a poem, and a poem, and a poem

Today I was checking out at a favorite bookstore when this book caught my eye:

This is a children’s book, yes?  The author, Kwame Alexander, and the illustrator, Ekua Holmes, are Newbery Award winners and Caldecott Award winners, respectively, both awards being given in children’s literature.

But – I could not resist it.  As I leafed through the book, the bright illustrations captured me.  The premise of the book – poems celebrating poets – stole my imagination.  Poets celebrating poets!  What an amazingly beautiful idea!

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Wood Mouse by Paul Gulliver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda … William Carlos Williams … Billy Collins (and others).  It was the including of a Billy Collins poem that cinched it for me.  I love the other poets, too, but Billy Collins is like the poet on a mission to get people to like poetry.  I just love his poem “Introduction to Poetry” – primarily because it is just so true (have you seen it?):

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

but all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

– Billy Collins


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pencil by Tim Taylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This book, Out of Wonder, takes each poet and writes a new poem in honor of that poet.  Here is the very first poem in the book, “How to Write a Poem” by Kwame Alexander:

How to Write a Poem / celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye



Grab a pencil
some paper

Let loose your heart –
raise your voice.

What if I have many voices?

Let them dance together
twist and turn
like best friends
in a maze
till you find
your way
to that one true word

(or two).

– Kwame Alexander.


Which poem is better?  It doesn’t really matter . . . Because I am going to write my OWN poem, about how to write a poem, AND how to read a poem.  Wait here; I’ll be right back!


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Forest by Nova is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Are you still there?  Good!  Here it is:

Poetry 101

They told me the class meets here
but all I see is a forest of green trees
and a lake of blue water.

They said, read the first poem in the book
but all I read were the patterns in the clouds
and drops of dew on the blades of grass.

They told me I needed to write a poem
but all I wrote was the love
tattooed on my heart,
for the grass
the clouds
the lake
the forest
and for you.

– Theresa Barker


Do you ever write poems “in the style of” a favorite poet?  Or maybe you have tried writing prose in the manner of a well-known or favorite author:  Hemingway, Woolf, Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler.  Ursula LeGuin.  How does it feel? Do you learn something from it?

And, do you ever lie outside in the grass and read the patterns in the clouds or count the dewdrops?  You may be writing poetry when you do!

(Happy National Poetry Month!)

9 thoughts on “a poem, and a poem, and a poem

  1. Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets, too! I agree with your assessment of his goal, he writes such connectable stories in his poems that everyone can relate whether they enjoy poetry or not.

    I love writing poetry imitating other poets style because you do learn so much about their thinking process as you develop your own. For a month straight last year, I followed Ron Rash’s strict form of seven syllable lines throughout a whole poem. It really makes you consider every word and its importance. Bukowski helped me learn rhythm. Plath and Sexton helped me with the darkness in my life. Poetry opens the unimaginable door to possibilities.
    I love studying the cloud patterns and the moon all the time because my muse is inspired by both.
    Your poem came out pretty good. The book looks interesting, I’ll check it out.

    Always a pleasure to visit your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! Thank you, Lyn, for sharing that you enjoy Collins’s work as well. “Connectable” is a great way of putting it. I have heard a few writers be less enthusiastic about BC but I feel it’s no shame when your writing is accessible AND good. Have you seen his two TED talks (short)? One is an animated version of a couple of poems and the other is just a poetic break at a TED event…
      I love that Plath and Sexton helped you with the darkness. That is lovely. I’m not very good yet at Bukowski, though I am at least familiar with the name. :).
      And, you followed a seven-syllable line routine for a month! Awesome! Interesting that it helped you slow down and consider the words (almost like Haiku does, for me).
      And say “hi” to those clouds and the moon for me! 🙂 Thank yo, Lyn!


  2. Thank you for this post Theresa – I could see myself in Billy Collins poem! I am not a poetry person because I didnt/dont ‘understand’ but now I think I am beginning to see the glimmerings – good poetry makes you soar just like yours did – I love it. Fantastic job

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! Thank you, Dahlia! It’s such a common misperception that people have that poetry is “hard to understand” and that they are just not smart enough to get it. I read that poetry became more difficult at the early part of the 20th century as poets strove to make poetry more for each other than for their readers. (I’m paraphrasing here.) Have you seen Billy Collin’s TED talks? They are so fun, you should take a look! Here is one very short one where he reads a couple of poems about how dogs think:

      Liked by 1 person

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