Friday, August 17, 2018

sandwich generation
It's 1:52 pm and I'm only just realizing that it's Friday, it's THAT Friday, like every Friday--it's POETRY Friday.  You might think that means that I'm so relaxed and checked out here at the end of my long summer that I've lost track of what day it is, but no...

It's more that I'm having trouble surfacing from my deep dive into the past for this memoir WIP that has taken over my mornings.  It requires a lot of internet research--everything from who narrated the record album versions of Winnie-the-Pooh that I listened to in 1970 to the names of all the books by Marilyn Sachs that I read between 1973 and 1977 to what year Wesleyan Alpha Delta Phi started calling their dance parties "VORTEX: the party that really sucks" to what club I would have danced in in Manhattan,1986 to the what Metro line we were riding in 2007 when Daisy got off and Duncan and I didn't.  (Here's a little present from me to you of a similar age, by the way.)

Funnily, though, not everything I dredge up leads to memory or even memoir.  Some of it leads to poems that I could only write right now, in this moment, at this age.  Like this one--bon appetit!

sandwich generation 

Back when I was just cheese or
lebanon baloney with mustard,
French’s yellow mustard on
Pepperidge Farm white,
a sandwich was nothin' but a sandwich:
light, bright, handy, daily
gift.  The Archway cookie
tucked under one layer of my
folded paper napkin was
the icing on the cake,
so to speak.

That was before we discovered
whole wheat bread and
grainy mustard, before I went
anywhere and sandwiches
became a bit more pleasantly
I was open faced hot turkey
with Thanksgiving gravy,
roasted and basted in the
ancestral kitchen;
I became open-faced cheese
on toast under a British grill.

Now the other shoe has dropped
(there’s a pair of them), the case
is closed, and it’s clear which side
my bread is buttered on: both.
Below me the 19-grain bun, the yeasty glazed donut,
above the gentle weight of Arnold’s Brick Oven White.

Now I’m tuna salad with
finely chopped celery,
not too much mayo,
tuna melt with cheddar if I’m
going for the Best Sandwich
Oscar, pickles for him,
cucumber for her, heaped
between the two slices
of bread.

Now I’m once-a-week
processed packaged smoked
turkey with avocado guacamole
always wishing for some sprouts,
mustard AND mayo, glass  of
milk, chips on the side,
the Saturday sandwich lunch
that I think is my uncomplicated
childhood though I never had that.

Now I'm peanut butter, ground-
nuts full of healthy fat,  ground
shapeless into a paste that
sticks to your ribs, saves lives
and goes with everything from
concord grape jelly to Miracle Whip
to carrots, apples and bacon,
edible at lunch, breakfast,
and in a pinch for dinner.  

Call me creamy until it turns
out I was wrong about that:
everyone likes crunchy better,
the way the solid bits persist,
tickle your teeth.  I spread thin
into all four corners, oozing
when I’m overfilled or when
I’m sliced by the hands
of a clock.

Bread above me,
bread below me,
am I holding it all together?
I’m a hero.

draft ©HM 2018

The round-up today is with Christy over at Wondering and Wandering. Flap on over for some birdy beauty and so much more!

Friday, August 3, 2018

be my next inspiration

Poetry Luck abounds this summer: here visiting friends in London my family was invited to the launch of Be My Next Inspiration, a collaboration designed to support the Young People's Laureate for London project.  It was a small but mighty affair, a pop-up stage in a London-proper narrow lane with a fair crowd and a feature we always appreciate:  civilized consumption of alcohol in a public space.

But wait--go back a second: a Young People's Poet Laureate for a city?  I mean, London is more than just a city, but I can tell you that my locality, large as it is, does not have a poet laureate of any kind, much less one dedicated to being and raising the voices of young people aged 13-25.*  And on this program was not one inspiration, but SIX young poets performing their work and representing both the wide variety of flavors to be found in the capital but also their shared experience of being young, British and susceptible to marginalization.

Here are some ways to enjoy the same poems that we heard on Tuesday night.


The Story We All Know | Caleb Femi

I know I am the unreliable narrator of
this story
but if anyone is to tell it let it be me.
It starts as the wind blows through
the hollow torso of a concrete estate
singing like a clarinet does when bad news
drags its solemn face into a crowd of kids...

This story starts in Barking where they
tuck their wonder
under a pillow as it is too precious to
bring it into the classroom....

This story is a loop of starting,
and kids don't know where
they start and the story ends.

PhilospHer | Rakaya Esime Fetuga

home | Zia Ahmed

running like thought running from thought rattling from the constant battling
broken pieces floating tokens token gestures token jester open sesame ali baba forty
thieves forty grievances nothing to pledge allegiance with trapped in a box...

I highly recommend you watch the rest here on BBC Asian Network.

And here is this year's Young People's Laureate, 24-year-old Momtaza Mehri.  From an article in the Evening Standard:
Mehri is a Somali-Brit who grew up in Kilburn and Birmingham. For her, poetry has never conformed to one particular tradition. “I was raised in a household where there was lots of poetry around me, recited, cassette poetry that my father used to play. A lot of it wasn’t in English but I also really liked the poetry anthology taught at school — so I would go home and research and be like, ‘Oh my God, Sylvia Plath, who is this?’ I was involved in many traditions at the same time.” Moreover, she also spoke four different languages. “It was the kind of household where if you’re getting shouted at by your aunt to come downstairs, in one sentence she will use Somali, Arabic, Italian and English.” 
She immersed herself in a dawning online scene, the poetry that was beginning to be published on Tumblr and LiveJournal, and watching def poetry jams on YouTube. “I was feeding my own obsessions in my own home.”
She remains thrilled by the possibilities of this live, labyrinthine archive, which grows online every day. “It’s allowed people to access worlds they would not necessarily have been exposed to.” Her inspirations include Mourid Barghouti, a Palestinian poet, June Jordan, Amiri Baraka. “And Keats. Always.”
No Name Club | Momtaza Mehri

This event was sponsored by Spread the Word, the parent literary organization of the Young People's Laureate, and by BUREAU Creative Agency, which produced a publication of the evening's work.  View it here.  You should know that the Young People's Laureate for London project is in danger--there is no funding in place for next year's program.  I made my donation here and maybe you will too, to support #diversevoices and #diversebooks in our English-speaking culture.  And of course you can follow all these poets on Twitter!

The round-up today is with Mary Lee at A Year of Reading, where you always get more than a year's worth of reading.

 *However, check it out:  Montgomery County, PENNSYLVANIA, does have a Poet Laureate, and our Maryland's capital Annapolis just instituted a Poet Laureate program, which makes me think that Montgomery County, MD definitely needs one.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

POETRY FRIDAY ROUNDUP & PoFo Summer Poetry Teachers Institute

Welcome to all!  I'm pleased to host this week's Poetry Friday Round-up (go here for full details thanks to Renee LaTulippe if you're new) and to make good on my promise to report from my pretty glorious last week in Chicago at the Summer Poetry Teachers' Institute.  You'll also find links to all the other cool poetry posts around the web down at the bottom.

I can't remember how I discovered this institute, which is offered free of charge and includes accommodation at the conveniently located but very dorm-like dorms of the University of Illinois at Chicago.  There was a short application form to complete back in April, and then I was notified of my acceptance--it was that simple.  It's unclear to me if there were folks who applied and were NOT accepted, but the Institute, which has sections for Elementary, Middle & High School, and Community College teachers, served about 80 people (very unsure of that number) of whom 20 were in my nicely diverse PK-5 group.

If I sound like I'm selling this program, I am.  You'll see from the schedule below how varied the sessions were and how practically useful the outcomes were at a number of levels, and how time was allocated for processing as well as rest, tourism or home life, according to preference!

We began and ended the week all together with Carol Jago, familiar to me from NCTE--a true teacher leader.  There wasn't a lot of difference between the "seminars" and "workshops"--they were all excellent presentations that often included opportunities to write for ourselves or to plan for our classroom practice; there were handouts and modeling, and in several cases, the gift of books!  We all received a book collection from the Poetry Foundation which included an Engle book, The Flying Girl, and Ted Scheu gave each of us a signed copy of his Someday I'll Be a Teacher. 

The range of the presentation content was wide, and if I have any tiny criticism, it was that some presenters seemed unaware that we were not a wide general audience of teachers, but mostly quite devoted to and experienced with poetry--and in addition most of us were poets ourselves.  Thus a couple of the presentations came in at a rather basic level--and still we managed to glean plenty from each of them!  Details from each presentation may be added throughout the day here, but I can identify the single best line of the week:


This came from Beth Sampson, who runs Hands On Stanzas, a Chicago poetry-in-the-schools project.  She outlined the first five lessons which this organization's poets do in classrooms, and thereby all my best practices as a poetry teacher became a newly organized, explicit, intentional approach with structure and labels!  Concept #1 for kids (and perhaps teachers) with little familiarity of "what poetry is" uses children's experience of art class--a special subject carried out by a specialist teacher in a different room in most districts--to "do a lot really fast."  By comparing the variety of materials, processes, and products that constitute ART, this definition clarifies the broad range of writings that can be poems, the endless ways that words can be used to create them, and the idea that we are using words in different and special ways when we make poetry than when we do other kinds of language work, especially in school settings.

I love, love, love this genius little metaphor (*forehead slap* why didn't I think of it myself?) and honestly, its powerful efficiency is going to change how I approach poetry in my 2nd grade classroom this year.  Usually we begin with a period of input, analogous to the silent/receptive stage of second language learning, because I never know what kind of poetry experience my students will be coming in with.  I wait until around December before I ask kids to Write a Poem, when they've had weeks of exposure to many different forms and a lot of my passion and excitement.  (I also certainly don't discourage them if they think of doing so on their own!)

Being able to "draw on" their shared experience of Art with our seriously excellent art teacher, Leela Payne, will make that leap to writing work nearer to the beginning of the year.  I can't wait!  The other transformative concept from Hands On Stanzas is one that I carry with me as an implicit assumption--that all kids are poets. WE know that, but often they don't know that, so it's important that we let them know that just as in art class, they all come with all the creative tools they need to be successful.  They'll just be applying them in new ways. Do all kids come to art with excellent scissor skills?  No, so we model and teach and share techniques and they get better at cutting--but 99 times out of 100 they know WHAT they want to cut and what color it should be.

Here are some photos from the week, many taken by our Chicago Public School facilitator Shamika Keepers.

We were asked to bring one indispensable resource. I couldn't get it down to one!

from Carol Jago's opening remarks
Looking at how we could use some of the books provided by the PoFo...

Notes from Margarita's presentation
We had time to explore the glorious Poetry Foundation Library.  I recognized a friend!

The many breakout sessions on the schedule were for self-selected groups to work collaboratively on poetry projects for the classroom.   We were encouraged to make maximum use of the Poetry Foundation's website, and the culmination of the week was a Curriculum Fair at which we displayed our concepts Science Fair-style. Here were some of my favorites--not all from the Elementary section, either!

A middle school idea which I loved--and I was so happy to introduce the group to Valerie Worth's small poems!

This was our group's project, designed to work up or down PK-5.  That's my fab new friend Chii.  See my Metaphor Dice?

I'll leave you with a poem I wrote during Eric Elshtain's session, in which we worked on "the rearrangement of past perceptions to create new realities" using the logic of the senses.  He said, "All knowledge and all art begins and ends with the senses."  We imagined that we had met a cloud of our favorite color on the street and taken a handful...

I Finally Choose A Favorite Color, 1997

Turquoise, you persist, you win,

and I shake your hand.

You are slick and solid with shiny sharp edges,

which surprises me.

You smell like sky upside down water.

Next to my ear you breathe

a meditation sound, a Mediterranean sound

not laborious but lively.  

When I open my mouth for a taste,

I find you are also drinkable, liquid, tart,

which surprises me.

Returning you to you,

you reshape yourself, no longer

a tile of middling blue but a bowl,

a curved mirror

exactly the size of my face.
You make everything more brilliant.

draft © HM 2018

So, there is a good some of it, but not the sum of it!  If you are a teacher, do apply for next year, and maybe I'll see you there, since repeat offenders are welcome.

And now....the Round-Up!  Please leave your links in the comments and I will line them up old-school throughout the day.  Thanks for joining us today!

Bedtime Stories

Linda Number 1 is sharing a jam sandwich at A Word Edgewise.

Linda Number 2 has popsicles--four flavors--at Write Time.  Now, who has the main course?

Alan has fighting words for beating the blank page at Poetry Pizzazz.

Sally is dealing with a very very very challenging misfortune:  Too Many Books.

Diane is in with an original called "Pictures of Liberty" over at Random Noodling. 
And at Kurious Kitty you'll find two anniversary poems by Douglas Florian.

Tabatha has a found poem from The Hare with Amber Eyes, to which she refers like everybody knows The Hare with Amber Eyes. 😉  Read this beautiful object at The Opposite of Indifference.

Matt will be cooling us down with an original called "Summer Frost" at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme.

Laura Number 1 would like to warn you that her post includes a powerful response to the Parkland HS shootings by Tim Singleton.  You will also find a link to her stop on the blog tour for Margaret Simon's Bayou Song.

Laura Number 2 has been sharing her entries for the March Madness Poetry Tournament and concludes today with her last, "Spurious Sayings."  Find it at Writing the World for Children.

Our friend at Books4Learning has a very thorough an enticing review of Javaka Steptoe's anthology In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall.

Michelle Kogan celebrates butterflies and bees in art and writing over at More Art 4 All.

Rebecca lets us enjoy her Summer Poem Swap from Irene about "creepy lakes." I will soon be swimming my curious self over to Sloth Reads to find out what that's about!

Jone is introducing a new haiku anthology at Deowriter that includes some of her work.  Congratulations, Jone!

Fats at Gathering Books is highlighting the work of a young Instagram poet, Caroline Kaufman.

Early Birdsong

Mary Lee reports on a miracle she witness this morning at A Year of Reading.

There's more about lakes--not all creepy--with Irene at Live Your Poem.

Ruth is sharing poems for travelers at There Is No Such Thing As a God-Forsaken  Town.  I love airports too, as last week's travels reminded me.

Lunchbox Letters

Little Willow reminds us to keep dancing over at Bildungsroman.

Tara is sharing some Mary Oliver today at Going to Walden.

Catherine has poems commemorating the 49th anniversary of the moon walk at Reading to the Core.

Afternoon Authors

At the Mistakes Anthology blog Tabatha has a poem by Michelle Kogan to share.

Margaret has a review of Marilyn Singer's new book and a writing prompt to share at Reflections on the Teche.

Mandy is following a question this week about disappearing parsley at her blog Enjoy and Embrace Writing.

Evening Entries

Carol is looking at Long Island through the eyes of Emma Lazarus at Beyond Literacy Links.

And now, a flash poem:  Molly Hogan's hollyhocks.  The End. 😀   Read about them at Nix the Comfort Zone.

Christie has also been away at Cornell's BirdSleuth educator retreat! She has hungry herons at Wondering and Wandering.

And, to close out the weekend's reading, Sylvia brings a report on her presentation about pets and reading from ILA at Poetry for Children.

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.