I’m grizzly bear. I’m fierce and fat…
And dangerous. Remember that!
My teeth are sharp as sabers.
My curvy claws can cut like saws,
And when I prowl the woods I growl
And frighten all my neighbors.
I rule the land. This forest’s mine!
I ain’t NOBODY’S valentine!
Don’t think that you can be my friend…
LOOK AT US NOW!
The day we hatched from jellied eggs…
We looked like fish. We had no legs.
We breathed through gills. We had no lungs.
We didn’t have long sticky tongues.
We didn’t look like frogs…for sure.
But then we started to mature.
And day by day we changed and grew.
To tails and gills we bid adieu.
Now we have lungs and four fine limbs…
And we can croak
I’m a slippery slitherer,
silent and sleek,
sliding and slinking
weaving and winding
legless and low
I slip slyly hidden
wherever I go.
Wending and bending
by stalk, stem, and stone
like a ribbon of muscle
and skin without bone
tongue catching the scent
of a soft, furry prey.
Smells like it’s field mouse
for dinner today!
I love mask poems! I love reading and writing them. I think it’s so much fun to take on the personality and speak in the voice of an animal, element of nature, an inanimate object. In my animal mask poems posted above, I tried to capture different personalities or emotions: The bear is boasting about how tough he is and trying to scare other animals. The frogs are excited about having grown into adults. The snake is speaking quietly about the way he moves—sliding and slinking and sneaking up on prey.
In the following poem, a snail speaks. This poem is meant to be read in the voice of a plodding slowpoke. (I’m sorry that I can’t print the end of the first stanza on Blogger the way it should be.)
I’m snail. I’m slow.
That’s how I go
From place to place.
I never race.
I take my time.
I s l i d e
I have a heavy shell to bear…
But I don’t care.
I never grouse
Because I have to wear
I just suppose
That’s how it goes…
Some are fast
And some are slow…
And slow is fast
As I can go.
Slow’s the only speed I know.
I loved sharing and writing mask poems with my students when I was an elementary teacher and a school librarian. I found having my students write mask poems was an excellent way to encourage them to think and write creatively about subjects that they were learning about in school.
If we were doing a unit of study on space, my students could pretend they were the sun, the moon, a planet, a meteor, a star, a galaxy—and write poems from the perspectives of those “heavenly “ objects. Imagine pretending to be a galaxy spiraling around in the universe…a meteor blazing through Earth’s atmosphere…the sun blasting out solar flares…a star looking like a jewel in the night sky!
Imagine speaking in the voice of an animal you had learned about through doing research on and writing a report about. In your poem, you could slither and hiss as a cobra. You could be a cheetah and run across the grassland chasing prey. You could be a penguin speeding “through the freezing sea like a bullet.”
After taking walks in the woods, observing a tree in or near your yard for several days, and studying about evergreen trees and about the yearly cycle of broadleaf trees—you might even pretend to be a willow tree with a crown of green that “looks like a leafy waterfall”—or a birch tree that feels alone in the forest and whistles “in the night when the wind blows through my leaves”—or a tree beseeching a bluebird to build a nest in its leafy arms and to lay eggs the color of the sky in it.
My students really got into the groove of taking on the “personality” of the subjects they wrote about in their mask poems.
Here are three mask poems written by my second grade students that won prizes in the 2000 Massachusetts Science Poetry Contest:
If I Were a Tree
I Am the Sun
I am the sun,
I am the sun.
Recommended Poetry Books with Mask Poems
This terrific anthology includes poems by Karla Kuskin, Bobbi Katz, Tony Johnston, Patricia Hubbell, Lilian Moore, Marilyn Singer, Jane Yolen, Douglas Florian, Alice Schertle, April Halprin Wayland, and Kristine O’Connell George. In these poems, the poets speak in many different voices—including those of a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine, the winter wind, a whale, a cow, a mosquito, a bacterium, a blue crayon, a snowflake, and trees.
In Baylor's book, we hear the voices of desert animals—including those of a jackrabbit, a rattlesnake, a spadefoot toad, a buzzard, and a coyote—speaking to us about themselves and their life in the desert. The free verse mask poems in this book serve as excellent examples for children in early elementary and middle grades.
Insectlopedia is my absolute favorite Douglas Florian poetry book! Not all of the poems in this collection are mask poems—but the nine that Florian wrote for Insectlopedia are exceptional examples for kids…and they’re a lot of fun to read to and recite for students. The mask poems in this book include The Dragonfly, The Inchworm, The Black Widow Spider, The Weevils, The Whirligig Beetles, and The Locusts. The other poems in this book are terrific, too.
OLD ELM SPEAKS: TREE POEMS
Written by Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Just five of the poems in Old Elm Speaks are mask poems—but they are fine examples to share with children. In Oak’s Introduction, an oak tree speaks to a child—telling him he’s been watching him grow…and inviting the child to see how high he can climb on him/her now that the tree has also grown and has strong branches. In Miss Willow, a narcissistic tree has been admiring herself in “the still cool waters” when a heron comes along and splashes down on her “glorious reflection.” In the book’s other mask poems: a maple shoot remembers helicoptering through the air the previous fall and how it had come to rest in a patch of dirt that was “sweet and soft”; a neatly clipped city tree speaks of having wild dreams of being a forest when all the cars have gone home for the night; and an old elm tells a young sapling It will take/autumns of patience/before you snag/your/first/moon. This lovely book by an award-winning poet would be a great addition to an elementary classroom library collection.
More Than Mask Poems
WHEN RIDDLES COME RUMBLING: POEMS TO PONDER
Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Karen Dugan
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2001
Many of the poems in this book are not just mask poems--they are riddle rhymes to boot! It would be fun to read these rhythmic, rhyming riddles aloud to children and ask them to guess whose "voice" is speaking in each poem. The voices include those of a snake, a pizza, fireworks, a trampoline, and a roller coaster. The illustrations will help children guess the answers to the riddles.
BUTTERFLY EYES AND OTHER SECRETS OF THE MEADOW
Written by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin, 2006
All of the poems in this book are riddles; many of them are also mask poems. Winner of the 2006 Cybils Award for Poetry, this book contains outstanding examples of mask poems. Some of the "voices" speaking to us in the poems are those of the dew, a grasshopper, a spittlebug, xylem and phloem, a milkweed plant, and a hawk. The illustrations in this book also provide clues for young readers to help them solve the riddles. You can read my review of BUTTERFLY EYES here.
At Blue Rose Girls, I have a second post about Magnetic Poetry, which includes poems composed online by Mary Lee of A Year of Reading, Pam Coughlan of Mother Reader, Meghan McCarthy of the Blue Rose Girls, and me.
Amy Planchak Graves has the Poetry Friday Roundup at ayuddha.net.