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Steven Withrow

Children’s Poet and Poetry Advocate, Steven Withrow

An Interview with Children’s Poetry Advocate Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow is the founder of Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults (PACYA), a children’s poet, filmmaker, and all around talented man.

His poems have appeared most recently in two volumes of the Poetry Tag Time series, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

I had the chance to interview Steven recently about PACYA. you can listen to our conversation, and hear Steven recite a couple of his own poems, here.

You can also find Steven on the Internet at the following websites:

Poetry Advocates – http://www.poetryatplay.org
Library of the Early Mind – http://www.libraryoftheearlymind.com
Crackles of Speech – http://cracklesofspeech.blogspot.com

Calling all poets! TIME For Kids has a challenge for you: Write a funny, rhyming poem. It must be an original poem that does not copy another poet’s work. Enter it in the TIME For Kids Poetry Contest. The grand-prize winner will receive an online class visit from poet Kenn Nesbitt. The grand-prize winner and four finalists will each get a signed copy of one of Nesbitt’s books of poetry, and their poems will be published at timeforkids.com.

The deadline is March 1, 2012, so what are you waiting for? Send in your funny poem today!

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Pete the Pirate Wannabe

He’s Pete, the pirate wannabe.
He’ll sail the seas someday.
But, first, he needs a little cash
to help him on his way.

He can’t afford a parrot.
He can’t afford a plank.
A peg leg’s much too pricey,
and ship would break the bank.

He cannot buy an eye patch.
He hasn’t got a hat.
He’ll never own a blunderbuss;
he’s much too broke for that.

A dagger’s too expensive.
He couldn’t swing a sword.
In fact, there’s only one thing
he’s been able to afford.

His shopping list is lengthy,
with loads of pirate gear,
but all he has are earrings
since they’re just a buck an ear.

–Kenn Nesbitt

How to Write a Funny List Poem

Shopping List

What is a list poem?

A “list poem” gets its name from the fact that most of the poem is made up of a long list of things.

Two famous list poems are “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” by Jack Prelutsky and “Sick” by Shel Silverstein. You will even find some of my list poems on poetry4kids.com, such as “My Lunch” and “That Explains It!

These are not the only list poems, though. Many children’s poets have written fun list poems, and you can even write your own. This lesson will show you how.

The structure of a list poem

List poems usually have a list in the middle, plus a few lines at the beginning and a few lines at the end. You can think of the beginning and end of a list poem like the top and bottom slices of bread in a sandwich. The list is like the meat or peanut butter or whatever else is between the bread. Picture it like this:

Beginning
List
List
List
List
Ending

List poems often rhyme, and they are usually funny. If you look at poems like Shel Silverstein’s “Sick” or Jack Prelutsky’s “Bleezer’s Ice Cream” you will notice that the lists also include very unusual items. Putting strange, unexpected, or exaggerated things on your list is a good way to make your poem funny.

Getting started

Here are two easy ways to start writing a list poem:

1.       Start with someone else’s beginning and end, but make your own list in the middle.

2.       Start by writing a list of your own, and then write your own beginning and end to go with the list.

You can decide for yourself whether it will be easier to write your own list poem from scratch, or to use someone else’s poem as a starting point.

Starting with someone else’s poem

It’s okay to use someone else’s list poem as the starting point for your own poem. (Just be sure to say your creation was “Based on…” the poem you used.) For example, here is my poem “That Explains It!”:

That Explains It!

I went to the doctor. He x-rayed my head.
He stared for a moment and here’s what he said.
“It looks like you’ve got a banana in there,
an apple, an orange, a peach, and a pear.
I also see something that looks like a shoe,
a plate of spaghetti, some fake doggy doo,
an airplane, an arrow, a barrel, a chair,
a salmon, a camera, some old underwear,
a penny, a pickle, a pencil, a pen,
a hairy canary, a hammer, a hen,
a whistle, a thistle, a missile, a duck,
an icicle, bicycle, tricycle, truck.
with all of the junk that you have in your head
it’s kind of amazing you got out of bed.
The good news, at least, is you shouldn’t feel pain.
From what I can see here you don’t have a brain.”

Notice that this poem begins with the four lines that set up the story, and ends with four lines that make it even funnier. You can use the same beginning and end, if you like, while putting your own list in the middle.

For example, what would the doctor find in your head? Since this list has rhymes at the end of each line, you can start with a few rhymes, like this:

house
mouse
cat
hat

Once you’ve got a few rhymes, you can add as many items as you want, like this:

“I also see something that looks like a house,
a monkey, a meerkat, a mink, and a mouse,
a laptop computer, a boat, and a cat,
an old pair of glasses, a coat, and a hat,

Of course, you don’t have to use my poem; you can use any list poem you like to create your own new list poem, or you can even create one from scratch.

Starting with your own list

If you prefer to write your own list poem from scratch, one easy way is to figure out what you’re going to make a list of. For example, you could make a grocery list, a list of things in your backpack, a list of your favorite sweets, a list of things you want for Christmas, and so on.

Let’s try it with a list of sweets. First let’s try to think of candies and sweets that rhyme.

Nestle’s Crunch
Hawaiian Punch
Dots
Zotz
Tootsie Pops
Lemon drops
Whoppers
Gobstoppers

Now that you’ve got some rhymes, put them into a list, adding a few more items to make the lines each about the same length:

A half a dozen Nestle’s Crunch.
A gallon of Hawaiian Punch.
Some Cracker Jacks. A box of Dots.
Some Pop Rocks and a jar of Zotz.
Reese’s Pieces. Tootsie Pops.
Hershey Kisses. Lemon drops.
Candy Corn, Milk Duds, and Whoppers.
Skittles, Snickers, and Gobstoppers.

Once your rhyming list is done, give it a beginning, an end, and a title and you’re all done.

My Shopping List

My mother said, “Go buy some bread,”
but this is what I got instead.

A half a dozen Nestle’s Crunch.
A gallon of Hawaiian Punch.
Some Cracker Jacks. A box of Dots.
Some Pop Rocks and a jar of Zotz.
Reese’s Pieces. Tootsie Pops.
Hershey Kisses. Lemon drops.
Candy Corn, Milk Duds, and Whoppers.
Skittles, Snickers, and Gobstoppers.
When mother needs things from the store
She never sends me anymore.

And that’s all there is to it. Now it’s your turn. Make a list of animals, friends, monsters, games, foods, places you’d like to go on vacation, or anything else you like, and see if you can turn it into a funny list poem of your own!

It’s time once again for a new animated video. This one is of my poem “My Brother’s Not a Werewolf.” With fun, bouncy music by Sergei Stern and awesome animation by Stephan Krosecz, I hope you’ll enjoy watching this one over and over. If you like, you can even click on the “CC” (closed captioning) button to read along as you listen to the poem.

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While at the Sofa Factory

While at the sofa factory
I nearly broke my spleen
when I accidentally fell in
an upholstery machine.

I almost died that fateful day
but I survived somehow.
And I'm looking even better, too,
since I'm recovered now.

–Kenn Nesbitt