This nighttime fantasy is written in strict meter and rhyme.
I love reading it aloud in assemblies–
everyone becomes absolutely quiet.
ON WRITING THE NIGHT HORSE
After my first book (To Rabbittown) was accepted, I took a class at UCLA called â€śWriting Poetry For Childrenâ€ť, taught by Myra Cohn Livingston. Myra was a crusty woman.Â Opinionated.Â Passionate about metrics, good poetry, not talking down to children.Â Her insistence on excellence was hard.Â I cried after many of her classes.
I also learned a tremendous amount.Â She had us do what I called â€śpoetry scalesâ€ť—lots and lots of practice of the basic tools of poetry.Â She piled on the homework.Â It was understood that if you signed up for Myraâ€™s class, you signed away your life.Â You had no time to work on other writing projects.
One assignment was to write a childrenâ€™s story in iambic pentameter rhymed couplets.Â That means that every two lines have to rhyme, the stress is on the second beat, and every line had to have five â€śbeats.â€ť
(For example, say these two words:, “July” and “summer”.Â In English, we naturally say “July” with a stress on the second syllable.Â We naturally stress the first syllable of “summer”.Â When writing something in iambic, I can’t use the word “summer”.Â I have to find an iambic word to fit what I want to say.Â It’s HARD!)
I went up to her, after class, trembling.Â I was thinking that after all, I had gotten a childrenâ€™s book/poem accepted for publication that did not rhyme, hadnâ€™t I?Â And it was Myra who had accepted the first poem I ever had published in her book Poems For Mothers, and that poem didnâ€™t rhyme.Â So I said, â€śMyra, I would rather not rhyme this assignment.â€ť
Myra looked at me for a moment.Â Then she said, â€śYou will not only rhyme this assignment, you will rhyme every assignment for the rest of this class, even if the others are told not to.â€ť
I went home, tail between my legs, and struggled with iambic pentameter couplets.Â I brought it into class the next week, triumphant.Â She returned it with her trademark red, unreadable small handwriting covering–covering–both pages of this work.Â I burst into tears.
But Myra was not saying that my idea was abominable or that I was a terrible writer. She was saying, â€śThis idea has promise.Â Work on it.Â Hereâ€™s how.Â You can do it.â€ť
She worked closely with me on that story for a year and a half.Â At the end of that time, she said, â€śItâ€™s ready.â€ťÂ I sent off my manuscript and Scholastic accepted it and published it as The Night Horse, with illustrations in pastel colors by Vera Rosenberry .
Itâ€™s dedicated to my husband, Gary.
THE NIGHT HORSEÂ can be heard on the award-winning CD/MP3 IT’S NOT MY TURN TO LOOK FOR GRANDMA AND OTHER STORIES