Even with over 30 years of experience in professional writing and editing, I don’t know everything. There’s an enormous amount of knowledge I’ve simply forgotten over the decades or have yet to learn. Some of those things I am learning (or relearning) involve what I can and cannot do and what I should and should not do.
Case in point: Two people recently hired me to edit their manuscripts. Both manuscripts were written for young (i.e., preschool) children and both were written in verse.
Let’s just say that I am not a poet.
I’ve written poetry, doggerel to be honest. I’ve read it, too. When I was a child, my mother bought me a book of poetry, Piping Down the Valleys Wild. I loved that book. I’ve also read more “serious” poetry such as Homer’s Odyssey and Milton’s Paradise Lost. I disliked Paradise Lost. I’ve enjoyed the poems of Tennyson, Burns, and Carew. Some day I intend to read Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgramage.
So, I’m not unfamiliar with poetry.
That doesn’t mean I’m an expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do know that poetry is supposed to be pleasing to ear and tongue. It’s supposed to have an even meter (beat or rhythm). It’s supposed to convey layers of meaning with eloquent brevity. It is not always supposed to rhyme, but let’s face it, we like poetry when it rhymes.
Writing poetry is difficult. It’s a lot like writing children’s literature in its demands for pleasing language, appropriate word choice, and brevity to convey both clarity and the layers of meaning that make reading children’s literature a pleasure for the adults reading it to their children. Norman Bridwell (e.g., Clifford the Big Red Dog) and Stan and Jan Berenstain (e.g., Berenstain Bears) accomplish that with a seemingly effortless skill that I envy. Bears in the Night is the best example I can think of that demonstrates the simple, rhythmic language so skillfully used it could be poetry.
English oftentimes doesn’t quite rhyme, so writing rhyming poetry in English gets tricky. English, however, lends itself pretty well to iambic pentameter, which enables it to adapt readily to the sonnet format favored by Shakespeare.
The gist is that I’m not the best editor for anything written in verse, and I failed to inquire before taking on the projects as to whether the manuscripts were written in verse. I should have.
On the other hand, yes, the authors could have volunteered to inform me that their manuscripts were written in verse. Also, both requested proofreading, but wanted much more than proofreading, which is entirely another topic related to management of expectations and knowing the difference between proofreading and editing. (They got a bit more than proofreading, because I just couldn’t not comment on the flaws that needed to be fixed.)
Anyway, lesson learned. I’ll stick to prose.