Friday, February 19, 2010

Thumbprint by Eve Merriam

There has been quite a discussion at Blue Rose Girls about talent and hard work and persistence being three elements required for success (you have to be GOOD)—and the percentage one needs of each. I don’t know if the percentage of each of those elements can be exactly determined. People are so different—as are their abilities and talents and passions.

I began writing when I was about ten years old. I delighted in writing takeoffs of television shows and other humorous things. I wrote skits for shows and song parodies and light verse when I was in high school. BUT I had a difficult time doing required writing assignments for teachers in elementary, high school, and college. Completing some of those papers was excruciating for me.

I don’t think I have an innate writing talent the way many writers do. I really have to work at my craft. I DO have a passion for poetry—so I read it all the time. I read all kinds of poems—poems by dozens of different adult and children’s poets. I read books about writing poetry. I may work on twenty or thirty or more drafts of most of my poems. I rarely think I’m finished with a piece. I always think I may be able to tweak it a little more and make it better.

I had great poetry teachers—David McCord, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Lilian Moore, Aileen Fisher, Mary Ann Hoberman, Valerie Worth, Arnold Adoff, Janet Wong, J. Patrick Lewis, John Ciardi, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, X. J.Kennedy, Barbara Juster Esbensen, Joyce Sidman, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Marilyn Singer, Douglas Florian, Eve Merriam, Tony Johnston, Alice Schertle, Bobbi Katz, Patricia Hubbell. (I know I’m leaving some poets out here.) I learned to write poetry by reading poetry—and by rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I learned to write by teaching my elementary students how to write. I spent many hours in the classroom working with each child individually—helping them to find their own unique voices. Doing that helped me to be a better critic of my own writing.

I read Meghan’s post yesterday, DNA tests for talent. I find things like that scary. Trying to genetically determine where children’s talents lie at an early age so the children can be trained/educated in certain fields and have their path in life laid out for them. Human beings are too complicated. An approach like that—too simplistic.
I showed little writing talent when I was young--but I had some kind of driving force in me that led me to write creatively...for myself. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I began writing children's poetry. Before that time--I had dreams of being a comedy writer. It was through teaching elementary school that I became hooked on reading and writing kids' poetry.

For this Poetry Friday, I thought I’d post a poem by Eve Merriam that I used to share with parents at our September Open House when I was teaching elementary school. It’s about valuing the individual, which became the core of my educational philosophy.

by Eve Merriam

In the heel of my thumb
are whorls, whirls, wheels
in a unique design:
mine alone.
What a treasure to own!
My own flesh, my own feelings.
No other, however grand or base,
can ever contain the same.
My universe key,
my singularity.
Impress, implant,
I am myself,
of all my atom parts I am the sum.
And out of my blood and brain
I make my own interior weather,
my own sun and rain.
Imprint my mark upon the world,
whatever I shall become.


At Wild Rose Reader, I have a review of My Cat Is in Love with the Goldfish, a new anthology of light verse for children that was published in the UK this month. The book includes Jack and June, a poem I wrote and posted with the review.

Irene has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live. Love. Explore!


jama said...

Hear, hear! What a fabulous post, Elaine. Loved learning more about your writing background -- a comedy writer! That's so cool. No wonder you're so brilliant at writing political verses.

Thanks for sharing this Eve Merriam poem, too. When I think about how many children you've shared your love of poetry with, and how lucky they were to have you as a teacher, I feel so happy all over :).

Elaine Magliaro said...


I learned so much from teaching and spending most of my adult life working with children. I believe that being a teacher helped me to be a better mother and that being a mother helped me to be a better teacher. I also believe that being a writer helped me to be a much better teacher of writing--and that working with children to improve their writing helped me to look more constructively at ways to improve my own writing.

Laura said...

Hi Elaine,

Thanks for sharing your poetry journey. Wow, a comedy writer, how wonderful! The humor element is one of things that attracts me to children's poetry.

I have taken classes in poetry. But my main teacher remains the poem itself.

Laura Evans

Elaine Magliaro said...


My main teachers are the poets and their poems. Listening to the voices of many different poets helped me to find my own voice. My writing style changed over the years. At one time, I wrote mostly rhyming poems/light verse. Now I write free verse, haiku, acrostics, cinquains. Writing different forms of poetry is good exercise for me.

gael lynch said...

I loved your post, Elaine! It was the perfect antidote to the thought of DNA testing and children. JEESH! Hope that is not coming to a theater near me! I love poetry, and often write in verse, invariably finding a way to tuck it into my characters' lives as well. I, like you, teach and have lived the life of the writer and teacher for many years now. How lucky are we to have two great professions that can actually serve each other?
Most important of all...I am a mom, and what fodder that has given me over the years as well! :)

Elaine Magliaro said...


I find the thought of DNA testing of children to determine their talents troubling--like something out of a dystopian sci-fi novel. (I thinking about THE GIVER, BRAVE NEW WORLD, FEED, and A HANDMAID'S TALE.)

I'm retired now--but I look back fondly on the more than thirty years that I spent in as an elementary teacher. I doubt I'd be writing children's poetry today if I had spent my life working in another profession.

Linda S. Wingerter said...

Thanks for a lovely post to round off this week of posts, Elaine.

To me the only misfortune is that we so often equate writing and art-making with getting published. Everyone should write and make art just because we all want to. It's our natural state which doesn't require a seal of approval from the public in order for us to love it. And when we do it because we truly love it is when it is "good". That's what talent really is, and where hard work comes from.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I agree. I read and write poetry for the love of it. I enjoy expressing ideas and feelings in poems--in being creative with words.

Still, I have a great deal of respect for those who choose to write and/or illustrate children's books as their life's profession--especially if they aren't independently wealthy. I don't think I would have had the courage to give up my teaching job and devout my life to writing poetry for children when I was young.

gael lynch said...

Thanks for your response, Elaine! I look forward to 'living the life' someday...without giving a moment's thought to what THEY or anybody else is doing! For right now, I'm still loving the monsters, and very grateful for that!

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