Friday, January 22, 2021

self-taught poetry survey

Happy New Year all over again, am I right? I'm pretty sure none of us is able to release ourselves fully into the glorious dawning of a new America, knowing as we do that all THAT really is Who We Are--but at least maybe it won't be quite so draining every day.  Maybe we can relax a little.

But how about that Amanda Gorman, friends?! The future looks bright.

In my off-hours, I've been looking selfishly towards a time when I will not be a full-time classroom teacher and can become a full-time poet-teacher-writer.  To this end I hired a local poet to coach me in the ways of adult poetry publishing--journals, chapbooks, full-length collections--and how to start submitting in earnest  Her name is Sarah Ann Winn and we get along very well, not least because she spent 15 years as an elementary school librarian. I HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH.

One thing I have learned is that the 12 years' worth of original poetry published here for you, friends, is unfortunately not available to submit.  Most adult journals consider work posted on a blog as "previously published" and will not accept it for publication.  So I have to start keeping my InstadraftTM poems to myself until I know what they are, which represents a pretty radical change to the way I blog.

So I have an idea, which I will approach in rather a different way than the younger me, which is to say, "Let's see how this goes."  I (like you?) have shelves full of adult poetry books that have never received my full attention.  Each Friday I'll pull one down and find a poem that I like and post it here.  If I can, I'll find a poem for young readers that goes with it in some way, and add that. Welcome to my Self-Taught Poetry Survey: the STPS.

Let's see what Mark McMorris has for us in his book ENTREPOT (Coffee House Press, 2010). [Disambiguation: not the Canadian professional snowboarder.]  From the ToC I choose one that might have bearing on our current moment...and I am right.

Auditions for Utopia--for Donald | Mark McMorris

Say then that there is a room with large windows.

Sunlight filters in from the sky’s reservoir. 

One wall holds a scene of naked olive bodies

and giant ferns, bodies like ferns and ferns

with the aplomb of the forest, and I am indoors.

Not that they vanish but that the mind which drew

inward to disclose the forms of one happiness 

found what it did not gestate--on the island 

whistle and seaside refrain, blades of sunlight 

peeling automata from the senses--and chose

to be its province with its own star-apple trees. 

The mind is an emperor. Or the mind is subject 

to decree from obscure parliaments of language.

And if the latter, the leafy bodies motionless 

in the heat intimate a turn from ordinary sickness 

draft a pledge to labor to liberate the faculty 

from grammars beholden to icy winds and freezing 

waterways winding down to the naval port.

Antidote to tyranny and serfdom, beauty is a face 

alive with secrets but no designs on the soul.

The other wall of the sun-dazzled room shows 

the polis in smoky industrial affray, the emblems 

of feudal lord and banker and sea captain 

in stately parade underneath the parchment heaven. 

Stevedores load gigantic ship holds with cotton.

A locomotive circles the stockyards like a cheetah.

Somewhere else, counter-posed to labial orchids, 

the estates of sugar and coffee transact menace.

Unless the muralist desire the comity of slave 

and feudal lord, or captain and bulky stevedore 

the earlier scene must altogether disappear 

to become the prehistory of advertising perfume: 

langorous beaches kissed by a glittering sun 

where industrialists repose in the elbow of a cove.

The mind is bottomless. The mind is a membrane 

of nothing where beam of light falls toward

a gravity well, curving into the fall, a fragment 

of expanding cracks in a stable law ante bellum 

center-most oleander and the shade it gives.

Only images to keep a body quiet. Little wishes.


Phew...the density, the vocabulary, the transportation.  We have been sold a bill of goods, people, and it is time to open the box, take out all the bubble wrap and packing peanuts and see what's really inside.

As it happens this poem reminds me of one for young readers which is quite familiar. ๐Ÿ˜Š

by me, from SQUEEZE: Poems from a Juicy Universe (WordSong, 2005)

I don't have time this morning to pull a Pรกdraig ร“ Tuama on these poems, but I do wonder from what place inside that box I wrote "Throwing the Roads."

Our host this Poetry Friday is my neighbor and friend Laura Shovan, who, as I hoped, is properly shining the spotlight on that Amanda Gorman.  Let's spend more attention on the battered and less on the beautiful now, okay?

Friday, January 8, 2021

nest & nestlings, ร  la Irene

My short two-Friday break from blogging has turned out to be both the least and most eventful period you could imagine, for me personally and for our democracy.  There are so many posts I could write today, and yet I'm sticking with the Sunday Swaggers challenge that was set for January, and perhaps it can become a bigger metaphor along the way....

although it seems that at this time, we don't have need of any metaphor.  We have just had the most powerfully honest and revealing story of US play out (yet again, but this was maybe finally loud enough for the people in the back) just 12 miles from my house at the Capitol. May we now move forward from our imagined Garden of Eden in commitment to naked truth and brave change.

I set the poetry challenge for today, knowing that we all were captivated by the concept of Irene Latham's 2020 collection THIS POEM IS A NEST (Wordsong, illustrated by Johanna Wright).  In it Irene uses a longer, 4-part poem organized by season to hatch many, many "Nestlings," found poems constructed by taking words from the longer poem.  

Irene's book includes a direct invitation for readers and writers of all ages to try Nest & Nestlings themselves, and even includes a guide at the end--and who are we to decline such a generous invitation? The main rule is that the words must be kept in the order they are found, and most of us realized quickly that this challenge was trickier than it looks!  

In addition, it really matters what nest poem you choose to begin with, and somewhere I'm sure someone has interviewed Irene about how her Nest came to be and in what relation to her Nestlings. Luckily, there is freedom in being able to use any words for each nestling's title, and in grabbing an s or several to tidy up tenses.

For my experiment, I chose a 2011 poem about a rug.  Not just any rug, of course; the rug I bought for my then-new full-time classroom remains one of the best purchases I have ever made.  The careful reader will notice that the version below used as my Nest is slightly revised, which happened in order to give some of my Nestlings stronger wings.

Here is my Nest, followed by the best of my many, many attempted Nestlings.

As you can see, it was quite difficult to get the Nestlings different enough! But taking PLENTY of time helps, and nest time ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think I might try writing the Nest and the Nestlings simultaneously and see what develops...

Here's where to find the Nests of my fellow Swaggers:

-Catherine at Reading to the Core -Margaret at Reflections on the Teche -Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
-Linda at A Word Edgewise

A huge thanks to Irene Latham, who Lives Her Poem in so many ways, including her continued commitment to our Poetry Friday community throughout her years of busy publishing success.  

And thanks to the Poetry Sisters, whose monthly challenge inspired our group--I don't think we've ever acknowledged that sufficiently--and to Sylvia Vardell, who is our host today at Poetry for Children, performing her annual service of listing forthcoming poetry books for 2021. Just looking at all the covers has my mouth watering!  HAPPY NEW YEAR OF POETRY to all!

Friday, December 18, 2020

ho ho ho the scarlet force!

I got lucky, yes I did!  My Winter Poetry Swap elf turns out to be my own critique partner Margaret Simon!  She knows me well and so my gifts are perfect.

I love this fresh new/old journal made by Marcie Melancon,
the illustrator of Margaret's book SUNSHINE.

And I love this distillation of my True Essence!

Here's the Annie Dillard quote included:  

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Margaret may or may not know that for 3 months in 1986, I walked each morning from my off-campus house in Middletown CT to Annie Dillard's on-campus house, through the front door and to the key rack hanging near the kitchen. I took the keys to her taxi-yellow sedan and drove to my job at the daycare center in town because it was too far & too cold and icy to ride my bike.  Annie had answered my message-board request to borrow a car during the day, and I neither paid for this privilege nor did I attempt to capitalize on the opportunity to get to know her. We both had our jobs to do, I guess!

And here's the text of the poem, which takes a few pieces of my own writing.
 I feel seen, heard and loved!

Essence of Heidi

There you are rolling playdough balls,
placing them onto a fake birthday cake,
lighting each candle
deep breath in, then screen-blow--
a ritual of celebration, exclamation
of You Matter!

There you are creating a caterpillar's undoing,
how it digests itself 
to become something miraculous,
shouting the great wonder--
a ritual of changing, shedding the old,
in silence.

There you are writing words,
passion-pulsed onto the page
to a inspire a child or grown-up--
a ritual of reading aloud, praise
for turn-the-page, frosted ice
melting into a poem.

--Margaret Simon, 2020 Winter Poem Swap

Thank you, Margaret, and thank you Tabatha who organized the Swap and all these opportunities for JOY.  Today's round-up is dusted in stardust by Michelle Kogan at her artful blog.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

poetry friday arrives in PreK

I know, I will exclaim, "What do you mean, Poetry Friday is only just arriving in PreK?!"  But, as the youth say, hear me out.

At most, a PreK student with perfect attendance has now spent a total of 44 days x 2.25 hours + 14 days x 1 hour (our Wednesdays are different) = 113 hours in school, of which .5h daily is free play time away from the screen and .2h daily is their time with specialists, leaving me 82.2 hours of instructional time.  

Wow.  That calculation is shocking even to me.  And let's not forget that every minute of that time has been spent on-screen.

OF COURSE we have read and said and sung texts that are poetic.  But just when the older kids are getting antsy and ready for a big long winter break, my littles--most of whom have never been in a group situation; many of whom arrived expert in Spanish or Amharic or Arabic but are beginners in English--are finally getting the hang of the routine, have learned their classmates' names, know what to expect from school. 

During this initial period my paraeducator and I have worked hard to make the most of our scant time, to make our days predictable for both families and children (while going graciously with the flow, of course).  The concept of "story" is familiar to everyone; the concept of "poem" not so much.  So it's only in the last couple of weeks that I have begun labeling texts as poems, and only last week that I attempted to introduce a text as poem.  It didn't go well because I didn't plan carefully, although the poem I chose was a fine one ("Crayon Poem" by James Carter).  I learned superfast that it made a huge difference not to be in the room with the children to do my patented introduction of what a poem is and how to get ready for it to "work."  It made a big difference that there was nothing graphic to look at on the screen, although I showed them the text.  At this age the poem arrives mostly through the sharer's FACE AND BODY, not through words on a page, no matter how colorful.

So this week, with my AM student Bella's interest in tigers to inspire me (this month we are doing mini student-led studies), I am getting very 2D-concrete and presenting the concept of POEM on our first-ever named POETRY FRIDAY using a POEM which I have composed. (By 1:00 when the PM Class signs onto Zoom I will also have one for Monserrath about unicorns.)  It will follow a shared reading of the Tigers article on PebbleGo.  Here are the inevitable Google Slides.

[Friday afternoon edit: Bella was absent.๐Ÿ˜†] Now I can use this presentation to add a slide for each Friday's poem (not all by me, certainly, but to get started it helps that I can match my own composition to what I know will be accessible--with just the right amount of stretch--to my actual 4- and 5-year-olds).  And then when I want to, I'll be able to print a booklet for each child to give out at our monthly materials distribution, where we actually get to see the children in person for 5 minutes. (Not gonna lie: I love it and it breaks my heart every month.)

Go here if you want a copy of this template.  Have a concrete Poetry Friday with any young ones you are working to inoculate with the entirely beneficial poetry virus, and a Merry Holiday Tiger to you!

The roundup today is with Buffy Silverman, where she interviews the NCTE Excellence in Poetry for Children Award winner JANET WONG!  I'm proud of my participation in this choice for teachers and students and all poetry lovers.


Friday, December 4, 2020

a line that strikes you

Our fellow Sunday Swagger Molly Hogan has challenged us to use this all-purpose prompt recommended by Holly Lyn Walrath.

Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.”

It is absolutely true, evidenced by my 15-minute application of these directions, that it could not be simpler to get going!  And you have the added bonus of honoring those who are your inspirations.  Here are the first lines from "Winter Dark," by Lilian Moore, and here is my poem thereby inspired and retitled.

"Winter dark comes early
mixing afternoon
and night."


how it surprises us.
it is day, a gray day; 
day, even a sunny one,
and then

suddenly, so subtle

comes the drifting drop
of dark, floating down 
fast and heavy,
a hood over our heads.

if lights, they bright up.

how we are shocked
to find it is night, a gray night;
night, maybe a moonlit one,
has snatched us.

instadraft ©Heidi Mordhorst 2020

You can see the how each of the other Swaggers tackled this by clicking below.

Catherine Flynn @ Reading to the Core 
Molly Hogan @ Nix the Comfort Zone 
Linda Mitchell @ A Word Edgewise 
Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche

And our host for today is Mary Lee at A Year of Reading, where there's a two-for-one special featuring Irene Latham!

Friday, November 27, 2020

thanks, anyway



Join Carol and more of the Poetry Friday crew at Carol's Corner for a Thanksgiving weekend round-up. This week for the first time, someone I know personally and locally has had COVID (and, gratefully, gotten through it), but it has closed all the way in for so many. I hope you and yours are safe and well enough. ๐Ÿงก

Thursday, November 12, 2020

aubade, with apologies

Dear Sunday Swaggers,

I'm sorry.  Last week I very consciously made a decision to pass on Poetry Friday in order to focus on my work for the NCTE Poetry Awards Committee meeting on Friday evening. My beleaguered brain was unable to recall that on THIS particular Friday, I was committed to our monthly group challenge--this time from Linda Mitchell, to write an aubade (here's a good one by Philip Larkin).  So you came here on Friday morning and found only...


No song or poem
greets this dawn.
Nobody bids a
fond adieu to a love.
There is no parting here
this morn, for neither 
was there joining...

except the joining 
of an early riser 
and her books. She rose
to read, to join with eyes
of love wide open, wise,
to read what the world
would put before a child.

She read to see that words
played music like the dawn,
like rays of light and veils 
of cloud removed, illuminating
extraordinary news.

She read to see that promises
were kept, that what the
poem claimed would be
delivered, along with
extra unexpected joy.

She read to keep familiar
voices honest. She read to
thresh fresh voices from 
the throng. She read and
wrote her morning love
a song, a song to guide
the ones who choose 
the books, who spread
the poems out before 
the child.

draft ©Heidi Mordhorst 2020

Please accept my apology, Swaggers. Our committee is excited to be participating at the NCTE Annual (Virtual) Convention, reviewing last year's picks, introducing this year's choices, and announcing the biennial NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children!

And in case you missed my fellow aubadeers' work last week, here are links:

Our host for Poetry Friday this week is Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge. I hope there's haiku!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

it's that time again


Autumn has fallen hard here this week.  Trees are looking disheveled if not bare, leaves are blowing in the rain, and we've had many mornings of chill, damp fog.

But in PreK we have been focused with delight on pumpkins, which--let's face it--are among the most cheerful of produce! (Never mind that I needed a long deep sob on Tuesday over the fact that for the first time in my entire teaching career I am not carving pumpkins with my class.)

It so happens that I have a few poems for this time of year.  The pumpkin one is, curiously, more hallowed and floating than hollowed and glowing.  And then there's the obligatory black cat.  Please enjoy a blast from my authorial past, and pardon the homemade photos of actual pages; I am too tired to do better.


Both of these are from PUMPKIN BUTTERFLY: POEMS FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF NATURE (Wordsong/Boyds Mills, 2009).  I have a case or two in my basement if you would like to order a nice signed copy for your young ones or your classroom!    

Our host today is my pal Linda at TeacherDance.  Ring her doorbell for tricks and treats aplenty (but NO I REPEAT NO Trumps)!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Friday, October 23, 2020

i can't sleep,

which for me is so unusual, and if not, I know why, usually, and tonight (starting too late after the debate, and late to take my nightly half-tablet of diphenhydramine hydrochloride, and a tiny knot of something in the back of my neck; is it dread?) unusually I don't know why I'm awake at 1:28 with no plan for a Poetry Friday post, so I turn to this endlessly suitable POEM IN YOUR POCKET collection from the Academy of American Poets, selected by Elaine Bleakney, a stranger who must share my taste since I always find the poem I am looking for.

This poem by Robert Creeley, I find, is almost exactly as old as I am--published in June of 1964 in Poetry Magazine. My eye is heavy with the sight. I can feel my face breaking,

breaking, I hope, into sleep.  Did I lift all that, to what purpose?

Our host this week is Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  We seem to be in a similar state of mind, falling, not falling. It all drops into place.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

hop to it hoopla hooray!


Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, children's poetry champions extraordinaire, have done it again.

Their new anthology, HOP TO IT: POEMS TO GET YOU MOVING, pulls together 100 new poems by 90 living poets designed to get kids up, down and moving all around.  Originally conceived before the pandemic hit and so many of us evacuated our school buildings, the collection morphed and flexed, in keeping with the needs of our time.  It is now woven through with poems that acknowledge the realities of life in masks, school on Zoom, and the small and larger griefs that accompany the goof and games of childhood.

I'm so pleased that my "Poem for When Things Get a Little Too Serious" is included.  Another time I'll highlight the very fun EXTRA, EXTRA section at the back as well as some of my favorite discoveries for PreK Zoom use!

Our Poetry Friday host today is Janice Scully at Salt City Verse.  Hop on over for more book-birthday celebration of this great anthology and other poetry treats!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

duplex challenge

 Well, thank you very much, Margaret Simon! A bracing challenge for the Sunday Swaggers this month: we swag on over to Jericho Brown's THE TRADITION to learn more about the duplex form, one which I tackled already not too long ago to satisfy a different challenge.

But it would be a cheater-pants move to just reuse that poem, so in honor of the fact that in this new world order I swim laps on a cloudy October afternoon (every other year of my life pooling came to a hard stop on Labor Day Monday),  I offer this fresh and drafty new duplex, "a ghazal that is also a sonnet that is also a blues poem..."


Can't wait to see what Margaret and the other Swaggers have come up with--you can too by clicking below.  

Our hostess with the mostess today is Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference (and I mean that literally--I believe that Tabatha posts more consistently than any of us steady and prolific posters).  May your Friday be steady and prolific as well.

Saturday, September 26, 2020


I'm distracted. You're overwhelmed. I pause a moment at the bathroom window to take in the dogwood's deep red signal of fall. You pause a moment to appreciate the fleeting equinox light, and then we both return to the business of managing our business, our small part of the collective fear and dread of this moment in time.

And then we remember:  it's not just the virus.  It's not just the deep red signal of another police shooting.  It's not just the fleeting light of grief and respect for a woman of wise and notorious decorum before we must dive into the fray again.  

Meanwhile, beneath and above all this, our climate emergency continues.  Luckily art comes to the rescue, and we are gifted a way to remember.

Union Square NYC, September 19, 2020

Please go here to read about the reimagining of Metronome, a giant electronic clock that has now been converted to a CLIMATECLOCK which shows the deadline for achieving zero global emissions before there is no turning back (this screenshot from 9/26/20 8:54 am EST).

ClimateClock has a companion website and an app where you can get not just the bad news, but good news about what IS being done around the world to reduce and reverse the effects of emissions, and how we ourselves can #ActInTime.  The app shows an action item of the week which gives us each something concrete to do.

I guess I have clocks on the mind as I navigate 2h15m of live online instruction for each of two groups of PreK children every day.  How do I offer lively, engaging, HUMANIZING contact for 4-year-olds through a screen?  How much time is enough?  How much is too much?  How do I build in time for guided free-play choices indoors and out, like we would have in real school?

So far we're having pretty good success using Padlet for our choice boards (Indoor and Outdoor), this online countdown timer, and this music to let us know when it's time to come back to class. 


So here I am at the advertised "crossroads of poetry, public school PreK & climate action"--what can I offer?

In Jeopardy

tick tock think
tick tock play
tick tock thoughtful playful days

tick tock stumble
tick tock sigh
ticktock check the clock and try

again  again  again  again  again  again  again  again


Jone has the Poetry Friday roundup today at her spruce new blog.  Better late than never, right? in sooo many ways!