Friday, February 23, 2018

cracking up, raising up

So much good news for the master poets among us!  This week it seems better to be a full-time poet than a full-time teacher: I am Tired and Emotional despite two days of freakishly May weather, ample use of sunlamp, and efforts to remember to dance.    I am discouraged.

First response: give in and wallow.  Here's a song--were you listening to this in 1979?--that I've rediscovered and that seems to speak to the moment.  #lyricsaspoetry

Thank you for being Tired and Emotional with me.  Now here's an antidote.  This is a poem by an unassuming Unitarian Universalist minister that was read in my service recently.  It makes me feel.......encouraged.

LET THE ARTISTS WIN | Bob Janis-Dillon

I vote we let the artists win
the ones covered in paint from their last attempt
to smuggle across the beauty of a bowl of fruit
the 14-year-old rapper learning to spit
throwing life's chaos on the rhythm wheel
uncovering the shapes that live on after the next break

I say we let the food bank volunteers win
the ones always carrying around their agenda
for the meeting, waging campaigns
to stock shelves with bread

I would like to see the nurses extend their string of victories
from the hospital bed to the nation's boardrooms
until we care for each other as if death
were inevitable and mercy was the only thing
that made the rounds bearable

I say we let the kindergarten teachers win
as they raise up small edifices
for the beauty words
will never capture or reveal

Maybe even let the helpless drunkard win sometimes,
when she cries into her beer
and declares it's all too much

I will let the grandmothers win
when they tell the old stories
that hold me in their keeping

And the children yelling
play! play! The ones who have already cost us so much
of our final productivity
the only tyrants who can command
the true attention of the wise
I want them to win too
again and again
without pity

and then when the men with guns come
we can say I'm sorry
but whether you win or lose
it's really never been my game sir
I have lost
and lost again a thousand wars of the heart
and those to whom I have waved the white flag
those to whom
I have surrendered
the whole and holy of my life
will never
let me go

There are too many soul-thumping moments in this to list them all...but let me tell you, when my minister read the words "I say we let the kindergarten teachers win," and three people sitting close to me reached over to touch my shoulder or look in my eyes, their acknowledgment mattered.

And now I'm off to school, to
"raise up today's small edifices
for the beauty words
will never capture or reveal."

The round-up today is hosted by Liz--long time no see!--at her blog Elizabeth Steinglass.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cybils Poetry Award 2017!

Poetry Award selected by Joy Acey, Linda Baie, Kate Hillyer, Heidi Mordhorst & Buffy Silverman

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

No one is immune to stress in this era of political rancor and natural disaster, including kids. Luckily, a stress-busting antidote is served up in the impeccably rhymed I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups, written by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith. Hilarious, sweet, and thought-provoking, this collection bowled the judges over with its bouncing rhythms, dazzling word play, and rank foolishness. (And the judges weren’t the only ones–review copies kept disappearing into the bedrooms and backpacks of nearby middle-graders.)

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a literary tour de force that consistently delights. It’s A. A. Milne crossed with Shel Silverstein, seasoned with a dash of Oscar Wilde and a hint of Ellen Degeneres. It reads like a giant inside joke–a joke that anyone with a funny bone and a few minutes to read can get inside. (Except for 11 ½- year-olds. They have to come back when they are 12. Just read the jacket flap.)

There are stunning visual quips like "The Duel," where the letters b and d face off (it doesn’t go well, resulting in p and q). There’s an ongoing feud between Harris and Smith, as seen in "I Don’t Like My Illustrator" and its lovely accompanying portrait of the author. It has groan-worthy puns, ("The Old Woman Who Lived in Achoo") and plenty of the absurd ("Just Because I’m a Turkey Sandwich and Some Chips Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Feelings Too, You Know!") Masterfully sprinkled throughout the silly, naughty, and nonsensical are poignant moments like "I’m Shy on the Outside:"

I’m the life of the party here under my skin.
So keep knocking—
Someday I might let you in.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming will make poetry lovers of young and old, from any background and experience, even the poetry skeptics–it’s just subversive enough that kids will be passing it around the playground like contraband candy. Best of all, it will make them laugh. Giggle. Chortle. Guffaw. And couldn’t we all use a little more of that these days?

For anyone who's interested in how this decision-making works: there's a nominations period, after which Round 1 readers (typically people with more flexible schedules than I have!) read all the nominated books and come up with a shortlist of approximately 7 finalists.  Then, between Jan. 1 and Feb.14, announcement day, Round 2 readers read those finalist titles, critique, discuss, rant, pronounce, waffle, rank, persuade, and finally agree which book earns the award.

The Cybils Awards Mission is very helpful in this selection process:
The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

The round-up today is hosted by Jone at Check It Out, and thanks to Jone also for her work behind the scenes rounding up the Judging Panel of mostly Poetry Friday regulars who helped to choose this book.  And now, SO much goodness in one double-page spread....Check it out!

Friday, February 9, 2018

february ekphrasis

Laura Shovan's annual birthday month poetry project has burgeoned this year!  Even after setting a limit of 100 participants for the Facebook group, more have petitioned for entry and now well over 100 are looking each day at a piece of art from someone's own home collection and writing about it, or in more cases, from it--taking all different kinds of inspiration.

I too am joining in as able, and below are the pieces I've described (which is all that the word ekphrasis means).  Thanks to Laura and to Kip Wilson Rechea, a fellow author who's helping Laura mind the very busy ekphrasis store!

textile by Morag Gilbart

Thanks for bearing with the unpolished but very fun and challenging quips and snips!  Speaking of which, if you haven't learned about the awesome Windows Snipping Tool which has literally changed my life as a teacher and a blogger, you should:

The round-up today is hosted by Sally Murphy over down under.  See you there, and see you next Wednesday, Valentine's Day, for the announcement of the Cybils Poetry Award winner!  Can't wait to share the big news!

Friday, January 26, 2018

writing from research: 2nd grade poems

As last year, one of our big projects in 2nd grade is researching and writing informatively about "special places," which I link with our geography objectives by narrowing (or broadening!) to habitats or ecosystems.  This year our information brochures covered forests, both temperate and rain, grasslands and coral reefs.  To close our project, we read selections from Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Rejoice! by Mendon Center Elementary 3rd Grade and Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs to inform and inspire our habitat poems.

As always, I know that our Poetry Friday and Writing Workshop have been effective when just about all my 7- or 8-year-olds can strike out on their own poetry paths, making empowered decisions about what and how to express their learning in poetic form.  Enjoy!



This week's Poetry Friday round-up is a veritable blizzard of opportunity with Carol at Beyond Literacy Link.  Flurry on over to join in.

Friday, January 19, 2018

cybils poetry finalists

This year I'm serving again as a final-round judge for the Cybils Poetry Award, which you can read all about by clicking the link.  In this arduous but pleasant task I'm joined by four other children's and young adult literature bloggers whom you should get to know, if you don't know them already!  They are:

Joy Acey at Poetry for Kids Joy
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Kate Hillyer at Kid Book List
Buffy Silverman at Buffy's Blog

The nominated books this year range widely from humorous to historical, from parody to honorifics, from collections for the youngest to a Greek myth versified for the YA set. And here (drum roll, please) are the seven contenders this year:

David Elliott
ISBN: 9780544610606

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers' Market
Michelle Schaub
ISBN: 9781580895477

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming:
And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups
Chris Harris
ISBN: 9780316266574

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies
J. Patrick Lewis
ISBN: 9781590789216


Miguel's Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote
Margarita Engle
ISBN: 9781561458561

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
Nikki Grimes
ISBN: 9781619635548

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
Kwame Alexander   
ISBN: 9780763680947

What a treat, to have to dig deeply into these seven books over the next month!  The winner will be announced, by tradition, on Valentine's Day, lending a new poetic flavor to the celebration of LOVE!

Our round-up today is  at A Journey Through the Pages with Kay (aka Ms. McGriff). Mail yourself over to join the panoply of postcards!

Friday, January 5, 2018

rekiddifying for the new year

Happy New Year! May it actually be so, for all of humankind (kind being the operative word).

I've been doing a lot of writing for my adult self lately, and while that's going well (in the sense of being challenging and revealing and effective), in reading for Cybils judging I have remembered that I also write for kids, supposedly.  So that will be my focus this month.

sweeping the snow

swinging the broom   swinging the broom
      powder clouds and sprays

dragging the broom   dragging the broom
     white lines slide and stay

pounding the broom   pounding the broom
      lightness leaps away

spinning the broom   spinning the broom
      snowdust-flow ballet

draft (c) HM 2018

The round-up for this new year beginning is at Reading to the Core with Catherine, who's featuring the important book by Irene Latham and Charles Waters called Can I Touch Your Hair?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

art of losing: welcome to the round-up, and tree cycle

Welcome to all on this last Poetry Friday of 2017!  If you are new to our Poetry Friday tradition, please let Renee at No Water River explain it all to you, and to old friends--I greet you with virtual hugs.  You all know how valuable this community is.

At this time of year there is a tree in my house, just as there is likely a tree in yours.  Even if you are not Christian (and perhaps especially if you are pagan), you may have a a special tree residing indoors right now: cut or living, evergreen or white PVC, electrified or candlefied--and is a menorah is a tree of sorts as well?  It's my favorite thing at this time of year to come down early, switch on the lights, and come to in the glow of our indoor tree, which gives its life for our celebration of the rebirth of the sun and the hope of spring--noel noel.  I'm never tired of this poem.

[little tree] | E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
our little tree
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

I have always been a tree-hugger.  This poem is from Squeeze and can be dated to approximately 1972; below is my daughter visiting the very cedar mentioned in the poem in 2006 (click here to see it on a map).

How to Run Away | Heidi Mordhorst

Take money.  Pack light.  Coast your bike
down the fastest hill in the neighborhood.
The one by the Baptist church is good.

Claim a weeping willow:  plunge through
hanging curtains to find a private room.
The swish of long leaves keeps you company.

Or lie under a cedar with triple trunks
capturing air and space above you.
Its needles make a pungent carpet.

Or climb a dense magnolia.  There are
leathery leaves to hide you from enemies,
fuzzy grenades to lob through the branches.

Then go shopping.  You don’t need much:
saltines, peanut butter, a carton of milk.
Your finger makes a perfect knife.

Now move in and build your nest.
Hang your bag on a twiggy hook.

Stay.  Eat.  Read your book.
Stay until you know they’re worried.
Stay until you miss your brother.
      Stay until the shadows cool your mood.

Then pump your book, your bag, your bike
back up that hardest hill
toward home.


I'm always watching the trees in my yard, those close by in my neighborhood, the ones across the field from my 2nd-floor classroom.  Joyce Sidman captures their essential wisdom in this poem from Winter Bees (2014)  which we can't get enough of.

What Do the Trees Know? | Joyce Sidman
Illustration by Rick Allen

What do the trees know?

To bend when all the wild winds blow.
Roots are deep and time is slow.
All we grasp we must let go.

What do the trees know?

Buds can weather ice and snow.
Dark gives way to sunlight’s glow.
Strength and stillness help us grow.


So as always I was communing pretty closely with the trees when my spouse surprised me the other morning with a report on the 80-foot tulip poplar we share with a neighbor.  "It's confirmed unhealthy and we need to take it down before it falls on our roof," she said, and there I was crying into my son's lunchbox.

Dec. 27
one of our trio of tulip trees, 18??-2018

"All we grasp we must let go All we grasp we must let go All we grasp we must let go."  I repeat
and repeat what the trees know, but this tall tulip that hugs our patio, shades our outdoor table,
drops honey-bearing nectar on us all May, that stood here long before the patio, long before
the house indeed (coincidentally born the same year as I), that stood in a wood I can
 barely imagine, unmapped, unloved, not a feature but a creature of an unpeopled
landscape—this  tall
tulip with its  straight
trunk   unlimbed   to
30  feet, is  precious
to me. I should speak
for  this  tree, save  it  
from  our ill human
meddling,  but  good
sense, this tree's own
deep-rooted  wisdom
counsels me: stillness.
Bend, give way; strength
and stillness, stillness helps us grow.

draft (c) HM 2017

May it be so with the eternal internal conflict:  when to stand strong in resistance, when to bend, when to let go?  The rooted stillness itself becomes the greatest challenge. 

But, once let go, there may be another kind of rebirth: to wit, craft worked upon the fallen tree.  My brother lost an American black walnut tree some years ago and finally reclaimed the wood in the form of several gorgeous pieces given as gifts this Christmas.  The wheel of the tree at the turning of the year.

Looking forward to seeing what portents you all have for the New Year!  Leave your link below, and as the French say, neatly avoiding any religious sentiment at all, 

meilleurs voeux a tous pour la nouvelle année!!