April 12, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 22

We were driving down a highway -- my father at the wheel, my mother in the passenger seat. I was in the back with my brother, who must have been an infant.

I began to read the advertising Billboards. There were no Bob Books or Dick and Jane Primers. Before that car ride, I understood what letters were, but not what their job was. A magic wand touched my brain. The library fairy visited me. The synapses began to purr. I was reading.

For National Poetry Month, I've been posting a different Maryland poet each day. Here is Maryland poet Margaret S. Mullins with "Kindergarten," a poem that captures the feeling of being new to reading.

by Margaret S. Mullins

She's five and wears a uniform
of khaki pants and dark blue shirts.
She says she's ten and rides a horse;
her teacher says she talks too much.
She's learned now what those symbols do,
the ones in books and on the sings
and in the Sunday New York Times.
They all mean sounds, and she knows how
to pull them with her mouth into
the sounds that make the magic words
that open up enchanted worlds
where princesses and dragons dwell
and she is ten and rides a horse.

Posted with permission of the author. You can find more of Margaret's work here.

Writing Exercise:
We've been talking about transitions in the last two days. Yesterday, Sue Ellen Thompson's poem "Napping" showed the gentle transition of an elderly parent -- out of routine and into the unknown of late life.

Today, Margaret S. Mullins shows a child transitioning, not just from non-reader to reader, but to a person who has a sense of self and some idea about who she will be in the future.

Both poems are portraits. Both use telling details (the afghan in "Napping," the New York Times in "Kindergarten") to help us know the subject of the portrait.

Let's work with the telling detail today. Write a brief portrait of someone you know. It  might be a good idea to begin with free writing -- a big, lumpy paragraph. The revealing detail will sneak in there. When you read over your work and say, "How did a Beta Fish get in there?" you'll know you're on the right track.

Hosting Poetry Friday today is Kate at Book Aunt. Enjoy! There's only one more NPM Poetry Friday left.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 21

It's Day 21 of National Poetry Month. I'm blogging from sunny Bradenton, Florida -- spending spring break with my family.

Three generations living in the same house:  my parents, my husband and me, and my children. With a teenager in the mix, and my father about to celebrate his 70th birthday, relationships are in a state of flux.

At last weekend's Baltimore CityLit Festival, we had a panel discussion about our new poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire -- which features love poems by Maryland poets.

Panelist Barbara Westwood Diehl wrote the introduction to the "Friends and Family" section of Life in Me. It was interesting to hear what she had to say -- that family relationships are complicated things.

That is the case in Sue Ellen Thompson's poem, "Napping." She captures a shift in the relationship between mother and daughter.

My mother, who had walked six miles,
six days a week for years, knew
that her life was ending.  One day she smiled
at me and said, “I’m not in the mood
for walking today.  I think I’ll take
a nap instead.” She never napped
before lunch.  But how else could she say
it?  All morning she lay wrapped
in an afghan on the sofa, her eyes intent
upon a pattern taking shape in the air. 

Read the rest of the poem at Sue Ellen's website.

If you're local to Maryland, Sue Ellen is teaching some workshops in May at the Writers' Center's new Annapolis satellite location.

Sue Ellen's poem, "Shaken," is the source of the poetry anthology's title: Life in Me Like Grass on Fire.

Writing Exercise:
Sometimes it is the small moments that signify large changes in people.

For my 14 year-old son, a disappearing act during my high school friend's visit with her kids told me he'd hit the in-betweens -- not comfortable playing with the children, not comfortable chatting with the adults.

In "Napping," the nap itself is the signifier of a shift in the mother.

Can you pinpoint a small moment that marked a change in a family member?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 20

Big Lots, Wal-Mart, the airport or amusement park -- all are great for people watching.

How often have you traveled home from shopping, shaping in your mind a report for your mother, sister, significant other: "You won't believe what I saw at the mall!"

We were at Busch Gardens in Tampa yesterday. While I was getting soaked on a river-rafting ride with the kids, my mother watched safely from a bridge. As soon as we were off the ride, she told us about a man she observed. He'd fed quarter after quarter into a water cannon, shooting bursts of spray at the people on the rafts.

My Maryland poet of the day is Kathleen Hellen. She also goes by the name Shiori, and has a new book out under that name: The Girl Who Loved Mothra.

Kathleen's poem, "Neither Can You Steal," begins with an observation -- people talking in a parking lot. How much of the poem is "real" doesn't matter. There is emotional truth in the experience Kathleen describes here.

Neither Shall You Steal

by Kathleen Hellen

After shopping at the Big Lots, headed for the car,
she sees the child has something in his fist.
“What’s this?” she asks, leaning in,
his small fingers locked around an artificial
flower. A silk gentian from China, so breathtakingly real
she has to feel it when he holds it up, and she says, “Joey,”
the shadow of a frown descending on a child’s right from wrong.
She knows she taught him better— “It’s for you,” he says,

Read the rest of the poem here.

Writing Exercise:
Next time you out and about and observe a conversation that catches your ear, think about what you found interesting. In Kathleen's poem, it's how the child and the mother's perceptions of the same event are wildly different.

Let's use "Neither Should You Steal" as a model and write in the third person this time. Keep yourself out of the poem, an omniscient observer. Let the dialogue and body language speak for itself, without allowing the narrator to act as judge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 19

National Poetry Month spring break continues.

We've had an "Iced Latte" with Shirley Brewer, gone on a family outing with Sonia Linebaugh, and today we are at the beach with Barbara Westwood Diehl -- all Maryland poets. All three have work in the anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems.

In today's poem, Barbara looks at something we often try to overlook: vacation traumas. My memories are filled with them -- my brother's hand closed in a hotel door (he still has the pins in his fingers), my friend Pam coming home from Ocean City with the worst black eye you've ever seen (her youngest daughter was the accidental culprit).

Even when the family in the poem moves their  beach towels away from an upsetting scene, and the poem moves on, the family -- and the reader -- can't forget what has been seen.

by Barbara Westwood Diehl
We are on vacation. We migrate every morning toward the shore,
scattered, at first, like kites pulled through the sky on taut strings,
then reeled in, an embroidery of beach umbrellas on sand.

Every morning, we pull toward the ocean. We are refugees
stumbling through sand, carrying babies and beach blankets.
Planes pull banners through the sky, telling us where to go.

There are boats, but not for us. We watch them far away,
the sailboats and fishing boats, the cruise ships and cargo ships.
They are our horizon. When boats come close, we wave at them.

We do this every day. We walk among the living and the dead
the ocean leaves for us. The waves have swept a sea turtle to shore,
fearsome even in death, like a long sunken ship raised from the deep.

We cannot look away. There are always the claws and shells,
the empty eyes of fish, but the turtle is whole. The great head
lolls like a grandfather's. The arms and legs dig like a child's.

Read the rest of the poem at Tarpaulin Sky.

Writing Exercise:
You know you have a vacation story. We all do.

The temptation is to put the surprise or turn -- in "Migration" it's spotting the dead turtle -- at the end of the poem. For today's poem, though, let's avoid ending with a bang. Put your dark moment closer to the middle of the poem. Let the people in the poem try to get on with their holiday. See what happens.

National Poetry Month Issue 18

National Poetry Month is also spring break for most schools in Maryland.

My Maryland poet of the day is Sonia Linebaugh. "Where Does the Water Go?" looks at a family outing, ending with an observation that could only come from a little one.

A writing prompt follows.

Where Does the Water Go?
by Sonia Linebaugh

The boy grinned at his brother, 
pleased to be out in raincoat 
and boots on a wild wet day, 
socks on his hands to hold back the chill. 
More children arrived, two shy, two adventuresome, 
one in a pack on his father’s back.

The ranger pointed to the 
hard surface of the parking lot, 
glass floating like bubbles in the asphalt. 

The kids splashed in puddles.
Where does the water go?

Adults and kids followed the flow:
a swale with water plants, 
a little ditch, a pipe under the car exit, 
a smaller ditch into a tiny pond 
heaped with sticks at one end, 
too tidy to be the work of beavers.

Humans made this dam 
with a wide slit to let water fall. 
The kids hurried alongside, 
smelling the nearness of Back Creek, 
feeling their way to the Chesapeake Bay.

The ranger talked and pointed. 
Parents smiled with one eye on 
children for signs of boredom or chill. 

The one in the pack slept,
drooling on his father’s shoulder. 
Another peed behind a tree.

The boy with socks on his hands 
held up a fallen leaf as big as his face.
Look, Mommy. The water peed on this leaf.

Posted with permission of the author. 

Writing Exercise:
Every family has  "kids say/do the darndest things" stories. One of ours involves a 75th birthday party, a fudge cake wider than an extra large pizza, and a two year old with fork at the ready.

What makes Sonia's poem rise above family chestnut is the sensory detail of the poem -- socks on the hands, glass bubbles in the asphalt, the baby asleep on dad's back.

For this poem, tell a family story. Try to remember (or imagine) enough detail that the story becomes real for your reader.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Poetry Month Issue 17

It's day 17 of my National Poetry Month project.

That shimmering goddess of poetry, Shirley J. Brewer, is my Maryland poet of the day.

I'm headed for Florida this morning, where I'll be enjoying the hot sun, cool ocean water, and iced treats.

Your writing prompt for today is a food poem. Let's look at Shirley's model:

Iced Latte
by Shirley J. Brewer

Tall           Mt. Rainier           14.411 feet
Super       Mt. McKinley        20,320 feet
Grandė     Mt. Everest           29.035 feet

My massive mocha
comes with a mini-oxygen mask:
coffee with an altitude.

A scoop of sweet snow
captures the summit,
drizzles down the side.

Ice cubes glisten
like tiny glaciers.
I radio for chocolate sprinkles.

No Sherpa guides, I slurp alone
through a tall white straw.
Caffeine attacks my mental clouds.

My brain crackles with adrenaline,
a mountain of chores
disappears and a cold caloric wind
blows my doldrums away.

Posted with permission of the author.

Writing Exercise
Food odes are always fun -- especially when the ode is about a food we love. Shirley J. Brewer takes her poem a step further, though, by using metaphor. From the opening "elevation" list, the poem makes use of the caffeine = altitude concept by incorporating it into each stanza.

Come up with a metaphor for your favorite (or least favorite) food. In each stanza of your poem, find a way to build on the comparison.