Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sara Sargent: Not Your Grandmother's Poems

Sara Sargent is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. She publishes fiction and nonfiction in our three main categories, PB, MG, and YA.

She talked to us about publishing poetry for teens today, a subject that doesn't get a lot of coverage at SCBWI conferences.

She started by showing us this wonderful poem by Sarah Kay:

And she recommended the books of Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace.

And we talked about reasons for writing poetry: for its powerful compression, for its shareability, for its suitability to a culture with brief attention, and for the way it makes readers feel seen.

Hip hop music and poetry are similar art forms. Teens sometimes don't think of poetry as music and music as poetry. Sara advised we dip our toes into hiphop, for example the work of Kendrick Lamar.

To get teens excited about poetry, you have to make it about them. This is when they are exploring their identities, present and future, and what their place in the world is.


What are the issues?

  • mental health
  • queer issues
  • politics
  • race
  • power
  • freedom
  • the environment
  • shame
  • violence
  • loneliness
  • other-ing
  • desire
  • lust
  • envy
  • jealousy
  • secrets
  • bitterness
  • guilt

"This is a very, very awake generation," Sara said. "Wherever a teenager sits, a lot of them are very much eyes open."

You want your work to share feelings and connect your readers to the work. Make the specific feel universal, and make the universal feel specific. (Below: Caroline Kaufman's LIGHT FILTERS IN POEMS, which Sara edited).

Some guidelines for writing:

  • It doesn't have to rhyme
  • Form can be creative
  • Brevity is good
  • Be honest about how devastating life can me
  • Use unique imagery
  • Take advantage of power of charged emotions and personal insight to make a reader feel seen

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