Buffy Silverman is a longtime SCBWI member and former assistant Regional Advisor for the Michigan chapter. This spring, she participated in the 2015 March Madness Poetry event through the website Think, Kid, Think and advanced to the sixth and final round. Facebook friends cheered her on and dubbed her, “Buffy the Poetry Slayer.” I asked Buffy to tell us more about the experience.
This is the fourth year of the March Madness Poetry tournament, and my third year participating in it. I was initially drawn to the tournament because it offered what motivates me best in my writing: a deadline! Every "authlete" in the tournament is given 36 hours to write a poem that uses an assigned word. Then the public, school classes, and fellow authletes vote for their favorite poem. The winner of each match goes on to face another authlete.
I managed to win several matches in past years, but I was quite surprised to find myself competing in and winning the finals this year. The experience was both exhilarating and exhausting--especially since I had some school visits and a trip scheduled during the tournament. There's nothing like returning to your hotel room after a full day of speaking and forcing your brain to get in gear! But I managed to write six poems during March that I would not otherwise have written. A couple of them are probably worth revising at some point. And I greatly appreciated all the enthusiasm and support from my Michigan pals who followed the madness.
How did you get started writing poetry, and how do you continue to improve your craft?
I did not consider myself a poet or think about writing poetry when I began writing for children. Like many moms who read picture books morning, noon, and night, I was drawn to writing fiction picture books. Since I had taught biology and been a naturalist, I eventually found my way to writing nonfiction (and started getting published regularly!) For the past several years my nonfiction writing has led me to writing nature and science-inspired poetry. Twenty-five years after my first attempts to write for children I think I have discovered my writing path (although I would hesitate to call myself a children's poet, and continue to write a lot of nonfiction.)
What has most helped me understand children's poetry and learn to write it is reading a lot of great children's poetry books. I often look at writing a poem as similar to solving a puzzle--when I keep tinkering with a poem, I get closer and closer to writing something that is satisfying. I'm lucky to belong to two critique groups that give wonderful feedback--an in-person group called The World's Greatest Critique Group, and an online group that focuses on children's poetry.
What advice can you give to a writer who wants to better understand poetry or get started writing poetry?
I think that the best way to learn about children's poetry is to read a lot of it. A few of my favorite children's poets are J. Patrick Lewis, Joyce Sidman, Douglas Florian, Deborah Ruddell, and Barbara Juster Esbensen. Go to the library and discover what children's poets speak to you. Analyze the rhythm and rhyme scheme of poems that you admire and use them as a model for your own poetry. Read a few craft books and experiment with different poetic forms. I've learned a lot from Myra Cohn Livingston's Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry and Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters. You can also join a welcoming community of children's poets and poetry lovers by reading Poetry Friday blogposts (the weekly round-up of Poetry Friday blogs can be found at http://kidlitosphere.org/poetry-friday/.)
What's next for you?
I'm working on a new series of poems right now, and I've got several nonfiction books in the works with Lerner Publishing. And I'm still hoping to achieve my original dream of having a picture book out in the world!
Buffy Silverman is the author of more than 70 nonfiction books for children. Her poems, stories, and articles are featured in poetry anthologies, popular children's magazines, and educational resources. To learn more about her writing please visit: www.buffysilverman.com