Artist: Marilyn Ackerman

 

Last week I shared the poem I wrote in response to Marilyn Ackerman’s inspiration piece (as part of our participation in Spark!). As her inspiration piece, I sent Marilyn the poem below, which I wrote at the end of the summer, as our middle child headed off to college.

 

On the eve of your departure

You leave your socks around the house
like snake skins, abandoned
under the table, by the couch, wherever
you happened to be when you kicked
them off. I was never able to break you
of the habit, no matter how many times
I asked. You’re leaving. I’m sitting
with my sadness, trying not to fold it up
and stuff it in a drawer. I wonder
who will go with me to the Lord and Taylor
to make fun of the clothes? Who
will go with me when I get my hair cut? Who
will go with me to the movies no one else
wants to see? It’s days before the answer
comes to me. These moments will curl
into memories, scattered around the house
like socks.

© Elizabeth Steinglass 2019

 

Marilyn’s response is posted above. I love the tone of the collage, the colors, texture, and movement. It feels somber, hopeful, and complicated to me. It feels a little like a room opening up, and there seems to be a cube leaving the wall. Is that a heart to the left? There’s both stillness and action. I find it fascinating that Marilyn included the bit of music at the bottom because our second child often used to sing and play music, and the house is missing that now.

 

I am sure I will do Spark again. I hope some of you will join me.

Happy Poetry Friday!

Liz

Summer is over, school has begun, and I am happily enjoying more time to write. To kick off the season, I signed up for Spark! Four times a year, organizer, Amy Souza, matches artists and writers who send each other pieces to inspire the creation of new work over 10 days. It’s a fabulous way to find inspiration and community.

I was matched with artist Marilyn Ackerman, who sent me this piece:

 

I was immediately taken by the man pointing with his very pointy hand at the planet, the green and brown colors, and the materials which appeared to be reused and arranged in a collage. For me the piece pushed me in the direction of thinking about climate change. I often find it challenging to write about issues without being heavy-handed or predictable. I tried a few different approaches that felt either too easy or too pedestrian. For me, this early part of the process is always the hardest. Though I’ve written many, many poems, not knowing how to start can feel stressful. When I wasn’t happy with my first few efforts, I reminded myself I could start over. I tried another option, with the goal of untethering myself from reality a little more. That’s when I came up with this:

 

What if?

What if the Earth
was small
as a beach ball,
light enough to toss and catch
and tuck in your lap?

What if it was
so small
a butterfly could hover
over continents?

What if we could see
our globe’s white poles dissolving
into pools of blue that nibble
at the edges of green and brown puzzle pieces,
smoke rising from pinpricks,
storms swirling above the surface,
all at once in front of us?

What if we
were as large as gods,
as wise as farmers?
What would we do
with this tossable ball
in our hands?

© Elizabeth Steinglass 2019

 

Next week I’ll share the inspiration piece I sent Marilyn and her response.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong at Poetry for Children. Happy reading!

 

Welcome to Poetry Friday!

It’s a little crazy at our house these days. In the next month we’ll have one child graduate from middle school, another graduate from high school, and my book Soccerverse: Poems about Soccer will make its way into the world!

Soccerverse includes 22 poems about everything soccer—the ball, shin guards, uniforms, teammates, dribbling, fans, and even the handshake after the game. Some of the poems are whimsical, some funny, and some address the more difficult emotions that are part of the game. The poems use 13 different forms, which I describe in a note at the end. The book was illustrated by Edson Ikê, a fabulous graphic designer from Brazil (perfect, right?). The images are bold, colorful, and creative, and best of all, the kids in the book reflect the beautiful diversity of our world. Happily, Kirkus Review says Soccerverse is “A pitch-perfect ode to the details and delights of playing soccer.”

To celebrate the publication of the book, I’m visiting a few blogs, including Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ Today’s Little Ditty, where I’m currently in the “Spotlight.” This month’s challenge is to write a poem giving instructions to an inanimate object about how to do its job. The idea came from my poem “Instructions for the Field,” which you can read on Michelle’s blog.

I thought it might be fun to share the first draft of that same poem today. Here it is in all its first-draft glory:

 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR BEING A SOCCER FIELD

Lie flat.

Never slouch or slump or pull

The ball into a pocket.

Keep your toes up.

Use your hands

At the other end and let

The spiders weave the nets.

Grow a thick green

Beard. Never shave,

But keep it trim.

Wear the same striped suit

Every day. Don’t

Giggle when we tickle

You with our feet.

Catch us when

We fall.

When it rains,

Gulp greedily.

Wait

For us.

 

It’s interesting for me to look back at this and compare it to the final draft. What strikes me first is that there’s a lot in here that stayed—Lie flat. Never slouch or slump. Most of what happened during the revision process of this particular poem was cutting. By taking words away, I was able to focus in on one image and get rid of the excess and the distractions. I like the idea of the spiders weaving the goal nets, but it’s a little much for this poem. You’ll see I even cut the extra words from the title. I also notice that the first draft seems to have two endings that work quite similarly—Catch us when/we fall and Wait/for us. I took the second one out and moved the first one to the end. As I recall, those toes stayed in there for quite a while, until I think my critique group firmly said they made no sense. Looking back, I’m a little sorry the tickling and the giggling disappeared. In any case, I’m happy to say the final draft is much stronger than the first one.

 

I also thought I might share a poem that didn’t make the book. This one is close to my heart because it celebrates diversity and I snuck my kids into it.

 

PLAYERS

Amos always kicks it hard.

Bella hates to lose.

Charlotte likes to head the ball.

Dylan wears red shoes.

Edith has the most assists.

Finley looks to pass.

Goren’s got a fierce left foot.

Hal’s allergic to grass.            

Igor gives loud half-time talks.

Jody lives offside.

Kojo takes the corner kicks.

Lucy loves to slide.

Marco mumbles when he runs.

Naomi’d rather read.

Ollie makes amazing saves.

Piper’s got great speed.

Quincy draws a lot of cards.

Rachel guards the post.

Sarah wants to be a star.

Travis likes to boast.

Ulric keeps an eye on time.

Vera gives high fives.

Walter scores on penalties.

Xena sometimes dives.

Yuli cheers no matter what.

Zach can run all day.

All of us are different.

All of us can play.

 

I still like this poem, but even at the collection-level, less can be more. Thanks to editor Rebecca Davis, I think the collection includes just the right number and combination of poems.

I hope that you all saw Michelle’s incredible Classroom Connections series celebrating National Poetry Month. Each day a different children’s poet discussed how to bring their work into the classroom. Though we have all barely recovered from NPM, Michelle reprised the series and invited me to discuss how to bring Soccerverse to school. I hope you’ll take a look. I’m also happy to say an educator’s guide for Soccerverse will be available on my website soon!

Mary Lee asked me to point out that there are a couple of changes to the Poetry Friday calendar coming up. Michelle Kogan and Margaret Simon have swapped places. Next week, May 17 will be at Margaret’s blog, Reflections on the Teche.

One last thing, I hope you’ve noticed that my website has a new look. I want to thank Gabe Seiden at Connect4Consulting for the fabulous redesign.

Please add your link below.

Happy Poetry Friday!

Liz

Progressive Poem 2019

Endless summer; I can see for miles…
Fun, fun, fun – and the whole world smiles.
No time for school- just time to play,
we swim the laughin’ sea each and every day.

You had only to rise, lean from your window,
the curtain opens on a portrait of today.
Kodachrome greens, dazzling blue,
it’s the chance of a lifetime,

make it last forever–ready? Set? Let’s Go!
Come, we’ll take a walk, the sun is shining down
Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes
Tomorrow’s here. It’s called today.

Gonna get me a piece o’ the sky.
I wanna fly like an eagle, to the sea
and there’s a tiger in my veins.
Oh won’t you come with me waltzing the waves, diving the deep?

It’s not easy to know
less than one minute old
we’re closer now than light years to go
To the land where the honey runs

…we can be anyone we want to be…
There’s no stopping curiosity.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing
Looking for a sign of life

You’re simply the best
Hold my hand and we’ll be free
Have faith in you and the things you do

Multiply life by the power of two.

 

This was hard! I confess I’m not someone who listens to a lot of music, especially music with words, perhaps because my head is so often full of my own words or searching for just the right word. Thus, I have followed the progression of the poem with some trepidation as it has meandered from summer to sea. Now coming to an end, the poem seems to be settling in on a relationship, which got me thinking of some old favorites and to my line from the Indigo Girls. Good luck to Irene and Donna as you bring this baby in for a landing. Thanks as always to Irene for organizing us celebrate poetry and community each year.

 

Here is a list of line sources:

L1 The Who, ‘I Can See for Miles’/The Beach Boys, ‘Endless Summer’
L2 The Beach Boys, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’/Dean Martin, ‘When You’re Smiling’
L3 The Jamies, ‘Summertime, Summertime’
L4 The Doors, Summer’s Almost Gone’/Led Zeppelin ‘Good Times, Bad Times’
L5 Ray Bradbury, “Dandelion Wine”
L6 Joni Mitchell, “Chelsea Morning”
L7 Paul Simon, “Kodachrome,” “Dazzling Blue”
L8 Dan Fogelberg, “Run for the Roses”
L9 Spice Girls, “Wannabe”/Will Smith, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”
L10 The Beatles, “Good Day Sunshine”
L11 The Carpenters, “Top of the World”
L12 Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Underneath the Lovely London Sky” from Mary Poppins Returns
L13 Carole King, “Hi-de-ho (That Old Sweet Roll)”
L14 Steve Miller, “Fly Like An Eagle”
L15 Don Felder, “Wild Life”L16 Nowleen Leeroy, “Song of the Sea” (lullaby)
L 16 Nowleen Leeroy, “Song of the Sea” (lullaby)
L17 Sara Bareilles, “She Used to Be Mine” from WAITRESS
L18 Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely”
L19 R.E.M., “Find the River”
L20 Carole King, “Way Over Yonder”
L21 Mint Juleps, “Groovin” by the Young Rascals
L22 Jack Johnson, “Upside Down”
L23 Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie
L24 The Foo Fighters, “Learning to Fly”
L25 Tina Turner, “The Best”
L26 The Partridge Family “Summer Days”
L27 The Pointer Sister’s, “We Are Family”

L28 Indigo Girls, “Power of Two”

 

April

2 Kat @ Kathryn Apel
4 Jone @ DeoWriter
5 Linda @ TeacherDance
6 Tara @ Going to Walden
8 Mary Lee @ A Year of Reading
9 Rebecca @ Rebecca Herzog
10 Janet F. @ Live Your Poem
13 Doraine @ Dori Reads
17 Amy @ The Poem Farm
18 Linda @ A Word Edgewise
20 Buffy @ Buffy’s Blog
21 Michelle @ Michelle Kogan
22 Catherine @ Reading to the Core
25 Jan @ Bookseestudio
26 Linda @ Write Time
27 Sheila @ Sheila Renfro
29 Irene @ Live Your Poem
30 Donna @ Mainely Write

On this Perfect Spring Day

 

We didn’t listen

when she whispered.

The plants heard.

The animals too.

The checkerspot butterfly moved up the mountain.

White oaks, sugar maples, and hollies headed north and west.

The nine-banded armadillo found its way from Texas to South Carolina.

But we kept drilling and fracking, driving and flying.

So she cried a little louder.

Glaciers and polar ice melted.

Sea levels rose.

Massive swaths of the Great Barrier Reef turned white.

A Colorado of pines and aspens in the Rocky Mountains died.

But we kept drilling and fracking and burning.

And so she roared.

Harvey sat over Houston for days,

delivering a once-in-a-lifetime rain.

Lucifer swept across Europe,

with its once-in-a-lifetime heat.

Drought pushed Cape Town within sight

of the day there would be no water.

The Earth is speaking, even now

on this perfect spring day,

wisteria and red bud blooming fully,

weeks before they used to.

 

© Elizabeth Steinglass 2019, all rights reserved

 

(With thanks to Gabe Seiden at Connect4Consulting for my new website design.)

 

 

A fact is a fish on ice. 
We can all see its glassy eye. 
We can all feel its razor-edged fins.
We can all smell its sea-salty past. 
A fact is raw.
It can be baked, grilled, or fried,
but we can all agree we are eating fish. 
Perhaps you like fish,
perhaps you don’t,
but there it is—
staring up at you. 

 

© Elizabeth Steinglass, 2019, all rights reserved

For more Poetry Friday Visit Catherine at Reading to the Core.

 

 

Last week I wrote about a lesson I did with two local elementary classes that began with a discussion of haiku. I thought I’d follow up today with a little more about haiku and teaching poetry.

I’ve probably already said this, but I’ll say it again: I think haiku are wonderful to share with students.

Because haiku focus on one particular haiku moment, they are wonderful for discussing and teaching close observation.

Because haiku try to give a reader an opportunity to experience the haiku moment directly, they are wonderful for discussing and teaching descriptive language and the value of using multiple senses in writing.

Because haiku are short, they are also wonderful for discussing and teaching word choice. It’s far less overwhelming to ask young writers to think carefully about a handful of words, than every word in a longer story or essay.

If you are looking for a book of haiku intended for children, you might take a look at H is for Haiku, a collection by Sydell Rosenberg, a charter member of the Haiku Society of America, illustrated by Sawsan Chilabi, and published by Penny Candy Books. The National Council of Teachers of English has selected the book as a 2019 Notable Poetry Book. Hurray! It is also a Cybils finalist in poetry. Double hurray!

The book begins with beautiful notes from both Syd and her daughter Amy Losak, who lead the project, describing what haiku do so well. Then page by page the book presents 26 haiku, one for each letter of the alphabet. Every one of them does exactly what Syd and Amy describe in their notes—they take a close look at a single resonant moment. The moments in this book will be of particular interest to children.

Here are a few of my favorites:

I love both of the poems on this spread. I can so clearly feel what it might be like to be in a car covered in snow—slightly dark and cold, but not too dark and not too cold, and there’s the doll ready to go, but the car is not, and where’s the child? In the house wondering where the doll is? Outside playing in the snow, momentarily forgetting about the doll? Just about rescue the doll or clean off the car and go on a jaunt?

In the facing haiku, I can hear the sound of the rain drops hitting the metal watering can perfectly. And how ironic that no one fills the watering can anymore, except the rain. And if it’s raining, who needs a watering can full of water?

I also love the bold, colorful graphic illustrations. Look at that doll’s face and her leg that isn’t bending quite right and the words in the raindrops that look like tears coming from the face in the sky. The images give the book a liveliness that works so well with poems that are observant snapshots of a moment.

This haiku immediately transports me to the bike. I am the girl plunging (what a fabulous word!) downhill! I can feel the petals and the wind and the slightly scary excitement of going fast.

What’s truly special about moments like these is both noticing them—noticing the doll on the backseat, the rusty watering can, the girl on a bike—and also noticing that you are noticing them. It’s that second step that’s essential for writing.

If you’re looking for ideas for sharing haiku with students, here are some activities that I have used:

Read Haiku: Read one aloud a couple of times. Have the students close their eyes: what do they see as you read? Look at two or three. How are they similar? Different?

Observe the Natural World: Go outside. Look closely at plants, animals, etc. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Take notes on observations.

Imagine the Natural World: If you can’t go outside, talk about what kind of day it is and what one might see on a day like this.

Write together: Begin with a first line that describes the day (a snowy morning, first warm day); use student observations to write the second and third lines.

Revise together: Are there any unnecessary words? Are there any words that could be more interesting?

Write individually or in pairs: Allow students to use the shared first line if they like.

Share: Make a seasonal bulletin board with all of the student haiku about the day.

For more ideas, here is an article from Teachers and Writers Magazine by Erika Luckert about using H is for Haiku in the classroom.

I hope I’ve been able to share a little of my haiku love with you.

For more Poetry Friday visit Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

Last Friday I visited two elementary language arts classes at a local school in Washington, DC. I knew beforehand that the students had already done some work on haiku and had written winter animal haiku. I also knew that the teacher was hoping we could discuss poetic language and perhaps some other forms of poetry. With this in mind I planned our lesson.

We began with introductions. I said that I had heard they had been learning about haiku and asked them what they remembered learning. I said that I had also heard that they had been writing winter animal haiku and that I had brought my favorite winter animal haiku:

A bitter morning:
sparrows sitting together
without any necks

J. W. Hackett

Before I read it to them, I said that they could follow along while I read (I had it on a handout for them) or they could close their eyes while I read, if they liked. (When I have done this in the past, many students have said they really liked closing their eyes.) I read the poem slowly, twice. We talked about what bitter means, and I asked them what they noticed about the poem. One student asked why the sparrows didn’t have any necks. A few other students quickly hunched their shoulders to demonstrate. When I asked how they felt when I read the poem, some said cold.

Then, with heart-felt apologies to J. W. Hackett, I shared this with them (it was also on the handout):

A winter day:
birds sitting next to each other
hunching their shoulders

I said that I was trying to imagine what J. W. Hackett’s poem might have looked like when he first wrote it. (Again, my deepest apologies. Perhaps J. W. Hackett wrote truly impressive first drafts.) We then compared the two versions line by line and talked about how they were different. A student said that winter days can be warm or snowy or cold. We talked about how birds could mean any bird, but a sparrow is a specific little brown and gray bird. We talked about how the words bitter and sparrow are more interesting words than winter and bird. We talked about how the word “together” is more concise than “next to each other” and more emotional. For many of us “together” felt cozier and snugglier. We also talked about how the phrase “without any necks,” made us wonder what that meant, made us ask ourselves a question in our heads, and then think through the answer. Along the way the students noted that the syllable count in Hackett’s poem follows the 5/7/5 pattern and that mine does not. We clapped out syllables and talked about how some haiku follow the syllable pattern and some do not.

To pull it all together I said that J. W. Hackett’s haiku used more poetic language than my version. I wrote “Poetic Language” on the white board, and we made a list of what makes language more poetic. One student said, “This is like a list of what good poets do.” I quickly put that heading over mine. Underneath we wrote: “more specific, more feelings, and more interesting words.”

We then moved on to discussing another form of poetry, the “How to be…” or instruction poem. We read an instruction poem I had written, discussed it, identified any poetic language we could find, and then wrote a poem together. I chose the topic “Instructions for our Desks” before I arrived so we didn’t have to spend any time thinking about what to write about. My assumption was that everyone would have something to say about a desk and that it would be helpful to have  the desks right in front of us. Before we started writing, we brainstormed using guiding questions:

What does our ideal desk look like?
What do we do at our desks?
What do we want our desks to do?
What do we hope our desks won’t do?

After a lively discussion, I wrote “Instructions for our Desks” on the white board and solicited lines from the class. The students seemed to have lots of ideas about what to add. I left them with the idea that what they might do next is look at the language in the poem and see where it might be even more poetic.

Overall, I would say the workshops went well and the kids were engaged. It was interesting to see how different parts of the plan engaged different kids. I think it worked well to compare versions with and without poetic language. I also think it worked well to brainstorm before writing together.

Next time, I will definitely ask one of the other adults in the room to signal me when there’s 10 minutes left. I find it very challenging to be engaged with the students while also keeping track of the time!

I welcome all thoughts about my lesson, sharing poetry in schools, and especially collaborative writing with students.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

watching
the snow fall
furloughed

 

caught in a web
of branches
government shutdown

 

I wrote these senryu earlier in the week for my many friends and neighbors who work for the federal government. So many people are struggling from the shutdown–employees, contractors, restaurants and other local businesses, lyft drivers, spouses, children, and on and on. Washington feels quiet and hopeless and angry.

For more Poetry Friday visit Miss Rumphius Effect, where I’m sure many will be posting tributes to Mary Oliver.

Liz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome!

I am so glad you are here to celebrate poetry and community.

Poetry Friday is a perfect way to celebrate. As is J. Patrick Lewis’ anthology The Poetry of Us. I love this gorgeous book because it uses poetry to celebrate the crazy diverse community that is the United States. There are wonderful poems about everything from “Saturdays at the Portland Farmers Market” (by Janet Wong) to the Oklahoma Dust Bowl (“Child’s Chant” by Renee LaTulippe) to the “Tulip Time Festival” in Holland, Michigan (by Buffy Silverman) to the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival (“Mass Ascension” by Michelle Heidenrich Barnes). The book highlights regions, geography, animals, culture, events, history, food, literally everything you can think of. To me this seems like exactly the book we need right now, and wouldn’t it make a wonderful holiday gift?  

You can see why I am especially thrilled to have my poem, “The Menorah,” included. As tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah, it seems an appropriate poem to share today.

The Menorah

Most of the year, I sit and wait.
When the days grow cold and dark,
someone pulls me out.
I’m rubbed and shined,
old wax pried from my fists.
Voices tell the story of how I came here,
hidden in a suitcase, wrapped in a blanket.
At night I stand in the window, defying the dark.
Behind me, my family glows
with the light of my fire,
with the story of the ancient miracle,
with the joy of eating latkes, spinning dreidels,
singing, together, year after year.
Every night I am handed one more flame–
until my hands are full.
I savor the moment,
while I sit and wait, knowing
the cold, dark days will come again.

Elizabeth Steinglass © 2018

I hope that if you are facing cold, dark days (as we are here in Washington), you are also finding warm, glowing lights and good company (human, literary, or furry!) to share them with.

Please feel free to comment and add your link.

Also, if anyone might be interested in working together on a poetry proposal for NCTE next year, please let me know.

All my best,

Liz