Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out

by Ralph Fletcher

Paperback(1ST HARPER)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380797035
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/19/2002
Edition description: 1ST HARPER
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 525,165
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.32(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Ralph Fletcher has always been a special person for children's literature. He is the author of picture books, nonfiction, and novels for young readers. How to Write Your Life Story is the fifth book in Mr. Fletcher's series of instructional writing books, which includes A Writer's Notebook, Live Writing, How Writers Work, and Poetry Matters. Mr. Fletcher lives with his family in New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Power of Poetry

One year I came home from college to spend Christmas with my family, and I was flat broke. I had gotten used to being a poor college student, but this year I didn't want to be broke for Christmas. I was tired of buying junky gifts for my parents, brothers, and sisters. This year I wanted to have enough money to buy nice presents.

I got a job washing dishes at a local seafood restaurant, stacking trays of dirty dishes and hauling away the clean dishes when they emerged from the dish-washing machine. It was hot, sweaty work, but on Christmas Eve the manager handed me five crisp twenty-dollar bills. I hurried out to do my shopping.

There was a shopping center close to my house. I was walking across the parking lot when I was startled to see my grandfather. He was leaning over a container of trash, picking through it.

“Grandpa?” I said. When I took a step closer I could see that even though the man was tall, thin, and bald he wasn't my grandfather. This ragged man had a ripped coat; he looked cold. All I could imagine was my grandfather pawing through trash, looking for something to eat on Christmas Eve. I walked up to him and pressed the five twenty-dollar bills into his cold hand.

“Merry Christmas,” I mumbled.

“Th-thank you, son,” the man stammered, looking at the money.

I wanted to tell him to use the money to buy a new coat, but somehow the words wouldn't come out. I turned around and started walking home.

“Merry Christmas!” the man yelled.

“Merry Christmas,” I said, waving. When I walked away I felt good. But the good feeling lasted about one minute. Mywallet was empty now. I didn't have any money to buy presents for my family.

It seemed pointless to go shopping after that, so I walked home. On the way I got the seed of an idea. I went straight to my room, took out some paper, and started to write. My brainstorm was to write a poem for each member of my family.

I started with one of my little sisters. She liked horses, so I wrote her a poem about a horse galloping on the beach. It took me about a half hour to write the poem, and when it was finished I decided it wasn't bad at all.

One of my brothers wanted to be an astronaut, so I wrote him a poem about outer space. After a while Mom called me down to join everyone in hanging stockings from the mantel. When we were finished I went back upstairs to work.

By ten o'clock I had done four poems, but I had eight brothers and sisters. My eyes started getting tired. It was hard work — talk about writing under deadline! — but it was fun trying to think of what each person would want his or her poem to be about. I wrote and wrote. By eleven my eyes were blurry but the poems were done.

I went down to the basement. Someone had given Dad a box of old paper, and I knew he wouldn't mind if I took some sheets. I copied each poem onto a piece of paper, trying to keep the letters neat and not make any spelling mistakes. When I finished copying a poem, I rolled up the paper and tied a red ribbon around the middle. It was almost 1 a.m. when I went downstairs and tucked each scrolled poem in a stocking hanging from the fireplace. Finally I could drag myself upstairs and go to bed.

Early the next morning I felt someone tugging the collar of my pajamas. When I wrenched open my eyes, I saw my three-year-old sister Carolyn standing by my bed. She was holding her Christmas stocking, all lumpy with presents, and I could see the scrolled poem sticking out the top.

“Listen!” she said in an excited voice. Gently she scrunched her stocking until I could hear the paper crinkling.

“There's something magic in there,” she said, nodding her little head and looking straight at me. “There's poetry in there. Poetry!”

Maybe you've heard before that poetry is magic, and it made you roll your eyes, but I believe it's true. Poetry matters. At the most important moments, when everyone else is silent, poetry rises to speak.

A beloved teacher retires. Her students write a poem and, later, at the ceremony, read it aloud to honor her.

A big sister gets married. Her little sister writes a poem and reads it at the reception.At funerals, graduations, fiftieth wedding anniversaries, birthday parties, at the inauguration of a president, people gather to read — what? Not stories. Not articles or plays. They read poems.

I think the reason is partly because poems are so intimate. Often we write poems for personal reasons. A girl likes a boy, writes him a love poem, and slips it into his backpack where she knows he will find it.It has been said that writing a poem for someone else is like giving blood because it comes from the heart of the writer and goes to the heart of the receiver. Poems are filled with words from the heart.

The power of poetry comes at least partly from its brevity. Poems are short, and they pack a punch — often they say a lot with a few well-chosen words. Here's a poem I recently wrote:


I left one flower
on Grandma's coffin:
a forget-me-not
as if I could

Of course, not everybody is a fan of poetry. I often run into kids who don't like to write poems. “Poems are boring,” one girl muttered when I visited her classroom. She complained that her teacher had spent hour after hour dissecting poems and pulling out similes, metaphors, and symbolism.

Poetry Matters. Copyright © by Ralph Fletcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anniebell More than 1 year ago
This book taught me things that I didn't learn in school. I have wrote two poems since reading the book and everyone loved them. They could see a improvement from the ones I wrote before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You are EXCELLENT at writing poems for children. this is a poem i made it is very short. The grasshoppers all skip, The early drop tips, under,over bent and clover Daisy,sorrel, without quarrel.
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