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How to Write a "My Bonnie" poem

by Bruce Lansky

When I've got an idea for a poem but don't know how to get started, I sometimes hum "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" to see if the words racing through my mind fit into that rhythm pattern. More often than not, it works. Several of my favorite poems were written in just that way. Here's an example:

Where My Clothes Are

Dirty clothes should be put in the hamper.
Clean clothes should be put in the drawer.
But it takes too much time and it takes too much work,
So I throw them all over the floor.

-Bruce Lansky

1996 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted from My Dog Ate My Homework with permission of Meadowbrook Press

A longer poem I wrote to the rhythm of "My Bonnie" is "My Dumb Cat," which you'll find in its entirety in My Dog Ate My Homework. Here's how it starts:

My Dumb Cat

My cat never comes when I call her.
She cannot remember her name.
Her brain is the size of a thimble.
And that's why my cat is so lame.

I want to call your attention to the last stanza of this poem: It has stimulated me to start several other poems. Here's the last stanza:

I wonder why cats were invented.
They eat and they drink and they purr.
There's only one trick that they know how to do:
they sit on your lap and shed fur.

1996 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted from My Dog Ate My Homework with permission of Meadowbrook Press

Think about the last stanza. What do kids wonder about? Here are a few one-stanza poems that popped into my head while preparing for classroom visits:

I wonder why girls were invented.
They spend so much time on their hair.
If they were as bald as my grandpa,
The mirror would give them a scare.

© 2002 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted from Funny Little Poems for Funny Little People with permission of Meadowbrook Press

I wonder why boys were invented.
They're dirty and messy and rude.
They never wash up before dinner.
And burp after eating their food.

© 2002 by Bruce Lansky, reprinted from Funny Little Poems for Funny Little People with permission of Meadowbrook Press

I can assure you that reading these poems in your classroom will produce an uproar. I'm sure your students would like to try their hands at writing such poems about girls and boys or brothers and sisters. (From experience, however, I can tell you that poems about cats and dogs are less likely to result in a visit from the principal to find out why there's so much laughter in your classroom.)

Have fun!

Bruce Lansky

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  My Dog Ate My Homework!