Poetry Friday – Format Changes in “Magical Melody” from Summoning the Phoenix

Happy Blog Birthday to This Little Ditty, this week’s host for Poetry Friday!  Today I want to address formatting a poem.  When I write prose, fiction or nonfiction, I usually don’t care about what my words look like on the page.  But when I write a poem, I really, really care about how it looks on the page.  Shapes of stanzas matter.  Left justification of a word vs. centering vs. right justification — each time formatting decision is a conscious choice.  Punctuation matters; a comma has a different meaning from a semi-colon or a hyphen or an em-dash.  Line breaks matter.  Where I choose to break a line will change the context and content of the entire poem, even if I don’t change the words.

Earlier this week Mary Robinette Kowal featured my guest post about my picture book Summoning the Phoenix on My Favorite Bit, and in my article, I describe how my poem “Magical Melody” changed format to fit the gorgeous and stunning artwork by April Chu.

Reposting my poem “Magical Melody” in its original format.  It’s a list poem, where the format is key, to evoke the shape of a bird’s wing:



I had worked several revisions for this poem (adding and taking away punctuation, adding and modifying descriptive clauses, different stanza groupings) before paring it down to this list and this shape.

Again, April’s artwork is stunning, and I analyze her art in detail on My Favorite Bit. In the end, there wasn’t enough space in her art to preserve the original format of my poem.

Function should dictate
form, yet sometimes form’s beauty
makes function follow.

Ultimately, I decided that it was better to change the shape of my poem to fit April’s amazing art.  Here’s how the poem changed:



EmilyJiang-XiaospreadIn this case, the art was so worth the effort of changing the format of my poem.

I’m delighted to share that Summoning the Phoenix is now available for purchase online!


4 thoughts on “Poetry Friday – Format Changes in “Magical Melody” from Summoning the Phoenix”

  1. Wow, Emily. What a difference. When the poem stands alone, the formatting is everything, but when paired with the illustration, the illustration supplies a lot of what the formatting did in the original (if I’m making any sense at all). 🙂 this is beautiful!

  2. What a contrast! I think B.J. has summed it up well–the illustration does what the formatting did before.

    It makes me wonder, did the artist know of your original formatting when she did the artwork? Do illustrators normally take the writer’s formatting into account when they design the visuals on the page?

  3. @Michelle – I agree absolutely about the artwork!

    @BJ – I think you’re making perfect sense. Yes, this is where the marriage of words and illustrations in a picture book make magic!

    @Violet – It’s my understanding that the illustrator saw the entire manuscript (formatted poems and all) as I had originally intended. But she’s not a trained poet and does not understand certain poetic techniques. It was a happy compromise on my part.

    Thank you all for reading and commenting!

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