Using Poetry Books as Writing Examples

When I was in school—whether elementary or secondary—I did not like writing poetry.  The worst part was that I could never think of what to write about.  Not that there wasn’t anything to write about, but there was too much.  Some kids had no problem with picking a topic, but even if I were given a broad topic, I couldn’t decide what to focus on.   And for someone like me who (thought she) didn’t like poetry, it was even harder to decide what form to use.

The three books below are primarily fun poetry books to read, and all use subjects familiar to almost everyone—fairy tales and apologies—making them the best kind of books to use as examples.   All of the books can be used at the elementary level for reading or reading aloud, but they can be used as writing examples even at the higher levels.

The short poems in Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It : False Apology Poems are all modeled, both in form and subject, on William Carlos Williams’ poem, This Is Just to Say.  Levine’s hilarious poems all follow the three-verse format of Williams’ poem, with “Forgive me” as the first line of the third verse.  All of the poems are false, in that the author is not really sorry, and many of the speakers are characters from fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and children’s literature.  For example, the woodcutter from Little Red Riding Hood apologizes for ignoring the screams from the cottage: “Forgive me / at the time / I preferred / to finish my bubble bath.”  Levine also writes a poem from her own perspective, in which she admits to putting the Introduction on page 18 over her editor’s excruciatingly loud objections;  “Forgive me,” she apologizes, “I also shredded / her red pencil and stirred / the splinters  into her tea.”  A fun—and funny—introduction to writing poetry!

Joyce Sidman uses the same poem by William Carlos Williams as the basis for This Is Just to Say : Poems of Apology and Forgiveness.  In her book, an imaginary class is assigned the task of writing a poem apology to someone. The students apologize to teachers, parents, siblings, and pets; some poems are about trivial matters while others are about serious wrongs.  Thomas apologizes to Mrs. Garcia in the office about stealing the jelly doughnuts from the teachers’ lounge; Alyssa apologizes to her sister for stabbing her with a pencil; Tenzin apologizes to his dog for having to put it to sleep; and Jewel apologizes to her father for whatever she did that made him leave.

I would have made the book a Mackin’s Pick even if it ended here—but there is a second part.  The class decides to give their poems to the people they have wronged, and ask for a poem of forgiveness in return.   So Mrs. Garcia says she forgives Thomas, but says she will still have to call his mother; and the others are all forgiven (or not).  The apology poems made this a very good book; the addition of the forgiveness poems makes it awesome.

Mirror Mirror : A Book of Reversible Verse is a great picture book for all ages.  Each spread includes a full-page illustration of a fairy tale, with two poems by characters in that fairy tale on the facing page.  The unique feature of these poems is that they are reversible. The first poem is read from top to bottom, while the second poem is a duplicate of the first—but turned on its head.  The first line of the first poem is the last line of the second.

What fascinated all of us at Mackin is how Singer, by flipping the lines upside-down, changed the whole character of the poem—the speaker, the tone…everything.  In the first poem of The Sleeping Beauty and the Wide-Awake Prince, Sleeping Beauty bemoans the fact that she has to sleep and misses out on the world, while in the second poem the prince complains about always having to work at hacking through briars and never resting.  This book can be enjoyed by everyone, but it might be best as a writing example book for middle school and higher.

***Finally, don’t forget about our contest. We’ve given away books and bags and more, and there are still three drawings to go.  Check it out here.***

Bibliography:

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It : False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. 2012. 9780061787263. Gr 1-4.

Mirror Mirror : A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. 2010. 9780525479017. Gr 2-6.

This Is Just to Say : Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  2007. 9780618616800. Gr 4-6.

Tracey L.