To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

Dear Writers:

I’ve been having the most fun sort of agony over my latest assignment to write a children’s poem for the SpeakEasy event at the posh Mount Baker Theatre on April 12. I’ve learned a lot, such as when trying to write a kids’ poem it’s helpful to:

A) Be an actual poet

B) Have some kids

C) Have been a kid at one time


My nieces and nephews always help me get into kid mode, but they’re all the way in another state, and I don’t get to go home until July. (Yes, her mom said it was OK to put a picture of Bella on my blog.)

Number C is my only real possibility, and that’s a stretch. My memories of being much shorter and trading the healthy lunches my mom packed for Twinkies have been overwritten by decades of adult concerns that aren’t so easy to shed with a short lead time. Needless to say, I’ve had way too much fun trying, including e-mailing my wonderful and patient friends, both poets and parents, for advice on such things as:

A) Is bathroom humor in or out?

B) You know that one part of Roald Dahl’s “Cinderella” poem where the prince beheads both of the evil stepsisters—is that too gory for five-year-olds or what?

C) Help!!!

Yep, I sometimes write stories with child narrators, but they’re generally stories where the protagonist gets kicked in the gut by the looming adult world and someone else gets punched in the face or arrested or drunk, or drunk and arrested. And everyone swears. There are boobs. The place burns down. I can say with great confidence that every story I’ve published is NOT age-appropriate.

My early training as a barfly has served my writing well. This is 1965 in my dad's tavern in Bruneau ID. Check out the awesome jukebox! Before the place opened in the morning, I would go in and dance to songs on the jukebox.

My early training as a barfly has served my writing well. This is 1965 in my dad’s tavern in Bruneau ID. Check out the awesome jukebox! Before the place opened in the morning, I would go in and dance to songs on the jukebox. The story that got me into grad school was of course set in a bar modeled after my dad’s place. I’m pretty sure that story is also the reason I didn’t get into that one Catholic school’s MFA program.

As luck would have it, a few days ago I encountered a salamander on my patio. Salamanders and I have a history. The last one who visited took up residence in my downstairs bathroom, and we met while I was doing what you generally do in the bathroom and he was peeking out from underneath the towel shelf. My front patio is sunken amidst the multi-levels of my ramshackle dwelling, so every time it rains really hard, a salamander can happen to float in and then get stuck when the water drains away. This last visitor was dangerously dehydrated. Clearly, I need to build a salamander escape ramp, and I will get on that just as soon as I finish this other assignment of writing a poem for SpeakEasy16.


And my poem is almost done! Because of the salamander. Who reminded me that sometimes you just have to sit on your patio and talk to a salamander from that actual kid part that’s still there inside of you. After you give the salamander a nonalcoholic beverage, of course, and help him back up to level ground. I can’t guarantee that my poem-ish piece will be great, but luckily there are going to be actual poets there to carry the show. I am thankful for this little glimpse into some of the magic that kids’ book authors and illustrators must experience nearly daily in their hunt for topics.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my gritty worlds and take great glee in pitching the occasional character through a third-story window. But it’s fun to step out of your writing comfort zone now and then and try something else. We all know that but maybe don’t always remember to do it.

And there will be kid poets at this event! If you are an actual kid or know one, poets ages 5 to 16 can still submit their poems until March 31 to come and read at SpeakEasy16. Here’s the skinny:

  • Please submit poems, with the name and age of the poet (along with the name of an adult who would accompany the reader to the event) to event organizer Luther Allen ( or to SpeakEasy 16, PO Box 1042, Bellingham WA  98227.  All submitted poems will be displayed at the reading. There is a headcount cap, so get your poem in now to be on the list.  The deadline for submittals is March 31, 2015.
  • Also, young poets are encouraged to submit the same poems to the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest, which gleefully accepts poems from both students and people who have only the vaguest memory of being a student many years ago. Speaking of the Boynton bunch, they are hosting two very enticing workshops this weekend facilitated by Ellie Rogers and Rachel Mehl. Go here for information on the contest and workshops.

P.S. A wonderful illustrated book for children ages 6 to 9 years is Sarah Gives Thanks by author/illustrator/blogger/journalist/editor Mike Allegra.


The fine print: Although it is a beautiful book with a beautiful and timely theme that has received great reviews, I want to say that me mentioning it here has absolutely nothing to do with yesterday’s post.

Okay, maybe a little. Mike, pleeeeeaaaaaassssseee!

img026XO Laurel Leigh


25 thoughts on “To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

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  4. I hope you get your salamander doodle! And may I just say that I will gladly listen to anything you write, but especially if it’s about a salamander in a bar who has anger issues

  5. I hope you get your salamander doodle! And may I just say that I will gladly listen to anything you write, but most especially if it’s about a salamander in a bar . . .

  6. I have no shame either….if Mike Allegra happens to see this post, I am pleading too…please, please, please draw a salamander for Laurel’s poem!

  7. I love your salamander story and I can’t wait for the poem! Salamanders hold a special place in my heart.

    I struggled with the same kind of thing when I worked in the toy-store and told people I was a writer–everyone assumed I wrote children’s books. Which I very much do not. Trying to explain to parents that my book full of adult situations, nudity and graphic violence was not really appropriate for their eight-year-old . . . agh!

  8. Laurel,

    I don’t like to rhyme. It’s a waste of time, not an escape to the sublime.

    My spirit won’t be flyin’ within the lines I’m tryin’.

    But since no one is buyin ‘ I’ll go back to incessant cryin’

    Peace, Harvey

    • None whatsoever, when it comes to salamanders at least! It’s impossible to resist pleading this case when it’s for an event to encourage kids to write. Plus I’m dying to see him draw a salamander. He is the perfect artist to do it justice!

  9. Sounds like a wonderful event! I go back to Judy Blume whenever I’m stuck on a project intended for children. Her voice is perfect for kids and she handles harder topics with humor, which still impresses me. Best of luck with your reading!

    • Hailey! Oh, that is awesome advice. I loved Judy Blume but didn’t think to look at one of her stories in my quest for examples. You are right. She would be a great one to check out.

      You are doing some awesome work over at Ton of Worms. Keep it up, and good luck with your 2015 running goal too. That is inspiring!

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