Friday, August 28, 2009

Countdown to Summer: A Poetry Book Review

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Poetry 180, a popular website developed by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins for high school students. Quoting from what Collins has written on the main page of the website: Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. That’s a great idea—sharing poems with students all through the year…poems they can sit back and listen to--and enjoy--without having to dissect them.

Now J. Patrick Lewis gives us a “Poetry 180” for elementary and middle grade students in his newest collection, Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year, a book that actually contains 180 poems. All written by Lewis himself! Yes, that means the book has a different poem for teachers to share with their students every single day.

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year
Written by J. Patrick Lewis
Illustrations by Ethan Long
Little, Brown (2009)

Countdown to Summer is a book of light-hearted verse that would be great to have on hand in the classroom. Lewis's collection opens with Poem 180, A Sixth Grader Sees the Future and ends with School’s Out!. Not all of the poems, however, are about school or school-related subjects. They are about various and sundry topics: Bigfoot, gold teeth, a werewolf, eBay, a gecko’s neck, football, snowflakes, a polar bear rap, salmon, different holidays, etc. There are some poems with silly sounding titles: Barnaby Butterby Bitter III (The Bookahopic Hippo); Oogalie Boogalie Boo!; Conc-luge-ion; Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Smart; The Eyefull Tower. There are also poems of a more serious nature—I Was Your Teacher Once, Famous Civil War Horses, and Ars Libris (after Archibald MacLeish). Countdown to Summer includes limericks, haiku, riddles, concrete poems, quatrains, list poems, acrostics, cinquains—in other words, it’s a book with a good variety of poetry that never gets monotonous or dull. Many of the poems contain puns and clever wordplay—and many are sure to set kids giggling.

Here’s A Sixth Grader Sees the Future—one of my favorites in the book—in which a student relates his joy (?) at being back in school. I laugh every time I read it.

In a billion years, A. D.,
Our sun will shine for none to see.
The sea will miss each passing ship;
The sky will hover over zip.
Those blazing stars will start to cool,
And I won’t have to go to school.

In a billion years from now—
Or maybe more—but anyhow,
The earth may shrivel up and die.
The universe? Pi in the sky.
The future, spinning, may have spun.
And I may have my homework done.

There are poems in Countdown for Summer that could serve as springboards for creative writing exercises. I think middle grade kids would have fun writing their own poetic epitaphs. Here are some of Lewis’s animal and “people” epitaphs.



For a Plastic Surgeon

He took in hips,
He tucked in chins,
He fattened lips,
And smoothed out skins,
Unwrinkled eyes,
And narrowed noses.
Now here he lies…

And decomposes.

Kids might also enjoy trying their hands at writing some Doozies for Twosies: Animal Sweet Talk.

From the book:

“Elsie, you’re my heart’s content.
I love you more than…two percent!”

“Why don’t you stay, my Honeybunch,
A little while? I’ll make you…lunch.”

In School’s Out!, the final poem, a child—with fingers crossed—expresses his feelings about the end of the school year.

It begins…

School is out and I’m so sad
(That is what I told my dad.)
I’ll miss Mrs. Rosenbaum
(That is what I told my mom.)

And ends…

Tests are over—what a bummer.
This’ll be a boring summer.
School is out and I feel lost.
(It’s hard to keep my fingers crossed!)

I had a lot of fun reading through Countdown to Summer. I have little doubt that teachers and students will have fun sharing the poems in the book every day in class…all through the school year!

My thanks to J. Patrick Lewis for granting me permission to post his poems in my review.


At Political Verses, I have a poem that I wrote for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch this week: A Going Back to Parochial School Poem--Circa 1956—which I also posted at Wild Rose Reader this week.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Ron Koertge titled First Grade.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Book Aunt this week.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to School: Book Lists, Book Reviews, & Other Resources

Book Lists

Previous Posts at Wild Rose Reader

Other Resources

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Going Back to Parochial School Poem--Circa 1956

I wrote the following poem for Tricia’s Monday Poetry Stretch - Back to School. My contribution is a wee bit dark. I attended a strict parochial elementary school in the 1950s. It was a drab, depressing place with dark corridors, desks and chairs screwed to the classroom floors, and bathrooms in the building’s damp basement. I became a school phobic...soon after I arrived on my first day of first grade.

Yes, I take the nuns to task in my poem—but I do understand the poor ladies were dealing with classes of approximately fifty children. I can only imagine what their daily lives were like in the convent that stood adjacent to my school. The nuns were often treated as second class citizens—as are most women—by the Catholic Church.

A Back to School Poem
by Elaine Magliaro

Even though the sun seared the sky
on the Tuesday after Labor Day,
I buttoned my stiffly starched blouse

with puffed sleeves and Peter Pan collar…
then slid on the green serge jumper
that pricked my skin with woolly thorns.
Above my heart
the diamond-shaped badge blazed SJS in gold.
I was a student at Saint John’s School—
a good Catholic girl bound up in dogma
who could recite lengthy answers
from the Baltimore catechism by heart,
who never ate meat on Friday,
who went to Mass every day before school during Lent,
who invented sins when forced to confess my transgressions
to a priest in the bowels of our church,
who dared not disobey the nuns.
Oh, the nuns—dark angels of my innocence,
their foreheads wrapped tightly in white wimples,
their bodies draped in layers of black cloth,
their shaved heads covered with veils
that spread out like ravens’ wings when they strode
down the dark corridors of our school.
These were the good sisters of discipline and doctrine
who did their holy best to crush my spirit,
to haunt my dreams,
to wipe the joy and exuberance from my childhood
with talk of Lucifer and mortal sin and eternal damnation.

It was September 4, 1956,
my first day of fifth grade.
Dressed in crisp cotton and scratchy wool,
a large drawstring bag slung over my shoulder,
I trudged off to school under a scorching sun
with a heavy load—
holy books, a metal lunchbox, bad memories—
and a prayer:
Good Lord Jesus,
help me to survive another year
of this parochial purgatory.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bridge Banter: An Original Fairy Tale Poem

I know I haven’t been posting much at Wild Rose Reader lately. I apologize. It’s been an extremely busy summer. I had hoped to write reviews of two poetry books for today--but I never got around to doing that. I spent most of this week shopping, preparing food, and packing for our third trip to Maine this summer. Instead of the reviews, I’m posting another poem from my unpublished collection titles Excerpts from the Fairy Tale Files. The following poem is a conversation between the Third Billy Goat Gruff and the Troll that lived under the bridge.


I’m Billy Goat Gruff, the third. I’m tough.

I’m muscle-bound and mean.

And I’m the boss so let me cross

To reach the pasture green.

Well, I’m the troll. I’m brave and bold

I’m really getting sick

Of bearded deer trip-trapping here

Around my bailiwick.

You will not pass to reach green grass.

I’ll kill you, Gruff. Now scoot!

I’ll stand my ground—so turn around

And find another route.

You ugly troll, I’ll reach my goal—

It’s written in the story.

Now eat your pride and step aside

And things won’t get too gory


At Political Verses, I reposted a poem about Glenn Beck titled Dead Beckoning. The post includes a video of Beck on FOX TV and a link to Glenn-Harried Glenn-Lost, a recent segment on The Colbert Report. Here’s the link: Glenn Beck Revisited.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Wrung Sponge this week.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Small Graces August Auction Is On!!!

Wouldn't you love to own an original painting by children's author and illustrator Grace Lin? All the proceeds from the Small Graces auctions will benefit The Foundation for Children's Books, a small non-profit organization in Boston that is making a big difference in the lives of young readers by bringing children's book authors and illustrators into under-served schools in the Greater Boston area for visits and residencies..

The August Small Graces auction has begun! This month's painting (below), done in gouache on watercolor paper, is being auctioned now through Friday, August 14. Click here to bid now!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rain Barrel: An Original Poem

I began working on a poem late last night/early this morning to post for Poetry Friday—but I didn’t have time to finish it. So…I pulled out Rain Barrel, a poem from A Home for the Seasons, an unpublished collection of memoir poems that I wrote many years ago. The poems in the collection relate the experiences and happy times I had at the home of my maternal grandparents.

My “Dzidzi”—grandfather—truly had a green thumb. He loved working in his vegetable garden in summer. He kept a big wooden barrel for collecting rain water next to the cellar door. The “we” in the following poem refers to me and my two cousins. My cousins—both girls—lived in the duplex that my grandparents owned. The three of us spent much of our childhood together.

Rain Barrel
by Elaine Magliaro

Beside the cellar door

stands Dzidzi’s rain barrel.

Deep brown as the earth itself,

it seems rooted in the ground.

In it Dzidzi captures the melting sky

he waters garden flowers with.

We plunge our small tin watering cans

deep into Dzidzi’s wooden well

and pull them out full of fallen rain

we shower over the brown-faced sunflower,

bright pink peonies, and puffy white snowballs.

On sticky summer days, we splash

our arms and faces in its coolness.

And sometimes, alone in the backyard,

I stare down into its dark liquid universe

as if looking for a lost star

that has fallen there.


My poetic contribution at Political Verses this week is Bah Humbug Exercise: A Poem That Could Have Written by Rush Limbaugh.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a post about my writer’s block, a poem about poetry, and a link to Poems about Poems: Why Not?, an article by Katha Pollitt at The Nation website.

Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

At Political Verses--Another Limbaughrhyme

I have a new post over at Political Verses: A Poem That Could Have Been Written by Rush Limbaugh. I was inspired to begin work on the poem in June when Rush began spouting off on his radio program that "exercise freaks" were the people who were putting stress on our health care system.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

POETWEET--or The Poetry of Sarah Palin's Tweets

I have a new post up at Political Verses. It includes a link to William Shatner's follow-up appearance on The Conan O'Brien Show on July 29th. On that show, Shatner recites some of Sarah Palin's tweets as poetry.

POETWEET: William Shatner Recites Sarah Palin's Tweets as Poetry