Monday, April 30, 2012

Tasting the Sun: An Original Poem

As April comes to a close, I thought I'd post a poem about the month that I wrote a long, long time ago. Where I live, spring doesn't really arrive in March. In fact, it's not until we're well into April that it usually feels anything like spring around here. (This year has been a fluke. We've already experienced temperatures in the eighties and nineties already!)

The following poem expresses how it feels when spring has truly arrived and I can sit outside on my deck and read and feel the warmth of the sun on my face and my skin after a long cold winter spent indoors.



Shower in the April sun
Shower in the light,
Streaming down on yellow days.
Stand out in the pouring rays.

Like butter on a toasty bun,
Let the sunlight melt and run
In golden rivers on your skin.
Feel it glowing deep within.
Feel the touch of early spring,
Feel the warmth that April brings.

Shower in the pouring rays
Washing winter cold away.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Week of NaPoMo...And the Winner of "Requiem" Is...

I am happy to announce that the winner of Paul B. Janeczko’s book Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto is Jama Rattigan. Congratulations, Jama!

Win a Poetry Book!
I’ve decided to extend National Poetry Month until May 5th at Wild Rose Reader. That means if you leave a comment at any of my poetry posts (except for the Poetry Friday Roundup) that I publish from Sunday, April 29th through Saturday, May 5th—I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of I Am the Book—with poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrations by Yayo.
I'll announce the winner of I Am the Book on Sunday, May 6th.

An Original Animal Mask Poem by Linda at TeacherDance

I LOVE writing animal mask poems. It’s fun to imagine what animals might say to us if we could understand THEIR language. I enjoy speaking—poetically—in the voice of all kinds of creatures, including snails, caterpillars, ladybugs, eels, earthworms, lions, grizzly bears, and blue whales. A few weeks ago, I issued an invitation to blog readers to write animal mask poems and to share them with us. One blogger/poet accepted my invitation: Linda of TeacherDance.

Here is Linda’s lovely poem:

I was kept warm, quite safe and fed
and then surprised to hear the call
to leave home because I wasn’t meant
to stay there very long at all.

I began to push, to dry and move
the side door open, then it gave a sigh
I wiggled and jiggled till I was out
And I became a butterfly.

Note to Linda: I have a special gift for you. It’s Marilyn Singer’s wonderful collection of animal mask poems titled Turtle in July. It’s beautifully illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The collection is now out of print—unfortunately—so I don’t have a new book to give to you. I'll be sending you one of the paperback books that I used in my elementary classroom. (It’s in good condition.)

Wild Rose Reader: Dinner with Friends, A Poetry Podcast, & A Poetry Month Martini

On Friday, I had the pleasure of having dinner with two of my best literary friends—Grace Lin and Janet Wong. We had a most delicious meal at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We sampled six different appetizers and soups and shared an entrée—duck saltimbocca.  We devoured the dessert we ordered—churros with a bittersweet chocolate dipping sauce. It was to die for!
After dinner, we returned to Grace’s house. Grace recorded a poetry podcast with Janet and me—which she’ll post on her blog later this year.

Last week, I also invented a Poetry Month Martini. It’s yummy. I think I’ll call it the “Julia”—after my granddaughter. Let me explain why: I love champagne mangoes and bring a couple of them with me every week when I go up to my daughter’s house. My daughter suggested I give Julia some pureed mangoes for lunch one day to see if she liked them. Like her grandmother, Julia loves champagne mangoes too. As I was pureeing a batch of them for Julia on Wednesday, I thought creating a cocktail with the puree might be a good idea. My first attempt was a winner! My daughter thought so too. It’s a potable to write poetry about. Here’s the recipe:

Champagne Mango Martini
(For one cocktail)

2 shots of vodka
2 shots of champagne mango puree
1 shot of triple sec
1 shot of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 shot of simple syrup

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake hard. Pour contents into a martini glass and garnish with a strawberry. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

At Your Service: An Original Mask Poem

Every now and then, I like to take a poem that I've written and rewrite it in another form or voice. A few years ago, I wrote a poem titled Things to Do If You Are a Pencil. The poem was included in Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems, which was edited by Georgia Heard.

Things to Do If You Are a Pencil

Be sharp.
Wear a slick yellow suit
and a pink top hat.
Tap your toes on the tabletop,
listen for the right rhythm,
then dance a poem
across the page.
Some time after that poem was published, I rewrote it two different ways--as a poem of address and as a mask poem:

Poem of Address

You’re looking sharp
in your slick yellow suit
and your pink top hat!
Get ready to rock and roll and write.
Get into the groove.
Listen for the right rhythm.
Then tap your toes on the tabletop
and dance a poem
across the page.

Mask Poem

I’m sharp!
I wear a slick yellow suit
and a pink top hat.
I tap my toes on the tabletop,
listen for the right rhythm,
and then dance a poem
across the page.


Today, as I was looking through my writing files, I found another mask poem written in the voice of a pencil. It was unfinished--so I thought I'd work on it. Here's what I have so far:

At Your Service: A Mask Poem

I’m at your service
Poised on pointed toes
Eager to write a new poem.
Can’t wait to create…
To dance to the rhythm of your imagination.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Things to Do If You Are a Book: An Original Poem

I have a good excuse for posting late this Poetry Friday. Look at the picture below.

Here's the background story. I was the second car in line at the drive-up window at the bank where we do business. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the car in front of me BACKING UP! I honked my horn--but too late. The driver of the car crashed into me and broke my passenger-side headlight. So it goes.

Now...from car crashes to poetry...about children's books.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about being an elementary school teacher was reading aloud to children. It's something that I still miss eight years after my retirement. These days I--like other family members--love reading to my little granddaughter Julia Anna who is beginning to understand books better now that she is eight-months-old. She does, however, still enjoy chewing on her favorite board books.

Here's a "things to do" poem that I wrote last year. It includes some of the favorite books that I read to my students and my daughter.

Be filled with words that tell a tale
of a little mouse and a giant whale
of a runty pig and his spider friend
who was true and loyal to the end
of a badger who loved eating bread and jam
of a funky guy, green eggs, and ham
of a spunky girl named Ramona Q.
of a boy and the Jabberwock he slew.
Be filled with words and tell a tale
that will let my imagination sail.
Be a mystery
or a fantasy
or sing with sounds of poetry.
Between your covers
let there be
a story that’s just right for me.


Tabatha has the Poetry Friday Roundup over at The Opposite of Indifference.


Win a Poetry Book!
Every week during April, I’m giving away a children’s poetry book at
Wild Rose Reader. If you leave a comment at one of my poetry posts during the fourth week of National Poetry Month (April 22-28), I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, which was written by Paul B. Janeczko.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Coelacanth Speaks...December 1938: An Original Animal Mask Poem

A few years ago, Grace Lin and Janet Wong critiqued my manuscript of animal mask poems. When they read Pterodactyl’s Wish, they got the idea that I should write a collection of poems about extinct animals.

Pterodactyl’s Wish
I’m pterodactyl. I’m extinct.
I’m just a fossil now…
A relic of Earth’s ancient past.
I wish that I knew how
To break these rocky bonds
Which keep me trapped in days of yore
So I could flap my stony wings
And fly again once more.

I got to work right away on the collection. I read nonfiction books about dinosaurs and other extinct animals. I also did research on the Internet. I soon began writing poems about different kinds of dinosaurs, fossils, the woolly mammoth, the dodo bird, Beelzebufo (a giant frog), the megalodon, the La Brea Tar Pits. I also wrote a poem about the coelacanth—a fish that was thought to have gone extinct over sixty million years ago.
Here’s some information about the coelacanth from National Geographic:

The primitive-looking coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But its discovery in 1938 by a South African museum curator on a local fishing trawler fascinated the world and ignited a debate about how this bizarre lobe-finned fish fits into the evolution of land animals.

There are only two known species of coelacanths: one that lives near the Comoros Islands off the east coast of Africa, and one found in the waters off Sulawesi, Indonesia. Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians.

The most striking feature of this "living fossil" is its paired lobe fins that extend away from its body like legs and move in an alternating pattern, like a trotting horse. Other unique characteristics include a hinged joint in the skull which allows the fish to widen its mouth for large prey; an oil-filled tube, called a notochord, which serves as a backbone; thick scales common only to extinct fish, and 
an electrosensory rostral organ in its snout likely used to detect prey.

Coelacanths are elusive, deep-sea creatures, living in depths up to 2,300 feet (700 meters) below the surface. They can be huge, reaching 6.5 feet (2 meters) or more and weighing 198 pounds (90 kilograms). Scientists estimate they can live up to 60 years or more.

Click here to read more about the coelacanth—a “living fossil.”

My poem about the coelacanth is told in the voice of the "living fossil" fish:

Coelacanth Speaks…December 1938
I’m NOT a docile fossil.
I NEVER turned to stone.
You shouldn’t think
That I’m extinct.
I’m still flesh and bone!

Don’t listen to those folks who say
All coelacanths have passed away.
They’re wrong…dead wrong! It isn’t true.
Don’t I LOOK alive to you?

Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) swimming in a deep submarine canyon

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SHOWERS: An Original Acrostic Poem

With that old saying “April Showers bring May flowers" in mind—I wrote the following spring acrostic:

Softly, raindrops come to call. Can you
Hear them gently tap-tapping
On the
Windowpane, on the roof with an
Even, steady beat…
Repeating the song that April loves to

Sunday, April 22, 2012

SKY: An Original Acrostic Poem

Here's an original poem from my unpublished collection Spring into Words: A Season in Acrostics:

Suddenly Earth’s blue dome springs to life, catches careening 
Kites, fills with the face of a smiling sun, the music of
Young songbirds and geese honking homeward.

Third Week of NaPoMo: And the Winner of "Emma Dilemma" Is...

I am happy to announce that Robyn Hood Black is the winner of Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. Congratulations, Robyn!

Note to Robyn: Please email your snail mail address.

Win a Poetry Book!
Every week during April, I’m giving away a children’s poetry book at
Wild Rose Reader. If you leave a comment at one of my poetry posts during the fourth week of National Poetry Month (April 22-28), I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, which was written by Paul B. Janeczko.

(Note: If you leave comments at two of my poetry posts, I'll enter your name twice...and so on.) 

I will announce the winner of Requiem next Sunday (April 29th).

Friday, April 20, 2012

Things to Do If You Are a Nightlight: An Original Poem


Stay by my bed—
a little electric star
that will shine
till the break of day
and scare
all my nighttime
fears away.


Win a Poetry Book!
Every week during April, I’ll be giving away a children’s poetry book at
Wild Rose Reader. If you leave a comment at one of my poetry posts during the third week of National Poetry Month (April 15-21), I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, which was written by Kristine O’Connell George and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.


Diane Mayr has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Random Noodling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dzidzi's Garden: An Original Memoir Poem


This poem is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandfather "Dzidzi." Dzidzi loved growing things--including fruit trees, flowers, bushes...and especially vegetables in he backyard garden. Dzidzi's Garden comes from my unpublished collection of memoir poems titled A Home for the Seasons.


After a long New England winter,
Dzidzi grows impatient for planting season.
He enjoys working outdoors growing things—
“like I did in the Old Country.”
How Dzidzi loves his garden.
He cares for it the way a father cares for his children.
It is his other home, the one with a ceiling of sky
and a carpet of brown earth.
In late spring, in summer, and in early autumn,
he spends his weekends and his hours
after work at the leather factory here
breaking up clods of hardened earth,
sowing seeds, watering, weeding, and tending to his plants.
During growing season, family and neighbors are always welcome
to pick carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, beets, beans,
and the fattest, reddest tomatoes in all of Massachusetts
from my grandfather’s vegetable patch.
We all reap the rewards of Dzidzi’s green thumb.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MONARCH CATERPILLAR: An Original Animal Mask Poem


I'm a monarch caterpillar
Nibbling away
On a tasty milkweed plant today.

I'm munchin'
Enjoying this luscious leafy luncheon.

I'm growing bigger bite by bite.
My skin is feeling really tight.
I bet I'll split my stripes tonight!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Little Poetic Food for Thought


American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.”

The poetry unit is normally
a pinch of Frost and Emily,
a tickle of Jack Prelutsky, Shel
and … “Goodness, there’s the bell.”

Even otherwise gifted teachers are often the victims of university college classes in which poetry instruction was tantamount to performing lobotomies on stanzas that raised their tremulous heads.

This is not to ignore or disparage the impassioned poetry aficionados among keepers of the young. Indeed let’s award a teaching Newbery to every mentor who makes verse a daily experience in subjects that gallop across the curriculum and beyond.

But let’s be honest. No matter how zealous, they are drowned out by the hallelujah chorus for nonfiction, picture books, middle grade fiction and YA novels.

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described—and vilified—by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried.

Installing poetry on standardized tests is both oxymoronic and inimical to wonder. The late British poet Adrian Mitchell admirably prefaced most of his collections with a caveat: “None of [my] work … is to be used in connection with any examination whatsoever. Reduce the size of classes in [public] schools to twelve and I might reconsider.”


Story No. 2: Choosing joy

As a writer-in-residence in a Minneapolis public school, I’m visiting a fourth-grade class today. I have 50 minutes with the kids, and I will probably never see them again. As I wander around the classroom, passing out the seashells that we’ll be writing about, I notice a boy who seems withdrawn, unengaged. I question the teacher. “Oh,” she sighs in vexation, “don’t expect much out of him. He’s—well frankly, he’s a weird kid. He hasn’t given me anything all year.” I just nod, but my skin begins to prickle. The boy studies his shell seriously. He stares unseeingly for a long while. Then he starts to write, “Dear Shell…
You look like many beautiful things.
You look like a Frisbee.
You look like a tornado.
You look like a maze, upside down.
You make my heart smile wide
in the deep-sized earth.
You make lizards dance with birds…”
Wow, right? Poetry loves “weird kids.” And nontraditional learners. And kids that don’t quite fit in. Poetry gathers them up, gives them a fistful of words, and lets them sing. The little Einsteins of the world, whom no one really understands, the ESL learners whose grasp of English is a little shaky, the dreamy kids that can’t seem to produce anything: give ’em poetry. Poetry will welcome that unusual vision, that slightly off-kilter sense of reality. A shell that spins like a tornado? Lizards dancing with birds? No problem. The world is full of wonders, says Poetry, and your only job is to be able to see those wonders, to feel them, and to try to communicate them.
Children are closer to this sense of wonder, but we all have a flash of it now and then. There’s a part of each of us that doesn’t quite fit in, that sees things differently, that chafes at the rigid categories of school or work. And lest you are thinking right now, “Not me. I’m a linear kind of person…. ” Well, pull out a shell, or an acorn, or even a stapler, and look at it. Really look. As if you’re seeing it for the first time. What does it feel like? What does it remind you of? What is its purpose, its goal in life? Where has it come from, and where is it going? What does it do in the dark watches of the night? What might it dream about? See where those thoughts take you. I bet they’ll lead you right back into wonder and imagination and—like the little boy in that classroom—into joy. Poetry lets us experience the world with joy.

A Circus for the Brain

Ten Trends in Poetry for Young People in 2011 by Sylvia Vardell

Celebrate Poetry…All Year Long by Kristine O’Connell George

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Second Week of NaPoMo: And the Winner of "Cousins of Clouds" Is...

I am happy to announce that Betsy of Writing Journeys and Teaching Young Writers is the winner of Cousins of Clouds. Congratulations, Betsy!

(Note to Betsy: Please email me your snail mail address.)

Win a Poetry Book!
Every week during April, I’ll be giving away a children’s poetry book at
Wild Rose Reader. If you leave a comment at one of my poetry posts during the third week of National Poetry Month (April 15-21), I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems, which was written by Kristine O’Connell George and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.
 (Note: If you leave comments at two of my poetry posts, I'll enter your name twice...and so on.) The winner of Emma Dilemma will be announced next Sunday (April 22nd).

Two Original Poems: Things to Do If You Are Night & Things to Do If You Are Day

A few years ago, I wrote a poem titled Things to Do If You Are Night. This past week, I thought I’d attempt writing one titled Things to Do if You Are Day--which is composed of rhyming couplets. Here are both poems:

Things to Do If You Are Night
Be the shadow of day.
Put the sun to bed and light the moon.
Rouse sleeping rabbits and owls.
Paint the oceans black.
Sprinkle the sky with stars.
Slip softly away before dawn.

Things to Do If You Are Day

Arrive at dawn. Bid stars goodbye.
Switch on the sun and light the sky.
Send night creatures off to bed.
Make morning rise like a loaf of bread.
Wake drowsy bees in their honeyed hive.
Help the silent sleeping world revive.
Stay busy, bright till dark draws near
And it’s time for stars to reappear.
Head westward with the setting sun.
Then go to sleep. Your work is done.


NOTE: I'll announce the winner of Cousins of Clouds later today.

Note to the winners of Janet Wong's book Declaration of Interdependence: I apologize for the delay in sending out the book to you. I live with my daughter half the week and provide daycare for my granddaughter. A number of other family responsibilities have also kept me so busy this past month that I haven't had an opportunity to get to the post office. I do plan to send the the book off to you by the end of this week. Thanks for your patience!

Friday, April 13, 2012

MOLE: An Original Animal Mask Poem

Here is a another animal mask poem that I wrote recently in the voice of the lowly mole:


Psst! Psst! HEY! I’m right down here.
I’m a busy little engineer
Building tunnels underground.
You rarely hear ME make a sound.

My life is lonely…one of toil.
I claw my way through darkness, soil.
The sun’s is not a face I know.
I live where seeds begin to grow.

Dear Mother Earth is my good friend
And through her big brown heart I wend
Digging tunnels right down here.
Listen! Listen! Cup an ear.


Anastasia Suen has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Booktalking.

Check out my Wild Rose Reader post in celebration of Lee Bennett Hopkins Birthday!



Win a Poetry Book!
Every week during April, I’ll be giving away a children’s poetry book at
Wild Rose Reader. If you leave a comment at one of my poetry posts during the second week of National Poetry Month (April 8-14), I’ll enter your name in the drawing to win a copy of Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems. The book was written by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer and illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.