Friday, September 19, 2014

You Took a Big Chance at the High School Dance

Has everyone settled into the school year?


I hear you, friends. Four weeks in and my teens are still riding the back-to-school roller coaster. "Who will my friends be this year? Which teachers will be my favorites and which classes will be challenging? What colors, shoes, hairstyles are in?"

Thank goodness it's Poetry Friday. It gives us a chance to talk about one of the pinnacles of high school drama: School Dances.

I'm heading to North Carolina
today for the Electric Run.
While I'm running around Raleigh
in my Poetry Friday Day-Glo T-shirt,
stop by Amy's Poem Farm.
Amy is hosting Poetry Friday this week.
We are in the world of high school today, readers. The poem I'm sharing this week is appropriate for 8th grade and up.

My daughter and her middle school friends were split up. Their middle school feeds into three separate public high schools and Julia is attending a private school. They are getting together for the homecoming dance at one of the local public schools. My kid was thrilled to be invited. She started planning her outfit for the dance immediately.

And since this isn't her school, Jules is planning to make a splash. She's ditching the dress and instead wearing a very fetching suit: snug pinstripe trousers, fitted jacket, dress shirt, bow tie. I nearly died of shock when she agreed to have her hair done -- as in professionally styled! -- for the occasion.

Read about fashionistas in tuxedos.
Unfortunately, some girls at Julia's all-female school heard she was wearing a suit to a dance. Eyebrows were raised. We had to have one of *those* talks. The one where the parent (dying inside) says, "It's okay to try to fit in if that's what you need to do right now."

Then I added, "It's also okay if you dare to be different. People might judge you. That stinks, but be prepared for it. You get to decide what works best for you."

Seriously, people. I was on the fence. Julia's high school life might be easier if she puts on the metaphorical uniform. But she's staying true to herself, and having a blast planning her outfit.

In a moment of serendipity, I was skimming through poet Sue Ellen Thompson's new book this week.

Sue Ellen Thompson's new book of poems,
They is available at Amazon.
Sue Ellen sent me They, giving me the freedom to choose a poem that would appeal to older students and their teachers. She wrote in an email, "If you're looking for something that would appeal to students, there are many that deal with the whole gender identity issue."

I flipped open the book and came across this gem, "The Paper Dress." It's both a narrative and an ode to those brave teens who would rather stand out than fit it.

The Paper Dress
by Sue Ellen Thompson

She never went to high school proms
and showed no interest in boys. But the night
of the Christmas dance, she came downstairs
wearing a paper Lawn 'n Leaf bag
on which she'd painted the curvaceous body
of the woman she had no intention
of becoming, wearing a snug white dress
with bra-straps showing and an inch-wide zipper
running from her cross-hatched cleavage
to her fishnet knees. The teacher
who was chaperoning wouldn't let her in--
although her friends were wearing strapless,
backless, asymmetric hems that clung
discreetly to one ankle before soaring up
the opposite thigh. My daughter bit
down hard on her own anger, looked
the teacher in the eye and slowly, stiffly,
started walking backwards to the door,
her middle finger raised
behind the paper dress's hourglass waist.

Posted with permission.

Sue Ellen Thompson is the author of four previous books of poetry and the editor of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2005). Her work has been included in the Best American Poetry series, read on National Public Radio by Garrison Keillor, and featured in U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser's national syndicated newspaper column. She has been a mentor to adult poets and an instructor at The Writer's Center in Bethesda and Annapolis. In 2010, she received the Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association. Her website is

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse (The Book of the Maidservant)

It's Poetry Friday. The leaves aren't falling yet in Maryland. Here at Author Amok, we are still enjoying some late-summer reading. Poetry Friday regular Tabatha Yeats-Lonske is here to share her Chapter and Verse selection.

I'm also guest-posting this week. You can find my Today's Little Ditty rant against rhyme (at least in the elementary classroom) at Michelle H. Barnes' blog.

This week's host is
Renee LaTulippe
at No Water River!
Tabatha's pairing of a novel and poem is the ninth post in a series called "Summer Reads: Chapter and Verse." Guest bloggers and I have matched books we read this summer with a poem that complements the novel.

So far, we've paired:

Shared by guest blogger Janet Wong

with blackberry poems by Galway Kinnell, Sylvia Plath, and Crescent Dragonwagon

with Margaret Atwood's "This Is a Photograph of Me"

Welcome back to Author Amok, Tabatha!

Tabatha reading with Penelopeep
(Peep for short).

My match-up pairs the poem "Listen" by Barbara Crooker with MG historical fiction The Book of the Maidservant by Rebecca BarnhouseThe Book of the Maidservant traces the journey of Johanna, servant to holy woman Dame Margery Kempe, as they travel from England to Rome in the 1400s. (Read a review here.)

Note: Dame Margery Kemp was a real person. You can read about her at the Online Reference Book (ORB) for Medieval Studies.

Available at ABE Books.
You can see how tough life is for servants, how easy it would be to give up, but Johanna never does. When she finally finds a field of blankness before her, she takes advantage of it. And as much trouble as other people can be, one of the toughest things Johanna has to do is make peace with is herself. Like the moon, though, people get the chance to bloom again.

The poem: 


I want to tell you something. This morning
is bright after all the steady rain, and every iris,
peony, rose, opens its mouth, rejoicing.
I want to say, wake up, open your eyes, there’s
a snow-covered road ahead, a field of blankness,
a sheet of paper, an empty screen. Even
the smallest insects are singing, vibrating
their entire bodies, tiny violins of longing
and desire. We were made for song.
I can’t tell you what prayer is, but I can take
the breath of the meadow into my mouth,
and I can release it for the leaves’ green need.
I want to tell you your life is a blue coal, a slice
of orange in the mouth, cut hay in the nostrils.
The cardinals’ red song dances in your blood.
Look, every month the moon blossoms
into a peony, then shrinks to a sliver of garlic.
And then it blooms again.

Barbara Crooker, from Line Dance

I read this poem on Poetry Friday blogger's Margaret Simon's blog, Reflections on the Teche

Here's the link for author Rebecca Barnhouse's website:

Tabatha is enamored of words and fascinated with the world. Her blog The Opposite of Indifference showcases her love for art, music, and poetry. She is working on a project involving another of her interests, botanical medicine. Her book about Holocaust survivors has just been released as a Kindle edition. 

Tabatha, I have some favorite books set in the same time period: CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY by Karen Cushman and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s MG series that begins with THE SEEING STONE. Thanks for recommending THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Readers, I am proud to say that Barbara Crooker—isn’t the poem Tabatha shared beautiful?—has published work in the journal I edit, Little Patuxent Review. Crooker's poem “Rufous-Sided Towhee” appeared in our science-themed issue. We are reading submissions *right now* for an issue about food. Please send your poems through Submittable, but be sure to read LPR’s guidelines first. 

To get an idea of the work we publish, check out LPR's YouTube channel, where you will see contributors reading their work. The deadline is November 1. The Food issue will go on sale in January.

Do you have an idea for Summer Reads: Chapter and Verse? I'm still looking for guest bloggers. The series will continue until summer ends on Monday, September 22. For more information, find a full explanation of this series and a sample Chapter and Verse pairing at this post.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Welcome to Poetry Friday

Happy back to school week to everyone. My daughter started high school on 8/26, but my son's senior year began this week. It's a perfect time to throw a Poetry Friday party.

Poetry Friday is here!
I decorated just for you.
Leave your links in the comments.
Since I'm putting up the Host Post tonight, let's call this a poetry slumber party.

Whether you're the type who keeps everyone up until 2 am singing karaoke, the early riser who wakes the whole crew up at 6 am, or the kid who gets a good night's rest at home but shows up for pancakes in the morning, welcome! Please leave your link and a brief description of your Poetry Friday post in the comments. I'll be rounding up throughout the day.

We can't have a slumber party without some spooky stories, and I've got two to share with you. One is a novel. The other is a poem. Yes -- it's another "Chapter and Verse" pairing.

This is the eighth post in a series called "Summer Reads: Chapter and Verse." Guest bloggers and I are pairing books we've read this summer with a poem that complements the novel.

So far, we've paired:

Shared by guest blogger Janet Wong

with blackberry poems by Galway Kinnell, Sylvia Plath, and Crescent Dragonwagon

Pull up your sleeping bag and get ready for some spooky stories.

At the beginning of the summer, there was a lot of buzz about E. Lockhart's YA suspense novel WE WERE LIARS. It was my first juicy read of the season. (Check out the WE WERE LIARS tumblr.)

After two years away, Cadence returns to the private island where her Kennedy-esque family spends their summers. There, she's in the company of three generations of Sinclairs, a boatload of teenage cousins, and an outsider. Gat is not a Sinclair. He's not white. He's not rich. He is an extended-family hottie who is deliciously forbidden fruit for Cadence.

Cadence is trying to piece together what happened to her two years ago, when an undefined accident sent her to the emergency room with -- among other things -- a head injury and memory loss. No one on the island is talking, though. What Cadence ultimately learns about the accident, and her role in it, is a twist that readers won't see coming.

WE WERE LIARS is a fun read. Probably more fun for teens, who won't see a nod to a classic suspense movie, than for savvy adults or avid fans of thrillers. What I liked most about this novel was the tone. Cadence's voice was perfectly balanced between privileged and broken, making her a likable heroine. The setting -- imagine Martha's Vineyard owned and populated by one small family -- is filled with empty beach vistas that are both romantic and lonely. It's vast and claustrophobic, just right for an angst-ridden teen who is trying to piece her life back together.

Read a review of the novel from the New York Times.

My poetic partner for this novel is one of my favorites. It's a little thriller/mystery tucked into a surreal poem by the masterful Margaret Atwood. This one will play with your head.

Margaret Atwood
Source: Poetry Foundation
This Is a Photograph of Me
by Margaret Atwood
It was taken some time ago. 
At first it seems to be 
a smeared
print: blurred lines and grey flecks 
blended with the paper;

then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner 
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree 
(balsam or spruce) emerging 
and, to the right, halfway up 
what ought to be a gentle 
slope, a small frame house.

In the background there is a lake, 
and beyond that, some low hills.

(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.

I am in the lake, in the center 
of the picture, just under the surface.
Read the rest of the poem at Poets.Org

If you teach high schoolers, ask them whether they've read WE WERE LIARS. They have? Hand them this poem. I promise, they will want to talk about the art of suspense, and what makes a great twist in a narrative.

Do you have an idea for Summer Reads: Chapter and Verse? I'm still looking for guest bloggers. The series will continue until summer ends on Monday, September 22. For more information, find a full explanation of this series and a sample Chapter and Verse pairing at this post.

Poetry Friday bloggers, please leave your links in the comments. I promise not to jump out and scare you!


Tara Smith at A Teaching Life is getting to know her new students this week. She shares the beautiful poem, "A Happy Childhood," by William Matthews today.

At Random Noodling, Diane Mayr has another entry in her Sketchbook Project -- looking at working children from the early 1900s. The "Little Shaver" is selling a newspaper that's bigger than he is!

In honor of National Chicken Month, Diane is featuring "Poor Patriarch" by Susie Patlove at Kurious Kitty. The poem reminds me of a rooster whose name was Waylon Jennings (all his hens were named after country music singers).

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes continues her series of spotlight author bloggers with Irene Latham. They have an interview (Irene recommends reading in the bathtub) with lots of great insights into Irene's new book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST. There's also a Ditty of the Month Club Challenge for inspiration. You'll find it all at Today's Little Ditty.

An original poem, "Riverwalk," is Becky Shillington's Poetry Friday offering at Tapestry of Words. This poem made me want to get outside for a riverside hike today.

Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup is a Mediterranean feast today. She has a tasty, sensory-rich prose poem from Diane DeCillis's book STRINGS ATTACHED, and a recipe for her grandmother's hummus.

From Jan Godown Annino at Book Seed Studio, an original poem about reading work by poet Diane Ackerman. Jan says Ackerman's lines about doubting one's creativity will speak to your older students.

The Poetry Friday summer poem swap was a great success, judging from everyone's posts about it these last few weeks. Let's take a second to cheer Tabatha for creating and organizing the swap. Hooray for Tabatha! At her blog, The Opposite of Indifference, Tabatha has the Ben Jonson poem "Drink to me only with thine eyes" sung by three different performers -- including Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin.

Our first swap post is from Robyn Hood Black. She received a cinquain from Keri Collins Lewis. Keri's poem is a lovely nod to Robyn's big summer project -- moving house.

There's another poetry swap post at Jone's blog, Check It Out. Jone received a beautiful, summery Ode to Grass from Margaret Simon.

Matt Forrest Esenwine at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme has been working at the state fair. He's got an adorable little "Black Sheep" poem, part of a series of original animal poems.

There's a new series starting at Penny Klostermann's blog: A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Present. Meet Penny's great-nephew Landon, who is an amazing illustrator! This dynamic duo's first offering is "Adventuresome Moose."

It's the first Poetry Friday in September. Karen Edmisten is celebrating with the poem "Absolute September" by (Baltimore local) Mary Jo Salter. The link is here.

But while it's September here, Douglas Florian reminds us that it's spring on the other side of the globe. In honor of Rio de Janeiro's rainy March weather, he has a "The Waters of Spring" by Antonio Carlos Jobim at the Florian Cafe. Follow the link at the cafe to hear a jazzy musical version of the poem performed on Youtube.

Many of us are sending love out to Linda Baie this week. It's been a year since her husband passed away. She says, "I have a sad post today, but needed to share a poem I wrote after my husband died one year ago. It's a special one to me, and I hope those who've felt loss will be touched by it." You'll find the poem at Teacher Dance.

The ladies at Gathering Books have been doing a powerful series on poems of conflict, with offerings from around the world. Myra is posting today, with a group of poems that includes Alice Walker's book "Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters The Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel;" Naomi Shihab Nye's "Blood" and, Myra says, "the immensely powerful video clip of 'We Teach Life, Sir' by Rafeef Ziadah, a Canadian-Palestinian spoken word artist and activist. Thanks for helping to give voice to the children who are affected by war in their homelands, Myra.

Greg Pincus must have worn his footie pajamas to our Poetry Friday slumber party. He's got an original poem up today, "The Middle Toe Sets the Record Straight." (I'm guessing you don't want sausages with your pancakes, Greg.)

At Wee Words for Wee Ones, Bridget Magee is punning it up. It's been so hot this week, she has a poem about what happens in the desert: "When things get hot, bake cookies." Get it? Her poem features a clever momma, an overworked air conditioner, and a great solution for avoiding the oven on baking day.

There are more sweet treats at Irene Latham's blog, Live Your Poem. All Irene wanted was a DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST picture-cake for her book launch. What she ended up with is a cake fail. (Irene includes a link to an NPR piece on Emily Dickinson, baker.)

Slumber party guests, let's walk off those pancakes, cookies, and Irene's cake. Take a hike with Mary Lee. She has an original free verse about her 5:30 am walk at A Year of Reading.

Margaret Simon has an original poem based on two photographs of the beach and how they dialogue with one another. "Dialogue Poem" is at Reflections on the Teche.

There's another ocean-related poem at Teaching Authors, Laura Salas's last post for that blog. Laura says Lilian Moore's "Until I Saw the Sea" is "unsettling and melancholy." Sounds like another good pairing for WE WERE LIARS.

Ms. Yingling has been saying hello to her new students all this week, but she's also saying goodbye to her parents' home. Read her original poem about place and memory at Ms. Yingling Reads.

Those who love both fiction and poetry -- Holly Mueller has a great list of recommended MG and YA novels that include poetry. The list of novels is at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

At Keri Recommends, Keri has summer swap poems from Poetry Friday bloggers Linda Baie and Heidi Mordhorst. 

The verse picture book IN THE WILD by David Elliott is Janet Squires' choice for this week's All About the Books. The book features beautiful, bright woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade.

The poem for today at Bildungsroman is "Maud" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (A veteran English teacher I worked with years ago was still furious that the TV show "Maud" had ruined the name. She was a big fan of the poem.)

A LUCKY THING is the title of one of Ramona's favorite books, by Alice Schertle. She says it's "A great book to use in writer's workshop as you encourage students to closely observe the world around them." Check out the adorable cover of a mouse and a mouse at Pleasures from the Page.

Ruth poem today looks ahead to winter. It's "Lead" by Mary Oliver, at There Is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town.

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater is featuring another new book of children's poetry, Lee Bennett Hopkins' anthology, MANGER. She also has an original poem at The Poem Farm, about being the new kid -- something many of our students are coping with this week.

There are two Poetry Friday posts from Lorie Ann Grover: a haiku celebrating her 50th birthday at On Point. (Happy birthday, Lorie Ann!) It's called "Celebrating Fifty." She also has a book recommendation at Readertotz, the free verse picture book, Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (his second appearance at our Poetry Friday party).

More haiku -- it's a popular form this week -- from Carol Varsalona. She says, "My offering this week is a combination of an original haiku, Stillness and Serenity, for the upcoming Summer Serenity Gallery and a reflective poem by the 13th century mystic poet, Rumi." I like Carol's poetic reminder to stay grounded and make time for quiet reflection, even as the busy school year begins.

Let's end this party on a fun note. Joy at Poetry for Kids closes us out with two original riddle poems. That will give you something to think about as you  head home.

Thanks for visiting, everyone. I appreciate all of your contributions this Poetry Friday. It was a joy, as always, to read the posts and to participate in our wonderful community of poetry bloggers.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse (Enthusiasm)

Happy last Poetry Friday of August.

Despite having one child back at school, and the other starting on Tuesday, I am -- like many of you -- hanging on to summer. Hanging on as in, you could not pry my fingers off of Labor Day weekend or even bribe me with chocolate. If summer were coffee and we were down to the grounds at the bottom of the cup, I would drink it and savor every little nib of coffee bean.

Recommended end-of-summer read.
This re-issue of the book, signed by
Stephen King and Ray Bradbury,
is available for £375.

But before I lick the bottom of the cup of delicious iced-coffee that is summer, let's visit Jone at Check It Out! She is hosting today's Poetry Friday round-up.

This is the seventh post in a series called Summer Reads: Chapter  Verse. Guest bloggers and I are pairing books we've read this summer with a poem that complements the novel.

So far, we've paired:

Shared by guest blogger Janet Wong

with blackberry poems by Galway Kinnell, Sylvia Plath, and Crescent Dragonwagon

I'm really excited about today's post. We have a guest blogger visiting. And her summer read? I don't know how I missed this book. It's got romance! It's got intrigue! It's got poetry! And it features a character who is an enthusiastic Janeite (as in Austen).

A little bit of back story. As you know -- because you heard me screaming with joy back in June -- my middle grade novel-in-verse is being published in spring of 2016 (read my announcement here). One of the best perks of being a debut author is meeting other debut authors. Today's guest blogger, Kathy MacMillan, is coordinator of The Sweet 16s. We are a group of middle grade and young adult authors debuting in 2016. You can visit our website-in-progress here.

Lucky me, not only was I invited to be one of the administrators for the group, but Kathy lives in nearby Baltimore. We are planning to meet for real and in person this fall.

I am so looking forward to working with the wildly creative and funny people in The Sweet 16s as we all finish up our edits, commiserate about our hopes and fears, and prepare to publicize our books. I hope to introduce you to more of the gang in the coming months.

Welcome, Kathy, to AuthorAmok!

My Book: ENTHUSIASM by Polly Shulman

"There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast."  But that's exactly Julie's lot: her best friend Ashley is a decided Enthusiast, with passionate interests running the gamut from canning to fashion.  But when Ashley's fancy lands on Julie's own passion—the novels of Jane Austen—Julie finds herself swept along on Ashley's quest to find True Love worthy of an Austen heroine.  Whether crashing a dance at a local prep school (in vintage gowns, of course) or untangling the misunderstandings wrought by the objects of their affection, these smart and funny heroines star in an engaging and satisfying read.

Doesn't the title invoke Jane Austen?
Read a review at TeenReads.
Paired with:

Sonnet III
from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—
And Death must dig the level where these agree.

I chose this sonnet for several reasons:

1) It *had* to be a sonnet. One of the plot points in ENTHUSIASM centers around the identity of the writer of a certain (wildly romantic, take-your-breath-away) sonnet that appears tacked to the tree between Julie and Ashley's houses—but which girl is it meant for?

2) The poet sees her beloved as someone who is far above her, and is amazed that his attention would turn to her.  In ENTHUSIASM, Julie's insecurity lends her the same attitude—even when the proof of her beloved's affection is right in front of her.

3) Both the sonnet and the book remind us that the art forms we often think of as old, dusty, or stodgy are actually capable of conveying deeply felt passion, and that those passions have been felt by human beings across time.

Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Michele Gordigiani.
Source: The Guardian

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, librarians, storyteller, interpreter, and Enthusiast.  Her debut YA fantasy novel will be published by HarperTeen in 2016.  Find out more about her work at  

Thanks for the great recommendation and pairing, Kathy.

Do you have an idea for Summer Reads: Chapter & Verse? I'm still looking for guest bloggers. The series will continue until summer ends on Monday, September 22. For more information, find a full explanation of this series and a sample Chapter & Verse pairing at this post.

I'll see you next week, everyone, when Poetry Friday is HERE.