Friday, March 9, 2018


When I first thought of trying to get a poetry book published, I began "studying the market" and found a striking and glorious book on the shelf in my local library.  It was Janet Wong's Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams, illustrated by Julie Paschkis, newly out in 2000.  This seemed to me the perfect marriage of words and art, but more importantly, it was the perfect use of poetry:

to faithfully
          unpredictably capture
the unreasonable
of the mind.

I have since come to better understand the many "uses" of poetry, especially in the classroom, which go far beyond pure intrigue and enjoyment.  And, in the way of anyone who has practiced a craft for many years, I understand better now how much faith and flexibility, reason and discipline can go into the making of a poem that seems like a spontaneous flow or burst of the subconscious.

Unpredictable segue to Room 203, fall 2018: second-graders arrive from the tumult of recess followed by the Seventh Circle of Hell (aka lunch in the cafeteria).  We settle into our circle on the carpet and the Afternoon Leader selects a Mindful Breathing Exercise.  They are simple and brief, 3-5 breaths, and have names like Up and Down, Balloon Pop and Breathing Buddies.  But they serve to regather and recenter us to the purposes of the classroom.

But now it is late winter, and the Great Second-Grade Shift has begun: we're bigger in our bodies and MUCH bigger in our brains; we no longer care so much what the teacher thinks and are MUCH more interested in what our peers are saying, doing, judging, inventing, choosing. We are able to comprehend and appreciate the two points of view in a genius poem called "In the Hood" by Marilyn Singer, but often the Big Bad Wolf gets carried away...

It's time for some bigger breathing called YOGA.  Our simple Mountain Pose and Warrior Pose breathing exercises become part of a longer yoga routine like this one led by Leslie Fightmaster.
And I get out a book called Twist: Yoga Poems, also by Janet S. Wong and Julie Paschkis, and we begin with

Breath | Janet Wong

Breath is a broom
sweeping your insides.

Smooth and slow:
You pull scattered bits of dream fluff
and heart dust into neat piles.

Short and quick:
You coax shards of broken thoughts
out of forgotten corners.

Breath is a broom
sweeping you fresh.


Burst or flow of subconscious, crafted into a language object of gorgeous usefulness.  Thank you, Janet--and Julie, will you illustrate my next book, please?  It'll be a while; full-time teaching is ever so distracting.

But in the meantime I get a poem or two out into the world by other means...I'm thrilled to announce that two forthcoming anthologies carry my poems--as different in feel as you can imagine.  The books are The Poetry of US, another National Geographic anthology edited by J. Patrick Lewis, and Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes, edited by Tabatha Yeatts.

The round-up today is with Michelle at Today's Little Ditty--can't wait to see what's breathing over there!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hey Dr. Seuss...

Image result for happy birthday dr. seuss
...a poem found in 2nd grade.

Hey Dr. Seuss,

Thank you.
You create the best books ever. 
All your books are funny!
You have really the best ideas and the best pictures.

How do you have all these wonderful ideas?
How do you come up with the characters?

How much days did it take to make one book?
How many days did it take to make all of your 45 books?
Are you rich?

I like how you make rhymes.
Why do you add so much rhythm?
Do you have more ideas?

How are you still alive?!

I'm sorry that you died.
Can you come back and read to us?

I love you and your books.
Good job being famous.
Thank you.

from Second Grade

The round-up today is with Renee at No Water River.
Good job being hostess.  : )

Friday, February 23, 2018

cracking up, raising up

So much good news for the master poets among us!  This week it seems better to be a full-time poet than a full-time teacher: I am Tired and Emotional despite two days of freakishly May weather, ample use of sunlamp, and efforts to remember to dance.    I am discouraged.

First response: give in and wallow.  Here's a song--were you listening to this in 1979?--that I've rediscovered and that seems to speak to the moment.  #lyricsaspoetry

Thank you for being Tired and Emotional with me.  Now here's an antidote.  This is a poem by an unassuming Unitarian Universalist minister that was read in my service recently.  It makes me feel.......encouraged.

LET THE ARTISTS WIN | Bob Janis-Dillon

I vote we let the artists win
the ones covered in paint from their last attempt
to smuggle across the beauty of a bowl of fruit
the 14-year-old rapper learning to spit
throwing life's chaos on the rhythm wheel
uncovering the shapes that live on after the next break

I say we let the food bank volunteers win
the ones always carrying around their agenda
for the meeting, waging campaigns
to stock shelves with bread

I would like to see the nurses extend their string of victories
from the hospital bed to the nation's boardrooms
until we care for each other as if death
were inevitable and mercy was the only thing
that made the rounds bearable

I say we let the kindergarten teachers win
as they raise up small edifices
for the beauty words
will never capture or reveal

Maybe even let the helpless drunkard win sometimes,
when she cries into her beer
and declares it's all too much

I will let the grandmothers win
when they tell the old stories
that hold me in their keeping

And the children yelling
play! play! The ones who have already cost us so much
of our final productivity
the only tyrants who can command
the true attention of the wise
I want them to win too
again and again
without pity

and then when the men with guns come
we can say I'm sorry
but whether you win or lose
it's really never been my game sir
I have lost
and lost again a thousand wars of the heart
and those to whom I have waved the white flag
those to whom
I have surrendered
the whole and holy of my life
will never
let me go

There are too many soul-thumping moments in this to list them all...but let me tell you, when my minister read the words "I say we let the kindergarten teachers win," and three people sitting close to me reached over to touch my shoulder or look in my eyes, their acknowledgment mattered.

And now I'm off to school, to
"raise up today's small edifices
for the beauty words
will never capture or reveal."

The round-up today is hosted by Liz--long time no see!--at her blog Elizabeth Steinglass.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cybils Poetry Award 2017!

Poetry Award selected by Joy Acey, Linda Baie, Kate Hillyer, Heidi Mordhorst & Buffy Silverman

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

No one is immune to stress in this era of political rancor and natural disaster, including kids. Luckily, a stress-busting antidote is served up in the impeccably rhymed I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups, written by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith. Hilarious, sweet, and thought-provoking, this collection bowled the judges over with its bouncing rhythms, dazzling word play, and rank foolishness. (And the judges weren’t the only ones–review copies kept disappearing into the bedrooms and backpacks of nearby middle-graders.)

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a literary tour de force that consistently delights. It’s A. A. Milne crossed with Shel Silverstein, seasoned with a dash of Oscar Wilde and a hint of Ellen Degeneres. It reads like a giant inside joke–a joke that anyone with a funny bone and a few minutes to read can get inside. (Except for 11 ½- year-olds. They have to come back when they are 12. Just read the jacket flap.)

There are stunning visual quips like "The Duel," where the letters b and d face off (it doesn’t go well, resulting in p and q). There’s an ongoing feud between Harris and Smith, as seen in "I Don’t Like My Illustrator" and its lovely accompanying portrait of the author. It has groan-worthy puns, ("The Old Woman Who Lived in Achoo") and plenty of the absurd ("Just Because I’m a Turkey Sandwich and Some Chips Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Feelings Too, You Know!") Masterfully sprinkled throughout the silly, naughty, and nonsensical are poignant moments like "I’m Shy on the Outside:"

I’m the life of the party here under my skin.
So keep knocking—
Someday I might let you in.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming will make poetry lovers of young and old, from any background and experience, even the poetry skeptics–it’s just subversive enough that kids will be passing it around the playground like contraband candy. Best of all, it will make them laugh. Giggle. Chortle. Guffaw. And couldn’t we all use a little more of that these days?

For anyone who's interested in how this decision-making works: there's a nominations period, after which Round 1 readers (typically people with more flexible schedules than I have!) read all the nominated books and come up with a shortlist of approximately 7 finalists.  Then, between Jan. 1 and Feb.14, announcement day, Round 2 readers read those finalist titles, critique, discuss, rant, pronounce, waffle, rank, persuade, and finally agree which book earns the award.

The Cybils Awards Mission is very helpful in this selection process:
The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

The round-up today is hosted by Jone at Check It Out, and thanks to Jone also for her work behind the scenes rounding up the Judging Panel of mostly Poetry Friday regulars who helped to choose this book.  And now, SO much goodness in one double-page spread....Check it out!

Friday, February 9, 2018

february ekphrasis

Laura Shovan's annual birthday month poetry project has burgeoned this year!  Even after setting a limit of 100 participants for the Facebook group, more have petitioned for entry and now well over 100 are looking each day at a piece of art from someone's own home collection and writing about it, or in more cases, from it--taking all different kinds of inspiration.

I too am joining in as able, and below are the pieces I've described (which is all that the word ekphrasis means).  Thanks to Laura and to Kip Wilson Rechea, a fellow author who's helping Laura mind the very busy ekphrasis store!

textile by Morag Gilbart

Thanks for bearing with the unpolished but very fun and challenging quips and snips!  Speaking of which, if you haven't learned about the awesome Windows Snipping Tool which has literally changed my life as a teacher and a blogger, you should:

The round-up today is hosted by Sally Murphy over down under.  See you there, and see you next Wednesday, Valentine's Day, for the announcement of the Cybils Poetry Award winner!  Can't wait to share the big news!

Friday, January 26, 2018

writing from research: 2nd grade poems

As last year, one of our big projects in 2nd grade is researching and writing informatively about "special places," which I link with our geography objectives by narrowing (or broadening!) to habitats or ecosystems.  This year our information brochures covered forests, both temperate and rain, grasslands and coral reefs.  To close our project, we read selections from Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Rejoice! by Mendon Center Elementary 3rd Grade and Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs to inform and inspire our habitat poems.

As always, I know that our Poetry Friday and Writing Workshop have been effective when just about all my 7- or 8-year-olds can strike out on their own poetry paths, making empowered decisions about what and how to express their learning in poetic form.  Enjoy!



This week's Poetry Friday round-up is a veritable blizzard of opportunity with Carol at Beyond Literacy Link.  Flurry on over to join in.

Friday, January 19, 2018

cybils poetry finalists

This year I'm serving again as a final-round judge for the Cybils Poetry Award, which you can read all about by clicking the link.  In this arduous but pleasant task I'm joined by four other children's and young adult literature bloggers whom you should get to know, if you don't know them already!  They are:

Joy Acey at Poetry for Kids Joy
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Kate Hillyer at Kid Book List
Buffy Silverman at Buffy's Blog

The nominated books this year range widely from humorous to historical, from parody to honorifics, from collections for the youngest to a Greek myth versified for the YA set. And here (drum roll, please) are the seven contenders this year:

David Elliott
ISBN: 9780544610606

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers' Market
Michelle Schaub
ISBN: 9781580895477

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming:
And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
Chris Harris
ISBN: 9780316266574

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies
J. Patrick Lewis
ISBN: 9781590789216


Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote
Margarita Engle
ISBN: 9781561458561

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
Nikki Grimes
ISBN: 9781619635548

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Kwame Alexander   
ISBN: 9780763680947

What a treat, to have to dig deeply into these seven books over the next month!  The winner will be announced, by tradition, on Valentine's Day, lending a new poetic flavor to the celebration of LOVE!

Our round-up today is  at A Journey Through the Pages with Kay (aka Ms. McGriff). Mail yourself over to join the panoply of postcards!