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Author Essay: Rhett Miller on No More Poems!

If my kids think I’m cool, they hide it remarkably well. The fans of my music seem to think I’m cool. The internet sometimes does, I guess. But my kids? By all measurable indicators, my kids find me stupendously boring. Especially as they find their way into full-blown adolescence, Max and Soleil slot me further and further down the list of worthwhile expenditures of time and attention.

This becomes especially problematic when I am out on the road doing my weird job, which mostly consists of dancing and howling on a stage somewhere far away from our family’s living room. You may well point out how much technology has helped the parent who travels for work to connect with their kids back at home. Problem is, the kids have to want to connect. Which is how I landed on the idea of writing these poems.

Since their earliest years, we’ve enjoyed reading to each other. Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey, etc. are all favorites in our house at bedtime. We’d take turns, each reading a poem and passing the book around. Afterwards, when the lights had gone out, we’d speculate about the inner lives of the characters in the poems, imagining their eventual post-poem fates. At some point in the midst of this sweet spot in the kids’ development, I realized that I wanted to try to impress them with poems of my own.

I had to be careful how I presented this undertaking. They might not technically have been teenagers yet, but they were still way too cool to just sit around and listen to their old man. Instead, I asked them to be my first editors, encouraging them to offer as harsh a critique as they could muster on each successive draft of my new poems. They relished every opportunity to tell me just how wrong I’d gotten some detail of language or the inner motivation of a character. And you know what, they were pretty much always right.

But every time I coaxed a laugh out of my kids, or got a grudging admission of approval, I knew I was onto something. And the poems started to pile up. And I got better at composing them. And before I knew it, I had the makings of an honest-to-goodness collection of kids’ poetry.

The twists of fate through which I landed at Little Brown with the great Megan Tingley and Anna Prendella, the sheer dumb luck that brought me the opportunity to collaborate with the brilliant Dan Santat… Suffice to say that I couldn’t have gotten any luckier. But my kids? Max and Soleil are somehow still wildly unimpressed. Guess I better get back to work.