Lessons From A Child Poet

by Miko Johnston

If you’ve read my biography, you know my earliest ambition was to become a poet. I began writing poems at age six, and continued until I discovered it wasn’t a mainstream career – I found no “help wanted” ads for poets in the New York Times classified section. Being a practical sort, I changed my goal, but I’ve been writing ever since.

I still remember the first poem I wrote. I actually sat down and evaluated it line by line, and found that I had good instincts about the process. I recalled how I’d spent time playing with the wording, the rhyming and the rhythm, which created imagery through words. I also found parallels with my current approach to writing.

Let me show you what I mean. The poem goes:

I went to the moon

One sunny afternoon

Where I saw a sight

That gave me a fright

A man from Mars

With green and purple scars

The poem rhymes because I felt at the time poems should rhyme. It has a rhythm as well, for the same reason.

The first two lines had come to me immediately. I liked the way they sounded, with a sing-song bounciness reminiscent of a good nursery rhyme. The sound of words, how they flow together and the rhythm they create when read, remains an important aspect of writing to me and something I always strive to attain. The lines also comprise the first third of the poem. They introduce the setting, the character, and launch the story, as a first act should.

I don’t specify how I got to the moon, whether I rocketed, incorporated some other form of transport, or jumped, but I don’t think it matters. Rather than fill in every detail, it leaves that to the reader’s imagination, which is still characteristic of my style

The next two lines bring in an element of tension through emotion, as well as the possibility of conflict arising from it. Fear can be very potent in motivating a character. These lines also comprise the middle of the poem, but the sudden change from the playful couplet that opens the poem grabs our attention. No sagging middle here, another goal in my writing.

The last two lines are, to me, the most interesting. Finding another “non-resident” on the moon is more curious than scary, which brings the poem back to the mood set in the opening. A good ending should always reference the beginning. I contemplated the Martian’s coloring for a long while. At least some of the scars had to be green, since that was all we knew about Martians in those days. I toyed with using red or blue for the second color – the rhythm would have matched better. Somehow it had to be purple, an uncommon color in the fifties, which made it exotic. And I decided I liked the hiccup effect it gave the rhythm, like going over a speed bump or pot hole. It jars you, which also fits the theme. It also leaves it to the reader to decide whether the Martian’s appearance was scary or humorous.

Is it a great poem? No, but come on, I was only six. If this were a story, it would be incomplete. I could have added more, but it does convey an image and an emotional response. I say it’s complete as is.

I don’t write much poetry anymore, except for an occasional musing on a subject or a haiku in a humorous vein. I like fitting an idea to a very specific and brief formula. I’ll share my favorite haiku with you:


                                                Born in thirty-three

                                                Celebrated forty-five

                                                In seventy-eight

The math works out, but finding the right title was critical, as much for this poem as for a novel

As I consider my very first attempt at writing with the benefit of more than a half century of hindsight, I can see the roots of my development as a writer of prose.

For those of you who write, do you remember the first piece you wrote? How would you trace your development as a writer from that piece to today?

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction series, “A Petal in the Wind”, as well as a contributor to several anthologies including the recently released “Whidbey Landmarks”. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

19 thoughts on “Lessons From A Child Poet”

  1. Miko, I just woke up and immediately went to our blog, anxious to see what gems were posted. Yours was a wonderful and unexpected surprise. I loved every word, especially your digging into the meaning of the charming poem. Obviously your six-year old ;persona was mature and creative enough to send you in the beginning of the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the thumbs up, Jill. In many way, writing was, and still is – to quote another writer – “The Agony and the Ecstasy”..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I still have one of my first poems. I even had the first pages of a book I started writing in high school English class. Forty years later I used those pages as the beginning of my Chance McCoy book series. Hey, that’s what writers do. And your moon poem was fun. That six year old went on to write some really great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gayle. The urge to express ourselves and entertain others begins early in life, so it doesn’t surprise me that many of us began writing long ago. You’re further proof that It’s the years of honing that skill that makes us better today.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Miko, and a fun poem. Thanks for saving, and sharing, your impressive early work.

    Walter Mosley advises writers to learn poetry. A quote: “ Poetry teaches us music, metaphor, condensation and specificity.”

    I wrote some poetry in high school, driven by my considerable adolescent angst. In sixth grade, I wrote Nancy Drew-inspired mysteries and read chapters to my friends as we walked home from school—and they liked my work! I have the poetry somewhere, but wish I still had the mysteries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maggie. I agree with you and Walter. Although I focus on prose now, my early instincts for poetry led me to my current style of storytelling. However, I did select my best examples. Some of my adolescent writing was cringe-worthy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a wonderful reminder how magical children’s imaginations are – without all the clutter of adult reasoning, rules and regulations. A fun post, Miko!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Rosemary. It’s true – youth allows our imagination to run free, without rules or boundaries, and yet somehow our instincts guide us in the right direction.


  6. I thought I was taking a creative fiction writing course in Glendale Cimmunity College, but the teacher ended up teaching poetry – all kinds. I learned to write several types of sonnets, Hauku, and ballads (mine wad 31 stanzas!)
    I don’t like to write poetry but I got an “A” in the class. The professor even put one of my sonnets in the College book that year.
    Not sure how that influenced my fiction writing, but I have to agree with Mosley. I learned a lot about metaphor and specificity.


    1. Jackie, poetry might not have been your “thing”, but you understood the fundamentals of writing them, which doesn’t surprise me. Poetry, like the best human interest journalism, uses language to create imagery, mood and emotion on the page.


  7. Great post, Miko, and thanks for sharing your youthful venture into writing. Yes, I see the roots of your writing skills in those lines, and what a great analysis you provided.


  8. Go for it, Madeline. Switching it up opens new doors to creative thinking, which can help our primary writing focus.


  9. I love this post Miko – and your insight on what poetry teaches us about the fundamentals of storytelling. I was impressed by your poem written at age 6! I had forgotten all about the poems I penned in my early teens. I just dug them out and was really surprised to find they weren’t too bad at all. I am not sure why I hid them away – reading them makes me squirm a bit – teenage angst and infatuations – but it’s definitely got me thinking. Thank you for reigniting my love of poetry.


  10. Thank you for your lovely comments, Hannah. I also cringe at what my friends and I wrote in our teens. All those fantasy stories that starred our crush du jour (usually some pop star) and silly, overwrought dramas about high school life and such, but I learned a great deal from it – namely, what not to do.


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