How to teach poetry? “This has always worked: find the material in your own life.” ~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~
Penny Kittle tweeted this last night from the Boothbay Literacy Retreat, quoting a line from Naomi Shihab Nye, the evening’s “Distinguished Lecturer.” I had been thinking about this very idea earlier in the afternoon after I saw this on my way home:
Needless to say, I did a double take. So I drove home, parked the car, and the dog and I walked back to the field to capture the moment. The camera on my phone really doesn’t do justice to the scene, so I’ll try to paint a picture with words.
A balloon bouquet, astray on a summer breeze, touched down in a sun-drenched meadow to dance with butterflies.
I hope you all have a chance to enjoy a few sun-drenched afternoons this summer!
Each month, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has a poetry challenge over at her blog, Today’s Little Ditty. This month, her guest poet, Corey Rosen Schwartz, challenged readers to “Write a stanza or two about building a treehouse and challenge yourself to come up with a rhyme word that is two or more syllables. “
Well, I managed one pair of rhyming multisyllabic words in this poem inspired by my boys. And although their tree climbing days are long past, they still like to play in the woods.
When you’re feeling boisterous, rowdy, shouty, roisterous, go outside and find a tree that you can call your own.
One that has a flat, wide space between the branches that can brace a treehouse hideout that you can call your own.
Find a friend to help you hoist smooth pine planks for each floor joist plywood walls and a flat tin roof that you can call your own.
Once you’ve built your private lair twenty feet up in the air, you can jump and stomp and shout in a treehouse all your own.
Be careful as you prance about. The ground’s a long way down!
My school is undergoing some renovations this summer and several teachers are moving to new classrooms. Because of this, people were cleaning and weeding like mad during the last few weeks of school. I am not moving, but should have been doing my own weeding. Instead, I couldn’t resist going through other people’s discard piles. Unbelievably, I found a copy of Paul B. Janeczko’s Poetry from A to Z: A Guide for Young Writers (Simon and Schuster, 1994).
I’ve been savoring this anthology, which includes poems by Valerie Worth, Myra Cohn Livingston, Ralph Fletcher, Eve Merriam, and more. Many poems are accompanied by notes of advice and guidance from the poets themselves. My favorite so far is this piece of wisdom from Georgia Heard:
“I write first drafts with only the good angel on my shoulder, the voice that approves of everything I write. This voice doesn’t ask questions like, ‘Is this good? Is this a poem? Are you a poet?’ I keep that voice at a distance, letting only the good angel whisper to me: ‘Trust yourself.’ You can’t worry a poem into existence.”
This is exactly the encouragement I need as I write the first draft of a poetry project I’ve been working on. School demands have been draining and distracting me for the past few months, so I haven’t gotten too far beyond pages of notes. But now that summer is here, I’ll be at my desk every day with that good angel on my shoulder, trying not to worry, trusting myself.
Summer. The very word conjures images of long afternoons with a book. Whether at the beach or stretched out in hammock under a tree, I’m looking forward to reading. A lot. Except for Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo, my stack of middle-grade novels is embarrassingly out of date. I’ll be making regular trips to the library to find more recent titles, including The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley andpicture books like Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and Julia Sarcone Roach’s The Bear Ate Your Sandwich.
I also have a pile of professional books that includes Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing Teacher and Vocabulary Is Comprehension, by Laura Robb. I’m looking forward to having the new Units of Study for Teaching Reading, by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project sometime in early July.
Finally, there are several poetry books I’m looking forward to reading, including Jane Hirshfield’s Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World and The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko.
This list may change over the weeks ahead. Another joy of summer reading is having time to browse the library stacks or tables at the bookstore and find an undiscovered gem. What will you be reading?
Last weekend, my husband and I went camping in the Adirondacks. Our campsite was tucked away in a quiet corner of the campground overlooking a creek. The sound of water flowing over the rocks lulled us to sleep each night and woke us each morning. Friday morning, I sat watching the stream hurry past and noticed a small eddy next to the bank just below our campsite. This little pool of calm water looked so inviting, I was tempted to risk the steep hillside to go wading. (I didn’t; the drop was too close to vertical for my aging bones!)
It occurred to me, though, that I was already in an eddy of sorts. Escaping the hustle and bustle of school in early June is something I’ve never done, never even considered. And yet a weekend filled with hikes through the woods, afternoons with a book, and evenings by the fire was exactly what I needed to steel myself for the stress of the tasks I have to complete over the next two weeks. So today, while I was totaling book orders and scheduling curriculum writing time and working on a dozen other duties, I took a deep breath and pictured that little eddy, peaceful and serene, while the torrent went rushing by.
At the beginning of May, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, of Today’s Little Ditty, posted a lovely interview with Nikki Grimes. At the end of the interview, Grimes challenged readers to write a “wordplay exercise and create your own free verse poem” based on a word chosen from a short list. Be sure to head over to Michelle’s blog to read all of the poems contributed for this challenge.
I’ve been playing with this all month. First I picked lemon, but wasn’t happy with the results. Once I started thinking about bell, the possibilities and references in popular culture seemed endless. If I had more time, I think it would be fun to create a found poem just from lines in songs and movies. Here is my current draft:
Bell is a heralding word— Whether pealing in joy
or tolling in grief;
clanging on trains
or ding-donging on doors,
a bell says, “Listen to me!”
Bells are blue in the garden and silver on sleighs.
Bells of brass
sound on ships at sea.
Bells wake us each morn, they urge us to flee;
they can jangle our nerves
or proclaim angels’ new wings.
Once the town crier, now they ping on our phones.
Whatever song they send
through the sky,
Bells cry out “Listen to me!”