Poetry Ideas Are Everywhere

An interview with
Robert Scotellaro
Robert Scotellaro was born in Manhattan and currently lives in San Francisco with his wife, Diana, and daughter, Katie. His work has appeared in numerous Meadowbrook anthologies, including A Bad Case of the Giggles, Miles of Smiles, No More Homework! No More Tests!, Mary Had a Little Jam, and Oh My Darling, Porcupine . His humorous poetry for children has also appeared in four anthologies by Scholastic and in a variety of children's magazines, including Jack and Jill and Highlights for Children. He has published a picture book in rhyme entitled Daddy Fixed the Vacuum Cleaner, by Willowisp Press. His latest books are Dancing with Frankenstein and Other Limericks (2003) and Snail Stampede (2004), published by Hands Up Books. He is a recent winner of The Rainmaker Award in poetry. Aside from writing, he enjoys reading and collecting books of poetry and folktales, long walks, and traveling and hiking along California backroads and trails with his wife and daughter.

Q: What first got you interested in poetry?

RS: As a young child, I really enjoyed the poems read to us in school. I guess the earliest ones I can remember were the rhymes of Mother Goose. There was a catchy rhythm to them, making them fun to recite aloud. Later on at the library, I found lots of poetry books filled with all types of poems-some serious and some just plain silly. Many years later, I was delighted to have some of my rhymes included in The New Adventures of Mother Goose, (now titled Mary Had a Little Jam) published by Meadowbrook Press, where gentler versions of Mother Goose poems were created for new generations of young readers.

Q: When did you start writing poetry?

RS: I first started writing songs (a kind of poetry) when I was eleven or twelve, then switched to poems not long after. They were mostly long, serious tales of adventure all in rhyme or short, silly light verse that I pecked out (with two fingers) on an ancient typewriter I found in my grandparents' garage.

Q: Where do you get ideas for poems?

RS: Once you are open to receiving them, ideas for poetry are everywhere. Sometimes I get ideas just watching my daughter playing and talking with her friends, from something done or said on TV, or something overheard in a store. Sometimes a silly word or image just pops into my head and creates a starting point for a poem. The fun comes from developing them into poems that will be good for a giggle or two.

Q: Of all the poems you've written, what's your favorite?

RS: : It's hard to pick a favorite--it keeps changing. Often a favorite is one I've just completed that brings a smile to my face. Plus, there is always the hope that your "best" or "favorite" poem is yet to be written and is only a pencil touch away from coming into existence.

Q: Who are your favorite poets?

RS: A couple of favorites that inspired me early on and tickled my funny bone were Richard Armour and Ogden Nash. Children's poets that I think are fabulous are Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Colin McNaughton, Colin West, X.J. Kennedy, Bruce Lansky, J. Patrick Lewis… They all have their own special style and way with words, and I enjoy reading their work again and again.

Q: How many books have you written/appeared in?

RS: My work has appeared in over a dozen Meadowbrook books for both adults and children, including A Bad Case of the Giggles, Miles of Smiles, Girls to the Rescue, The Best of Girls to the Rescue, No More Homework! No More Tests!, and Mary Had a Little Jam. Meadowbrook has also published a book of my original sayings and verse entitled The Joy of Friendship. Recently one of my folktales from Girls to the Rescue was reprinted in a simplified form by Oxford University Press (India) to help Indian children learn to read English. Additionally, I have published poetry in the anthology Giving You the Willies (Hands Up Books) and have poems forthcoming in two collections out of England, published by Macmillan.

Q: What's your most recent poem/poetry book?

RS: One of my most recent poems is called "A Mussel Cannot Get in a Tussle" from a collection of Silly Sea Poems I've put together and will be sending out to publishers soon.

Q: What are you working on now?

RS: I'm putting together thematic books of humorous poems for children and have collaborated with my wife (an art historian) on an art history/art projects book for children. I've written and designed a series of novelty books to help young children learn to read.

Q: Is there any other question that kids often ask you?

RS: The most commonly asked question is where do I get all those silly ideas for poems. I tell kids, I guess you need a really silly brain to begin with. Then the rest-the writing part-is just a whole lot of fun to do.

Readers' Questions

Q: Do you have to go to school to be a poet? Are there special classes you have to take?

RS: I think learning about poetry in school is wonderful for seeing how many different ways a poem can be written, and how many different emotions can be expressed. Poems can be fun, or they can touch us deeply. Learning how to write poetry mainly comes from feeling it, and becoming better at it as you continue to write. You can learn a lot in school about style, and the rules of certain types of poetry, and I think that can be very important.

Q: I'm writing a collection of children's poetry, and I'd like it get it published. Before I submit it, though, I'd like to have the poems reviewed and critiqued. What's the best way to get feedback about my work?

RS: What I have found most helpful over the years, in regard to feedback on my writing efforts, has been working with editors. I have been fortunate to have worked with many good ones who have given me insightful slants, technical advice, and substantive suggestions that have improved my writing. Finding editors who show interest and are willing to work with you takes time and lots of submitting, but it's worth it. Also I have been in several critique groups and poetry workshops that have helped me to get fresh perspectives. I know there are lots of "professional" critique services out there, but I tend to be a bit distrustful of them because their interest is fee-driven. But you may feel differently, and that would be another option.

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