Eric Ode

tells some Tall Tales

Hello Eric. Welcome to the Poetry Zone interviews. Tell us, when did you start writing?
While I was still teaching, we put a lot of poetry to use in the classroom – everything from Stevenson to Silverstein and Nash to Frost. Having all of that amazing material around was very inspiring. Often if I had the students writing their own poetry, I took the time to do the same. Before long I was writing whenever the mood struck.

Why do you write poetry?
To finish! Most of the time I struggle to make a poem come out just right. The early part of the writing process can be frustrating, but I love the home stretch – revising and polishing and seeing everything come together. Completing a poem and being pleased with the results – that’s the rewarding part. That’s why I write.

Do you write anything other than poetry?
I divide my time between writing songs and writing poems. I have a few other story projects I pick away at, but the lion’s share of my writing goes in those two directions.

What books have you written?
Meadowbrook Press recently released my first “solo” book of poetry: TALL TALES OF THE WILD WEST (AND A FEW SHORT ONES). It’s a collection of cowboy poems for kids, wonderfully illustrated by Ben Crane. The rest of my published poetry is in a number of anthologies and magazines.

Tall Tales of the Wild West

The Armadillo

“Hold up just a minute, boys,”
said Sheldon with a shout.
“I think there’s something in my boot,
so let me dump it out.”

He clambered from his horse’s back
and sat beneath a willow.
And there inside his cowboy boot
he found an armadillo.

“Well, blow me down!” the cowboy said.
“I knew that things were wrong.
I hope, my friend, you don’t intend
to stay there very long.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” the critter said,
“for near as I can tell,
I might survive the crowded fit,
but surely not the smell!”

How long does it take to write a poem?
Too long! Seriously, I wish I had an answer to that question. I’ve had some poems come together beautifully in a matter of a few hours, and I’ve struggled through others off and on for days. That makes it difficult to answer “How long?”

How do you write your poems?
Once I have a general idea of what the poem will be about, I move to a brainstorming period where I’m building up a word bank and getting my head going in the right direction. When I’m finally ready to write, I’m more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. I write, stop, write some more, get frustrated and stop again, revise, eat a cookie, panic and wonder if there’s any chance it will all come together…

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Always. I’m usually working on several projects at a time. I’m currently in the middle of a couple of collections which I’m very excited about, but if it’s okay with you, I’ll keep them secret.

Do you visit schools?
I taught elementary school for 12 years, and when I hung up my teaching hat, it was with the goal of getting published and then doing school visits – sharing assemblies and workshops on the writing process. I suppose it’s a rather backward reason for writing and for working at getting published.

Do you travel around very much?
For school visits, I’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling within the United States. My wife and kids and I live in Washington State. That’s on the very northwest corner of the United States. This last school year had me in states as far apart as Alaska to Florida (They’re on opposite corners of the U.S.) with many other states in between. It’s a wonderful way to get to see the country.

Which is the most unusual school that you’ve visited?
Two years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the Tikigaq School of Point Hope, Alaska. Point Hope sits on a narrow peninsula which juts out to the Chukchi Sea. It’s about as far northwest as you can possibly get in North America. The entire community has a population of around 850, primarily native Iñupiaq. This wonderful community is still actively involved in whale hunts and caribou hunts. Their artistic heritage is amazing. Because I was there in mid-December, the wind chill factor hovered around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (That’s around minus 35 Celsius.) and the sun was pretty much nonexistent. What I asked of the students during that short stay was that they recognize what an amazing environment they are surrounded by – unlike anyplace else on the planet, really – and that they be true to that place and that heritage and let their culture deeply influence their writing. Who else has the opportunity to write about that sort of place so honestly?

Who are your favourite poets?
Oh, my goodness. There are dozens. And I’m also very influenced by various songwriters. Maybe I’d better not try to list them. I’d no doubt leave out several and then feel badly.

Of all the poems you’ve written, which is your favourite?
There are several in the new cowboy book with which I’m particularly pleased. They have a very traditional story telling quality to them – similar in style to poems like The Cremation of Sam McGee or Casey at the Bat.

The Prospector

Miss Polly May, so we are told,
would spend her seasons panning gold.
She’d grit her teeth and hope and dream
and thrust her pan into the stream,
but what Miss Polly May would find
was nothing like she had in mind.

“I feel like such an utter fool,”
she’d tell her gray and shaggy mule.
“I dip my pan. I pull it out.
But all I get are rocks and trout.
Oh, how I dream and how I wish
I’d bring up gold instead of fish.”

But one day as she held her pan,
Miss Polly May devised a plan.
She bought a hammer, nails, and wood
and did just what she knew she should.
She built a shop. She made a sign.
And now the people stand in line.
Throughout the west, they’re making trips
to Polly’s Pan-Fried Fish and Chips.

Have you any poems coming out in the near future?
I have a couple of pieces appearing in I HOPE I DON’T STRIKE OUT, a new Meadowbrook Press anthology of sports poems. Two others will be featured in two books published by ABDO Publishing designed to encourage children to read and write poetry. And a few will be turning up in various children’s magazines.

Did you enjoy school?
I enjoyed my first few years of elementary school and thoroughly enjoyed senior high. Junior high (In the U.S. that’s around ages 12 to 14) was a challenge. I suppose I was quite the geek and an easy target. I probably still have certain geeky qualities, but maybe that stops being a big deal after a certain age. I sure hope so!

Have you any pets?
We have two large dogs and three chickens.

Have you any plans for the future?
Most of my poetry has been humorous verse with tight meter and rhyme. I would like to become a stronger poet of more serious verse for children and am working on one collection in particular where the pieces are non-rhyming or rely less on rhyme than on other poetic devices. I’d also like to be doing more traveling outside of the country.

Do you have a web page?
I do! It’s Please visit!

What could schools do to improve the way poetry is taught?
I am time and again very impressed with the way poetry is being taught in the schools, especially when the teacher’s emphasis is more on expression and creativity and progress than on due dates. I’ve witnessed a few classrooms where the students have several writing projects going on at any one time, each in various stages of completion, and the students are allowed to spend their creative time with the project that is most stimulating to them at that moment. That might be a little tough to manage, but it might also be more in line with how we create outside of the classroom.

What advice would you give to young poets?
Read! Not just poetry of course. Read everything and anything you find challenging and exciting. The best writers are readers.

Thank you, Eric!

All poems in this interview are Copyright © 2007 Eric Ode

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