Douglas Florian, author and illustrator of many children's poetry books, discusses what makes a good poem, how he plays with words, and what he likes best about writing. This video is part of the NBC Learn original series "Writers Speak to Kids."
Writers Speak to Kids-Douglas Florian
JENNA BUSH HAGER, reporting:
What makes a good poem?
DOUGLAS FLORIAN: A good poem, you know, I think sometimes kids or even adults, they look at poem and they think, "Oh, I could do that it's easy" but really, the craft is more difficult than people might imagine. The rhythm is very important. I might read a poem a certain way with certain accents, and I really don't want somebody to read a poem in a different rhythm or scan it differently. That's one thing that's beautiful about poetry is that you can recite it. We have things like italics, we can italicize a word, or I use like a bold font or a long dash to pause the reader, we can have shape poems and upside down poems and as I tell kids, in poetry you can do anything you want - that's poetic license.
BUSH HAGER: What is your writing process?
FLORIAN: I have the "no-routine" routine I call it, "the no-plan" plan. I don't have any plan. I have no idea where I'll get my ideas. I could be on a subway or a bus or at home or at two in the morning. I think that's what works well for me. I love playing with words, even in my titles. I had a book that had 180 funny poems and I was thinking, "It's kind of like a cafeteria for poems - a laugh-a-teria." So sometimes I combine words together like "insectlopedia" instead of "encyclopedia" and "unbeelievables." I love to read field guides and nonfiction books to gather a lot of information. It's so hard for a kid or even an author to sit down with a blank piece of paper. It doesn't work like that, for me, so the research and the learning really helps to create the poem spontaneously.
BUSH HAGER: How do you create the illustrations?
FLORIAN: I use rubber stamps and candy wrappers and silver foil and a barrage of collage and colored pencils, water colors gauss, even dinosaur dust - just joking, and honey and nectar and anything I can round up in my studio. But, I want to really have a lot of variety from picture to picture. I don't like to look at a book where every picture's the same - the same pallet, the same composition, so here's Iguana Don and Iguana Donna. I like to have variety within a certain boundary, you know.
BUSH HAGER: What do you like best about writing?
FLORIAN: I like best about writing surprising myself like, "Wow, I can't believe I wrote that's very inventive, congratulations, how did you do that?!" You know? I really don't like formulas. I like to be adventurous, I like to keep growing. I think, look at Frank Lloyd Wright. He was like almost 90 years old he created the Guggenheim Museum he didn't sit back on his laurels. He didn't have any laurels! You know, keep growing, keep surprising myself, expanding, trying different things and always trying to get better and better. That's what I love to do.
To be or not to be? Young poets might know the question. The line comes from William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Kids know it from movies or television, but might not have read it from the man himself. And it might not matter.
Kids are creating poetry that matters to them. To mark National Poetry Month, several poets spoke about why poetry is vital for youths.