Betsy Franco's poetry speaks to kids whether it's humorous puzzles to tickle your brain or her important YA anthologies which offer teens refuge in words of their own. Poetry House spoke to Betsy to celebrate poetry month. Betsy will also speak on a panel that focuses on Poetry and the Reluctant Reader for The International Reading Association
conference in Toronto.
conference in Toronto.
Why do you think poetry is particularly good at reaching reluctant readers?
In my answers, I'll be talking about students reading and writing poetry, since they go hand and hand for me.
Poetry particularly hits the spot for reluctant readers of all ages, up through high school. In my book, Conversations with a Poet, I refer to the economy of words and the white space of poetry as psychological pluses for struggling, balking readers. When it comes to writing their own poetry, I encourage students to "tell their stories" through poetry—to say what they need to say. Most students can muster the attention span needed to read or write a short poem. Especially when I explain that there won't be any judgment placed on their words. I allow them to tweak poetry forms or turn an assignment on its head, to suit their "insides."
In addition, I find my mathematically and scientifically-themed poetry appeals to the logical thinkers who aren't necessarily attracted to reading and writing (See Mathematickles!).
My teen poetry collections have e proven extremely successful with reluctant readers (See You Hear Me? poems and writing by teenage boys, Things I Have to Tell You, poems and writing by teenage girls) because teens respond to and relate to their peers. Even boys in juvenile hall couldn't keep from reading the anthologies.
Explain a bit about your process for writing a poem or poetry collection.
My process is a bit magical. An idea may flit through my head on a walk, while swimming, while visiting the elementary school I visit every morning, while speaking at a high school, or during a high school play. For example, a crow cawing overhead became Birdsongs, a backwards counting book—5 years later. One poem I wrote, "One Hundred Wishes Make a Dreamer," set off the idea for a book of one hundred poems about the number 100 (Counting Our Way to the 100th Day!). I make a folder and add poems and ideas to it until the material is rich enough and ready to be worked on fulltime. Sometimes my first drafts are fairly ugly, but I know I can work with the language and the ideas to give each poem the energy and life it needs. In my teen anthologies, BTW, I look for and solicit uncensored, emotionally honest, and diverse poetry from writers all over the world.
What poetry has most influenced your own work? What advice do you have for young poets?
My own work is influenced by avant-garde poets such as Bob Grumman who writes "long-division poetry" in Florida (http://www.geocities.com/Comprepoetica/Blog/Gallery.html).
I love to stretch my mind, my imagination, the genres, the poetry forms.
Advice to emerging poets? Read a lot, but find your own "story" to tell. You definitely have a story—everyone does. If you want to be a writer, or an artist of any kind, it's possible. Every generation has its writers, artists, musicians, dancers, actors,... You'll just need to be as creative about building a career as you are about your art.
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster:
MATHEMATICKLES! 0-689-84357-7 hardcover, 9-781416918615 paperback (2003)
COUNTING OUR WAY TO THE 100TH DAY! 0-689-84793 (2004)
BIRDSONGS, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, Caldecott Honor Winner, 0-780689877773 (2007)
SUMMER BEAT 9-781416-912378 (2007)
BEES, SNAILS, AND PEACOCK TAILS, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (2008)
POND CIRCLE (2009)
YOU HEAR ME? POEMS AND WRITING BY TEENAGE BOYS 0763611590 (paperback) (2000)
THINGS I HAVE TO TELL YOU, POEMS AND WRITING BY TEENAGE GIRLS 0-7636-11590 (paperback) (2001)
NIGHT IS GONE, DAY IS STILL COMING, STORIES AND POEMS BY AMERICAN INDIAN TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS 0-76361518-8 (2003)
FALLING HARD, LOVE POEMS BY TEENAGERS (2008)
MESSING AROUND ON THE MONKEY BARS, SCHOOL POEMS FOR TWO VOICES (2009)
Goodyear Books :
MATH POETRY ISBN-10 159647-072-0 (2006)
Richard C. Owen Publishers:
CONVERSATIONS WITH A POET: INVITING POETRY INTO K-12 CLASSROOMS 1-572747404 (2005)
COUNTING CATERPILLARS AND OTHER MATH POEMS 0-590-64210 (1998)