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  • Writer's pictureCharles Waters


Hello my poetic pals.

Hope your summer was filled with good tidings leaving you with a rejuvenated spirit. As school begins in full across the USA for the 2016-17 year, I thought I’d drop in a blog post for all you dear readers.

My poetic pal Amy Ludwig Vanderwater asked me in June about how I go about learning my poems by heart when I perform them. Here’s how it all began for me:

Since I toured with Poetry Alive! for three years, many moons ago, I had to learn around 225 poems, or roughly 75 poems a year. I used to tape record them and listen to each poem endlessly over the summer before rehearsals started.

By the time I left Poetry Alive! and went to do summer theater, I was told by a professor/director/actress named Sally Wood, who directed me in the title role of OTHELLO, that a better way to learn lines was to say them out loud to yourself, or have someone “run” lines with you instead of tape recording. The reason being is when you listen to a tape recording, you listen to the same way of saying the line over and over again, whereas by running lines out loud, you can come up with new ways on how to say a line, what inflection to use, and how much easier it can be to find out the clues of the text without marrying yourself to how it sounded on tape. So, that’s how I learned my lines from then on out.

When learning sheafs of new poems for my show, POETRY TIME, I do a lot of standing up and walking around, saying the lines out loud. By doing that, I figure out how to use the poem as, maybe, a call and response piece, perhaps using a volunteer to act out the poem with me or performing it by myself, either sitting or standing. It reveals itself to me over time. And that’s a luxury I need to have sometimes … time. One of the longest poems in the show is called “Aunt Franzie.” It’s a pro-veganism, high self-esteem, anti-bullying screed that took many months to learn and refine until it turned into a solo upper elementary/middle school poem that goes over well with audiences. When I coined the phrase, “Children’s poets are the investigative reporters of the universe,” I wasn’t kidding around. You need to excavate your spirit in order to find the gems that lie within.

Through this, and other methods I learned throughout the years, I now know 89 of my poems, and counting, by heart. I never use all of them in a show. What poems I do use depends on the age range of the audience, their energy level, and how much time I have to perform my show. I now know, through trial and error, that I can perform POETRY TIME for audiences ranging from infants to middle school. Some shows go over like a rock concert; others can be like rolling a boulder up a mountain with my pinkie. One show I had a bored audience member ask me, “When are you going to do more poems that rhyme?” Another show I had a teacher e-mail me saying I changed the life of one of her students for the better. In either case, I feel that the crowd, be it students, teachers, administrators, or general audiences, are at least more engaged during the show because I learned the poems by heart, rather than read them from a book. It’s my ace in the hole in terms of what I can offer as a children’s poet.

That’s not to say every show I’ve ever done has been perfect, far from it.

Have I forgotten my lines during the show? Yes.

Have I made up new words in a poem, when I forgot the word I was going to say, in order to keep the show going? Yes.

Have I stopped a show when I’ve had volunteers on stage and start a poem over because I lost my place and got the lines of a poem mixed up? Yes.

And last but not least. Do I get nervous before every show and workshop? Yes.

Point is, when you learn a poem by heart and perform it, you have to trust that it will all turn out okay. The world won’t come crashing down, I promise. Keep your head up high, take a deep breath, and make the poetic leap into this life altering art form. Oh, and try not to use a tape recorder to learn your poems by heart. :-)

My children's poem "Five Little Birds" is in the anthology ONE MINUTE TO BEDTIME: 60-Second Poems to Send You off to Sleep, edited by former Children's Poet Laureate of the United States Kenn Nesbitt, Illustrated by Christoph Riemann, is now available for pre-order! Links to the book can be found here: #1, #2, #3.

Release date: November 1st.

My children's poem "Cousins" will be featured in the Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong anthology YOU JUST WAIT: A Poetry Friday Power Book for Tweens & Teens. According to the Pomelo Books site:

YOU JUST WAIT features 12 PowerPack sets that combine:

1) a diverse outside poem from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

2) a new original response poem and mentor text by Janet Wong.

3) a PowerPlay prewriting activity.

4) a Power2You writing prompt.PowerPacks = a fun and inspiring approach for a wide variety of readers and writers!

The twelve poems from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (an NCTE Poetry Notable) were written by Robyn Hood Black, Joseph Bruchac, Jen Bryant, Margarita Engle, Julie Larios, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Charles Ghigna, Avis Harley, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, and Virginia Euwer Wolff. The way they are joined together here with twenty-four new poems by Janet Wong, they form a story featuring Paz, an Asian-Latina soccer player with dreams of stardom in college, the Olympics, and ultimately the World Cup; Lucesita, her feisty movie-loving cousin; and Joe, an older brother with dreams of the NBA. Sylvia Vardell’s inventivePowerPlay activities make it easy for writers to get inspired, while her Power2You writing prompts extend learning. Vardell also created extensive back matter resources for readers and writers.

The Poetry Friday Anthology® series helps teachers and librarians teach poetry easily while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology. Celebrate Poetry on Fridays—and any day—with The Poetry Friday Anthology®!

I received the rough draft of sketches for my debut book, (co-written with Irene Latham), which has undergone a title change, it will now be called CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. It will be released by Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing in September 2017. The award-winning illustrators, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, have outdone themselves with their creativity and sensitivity to the poems of me and Irene's. Fall 2017, when the book will be released, can't come soon enough! Have I mentioned how covered in awesome sauce Carol Hinz, our editor and the brain child of the book is? Have I? Well, she's drenched in it.

I was hired by Poets House to perform POETRY TIME at “DOT Arts & Culture Hub at Rudin Plaza” in New York City. What is DOT Arts? According to the website:

A variety of fun and interactive workshops will be presented within the DOT Arts & Culture Hub at Rudin Plaza. Visit with some of the City’s most coveted cultural institutions to learn about their exciting offerings and create your own craft to take home! Special thanks to Rudin Management for hosting the Arts & Culture Hub at Summer Streets.

Poets House Imagination Station” At the Poets House Imagination Station, children and families can play with language and create poems with giant magnet poetry, poetry mad-libs, and more. Children’s poet and performer Charles Waters will bring poetry to life with his original rhymes.

Thank you Suzanne Lunden of the Poets House for always being in my corner and hiring me to spread the verse and free verse to the masses. I've never performed outdoors in the middle of Manhattan before, it was an exhilarating experience.

I attended the Highlights Foundation workshop HOW DO POETS GET PUBLISHED? LEARNING WHAT IT TAKES, conducted by David L. Harrison, from August 21st to the 24th. Various guest stars included:

Patrick Greenish Jr. Art Director for Highlights for Children.

If there is a heaven on earth, it's at the Highlights Foundation. I wrote, rewrote, read, and studied the nuts and bolts of children's poetry. Among all the thrills for me, one of them was having a behind the scenes look at how editors and art directors make decisions on not only how a children's poem or manuscript is accepted for publication, but why.

It was an all day and night, all children's poetry fiesta. I also felt like I put on some poundage from the sumptuous plant-based meals made by the staff.

I couldn't be more thankful to Kent L. Brown, Jr. executive director of the Highlights Foundation, editor in chief emeritus of Highlights for Children and the former publisher of Boyds Mills Press, the trade division of Highlights, for always being my poetic corner. He's a good man. His program assistant, Jo L. Lloyd, does herculean work for the Foundation and whose kindness and professionalism makes me proud to be a part of such a rich, vibrant organization.

What is the Highlights Foundation you may ask? From the Foundation website:

Our campus consists of the Founders’ farmhouse, 21 cabins, a lodge, and a 5,200-square-foot Retreat Center known as the Barn at Boyds Mills, 10 miles from Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

The Barn has several relaxed classroom-like areas, a Great Hall, an outdoor fireplace and a giant kitchen. There is space for meetings, meals and just hanging out. The Lodge contains eight private rooms with private baths, and a great room for getting together with others, or just relaxing.

Explore the surrounding woods This intimate and inspiring setting in the Pocono Mountains features serene walking trails; a 1,300-acre forest; a creek that runs to the nearby Delaware; crisp, clean days; and night skies blanketed with stars.

Retreat into your own intimate space Cabins and lodge rooms have modern facilities and are writer-ready with desks, chairs, and filled bookshelves.

Nourish yourself with inspiring food Farm-style meals are prepared by a top-notch chef and mealtimes are perfect for lively discussions. Snacks are always available for late-night or early morning writing sessions.

The Highlights Foundation also "highlighted" me on their blog. You can read all about it here.

In other news, I spent the summer doing background work for film and TV, auditioned for print ads and commercials, did government work, and practiced yoga in places ranging from the center of Times Square in the heart of the Big Apple, in the middle of Bryant Park in NYC, to a rooftop of an apartment building in Harlem . Oh, I also tried Bikram Yoga as well. That’s when you do various yoga poses in a room heated, on purpose, to 90 + degrees. I must admit, after finishing that up, taking a shower and getting a meal in me, I felt like a superhero.

I attended the Off-Broadway production of ONE FUNNY MOTHER at New World Stages. This one person show written and starring Dena Blizzard was a hilarious look at the trails and tribulations of motherhood. I laughed and related to what Ms. Blizzard was describing because we've all had overwhelming moments in life then pockets of sunshine come shimmering through making the journey in life well worth it.

Read-a-Poem or R.A.P. My rallying cry to bring children’s poetry to every human being in the world continues rolling along. Not every book I mention has to be about children’s poetry but that’s the main thrust. I have read:

HATE THAT CAT by Sharon Creech.

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander.

ALL THE BROKEN PIECES: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg.


SAIL AWAY by Langston Hughes. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan.

YOU CAN FLY: The Tuskegee Airman. By Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford.

HAMSTERS, SHELLS AND SPELLING BEES: School Poems. Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa.

ALL GOD'S CHILDREN: A Book of Prayers. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Amanda Schaffer.

APRIL, BUBBLES, CHOCOLATE: An ABC of Poetry. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Barrett Root.

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE SCHOOL: Classroom Poems. Selected by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Jane Manning.

BUD, NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis.

THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

I leave you with a poem about hope. Something we all need in these turbulent times.


HOPE is knowing that tomorrow

is like turning the page of a book

then finding a blank page where

only you can control how the

story will go.

It could rumble like angry clouds

throwing a temper tantrum,

sparkle like sunshine smiling

over rippling rivers, or surprise

you like finding hidden

marshmallows in your cup

of hot chocolate.

HOPE is knowing you hold the key

to how you feel tomorrow will be.

© Charles Waters 2016 all rights reserved.

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