Friday, July 13, 2018

I am from project

Greetings from Chicago, where I'm attending the very wonderful Poetry Foundation's Summer Poetry Teachers Institute.

I'll get into all the details of this wonderful experience next week when I host, but for today I just want to point you in a very hopeful direction....

As always in these poetry teaching workshops, George Ella Lyon's celebrated poem "Where I'm From" is offered up as a way to help young writers see that the details of their own true lived experience can be the stuff of poetry.  Here's the poem, if you somehow haven't run across it before.

Where I'm From | George Ella Lyon
 I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I'm from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I'm from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I'm from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself.
I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
          to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments--
snapped before I budded --
leaf-fall from the family tree.

While we worked with the poem and our own memories (my piece is called "How I Left Red Behind"), I popped over to George Ella's website and found this note from her:

Dear Friends of Poetry & Democracy,

I’m writing to tell you about a project that Julie Landsman & I are developing in response to the rhetoric of xenophobia and isolationism that is becoming rampant in our country. In such an atmosphere, how can we find our voices and make them heard?  One avenue is through poetry, that heart-cry that comes to us in times of love and crisis. 

Because my poem, “Where I’m From” has been used so widely as a writing model (most recently across Kentucky during my tenure as Poet Laureate)*, Julie–an educator, writer, and activist in Minneapolis–reached out to me with the idea of creating a national “I Am From” Project. Through Facebook, a website, and a great network of teachers, librarians, writers, and community leaders, as well as other organizations, we hope to encourage and gather “I Am From” creations from all over the country and take them, in some form, to Washington in October of 2018.  The action in D.C. will be a culmination of local readings and workshops, statewide presentations, radio and TV appearances, and more.

We’re encouraging creation in many directions; poems, yes, but also dance, art, song, drama—expressions which can be videoed and shared with and beyond their local audience. In terms of poetry, one of Julie’s visions is a scroll made of “I Am From” poems wrapped around a school, a library, a state capitol. Another possibility is to put our poems on posters and have a river of poetry on the National Mall.

Our deepest hope is to open a way for We the People to express who this country really is, what our values are, and how they unite rather than divide us. America’s embrace is wide enough to include all of us if we put our minds and money to our common welfare.

We would love to have you involved in some way. Please send comments and suggestions to Julie at:
or me at:

Here’s to equality and hope. Here’s to all our voices!
George Ella Lyon

I just wanted to make sure that all my friends in this Poetry Friday community were aware of this inspiring project, which I hope to give some on-the-ground support in the DC area.  Sylvia is rounding  us up today at Poetry for Children where I think we'll all learn even more about the book that's popping up everywhere, Great Morning!

Friday, July 6, 2018

metaphor dice iv

[Do scroll down and read two more Metaphor Dice poems I've written this week.]
Remember Magnetic Poetry?  I still mess around with several mixed-up sets of those sticky little words, and I still feel the little frisson of recognizing that Madonna's "Candy Perfume Girl" was made of the original set of 150 Magnetic Poetry words (although apparently she denied that at the time, which is shockingly TWENTY years ago).

I mention the lasting usefulness of MagPo today because I'm getting, after only a week, the first hint that my fabulous Metaphor Dice are a bit limited.  There are 12 dice, 6 sides each, which is 72 words.  If I have used this permutation calculator correctly, that means there are 59,640 metaphor possibilities, and yet today's roll offers me four combinations of which none is really doing it for me...and I think I know why.

The whole point here is to take a big abstract concept and talk about it using an adjective and a "smaller...humbler" concrete noun. So here we have big stuff like my birth, my soul, memory,  and power as the given starting points.

This is not working for me because this way of approaching a poem is, I can say unequivocally, never the way that a poem comes to me.  I never suddenly think, "Oooh, look at this gigantic concept I have come across in daily life, POWER!  Let me sit down and write a poem about power."

Instead poems come to me in tiny specific seeds, like a surprising combination of words or a poignant moment of emotion, which are noticeable or intriguing because of the way they connect to something unexpected and sometimes more universal.  Perhaps this is why I often dislike big classic sweeping poems about Truth and Beauty.  The poems that speak to me are small (thanks, Valerie Worth) and precise and do just enough of the hard work of revealing links between things that I have missed.  My favorite poems slow me, stop me, dazzle me with the accuracy of their literal description even as they crack open a wider mystery that demands my participation.

Here's a poem that I share with 2nd graders, an extended metaphor that we read during the time of the year when we are first studying Native American culture and change over time by observing the moon.  We read it first while looking at a picture of a birch bark canoe, and then we reread it with the sliver of a new moon before us.

The New Moon | Eve Merriam

Hold on to me.
We will slip carefully carefully
don`t tip it over
into this canoe
pale as birch bark

and with the stars
over our shoulders
down the dark river
of the sky.

Do not delay.
By next week
the canoe will be bulging with cargo,
there will be no room
inside for us.

Tonight is the time.
Step carefully.
Hold on to me.

I LOVE this genius poem because the first line demands that we forget all about the new moon in the title and get a physical grip on this slightly risky, rather urgent canoe trip.  This would be interesting in itself--but then the "dark river of the sky" alerts us to something more going on, and with a small investment of attention and imagination, 7-8's can suddenly see how the crescent moon resembles a canoe, a canoe that changes shape and fills with cargo (what cargo?!), and how the climbing in and paddling (which we actually do with our bodies) puts us in a whole different place with a whole different view of both the canoe and the moon. Genius, like I said.

If Eve Merriam were using Metaphor Dice, this poem could not have come to be (even though moon appears on a humble blue die). With Metaphor Dice you can't roll something small and concrete like moon = full + canoe, if you go with the basic red = white + blue.  So, as usual, I'm just going to break "the rules," which, to be fair to Taylor and his team, probably shouldn't be considered rules.  This workaround stuff started already on Tuesday with a poem about iconoclasm, so I shouldn't be surprised. Today I'mma work with meadow again....

meadow is a rugged midwife:
tireless she brings forth leggy
flowerchildren of soil and rain.
they with their hueboldened
heads are not her own,
they leave home, sow their oats,
die back, are mown,
but meadow counsels earth
to breathe and push again,
again, unalone.

draft ©HM 2018


The roundup today is with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect (ooh that turns out to be a nice connect to ms. meadow the midwife, right?) who is doing it old-school, ever charming. Hike on over for some Poetry Sisters action.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

metaphor dice iii

in my mind my mind
is now dotted with ill-used fields
many barren a few overgrown
    wild wasted bad bleak neglected
                desolate deserted
it happened gently insofar as it was
not planned
not managed
not even noticed
         stealthy workings of my mind
beneath my mind
walking there now
there are pits brambles nettles stones
          & the occasional bright meadow
    of long-stalked perennials
that keep reaching each year
                to a cloud-studded sky
                 lit by crepuscular rays

draft  ©HM 2018

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

metaphor dice ii

I rolled twice this morning to get this combination...

an escape

at first glance this is so obvious as to be boring:
of course
the past is a handed-down act,
and facing the facts,
"the past is a handed-down act"
is not even a very graceful phrase.

but what if we were, as per the directions,
to construct
the metaphor using something other than "is"?

the past is not a handed-down act
the past was born a handed-down act
the past considered my mother a handed-down act
the past claimed to be a handed-down act
the past was never a handed-down act
the past turned into a handed-down act
the past thought he was a handed-down act
the past dreamed of being a handed-down act

all true.  and then there is the reverse:
"the handed-down act of the past"

ah.  I see it now.  break and rearrange:
"the act of a handed-down past"

yes, I have certainly been
the act
of a handed-down past.

break and rearrange the past
and out
falls the word iconoclast. 

I have certainly been an iconoclast.
this past
was handed down to me
in acts large (march on Washington)
and small (make cassoulet)

I can and I will now
break likeness,
march on cassoulet and make Washington
down hands on past acts--

no. enough of the feverish cleverness.
it will be enough just to break
likeness, go
to the fields and be lovely,
bloom for a time.

draft © HM 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

metaphor dice: a summer game

You know Taylor Mali, right?  Here's how I first met him:

Then just this year somehow I became aware of this:

You know I had to bite, to kick, to start!  So now I own a set of these hefty metaphor dice, which come with some handy suggestions for using them to kickstart a poem.  I'm taking an online memoir class right now, so I and the character I'm becoming are kind of up front in my mind.  Tonight I finally took the time to roll all the dice and find a combination of red, white and blue that seemed to lead somewhere.  I think I'll spend the rest of the summer playing with my dice.


my heart is an unruly mirror
pumping out a steady stream
of stretched and rippled
snapshots of myself

I look in to see who's there
watch myself swelling, shrinking
I look big-headed
I look small-minded

I turn my cheek, try again
feel myself steaming
I am glow-smoking
I am bore-scorching

I cock my ear, listen up
hear myself speechifying
I sound loud-preachy
I sound tense-present

I open wide, follow my nose
smell and taste a desperation
I smell half-baked
I taste double-boiled

my heart is an unruly mirror
there's no trusting these reflections
I need examination
I need the evidence

draft (c) HM 2018

The round-up today is with Carol in her corner--roll on over and see what luck you have.  Poetry Friday is a bootleg blessing.

Friday, June 15, 2018

once upon a time the end

I'm a fervent proponent of expanded learning time, by which I mean LONGER school days and YEAR-ROUND SCHOOL.  We are no longer the same kind of agrarian culture we were when summer vacation may have made sense, and parents--both of them!--now work year round, making the long summer break a headache of coordination for affluent families and a positive risk for poor families who depend on public school for meals and childcare (never mind that nearly ALL of the Achievement Gap can be attributed to summer learning loss).  More time in school also carries the promise of reduced pressure to COVERTHECURRICULUM, a more relaxed and natural opportunity for balance in the school day as well as the school year.

That said, I am the child of a bygone era and the Last Day of School still throbs with the old glory of relief and release.  And we are now at the moment when every one of the last exactly 180 days is just about past.  The future I imagined in September is HERE.  And Bobbi Katz has the perfect poem to capture my state of mind.

When the Future Arrives | Bobbi Katz

When the future arrives,

it completely 
takes over
the present tense.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology, 2012
eds. Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong

The Poetry Friday round-up is hosted today by Karen Edmisten.  Dash on over and cross the finish line with lungs full of poetry!

Friday, June 8, 2018

dodging the snowflakes: reflections on a year

Nope, it's not over yet!  Our last day is next Friday....

but this year of 2nd grade was summarized and celebrated yesterday with a simple presentation to families that highlighted social studies work (biography projects with an emphasis on timelines) and a poetry collection by each student.

Here I pause to give a loud shout-out to my daughter Daisy, now 19 and a rising college sophomore, who spent her day yesterday working with each student to order their poems and select a title for their collection.  If not for her, there's no way her beleaguered mama would have pulled the whole thing off, having fallen a little behind with the work of the last 8 weeks.

Daisy being interviewed by 8yos about what college is like
How, you wonder?  How was it that all morning of the presentation we were writing what each student would say instead of "In December blah blah blah" as we had rehearsed since way back on Tuesday?  How could I be in the position of helping each research group finally add the citations to their biography projects at 1:30, with parents arriving at 2:30?  There are several reasons, but one of them is my friend "Edward."

Daisy allowing herself to be bested in a race by 8yos

This most instructive year has included having the anguishing experience of watching a child fall apart.  In February, right around the time of the Great Second Grade Shift, Edward began to have episodes that I first thought were based in physical discomfort.  Not apparently temper tantrums (although he had always been, along with all his skills and strengths, a little prone to frustration), these were episodes that I thought might be related to lack of sleep, or hunger, or low blood sugar, or thyroid issues.  The heavy breathing, the red face and oozing tears, the clenched fists, the kicking off of shoes, the agitated body movements--there was a day I actually thought he was having a seizure and called the health room for emergency support.

But the episodes were brief, and Edward would bounce back and return to his work, showing his creativity, warm heart, intuitive understandings, superlative physical skills, persistent attitude.  And yet the attacks became more frequent, more agonizing, requiring more and more of my time to help Edward breathe, take a break, sit with me to complete his work.

Finally one day I got a clue about what was going on.  "How did your body feel after you drank that juice?" I asked, still searching for some physical cause.  "Well, it wasn't the juice that helped; it was really the water, but it didn't change what I was thinking," said Edward on the way to Music.
!!RED ALERT!!  "Hm.  What were you thinking?" I asked.

 "Well, I learned a lot in kindergarten and first grade, and I'm glad, but everything is getting harder now, and I feel like even kindergarteners and first graders are smarter than I am, and I just wish I could stop."  "Stop what?  Stop learning?"  "Yeah, but I know I can't, and then I think about 3rd grade and 4th grade and 5th grade and I just don't know how I can learn all that."

Folks, this child was having anxiety attacks--looking ahead to all that was looming, moment by moment and day by day, and "flipping his lid" with greater regularity and greater intensity day by day.  What I was seeing were panic attacks, pure and simple, except that none of them were pure or simple.  Edward, who will surely be an American Ninja contestant one day, began to resist recess, of all things.  As I walked outside with him one day to ease the transition, he explained that he didn't want to go because "it was over too soon and it was hard to stop playing" and go in to lunch.  This child was anticipating so keenly the pain of having his beautiful recess flow interrupted that he preferred to skip recess altogether!

The work I have done watching, listening, supporting, redirecting, recording, reporting, reteaching, helping Edward to "examine the evidence" and compare what he believes to be true with what is objectively true--that he is motivated and capable of doing good work each and every day--has been heavy, and also fascinating in a heart-rending way.  Some curriculum projects have been interrupted or abandoned, temporarily or forever.

And so we came to our Presentation Day yesterday with unfinished work that only got done with the aid of my daughter, and which included this poem by Edward.  In early May he set to work on Wixie to make an illustration for a poem he had already written, but then discovered tools that led to this illustration, which then led to this gem of a whole new poem.  This boy, who looks ahead to this afternoon, tomorrow, 5th grade, becoming unhinged with anguished panic about what he can't do--is the same boy who, in creative flow, can look back on a past experience of delight and capture it with unschooled energy, rhythm and word choices to make an adult poet envious.  Thank you, Edward, for all you have taught me this year!

The roundup today is with Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge.  Dodge on over there--we'll be having so much fun we cannot stop giggling!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

the country where she lives

I'm pleased today to participate in a photo-poetry exchange hosted by Margaret Simon over at Reflections on the Teche.  Back in April, Margaret got excited by a photo posted on Molly Hogan's blog, wrote about it, and wanted others to enjoy the challenge.

I love writing about art, particularly photographs, so even though I missed Margaret's sign-up, I was so thrilled to join in and even out the numbers.

My exchange partner is Ruth Hersey of the blog There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town, who lives in Haiti.  She sent me the below photo of her local geography, which prompted me to do quite a bit of reading about Haiti and its history. I found myself with very mixed feelings about the photo, my reading, and what I know to be true about Ruth's experience of her adopted country.  I hope my poem captures some of that.

Journey over to Margaret's today where she's rounding up all the photo-poetry exchanges, and enjoy.  We have such brave talents in our midst, cycling inspiration round and round to whomever might need some!  Thank you, Margaret, and thank you, Ruth.

Friday, May 18, 2018

these are days: maysong

Greetings from the sodden mid-Atlantic, where on Mother's Day I looked at my weather app and saw something I truly thought was some kind of misprint, user error, data glitch.

Alas, this ten-day forecast has been pretty much accurate, and although my class got lucky with outdoor recess on Monday and Tuesday, today will be our 3rd straight day of indoor recess--in May!

May, of all months, the most voluptuous and enticing of all months,
the month when April showers are to have brought swathes of flowers, when a young person's fancy turns to thoughts of


I personally will not be sodden and down-trodden (even as I think with respect and compassion on those of  Muslim students and colleagues who are navigating this dreary gray week of AP's and exams WHILE FASTING) because I will be playing this poem on repeat.  I posted it in April of 2016 as part of my "Lyrics as Poetry" series, but it was a Monday and no one was paying attention...

so here's Natalie Merchant, with 10,000 Maniacs and line breaks by me.

These Are Days

These are the days

These are days 
you'll remember
Never before and never since
I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it
you'll know it's true 
that you are blessed and lucky
It's true 
that you are touched by something 
that will grow and bloom in you.

These are days 
you'll remember
When May is rushing over you 
with desire
to be part of the miracles you see
in every hour
You'll know it's true 
that you are blessed and lucky
It's true 
that you are touched by something 
that will grow and bloom in you

These are days

These are the days you might fill with laughter 
until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light 
make its way across your face
And when you do 
you'll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It's true
you'll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs 
and know they're speaking to you,
to you. 
Play loud against the rain-dimmed sunrise and the rain-bent trees and the rain-rusted azaleas.

"These Are Days" by Natalie Merchant and Rob Buck
from the album Our Time in Eden, 1992

The round-up today is with Rebecca at Sloth Reads.  Slog on over and see what sun peeks from between the clouds....I'm just no good at raining.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

a little slice of earth: free verse poems by 2nd graders

No fancy introduction today;  just the glory of sensory poems
inspired by one "little slice of earth," composed by 7-8's!

the clover
      by Caleb

three leaves
smooth stem
clover blowing
in the wind
very fragile

purple flower
   by Eldana

purple bulbs
light scent
lemon orange
very peaceful
smooth and
hairie  soft
and greenie!

Black cracked stick     
     by Eric

Its smooth wood
makes me slow
like a sloth, I hear
nothing. it’s peaceful like
a mouse.  all I smell 
is grassy dust.  that’s right


   by Max

clover   round    3
circles   soft   green


    by Ines

green like
a pillow
long and
smells like
a little blue
very good
for me!

purple poem
   by Xavier

a smooth stem
green and brown
air   purple flowers
leaves   the colors
                                green and purple

A Different Stick 
      by Patrick 
    looks like 

    by Sophia

A hairy soft
smells like
looks like a lion
from the top.
Root is smooth and
smells like a soggy
wet dog!

Rocky Mountain
       by Elena

Gray and sparkly
rough and
bumpy     nothing
but  blank!
It’s just a thing
peaceful and quiet
Nothing to be
                                 heard but something
                                 to seek

     by Kathy

bright clover
light green
silent and fuzzy
smells vegetabley and

Beautiful purple flower
    by Tyler

Purple flower smooth and
U purple flowe
R. green smooth leaves
Purple leaves smooth & soft
Like dog’s fur.

Elegant purple flower

Two Rocks
     by Ziva

Piece by piece broken
and clean slowly chipping
away.  Clanking four
sounds, bink, chip, clip
and pip.
                 white and
light gray    building
                             together     look
                             like waves from an ocean’s

       by Henry

fluffy dandelion
       and green
       like vanilla
      gasoline its
fluff is like
a lion’s mane
soft like fur

purple flowers
     by Arya

purpleflowers greenleaves wildbreeze

roots   leaves     slowly growing

wind  blowing    roots  growing

rain    pouring    sun  growing  

And there you have it!  I guess it's hard to bemoan my own slow pace of writing when I'm busy helping this happen.  Jama is helping us happen today by rounding up at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  See you there!
MORNING ADDENDUM!  I forgot while wrangling all these poems and photos that my TLD Anthology Poem "A History of Your Voice" is featured at Michelle Kogan's Mother's Day blog post!  Please enjoy it, and a beach-day photo of me and my dear, delightful mother HERE!  In fact I will be with my mother and father this weekend helping them get ready for a move nearer to us--hooray!--and so my comments will be scarce, I'm afraid.  But thank you for yours!