When I was a kid, children could be…well…mean. No one called it bullying then but after I lived in a rural area and helped out on a neighbor’s farm I realized children had taken a page from nature, at least the ones I knew when I was one. Children were like chickens. They quickly established a pecking order; everyone scrambling to get to or near the top, to be the captains of the teams or the first to be picked by them for kickball, or volleyball or the “in-group.”
No one wanted to be excluded, be “it” in the tag game, or be the outsider who might get as easily picked on or pecked at as the odd chicken was by all the others. One chant I remember hearing back then was: “You’re a poet, And don’t know it, But your big feet show it, They’re long fellows.” I had no clue where that came from, (probably the same place as “Na, Na, Na, Na, Nah.”) And I had no more idea of what it really meant than I had then of who Longfellow was. But I knew it must be a terrible thing to BE Longfellow.
I soon learned that to some it was also an ‘odd man out’ thing to love school, like books, be smart or enjoy writing. Of course all of those applied to me. Probably the only thing that saved me when I was a kid was that I was good at sports – they had to pick me. But they didn’t have to like it. And I didn’t have to care. That just took a while longer.
During college I majored in English, “suffered” (don’t all teens?) and wrote poetry. [“The salt of oh, so, many tears lies crusted pon my very soul.” Ok, cut me some slack. I was studying the Victorians, he was my first love and I was only 19.]
By the time I was 20, I had met Doug. Leaving Buffalo to go to Journalism school no longer appealed to me. Thinking I was no Shakespeare, and not Agatha Christie, Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, I headed instead into teaching. As you can see in more detail on my About page, my life turns took me in many directions before I returned to embrace my ”inner Longfellow.”
Of course, that has led me to writing a few short stories, some newspaper columns, a few poems, and my book. Working as Director at the Learning Center at the college here, I am called on to substitute for my instructors. Of course my favorite class to sub in is writing. This week I got to go to a workshop on Teaching Writing taught by David Thompson. One exercise he had us do was to write a bio poem.
There are many versions of this 10 line biographical or autobiographical free verse. There was even an interesting discussion if this format actually was poetry. But I found it very poetic both in its economical form and it’s ability to be evocative for the writer and the reader. Writing my poem made me strive to choose words deliberately, listening for the sounds, thinking of how each phrase would be heard by and felt by the listener. Since it was also a 10 line, structured, and oh so brief biography, each word was critical if I was going to capture the truth or share the essence of the subject, which is what I believe makes poetry powerful.
If you are reading this, you know or need to know, that I am struggling right now with my query letter. After writing my Biopoem I realized that this exercise was a template not only for a poem about me but for that task. It had elements for a focused synopsis of The Call, my novel, for the bio summary, and for the word picture describing the story that is at the heart of any letter to an agent. So with that in mind I have decided to share the exercise with you.
Whether you are trying to write in any form, find an agent, or simply want to explore who you really are, you may find this exercise helpful or at least engaging. I hope you’ll try it….you too may be a poet and not know it – So this is the format that David used. The exercise is followed by the biopoem I wrote in response:
How to Write a Biopoem
(Line 1) First name
(Line 2) Three/four adjectives that describe the person
(Line 3) Important relationships(daughter of…, mother of…, etc)
(Line 4) Two/three things, people, or ideas that the person loved
(Line 5) Three feelings the person experienced
(Line 6) Three fears the person experienced
(Line 7) Accomplishments (who composed…, who discovered…, etc.)
(Line 8) Two/three things the person wanted to happen or to experience
(Line 9) His or her residence
(Line 10) Last name
From Abromitis, B.S. (1994, June/July). Bringing lives to life. Biographies in reading and the content areas. Reading Today, 11, 26.
Joanne, if formal, Jo, if friend,
Passionate justice-seeker, competent, faith-filled, loving, loyal,
Polish daughter of Melania, whom the nuns called Mildred, so she could be a good American,
Wife, soulmate, bestfriend of Doug, mother of Chris and Gretchen,
Nana to Caroline, Catherine, Ella and Grey,
In love with the world and helping others,
and committed to the belief that everyone can be who they wish to become,
Who felt joy as those she helped achieved, thankful as they healed,
and awed as they overcame,
Who fears only being ordinary, but is otherwise fearless,
Who served at Ground Zero right after 911
and was named New York State Social Worker of the Year for her service,
but who is most proud of her family and all they have achieved,
Who wants to get her book published and see what her grandchildren will become,
Born in Ohio, grew up and became who she is in Upstate New York,
and now lives and loves in Edenton,
- The death of the novel will presage a rebirth of writing (guardian.co.uk)
Jo, This is fantastic. A very interesting post about you and a lesson on writing a Biopoem. Thank you.
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