Linda Kulp Trout

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It's no secret that I love Japanese poetry forms. While tanka, haiku and renga have gained popularity in recent years, choka is relatively unknown. A choka is structured in the repeated pattern of 5-7-5-7-5-7-5......7-7. Many choka are more than 100 lines long. You can read more about the choka form here.

Here is my attempt at a choka.

calico kitten
in the woods behind our house
hungry, shivering—
bone thin, barely alive—
afraid she might die
I wrapped her in my jacket
carried her inside
gave her warm milk, my blanket
and a promise— to love her.

Although I tried to stick fairly close to the pattern in order to model the form for my students, I'm not happy with the last two lines. Following a structure too closely can detract from the meaning of the poem. I can't think of how I want to revise it right now, , so I'll let it rest a while.
photo: KatRya

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rock 'N' Roll Band

This is a fantastic poem to use for choral reading. When I taught elementary school, my students loved to wear wigs and tie die T-shirts and perform "Rock 'N' Roll Band" for their classmates. This poem is from Poems That Sing to You by Michael R. Strickland. Altough it was published by Boyd's Mill Press in 1993, it's still available through Amazon.

Poems That Sing to You is filled with great poems to teach poetic elements like Karla Kuskin's "Lewis Has a Trumpet." This is poem is so much fun to read aloud. It actually sounds like a trumpet when you read it. This collection would be a valued addition to any reading/language arts teacher's library.

If we were a rock 'n' roll band,
We'd travel all over the land.
We'd play and we'd sing and wear spangly things.
If we were a rock 'n' roll band.

If we were a rock 'n' roll band,
And we were up there on the stand,
The people would here us and love us and cheer us.
Hurray for that rock 'n' roll band.

If we were a rock 'n' roll band,
Then we'd have a million fans.
We'd giggle and laugh and sign autographs,
If we were a rock 'n' roll band.

If we were a rock 'n' roll band.
The people would all kiss our hands.
We'd be millionaires and have extra long hair,
If we were a rock 'n' roll band.

You can read the rest here.
This page has several of Silverstein's poems so you'll need to scroll down to the third poem.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two Tanka

I live in an area where deer are plentiful. I love watching them. In spring and summer, does bring their fawns to graze in the backyard and eat from the cherry tree. In autumn, they run down my driveway and hide in twilight shadows. They come to dine on crabapples in winter. They are so tame, they come right up to my front door and watch me watching them through the window.

Here are two of the many tanka they've inspired.

crackle of dry leaves
in the shadows of twilight
still as a statue
a deer looks into my eyes
then suddenly— gone

hoping from limb to limb
fat robins quarrel
over crabapples

deer wait patiently below
for fallen leftovers

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Last night I used my extra "fall back" hour organizing the area where I keep all of my writing materials. I love collecting notebooks and have tons of them. People give them to me as gifts, and I can't resist buying them. Here's the problem, every time I get a new one, I fill a few pages and then move on to another. I have over a dozen partially filled notebooks that rotate through. I write in one for a while then move on to another one. I never seem to stay with one until it's filled up.

It's the same way with my writing projects. I have 3 or 4 poetry collections, two picture books, several essays, and a nonfiction series all in various stages. I dive into a project full of enthusiasm, then read something that tells me how "only 3 in 12,000 books submitted ever get published," and I give up. Since there are no deadlines and no one waiting to read what I've written, what does it matter if I don't finish? A critique group might help, but I haven't been able to find a group who write for children in my area. I'm not sure if I'm ready to share with a group online.

I used to think that maybe I didn't really want to write, and that was why I never finished. But, if I don't like to write, how'd I end up with a file full of poems and essays?

Last night as I read through my notebooks, I discovered many entries showed a lack of self-confidence. Even in journals I wrote twenty years ago, the same issues kept coming up: my failure to stick to a fitness program, to "fix" my personal life, and to accomplish my writing goals...unfinished projects. Only a few entries described my successes. I've had an early reader, twenty or so poems, a few essays, articles and book reviews published, but I don't write about those because I have convinced myself that it had to be due to luck, not my writing skills.

It occured to me that maybe I don't finish things because if I never finish, I won't have to worry about failing.

Do we all doubt ourselves, or are writers more susceptible because of constant rejection? I heard prolific songwriter, David Foster say that sometimes questioned his writing ability and worried that maybe he was a fraud. I was surprised by his confession because how can he not know how gifted he is? Everyone from Whitney Houston to Earth, Wind and Fire have performed his songs!

I guess another piece of my unfinished pie is that there is so much conflicting advice out there.
Eileen Spinelli wrote this about writing, "How can you love the work if you're already a mile down the road worrying about whether it's going to be published? The publication will take care of itself. I hate to see writers just cringing and skipping ahead, and worrying about publication."
That sounds wonderful, write what you love. Will this work if you want to make a living as a writer?

But another very accomplished writer told me, "Professional writers get a contract then write the book." To me this means treat writing like a business and don't focus so much on what you love to write. I'm not sure I'd like that.

There has to be a balance of both "writing for a paycheck and writing what you love." Some writers, like Laura Salas has certainly been able to do it.

Back to "unfinished" business, how do you keep yourself motivated to finish a project? Do you get a contract first and then have a deadline to motivate you? Do you have someone who keeps you accountable, or have you found a way to do that for yourself? I'd really love to hear from you. A new year is coming, and I want to make a resolution to finish what I start.