Children's Poetry Competition 2008 - Fussy Poets

Fussy Poets is a competition and poetry exercise for kids about rhyme and rhythm. The first reason for my calling the exercise Fussy Poets is because it involves altering one of my original poems, The Fussy Eater, to turn it into a funny poem all of your own. The second reason is that some proper, serious poets get very fussy about poems having the correct rhyme, rhythm and form, whereas funny poets are pretty relaxed about all these things, so long as the poems that result really are funny.

Please Note
This competition is now closed, so you can't submit new entries, but you can still read the winning entries and have a go, just for fun.

Why Re-Write An Existing Poem?

I have to say that this exercise wasn't entirely my own idea. Hannah, who goes to school in north London, sent Timmy an email which read:

For our English (literacy) project our pain-in-the-backside teacher says we have to find three poems we like and re-write them. As one of mine I thought I like The Fussy Eater since I am a fussy eater myself and every-one says so. I re-wrote it, but I need your permission to put your poem next to it, my parents say. They also say this only applies if the poet is alive, so if you are a ghost, please notify me. I think Timmy is a very clever cat, and he is incredibly sweet, but I am glad I am not interviewing you!!!!

Oh yes, and PLEEEEEEEEEASE can you put it on your website!

Since I'm not a ghost and Timmy is incredibly susceptible to flattery, we read Hannah's version of The Fussy Eater and both thought it was brilliant. You'll get to read Hannah's version of the poem at the end of the exercise, but first it's time for you to have a go at rewriting The Fussy Eater.

The Original Poem

As the starting point for the re-writing exercise we have The Fussy Eater, a poem I wrote for the Silky Steps website to celebrate National Poetry Day in 2006. The original poem runs like this:

Mum calls me 'the fussy eater'
Because I won't eat peas
I find carrots make me queasy
And broccoli makes me sneeze

We fight like mad at meal times
But I'm allowed to win
'Cause Mum knows I'll eat anything
If it comes in a tin.

It's a simple, two verse rhyming poem in which each verse has four lines. We're not going to be changing the form of the poem, but we do need to know about the rhyming scheme and rhythm of the poem before we start altering other things.

Rhyme and Rhythm

The only way to get a real feel for the rhyme and rhythm of a poem is to read it aloud. So stand up right now and read out The Fussy Eater in your clearest speaking voice. Apologies if I've just made you give an impromptu poetry performance on a crowded tube train or during a hushed church service. What you should have discovered (apart from the fact that becoming a poet can be an embarrassing and painful process) is that the second and fourth line of each verse rhyme - peas rhymes with sneeze and win rhymes with tin. The meter or rhythm of the poem comes from alternating 8 syllable and 6 syllable lines - long, short, long, short - in each verse. We'll mark up the poem to show what we've learnt about the rhyme and rhythm. The numbers on the left show the number of syllables, the letters on the right the lines that rhyme.

8  Mum calls me 'the fussy eater'  A
6  Because I won't eat peas  B
8  I find carrots make me queasy  C
6  And broccoli makes me sneeze  B

8  We fight like mad at meal times  D
6  But I'm allowed to win  E
8  'Cause Mum knows I'll eat anything  F
6  If it comes in a tin  E

The marked-up poem looks ugly, but it's a useful reminder of the rhyme scheme and rhythm we're trying to retain in the finished poem. If fact, it looks even uglier because I've crossed out the bits of the poem that you're going to rewrite.

Choosing Your Rhymes

The poem is all about the sorts of food that people dislike. To rewrite the poem we need to start by making two lists. The first list should have the names of all the types of food you or your fussy friends don't like to eat. The second list should contain words that describe people's reaction to food they don't like. Below are two lists which could be starting point for writing a new version of the poem:

Food
Carrots
Peas
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Swede
Fish
Liver
Kidneys
Brains (yes, some people really do eat brains)
Cheese
Porridge
Jelly
Rice Pudding

Reactions
Sick
Chuck (an Americanism for sick)
Vomit
Sneeze
Queasy
Burp
Belch
Hiccup
Scream
Wobble
Faint
Cry
Die

You should write your own lists, but you can borrow things from mine if there is anything you particularly like (or dislike). Next you need to choose a food from the first list to go at the end of the second line. If you chose a one syllable word, for example peas, fish or brains, you'll preserve the rhythm, but choose whatever you fancy. Is there another word on either list that rhymes with it? If so, put it at the end of the fourth line. If not, think of a rhyme for your chosen food or find one in a rhyming dictionary and use it to finish the fourth line. If there's nothing which will rhyme, there's no alternative but to start again with a new food. When I originally wrote the poem I chose peas and, to rhyme with it, cheese. I decided my reaction to cheese would be 'to chuck' if I smelled it. With the second and fourth lines taking shape, the third line can be filled in with any combination of food and reaction which seems funny. This was my first version of the first verse:

Mum calls me 'the fussy eater'
Because I won't eat peas
I find jelly sends me wobbly
I chuck if I smell cheese

I ended up altering the poem for two reasons. Firstly, I was writing the poem for pre-school aged children and I didn't think they'd understand the word 'chuck' and, anyway, it's not a word that I particularly like. Secondly, I though it would be funnier if all the foods that the fussy eater didn't like were vegetables, since this is the case with most fussy eaters I know. You may have finished your re-write of The Fussy Eater by now, but if you're still struggling with it I'm going to let you into a big secret...

You're Allowed to Cheat

There are lots of complicated rules that your English teacher will have explained to you about where apostrophes should go and not ending sentences with prepositions. As a budding funny poet you can ignore them all and do whatever you like with ideas, words, punctuation and grammar, so long as it helps to make your poems funnier. For example, I could try turning the idea of The Fussy Eater on its head and make it into a poem about a child who won't eat the sort of food many children adore - McDonalds. The cheating bit is that I couldn't find a good rhyme for chips, so I chopped up an existing word and put it back together again as a new word, but in such a way which I think everyone will be able to guess what it means.

The McFussy Eater
Mum calls me 'the fussy eater'
Because I won't eat chips
I find burgers make me bilious
Gherkins give me huccips

Whenever we're at McDonald's
We always fight like mad
Mum thinks I should like Happy Meals
But I like sad salad

Now for the Clever Bit

By now you should have written your very own version of The Fussy Eater, either by following the rules diligently and making your two rhyming lists or by cheating like mad. You don't have to stop there. You can rewrite any of the rest of the poem, but try and make sure that you keep the rhyme and rhythm intact and that the poem gets funnier the more you change it. Below is the version of the poems that Hannah sent to Timmy and, as you'll see, she's been very clever and changed the final verse as well.

The Fussy Eater
By Hannah Lanyon
Mum calls me the fussy eater
Because I won’t eat lamb
I find beef makes me queasy
And chicken tastes too bland

We fight like mad at meal times
But most of the time I win
‘Cause mum knows I’ll eat anything
If it’s got sugar in!

What Next?

If you'd like to send in your finished poem, email it to and we'll get as many of your poems as we can up on the site to share with other readers. Please include where you come from and your age, as there will be prizes for the best poems submitted. What exactly the prizes will be depends on whether I'm allowed to choose them (educational Amazon vouchers) or whether Timmy insists it should be a nice big bag of fishy treats for every winner. So, it's a competition and a lucky dip combined. Have fun!

View a selection of the Fussy Eater competition entries.

Writing poems too taxing? Try reading funny poems instead
Funny Poems and Nonsense Verse for Kids
Copyright © Funny Poems for Kids / Patrick Winstanley 2002-2013 All Rights Reserved.
Individual poems are copyright the stated authors and used with permission