RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 9
Patricia Hruby Powell
Today’s guest blogger is a storyteller, author and former dancer herself. Her latest picture book, JOSEPHINE, is about the famed African-American dancer and entertainer Josephine Baker. It is a factual retelling, written in a rhythmic style that emphasizes how important it is to use poetic techniques in your writing! JOSEPHINE recently won a bouquet of awards including the Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustrator, Honor, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, Honor Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Nonfiction Honor, Parent’s Choice Award. Wall Street Journal’s 10 Best Children’s Books of the Year List, and the Bologna Ragazzi Nonfiction Honor 2014. WOW! I am happy to say that Josephine is one of the books I purchased at the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS bookfair.
I am proud to introduce the snazzy and jazzy
Patricia Hruby Powell.
Rhythm – Are You Naturally Musical?
If you sing, play an instrument or dance, it’s probably in your blood, bones, muscles. You might take advantage of that in your writing. I chose to write Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker because Josephine was a dancer. So am I. (My previous three picture books are not told in verse and are not about dancers). I felt that Josephine’s story screamed out to be told in a razzmatazz rhythm.
I open the book with a description of the dance she helped make famous in Paris—a dance from the southern United States from the early part of the twentieth century.
****JOSEPHINE danced a sizzling flapper dance—
****Knees SQUEEZE, now FLY
****heels flap and chop
****arms scissor and splay
****eyes swivel and pop.
****Josephine, all RAZZMATAZZ,
****erupted into the Roaring Twenties—
****America wasn’t ready for Josephine, the colored superstar.
That’s one of the few descriptions of her actual dancing in the hundred-page picture book, but I try to keep the rhythm going throughout. I know about beats, feet, and meter but I wrote Josephine intuitively. At times, while writing it, I’d stand up and dance or listen to early jazz from the teens and 20s.
Music is sound. Whereas there isn’t a rhyme scheme in Josephine, there are rhyming words and sound play. Chop and pop rhyme; Fly and splay slant rhyme. The alliteration of razzmatazz, erupted, Roaring help comprise the sound—the rhythm.
We’re always told to read aloud what you write. Reading aloud is essential for rhythm-making.
In the following passage I inserted feelings I have about dancing.
****She flung her arms,
****she flung her legs.
****Like she flung her heart and her soul.
****’Cause DANCIN’ makes you HAPPY when
****nothin’ else will.
OK, well that’s a little more dance description. All that flinging! Repetition of certain words help create a dancing rhythm. From watching footage of Josephine, I’m sure she felt ecstatic dancing.
In the next passage I borrow the rhythm of “down the Mississippi down to New Orleans”—It must be lyrics from a blues tune, not sure what, but it’s something in my blood, and sings in my body. So we start with this bluesy riff and then, in part by using no stanza breaks, the anger drives the words to accelerate. However the repeated where phrases (where hostile white faces…where white folk…where whites…where signs…) give it a ka-chunk ka-chunk rhythm like a train flying over the seams of the tracks.
****The Dixie Steppers took the train
****down the MISSISSIPPI down to NEW ORLEANS,
****dancing, singing, and partying,
****all the way
****through the land of the Ku Klux Klan,
****where hostile white faces hid under white hoods,
****where white folk threatened colored folk,
****where whites lived apart,
****segregated from colored,
****where signs for one latrine read WHITE ladies
****and for another COLORED women,
****where a white person wouldn’t sell you a cup of coffee.
****Because you were
The passage slows and halts on the injustice of: Because you were Negro.
The shout out words (those in caps) are words my editor and I chose in the designing process. Stressing those words enhances the rhythm.
I hope you read Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. It’s a 4000-word example of using the rhythm (and sounds) of dance. It is my attempt to “write” a dance.
Rhythm isn’t just for razzmatazz subjects. Let me introduce another of my manuscripts so I can include a variety of intuitive rhythmic techniques that I’ve used. It may give you thoughts about how you use rhythm, perhaps without even realizing you do it.
Written for young adults, Loving vs. Virginia (Chronicle 2016) is the courtship and love story of the interracial couple Richard Loving (white) and Mildred Jeter Loving (black). The newlyweds are arrested in their bed in rural Virginia in 1958 and they live in exile or in hiding until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the landmark case of the book’s title in 1967. They are a humble couple who want only to live their simple country life and raise a family together.
(I had thought I’d use the opening, but it turns out that’s a breech of copyright, so here is an outtake).
The text is quiet. This passage begins with Richard, a manual laborer, speaking. He had arranged to pick Mildred up from high school in his car to drive her the 15 miles home, for the first time.
****Central Point, Caroline County, Virginia
****By the time I tore up to the school,
****announcer said it was four.
****Millie was sitting on the front steps.
****She got up slow, came down the walk.
****I leaned across the seat and opened the door for her.
****I said, Sorry, Bean.
****They call her String Bean, which I don’t.
****That’s what snapped into my head—
****She got in, didn’t say a thing.
****I said, The boss stopped in, couldn’t stop him talking.
****After a long drawn out pause she shrugged, said,
****I guess there’s nothing you can do about that.
****I’m real sorry. Won’t happen again.
****I took a glance over at her.
****You angry at me?
****She looked to me like a deer—
****a soft-eyed doe.
****I don’t rightly know. Yeah. No.
****Maybe I was worried.
****I know you didn’t do it on purpose—
****to be mean.
****She rolled down the window all the way,
****let the breeze
****blow through the car.
****Not easy to be angry
****smiling all crooked
****way he does.
****He’s got as many smiles
****as he’s got laughs.
****Back on the school steps
****I was thinking
****I’d like everyone to see me
****drive off with
****this handsome boy.
****So maybe that was foolish.
****Maybe I was disappointed
****I didn’t get seen.
****I don’t say a thing.
****Trying to sort out what I feel.
****Just sitting there
****in his car,
****staring straight ahead.
****Back on the step
****thought I might
****be stuck there.
****I was scared.
****Why would he do that?
****If he’s mean
****I don’t wanna
****I was thinking.
****I was mighty relieved
****when he showed up.
****Once he starts driving
****I let the wind
****ruffle through my hair—
****blow any bad feelings
****out of my head.
****He looks at me, says,
****You look pretty, Bean.
****I’m done being
****I look back at him
****and the two of us
****like we both know we just had a
****fight—our first fight.
****And now it’s over.
This is a documentary novel or creative nonfiction so, as in Josephine, I did a load of research. I interviewed Jeter family members and friends of the Lovings in Caroline County, Virginia. Unfortunately, both Mildred and Richard are deceased, but there is a great deal of film footage of them taken by Hope Ryden in the early 60s. They’re both soft spoken. I try to replicate their southern lilt through the rhythm of speech patterns—just the gentlest hint of country speech helps to build the soft rhythm. That sets the tone of the book.
Richard’s lines are longer than Mildred’s. And he has more stanza breaks. He is less educated than Mildred and his grammar reflects that and sets up his own rhythm.
And finally, I’ll give an example from Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, which does not yet have a publication date only a promise of publication. This is the biography of Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s wife, and a jazz pianist in the early days of jazz.
Again, I use outtakes to avoid copyright infringement.
****1898 – 1900
****Yessir, Lillian Hardin
****was proud to be who she was.
****Her mama made sure of that.
****Grandma made double sure.
****Grandma was a slave
****—a bought-and-sold slave
****till the Civil War ended—
****and she was freed—
****freed to earn wages—
****freed, to raise up her daughter
****Raised her up proud.
****Dempsey became Lillian’s mama,
****worked as a cook
****for a white family
****to give Lillian chances
****she’d never had.
****Lil’s daddy was long gone.
Whereas Josephine is a dance, Struttin’ is an early jazz tune. It is sprinkled with scat song syllables that were really fun to invent. They’re all about rhythm and sound. And out of context they might be awkward to read, but in the flow of the piece, when you’re inside the rhythm they roll off the tongue. Lil is living a little too wildly on Beale Street, Memphis Tennessee—a little too wild for Mama’s tastes. Lil had just bought the sheet music for “St. Louis Blues.”
****That was the last straw
****Lil and Mama packed their bags and rode
****The City of New Orleans
****up to Chicago.
****da cha-cha CHOOO.
****STEPpa dee DOO
****Zop a wha DO
We all use rhythm in our speaking, whether we’re aware of it or not. Since written words are meant to be read, they, too have a rhythm. Increasing awareness of the rhythm of your speech and other people’s speech will improve your writing.
I’ll finish with the first couple lines of a story written by a man during WWII when food was rationed. He wondered what if words were rationed. He tells Little Red Riding Hood with perfectly good English words, but not the regular ones. You can read the story and make it understandable if you find the melody—the rhythm. Have fun.
****Wants pawn term dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge dock florist. Disc ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty ladle rat hut, end fur disc raisin pimple caulder ladle rat rotten hut.
You can buy it here!
Patricia Hruby Powell danced throughout the Americas and Europe with her dance company, One Plus One, before becoming a writer of children’s books. She has marveled at the spirit, courage, and beauty of Josephine Baker for a long time, and while visiting schools as a storyteller/ author and working as a librarian, she realized what a great role model Josephine could be to young people. Josephine has garnered various Honors including the Sibert, Coretta Scott King for illustration, Boston Globe Horn Book for Nonfiction, Bologna Ragazzi; and Parent’s Choice Gold for Poetry. Her other picture books are Blossom Tales, Zinnia, and Frog Brings Rain. Loving vs Virginia (Chronicle) for young adults is forthcoming in 2016. You can visit Patricia online at talesforallages.com.
RhyPiBoMo 2015 Optional Writing Prompt: 9
This is NOT part of the pledge. It is an option for a writing exercise for those interested. You will not publically share this as part of RhyPiBoMo but may keep a journal of your writing this month for your own review.
Today’s writing prompt is to write a poem that dances off the page. Use a distinct rhythm, rhyme, repetitive words and phrases to create a lively dance, in words.
Tapping of the Tale
A tip of the toe tap, taps in the show.
Do you feel the sting-y ping
as the language start to swing.
It peeks out and then back in
swaying side-to-side again.
Dropping down, then leaping past,
spinning, twirling, moving fast.
Til’ the words begin to flow
anticipations slowly grow.
Until the tapping taps …no …more.
****************************** . . . . . . . floor.
THE END, Ovations finally clapped.
The joy of writing, finely tapped.
© 2015 Angie Karcher
Congratulations to Week 2 Prize Winners
Mon Copy of THE SUPERHERO EMPLOYMENT AGENCY Donated by Marilyn Singer
Winner – Maria Oka
Tuesday Copy of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS Donated by Ann Whitford Paul
Winner – Lori Mozdzierz
Wed Copy of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN Donated by Julie Hedlund
Winner – Ellen Izenson
Thurs Copy of A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS Donated by Julie Hedlund Winner – Kathy Mazurowski
Fri Copy of THE FAT-CATS AT SEA Donated by J. Patrick Lewis
Winner – Lynn Alpert
Winners, PLEASE message me your address on Facebook
or email it to Angiekarcherrpbm@gmail.com
Instead of a Friday Favorites winner, this week we had a Rhyming Party winner. I held an impromptu Rhyming Party on Saturday night for all who were near. I quizzed the participants about the blog posts from the past two weeks and the first one to have the correct answer in rhyme won. At the end of the party, I added all the names to a program that randomly chose
the lucky winner – Darlene Ivy
Darlene won The Poetry Friday Anthology of Celebrations donated by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
Thanks to all who played and trust me when I say it is worth the read as the feed from the party is still up on the Facebook page. Hilarious, crazy fun!
Congratulations to the week 2 winners!
Thank you to our generous prize donors!
Maya Angelou Webinar Poetry Contest
(Only for those who attended the webinar last Saturday night.)
The winner for the webinar poetry contest has not been determined yet but I will announce the winner As soon as possible.
Golden Quill Poetry Contest
The Golden Quill Poetry Contest will accept entries STARTING April 13th and the deadline is April 25th midnight Central Time.
First and Last name included in the body of the email at the top left
Email address included in the body of the email at the top left
Phone number – top left
Space down 5 spaces
The Theme is: Freedom
Title of poem – centered with no by line or name here
8 line limit
Must be a rhyming poem
You will be judged on clever title, rhyme scheme, rhythm, scansion, perfect rhyming words, internal rhyme, alliteration, consonance, assonance, onomatopoeia, and clever ending.
Submit poems to
by April 25th midnight central time