Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 11, 2013

Rhymes on the Closet Floor

I generally write more free verse than formal, since I like working with the facts of history, which give me some structure, and the needs of narrative, with most of my poems following another as they build a world on the page. These poems are shaped by images, which echo through repetition. The echoing sounds of words we call rhyme would be too much.

Off and on for years I’ve been working on a picture book with a science-based theme. I love the subject, but something has always been off, maybe particularly my stiff voice. It finally dawned on me that I wanted something more like song, which would invite readers to join in. And with a theme of the ways that animals who look different behave in similar ways, rhyme, which uses sound to bring together two different things, seems perfect. It took me a long time to see past my habits to get that.

While I continue to gather material and trim, trim, trim, I haven’t yet decided on what poetic form I’ll use. I’m reading some ghazals, sestinas, and pantoums, and will decide if I want to work in couplets, triplets, or four-line stanzas as I decide on how much information is best. Meanwhile, I’m noting some pairs of sounds and possible refrains.

Rhyme and meter set up expectations that can feel as comfortable as in a chair where we feel coziest, but it might also knock us off that seat. The rhythm sets us up to wait for that last word, but it should surprise us, too. In poetry fro children, often that surprise is a joke, but it can be any kind of startling, waking up, and might first have an element of Really? or Wow! followed by: Why didn’t I ever see that? Readers should feel both balanced and tipping over.

It’s fun to let words knock against each other, with rhyme calling out its own needs, setting my mind to thoughts I wouldn’t have without its demands. But in this particular picture book, I can’t let it run into nonsense, but keep the lines trimmed to actual animal behavior. Fortunately, I’ve got lots of movement to enjoy, not to mention snuffling, snorting, nickering, neighing, whooshing, huffing, and RhymeZone, which is a lovely place to play.

Rhyme is a sort of cousin to metaphor, bringing together two different things, but its shirtsleeves are made of sound. Or does that shirt quite fit? Trying out rhymes is like putting on a shirt, taking it off, and pulling another off a hanger.  Just how comfortable should it be? I want a little tension, but not so much the seams threaten to tear. I don’t want it to be saggy. The closet floor is getting covered, but that’s a good thing, full of bright possibilities. I’m going to be letting shirts fall and kicking them around for a while.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids (where there’s a special bustle of pantoum joy today).



  1. Oh, a messy closet — and lots of snuffling, snorting, nickering, neighing, whooshing, and huffing! Love “readers should feel both balanced and tipping over.” Precisely.

    This project sounds like a lot of hard work fun. The shirt wrinkles may provide some insights and solutions. Use your iron judiciously. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jama, and for understanding that concept of “hard work fun,” which yes it is. And you’re right, leaving in some wrinkles can be good.

  2. Jeannine, I always want to thank you profusely when you write these “thought-filled” posts. They help me think of my writing in different ways; I hope they make me better! Thank you again for all, and for “Readers should feel both balanced and tipping over.”

    • Thanks, Linda. I love hearing that these thoughts help you come differently to your own writing.

  3. Reading about your writing life is so inspiring, Jeannine…so much thoughtful weighing of all the tools of the trade. I love the way you put this:
    It’s fun to let words knock against each other, with rhyme calling out its own needs…

    • Tara, what an honor to inspire inspiring you. Thanks!

  4. I love your process posts! I’m imagining your imaginary closet floor!

    • Thanks, Mary Lee. An imaginary closet decked with rhymes is more fun to clean than a real one!

  5. Love this picture into your process. Now, I know you noticed the pantoums, so I’m just throwing the pantoum out there as a possibility for you for this project. Having the same lines spoken from stanza to stanza, by two different animals, could totally let you play with the idea of same behaviors, different animals. Ya know what I mean? Can’t wait to see what you eventually settle on.

    • Thanks, Laura, and yes, I’ve been considering pantoums. My daughter is visiting this weekend, but I look forward to catch up with the feast of pantoums early next week. I love your icon with A Leaf Can Be… which is an inspiration as a brilliant way to combine science/nature and poetry.

      • Hope you had a great visit:>) And thanks for the kind words!

  6. This sounds great, Jeannine. Hooray for the bright, messy floor! And for the epiphanies that let us see past habits. (Amazing how hard that is to do.)

    • Lovely to hear from you, Amy. I imagine you head deep in Chantress III. Yes, epiphanies, stumbling, blindfolds, whatever it takes to get past the habits is something to cheer about.

  7. I love reading the history of your writing. It’s so encouraging to me to see that people have writing projects that germinate for years.

    • Thank you. I think some of the best writing projects germinate for years. I love C.S. Lewis’s story of the wardrobe he played in as a boy, the dream of a faun in the woods he had at 16, a story about a Lion, etc, all coming together when he was in his fifties. Persevere, and mull!

  8. Hi Jeannine! I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award.

    Here are the Liebster Blog Award (entirely optional) rules:
    1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog (that’s me).
    2. Link back to the blogger who presented the award to you (that’s my site).
    3. Answer the questions posted for you in my blog.
    3. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
    4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to three blogs with 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed.
    5. Let them know they have been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog.

    • Thanks, Deb! I’m not very good at following up on these things, but we’ll see how the week turns out. I appreciate the thought, and the thoughtfulness of your questions.

  9. Hi, Jeannine! I just learned last weekend that you and Peter are good friends with my aunt Barb. I’m a big fan of Peter’s work of course, and actually have a published comic book of my own. (Yellow. You can find it on facebook here: Anyway, nice to “meet” you. Congratulations on all your successes as an author and best of luck. (PS – I sent you a FB friend request but decided not to include this message there, because it would be re-routed to your “other” messages folder and would likely go unnoticed for who knows how long!)

    • Hi, thanks for reading and good luck with your comic book!

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