Enthusiasm for Poetry

An interview with
Robert Pottle
Robert Pottle grew up in Eastport, Maine, which is the easternmost city in the United States. He now lives in Eastbrook, Maine with his wife and two children. During his college years, he worked on a fish farm. He has been a first-grade teacher for eleven years. Robert enjoys camping and other outdoor activities. He also enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for poetry with children. His newest publication, and first solo project, I'm Allergic to School!, recounts funny school mishaps only a former teacher could capture. His poetry also appears in I've Been Burping in the Classroom, If Kids Ruled the School, Rolling in the Aisles, Miles of Smiles, Dinner with Dracula, My Teacher's In Detention, and Oh My Darling, Porcupine , and more.

Q: Did you enjoy poetry when you were a child?

RP: No. When I was in school, I thought all poetry had to be about things like flowers, sunsets, rainbows, or love--yuck. While there are a lot of great poems about those subjects out there, those were not the things I was interested in when I was in school.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I heard some poems by Shel Silverstein and thought, "Hey, these poems are not about flowers, sunsets, rainbows, or love. These are poems about stinky garbage, picking your nose, and not wearing pants. I like these poems." Today, I still like poems about garbage more than poems about sunsets.

Q: When did you start writing poetry?

RP: I studied writing in college, and that is where I started writing lots of poetry. I tried writing different things: short stories, essays, novels, screenplays. While exploring different types of writing, I discovered that when I write, my attention darts all over the place. One idea always leads to another, then to another, then to another. I would start out writing an essay about the Appalachian Trail and end up writing a television script about a family owning a spatula factory. Writing poetry is a good match for me because I can work on ten different ideas for ten different poems all in the same day.

Q: How old are you?

RP: Gosh, that changes year to year. What year is it now?

Q: Where has your poetry appeared?

RP: Three books of my poetry are currently available: MAINE: The Way Life Is and MOXIE DAY and Family, and MOXIE DAY - The Prankster. My poetry has also appears in anthologies by Meadowbrook, such as If Kids Ruled the School, Rolling in the Aisles, and Miles of Smiles.

I test some of my newest poems on my web site www.robertpottle.com. Visitors to the site can vote for their favorite poems. This helps determine which poems will be published.

I have also written poetry for a leading educational software company, and one of my poems even appeared in a British standardized test. (To any students who had to take that test, I offer my apologies.)

Q: Where do you get your ideas for poems?

RP: Most of my ideas come in one of four ways.

1. Watching other people. Much of my time is spent around kids. Just watching the wonderful and goofy things they do provides great ideas. Those ideas are then changed and exaggerated to make poems.

2. Things that have happened to me. Unfortunately, most of the embarrassing or awful things I have written about have happened to me.

3. Words that sound great together. I listen for words that go well together, or try to think of them on my own. For example, one day I was trying to come up with silly names for superheroes. Of all the names I came up with, one had that special ring to it: Captain Cootie. Captain Cootie has made an appearance in a few of my poems because I like the way the words sound together.

4. Things that I read. Sometimes I'll read something and think, "Wouldn't it be funny if it happened this way." Then I start writing, and before long I have something that is an entirely different story or poem.

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

RP: : I am asked this question at almost every school I visit. Someday I'll come up with a good answer. When I do, I'll get back to you.

Q: How did you find out what you wanted to do with your life?

RP: Well, that's a lot like my age--it keeps changing. Poet Bruce Lansky has said that he tends to get bored with something once he starts to get good at it. I can relate to that. The one constant in my life is children. I studied children's television and elementary education in college. I've worked as a first-grade teacher for many years, I am a father, and I am married to a kindergarten teacher. I write books, maintain a web site, and perform poetry, all for children. Oh yeah, I even was a child once.

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

RP: I've tried many different types of writing, but because I tend to write with a short and darting attention span, poetry has been a great fit for me.

Oddly enough, I have found that I also enjoy writing computer programs. I find the process of writing a computer program every bit as creative as writing a poem. In fact, writing programs and poems have some similarities. Each form of poetry has its own set of rules. One of the creative aspects of poetry is to say what you need to say while following the rules of the poem. Programming shares this type of creativity. Each computer language has its own set of rules. Part of the creativity comes from making the program do what you want it to do, while following the rules of the language.

Q: Do you have any pets?

RP: I have two llamas. I hate to mow the lawn so, I use the llamas to keep my grass short. One of our llamas is named Dali and the other is called Salvadore.

Q: How can you get kids more excited about poetry?

RP: I think finding common ground is important. When it comes to poetry, or most subjects for that matter, I think kids learn much more from adults' attitude and enthusiasm than their words. So, it's ideal when a teacher or parent can find poems that they are enthusiastic about sharing, and the children enjoy hearing. If that common ground is difficult to find, err on the side of what the kids enjoy.

Q: Who are your favorite poets?

RP: My top three favorite poets in order are:

1. Shel Silverstein
2. Shel Silverstein
3. Shel Silverstien

There are a lot of other great poets out there of course, but, for me, Shel is a step above anyone else. Other authors who have influenced my writing are children's author and storyteller Robert Munsch, and Bill Waterson, the creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

In the end, it doesn't matter what poets I like, find the poets that you like and read all you can find by him or her.

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