If Dead Poets Society taught us anything, it's that poetry is for everyone, and it isn't always easy to define, even for "experts." Poetry often ignores the rules of grammar and punctuation, casting them aside like useless burdens. Poetry can be as short as three lines or as long as a novel. It can have a strict structure and form, or it can be wild and free. But one thing poetry is NOT is excess.
To me, a good poem gets right to the heart of its subject, using the least, but strongest, language to say what it wants to say. As Robert Frost once said, "A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It finds the thought and the thought finds the words."
What does this mean for the picture book author?
A picture book, like a poem, must be free of excess. In reading poetry--and writing poetry, if only for practice--a picture book author will learn what it means to be concise, to get rid of every little bit that isn't vital to the story she is trying to tell.
It doesn't matter if she doesn't consider herself a poet. It doesn't matter if she writes in paragraph form, following every grammar rule ever established, any thoughts of "poetic license" absent from her mind. The poet and the picture book author share at least one common goal: to say what they want to say without unnecessary fluff getting in their way.
Are you a picture book author struggling with excess in your manuscripts? What better time than National Poetry Month to begin reading and writing more poetry? You might be surprised at what you learn!
Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on why children should read poetry. And don't forget! On April 3, the Poetry Week by Week challenge begins. I hope to see you there!