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

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.