New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Erik Korhel on writing children’s poetry, illustrated by 5 of his poems

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Erik Korhel is from Seattle, Washington.  He began pursuing his dream writing poetry with his first release, a children’s book of poems titled “My Tooth Fell in My Soup”. This book is well received by the educational community, having achieved a Must Have Books and Resources listing with the “New York City Department of Education”. With positive responses to the first, in 2011 his second published anthology of children’s poems titled “The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache” was released. October 2013 saw his third poetry book for children, “They Say I Am Obnoxious”.



Remember the Time…

Today, I would like to touch on the most common question posed in the world of writing for
which there is (or at least seems to be) no answer: Where do you get your ideas from?

A question that, at first glance, seems pretty straightforward—even innocuous—to the
questioner; no matter the specified genre or level of publishing world experience of the writer
being addressed. Whether based on genuine interest or simply curiosity, the question seems
inevitable and has probably been asked thousands of times. In many cases, it sends writers
ducking for cover, although I’m not sure why.

As someone who has now (for better or worse) been writing for many years, I welcome
the opportunity to discuss what inspires me to write—specifically when it comes to writing
humorous picture books of poetry for children. For me, it can be summed up in one word:

According to Merriam-Webster, Nostalgia is defined as: a wistful or excessively
sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also,
something that evokes nostalgia.

Nostalgia has become my sole inspiration for writing poetry for children. It’s completely
individualistic in every way, yet often isn’t. An experience specific to one person is in many
cases relatable to many others.

As a poet who writes for children, of course it only makes sense that I would pull from
those endless memories of my own childhood experiences. What I have found to be most
enjoyable is that I can now better comprehend my thoughts and experiences that have stayed
with me into adulthood, giving me a better understanding of their absurdity and ultimate

“Saliva Napkin,” from my first book, My Tooth Fell in My Soup, is a piece that parents
appear to enjoy more than the kids do because apparently many of them can relate to it in
some way.

The poem was based on experiences my sister and I had growing up, where our mother
would randomly dig out from the corner depths of her purse a gross-looking napkin already
covered with multiple days’ worth of accumulated food and dirt, wet it with her tongue, and
wipe off our face and cheeks. Thinking back to this experience as I type now triggers a low-level
gag reflex of impracticality.

From my second book, The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache, there is a poem in which it
appears everyone has some direct connection to, and has easily transcended, at least a few
generations. It is a poem titled, “Sizzle”. The topic of this poem always is guaranteed to bring
smiles on the faces of audiences during a reading.

Written in 2010, “Sizzle” visits the topic and consistent use of imagination we employ
during childhood, specifically speaking of the “Hot Lava game”. The lava game is something that
has carried on in popularity over the years and happens to be a topic of parody on social media,
in movie shorts, commercials, and, of course, while employing many of today’s easily accessible
computer special effects, it certainly lends clarity to the imaginations of yesteryear.

They Say I Am Obnoxious is the most recent published book and third in my catalogue
and was written focusing more on how children can be rather mischievous, but usually without
any intent of malice in their heart.

Pranks play a large part of a childhood and were a highlight of mine for sure. When
writing the book, I really wanted to focus on some of the activities where I played a part, but
the deeper my thoughts dialed into each of the memories, it became quite apparent that I had,
more often than not— without an ounce of opposition—accepted the lead role.

Although I enjoy the addition of a comical twist to many of the poems I write, what I had
noticed after composing the first draft of “Obnoxious” was that the ending was written using a
softer comedic touch; more than usual. What I had in mind while writing and working the end
was to show how many of these experiences, which have almost become folklore as the years
continue to stack themselves behind us, are the staple of each and every family gathering.
Beginning each time with a “Remember the time…” now with a large grin on my face following
closely to the story’s ending, I reply, “Of course I do. I was there!”

For me, writing from a nostalgic perspective makes me feel more connected to readers,
no matter the range in age. I am now on a closer personal level with a larger group because I
have now bypassed any kind of uncomfortable, standard introduction where it often takes time
to get to know someone. It skips right to having that commonality. In an instant, you can look
at someone from across the room, point at each other without uttering a word, and think to
yourself, “Me too!” From that alone, a friendship can be born.


Stephie’s Dad’s a Tough Guy

Stephie’s dad’s a tough guy.
His motorcycle’s loud.

Everyone moves out of his way
When he’s walking through a crowd.

He has a long dark beard,
No hair on his head.

Stephie hardly argues
When he says, “Time for bed.”

You rarely see him smile.
He’s covered in tattoos.

Sleeveless shirts during winter,
No socks with his shoes.

His muscles are big.
I heard he wrestled a shark.

The last person you’d want to meet,
Walking alone in the dark.

But, last time I was over
To play at Stephie’s house,

Her dad was standing on a table screaming,
“I think I saw a mouse!”


My Sister Works in Fast Food

My sister works in fast food.
She says it’s such a breeze,

Repeating day in and out,
“May I take your order please?”

She wears a paper hat,
Her hair tied in a net,

Has become handy with a mop
When the floor is wet.

She dresses up the buns
With mayo, ketchup, and mustard,

Dumps hot fudge and sprinkles
If you ordered frozen custard.

She speaks into a microphone
While working the drive-thru.

It seems like lots of fun,
A job I’d like to do.

She drops fries in the oil,
Broils burgers on the rack.

She once told me the secret ingredient,
And I’ve never since been back.


Déjà Vu

I’ve seen this place,
Been here before,
Recognize that face.
“Come in, shut the door.”

I have a feeling,
Can’t break my stare.
My mind is reeling
As I sit in this chair.

“Do you know why you’re here?”
It hit me with a pow!
Now I remember this fear―
“The principal will see you now.”


Someone Took My Front Teeth

Someone took my front teeth
Along with my friends’ all down the street,

Removing them without permission,
No thank you or receipt.

The Tooth Fairy is flying away,
Exposing a mischievous grin.

“Times are tough these days!” she says.
“I’m off to cash these in.”


Off and On

I’m starting to get nervous.
I mustn’t miss a beat.

Shouldn’t be a big deal.
I just need to claim my seat.

My hands are cold and clammy.
My pits have sprung a leak.

I need to plant my bum
And break this losing streak.

My tummy’s in a twirl.
Heart is racing fast.

No need to be the first,
But cannot be the last.

Only one spot left.
The music pounds and blares.

A doctor should be on stand-by
For this game of musical chairs.




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