Friday, December 31, 2010


It was fairly easy, at the dinner table on our Yuletide Day of Intellect, to answer Daisy's question,"Who is Garrison Keillor?" What was harder was to explain "Why is Garrison Keillor?", a much bigger question about cultural phenomena that I'll look forward to coming back to someday.

In the meantime, it's enough to say that I"m enjoying the gift of Keillor's Good Poems immensely for its range and for the familiar voices interspersed with the poets whose work is new-to-me. One of those is Howard Moss, who was poetry editor at New Yorker magazine for 40 years and is probably well known to everyone but me. There are three of his poems in Good Poems, including one that made me think, as I read it for the first time, "Wait, wait--don't tell me--something extra's going on here!"

It will be a long time before there is enough said about the genius of Marilyn Singer's reverso poetry form, so cleverly deployed to shift point of view in Mirror, Mirror. (If you don't know the reverso, go here and here for some descriptions and "the rules.") Today I want to suggest that Howard Moss at least, at least one time, used the reverso form in a slightly different way to equally brilliant effect. Here is the "precurso" in question, from Moss's New Selected Poems published in 1985.

The Persistence of Song

Although it is not yet evening
The secretaries have changed their frocks
As if it were time for dancing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a kind of rejoicing,
There is a kind of singing
That even the dark stone canyon makes
As though all fountains were going
At once, and the color flowed from bricks
In one wild, lit upsurging.

What is the weather doing?
And who arrived on a scallop shell
With the smell of the sea this morning?
--Creating a small upheaval
High above the scaffolding
By saying, "All will be well.
There is a kind of rejoicing."

Is there a kind of rejoicing
In saying, "All will be well?"
High above the scaffolding,
Creating a small upheaval,
The smell of the sea this morning
Arrived on a scallop shell.
What was the weather doing
In one wild, lit upsurging?
At once, the color flowed from bricks
As though all fountains were going,
And even the dark stone canyon makes
Here a kind of singing,
And there a kind of rejoicing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a time for dancing
When the secretaries have changed their frocks,
And though it is not yet evening,

There is the persistence of song.

~ Howard Moss
collected in Good Poems
selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor, 2002

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is at Carol's Corner today. May your year begin in song; may the singing persist the whole year long!

Friday, December 17, 2010

"the gift of time"

Oh, glory! Thanks to a steady sifting of snow yesterday, the DC metro area is now just incapacitated enough to open schools on a 2-hour delay. This is in addition to last evening's gift of a glass of wine and a natter with neighbors, possible because of cancelled kidtivities. My contempt for a local culture that keeps children IN for recess because it's snowing is temporarily outweighed--selfishly--by gratitude for the gift of unexpected free time.

For the gingerbread fans, here are the promised photos: my mother's 1940 cookie cutter, the D's at work with the dough, and the finished adorables on the tree. (I could wish the photos were more skilled--but that's not my area, according to the division of labor in this family).

Poetry is my area, however. This week I've been at work on two projects: judging the work of some high school poets for the PTA's "Reflections" arts program, and working with the wonderfully versatile Laura Shovan on a grown-up poetry anthology that will be published by the Maryland Writers' Association. I'll have three poems in the collection and am also writing an introduction to one section, which has been a refreshing challenge.

At our house we're preparing for Yuletide and our "high holiday" Solstice Dinner. It's a tradition for me to give the guests (close family and neighbors) gifts of light on the shortest day of the year. There have been candles and candleholders and matches and flashlights of all descriptions over the years, but this year I'm going intangible, in this direction:

“If I stand”
from Light by Inger Christensen

If I stand
alone in the snow
it is clear
that I am a clock

how else would eternity
find its way around

Step into the pool of winter light that is Poetry Friday, hosted today by Amy at The Poem Farm!

Friday, December 10, 2010

tomcat apprentice

Just before Halloween we got our second cat, partly to keep Cat #1 "entertained" and partly to acknowledge the achievement of our sixth-grader, who soldiered through two nights away from home at Outdoor Ed with her new middle-school peers.

He was named Oak by the shelter and the kids decided to keep that name, although at the time I thought Acorn would be more appropriate. No more. At almost 5 months, he resembles our son, long-limbed and lean; when Oak stands on his hind legs to scratch at a fresh section of the parlor sofa his reach comes easily to my hip now. (But I'm short.)

How fortunate that right here in my new copy of Paul B. Janeczko's A Foot in the Mouth I have "A Tomcat Is" by J. Patrick Lewis, newly named winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Our Oak now has a model to strive towards, as do we poets--between midnight mouthfuls of marshmallow paws!

A Tomcat Is (excerpts)
J. Patrick Lewis

Night watchman of corners
Caretaker of naps
Leg-wrestler of pillows
Depresser of laps.


The bird-watching bandit
On needle-point claws
The chief of detectives
On marshmallow paws

A crafty yarn-spinner
A stringer high-strung
A buttermilk mustache
A sandpaper tongue


See the complete poem here and then buy the book! Scholastic resources here and here, if you like that sort of thing.

Today's tasty Poetry Friday round-up is at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, where I find that she's highlighting J. Pat too. Coincidence, or fate?!?

Follow-up from last week's gingerbread man post (and thanks to all for the comments on Mrs. Oven's poem):

Here's the recipe I'll be using to make dough today;
baking and photos tomorrow!

Gingerbread Cookies
(6 dozen gingerbread men or 10 dozen stars )

Cream 1 ½ cups shortening with 1 ½ cups sugar.
Beat in 3 eggs, 1 ½ cups dark molasses, 3 T. apple cider or white vinegar.
Add 7 ½ cups flour, 2 ½ t. baking soda, ¾ t. salt, 1 ½ T. ginger,
1 ½ t. each cinnamon and cloves.

Mix thoroughly and form into dough disc. Chill at least 3 hours.
Roll out thin on floured surface with floured rolling pin.
Cut in shapes and bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet 5-6 minutes at 375*.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"you can't catch me"

"Run, run, as fast as you can! You can't catch me; I'm the Gingerbread Man!" It's still fun to chant, isn't it? I'm pondering why this little rhyme is so endlessly appealing to kids, beyond its obvious bounce. An informal trawl of internet sites for teachers suggests that at this time of year, 5- and 6-year-olds all over the country are immersed in The Gingerbread Man. He's handy because he has a festive holiday feel but is resolutely areligious. Certainly he holds a special place in my heart because it's a family tradition to thread red floss through holes in the heads of our simple, two-currant-eyes-and-a-knife-point-smile gingerbread men and hang them all over the tree. The children and I use a cutter that my mother used as a child, a transparent blue plastic piece her mother bought in the 1930's. I'll post some photos once our baking gets underway. (And gingerbread dough is a wonderfully versatile medium: as young adults my partner and I based a whole holiday party around gingerbread Patsys and Edinas from Absolutely Fabulous.) For me, gingerbread men are a symbol of cozy family comfort during a dark and dangerous time of year. I think of the The Gingerbread Man as an equivalent story to The Little Red Hen: patterned repetitive plots, rhythmic refrains, an important lesson to be learned. But wait--what is the lesson of The Gingerbread Man? It took me three seconds to realize what everyone else has perhaps always known, but if you hang out with 4 to 7-year-olds your whole life, you could miss it. What little children love is the naughtiness of the Gingerbread Man who gets up half-baked and runs away from home, and their favorite versions are the ones in which the Gingerbread Man actually LAUGHS AT those who are chasing him. I'm not sure, once they get over the shock of the SNIP-SNAP! at the end, that children go away thinking, "Oh! I'd better stick close to home, and if I do go out on my own, I'd better beware the sly fox who pretends to be my friend but really wants to eat me alive." And while I always make a big deal about the Value of Cooperation when reading The Little Red Hen, I have never, as a teacher, emphasized the Stranger Danger message of The Gingerbread Man. But I have considered the point of view of the oven. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

thankful for big ideas

I have a new favorite book. I'm late to the party as usual, but through the 2009 Poetry Notables session at NCTE last weekend I heard about a slew of books new to me, and ordered several titles on the spot using my handy-dandy wireless device. It was an eminent body of work that arrived on my doorstep, but the most thrilling was The Tree That Time Built. I had not heard of it at all, nor read a single review, so I was taken by glorious surprise.

This weighty collection of about 125 poems is much more than a themed anthology. I find myself wishing that I were a 5th-grade science teacher so that I could use it as the basis for a whole year's study of what might ordinarily be called evolutionary biology. The cover says the poems were "selected by" Mary Ann Hoberman, 2008-2010 Children's Poet Laureate, and Linda Winston, a cultural anthropologist and teacher. However, the work they did in compiling this rich array of poems by everyone from William Blake to Emily Dickinson to Langston Hughes through to Douglas Florian, Alice Schertle and quite a handful by Hoberman herself goes way beyond "selection." (You might call it "supernatural selection.")

The title doesn't give it away, so I opened The Tree That Time Built expecting a "celebration of nature, science, and imagination." But this collection is really a tribute to the towering ideas of Charles Darwin, two anniversaries of whose were celebrated in 2009, and is an examination of the ways that the work of scientists (and particularly naturalists) and the work of poets resemble each other. "Science and art have often been cast as opposites," says the Introduction, " but the division is an artificial one. Scientists, like poets, depend on imagination for many of their core insights. And poets, like scientists, observe and explore connections within the natural world." Through their thoughtful selection and arrangement of the poems, Hoberman and Winston layer pockets of tiny detail, swathes of rock-solid description, and seeping realizations on a grand scale. Then, through their commentary on both the science and the poetry at work in each poem, they cut a cross-section through those layers to expose a whole new view of our natural history and the way we humans have expressed our understanding of it.

I've always been a fan of the idea of evolution and its grandeur, and the notion that it all happened without any hint of human agency save for naming it tickles my mind. Impossible to choose just one from this book, but here's a simple, elegant piece by Mark Van Doren.

If They Spoke

The animals will never know;
Could not find out; would scarcely care
That all their names are in our books,
And all their images drawn bare.

What names? They have not heard the sound,
Nor in their silence thought the thing.
They are not notified they live;
Nor ask who set them wandering.

Simply they are. And so with us;
And they would say it if they spoke;
And we might listen; and the world
Be uncreated at one stroke.

~ Mark Van Doren
The Tree That Time Built, 2009

Enjoy a Friday full of poetry with Ms. Mac at Check It Out today!

Friday, November 19, 2010

"poets and bloggers unite..."

...also known as Poetry Friday Live! Coming at you from sunny Orlando and the NCTE Convention, here are Elaine Magliaro, Sylvia Vardell, and Tricia Stohr-Hunt at their session this morning, preparing to highlight their offerings to the world through their poetry-focused blogs.

All were charmingly modest about the greatness they've achieved through their online advocacy for and delight in poetry for children, and all were thrilled to introduce poets Jame Richards, Marilyn Singer, Lee Bennett Hopkins and Pat Mora. Each poet spoke about some of the ways that they use (or don't use) new media in their work as writers, anthologists, and activists.
Then we were treated to readings by each poet, varying widely and tantalizingly.

That was today's first session, which also afforded me the bonus of meeting in person several online friends and fellow poets--Charles Waters, Amy Ludwig Van der Water, and Tricia herself. I also attended a roundup of 2009's Notable Poetry Books, and there will be more inspiring professional togetherness tonight at an event appreciating Donald Graves.

I love book people!

Friday, November 5, 2010


Oh, how I love The Little Red Hen story! (Last night Duncan, now 8, and I retold it with a blue elephant obsessed with her jewelry collection, a purple flamingo with a thing about shoes, and a maroon monkey too busy with charter school business to help the Little Red Hen do any of the work towards a warm, crusty loaf of bread. Ahem.)

But before my first-graders delve next week into the many versions of LRH that I've collected over the years, I wanted to make sure we did some reading for information as well as some talking about why BREAD is part of social studies (which is, I always say, "learning about how people get along together."

This beauty of a book, like its predecessor by the same author and photographer, Pumpkin Circle, is pure know, that stimulating combination of "real true facts" about something socialstudies/ scientific (like how wheat becomes flour becomes bread for everyone) and language to describe it that plays like poetry. George Leventhal and Shmuel Thaler's book Bread Comes to Life: A Garden of Wheat and Loaf to Eat includes this passage alongside terrifically informative photos taken from an imaginative variety of angles:

"This baker makes his bread from scratch
by sowing wheat in his backyard patch.
Soon those seeds send down roots
and sprout into shoots
of bright green grass.

The days pass and that grass
grows into sturdy blades,
tall and straight, finely made
with budding heads and bristly hair
gently waving in the air."

While Becca didn't find out "How dos it tac bred log in the uven?", Stand and Ryan did get an answer to "What in gredints is bread mad uov?", and everybody enjoyed working with their air-bread (next week we'll make real playdough):

"Dump it. Thump it.
Dust it. Knead it.
Squash it. Stretch it.
Toss it! ...
Punch it down.
Give it some shape.
Let it rise again.
Put it in to bake."

I believe that this kind of soscientry is not as rare as it used to be in children's literature. If you've got a similar gem to share let us all know--I don't attend Non-fiction Monday very often so I'm sure I've missed out on some recent developments.

Join the canine(and other) poetry fun at Teaching Authors this week.

Friday, October 29, 2010

SPARKs fly

As I noted some weeks ago, I'm participating in SPARK 10, an online collaboration project between artists and writers. This painting is by Delores Ekberg of Piedmont, SD. Here's how she describes the work: "This is watercolor on rice to do. You crumple rice paper, attach it to illustration board with acrylic matt medium, then brush color on the creases, or "rub" color on the creases...I used colored pencils...then use watercolor to make a picture of whatever you see coming out of the textures."

Here's my poem (probably not my final draft) inspired by the art. Ooh, I hope she likes it!


blossoms in autumn from
crumpled trunks
rootrippled river
from wrinkled tips of twigs

hangs lowswinging
among elderly leaves
dripping dry mineral hues

falls to ground
lies in brittle layers
sinking to siltsoil taking down
swallowed sunlight

sends up heat

is wisdom

Enjoy all the poetic richness of Poetry Friday this week with Toby at The Writers' Armchair.

P.S. Two notes to all my PF friends:
1) I apologize for receiving all your kind comments and regularly failing to return the favor. I shall try to do better now that my teaching life is settling down.
2) Will you be at NCTE? Let me know!

Friday, October 22, 2010

in case anyone has never

What is it about pumpkins? We went to choose pumpkins at a local "patch"--no time for a trip to an actual farm this week, and my kids know very well how pumpkins grow--but even just being in a large sunny yard strewn with pumpkins gave us all a rotund feel of earthy well-being.

At school today, following the kindergarteners' visit to a pumpkin farm yesterday, we'll celebrate our first Poetry Friday together by carving a pumpkin while simultaneously reading the following tour de force by the great Valerie Worth. To me this poem (with many of hers!) serves as a definition of "poetry" for kids: a piece of writing that distills experience into a handful of words that work musically together. (Want to watch me try to explain that to 5-year-olds?) In any case I think it will make a fine complement to our work with "Five Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate" next week.


After its lid
Is cut, the slick
Seeds and stuck
Wet strings
Scooped out,
Walls scraped
Dry and white,
Face carved, candle
Fixed and lit,

Light creeps
Into the thick
Rind: giving
That dead orange
Vegetable skull
Warm skin, making
A live head
To hold its
Sharp gold grin.

~ Valerie Worth (1933-1994)

You can dig in to more at a wrung sponge with Andi this week.

Friday, October 15, 2010

autumn summer pumpkin butterfly

What's your favorite season? It's an important question; in my family we seem to review our preferences, with revisions, on a regular basis (just like we keep having to come back to the food question: "If you could have only one carbohydrate for the rest of your life, what would you choose? only one fruit? only one vegetable?").

I find it very easy indeed to pick summer, but this early fall time is a close second because of piquant overlaps like the one I tried to capture in the opening poem of last year's Pumpkin Butterfly (Boyds Mills/Wordsong). My school is full of painted lady and monarch butterflies because of the second-grade science curriculum, and the pumpkins are already on their way in, all under the mellow October sunshine. Don't forget to watch for ghosts.


we haul our wagon to a patch of hilly earth
weighed down with deep orange
with bigbellied, cumbersome pumpkins

“This is the one”
“And this one”
we say

we cut the tough vines and turn to load them up

behind our backs
a gust of butterflies rises and tumbles
on hot October air

yellowgreen tinged with orange
wings as weightless and angular
as the pumpkins are heavy and round:

the ghosts of our pumpkins untethered from earth

~ Heidi Mordhorst 2009

Friday, October 8, 2010

[uptoFIFTEENonline-listservs] in the picture

I find lists to be a powerful way of describing and defining. When I placed a personal ad in the Village Voice ohsomany years ago, it consisted of a list of items in my possession, among them "103 earrings, garlic press, Swiss Army knife, X tapes." That last got me plenty of suggestive letters from folks who misunderstood thoroughly.

I've realized that I'm now receiving daily digests from no fewer than 15 different listservs; taken together they describe and define me pretty thoroughly. The most recent addition is the Maryland Writers' Association, where I found an announcement about this project:

Welcome to SPARK!

Open to writers, musicians, and visual artists of all kinds,
SPARK is a participatory creativity event that takes place four times each year.

The project’s rules are simple: Writers send their partners a story or poem; artists send an image of their painting, photograph, or sculpture; and musicians and video artists send either a file or a link to their work on another website. Then, over the 10-day project period, each person uses their partner’s piece as a jumping off point for new work of their own.

This site is a work in progress, containing inspiration and response pieces from SPARK’s 2010 rounds. You can view those pieces by clicking “See the work,” above. You can also see work from SPARK’s first six rounds here.

SPARK Rounds take place in February, May, August, and October. If you’d like to join us, send us a note!

I've already registered to participate in SPARK 10 later this month, because I had so much fun doing something similar before. I've written some poems to go with paintings by my friend Elyse Harrison, a local artist who runs a studio/gallery, and participated in an event a few years ago where Elyse invited artists and writers to collaborate and then put up a show of their work. I wrote a poem to go with a provocative landscape photograph that I had intended to post here, but alas, I can't find it.

So instead I'll put up this week's "15 Words or (ahem) Fewer" poem, a weekly opportunity provided by the endlessly energetic and inspiring Laura Purdie Salas. This week she posted the above, and in response I posted the following.


it's the elbows
that tell the story
of the next twenty-four years
of togetherness

Heidi Mordhorst

While a list, like a column of tiny buttons, might describe and define, sometimes it's what is not quite in the picture that tells the real story.

Laura and Heidi at the ALA Poetry Blast 2010

Check out the list of Poetry Friday posts at Carol's Corner!

Friday, October 1, 2010

look out, you rock-and-rollers

As primary school teachers go, I'm a bit of a rock-and-roller, at least in the musical sense. This is proving helpful at the moment: due to all kinds of factors, our school district is experiencing flash flooding and children are pouring into my school like heavy beautiful raindrops. We keep adding teachers, but not as one-whole-teacher-at-a-time; as a part-timer, I'm one of the folks whose schedule and teaching assignments keep getting "adjusted." This week (just when I was hoping to settle into a rhythm with my 2nd and 1st grade reading classes), instead I'm moving out of one classroom and into another, and losing my 2nd grade class and gaining a Kindergarten class instead!

How handy, at times like these, to log into Rhapsody on my classroom computer and play--at some volume--uplifting, pertinent songs like this 1971 classic by David Bowie (during my prep time, not class time. We listen to other rock-and-roll then). As in all good poems or lyrics, there's some ambiguity here, some interpretation demanded of us, the reader/listeners.

Culturally, I'm not as much of a rock-and-roller, if that implies going raucously, carelessly with the flow. Being a teacher is perfect for those of us who like routine, who "nest" into their classrooms like mamapapabirds, but who enjoy the surprises and challenges that arrive with each child each morning. However, I did appreciate being asked to help problem-solve on all these changes because of my ability to think outside the box. (Little do most people know how far outside of the box I'm willing to go!)

My only other comment is that I have never intentionally spit on any children.


I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

Turn and face the strange
Don't want to be a richer man
Turn and face the strange
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

Turn and face the strange
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it
Turn and face the strange
Where's your shame?
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Ah, changes are taking
the pace I'm going through

Turn and face the strange
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers
Turn and face the strange
Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time

~ David Bowie

Dip into Poetry Friday's stream of warm impermanence with Jen at Biblio File.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ban banns banner banned...bananas!

There's something rotten in the state of the union when we still (or again) have to worry about books being banned or worse, burned. To those who would apply a banal coat of Ban to any book whose smelly armpits offend their tender sensibilities, let us make this week a banner week and "publish the banns," making the announcement of a forthcoming marriage between ourselves and every reader's right to access the literature of her choice.

To do otherwise is contrary to the American ideal of freedom and is crazy enough to give innocent bananas a bad name.

Thanks to the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the ALA for leading the way; get on the bandwagon here !

Friday, September 24, 2010

figuring eight

My partner's father, Granddad Damian--a retired English professor--not only pops some British pounds into a birthday account for each of our children, but has gifted them each year with a clever handmade card and an "occasional" poem.

Yesterday Duncan turned 8 ("Well, I may be a year older, but I can still burp as well as yesterday: SOUNDEFFECCHHT!") and his card depicted an 8-shaped racetrack; Granddad's poem was the usual literary marvel full of enjambments and metaphysical turns. I won't post his poem here without permission, but it did remind me that when Daisy turned 8 she said some things about it that led to this poem. See what you think. The stanzas should be laid out in a figure of eight, with 4. at the "crossroads."

Figuring Eight
a continuous poem in eight stanzas

Everyone says
that “Eight is great!”
It’s easy
because of the rhyme.
But then I turned eight
and it IS great:

the shape, the sound, the place of eight,
8 the best snowman I ever built: a round circle on top
like my head, full of everything I know, balanced on a
round circle below like my body full of everything I can do.

I know
three different ways to write the date;
that gardening is mostly wait;
what it means when animals mate.
I can
roller-skate, and stay up late;
taste the soup I know I’ll hate;
slip the hook into the bait.

And 8 is made of
one long line that curves and turns
and crosses itself in the middle;
eight is
not too young and not too old
not too little and not too big.
Eight is great.

And here’s another thing about 8:
that one long line that curves and turns and keeps going
around and around—
a train on a track that never ends—
take that one long line and lay it down on its side and it means

8 lying down is the sign for
numbers counting themselves on and on
into the distance, a line of time that never ends.

So this is what I wish at night:
that I, lying down, am
8 to the power of infinity,

falling asleep
and waking up eight and great
every morning until time never ends.

~Heidi Mordhorst


Enjoy this week's panoply of poetic posts at TBWTSCT with Karen Edmisten!

*I'm amused by typing ARR instead of All Rights Reserved, and then I feel I have to finish it off piratically...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

more, more, more (how do you like it?)

I made a fine discovery this week--my daughter's new reading teacher is a writer with a YA novel , Falling for Hamlet, coming out next year. I also found that in addition to her personal facebook page, Michelle Ray has a new "writer" page that she's using like a miniblog, if I'm reading it right.

This makes some sense to me, especially since purchase of a cell phone for said daughter has resulted in a new phone for me--a smartphone which is considerably smarter than I am at the moment--and which has downloaded all my facebook contact info.

So I find myself asking, in the interest of a more consistent online writer presence, what goal makes more sense: to double the number of posts to this blog to a whopping TWO per week, or to try and comment more briefly but more frequently on facebook? And (importantly): comment on what? My fervent desire to snatch Hermione's time-turner from around her neck as D2 and I enter Chapter 6 of The Prisoner of Azkaban? And what would be the reason to want a more consistent online writer presence?

All reflections welcome....

Friday, September 10, 2010

another way to pose the question

Who Am I?

The trees ask me,
And the sky,
And the sea asks me
Who am I?

The grass asks me,
And the sand,
And the rocks ask me
Who I am.

The wind tells me
At nightfall,
And the rain tells me
Someone small.

Someone small
Someone small
But a piece

~ Felice Holman

Friday, September 3, 2010


This is rather a good little poem and is even more fun as a song--and it's certainly the right way to begin [ahem-TWO!] new reading classes full of children with first names from Farhan to Manuel, from Dayrin to Bronx, from Fumiya to Jaisa.
How nostalgic it made us, singing it blearily before dawn with my freshly-minted middle-schooler, for the days of nursery school and Dragon Tales...

The Hello Song
from PBS "Dragon Tales"

Get up on your feet
And to everyone you meet
Say hello, hello, hello, hello

When you meet somebody new
The first thing you should do
Is say hello, hello, hello, hello

Say it high
Say it low
Say it fast
Say it slow

Get up on your feet
And to everyone you meet
Say hello, hello, hello, hello

Cause when you wanna make a new friend
Give a great big smile
And say "Hi, hello, my name is
[Zak! Wheezie! Ord! Cassie!]"

And before you know it
You'll have a brand new pal
True-blue, till the end
A brand new friend, say it again

Say it high
Say it low
Say it fast
Say it slow

Get up on your feet
And to everyone you meet
Say hello, hello, hello, hello

Say it high
Say it low
Say it fast
Say it slow

Get up on your feet
And to everyone you meet
Say hello, hello, hello, hello

Check out all the goodies at the Poetry Friday round-up, hosted today at Susan Writes by (funnily enough) Susan!

Friday, August 27, 2010

question for the first day of school

"Who are you?"

I've spent time sitting through the "Students at a Glance" meeting and talking with other teachers about the children who are coming my way this year, but the fact that there are brand-new ones coming in always reminds me that even those we think we know are brand-new to each new year, new teacher, new class.

And yes, I want to know when their birthdays are, and their favorite colors and their pets' names, but even more I want to listen to who they tell me they are OFF the "All About Me" sheet.

Here's a poem to remind all of us teachers that part of the essential beauty of our students is in what they
don't say.

The Hand
by Mary Ruefle

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

I would have liked that to say "fall is in the air," but it is as it is and it's a perfect way to wish all you teachers a Happy First Day of School!

Poetry Friday is at
Book Aunt today with Kate Coombs and a marvelous selection of poetry for and by teens.

Friday, July 30, 2010

can't help myself

Those of us who thrive in the classroom environment have now been out of school long enough to be thinking of "next year." (Actually we were probably scheming about how do everything Better, Stronger, Slower before school was over, or that might just be me.)

So I woke up this morning (too early; bad cat!) thinking about the sense (or not) in a class mission statement, which led to a picture of me and my new reading class of 2nd graders making our silent and stealthy way ("Your mission, should you choose to accept it...") through the halls of our new school building, occupying and exploring our new room, and in the background was playing the theme from Mission Impossible (click to get the effect), which vision only works if you participated in Pallotta TeamWorks AIDS rides of the 90's, the motto for which was (and here finally is today's poem, a brilliant one-word piece of punctuation genius)--


I think my second-graders just became the I-Team. Poetry Friday is at Irene's Live. Love. Explore! blog today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

the badnesses of this world

My preference is usually for "uplifting" poetry, that which (along with everything it does for cognition and imagination by sounding good to your ears and feeling good in your mouth) leaves me with a reverberating sense of wonder at the goodnesses of this world, kind of like the ones I posted back in January that suggested some animal spirituality.

I'm having trouble therefore understanding why the poem below keeps me coming back to it. I received it courtesy of The Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day service. The pain barely contained in it is enormous and frightening and wonderful.

Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72
by Charles Harper Webb

May there be an afterlife.

May you meet him there, the same age as you.
May the meeting take place in a small, locked room.

May the bushes where you hid be there again, leaves tipped with razor-
blades and acid.
May the rifle butt you bashed him with be in his hands.
May the glass in his car window, which you smashed as he sat stopped
at a red light, spike the rifle butt, and the concrete on which you'll

May the needles the doctors used to close his eye, stab your pupils
every time you hit the wall and then the floor, which will be often.
May my father let you cower for a while, whimpering, "Please don't
shoot me. Please."
May he laugh, unload your gun, toss it away;
Then may he take you with bare hands.

May those hands, which taught his son to throw a curve and drive a nail
and hold a frog, feel like cannonballs against your jaw....

Take a deep breath and read the complete poem here. Poetry Friday is hosted today by Breanne at Language, Literacy, Love.

Friday, July 16, 2010

come on in; the water's fine

Welcome to my first-ever Poetry Friday host post! I'm thrilled to have the honor and let me say it was no small thing to get a slot--this community is full of eager beavers, swimming through the hot dams of summer to get in line for this job. Thanks to Mary Lee for sharing.

With the beach and the pool and camps called "Adventure Island" and "River Ecology," not to mention the family foray Tuesday night out into a drizzle that became a shower that became a torrent complete with lightning and thunder, I'm feeling pleasantly water-logged. Here's a suitably wet poem from my files that I just rediscovered.

Water Becomes You

This water coming into your hands,
it’s old—older than today,
older than you are,
older than the oldest people you know.

This water has been around:
playing over and under the world,
coming up in different wells,
turning through the air into nothing.

This water will make its home in you,
become a part of you,
moving in your very thoughts:
old water welling up in new hands.

~Heidi Mordhorst 2007
all rights reserved

I'm looking forward to whatever you're sending my way, Poetry People.
Leave your links as comments and I'll compile them morning, noon and night!

Early Birds

Shelley points us in the direction of her "grassroots epic" Rain: A Dust Bowl Story in poems which recreates our grandparents' era. I'll need some time at this site...

Tabatha has returned from Canada with a bilingual poem she found by the cliffs at the end of the trail, The End of Land. I always wish for more "situational poetry" installations, for the chance to be surprised by a poem in an unexpected place.

Little Willow shares Egyptian Serenade by George William Curtis. Nice to meet you, LW, and thanks for leading me to GWC--an interesting guy, especially for us UU folks.

At the Poem Farm, Amy has her own poem about poetry (#8 of 107 in her PoWriYe) as well as a few comments on her free verse inspirations. : )

Charles aka Father Goose has been getting kids going at summer poetry workshops with Riddle Rhyme poems--two of which are perfect companions to Amy's "Flying My Poem"!

Oops--I made a mistake earlier...Laura E. is "out of the office" but leaves us with a piece by Mirabai and her reflections on it at Teach Poetry K-12. I'm grateful for the introduction to a new voice.

Mary Lee at A Year of Reading is contemplating a visit back home to a small town with an exquisite poem by Gregory Djanikian. There is surely another exquisite poem lurking in the detonation of Matchbox cars on the 4th of July...

Toby is buzzing about the thoughts of bees at The Writer's Armchair, just long enough to give her easy-over detective time to get wired for an encounter at the self-storage place. I'm intrigued...both by what bees think and the fate of Emma Trace!

At Author Amok I find that like me, Laura Sh. loves no-poems (which is funny 'cause I think we are both yes-people). No-poems are unrelated to noh-drama, but couldn't we all use a summer like that? Sadly, this is not to be for Laura; see her No-ode to Summer.

Laura #3 of the morning (Laura S.) has a laugh for anyone who may be a beginning writer, a jaded and uninspired writer, or a writer who doesn't know how to take the piss, particularly out of herself: "Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?" by Ron Koertge.

[Report on the experience of hosting: I have nothing--NOTHING--else to do today, so I can follow and wallow to my heart's content in every linky direction y'all are taking me, and it's putting me in a VERY good mood!]
Midday Muses

Diane weighs in with writing advice from Snoopy at Random Noodling, introduces us (or maybe just me) to Eleanor Ross Taylor at Kurious Kitty, and quotes the eminent Eleanor at Kurious Kitty's Kwotes. [Fancy keeping up with THREE blogs!] Personally I think Eleanor deserves an award simply for titling a 1960 collection of poems Wilderness of Ladies, but I'm sure there's more to discover than that.

Over at Dori Reads, Doraine shares Two Voices in a Meadow as a metaphor for the writer's life, an interpretation that adds a new layer of interest to Richard Wilbur's finely tuned milkweed and stone.

Jama whets our appetite just in time for National Ice Cream Day on July 18th with two video scoops of Bleezer's Ice Cream! Sadly, the recommended strawberry-vanilla twist would not crank my freezer; my standard order is mint chocolate chip in a cup, with Coffee Heath Bar Crunch reserved for special occasions. And I have fond memories of Haagen Dazs cappucino flavor back in the 80' doesn't exist anymore, but check THIS out, speaking of beezzzz!

And in a graceful transition, we flow from cappucino ice cream to free verse coffee in a cup: Stenhouse offers a mentor poem from Liz Hale.

Alison extends us a "don't be creative" creativity challenge in the form of a photo at
Wistful Wanderings. I'm thinking that we need an expression like "Break a leg" for writers who need encouragement to get on with our creative work but who might be stifled by that often vacuous "Be creative!" command....

Linda of Write Time reminds us that all those disused objects we hang onto DO have an important use, with a couple of
poems about objects that hold memories.

This morning I the early-bird managed to sleep through a
3.6 magnitude earthquake here in Maryland. It was just a rumble under the bed, but I was sorry I missed it--until it hit me that with Haiti's 6-month tribulation in mind there might be something wrong about wishing to experience an earthquake. And now look who has dropped by to bring weight to this feeling: Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town, who lives and teaches in Haiti, and who shares earthquake poems by Haitian poets. I stand shaken. I hadn't met Ruth before; hello to you!

I'm also pleased to meet B.C. of
The Small Nouns, who shares a brave-indeed poem about the lost habit of flying, plus some sources for those looking for a poetry stretch. I'll be heading to ohboywhatfun Big Tent Poetry so that I can fail to muster up any response to those as well as Tricia's Monday Poetry Stretches at The Miss Rumphius Effect. *sigh*

And now a sigh of satisfaction at the romance and gravity of a wedding: over at Wild Rose Reader, Elaine's daughter is now married! Today she shares her
wedding poem for (and some great photos of) the new couple, inspired by a Margaret Atwood work. All good wishes for this new beginning!

Always happy to meet another fan of Mary Oliver ("poet laureate of UU's"). Nancy at
Maine Mornings joins Poetry Friday for the first time and shares a poem that "more or less//kills me/with delight" called "Mindful". Scroll down to read a very mindful visit to Nancy's garden for dinner. Bliss.

Andromeda is in today with a review at
a wrung sponge of African Acrostics by Avis Harley. Ya gotta love a reviewer that can inject poetry into her description itself: "These poems can be drunk in quickly in long droughts of gold and dusk or drawn out lazily ..." Because of their ritual abuse in classrooms across America I have held acrostics in low esteem, but I can see that I have been hasty...just compare this zebra example to the wild stripes included in Andi's review!
[Hm. 10:40 pm. Guess I did have a few other things to do today.]

Janet has Mouse Mess for us at
All About the Books, a favorite read-aloud for early grades.

At Check It Out, Jone shares her progress through and response to
Ted Kooser's Poetry Home Repair Manual. As if that weren't enough, she has a response to this week's Poetry Stretch at Deo Writer!

Theresa at Looking for the Write Words shares thoughts on how to be a
good friend today--and stay that way!

Until I read the Richard Wilbur poems over at Dori Reads today, I didn't know I might like to listen to
Richard Wilbur talk. Karen makes it easy at The Blog With the Shockingly Clever Title (TBWTSCT?) by directing us to The Web of Stories, which looks like a cool place to hang out, too. Very cool.

Barbara of the Write Sisters fogs up the place with a
steamy poem from Pattiann Rogers which brings new meaning to the idea of "the birds and the bees."

Linking nicely to Linda's poems about memorial objects, Jeannine writes today about
Stuff and Silence and choosing both what to keep in your house and in your writing. And indeed, the mess gets worse before it gets better!

Erin's posting for the first time today with
a poem every child should know (what a good idea for a modern series too!) at Little Kid Lit. I like the old-fashioned idea that poetry is a duty as well as a delight.

Kelly finishes up with a not very "cheatery" post that leads to some good basic reminders on going beyond the polished poem to a polished manuscript. Nothing like a little practical advice.

Thank you, thank you to all who participated today! And now I shall follow that most reliable piece of practical advice and Go To Bed. See you next Friday!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

how could I forget?

Yee-haw! By special arrangement with Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading, the Poetry Friday Round-up will be HERE next week. See you on the 16th!

Friday, July 9, 2010


I've been a fan of Natalie Merchant since near the beginning, and many of her songs with the band 10,000 Maniacs are in my top 50 of all time (however, do not ask me to list my Top 50 of All Time; I'm nowhere near ready to commit. But "These Are Days" is in the Top Ten). Today I'm finally getting around to enjoying a (March) birthday present from my mother: Natalie's new project, Leave Your Sleep.

Leave Your Sleep is a collection of 26 songs, all of them composed around poems by a wide variety of well- and lesser-known poets including Rachel Field, Jack Prelutsky (the only one still living), Ogden Nash and Eleanor Farjeon. The year-long project "represents parts of a long conversation I've had with daughter during the first six years of her life."

The two CDs come packaged in a fetching small book which includes short biography and a black-and-white portrait of each poet--a treasure trove for anyone who has wondered, like me, why more popular songs aren't set to poems.

Easily my favorite so far is "maggie and milly and molly and may"--lyrics by e. e. cummings, a poet also dear to my heart. Click here to listen to a snippet of this lovely piece that gives, as my own read-alouds often fail to do, a seemingly simple narrative poem all the glow and gravitas in the atmosphere as it has inside us.

maggie and milly and molly and may
~ e. e. cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Friday, July 2, 2010

blasted poets!

At the ALA in Washington Monday, on the way from Gianormo Convention Center Building #1 to Gianormo Convention Center Building #2, I asked directions to Room 144A, scene of this year's Poetry Blast, and then heard two stylish and colorful women behind me doing the same. As we crossed the street together, one commented on my own pink-with-orange ensemble. I did not realize, until we all reached the front row of chairs where the Blasting poets were gathering, that I had been complimented on my chromatocombo by Lois Ehlert herself!

I have participated in three what you might call "national" poetry readings now, and every time it is such a thrill to meet and hear in person writers who have existed for me only as names on a book jacket. And I was so relieved to hear famous* children's poets greeting other famous* children's poets saying, "I've heard your name but I'm not familiar with your work," since I often feel terribly ignorant of all the excellent work out there. I guess we all have a blanket of acquaintance with the work in our chosen field, and then, as someone put it, we have "deep shafts of knowledge" here and there.

I shall be digging some deep new shafts next week (once the blasted public charter school appeal is done) to know more about Debbie Levy (what range!), George Ella Lyon (what delightful diction!), Tony Medina (what humor!) and Carole Weatherford (what living history!).

Thanks to all at the Blast for another great show, especially Barbara Genco and Marilyn "Six Stars" Singer!

My lame but heartfelt reverso about the Poetry Blast...

had to be

to catch every nuance

it was worth the effort,

it was worth the effort
to catch every nuance
had to be

Friday, June 18, 2010

working for it can be fun

Today (behind the times as always) Kay Ryan is my hero. The poem below is what made me go looking for more; it's one of those included in Poetry Speaks to Children. When I included it in a collection for my first-graders--whom I thought would appreciate the bear-forest-wolf-stick fairy-tale flavor--they were generally baffled, and a couple even said they found it creepy. And it's true that when I went looking for another of Ryan's poems that might speak to younger children, I couldn't find what I was looking for.

Bear Song

If I were a bear
with a bear sort of belly

that made it hard
to get up after sitting

and if I had paws
with pads on the ends

and a kind of a tab
where a tail might begin

and a button eye
on each side of my nose

I’d button the flap
of the forest closed.

And when you came
with your wolf and your stick

to the place that once was
the place to get in

you’d simply be
at the edge of the town

and your wolf wouldn’t know
a bear was around.

But there's something about her style that we who write for children can learn from. Her poems are compact; they look tame and accessible on the page, written in complete sentences and in a conversational register. Read "The Fabric of Life," though, and see how dense and challenging it is, and how she encourages engagement with the big ideas by skillfully passing them through a prism of humor, and how that bent light opens our eyes.

The Fabric of Life

It is very stretchy.
We know that, even if
many details remain
sketchy. It is complexly
woven. That much too
has pretty well been
proven. We are loath
to continue our lessons
which consist of slaps
as sharp and dispersed
as bee stings from
a smashed nest
when any strand snaps—

hurts working far past
the locus of rupture,
attacking threads
far beyond anything
we would have said

From the biographical note at "Ryan has said that her poems do not start with imagery or sound, but rather develop “the way an oyster does, with an aggravation.” " They may not start with imagery or sound, but listen to this irregular gorgeous turtle music:


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

I'm all inspired, not least to think that this Poet Laureate taught "remedial English" for 30 years. Can't you tell that she's a brilliant teacher? "I know great," Ryan said. "I do not know where great comes from." We could all use some of this remediation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

work song in the key of f

Well. Sooner than we expected, the school system reviewers and the Superintendent made their recommendation against approval to the Board of Education, and in a whirlwind of events our public charter school application was denied on Tuesday. There was no way to catch my breath in time for Poetry Friday--these are the last days of the school year, after all--so here I am today with a poem that reflects (not sure how, but it does) a little of the hollow feeling that lurks beneath a determination to try again.

Work Song
Joshua Mehigan

This fastening, unfastening, and heaving--
this is our life. Whose life is it improving?
It topples some. Some others it will toughen.
Work is the safest way to fail, and often
the simplest way to love a son or daughter.
We come. We carp. We're fired. We worry later.

That man is strange. His calipers are shiny.
His hands are black. For lunch he brings baloney,
and, offered coffee, answers, "Thank you, no."
That man, with nothing evil left to do
and two small skills to stir some interest up,
fits in the curtained corner of a shop.

The best part of our life is disappearing
into the john to sneak a smoke, or staring
at screaming non-stop mills, our eyes unfocused,
or standing judging whose sick joke is sickest.
Yet nothing you could do could break our silence.
We are a check. Do not expect a balance.

That is a wrathful man becoming older,
a nobody like us, turned mortgage holder.
We stay until the bell. That man will stay
ten minutes more, so no one can complain.
Each day, by then, he's done exactly ten.
Ten what, exactly, no one here can say.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"paying no heed to the biting cold wind"

The biting cold wind of middle age has swept in, and there is no doubt that my middle-aged brain can't do what it used to. I used to walk into a classroom each year and learn 25 names in 30 seconds; now I need nametags and at least 30 minutes, and the names I do know tend to hover tantalizingly just above my tongue at the moment I need them most. However, I've been noticing a different memory phenomenon that puzzles me a little. 

I spent time this week in my daughter's fifth grade classroom talking about poetry as memoir. To mirror the young writers' process, I wrote a fresh new memoir poem for their critique. (I'm sharing below the draft I took in yesterday before their questions, comments and suggestions showed me many ways to improve it.) Once I got going on this poem, I had no trouble at all accessing strong physical and emotional memories of the way my friend and I played. I have deep wells of detailed memory from the years between 5 and 14--not comprehensive by any means, and only sort of chronological--which have fed my writing over the last ten years. 

But I just allowed my 25th college reunion to pass without me, partly because of a kind of embarrassment about what I don't remember (and what classmates I know seem to remember quite clearly and easily). Is there really a difference between the way I experienced things at 10 and at 20 and then again at 30? Some difference in intensity, some difference in the quality or mode of recording memories at different ages? Or does it have something to do with writing itself? 

At 10 I was a writer, but by 15, even, I was recording my life in journals and poems and term papers and letters, and by 25 practically everything in my life went on paper somehow: lesson plans, travel packing lists, favorite songs, budgets.... Maybe it has always been, since 15, the way it is now: I write it down so that I don't have to actively remember it. I decided long ago that, after the kids themselves, our family diaries are what I'd take if the house were burning down. It's a good trick, but it makes me sad to think that in committing these experiences to paper I am perhaps erasing them from my mind. 

 <poem redacted>

Friday, May 21, 2010

penultimate episode

We have arrived at the last poem in the charter school application. I post it from a position of even greater optimism than usual, after a brief period of frustration and even--yes, even a little despair.

However, last week the Global Garden Founding Group got tremendous news: our separate application for $550,000 in federal charter school start-up funds was approved by the Maryland State Department of Education! The money only comes to us if the local school district approves our actual charter school application, but it's a good feeling to know that the experienced charter school reviewers at the state level have found us worthy of that kind of financial commitment. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Now, back to the poem, which does a heart-spinningly, toe-tinglingly good job of voicing the universal even as it addresses one sole reader. Its mix of earth and sky and escalators and airplanes and night and light and reading and writing is just like--well, life. It closes the Academic Design section, as a wish for all the children who might attend Global Garden PCS.

Okay, Brown Girl, Okay
~James Berry

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
every day dusk and dawn get born
from the loving of night and light
who work together, like married.
And they would like to say to you:
Be at school on and on, brown Josie
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of children, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
every minute sun in the sky
and ground of the earth work together
like married.
And they would like to say to you:
Ride on up a going escalator
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
all the time bright-sky and brown-earth
work together, like married
making forests and food and flowers and rain.
And they would like to say to you:
Grow and grow brightly, brown girl.
Write and read and play and work.
Ride bus or train or boat or airplane
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

Everybody should be this kind of okay, don't you think?