Thursday, January 28, 2010


"Melody - each person has their own special melody that sings. We each have a different rhythm and listen and react to a different cue. And as writers this is especially true," said Rita Dove, former U.S. poet laureate.

Earlier this month many of the most illustrious American poets, and numerous poet laureates, assembled in Key West for the annual Literary Seminar, which this year was dedicated to Poetry. Although the event took place during one of the coldest weeks in Florida memory, when Key West did not resemble a tropical paradise, it was a wondrous time with wonderful sessions dedicated to the craft of writing poetry. Many of the poets gave readings of their works and quoted poets from Keats to Yeats.

The poets emphasized melody and the magic of the poem, meter, form and shape, sound, rhythm and flow. They discussed the use of a poem, and its metaphor and larger meaning.

All of their techniques of course apply to all genres of writing. Authors of children's books listen for the sense and sounds of their words, whether they are writing picture books, chapter books or YA.

A number of the poets referred to children's literature, either working with the memory of a favorite book from their own childhood or the sense of sound and lyricism from early children's stories and poems.

One poet's suggestion was to keep things physical for children under twelve, relate the language, ideas and references to children's own lives and to their rhythms and perceptions. Another was to get tone, meter, and sound into children's ears early.

I came back to my desk energized to work at putting sound, meter, rhythm, and especially melody, into my work. How do you incorporate these elements in your work?


  1. What a treat, to listen to poets talk about their work and how they write! Envious I am...I hadn't thought consciously about melody before. But it's all around me (us) from the beating of my heart to the wind in the trees, bird song, dog bark, traffic on the road. It's everywhere and consequently finds its way into the written word.

  2. Hmmm. As a novelist, I've certainly considered sound and rhythm. Especially in dialogue. When dialogue is really working, it's because I'm hooked in with each characters' rhythms. It's a great feeling.

  3. Whether we're writing for the very young or young adult, we are told to read our work aloud. Language is melodic. When we read our work aloud we hear the melody. At the VCFA Winter Residency, Ellen Howard gave a lecture on choosing the right word - melody is part of that decision.

  4. Key West. Sigh.

    Sounds like a wonderful seminar. It's amazing how words and sounds can create a mood or feeling.