Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hush, Don't Tell Nobody Giveaway

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone!

February is almost here. I promised to post prompts for this year's month-long poetry project by January 25. (Read about the project here.) However, revisions for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE are due on Monday, January 26. So ... priorities.

When I need a break from revision work,
I make fake book covers with
the Pulp-O-Mizer cover maker.
Look for the list of 28 sound clips -- they will be our writing prompts -- by Wednesday. Friday at the latest. I swear!

I'm taking a short break from novel revisions to Poetry Friday with you. Yes, I just verbed a noun. Twice. That's what happens when you've been eating words for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Tara at A Teaching Life
is hosting the Poetry Friday
round-up today.
I'm excited to introduce all of you to poet Kyle Doty. Although he lives and teaches middle school in Florida, Kyle's first book will be published by Baltimore's Apprentice House Press in February. Apprentice House is a unique publisher, associated with Loyola University. It is the country's first student managed publishing house, and they do some pretty amazing books.

Kyle Doty has been kind enough to send an ARC of his chapbook, HUSH, DON'T TELL NOBODY, which one lucky commenter will win today!
You can pre-order at Amazon now,
or wait to buy the book directly
from Apprentice House.
Several things impress me about Kyle's poems. Many are drawn from his work as an educator. The poet is both a mentor to and a keen observer of his students. As the title of the book makes clear, Kyle takes on some tough issues in these poems, but they are issues that real teens face. He also has wonderful descriptions of place in the book. Indiana and Florida come to life in the imagery and details of Kyle's work.

I’m declaring a war on apathy!
– Dr. Kim Worth, year 1999/2000, 9th grade Drama teacher.
by Kyle Doty
I hope for rain in the evening,
for clear sky to give way
to low-hanging clouds, black
like rotten fruit swaying from
summer Maples. I ask for wind --
tempest strength -- and the crooked
rod of electricity that cuts through
twilight. For the sound of thunder
like a herd of elephants trampling
from the distance.
I pray for a storm that cleanses,
like wire brush on metal,

the ebony mood of indifference.


Kyle Doty is a Middle School English teacher. He lives in Southwest Florida--Tropicalia--with his family, where he is at work on his next collection of poetry. His new website will be up soon at

Thank you for sharing this poem, Kyle. I can't wait to pass your book along to one of the Poetry Friday readers.

Remember to leave a comment for your chance to win the ARC. Feel free to send Kyle Doty a thumbs up or congrats on his first book.

See you next week with our February poetry project prompts!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Poetry Friday: A Frozen Parody for Poets

Hello, Writerly Friends.

Are you a fan of Frozen, or are you ready to Let It Go?

This is how one classroom teacher
coped (or didn't) with Frozen-crazy students. 
I just received the second round of editorial notes for my middle grade novel in verse. Thanks to all of you who have been following the looooong journey that THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY has taken to publication. I promise ... this is connected to the movie Frozen.

But first...

Happy Host Day
to talented super-poet
Irene Latham!
All of the Poetry Friday links
are up Irene's blog,
Live Your Poem.

With suggestions from my editor, I wrote a lot of new material for my novel this fall. I tend to overwrite when I'm drafting. Testing out new poems helps me feel my way through the characters and plot. Then I put the draft aside for awhile and see which poems have staying power. Some will need revision. Others will be cut.

Before I head back into the revision cave -- my deadline's not In Summer, after all -- I'd like to share one of the new poems for Poetry Friday. This parody of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" won't make it into the published novel, but I think your writing students will like it. Especially when they're feeling frustrated.

I Don’t Want to Write a Sonnet

I don’t want to write a sonnet.
Sometimes I’ve got nothing to say.
I can never think of words that rhyme.
It takes too much time
writing every day.
Counting syllables is awkward,
too much like math,
It makes me want to cry.
I don’t want to write a sonnet.
Does it have to be a sonnet?
Tell me why.

I don’t want to write a sonnet,
a limerick, or triolet.
A writing break sounds really great.
Why don’t we pick a date?
How about today?
It gets a little tiring
sticking to rhyme schemes
when my thoughts would rather fly.

You say I have it in me
and it’s only fourteen lines.
You say this is a sloppy draft
and I’ll have time to craft
when we all revise.
We only have ten minutes
of writing time.
What am I going to do?

I don’t want to write a sonnet.

Here is a great cover of the original song from Frozen.

Why cut this piece? Not because I have a Frozen Heart. I think I wrote it for myself, rather than for one of my characters. The speaker feels a little too generic for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, which is told in the 18 voices of one fifth grade class. I had a great time writing this parody, though. I was totally venting some revision frustration.

Speaking of writing, February is coming up. That means the annual Author Amok Poetry Project is almost here. Thanks so much for all of you who suggested sounds we can use for writing prompts. When I need a break from novel revisions, I'm going to get our list of 28 sounds together. For the First Time in Forever, I can't wait to start writing!

And remember, it doesn't have to be a sonnet.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Announcing: Author Amok's 2015 Poetry Project

Happy New Year, Poetry Friday friends and readers!

This week's host is my dear friend, Tabatha,
at The Opposite of Indifference.
Stop by to join the poetry party.

Our first week back to school has been filled with snow, ice, delayed openings, a day off, semester exams, and single digit temperatures. Forget the nice, warm blanket. What I really want to snuggle up with is a routine.

If the winter doldrums and disruptions are affecting your writing time, let's get back on track together.

Every February, Author Amok is home to a daily writing prompt project.

In 2013, I wrote in response to vintage postcards.
In 2014, thirteen other authors joined me in writing poems and short prose reactions to Pantone paint colors. We wrote 115 original poems during the month of February.

Since we've written in response to visual prompts for the past two years ... cue drumroll...

The 2015 Poetry Project is
writing in response to sounds.

I hope to post links to the 28 sounds, selected from a variety of online sound archives, by January 25. My main sources for the sounds will be:

I need your help!

Between now and January 25, I have to come up with 28 prompt-worthy, writing-inspiring sounds for the project. I'm taking suggestions. If there is a sound clip you think would be perfect for this project, please post a link in the comments.

Here's an example -- from the Poetry Postcard project -- of how a sound clip can help inspire a poem or short prose piece.


Thrush Lane (Postcard 18)
by Laura Shovan

That thump
on our glass door –
a thrush. It let me
scoop it whole
into my palm,
stroke its
dappled breast,
make it calm.
I spoke to it
of taverns
the Drosselgasse
with song.
The thrush replied,
oh-lay oh-lee,
to the quiet

And here are is a little Martian sound poem to get you thinking:

There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier
by Matthew Rohrer

There is absolutely nothing lonelier
than the little Mars rover
never shutting down, digging up
rocks, so far away from Bond street
in a light rain. I wonder
if he makes little beeps?

You can listen to the sounds of the Mars Rover's 13-mile journey is this time lapse video from

I can't wait to hear your prompt suggestions. Here's one I like: Angel Chimes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Gift Shift 2

Today's host is Buffy Silverman.
Pass the latkes and head on
over to Buffy's blog
for some delicious poetic treats.

Last week, I started a brief holiday series on gift giving. Instead of presents under the tree or gelt beside the menorah, I'm "buying" for some wonderful literary non-profits.

I love this stackable travel menorah from Traditions.
Menorahs are in the news: The New York Post ran this
 adorable article on celebrity's and their menorahs

We have already looked at two organizations committed to social justice in the literary world and beyond. You can read about Split This Rock and We Need Diverse Books here.

Today, my focus is store-front literary centers. I picked one in Baltimore and one closer to Washington, D.C. Full disclosure: I am a member of both organizations.

What makes a great literary center? Things I look for are:

  • Provides a venue for literary readings.
  • Sponsors events such as literary gatherings, book signings, and plays.
  • A library or bookshop including member's books and/or literary magazines.
  • Writing classes focused on craft.
  • Programs for young writers.
  • Bonus: Workspace available for writers.


New on the local scene is Baltimore's LitMore. Poet Julie Fisher and company took over an unused rectory in Baltimore a little over two years ago. LitMore does all of the above, providing a cozy home for the sometimes scattered literary scene in our city. They also offer retreats and book discussion groups. Poet Christophe Cassamassima is in charge of the library. When my bookshelves get overcrowded, I like sending literary magazines and poetry chapbooks to Chris at LitMore.

Here is LitMore's schedule of upcoming events.
Interested in donating/becoming a member? Click here.


Based in the DC suburb of Bethesda, The Writer's Center has been around forever. They are huge supporters of their members, who can share news in the center's regular publication, which also includes their extensive list of courses taught -- and attended -- by fine local authors. Every weekend, you'll find top-notch authors and members with new books reading their work at TWC. The library is a great place to browse regional and national literary magazines if you're looking for places to submit your work to. They also offer craft classes in Alexandria, Virginia and Annapolis, Maryland, if you want to avoid commuting. Sue Ellen Thompson, whose work I featured earlier this fall, is a favorite instructor. You can also take classes with children's authors like Mary Quattlebaum.

Donate to The Writer's Center here.

Since it is Poetry Friday, here is a winter poem by Sue Ellen Thompson.

Falling on Ice
by Sue Ellen Thompson

You're in a hurry, rushing
out the door, just as the January sky

begins to pale. You're looking
at the geese that rise

in a consensus from the river so nearby
and for a moment you, too,

leave the earth and fly.
But as their undersides

pass over you, you
drop the way that blossoms

drop, their momentary
weightlessness turned instantly

to weight when their trajectory's
completed. And all day,

as you hold the wrist you hope
is just a sprain, you're thinking

not about the pain and not
about that moment when your weight

was lifted from you, but of the suddenness
with which the earth reclaimed you--

like the husband who relinquished you
six months ago with your assurances

that he should take the job,
that you'd be fine here on your own.

And now you cannot scrub a pot
or hook your bra without him.

Click here to order a copy of They.

Do you have a great literary center in your home town? Tell us about it in the comments.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Gift Shift

Happy Poetry Friday, Writerly Friends.

It's the holidays! Now that my teens are maturing, they are beginning to make the "gift shift." Their wish-lists are still important to them, but there's less focus on "Whaddya get?" (have you seen the Target ad?) and more on "What did you give?" -- finding a perfect little something for a special friend or teacher.

It's the holidays! Time to overindulge ... on poetry.
You'll find all the poetry treats at Paul's blog,
These Four Corners this week.
Part of my own gift shift is making a small donation to literary organizations whose work I value. For the last three posts of 2014, I'm going to highlight a few of these literary non-profits and invite you to add some of your own.

On my gift list this week are two groups working to promote social justice and diversity in the literary community.


Split This Rock is a Washington, DC based non-profit, known for its large biennial poetry festival. The next one is scheduled for April, 2016. Split This Rock sponsors a youth poetry slam team, organizes workshops, hosts readings, and runs contests. I'm thankful for the organization's focus on "socially engaged poets." You can read more about this non-profit's mission at the Split This Rock website.

You can also donate here. (You can specify that you'd like your donation to be used for youth programming. Watch this video if you'd like to know more.)

Here is a poem about recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri from the Split This Rock blog.

After the Darren Wilson Verdict: Civic Center Park. Denver, Colorado
by Nahshon Cook

When I arrived 
A middle-aged 

shaped woman

With hair as short as ants 
Was telling protesters

How those cops 
In Ferguson

Wanted them to riot. 
She said, They want 

To beat you 
With their sticks 

And take you to jail 
Because the “Establishment”

Has just thumbed 
It's nose at you 

It's amazing how quickly We Need Diverse Books has grown. It started as a hashtag this past April -- a call on Twitter for increased diversity in children's books. Authors, librarians, and readers pointed out that every kid deserves to see him or herself represented in literature. This includes increased cultural and ethnic diversity, but also more (and more complex) LGBTQ and neuro-diverse characters. I am all for that.

One of the things that pushed WNDB from movement to organized non-profit was a panel scheduled for this spring's Book Expo America which pretty much ignored the whole diversity issue. (Read an article about the resulting protest here.)

Although WNDB's Indiegogo campaign closed on 12/10/14 (with over 182% of their goal reached -- hooray!), you can still donate. Go to this page and click on "Donate" to support programs like WNDB's awards and grants in honor of children's author and poet Walter Dean Myers.

You can find Myers' poem, which inspired the title poem of Sharon Creech's novel in verse LOVE THAT DOG, here: "Love that Boy."

I'm hoping Marieke Nijkamp of We Need Diverse Books will visit Author Amok soon! We're trying to work out a good time.

Do you know of a literary organization committed to social justice? Tell us about it in the comments, and I will add it to this post with a shout-out to you.

Enjoy this season of giving, everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: Claudia Emerson

I'm back from my visit to the revision cave , but I can't celebrate my return to Poetry Friday today. I am so saddened by the news of Claudia Emerson's death yesterday. Her Pulitzer Prize winning collection, The Late Wife, is a must-read.

Today, I am sharing Emerson's interview with one of my mentors, poet Grace Cavalieri. Grace and Emerson spoke for Grace's long-running radio series (now podcast) "The Poet and The Poem."

Grace Cavalieri at the mic


Claudia Emerson1957 - 2014
It was first dark when the plow turned it up. 
Unsown, it came fleshless, mud-ruddled, nothing 
but itself, the tendon’s bored eye threading
a ponderous needle. And yet the pocked fist 
of one end dared what was undone 
in the strewing, defied the mouth of the hound 
that dropped it.
            The whippoorwill began 
again its dusk-borne mourning.
Read the rest at the Academy of American Poets.
Anastasia Suen is this week's
Poetry Friday host.
You will find all
of the links at Booktalking.

Monday, November 17, 2014

In Residence: Poetry Celebration

Today's the big day, third grade poets.

It's our poetry celebration at Manor Woods Elementary School. I've been in residence with the third grade for the last three weeks. Today, families are coming to listen to us read all of the poems we've been working so hard on.

It wouldn't be a party without food.

Let's jump into our celebration with some food poems by the Manor Woods third graders. During this workshop, we are concentrating on using our five senses to describe a food. Food is so tied up with family, memory, and traditions. I asked the poets to stretch themselves and give the reader a sense of what or who makes these foods important to them.

By Amira W.

The Ravens game starts, “Set hut.”
My mom makes my favorite dish!
Buffalo dip and mussels.
It’s so good. It smells delicious.
I can’t wait to eat it!
I hear footsteps coming.
That must be my mom.
She sets them at the table
And I started chomping them up
They taste so good.
I can’t wait until the next game!

By Shyla L.

It’s Thanksgiving day.
We are going to make apple crisp.
Mom gets the knives out.
Slice, slice, the apples are cut
Into tiny bits.
Chomp, chomp.
We fling a few in our mouths.
Mom gets the cake mix out.
Clank, clank goes the mixing spoon
When she pours the mix in
With some sweet sugar.
I could smell the apples
Mom put it into the oven to soften.
I take the baking tray out.

Apple crisp was the first thing
I learned to bake by myself.
A guilt-free recipe is here.
Cheese Burgers
By Rachel L.

Walking to the cafeteria after recess at school.
Smelling delicious cheese burgers.
The bread all plain with cheese on it.
Hearing the register go ching!
Also hear the meat sizzle.
Adding lettuce to my burger.
Sip! Drinking chocolate milk.
The sound of finally cleaning up.
Getting a duck slip for quietly waiting in line.
Cheese burgers are yummy!!

By Ryan P.

Going down in the morning
To have breakfast
Is a nice and peaceful breakfast
With no banging, crashing.
Get out the cereal and milk.
Splashing the milk in the bowl
Sip, chew, eating all the cereal.
Back to bed I go.

By Constantine E.

When I lived in Virginia,
There was a Costco nearby.
My mom let me get something
Cheap on the menu. I ordered
A hot dog. I hear them
Wrapping it up
And bringing it toward me.
I unwrapped it and my mouth
Started to water.
Crunch went the onion dispenser
When I was putting on the onions.
I put on ketchup and mustard
And I could almost taste it!
When I took my first bite,
I was clearly amazed.
It tasted like heaven,
Just in my hands!

Third graders -- you're going to love this video of our model poem, "Good Hotdogs" by Sandra Cisneros. It was made by kids.

By Andrew B.

Get the spoons, get ready
For spaghetti. Rumble, rumble
Bubble, bubble, bubble chicka chick.
Put it on the table.
Wop, wop, wop. I eat two bowls.
Mom and Dad and my older brother
Eat three each.
We ate at our house. I was full
And stopped eating.
The food was great.
I liked it, but then
Me and my brother played Wii.
It was fun. I should do this again.
It was fun.

By Evan T.

When I came back from soccer,
I asked Mom, “What’s for lunch?”
I smelled the dumplings
And it smelled tasty.
I took off my shoes
And went in the dining room
And sat down.
When the dumplings got on my plate
It was hot.
I grabbed a fork and started eating.
The meat inside the dumpling
Was delicious.

Wow, poets! Thanks for working extra onomatopoeia words into your food poems. Gold star!

Before we say goodbye, I'd like to share two more poems. Both of these are portraits, written in response to photographs clipped from a newspaper or magazine. I like the portrait workshop because it gives young writers a chance to show what deep thinkers and compassionate human beings they are. (You can find my portrait poem lesson at Author Amok. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

Portrait Poem
by Marcus Z.

I look at the shelf,
getting a book for me and my wife to read.
The book's name is Spongebob.
So funny to read that.
Me and my wife like to read.
We hope to have children
that are like us.
We hope the children love
Spongebob the  movie or book.
We just hope to have children
that are like us.

Portrait Poem
By Roman R.

A guitarist’s pet dog just died
And he’s singing a sad, sad song
About his dog Billy Bob Joe Bob.
He was white and black.
He was just like his guitar
And sad like his guitar.
He sings all night
With his cool cowboy suit on.
His badge shines
In the half faded darkness.
His boots are down
And his head is up.
He is trying to fight off the darkness
But he can’t.

If you'd like to read more poems from the Manor Woods poetry residency, here are the links:

Howl-oween Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia Lesson 1
Onomatopoeia Lesson 2
Opposites Poems
Food and Portrait Poems (You're already here!)

All student poems posted here with permission. Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am taking a break from blogging until December 1.