April 12, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: "I could steal a friend"

With 50+ inches of snow on the ground, no school, and dangerous roads, this has been a great week to stay in and revise.

What are you working on? My main project for the last 18 months has been a middle grade yearbook-in-verse, THE COUGAR CHRONICLE. It combines persona and occasional poems in the voices of one fifth grade class. (Read past posts about the book here and here.)

The poems are inspired by/draw from Edgar Lee Masters 1915 book, Spoon River Anthology. Imagine you are standing in a graveyard outside Chicago, and as you pass each headstone, the person buried there speaks about who he was, what her dreams were, disappointments, secret loves.

Some of my persona poems relate directly to those in Masters book. Here's a Masters poem, followed by one from THE COUGAR CHRONICLE.

by Edgar Lee Masters

I grew spiritually fat living off the souls of men.
If I saw a soul that was strong
I wounded its pride and devoured its strength.
The shelters of friendship knew my cunning,
For where I could steal a friend I did so.
And wherever I could enlarge my power
By undermining ambition, I did so,
Thus to make smooth my own.
And to triumph over other souls,
Just to assert and prove my superior strength,
Was with me a delight,
The keen exhilaration of soul gymnastics.
Devouring souls, I should have lived forever.
But their undigested remains bred in me a deadly
With fear, restlessness, sinking spirits,
Hatred, suspicion, vision disturbed.
I collapsed at last with a shriek.
Remember the acorn;
It does not devour other acorns.

Ashlie's Awesome Acrostic
by Laura Shovan

As President of the
Student Council, T.J. Furst thinks he runs this school.
He's into Democracy. Monarchy is more my style.
Leave ruling the school to me.
I am Queen of Columbia Elementary.
Every kid here knows my name,

So I'm as much a leader as
T.J. Furst.
Even better. I got to the top without one speech.
Politics? I have other ways to keep control.
Half the fifth grade is already
Afraid of me. The other half? Who
Needs those
Idiots and geeks?
Even kids who say they

Hate me wish they could be my friends.
As if. You think you're
Unique? Better watch your back, because I will
Knock you down.

Since it's almost Valentine's Day, I'm sending a heart full of gratitude to some people who have cheered on this project. Children's author Deborah Da Costa gave me an A+ on some early poems. Agent Michael Stearns and author Ellen Hopkins' critiques helped me expand the original idea and focus the narrative.

But super-love to my friend, writer Marjory Bancroft, who has given me both high praise and tough love constructive criticism because she believes THE COUGAR CHRONICLE has something important to say...that kids in fifth grade are "individuals yearning to be seen and desperate to be recognized for who they are."

Thanks to Lee Wind for hosting Poetry Friday today. Share more love and poetry at Lee's site, "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?"


jama said...

Interesting project, Laura. A novel idea. Enjoyed Ashlie's Awesome Acrostic!

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Jama. It has been the most fun project I've ever worked on. I love thinking through and hearing the students' voices. Ashlie is a strong character throughout the yearbook-in-verse.

Unknown said...


Wow, an acrostic so full of character that Ashlie seems real! Well done!

Laura Evans

Author Amok said...

I'm working on her final poem of the book right now. Does she stay nasty, or learn she's not all that?

Mary Lee said...

Yikes! You got Ashlie so "right" that it's scary! (and perfectly mirrored the Masters poem!!)

Make her learn. Definitely make her learn, but don't make it easy and don't make it happen too soon. Jerry Spinelli kept Crash awful right up to the end of the book and even then he didn't change all that much, but you knew there was finally a crack in that awful veneer.

Author Amok said...

A crack in the veneer -- that's a perfect way to phrase it, Mary Lee! Thanks for the feedback. Still (always?) working on revisions.