‘How to be’ poem

Today on Ethical ELA Sheri Vasinda invites teacher-poets to compose “How to be” poems for VerseLove, in honor of National Poetry Month. The idea is to choose a topic, research it, list facts, and write a poem incorporating those facts in a Do/Do Not format. Sheri says students love this. Imagine their awe at seeing facts take on poetic form…and the power they find in it.

I’ve written of seahorses before; they fascinate me for many reasons. As a writer, the seahorse remains one of my favorite symbols.

How To Be a Seahorse

Don’t worry about being the slowest swimmer
in the sea;
just anchor your prehensile tail to long grasses
so that strong currents
don’t drown you

Don’t worry about your posture
being different from other fish;
let them be horizontal
you stay upright

Don’t worry about having no teeth
and no stomach
and no etiquette;
rejoice that your loud lip-smacking vacuum
enables you to eat constantly
so you can stay alive

Don’t worry about not having scales;
wear your bony armor
with befitting chivalry

Don’t worry how other fish do it;
you find someone
you blush, you flush bright colors
you court for a few days
prim and proper
keeping apart at night
meeting again just after dawn
—ye who are males, step up
sacrifice your own time and energy
on behalf of your beloved
by carrying the babies for her
(even if there ARE 2000 of them)
-out of all the universe
you be Dad Extraordinaire

and commit
for life

Never mind—if you do—
that your scientific name means
“horse sea monster”
—just wonder, if only you can,
little Hippocampus
why your very likeness
is embedded deep
in the temporal lobe
of the human brain
as the central storehouse
for emotion
for learning
for the vast, rolling sea
of human memory.

You can’t worry about that, Seahorse.
Just keep rolling your eyes
in every direction
independently of each other
and swim
(if ever so slowly)


with special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

17 thoughts on “‘How to be’ poem

  1. Fran, I love how you did this, and such a fun creature to learn more about – the seahorse picture is wonderful, too! They are such fascinating creatures to watch – I’ve only ever seen them in aquariums, though, and on documentaries. Nature teaches us so much about life – – and the seahorses are one prime example. I thought of you yesterday when Sy Montgomery shared that her new book, The Hawk’s Way, is to be published May 3. And I know you won’t believe this, but…..I wrote about a sea creature today, too…….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fran, Love this poem. Such an interesting structure, packed with facts, but crafted in a clever, enjoyable way. I could see this as a picture book. Thanks for sharing. I must try this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I adore apostrophe as a poetic trope. It enables a poet (or the speaker) to project so much onto the subject. And you always have such intriguing ideas to project. Through your seahorse, we can all rejoice in the different and unique. You so poetically glorify individuality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do not tire of writing about seahorses: their fascinating facts (scientists are still befuddled about certain things), their symbolism (linked to emotion and memory – what better symbol for a writer, especially one who loves memoir?), and the link to the hippocampus in the brain, that tiny but mighty neurological force. I am awed by these mysterious and somehow heartrending little creatures. I so appreciate your words – they are always so encouraging!


  4. This is the second how to be poem I’ve read today. The first was more of a list and I really enjoyed the more poetic style of this piece. I especially like how you write to not worry about how the other sea horses do it….to wear your bony armor with chivalry. 🤍. You also give factual information about the sea horse in such an entertaining way. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First, thanks for the form, I am so eager to try it!
    I love how your enthusiasm for knowing these creatures conveys in your poem. It travels lightly through the facts, adding humor and significance. My favorite line comes at the end- rolling your eyes… independently of each other! Funny!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Fran – it is a fun form, and fun to see how people tackled it differently. Some had a “do” line followed by a “don’t” line, and many used colorful verbs. I love research and have long collected facts on the strange, beguiling seahorse. Their eyes really do operate independently of each other! Wasn’t sure that would fit anywhere in the poem and then when I got to the end – I hoped it would work. So glad you enjoyed!


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