Poetry Is Sneaky

An interview with
Ted Scheu
 

Ted Scheu is a children’s poet and poetry teacher from Middlebury, Vermont. His poems have appeared in several anthologies in England and the United States, including If Kids Ruled the School, Miles of Smiles, Rolling in the Aisles and My Teacher's In Detention from Meadowbrook Press. When he’s not writing or visiting schools around the world, he loves to hike, bike, ski, and walk his dog.

Q: How and when did you first get excited about poems?

TS: I’ve always loved the music in words—how certain ones bounce, leap, giggle, and sing when they party together. I guess I first noticed this in nursery rhymes (even if they often didn’t make sense). Then I heard the music in the poems of A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) and Robert Louis Stevenson, which were read to me. As I learned to read, I loved the bounce of Dr. Seuss. To be honest, most of the poetry I read in school seemed to be about love, beauty, nature, and stuff that was not about my life. So I turned to song lyrics for my poetry. Years later, when I became a teacher, my students (and my own kids) introduced me to Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Douglas Florian, Bruce Lansky, and others, and that got me totally pumped up about poetry again. Thank heavens for that.

Q: When did you start writing poems?

TS: I’ve written poems in my head for many years, but I didn’t seriously write down much of it until about ten years ago. A couple of years after that, I left my first and second grade classroom to write full-time. Once I started writing, I found I just couldn’t stop the flood of kid-memories that came swooshing and wooshing out of my heart, down my arm, and out of my pencil. Poetry is sneaky that way. It grabs hold of you and won’t let go until you get it down on paper. I’m glad for that. I couldn’t live without poems.

Q: Where do you get ideas for your poems?

TS: Ideas for poems usually creep up on me when I least expect them—in the car, in the bathroom, at dinner, on a walk, when I’m reading, singing along to the radio, when I’m alone, or with my kids…anytime I’m not ready. I guess mostly they appear when someone says something that sounds funny or triggers a memory in me. Then a few words begin to dance in my head, and I have to write them down immediately, if not sooner, because otherwise they would evaporate. I always carry a pencil and scraps of paper to record thoughts before I transfer them to a journal. I also get tons of great ideas from kids in the schools I visit every year in my school programs. Maybe you could send me one, or, better yet, write a poem for yourself!

Q: What is your favorite poem you have written?

TS: I usually answer this question by saying, “It’s the one I just finished” or “It depends on my mood.” But to be completely honest, one poem of mine does stand out above all the others because it has a special memory attached to it and it is terrifically fun for me to read out loud. When I was in second grade (and younger), I walked about a mile to school most days with my classmate and neighbor, Nancy Cristman. One day this happened…

Nancy Cristman Kissed Me

Nancy Cristman kissed me
as we walked to school today.
It happened fast, and I was lost
with what to do or say.

I quickly looked around to check
if anyone had seen it.
If they did, and tease me,
they’ll be sorry, and I mean it.

Why did Nancy Cristman put
that smack upon my cheek?
I’m so confused, and probably
will stay this way all week.

I’ll guess I’ll have to marry her,
and share my lemonade.
A lot can happen to a kid
who walks to second grade.

© Ted Scheu

Whoa! What a memory for a kid! I love that poem not just for all the emotions that were churning in my heart at the time, but also because it makes me think of Nancy, who sadly died about ten years ago and never heard the poem. But I know she’s giggling somewhere whenever I read it.

Q: How many books have your poems appeared in?

TS: I’m thrilled that a bunch of my poems are in the Meadowbrook anthologies If Kids Ruled the School and Miles of Smiles and will soon be in others. My poems have also appeared in several anthologies in the United States and in England, and I’m waiting for a few collections of my own poems to be published. It’s a sloooow process getting published, but it sure is fun when it happens!

Q: Why do you write poems for kids?

TS: Good question. And easy to answer. I couldn’t do anything else. For me it’s like breathing. And I couldn’t possibly write for grownups. No way. At a school I visited recently, I was introduced as “a fourth-grader in a grownup’s body.” That’s the most accurate introduction I’ve ever received. Fortunately, I have never quite grown up.

Q: What are you working on now?

TS: I have several collections of poems on the stove simmering and boiling all the time. One is about family life, another about school, and another is about “things” and the feelings they have. It’s called Spinach Has Feelings Too. I also have bunches of picture books and chapter books snoozing in corners of my desk and brain.

Q: How do you pronounce your last name?

TS: It’s like shy. Since it doesn’t look like that at all, a first-grader gave me a cool nickname a few years ago. She said, “I know how we can remember your name! We can call you ‘Ted Scheu, that Poetry Guy!’” It seems to have stuck. If Bill Nye can do it, I figure I can, too.

 

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