Poetry Friday: Tiny Dreams, Sprouting Tall: Poems about the United States

Last night, the friendly UPS man brought 2 heavy boxes to my door, and they were the author copies of 4 more of my 6 Capstone poetry books. Woop! Woop! I now have copies of all of them except Flashy, Clashy, and Oh-So Splashy.

So, as promised (or threatened!), I’ll be sharing a little of my process about each of the books. Today is the day for patriotic poems.

This book, Tiny Dreams, Sprouting Tall, was one of the toughest of the first set of 6 books. In fact, I think it was the toughest. Part of the reason for that was that my other collections all had a certain degree of silliness to them, even with serious pictures. In Then There Were Eight, for instance, the picture of the Mars Rover is a silly dog poem, because it looked like a metallic dog to me. Tiny Dreams was the last book of the 6 that I wrote. So my editor, Jenny Marks, and I had a good system down, and I followed it. I wrote my manuscript and turned it in the same way I had done all the other collections.

But then came the feedback. My revisions on the other books had been fairly specific and minimal. But on this one, there was a bigger change underway. They wanted the poems to be more specific to the United States. She explained that “For some photos/poems, the connection is obvious?like MLK Jr. or the flag. They are uniquely and obviously American. Other subjects, like surfers, light houses, beaches, cows, etc…, are definitely American, but those things are found in other countries, too. For those subjects, especially, the poems must make a more explicit connection.” 

This hadn’t been planned from the start. But upon reading the manuscript, the product planning committee felt this title could come under greater scrutiny than the other titles, and would be more likely to be criticized for what was included or left out. So they wanted every poem to really have a strong, overt connection to the United States somehow.

This new directive meant heavier revisions just before I was leaving for a family reunion–so I was a bit stressed out about it! Jenny was, as always, encouraging and supportive, so there was no feeling of having screwed up. It was just an unanticipated shift or tightening of focus. Still.

I ended up going to the reunion and finishing up the revisions afterward, and I was really happy with the completed book. But boy, was I happy to be finished!

Something else unique to this manuscript was trying to express pride in my country but being honest as well. An early draft of a poem about the Statue of Liberty was a cinquain:

Doorway of the U.S.A.

of Liberty
welcomes all refugees
streaming in seeking the promise:


I knew this was an idealized vision, but it was sometimes hard to know how far poetic license could go. Not this far. Jenny pointed out that, sadly, this was not true. I tried working on a more historical perspective to a time the U.S. was more welcoming of immigrants, but I ended up going with something else entirely.

Lady Liberty

Liberty carries a golden torch
She wears a copper skin
She’s broken free of all her chains,
and sways upon the wind

This book, like the others, contains poetic forms that kids often write in in school. One common form is the diamonte. I love using them to express the relationship between two opposing forces. Here’s one from this collection:

Grand Canyon

hard, red
rising, rippling, towering
water flowing, canyon growing
carving, wearing, eroding
sunken, brown

While the book isn’t stuffed with uber-patriotism, I did want to show pride, too! Here’s one I had fun with:

Flag Music

like a clipper’s great sail

Like a stormy day’s hail

Creak up and down
Like squeaky old brakes

No matter the sound
that our flag outside makes

Still day or windy

Quiet or loud 

It makes me feel safer

And stronger and proud  

As with the other books in the collection, gorgeous, dramatic photos complement the poems, and impressive design work makes the poems themselves visually interesting. I’m thrilled my words got such great treatment!

Becky at Farm School has the Poetry Roundup today. Check it out!

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