Ew. Poetry.

Poetry. Yuck! That’s pretty much been my attitude for most of my life. As a student, poetry made me feel stupid with its hidden meanings and twisty words. Now that I’ve been out of school for quite awhile, and met a few poems I’ve kinda liked, I’m working to conquer my fear of poetry by writing it. Talk about intimidating! Happily I discovered a fun, non-threatening form of poetry: Found Poems.

It’s easy. Rip a page out of a magazine, find a Sharpie, and cross out all the words except the ones you like. Voila–a poem (without the pressure of having to think up really great, super amazing words). Try this exercise with your own reluctant poets!

The other thing that’s helped me conquer my fear of poetry: novels written in verse. I don’t feel dumb while following a plot. Middle grade readers are so lucky to have this fun way to discover–and fall in love with–poetry. Thank you, Karen Hesse, for showing me a new way to read verse. Here are some other great books that my author-librarian friends, Bobbie Pyron and Becky Hall, recommended to me:

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston. Are You a Believer in Fanciful Things? In Pirates and Dragons and Creatures and Kings? Then sit yourself down in a comfortable seat, with maybe some cocoa and something to eat, and I’ll spin you the tale of Katrina Katrell, a girl full of courage (and daring, as well!), who down in the subway, under the ground, saw something fantastical roaming around . . .

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. Twelve-year-old Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents’ house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it’s just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences . . . And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again.

42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. JoEllen’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was used to splitting her time between them, shuttling four blocks from one Cincinnati apartment to another. But when her dad moved to the old family farm last year, her life was suddenly divided. Now on weekdays she’s a city girl, called Ellen, who hangs out with her friends, plays the sax, and loves old movies. And on weekends she’s a country girl, nicknamed Joey, who rides horseback with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. So where do her loyalties lie? Who is the real JoEllen? Linked free-verse poems, illustrated with a quirky array of found objects and mementos, create the vivid, realistic portrait of a young girl at a defining moment in her life.

All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg. Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family — and the terrible secret — he left behind. Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.

Shakespeare Bats Clean Up by Ron Koertage. When MVP Kevin Boland gets the news that he has mono and won’t be seeing a baseball field for a while, he suddenly finds himself scrawling a poem down the middle of a page in his journal. To get some help, he cops a poetry book from his dad’s den – and before Kevin knows it, he’s writing in verse about stuff like, Will his jock friends give up on him? What’s the deal with girlfriends? Surprisingly enough, after his health improves, he keeps on writing, about the smart-talking Latina girl who thinks poets are cool, and even about his mother, whose death is a still-tender loss. Written in free verse with examples of several poetic forms slipped into the mix, including a sonnet, haiku, pastoral, and even a pantoum, this funny, poignant story by a master of dialogue is an English teacher’s dream – sure to hook poetry lovers, baseball fanatics, mono recoverers, and everyone in between.

Maybe poetry isn’t so bad–even that raw stuff in my practice notebook.

Sydney Salter is the author of My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters, Swoon At Your Risk, and Jungle Crossing, as well as a lot of practice poetry, including the Found Poem shown above.

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