Poetry Month is almost here, and to kick it off we thought we'd feature a...journalist! No, no, no. Not a journalist. Don't be silly. We're featuring a poet, of course. And not just any poet--a fabulously funny poet, our favorite kind! When he's not penning poems, Kenn is probably talking to kids about poetry. He does over 60 school visits a year, a truly impressive feat. Please welcome Kenn into the coop!
Tell us about your hilarious new book, My Hippo Has The Hiccups.
Oh my gosh... I'm so excited I can barely stand it, for so many different reasons. Ethan Long's illustrations are just wonderfully whimsical, and I'm so lucky he was able to work on it. This is also the first book where I've gotten to include an audio CD in the book. I had a blast recording and producing it. Oh, and it's my biggest collection of poems to date; over 100 poems about every silly thing under the sun. I'm tickled that it's finally out.
How do you know when what you write is funny?
If it's really funny, I crack myself up. It's fun, if a little bit strange, to make yourself laugh. But, even then, it's not always as funny to other poeple as I think it ought to be. Sometimes I miss the mark. So, after I finish writing something, the first thing I do is run it by my kids, Madison and Max. They're 9 and 11 now, and they are the toughest critics. If I can make them snicker, I know I'm on to something. Then I put it on my website and let my readers grade it. If a poem doesn't get top marks, it's not going to get published.
Do you have any tips for writing funny books?
Has being funny ever gotten you into or out of trouble?
Perhaps just now, when I answered that last question. Aside from that, being funny has gotten me into trouble on at least one occasion that I can recall, but I'd rather not go into it. I mean, why bore your readers with an embarassing story of me cracking a joke at a completely inappropriate time only to have everyone glower at me as if I'd just tooted in church? As for getting OUT of trouble, I rely on "puppy dog eyes."
What are some of your favorite funny books?
Oh, that's an easy one. The funniest books I've read in the last couple of years are M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts, and Mary Amato's Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All. The Riot Brothers series, by the way, was illustrated by Ethan Long, who also did the drawings in My Hippo.
Who do you like more, the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges?
Marx Brothers, hands down. Don't get me wrong, Larry, Curly, Moe, and Shemp -- wait... isn't that four stooges? -- were geniuses of physical comedy. (And "Shemp" is such a brilliantly funny name. Is it too late to change my name to Shemp?) But Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo were masters of both physical and intellectual comedy. I don't think anyone ever accused the Stooges of being witty. So, yeah I prefer comedy that gets you in both the belly and the brain.
Clown Vs. Mime Deathmatch. Pick your winner.
Thanks for all the slow-pitch softball questions. I love the easy ones. I mean, mimes are annoying, but clowns can be downright evil. The last time I went to the circus, I saw clowns that I would NOT want to tangle with. Besides, clowns run, jump, and do cartwheels, while mimes move in slo-mo. My money is on the clown.
Funniest dead person you'd ever like to meet?
Do they have to still be dead when I meet them? Could we bring them back to life and dust them off a bit first? If so, I would love to exhume, er..., spend an afternoon with a humorous Victorian poet such as Edward Lear, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), or W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan) to see what makes them tick. Sure, maybe they're not as funny as Charlie Chaplin or John Belushi, but I expect they'd be more fun to have lunch with.
What is your Dream Job for a Day?
I know I'm supposed to say something like President or Rock Star or International Spy -- and that last one does sound pretty tempting -- but those jobs seem like they might be too much work (or too dangerous)! In truth, I'd think I'd really like to be the guy that brings you the drinks with the little umbrellas on some white, sandy beach in the South Pacific. I like working with happy people, and I'm pretty sure that everyone is happy while lying on a white, sandy beach in the South Pacific, having drinks with little umbrellas brought to them. In fact, could we make that my Dream Job for a Week or Two?
You do a lot of school visits! Can you tell us a little something about your program?
Well, let's see... I run around like a maniac and show kids how to write ridiculously funny poetry about sports, pets, food, space llamas, or anything else they want to write about. I yell a bunch of poems, crack jokes, and show them how much fun they can have with a book. I love my job! It is insanely fun to perform for hundreds of kids and have them laughing themselves completely silly. They seem to like it too.
National Poetry Month is almost here! Do you have a favorite poem you'd like to share in honor of it?
I have lots of favorite poems, so I'll just share this one, from My Hippo Has the Hiccups. It's not one of my funnier poems, but it just seems so apropos for National Poetry Month.
Today I Wrote This Poem
Today I wrote this poem,
but I wonder if it's good.
It doesn't have the things
my teacher says a poem should.
It doesn't share the feelings
I have deep inside of me.
It hasn't any metaphors
and not one simile.
It's missing any narrative.
It isn't an acrostic,
diamante, or haiku.
There's nothing that's personified.
It doesn't have a plot.
I'm pretty sure that rhyming
is the only thing it's got.
It sure was fun to write it,
and I think it's long enough.
It's just too bad it's missing
all that great poetic stuff.
I put it on my teacher's desk
and, wow, she made a fuss.
She handed back my poem
with an A++++!