Thursday, August 22, 2019

ring and rage: #DearOneLBH

"I will weave words
to make you sigh,"

wrote the poet, foremost anthologist of work for children
and teacher of us all,

Lee Bennett Hopkins.   

This poem is composed with two quotes from Lee--one from his own contribution to his most recent anthology I AM SOMEONE ELSE: POEMS ABOUT PRETENDING, "What a Poet Can Do," and another glorious quote from a 2010 interview with Tracie Vaughn [Zimmer].  Lee's words are in bold.

I also amused myself by including all of the titles offered for stealing by Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone a few weeks ago, and they must have been selected with precise premonition, because they all just worked right on in.  The titles, by various poets, are in italics.

Our host for the #DearOneLBH celebration today is Amy at The Poem Farm, where Lee will be gently held in uproarious hullabaloo by our community.  Happy New Year to the educators among us!

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Good word, eh?  And yet I think it's a fair concern at the moment that biophilia is not universally felt by humankind.  I don't know that all our children are getting a fair shot at falling in the love with the planet.

I'm thinking about this today because our host, Christie at Wondering and Wondering, has tossed out a Poetry Friday theme of TREES.  I find that I have posted often about trees, my poems and those of others, but I found one poem I haven't shared before.  I wrote it when I taught kindergarten and we had our "very own" tree in the schoolyard.  We visited it every month and drew it again and again; this poem is about how sustained relationship with nature changes your view, your insides.

RJ, tree in fall

first tree is
straight brown trunk
green cloud top
faraway bracket of bird

next tree is
straight gray trunk
mass of fluttering leaves
no bird but what is that bug?

now our tree is
cracked gray bark
RJ, tree in spring

looking up we see 150 leaves at least
something with wings dangling down

our maple tree is
cracked gray bark
streaked with greenish moss
three-lobed leaves veined and clustered
above bunches of maple keys

finally [tree] recedes
"our Norway maple"
becomes a bridge 
to <tree>

©Heidi Mordhorst

The kids in these photos finished 5th grade in June and left our school, but last week I ran into RJ (in the orange and grey shirts) at the Y with his father and older sister Lorrilee, whom I also taught.  She told me that her rising 7th grade friends have a group text chat and that they had been recently reminiscing about their "Mighty Minnow Maple Tree" together. 

How's that for warming a teacher's heart? "Arborphilia"!    Thanks to Christie for hosting--head over and climb on up into her tree for a view of this week's poetry.

Your Weekly PSA:  Here's my September 20 Global Climate Strike.  Where's yours? 

No photo description available.

Friday, August 9, 2019

insert title here [edited to: the faucet is on]

Today I'm composing my post late and in grief for the loss of Lee Bennett Hopkins, whose death I only just learned of today.  There has been a loss in my own household, too, of first young love, so goodbyes are heavy on my mind. I think our host today, Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone, chose a beautiful farewell poem in Lee's own words which I would like to repeat here.  His entire life was "World, Make Way."

from BEEN TO YESTERDAYS, Lee Bennett Hopkins 1999

“Please give me strength to laugh
the strength to try
the strength to laugh
the strength to cry
the strength to hope
the strength to cope
the strength to one day say good-bye
to fly into a bright sky.”

I think all who knew Lee notice first of all that repetition of  "strength to laugh."  We don't get through this life in one piece without being able to laugh (and sometimes not even then), and that was indeed one of Lee's great strengths.  Here's my post about the first time I met him.

And now, on to the conundrum of titles.  I sympathize with Molly about the challenge of choosing titles, because I think titles are VERY VERY IMPORTANT.  There is nothing that steams me more than when an artist, visual, literary or otherwise, calls a work "Untitled."  WHAT?  What a wasted opportunity!  (The only person I am cool with using no titles is Emily Dickinson and I will have to go and interrogate my reasons for that pass I am so willing to give...)

A title can do so many things.  It can serve as an announcement of something about to take place; it can work as a thesis statement, it can honor a person or event, it can point out something about the poem that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise, it can deliberately send you in a whole 'nother direction so that the poem wallops you with contrast or surprise, it can simply repeat a phrase from the poem to tell you what flavor you're about to enjoy, and some good titles can do several of those things simultaneously.

Now, I do enjoy (and think perhaps I have a flair for) naming things.  I often fantasize about being the person who gets to name the paint or lipstick colors, and I have always enjoyed getting to be the person, as teacher, who gets to name the class anthology by picking just the right line from one kid's poem.  Many of my poems grow directly out of a phrase that sounds like a good title, and when I have to pick a title out of nowhere, I can usually do it without second-guessing my first instinct.

But I am currently facing a titling challenge, for a longer collection of poems that I think will have four sections, so the overall title and the title for each section are extra-important to get right.  I need them to help make the theme or arc of the book (I type that so hopefully that it will become a book!) will be clear.

And yet I am so often about NOT being particularly clear in my titling.  Despite my aversion in regular walking life to ambiguity, in my poetry I always want to be as ambiguous as possible, in order to allow as many readers in to the ownership of the poem as possible.

So I'm experiencing--with some frustration and some pleasure--this titling challenge.  You who have more experience in consciously employing Global Titling Strategies (that should be the name of a helpful paid service) are invited to let me know what has worked best for you.

In other news, I downloaded the entirety of this blog into a searchable, editable book using this app (another helpful service, and it was worth it).  Having deleted everything but my original poems, I find that I am left with a 225-page book of my work over the last 10 years, approximately 400 poems.  And that doesn't even count the poems that are on my computer and in my notebooks but not on the blog.  I think I can now let go of the feeling that I don't write enough.  To be sure, it's not as though I've written a poem a day for 10 years (that would be 3650 poems), but still, I'm feeling accomplished--which is not a bad feeling to have as I start gearing up for another school year.  In fact I feel like I might deserve my own title: maybe
                                                                Heidi the Sufficient?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

(re)introducing the definito, and some SUNDAY POETRY SWAGGER

WELCOME! Poetry Friday is hosted here today--thanks for stopping by! To find out more about what Poetry Friday is and how it works, click here. To add your link, scroll to the bottom of the post and find the InLinkz button.

Climate Action PSA before we begin: 

Preparations for the September Global Climate Strike are gearing up. I like to think of it more as a demonstration, a chance for the world’s population (where privileged with the choice) to stand up for the future of the planet. Most people can’t and won’t walk out of work or school, but most people CAN and SHOULD take a stand somehow, somewhere--in front of Starbucks on the way to work for 15 minutes, at lunchtime outside their school or building, at a block party with the neighbors after dinner.

As for me, I’m already working on booking a substitute for that day to join the demonstration at the Capitol, and I will be using sick leave because the Earth is ailing. I urge you to lead, organize and plan to be out there and counted as concerned and ready to take #ClimateAction along with the youth who will inherit our mistakes. It only takes 3.5% of a population to make a difference in social movements, and YOU can be part of that powerful fraction!

Now, on to the poetry!

More than ten years ago when my family was living in France, I was raising young readers and thinking a lot about words and language. I wrote a little series of poems that attempted to define certain words (often abstract) and even thought of working on a book of them. They faded into the background as we returned to the States, but in 2009 when I was still quite new to Poetry Friday, I posted this: one of my many projects, where I toyed with the invention of a new poetry form.

That very first “definition” poem has now morphed into the "definito" below, and the form has become freer, looser, while maintaining its intent: the definito is a free verse poem of 8-12 lines (aimed at readers 8-12 years old) that highlights wordplay as it demonstrates the meaning of a less common word, which always ends the poem.


not a 
      smudge of mud
not a
      jot of rot
tulip leaves of clean green
tulip petals, pure sheen
mingling their
singular spotless hues

HM 2008 (revised 2019)

I’ve been playing with these again recently and sharing them with the members of my online teacher-poet critique group, and they got quite excited to try out some definitos for themselves. So, with fanfare,

I introduce you to our first group challenge (a la the Poetry Sisters, also posting as a group today) by the SUNDAY POETRY SWAGGERS (a name which we have struggled to settle on and which may change depending on your reaction to the slippery definitions of “swag” and “swagger”!) I'm grateful to them all for their contributions to refining the form and supporting my messing around with it! 

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

Also playing along today are two PF veterans who responded to my 2009 (omg TEN years ago) invitation to try a definito:

Mary Lee Hahn @ A Year of Reading 
Laura Purdie Salas @ Writing the World for Children

Here are a couple more recent definitos from me, and then a couple from Diane Mayr, who also participated in 2009 and has written a new (and very current) definito for 2019.


the game is done--
you’re on the bench
hot and mad and sticky
tears and sweat--
your face is drenched
the feeling of losing is icky

coach is handing you water--what does he think?
you’re thirsty, so thirsty, but not for a drink!
you’re cursed with a thirst that makes your teeth clench--
the thirst that only winning can quench


imagine a place

                   a lake perhaps
unruffled by ripples
untroubled by tides
                  a place of peace and quiet blue
stand and survey
                  the way that calm
skims over the surface--
                                that's placid.

©Heidi Mordhorst 2019

VISCERAL by Diane Mayr 2009

Don't panic--think it through
--the noise outside your
window is not, I repeat,
is not the boogeyman.

And yet, your heart still
pounds. Your breath comes
in gasps.  Your instinct is
to RUN!  And you do.

Your gut over your head.

DEBATE by Diane Mayr 2019

A clear difference of opinion.

He favors fresh-dug worms.
She likes fluorescent plastic.

He is armed with facts.
She with years of experience.

Each provides inspiration.

Back and forth the words fly.
Both of  them try to convince.

What I learned: fish take the bait.
What they don't care for is a debate.


Well, isn't that a caboodle of fun (especially for people who fish)?  Maybe you'll want to try out a definito too, after you click the blue button below to leave your link on for this first Poetry Friday of August.  

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

I assert the copyright to the poetic form called the “definito” ©Heidi Mordhorst 2009, 2019