Thursday, August 21, 2014

Heidi Bee Roemer on Inspiration and Writing Poetry

I've been thinking about all the great resources in our Poetry Friday community. We are so fortunate to be among wonderfully talented poets who generously share their time and experiences.  Today I want to tell you about a poetry class I took several years ago and share an interview with an excellent teacher, author, and poet Heidi Bee Roemer.

The ABC's of Writing Poetry for Children is a correspondence course that is different from most others because it is self-paced. This feature was very attractive to me because with teaching full time and being a grandma, life is busy!  Knowing that I had control of how long it took me to finish the course let me focus on enjoying the lessons without rushing through. The class is a one-on-one exchange with a tremendous amount of feedback and support from Heidi. The 5 DVDs and a 65-page workbook were informative, and it was helpful to have both resources to refer back to as needed.

Heidi has all the qualities of a great teacher. She is warm, patient, encouraging, and inspiring. Best of all, with over 200 published poems, she knows poetry! When I decided to write this post, I asked Heidi if she would mind answering a few questions, and she graciously agreed.  Heidi's passion for teaching is evident in her responses.

Where do you find inspiration?

 My inspiration comes from memories, music and observing children, to note just a few. But consider this: babies learn about the world through their five senses. A writer who zeros in on that will find buckloads of ideas! As you go through your day, be aware of things that might spark a flame…
Visually -- an illustration, a TV commercial, a child playing at the beach--or anywhere!
Audibly-- silly sounding words, children talking, city noises, nature sounds, popcorn popping, fireworks, etc.
Tactically--sticky glue, the cool fluidity of water, softness of a pet's fur.
Taste--the startling sourness of a lemon, the creamy sweetness of ice cream.
Smell--cookies baking, the smell of rain.

When writing for younger kids, you might include alliteration--beep beep! splash! poppity-pop! When writing for a slightly older audience, sprinkle in a few metaphors. And when an idea strikes you, jot it down immediately! If you don't, it will probably slip away.

Once you have an idea for a poem, what is your writing process?

Good question! After choosing a topic, I brainstorm for ways to present the poem. Sometimes poets get stuck writing the same style of poem over and over. Boring. Try something new! Experiment!

I might write my poem in first person point of view, as reflected in my title, "I Love to Eat Lemons".  Second person p.o.v. : "Do You Like Lemons?" Third person is also a possibility: "Lulu Loves Lemons!"  In this instance, I chose the latter because I love the playful alliteration.

Knowing various poetry forms also gives writers options. Terse verse, which is often employed when writing for the very young, uses short, clipped rhymed lines that rhyme. Verla Kay has written numerous historical picture books in this form. Her newest is CivilWar, Drummer Boy. Here's the opening of her must-read book, OrphanTrain:

Horses clip-clop.
Streets unclean.
Typhoid fever.

 Parents coughing.
Shaking chill.
Stomachs aching.
Deathly ill.

Harold, David,
Frightened eyes.
Lucy rocking,

An apostrophe poem addresses a person or thing that cannot hear or respond. Pretending to talk to a kite, a pet, or favorite toy is something that comes naturally to children. Douglas Florian, one of my favorite poets, uses the apostrophe form in many of his poetry collections. Here's a snippet from "Daddy Longlegs," from Insectlopedia.

 O Daddy,
Daddy O,
How'd you get
Those legs to grow

So very long
and lean in size?
From spiderobic

Exercise? …

 A parody of a familiar nursery rhyme is always a favorite. A mask poem is another fun form. ("A mask poem is ME pretending to BE something I'm not!") I used both forms in my poem that begins, "I'm a little jump rope, red and white…" It's based on the Mother Goose rhyme, "I'm a Little Tea Pot."

Whether you're trying to sell your poems to children's magazines or writing a poetry collection, use a variety of lively poetry forms to keep your young readers engaged--and to snag the attention of your editor!  

Meter is one of the hardest things for most writers to master. How do you decide on which meter to use?

Sometimes the meter seems to picks itself! If I've captured the first few words of the poem, they may set the pace for what follows. Other times I make a conscious decision on what meter to use.  If the poem is about something exciting, I might use anapest which is the same meter as in "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."  Listen to the beat: ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta TUM ta ta TUM. Wouldn't this meter be a good match for a poem about a galloping horse?

The classic narrative poem, "The Raven", by Edgar Allan Poe, is predominantly troche. (TUM ta TUM ta TUM ta TUM ta….) Paired with Poe's somber words, the rhythm effectively accentuates the poem's increasingly sinister sound.

Try to mimic the rhythms you hear in published poems. Better yet, learn the various meters and apply them to your own poems for more variety in your work.

Do you write in a notebook or on the computer?

I use the computer a lot to research, but I also go to the library every week and bring home books. When I started gathering information for home building (construction) for a writing project, I exceeded the library check-out limit of 100 books, (I never knew they had a limit!) and had to put back a few. I proceed by jotting down ideas in a notebook, but when the ideas really start flowing, I have to turn to the keyboard because my handwriting gets too messy! (I've found that illegible notes aren't very helpful.) I type much faster than I can write. I also prefer to do revision on the computer for the same reason.

  What new writing projects do you have in the works?

I enjoy writing poems for children's magazines, particularly Highlights, High Five, and Hello, plus the "bug" magazines, Babybug, Ladybug, and Spider. Keeping my poems circulating to a variety of magazines increases my chances of getting a sale. Currently, I'm working on a rollicking rhyming picture book about road construction (Well, it's not quite at at the "rollicking" state yet. It still has a long way to go!)  I also started a poetry collection about the construction trades, (carpenter, brick layer, painter, etc). Both are geared for primary grades. Wish me luck!

In addition to writing for magazines and anthologies, Heidi has writes nonfiction, fiction, song lyrics, and articles.  You can read poems from her award winning book Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems here.

For your viewing pleasure, check out Heidi's poem, "Food Fest" from the
Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School which is featured in  Renee LaTulippe's fabulous poetry video.  You can watch it here.

A special thank you to my friend and teacher,
Heidi Bee Roemer for being my guest here on Write Time today. For more inspiration, be sure to visit the multi-talented Irene at Live Your Poem for today's Poetry Friday!


  1. Love the tip on looking at a subject from different POV! Thank you for sharing.... I think a construction trade book sounds great. Hope it includes an electrician! Thanks, Linda, and happy writing!

    1. I have 3 cousins and 2 nephews who are electricians, Irene, so I promise you I won't overlook that trade! I'm glad the POV tip sparked your interest. Thanks for sharing, Irene!

  2. Irene, I love the POV tip too! Heidi is such a great teacher! Thanks for stopping by, Irene!

  3. I'm embarrassed: I've known (corresponded with) Heidi Bee Roemer for more than 2 years and didn't know until just now about this class! Wow--what a great opportunity for people to learn more about poetry at their own pace!!

    1. Janet, I took the class several years ago. The work at your own pace worked really well for me. I've learned so much from our poetry community and want to pass it on so others can benefit too!

  4. Wonderful interview, Linda and Heidi! It's easy to see what a wonderful teacher Heidi must be, full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas to get her students' brains ticking. Best of luck on the construction book, Heidi -- lots of fodder for poems there, for sure! :)

  5. What an interesting interview. Lots of great information, tips and advice here-- thanks so much to you both!

  6. Great interview. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks, Linda, for interviewing Heidi. Her poems have that child appeal that I find so elusive! The quality of simplicity is not really so easy to achieve. Heidi's poems have such great rhythm!

    1. Joyce, you are so right about Heidi's poems. I learned a lot from her!

  8. Such an informative interview, thanks so much for sharing! You've given me so much to think about and add to my poetry lessons.

  9. Hello there Linda, there is much to learn from this post, thank you for this. I love that there are also wonderful illustrations/poetry samples that give life to Heidi's responses. Great post!

  10. Great interview, Linda! It is a pleasure getting to know Heidi better. I've admired her poetry book, Come to My Party. Thanks for sharing her expertise. = ) (I love how we both have a "Bee" in our posts today)

    1. Bridget, I love Come to MY Party too. Thank you for stopping by!

    2. How nice to know you like COME TO MY PARTY, Bridget! Thank you! But I'm sad to report that PARTY is now out of print.

  11. Wow! Such words of wisdom. I'll be sharing some of them with my students!

    1. Holly, I'll be doing the same! Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Thanks, Heidi and Linda for this fab interview. Heidi's love of teaching shines through in all her answers, and I imagine her correspondence course is top notch. Always a pleasure to learn more about Heidi and her work. :)

    1. Jama, Heidi is a fabulous teacher. I feel very fortunate to have taken her class. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Thanks for your kind comments, my fellow poets, teachers, and friends! Here's a great description of what poetry is: "Poetry is a can of frozen orange concentrate. Add three cans water and you get prose."