April 12, 2016

Friday, November 9, 2012

Poetry Friday: Songwriting with Mary Amato

I met author Mary Amato through SCBWI. She was speaking at a local conference and the two of us discovered we have a common love of poetry.
Her Riot Brothers series -- a kinder, gentler read for kids who love the humor in Captain Underpants -- soon became one of my children's favorites.
We also love two of her other books that include poetry, Please Write in This Book and Edgar Allan's Official Crime Investigation Notebook. (Read my interview with Mary about Edgar Allan  here. With a main character named for Edgar Allan Poe, you won't be surprised to learn that Mary is a Marylander.)

In addition to being an author, Mary is a talented musician and singer-songwriter. She has melded all of these skills into a new YA novel, Guitar Notes.
mary at holton
Mary conducting a song-writing
workshop with young authors.
I am thrilled to welcome Mary Amato to Author Amok! Take it away, Mary...
Ever since my 8th grade English teacher did a unit on lyrics as poetry, I’ve been writing songs. My newest book, Guitar Notes, is about the power of songwriting and includes eight original songs.
Because poems often live on the page, readers can go back and read the poem a second or a third time, slowly adding a deeper and deeper understanding of the poem. A song is meant to live in the aural world and so, I believe, the poetry of the lyrics has to be more immediately graspable. The first line is like the doorway into the song; you want it to open easily. If your listener gets stuck on the threshold, then he or she will miss what’s coming next.
Let me share an example of how I got this wrong…and then how I corrected it with one of the songs from Guitar Notes.
Getaway is a song that the characters Lyla and Tripp write after they have this amazing night together delivering a stolen surprise on someone’s doorstep. They’re delivering something that they have stolen, but they’re not bad kids; they’re actually doing a good deed, in a way, and it’s very funny. (You have to read the book!) In the scene, snow begins to fall, so I used that as my inspiration for the first line of the first stanza:
Steal the snow out of the sky.
I’ll be Bonnie you be Clyde.
Steal a joke and let it fly, let it fly.
After singing the song for a while, I realized that my doorway into the song was interesting but not very clear. The second line really was a stronger way to begin the song.
I’ll be Bonnie you be Clyde.
Steal the snow out of the sky.
Steal a joke and let it fly, let it fly.
The second line sets up the fact that the song is about these two people, a boy and a girl, who are playing at being thieves; but right away with the next line you understand that the focus is on the “play”…they’re not robbing a bank, they’re stealing the snow out of the sky. Works much better.  
Take a look at your first lines and ask yourself if they provide what the reader/listener needs to enter in to the experience of the poem/song.
I have posted a behind-the-scenes explanation of the song's full revision on the book's website. Read more about GUITAR NOTES and the power of music at
Thank you for guest blogging today, Mary! Folks, you can find classroom and discussion materials for Guitar Notes here.
Today's Poetry Friday blog roll is at Ed's place, Think Kid, Think!


jama said...

I was first introduced to Mary's work through The Word Eater, which I loved loved loved.

Hope to hear her sing and play someday. :)

Thanks for the guest post, Mary and Laura. Can't wait to see Guitar Notes.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Jama. My favorite of her books is "Please Write in this Book." I was surprised by how many years the Riot Brothers remained a favorite in our house. Even when the kids were in middle school, they'd return to those books when they were feeling down and needed a laugh.

Tabatha said...

Very interesting to hear about the writing of "Gateway" -- such a simple, but useful, change to the first line. Sounds like a great book!

GatheringBooks said...

Music is poetry with rhythm and notes. Such a lovely post. Thank you for introducing me to a new author, I haven't read any of Mary Amato's work yet, but I have a feeling my ten year old daughter would absolutely adore "Please Write in this Book." - will look for it in our libraries here in Singapore. :)

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Golly, Laura--
Chastened by your fb scolding, I'm here to see what you've been up to, and the answer is: when I graduate from teaching full-time, you're the blogger I aspire to be! I've been noodling on this idea of lyrics as poetry recently and enjoyed learning something new about Mary Amato, whom I've somehow never managed to meet. I've been to Dodge only once, but your freelance flashback was so evocative of that special place, and Tony Medina and and and!

Did we say the new year for a meeting about no-poems? Can't find the email...

Ruth said...

This book sounds great. I'm adding it to my wish list. I have lots of students who like to write song lyrics. (Actually, most of theirs are raps. :-))

Robyn Hood Black said...

Terrific post, Laura! Thanks to you and Mary for sharing. I have a crooning, guitar-playing high school senior so would love to check out GUITAR NOTES.

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for reminding me about The Riot Brothers. I need them in my classroom!

Liz Steinglass said...

So cool. I will definitely look for Please Write in this Book.

Author Amok said...

"Please Write in this Book" is a must, everyone. Perfect for third through sixth grade. It's a fun epistolary novel -- great way to introduce the form to kids -- and it also tells a good story.

Author Amok said...

Heidi -- yes! We should plan to meet via email.

Linda said...

Great post, Laura. GUITAR NOTES is on my holiday wish list! Now, you've made me want to read it even sooner!