Thursday, October 30, 2014

HOWL-oween Onomatopoeia Poems

Dear Reader

Beware this bag of treats! 
Onomatopoeia poems may be delightful
Or frightful.

Enter ... if you dare.

Our Halloween hostess is Linda Baie
at Teacher Dance.
Make like a skeleton and skitter
on over to the Poetry Friday party.
Happy Halloween, everyone! This week, I started a new residency at Manor Woods Elementary School. I am having so much fun writing poems with the third grade students.

Our first workshop was on onomatopoeia poems. You can read my full lesson at this post. The model poem is Eve Merriam's "Weather."

We all described a place or activity, relying mainly on the sounds we hear to give the readers clues. Many students in Ms. Kaz's class thought trick-or-treating on Halloween would make a great sound poem. I agree!

These are very much first drafts. I have added minor punctuation and line breaks for ease of reading. The rest is all third grade poetry.

Halloween Poem
By Megan F.

Stomp stomp stomp.
running down the sidewalk.

Ring! Trick or treat.
Thank you

Chuckling ha  ha ha!
Going house to house

When I get home
I rush upstairs.

Smelling the candy.
I sort and sort till it's done.

Crunch crunch crunch rip.
I leave a mess on the floor -- oops.

I feel lots of candy wrappers.
It's like I'm in a pound of candy.

Image from MintLife Blog
Halloween Poem
By Patrick B.

Shot! Stomp, stomp. Ding dong.
Trick or Treat! Drop, drop. Thank you!
Flash, flash. Talking.
Whoosh, whoosh. Lights.
Different dresses, scary, funny.
P.U. Chit chat. Branches moving.
Running fast. Thunk. Ouch!
Swish, swish, shadows,
decorations, pumpkins, parties.
Crack. Shot! Loud. Yum, yum.
Sour, sour. Ha ha.

I hope you enjoy some delicious treats for Halloween. Thanks to the third grade team, students,  and families at Manor Woods for giving me permission to share these poems. More student poems are on the way. Stop by next week for more onomatopoeia and opposite poems.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A (Found) Ode to Signed Books

This week, I went to a reading by the esteemed poet Rita Dove.

1. It was free. Thanks, HoCoPoLitSo!
2. There was music by young composer and violinist Joshua Coyne.

Poetry Friday
Today's Poetry Friday round-up
is at Cathy's blog,

I'd been meaning to buy and read Dove's historical novel-in-verse Sonata Mulattica for several years. (Read the NY Times review here.) She spoke about the book and its subject, child prodigy George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860), on the Diane Rehm Show when Sonata Mulattica was first released.

The selections she read at the event were beautiful. Some of the poems include multiple voices. They are funny, piercing in their portrayal of the society that celebrated Bridgetower, then erased him from history.

But what I really want to talk about is signed books. I did buy a copy of Sonata Mulattica last night and Rita Dove signed it.

Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
That got me wondering. Why do we love signed books? I have dozens of them. Some were already favorites when I sought out the author to have the book signed. Others I had never heard of, but fell in love with at a reading or writers' conference. They were bought and signed on the spot.

Are these books a little more special than their unsigned shelf-mates?

I think so. A signed book is similar to a photograph. Every time I open the book and read the personalized dedication, I remember meeting the author and sharing a word or two. I remember asking poet Mark Doty to sign a book and wanting to hide in a giant hole when he pointed out that I'd handed him someone else's book by accident. I remember meeting children's poet Heidi Mordhorst, now a dear friend, for the first time.

Today, I'm presenting a gallery of dedications for you to enjoy. Following the photographs is a little found ode that I wrote. It combines titles of these signed books with words and phrases borrowed from the dedications.

The Song Shoots Out of My Mouth: A Celebration of Music
by Jaime Adoff
Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems
from the Other Side of Nature

by Heidi Mordhorst

The East-West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan
by Christy Hale
I Am the Running Girl
by Arnold Adoff
She Had Some Horses
by Joy Harjo

And here is my found poem. Words I added are in bold. Everything else is strung together from the dedications and the book titles.

When You Sign My Book
by Laura Shovan

The song shoots out of my mouth
with great appreciation for everything:
Gr8 to meet you!!
Enjoy!! God bless!!
Looking forward to your next book!
(and thanks for the new horizons).
I am a pumpkin butterfly,
flying East-West in a celebration
of word music.
I am the running girl,
watching with joy,
listening for your sonata.
Poems journey like childhood ghosts
or horses
from the other side of nature.

And, following poet Brenda Hillman's example, here are some drippings -- phrases from the titles and dedications that I wasn't able to weave into the poem.

The House: Noguchi’s in Japan
at SCBWI 3/6/10 Poems
Keep for
She Had Some
Some horses for your

I'd love to hear your thoughts on signed books and book signings. If you have a treasured signed book, or a memory about a book signing, please share in the comments.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Poetry Friday: Golden Shovels

Thanks to everyone who tried writing a Golden Shovel poem with me last week.

To review: the Golden Shovel is a poetic form invented by MacArthur genius award winner Terrance Hayes. You can read his original Golden Shovel here. Using a favorite poem by someone else as your starting off point, take the words of the first line or stanza (or any favorite line from the poem). Use those words in order as the end words for each line of your new poem.

I'm breaking out the glo-paint
for Michelle H. Barnes.
She's hosting Poetry Friday this week
at Today's Little Ditty.

The poems I'm featuring today--Golden Shovels by Linda Baie, Michelle H. Barnes, and my poem based on a William Carlos Williams favorite--describe autumn in their imagery and tone.

I have to agree with Joy's (who blogs at Poetry for Kids) comment on last week's post. One of the biggest challenges in writing a Golden Shovel is dealing with line breaks. When the form requires ending on a word such as "from," "a," or "the," how does the poet make the line feel unforced? Not easy. Beginning with a haiku or other noun-rich poem, as Joy suggested, is good advice if you want to try a Golden Shovel.

Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche told me that poet Nikki Grimes ran a contest with this form. Although the contest is over, Grimes' explanation of the Golden Shovel is kid-friendly. Stop by her blog if you'd like to check it out and try it with your young writers.

Here is Linda Baie's contribution, followed by a few lines from her jumping-off poem, "Loss" by Carl Adamshick. Linda blogs at Teacher Dance.

The first line must be about the wind,
in October, I feel the lifting
of the trees, lighter now without the leaves,
slipping like babies turning from
the breast, into sleep, nestled in mother’s branches.

Linda Baie © All Rights Reserved

by Carl Adamshick

It is nice to be without answers
at the end of summer.
Wind lifting leaves from branches.

The moment laid down like something
in childhood and forgotten, until later,
when stumbled upon, we think:
this is where it was lost.

I'm amazed that Linda's poem has such a different feel from the original, even though she "found" a line of Adamshick's poem for her own piece, and both are set in autumn.

Michelle also chose a favorite line for the basis of her Golden Shovel. The words at the end of each line come from the third line of Adelaide Crapsey's "November Night." You can read "November Night" at the Poetry Foundation.


Soft, mottled leaves, like
Grandma's hands, pause on the steps
at the threshold of 
memory. A subtle passing,
in, then out, like distant ghosts. 

© 2014 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I love the way the ghosts travel from Crapsey's poem into Michelle's original piece.

You can see me working overtime in my new Golden Shovel, trying to make the end-words feel natural. As a writing exercise, this stretched my thinking and took the poem to unexpected places.

by Laura Shovan
after William Carlos Williams

Rain today, so
I’m not doing much.
Sad, how productivity depends
upon the weather. I put my feet up on
the hassock, read postcards signed by “A.”--
anonymous pen-pal, whose favorite ink is red.
Here is a card depicting a waterwheel
in Notogowa, another from the town of Barrow
in Alaska – photos glazed
with fingerprints of those they traveled with
to reach me in the rain.
These cards bear the mark of water,
smell of the perfume samples they sat beside
in my mailbox, nestled between the
magazines and a flock of dull envelopes, white
as a hen house full of chickens.

Funny... a white bird also appeared in my first Golden Shovel.  Enjoy William Carlos Williams reading, "The Red Wheelbarrow."

Ever since the 2013 Poetry Postcard project, I do have a friend with whom I exchange postcards. He's not anonymous and doesn't write in red ink, but, I'm always glad to receive a postcard from poet Charles Rammelkamp. (You can read about Charles' loves of postcards at this post from 2013.) The most recent one he sent was of Prince William, Duchess Kate Middleton, and Prince George. Maybe Charles remembered that my mother is British.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Poetry Friday: Lunar Eclipse

Wednesday morning, 5:15 am. My son groans when I turn on the light in the hall. My daughter begs for five more minutes of sleep. Hubby is already in the shower.

I have five minutes. Five minutes is not enough time to finish that chapter of my book (SKIN HUNGER, by Kathleen Duey) or go back to sleep. It is the perfect amount of time for checking Facebook.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
is too busy rounding up
Poetry Friday links to check Facebook.
When you have five minutes, stop by her blog.

Facebook is where how I found out about the lunar eclipse. Friends across the country were waking their children up early and heading outside to view the Earth's shadow pass across the moon. At our house, it was just another early school day.

But I put the kettle on, got out my star-gazing binoculars, and slipped outside while everyone else went about their morning. This is what I saw...

This week's eclipse was a Blood Moon,
named for its coppery color.
Photo: EarthSky.Org 
Before everyone left for school and work, a thin line of moon -- wearing its coppery cloak -- was setting, just above the dark tree line.

Later that day, I was reading the "Poetic Asides" column in Writer's Digest. Poet Terrance Hayes -- a recent MacArthur genius award winner -- has invented a new poetic from. Using a line or lines from a favorite poem, use each word (in the correct order) as an end word in your poem. It's called a golden shovel, named for Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool" -- the basis for a golden shovel poem written by Hayes.

Writing Prompt: Write a golden shovel of your own.
Post your poem in the comments (making note of the poet/title of the original) and I will round up all of our golden shovels next week.

I like what Writer's Digest columnist Robert Lee Brewer says about this form. He calls it "a fun mix of found poetry and pure invention."

To capture the slow eclipse in the midst of my family's busy morning, I used Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Moon," from A Child's Garden of Verses.

Here is my golden shovel, followed by Stevenson's poem. (The words of Stevenson's poem are in gray.)

Eclipse, 5 am
by Laura Shovan

After Robert Louis Stevenson

Dark October morning, the
Earth’s shadow sweeps the Moon,
dissolves its round cheeks until the Moon has
only an icy smile. Next, it is the sliver of a
snowy owl, mostly hidden, its white face
shrunk to one silver eyebrow. Cuplike,
it holds the Sun’s reflection in its feathers. The
owl swoops down when my kitchen clock
strikes six, finds its roost below the horizon. In
moments, sleepers will tumble down the
stairs, their school shoes clicking in the still-dark hall.

The Moon
by Robert Louis Stevenson

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Poetry Friday: Autumn Leaves Project

Last week, I felt so much gratitude for our wonderful Poetry Friday community. 

Jama Rattigan is making room at the table
for all of this week's Poetry Friday posts.
You'll find them at Jama's Alphabet Soup.
I shared a poem and a story about my challenging high school years, and all of you rose up to support me with your comments and high school stories of your own. (Read the post here.) Telling some of my story turned into a healing experience because of the caring messages I received in return.

I've been thinking about the power of sharing stories, even difficult ones.

A few months ago, I was invited to participate in a community arts project called Autumn Leaves. Painter and arts organizer Peter Bruun, who was about to turn 50, dreamed up this inter-generational project. I'll do my best to describe it, but you may want to read a full explanation at the Autumn Leaves website.

Peter contacted 49 Baltimore area "elders" -- later called the project Leaves. They were split into seven groups of seven Leaves each. Each of these groups was assigned a tree name, a visual artist and a writer under the age of fifty. The task of the artist and writer was to create portraits of each Leaf in the group.

Peter assigned me to the Poplar Group, along with photographer Tiffany Jones. Part of this project was going to be a big celebration for each group, including story sharing from the leaves and performances by youth arts organizations.

Peter Bruun and Tiffany Jones at the Poplar Event.

I had a concept for my seven written portraits, which had to be 49 words each. Since Autumn Leaves focuses on elders sharing their wisdom and stories, I wanted to highlight these folks in their own words. I interviewed each of the Leaves on the phone, typing as we spoke about their lives. 

Instead of writing new poems, I wanted to "curate" seven found poems taken directly from my interview transcripts. This way, the poems would be in the the Leaves' own words.

Through this project, I had the opportunity to get to know people I probably wouldn't have crossed paths with otherwise: a man who was wrongfully incarcerated for 20 years and who is now a prison reform advocate, an woman who was recently reunited with the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption when she was just 15.

In late September, Peter invited us all to the Poplar Group event at Area 405, a gallery and event space in Baltimore. It was such a thrill to see the portraits from each of the seven groups, but I was blown away by Tiffany's beautiful photographs of our seven Leaves.

Tiffany's display incorporated her photographs, my found poems,
tree branches, and lines from a Thich Nhat Hahn poem.
I'd like to thank photographer Tiffany Jones, arts organizer Peter Bruun, and two of our Leaves -- Jeffrey Johnson and Anna Davis -- for giving me permission to share their photographs and poems.

Jeff Johnson is a recent widower and a practicing Buddhist who has studied with Thich Nhat Hahn.

Jeffrey Johnson
Photograph by Tiffany Jones

Found Poem by Laura Shovan

You’re here.
Being in the present moment,
you have come home.

Fifteen years ago
I didn’t have a physical home.
It was a painful time.

The earth was my home.
This great ground
accepts all of our suffering, all our joy.

In connecting with the earth, I feel free.

After years of battling addiction, Anna Davis entered Baltimore's Marian House community for women.

Anna Davis
Photograph by Tiffany Jones

Found Poem by Laura Shovan

Change is possible.
When I entered Marian House
I expected a miracle.
I found that the miracle was me.

For me, home is stability,
a feeling of family,
my spirituality.

It is not one place.
I have to carry it with me—
that self-worth, that integrity—

at all times.

Once again, I find myself feeling grateful for a supportive community where people's stories are valued and honored. The Autumn Leaves project has been a life changer. If you are interested in donating to Autumn Leaves, the link is here. If you're interested in supporting Marian House, please visit their website.

I think a project like Autumn Leaves would be great to try with your school, library, or community group. Pairs of student artists and writers could interview adults in the school, family members, or elders in their community. The paired portraits -- visual and written -- are a powerful way to share stories between the generations.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Poetry Friday: Point of View

Confession time, Writerly Friends. I hated high school. High school was the suckiest time in my entire life. I was out sick a lot because I just couldn't deal.

But, with one teen graduating this school year and another just starting her high school years, it's kind of hard to avoid the memories.

This Poetry Friday, we're doing the "Time Warp."

Laura Salas is hosting Poetry Friday
this week at
Writing the World for Kids.
Last Friday, I was helping my daughter get ready for her first high school dance. You can read the post, featuring Sue Ellen Thompson's poem "The Paper Dress" here.

I had a lot of feelings about this dance, about how well my teen is settling into high school, and about her desire to be different. It was one of those times when I felt less like a parent and more like a time traveler who wants to go back to the past and fix everything. My point of view was messed up, because I was seeing through my own teen years. Those are some dark glasses, my friends.

I decided it was time to go back, but not by fretting about my daughter. Instead, I have taken down my high school yearbooks. They've been sitting on a shelf for nearly 30 years. And I have been avoiding them. Junior year was so bad that I didn't buy that yearbook. Even while I was living that year, I knew the memories would be too painful later.

I wrote about some of my high school story at the bottom of this post. Note -- trigger warning for those who have had stalkers or abusive relationships.

One of the things helped me keep it (barely) together during those years was participating in our high school's literary magazine.

Being a part of the literary community
was important to me, even in high school.
During junior year, I was on the magazine's poetry staff. I also contributed a few pieces. Since we're talking about point of view and how it can skew our vision, I'm sharing a retelling of the poem, "Jabberwocky," from the monstrous Jabberwock's point of view.

I have vivid memories of watching my friend Eugene, whom I'd known since elementary school, create the art that accompanies my poem. His father was a photographer and had a darkroom at home. The image was created by placing objects -- puzzle pieces, pebbles, a rubber dragon toy -- on photo paper, then exposing the paper to light. The white images are the places where the objects covered the paper. Eugene was one of the few people I stayed friendly with all the way through high school, so creating this image is a happy memory for me.

I was a big fan of Lewis Carrol's Alice books. Rereading this poem, it's clear how much I connected with the poor, doomed Jabberwock when I was a teen.

The Cry of the Jabberwock
by Laura Dickson (1986)

The endless, idle year I've spent
within these lonely caves of stone.
And centuries, they came and went
and still the halls of rock, my home.

The caverns, though, were dark and gray.
No sunlight reached my tired eyes.
Damp and gloom both filled my day.
The glistening rocks were my blue skies.

Yet, as I slept, the walls would speak
and tell me all that they had seen.
The haunting words would make me weak
and haunt me in my every dream.

The echoed with disastrous scenes
of death and darkness all around.
They cried, they cried unearthly screams.
And all would tremble with these sounds.

John Tenniel's Jabberwock
And I was chosen for their voice
to speak the dreadful prophecies.
And so, went forth, though not by choices,
to find the planter of foul seeds.

I left my home of many years
and yet, I felt no strong remorse.
For what I saw brought me to tears
and this in time would meet doom's force.

I slept among the greenest glens
and breathed the breath of newest life
and hoped that it would never end
or meet with sorrow or with strife.

One stormy day my quest did end,
as I approached from within fog
gray walls that seemed to never end
surrounded by a danger bog.

From Bryan Talbot's graphic novel
Alice in Sunderland.
The endless rock which stood before
so reminded me of home,
I could not move towards the door.
And once again I felt alone.

And He, the one that I had sought,
then looked upon my pleading face.
But in his fear my foe knew naught
and words were wasted on his race.

Alas, the men attacked me then
with arrows bursting into flame.
I was, again, without a friend,
and stood, bewildered, in the rain.

With aching heart and bleeding eyes
I fled that place, and in my rage
I screamed out awful dragon cries
and stumbled aimlessly for days.

Mervyn Peake's Jabberwock
from the British Library
I could not bear to look upon
the beauty that had thrilled me so
and think of it as dead and gone.
I headed to my caves below.

As I approached my dreary home,
much weary from my journey's pain,
a boy awaited me, alone,
and standing silent in the rain.

A boy so innocent, so pure,
perhaps my words had reached his ears,
and he would like to hear yet more
of how to calm the dread of years.

And in my hope my heart misled
and let me trust the human child.
But as he turned I saw with dread
his eyes, like hunter's, were death-wild.

The Jabberwock stars in his own picture book.
The jeweled sword, too large for the boy,
hung in the stillness of the air.
The silver flashed and to his joy
the blade cut in the final dare.

And I did not scream out in pain.
Instead, cried only silent tears
as I lay dying in the rain,
the land of heaven coming near.

And from above there is no sound,
yet teardrops fall from thousand eyes.
For life was lost and nothing found
in endless time to dragon cries.

As much as I still empathize with the Jabberwock, I think it's hysterical that my poem is at least twice as long as Lewis Carroll's original.

Going back, looking at yearbook pictures of people I knew as a teen, reading the notes people wrote on the end papers has not been easy. On the plus side, I feel like I can be more present for my children now, because my mind isn't buzzing with old feelings.

Do you still have writing from when you were a child or teenager? How does it feel when you go back and read what that long ago person, who was you, had to say?

Here's some music to accompany you on your journey.

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