Poetry & Kids

An interview with
Kathy Kenney-Marshall
Kathy Kenney-Marshall is a children’s poet from Massachusetts. You’ll find her hilarious poetry in If Kids Ruled the School, Rolling in the Aisles, Dinner with Dracula, My Teacher's In Detention, Oh My Darling, Porcupine , and I've Been Burping in the Classroom.

Q: Where do you live?

KKM: If what you’re really asking is where do I take off my shoes and fall into bed at night, that would be Randolph, Massachusetts. It’s a southern suburb of Boston. It’s very small, only seven square miles, but lots of people live here. It’s a short train ride into the city and fairly close to the beaches of the South Shore. But sometimes I think I live in my car! I work about 30 miles from home as a teacher in Framingham, a suburb west of Boston, and I have to drive on the worst highway in Massachusetts to get there. Then when I get home, I become “Mom’s Taxi Service.” Thankfully, I have only one child out of three who doesn’t have a license, but he still has a tremendous social life and goes to school two towns away from home.

Q: You mention kids. Who is in your family?

KKM: I have been married for over 23 years to my husband, Paul. We have three great kids: Kalin, who is 22 and lives in Boston; Shawn, who is 20; and Mike, who is 15. They have been the subjects of several poems, but I won’t tell you which ones. They might not like me much if I revealed those secrets!

Q: Where and when were you born?

KKM: I was born in Methuen, Massachusetts. This is north of Boston. (Doesn’t everything seem to come back to Boston?) I’m the youngest of three, and the house that I lived in waaaaaaaaay back when had a dairy farm across the street. From time to time, we used to wake up with cows in our front yard, and in the summer, the smell was just awful! I won’t answer the “when” part of your question. And don’t ask me how much I weigh either…it’s not polite.

Q: What are your hobbies?

KKM: When I am lucky enough to have free time, I love to exercise and shop. Kickboxing is my favorite exercise, and I can do serious damage to our family budget if I’m in the mood to shop. Surprisingly, another favorite thing to do, though it’s not really a hobby, is to go to acupuncture treatments.

Q: Did you enjoy poetry as a child?

KKM: I’m still a child at heart, but when I was young in years (you know, in elementary school), my teachers weren’t big fans of poetry, except during our yearly “poetry unit.” This was a four-week-long exercise in misery. We had to memorize poems that we didn’t understand, and they were either really serious or extremely corny. (Do kids today know what “corny” means? It has nothing to do with vegetables.) One poem I remember having to recite was “In Flanders Fields.” It was a poem about soldiers who died during WWI, so it was probably a nice poem. The teachers didn’t seem to care if we understood it, but we had to know the words. They didn’t consider Dr. Seuss a poet, though he was one of my favorites throughout my whole life. I developed a love for rhyme with his Cat in the Hat books. He was so talented.

Q: Where do you get ideas for your poems?

KKM: Everywhere! There is a poem I love about a man who gives his wife two skunks for a valentine: “And the poems that had been hiding / in the eyes of skunks for centuries / crawled out and curled up at his feet. / Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us / we find poems.” These words tell us that poetry is everywhere we look and listen. I keep a little notebook with me all the time because you never know when something will spark a poem. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a poem. At home and in my classroom, kids give me most of my ideas. Once, I had a boy who couldn’t stop picking his nose! I tried to help him with this icky habit by giving him signals to stop. It didn’t work. So I started writing poems about kids who picked their noses, and it seemed to help without embarrassing him. The poems were really funny, but just disgusting enough to make him think about what he was doing. Another time, a girl was picking through the trash for treasure. A poem was born. At home, things happened with my own kids that made really funny poems.

Q: Who are your favorite poets?

KKM: That’s a really hard question. I love Dr. Seuss, but there are so many poets that I love! In the funny rhyming genre, I adore Robert Frost, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Kenn Nesbitt, Darren Sardelli, Eric Ode, Linda Knaus, and Bruce Lansky, to name just a few. In the nonrhyming genre, my favorites are Andrew Green, Naobi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, and many more. I have come to appreciate the love of word play and language that is unique to every poet.

Q: How many books have you appeared in?

KKM: So far, there are six poetry books from Meadowbrook: If Kids Ruled the School, Rolling in the Aisles, Dinner with Dracula, My Teacher's In Detention, Oh My Darling, Porcupine , and I've Been Burping in the Classroom. I must say, I am proud that the I’ve Been Burping in the Classroom title comes from one of my poems! (I have sons—I know a good burp when I hear it!)

Q: Do you write anything besides children’s poetry?

KKM: I do, as a matter of fact. I am a columnist at the MetroWest Daily News, a newspaper that has a distribution through several towns west of Boston. I write about everything from school, to family, to what’s hot in the news. My column appears in the Op/Ed pages. I am also working on a manuscript about classroom life. I write about the significant things, both hilarious and sad, that occur day to day in schools.

Q: How do you get kids excited about poetry?

KKM: That’s the fun part! I think being a poet and a teacher is a lot like being a salesman. You have to be excited about it yourself, so that makes me a natural. I use my voice and my words. I try to use dramatic expression to show my excitement and my affection for language. If I love it and am not afraid to show it, it’s almost contagious!

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

KKM: That’s rather like asking, “Who’s your favorite kid in class?” Though some poems are more fun to read or recite, I don’t really have a favorite. I love poems with surprise endings, so maybe those are my favorites.

Q: What tips can you give aspiring writers?

KKM: WRITE…and read! Keep a journal or keep a bunch of them. I currently have five separate journals that I write in. I have one for each of my children, one for me, and one for letters that I write to my dad who died several years ago. The more you write and read, the better you become at both. Words are your best friends. Have fun with them, play with them, and don’t fear them. Look for the wonderful ways to use words to help you express who you are. Words and language are such gifts if only we can learn not to be fearful of them. Think of them as Legos—arrange and rearrange them. Add to them, change them, and earn your poetic license. Find your voice and shout yourself out to the world. Be silly, be serious, be playful, be poetic…whatever you choose is wonderful. Love yourself through words.

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