming along, and what inspired you to do it?

I have two YA novels in verse in the works, both with different voices.  One grew out of a series of prose poems and the other grew out of a series of short poems.  In the second one,  I imagined two young people texting messages back and forth to each other via their phones.

Ghigna -Numbers_in_the_Park (new)Ghigna -The_Alphabet_Parade (new)Will that be your next published project, or will something else be coming out sooner?

My next project is a series of four books for toddlers that will be published this fall by Capstone.

The series is titled MY LITTLE SCHOOL HOUSE.  The individual titles are THE WONDERS OF THE COLOR WHEEL, SHAPES ARE EVERYWHERE, NUMBERS IN THE PARK, and THE ALPHABET PARADE.  The trade edition of the series is titled THE LEARNING PARADE.  The illustrator is the wonderful artist Ag Jatkowska.

(Matt’s note: for a sneak peek at some of the illustrations, click HERE!)

Ghigna -The_Wonders_of_the_Color_Wheel (new)Ghigna -Shapes_are_Everywhere! (new)I’ve also written two series of books for a new independent publisher, and working on a third series for them, as well as a picture book for another publisher.


By the way…not many women can say their husbands wrote them a poem – much less an entire BOOK of poems. What was your wife’s reaction to Love Poems (Crane Hill Publishers, 1999)? 

It’s funny how that book came to be.  I had been writing little love notes to Debra since we first met.  After we married, I began leaving them on her breakfast plate in the morning and on her pillow at night.  Most of them were personal hand-written notes never intended for publication.  Unbeknownst to me, Debra kept them in a folder and after a year or two she began typing them up and submitting them to magazines.  They began appearing in Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, The Ladies’ Home Journal.  Later a book of them was published by Crane Hill.  I think she likes them.

Ghigna - Love poems 41JZDH4SRNL__SY320_Ha, well I’m glad she didn’t run into any copyright issues with the person who wrote them!   So tell me, how have life changes like fatherhood – and now grandfatherhood – altered your writing. if at all?  Have they changed your perspective of how you approach your projects, and what you want to write about?

Oh yes!  My grandchildren provide much of the inspiration for my books. Their names are proudly displayed on the dedication page of a dozen or so of my latest titles.  It is from their young perspectives of the world that I learn to re-see my own.  Their joy, innocence, enthusiasm, and curiosity are contagious and endless.  How could I not find new, inspiring things to write about each day?

One last question I have to ask: how has writing – and publishing – for children changed since you began? OK, make that two questions. What advice would you offer to those poor unpublished souls who continue to write and write, with nothing to show for it but folders upon folders of revised manuscripts and rejection slips?

These are exciting and scary times for writers of all stripes.  The business model is changing fast.  Only those with crystal balls dare predict the future. I think it is probably more difficult to get published these days without an agent.  Self-publishing is an option, though one I do not recommend unless you work hard to build what is known in the business as a “platform.”  I’ve been reading a lot lately about how important it is for writers to build a “platform” to make it in today’s market.  I think that means spending time developing social media with websites, blogs, videos, and other items and outlets, along with a good email list.

I probably wouldn’t make it if I were starting out right now. I do not have an agent and I tend to spend most of my time writing, very little time on social media.  I have a Facebook page because I like to keep up with pictures of my grandchildren, and I have a couple of blogs where I post poems for teachers and kids each week. That’s about it.

All I know is, when I started out in this business years ago, I discovered right away that I had to be as creative in getting my work published as I tried to be in creating it.  Ghigna -ONE_HUNDRED_SHOESI think that’s the trick.  First try to find out how everyone else is doing it, then create your own new way of doing it.  I guess that’s true for creating the work itself, as well as trying to get it published.  The most important thing, of course, is following your heart, doing what you love enough to totally immerse yourself in that pursuit.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I get up every morning, climb the steps here to my treehouse, turn on my computer, look out the window, and write.  I still can’t believe I’m allowed to do this.  I provide for my family and myself by doing what I love.

And that’s something one can certainly not put a price on.  I appreciate your time, Charles…many thanks so much, and best wishes with your new books from Capstone, your YA novels, and all of your upcoming projects!


Prog poem 2013 graphicDon’t forget, Irene Latham’ 2013 Progressive Poem wraps up this week!  This poem started with one blogger April 1 and has been travelling from blog to blog, with a different blogger adding a new line to the poem every day. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!)  Yours Truly added his line back on April 3, but here’s a complete list of all the participating bloggers, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

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Poem in Your Pocket Day

I thought it would be appropriate to publish a short post on National “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  This is another opportunity for people to find, read, share, and appreciate poetry during national Poetry Month.

Today, I’m sharing something I wrote a couple years ago. This poem was written after reading a Poetry Advocates for Children & Young Adults blog post by Father Goose himself, Charles Ghigna.  He had asked readers to comment on the topic, “What is poetry?”  This is what I came up with…

“A Poem”

A poem has a heartbeat,
A poem has a touch;
One minute it may let you go
Or hold you in its clutch.

A poem’s breath is subtle,
Each tooth a tapered knife.
It laughs and cries
with open eyes;
In short, a poem’s…life!

– © 2011 Matt Forrest Esenwine

Speaking of Charles Ghigna – I hope you’ll plan to visit here this Monday (April 22), for an exclusive interview with Father Goose! We’ll learn how one person manages to write early readers, non-rhyming picture books, adult poetry, and YA novels in verse; why an old 1923 Underwood typewriter means so much to him; and how his wife ‘secretly’ helped him create a book of love poems.

Hands-On Poetry for Kids!

(I debated with myself whether or not to post this today.  After the horrific and cowardly act of terrorism in Boston, Mass. yesterday, I wondered if the light and breezy topic of kids learning to read and write and enjoy poetry seemed a bit out of place. Only living a couple of hours away, I have numerous friends and family in the Boston area, so the tragedy struck especially lose to home for me.

But then I realized: in times like these, giving your kids as much time as you can give them is one of the most important things you can do.  I hope you find something positive in this post, and that you’ll keep the victims of the Boston bombing in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers. Thank you.)


As you probably know by now, this is National Poetry Month, so I’ve been dedicating each of my blog posts to the craft.  Today I wanted to share three ways that kids (and grown-ups, too, for that matter) can enjoy poetry without necessarily realizing they’re learning!

#1) Play with your food

This is a fun and easy project perfect for family gatherings where there will be several kids around, looking for things to do.  Glazed cookies with words written on them can be combined to form sentences…and the fun & learning comes from both the creating and the playing!

Poem CookiesYou’ll need:

1 box of vanilla wafers
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
2 1/2 – 3 Tablespoons water
Food colouring, if desired
Edible marking pens, like FooDoodlers or Wilton FoodWriters

Make a white glaze for the cookies by combining the sugar with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water. If it’s too thick, add a little more until it’s spreading consistency. You don’t want it too thin, though – so be careful. It’s easier to add more water than to add more sugar, so having it a bit on the thick side is preferable – especially if you’re going to add food colouring.

Once the glaze is made, divide it into 2 or 3 bowls, if you plan on colouring it. Add just a little food colouring, as you’ll want to keep the colours light.  Be sure to cover the bowls to keep the glaze from drying out!

Now, frost your vanilla wafers with the glaze and allow to harden (depending on its thickness, this could take 10-15 minutes or more than an hour). Once dry, write words on each of the cookies with the pens!  For the batch of Easter cookies in the photo, I made the nouns pink, verbs yellow, and adjectives blue, just to keep them organized. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to buy the markers, so I used dark food colouring and water with some corn starch to create an edible paint and painted the words on with a fine (clean!) paintbrush.

Kids not only enjoy making these, but they love being able to play with their food…and who can blame them??

#2) Finding found poems

Seuss-cat-hatIf you don’t know what a ‘found poem’ is, that headline’s grammar may seem a bit off. But found poems are a great way to get children to read their books – or read anything, really – in a totally different way.

A found poem is a poem that one ‘finds’ inside another written work – a poem, a story, a news article, even a catalogue or advertisement. You simply scan the words and lines, searching for an element, a phrase, a theme…by which you can tie together other words and phrases within that written work.

In this case, a child can find found poems inside the books they already read and enjoy! Take, for example, the classic “The Cat in the Hat.”  Pulling lines from pages 1, 2, 8, 11, 40, 54, and 58, I came up with this rather dark and not-too-kid-friendly poem:

The sun did not shine.
I sat there with Sally;
Mother, out of the house.
He should not be here.
Run down the hall,
shut the box,
and he was gone.

Sheesh, I think I just spooked myself with that one. But you get the idea. One never knows what kinds of images or connections can be made by tying together words and phrases that at first seem disparate.

Sometimes the poem you create summarizes the main text; other times, you find yourself heading off in a totally different direction, as I just did.  Even for younger kids, simply searching for and combining similar rhyming words helps them recognize sounds and reinforces spelling. And for someone like me who loves word puzzles and wordplay, it’s a fun exercise!

#3) ‘Nothing’ is really something!

This is a good classroom activity; it’s something I often do when speaking to a class about creative writing, and it invariably impresses half the kids and bums out the other half.  It’s a simple way to show that we never do nothing, and it’s interesting to hear what words come up during this conversation…

Very simply, I ask who in the classroom has ever done nothing. Hands go up. I ask specific children, “So, when you were doing nothing, what were you doing?” Answers range from sleeping (which, of course, is something) to watching TV (which is also something) to being dead (which, while morbid, is incorrect; I explain that if you’re dead, you’re decomposing – so you’re still doing something!).

Once the kids get an idea of where this heading, I write down “Nothing” at the top of the blackboard and have them all do the same on a piece of paper.  I ask the children to shout out words that come to mind when they think of ‘nothing,’ and I write 3 or 4 responses below. I then ask them to give me words that come to mind when they think of these words and write down 2 or 3 words for each of the previous words…and then do the same for each of those words.  It only takes 4 levels of words before you have a good 35-40 words on the blackboard.

I then proudly announce that, the next time they tell their teacher they have ‘nothing’ to write about…take a look at their paper!

As I said, some of the kids think the concept of this ‘word-tree’ is cool. But the ones who are used to trying to get out of doing their work don’t seem to like it as much. Go figure!

“Poetry can be fun…really!”

That is the message I try to get across to kids – and adults, for that matter. So many people have the impression stuck in their mind that children’s poetry is simple, repetitive, and boring while adult poetry is all big words, incomplete sentences, and baffling subject matter. That’s not true! There’s so much good poetry out there – and so varied – that one is bound to stumble upon a poem(s) that speaks to them.  It’s just a matter of understanding what poetry is, then finding the type of poetry that you like.

Google your favourite topic and the word ‘poetry’ and you just might be surprised at what pops up. “Pizza” + “poetry” yields 9,570,000 results.  “Baseball” and “poetry” yields 40,300,000 results.  And “Love” + poetry” yields 289,000,000 results – but we could have all guessed that would be off the charts. (Speaking of baseball poetry, be sure to check out Ed Decaria’s work at The Hardball Times – good stuff)

I hope you’ll take some time this April – National Poetry Month! – to read a little poetry, write a little poetry, and enjoy the experience as so many of us do!

Prog poem 2013 graphicRemember, Irene Latham’s 2013 ‘Progressive Poem’ (at Live Your Poem) is now halfway completed! This is a poem that started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a new line to the poem. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!) Here’s the complete list of all of this year’s participating bloggers, including Yours Truly, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

Poetry Friday: “Lost Spring”

I hope you’re enjoying National Poetry Month! Since it’s been about 6 weeks or so since poetryfridaybutton-fulllI posted a poem that was not a children’s poem, I thought I’d share this. I wrote this almost two years ago, but like most poems, it has undergone numerous edits and revisions since that time. I’m pretty sure this is the final version…but then again, I can never be sure of that sort of thing. I should just be quiet.

I decided to record a reading of the poem, but I’ve been fighting allergies all week, so it almost sounds like me.  Of course, if you’re looking for more poetry, there’s plenty of it to go around; Diane Mayr at Random Noodling is hosting today’s  Poetry Friday festivities!

“Lost Spring”

Winter has been hanging on.

Like a corpse
refusing the grave
or bloody barbs deep
in the fish’s gullet
irresistible force
pulls life and flesh away,

yes, winter has been hanging on.

Ugly clouds crawl across
late April sky
slow as war machines;
snow again, soon.
Ashen drifts high
to the windows,
for release.

Frigid air breathes heavy
across a landscape sacred
and desolate,
locked in rigor mortis
while barren trees hold frost
covered infants
at their tips.

they say,
will be here soon.

But winter…

winter has been hanging on.

© 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine


Prog poem 2013 graphicBy the way, Irene Latham’s 2013 ‘Progressive Poem’ (at Live Your Poem) is going strong! It’s a poem that started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a new line to the poem. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!) Yours Truly added his line back on April 3, but I provide a complete list of all the participating bloggers at the bottom of this post.

Here’s the list of all the participating bloggers in the 2013 Progressive Poem, so you can follow along.

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland


Crime and Poetry: An Unusual Relationship

30Days52-13If you have never heard of “crime poetry,” you’re not alone. It’s a narrow genre, but is gaining in popularity. With April being National Poetry Month, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this type of poetry and the people who read, write, and publish it.  I couldn’t think of a better person to talk to than editor, publisher, and poet Gerald So.

Robert B. Parker’s Spenser stoked So’s interest in crime fiction and poetry in 1993, while So was a student at Hofstra University.  He helped found Hofstra’s literary magazine, Font, earned his M.A. in Creative Writing from Queens College/CUNY, and taught English at Hofstra for six years before turning to writing full time.

Gerald So-Think-160
Gerald So, “The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly” editor

A member of the Academy of American Poets, his poems have appeared in Nerve Cowboy, Barbaric Yawp, Defenestration, Yellow Mama, Gutter Eloquence Magazine, and other provocatively-named venues.  So has served as Short Mystery Fiction Society president (2008-’10) and Thrilling Detective fiction editor (2001-’09). After developing the online crime poetry journal, The Lineup, he published an ebook of his own poetry, We Might Have.

His personal blog is My Life Called So.

Gerald, before we talk specifically about what  your blog series, The 5-2, is all about, can you please describe the genre of “crime poetry?”

In 2006, my friend Anthony Rainone wrote an article for Mystery Scene Magazine #99, “Raven in a Trenchcoat: Hardboiled and Noir Poetry,” examining classic and contemporary poetry through the lens of crime. Crime poetry is not a new genre to my mind, but a way of reading with an eye to the wrongdoing and transgression that has fueled much poetry.

Some of those literary journals in which you’ve been published have some pretty – uhh, ‘interesting’ – titles.  (For those who don’t know, ‘defenestration’ is the act of throwing someone out of a window.)  What do you say to people who question the literary value of this type of genre, or claim it’s glorifying violence?

I have no intent to glorify violence or sensationalize crime. Anyone who reads my work or what I accept for The 5-2 will see that much of it reacts to crime, often ultimately condemning it. Crime is simply a subject that interests me in fiction and poetry. It may be taboo to some, but to others, that forbidden air is all the more reason to explore it, to tap into something that hasn’t been tapped.

Defenestration, by the way, is a humor magazine that has nothing to do with throwing people out windows. They just like the sound of the word.

Whew, thanks for clearing that up! 

Now, you were a fiction editor at Thrilling Detective magazine in 2007 when author A.E. Roman suggested you combine your love of poetry with the drama of the crime stories you were editing; what type of poetry had you been writing up until then? And what did you think of the idea of combining poetry and crime?

Disappointment was and is a common theme in my poetry. I often choose to face it with humor so as not to be consumed by it, but I can easily relate to what victims of crime, or sometimes criminals themselves, feel. So when Roman approached me, I could see the concept growing into something. If I got in on it, I could ensure that the material didn’t glorify crime, as I said, but simply witnessed crime.


Speaking of crime and poetry, Edgar Allan Poe was certainly a pioneer in melding beautiful words and imagery with horrific scenes and action…would you say he helped create the genre of “crime poetry?”

Definitely, just as he pioneered detective fiction. His poetry and others’ in the same vein intrigue me because, unlike fiction, it isn’t necessarily made-up.

You mentioned ‘others’…what poets do you feel helped develop this genre, and who would you say are the best, or your favorites?

That’s tough to answer because I see crime in all periods of poetry when I look for it. There have always been poets whose only recourse from being wronged was to write. Recently, I think of Sharon Olds, who has written many poems about her abusive father. On a different note, in the final issue of The Lineup, I reprinted “Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72”, in which Charles Harper Webb reminisces about his loving father and imagines taking revenge on his assailant. The material is all there, needing only to be organized into a genre.

The eBook that was created, The Lineup: Poems on Crime, was published the following year; what was the reception to it? 

The Lineup was an annual print chapbook series. I’ve only recently converted the back issues to eBooks. It was well thought of in the crime fiction community. I would have loved for it to make more inroads, but printing on demand was too expensive to publish as frequently as we wanted or distribute copies in the quantities we wanted.

Lineup4-smSo now The 5-2 has taken The Lineup’s place…why? How are the two different, and how is your approach to The 5-2 different?

When I closed shop at The Lineup, I still wanted to provide an outlet for crime poetry. A blog lets me publish more frequently, keeping the concept in the public eye and including accompanying audio/video.

On The Lineup, I worked with three co-editors on each issue, each having equal say in the selection of poetry. We had as good a working relationship as you can hope. With The 5-2, it’s just me and occasional guests editing a week at a time. The Lineup accepted new and previously published poetry to establish the concept. The 5-2 accepts only original work.

By the way, why “5-2?” In police code, that could be anything from a missing person to a domestic disturbance to a fire alarm, depending on what town and state you live in.

The name refers to the fifty-two original poems published on the site each year, but the echoes of police code and precinct jargon are intentional, too.

Finally, what do you think surprises readers unfamiliar with crime poetry the most? And what are your plans for The 5-2 for this year?

Readers are often surprised how well they can relate to the material. Not everyone is into poetry at first, but everyone can unfortunately relate to crime, to feeling hurt, betrayed, violated. I have no grand plan except to pick poems that move me each week for as long as I can.

We Might Have-PJP

Well, thanks for taking the time to shed some light on this unusual poetic genre, Gerald…and best wishes with The 5-2!

Thank you for your interest, your voice talent, and your poetry. 🙂


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that our nation’s Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, had a poem included in The 5-2…and a really good one it is, too:


Pat tells me he’s not sure what inspired the poem, although says it could have had something to do with his recurring thoughts about the LA riots from several years ago, or possibly that he was thinking of his daughter, who attended USC, in Watts.


NOTE:  All month long for National Poetry Month, all sales proceeds of Gerald’s eBooks will be donated to the nonprofit American Academy of Poets to support poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry. 

If you’d like to learn more about Gerald’s blog and books, click any of the graphics – they’re all linked to his site.  And if you don’t want to miss any posts here at ‘Triple-R’, be sure to subscribe!