Author Helps McKinley Students Find Their Poetic Voice

Author Kenn Nesbitt leads a workshop with students at McKinley Elementary.

Who better than someone who can rhapsodize about undies and nose-picking to get grade-schoolers interested in reading and writing poetry?

Veteran kids’ author Kenn Nesbitt is making the rounds of DMPS schools this week doing just that like a traveling minstrel and if his audiences today at McKinley Elementary are any indication the staffs at the buildings where he appears during his visit better be on guard to make sure the kids don’t follow him out the door as though he were the Pied Piper of Poetry.

McKinley came at him in waves, starting with the pre-k and kindergartners first thing in the morning. By day’s end he’d regaled every class, leaving them not only laughing but with some pointers and assignments to work on after he’s gone.

Nesbitt’s latest effort is The Armpit of Doom. Other collections include Revenge of the Lunch Ladies and Tighty Whitey Spider. His titles get the kids’ attention and the whimsical rhymes he recites with all the animation of a Saturday morning cartoon character hold it. He also tells a good knock-knock joke or two by way of introduction and setting the mood for his programs.

Nesbitt’s session with the McKinley 4th and 5th graders segued from a representative sampling of his body of work, as read aloud – with feeling – by him to a sort of workshop where he and the students collaborated on an original poem scribbled on the big whiteboard in the school library.

First, Nesbitt and his apprentices settled on two possible topics: favorite sports and favorite foods. A hand-raising poll was too close to call so it was decided to compose something that combined the two. Within minutes the following rough draft emerged:

Football with barbecue
Baseball with cheese
Rugby with Brussels sprouts
Volleyball with peas

Skateboarding with butter
I’m in a good mood
Nothing’s as fun as
Playing with your food

Not bad, the expert said, for a rough draft. Time to tweak and polish, the next stage of the process:

Football with barbecue
Wrestling with cheese
Baseball with Brussels sprouts
Volleyball with peas

Basketball with butter
I’m in an awesome mood
Nothing is as fun as
Playing with your food

There was general agreement that the revised version flowed better owing to the nuance of an additional syllable here and a pruned one there. No title was declared and it was never clear who had claimed Brussels sprouts as their favorite food, but the main point was made. Get something on paper and then work to improve upon it.

Pride in authorship sprung up immediately when someone asked if the doggerel on the board was good enough for inclusion in Nesbitt’s next book. Not quite, he explained. “Two drafts are better than one,” he said. “But I usually do several before I think something’s ready to send to my publisher. And this is only two stanzas. Mine are usually longer.” Even then there’s the risk of the dreaded REJECTION LETTER!

But besides leaving them laughing, Nesbitt also told the group that if they work on a third stanza and have their teachers send it to him he’ll consider it for submission as part of his next collection.

Then it was on to the next stop on the tour. Before he heads home to Spokane, Washington, Nesbitt will also appear at Hillis Elementary and Capitol View Elementary later in the week.

Photos of Ken Nesbitt at McKinley Elementary

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