Friday, June 24, 2011

old salts and sea froth

Despite the unseasonable winter's morn and stormy day, this learish nonsense goes well with a beach vacation. Go on, stand up and declaim it out loud!

The Jumblies (excerpt)
by Edward Lear

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

You can enjoy all six stanzas and a lot of other Lear here. For more Poetry Friday froth go to Carol's Corner.

Monday, June 20, 2011

one, two, three juicy grasshoppers

Some coincidences cannot be ignored. A coupla weeks ago I enjoyed a gripping performance of the poem below by Joy Acey, a fellow participant in that Highlights Foundation workshop I keep mentioning. It's one of the poems Joy uses in her workshops with children. Despite my fondness for Mary Oliver's work, it was new to me, and striking.

Then I found the same celebration of ordinary miracles (go here for the start of this thread) posted on Mary Lee Hahn's Year of Reading blog, with a whole different 84th birthday spin on it.

Today I notice that the actual title of this poem is not "The Grasshopper," or "A Prayer," or even "At last, and too soon." Instead it is "The Summer Day"--not "A Summer Day," but "THE Summer Day," and here it comes. Tomorrow our family will host our 10th Annual Summer Solstice Picnic, a loose affair involving a Ritual Unveiling of Foil and Plastic, watermelon, lightning bugs, mosquitoes, public consumption of alcohol, and quite often a thunderstorm.

Maybe this year, as we drag the picnic tables up the hill to the gazebo, there will be a grasshopper. I'll take sugar just in case.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day....

Read the rest at

P.S. More juice: my son is right now telling me that "this pineapple has two kinds of energy, even though it's not moving: heat energy, and citrus energy: the burning acid parts....It's true."

Friday, June 17, 2011

today's menu

As for many of us who teach, my last day of school has come and gone and all that's left is the cleaning up. I have more cleaning up than most, since circumstances require me to box up all my classroom possessions--but it's a great relief that I finally know what to write on the labels! I'll be moving schools and teaching kindergarten full-time next year.

So, goodbye to a sweet & sour year, to a warm and wonderful school community that I really didn't want to leave, and hello to a whole new proposition...

On the Menu for School Today

Label planets
in our sky.
Learn how numbers
Count coins.
String beads.
Shake bells.
Plant seeds.
Map constellations
a flowerpot.
Say a poem.
Spell b-u-t-t-e-r-f-l-y.
Shout hello.
Wave good-bye.

~Rebecca Kai Dotlich
from Falling Down the Page, ed. Georgia Heard, 2009

My summer goals are to work on a refreshed concept for an old group of poems (thanks to the inspirations and suggestions of my fellow conferees at David Harrison's workshop in Boyds Mills) and to post here at least three times a week. And also to really follow the folks I "follow"--I always get so much out of your posts.
"Thak you for bing mi tethr! <3 <3 <3"

Poetry Friday at Check It Out with Jone today, who has her own goodbye to say. Let evening come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

speaking of walt

I've just come across this article, which explains better to me why a nearby high school is called Walt Whitman and why the following lines adorn an entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro station:

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,

Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;

The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,

I sit by the restless all dark night - some are so young;

Some suffer so much - I recall the experience sweet and sad...

Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, 1876

Somehow I'd missed the deep USGOV connection...3000 documents!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

inward *beam*

This is what I mean by "my juicy little universe."
Go Walt.

by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle...

Read the rest at

Friday, June 10, 2011

hello, tootsie

One last installment of 2nd-grade work today... I'm conserving the rest of my energy to do a better job of visiting other Poetry Friday postings (and anyway the poems speak for themselves). Both are by a mysterious figure known only as DWG.

H ello
E ach day you say it at
L east one time
L et go of your troubles and
O pen your mind

Tootsie Rolls

Twist the wrapper. Take it out. Pop
it in your mouth. Suck on it a bit.
Then bite down on it. The sweetness
spreads through your whole
mouth. Enjoy the moment. Savor it.
Think about how sweet it is.
Then when it's gone. Think about
how lucky you are.


Hey diddle diddle! Savor the flavor of Poetry Friday with Anastasia at Picture Book of the Day.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I come to you today from Cabin 21 in Boyds Mills, PA, where I’m attending a Highlights Foundation workshop with David Harrison and enjoying a much-needed creative retreat.

There are times to be grateful for the hovering between asleep and awake that comes during the wee hours. Last week I wrote about visiting my son’s 2nd grade class with a poetry exercise—a new exercise that came to me during one of those thinking-but-not-too-hard moments. No doubt this technique has been obvious to other poetry teachers out there, but I was chuffed when I saw how well it worked to focus children’s attention on the structural aspect of poetry. I asked the children “recompose” one of my poems by cutting the words from an unstructured block and pasting them to create line and stanza breaks.

I picked a short poem from Pumpkin Butterfly, another seasonally appropriate one inspired by my son’s preschool utterances. First I “activated prior knowledge” and checked to see what the kids knew about botany (not much, although they easily identified the sunflower) and the instruments and style of jazz music (quite a bit).

Botanical Jazz

Quiet down, flower—
not so loud!

All this stretching your neck
and spreading your arms
bellowing your brassy yellow sass—

you’re breaking our eyedrums
trumpeting all that color and sun
blowing that blazing yellow jazz. . . .

Belt it out, flower—
we’ll join in!

~Heidi Mordhorst, 2009

I read the poem through twice, very slightly emphasizing the line breaks. (This raises a question that I’d enjoy seeing addressed in the comments: are you a poetry reader of the school that faithfully indicates line breaks in every style of poem, or are you a reader of the school that reads through line breaks in support of the natural phrasing of ideas?) I deliberately didn’t show the page.

Then I handed out a sheet with blank lines—three-quarters the width of the page—at the top and the words of the poem across four fully justified lines on the bottom.

The directions were to think about how to arrange the words to make the poem Sound Good to Your Ears and Feel Good in Your Mouth. Several children were unsure at first whether they had to use all the words—they thought I was asking them to reWRITE the poem—so guidance was needed : “Keep all the words of my poem in the same order, but you decide how many words to put on a line; you decide how many stanzas to make.” I made a big deal of it when I noticed Alexandra quietly reading her arrangement out loud to test the sound of it—“that’s exactly what poets do!”

Here are just three of the varying arrangements that the kids came up with.

Quiet down, flower—
not so loud!
All this stretching your neck
and spreading your arms bellowing your brassy yellow sass—
you’re breaking our eyedrums
trumpeting all that color and sun
blowing that blazing yellow jazz. . . .
Belt it out, flower—
we’ll join in!


There were several kids who strung the gerund phrases into long lines like this. This one was very deliberately centered and shaped, which I can't easily reproduce here.

Quiet down, flower—not so loud!

All this stretching your neck and spreading
your arms bellowing your brassy yellow sass—

you’re breaking our eyedrums trumpeting
all that color and sun

blowing that blazing yellow jazz

...Belt it out, flower—we’ll join in!


That's one of a few where stanza breaks were employed, and the new enjambments are quite effective…

Quiet down, flower—
not so loud! All this stretching
your neck and spreading your arms bellowing
your brassy yellow
sass—you’re breaking our eyedrums
trumpeting all that color and sun blowing
that blazing yellow
it out,
join in!


And that's one where, without realizing she was doing it, the student’s arrangement resembled the head of the sunflower on a five-line stem!

These new imaginings absolutely have me questioning whether the published arrangement of “Botanical Jazz” is the ideal one…

But the very best surprise came from Jack O., who was concentrating so hard on his cut-and-paste task that he was halfway through rewriting a new poem before I caught up with him. It was too late to go back, so I encouraged him to finish, and boy, did he make this set of words his own! He even cut out individual letters to spell new words he needed. How confident! How clever! (Please note that Jack has experience of tae kwon do—we used to see him there every Thursday. Did this influence his recomposition?)

Jack’s Botanical Jazz

Quiet down, flower—your so loud!

you’re breaking our neck your

yellow jazz and yellow color e d

Belt i s blowing u s a w a y

Wow, right?

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Toby the Terrific at The Writer's Armchair. See you there!