Back to Work


The Tin Woodman as illustrated by William Wallace Denslow (1900) in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum














I’m back after end-of-the-school-year madness, an awful stomach virus, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy. I hadn’t intended to take such a long break from writing, but one thing after another made it difficult to focus. I don’t know about you, but after breaks like these I find it hard to get back to work. I feel like the Tin Woodman rusted and stranded in the forest. Where’s Dorothy with that can of oil? I was going to write that there is no Dorothy. I have only myself to get these rusty joints in motion. But that’s not entirely true. There are quite a few Dorothy’s out there. The two I turn to most often are Laura Purdie Salas and Miss Rumphius. When I’m stiff and need to get moving, I go to them for a squirt of oil.

This week Miss Rumphius prompted her readers to write a list poem. Her model was a list of all the reasons she hasn’t been able to write lately. Here’s my reply:


Things to do with Poems

Read them.
Read them out loud.
Read them when you should be reading something else.
Read them to remind yourself you’re not alone.
Copy them out, in your own hand, fold them into little squares, and stuff them
in your shoe.
Tape them to the mirror, the wall, the dashboard, your forehead.
Write them when the spring breaks ground.
Write them when you fear your chest will burst with all you stuff there.
Etch them on your brain.
Ink them on your arm following your veins.
Write them on the sidewalk in thick pink chalk.
Watch them dissolve and run off in the rain.
Pick their cotton shreds from your lint screen.
Recite them so the clock on the back wall can hear you.
Hide them in books and backpacks and pillowcases so someone else can find them.
Whisper them in the dark.


Yesterday, Laura Salas posted a mysterious blue image on her 15 words or less blog. Here’s my response:

blue blood flows
through sweeping skies
delivering life
to weary eyes


Ah, much better. I think I can move my arm again.
So, fellow poets, what do you do to get back to work after a break?
For more Poetry Friday visit Keri Recommends.
See you next week.

(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved

A Poetry Retreat










This week I was lucky enough to sneak away for a few days of eating, sleeping, and breathing poetry at The Poet’s Poetry Workshop at the Highlights Foundation. What a treat to leave the usual chores and responsibilities behind and just focus on poetry. Our instructor Rebecca Kai Dotlich shared her wisdom and her library, guided us through many creative exercises, and facilitated endless critique sessions. My fellow students brought a huge range of experiences and talents to the table, but we all shared a passion for poetry, a desire to improve, and a genuine interest in supporting one another. Rebecca Davis, the editor-at-large for WordSong visited, and we even snuck in a skype session with Lee Bennett Hopkins, who advised us to write from the gut and from the heart. Today I am feeling grateful, exhausted, and full.

I got really fabulous answers to last week’s questions (and I will provide some kind of summary when I get a chance) so I’d like to ask another question this week:

Where do you go—what workshops, retreats, conferences, etc.—when you want to get away, get inspired, and focus on the craft of writing poetry?

Thanks for taking the time to answer.

For more Poetry Friday and other delectable treats visit Jama Rattigan.

A Haiku for Mother’s Day

Hachiya persimmons by Downtowngal

Hachiya persimmons by Downtowngal











Wild persimmons,
The mother eating
The bitter parts.




Along with Basho, Buson, and Shiki, Issa (1763-1827) is considered one of the four masters of Japanese haiku. Issa lived a particularly tragic life, losing his mother at age three, his inheritance and home after the death of his father, the wife he adored and their three children, all very early in their lives. To learn more about Issa and his poetry,
I recommend Anita Virgil’s discussion of his life and work in episode 16 of Haiku Chronicles.


Happy Mother’s Day


2013 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem










For the second year running, Irene Latham, of the blog Live Your Poem, has organized a unique celebration of National Poetry Month. Each day a poet contributes one line to a slowly unfolding poem. Today, on the 16th day of the month, I am honored to contribute one more line.


When you listen to your footsteps
the words become music and
the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
Your pen starts dancing across the page
a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
of the words, one dancer to another, saying
Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.
Ignore the trepidation while you jitterbug and jive.
Arm in arm, toe to toe, words begin to wiggle and flow
as your heart starts singing let your mind keep swinging

From life’s trapeze, like a clown on the breeze.
Swinging upside down, throw and catch new sounds–
Take a risk, try a trick; break a sweat: safety net?
Don’t check! You’re soaring and exploring


Here’s the month’s calendar so you can follow along:


1  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

2  Joy Acey

3  Matt Forrest Esenwine

4  Jone MacCulloch

5  Doraine Bennett

6  Gayle Krause

7  Janet Fagal

8  Julie Larios

9  Carrie Finison

10  Linda Baie

11  Margaret Simon

12  Linda Kulp

13  Catherine Johnson

14  Heidi Mordhorst

15  Mary Lee Hahn

16  Liz Steinglass

17  Renee LaTulippe

18  Penny Klostermann

19  Irene Latham

20  Buffy Silverman

21  Tabatha Yeatts

22  Laura Shovan

23  Joanna Marple

24  Katya Czaja

25  Diane Mayr

26  Robyn Hood Black

27  Ruth Hersey

28  Laura Purdie Salas

29  Denise Mortensen

30  April Halprin Wayland



Why Haiku?

Cherry Blossoms by Tina dela Rosa

Cherry Blossoms by Tina dela Rosa












plank bridge—
clinging for their lives
ivy vines



the harvest moon
I stroll round the pond
till the night is through



race along
the bamboo porch



The more time I spend reading and writing haiku, the more I am convinced of their incredible depth and of their value in today’s world.

Haiku are an ideal form for everyone–especially kids.



1. Haiku focus on a single intense moment in the present. Our current culture pushes us to rush from one thing to the next, while thinking about a multitude of other things. Haiku provide an opportunity to slow down, pay attention to now, and closely observe the world in front of us.

2. Haiku focus on the natural world and on our connections to the natural world. Yesterday we had record-breaking heat in Washington, DC after a strangely cool spring. Each day presents new evidence that we have damaged our planet. Now more than ever, we need to attend to the natural world and our connections to it.

3. Haiku require readers to actively participate in making meaning. Readers use the images from the poems to paint pictures in their heads. These pictures often include sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. Readers must infer the signficance of the images and their connections. Though haiku images are concrete and their words often plain, haiku are complex and their readers cannot be passive.

Unfortunately, I think most of us learn a very simple definition of haiku—a nature poem of 17 syllables in three lines—that misses its essential characteristics. There are many fabulous discussions of haiku written by more experienced students and writers, but instead of sending you away, I will give you my current understanding.


What are the essential characteristics of haiku?

1. Haiku are short. They are one moment, expressed in one breath. The Japanese poets who developed the form believed one breath was best expressed in 17 onji or sound symbols. Some poets who write haiku in English write them in 17 syllables. However onji are not exactly parallel to syllables, and to many 17 syllables feels like more than one breath. For this reason, many poets of haiku in English write poems of fewer syllables.

2. Haiku are traditionally three lines. Typically, one line (the first or third) presents a natural context: a plank bridge, the harvest moon, a storm. The other two lines describe something more: ivy vines clinging, a stroll round a pond, chestnuts racing along a porch. Sometimes the second line of the more includes a turn or surprise, such as a stroll round a pond that lasts the whole night. By connecting the two parts of the haiku, the reader experiences a moment of discovery or aha. Some haiku poets accomplish this in one line or four, using the line breaks as a tool of expression.

3. Haiku provide direct experience. They are written in the present tense. They do not use metaphor, simile, personification, or rhyme because that would interfere with the direct experience.

4. Haiku are about the interrelatedness of humans and nature. Often the human is there only as an attentive observer. Other times the human is represented implicitly by a verb requiring human action, such as lighting the lanterns. The human can also be represented by a pronoun such as I or me or my.

5. Haiku is not just a form of poetry. It is a way of being in the world.


I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try. As with most things, it’s harder than it looks and worth the effort.


For more information:

The Haiku Society of America has a page of educational resources, which includes an introduction to haiku.

Jane Reichhold’s Bare Bones School of Haiku provides 14 lessons on haiku and how to write them.

Robyn Hood Black has written many beautiful haiku. On her website she provides a list of haiku resources and lesson plans for K-2 and grades 3 and up.

Diane Mayr posts lots of haiku “stickies” and other delectables on her blog Random Noodling.

Finally, this week I typed “haiku” into itunes search and discovered Haiku Chronicles podcasts. What a find! They have over 25 episodes dedicated to all things haiku. They delve into the history of the form in Japan and in the US. Some include old recordings of poets discussing and reading haiku. In the 8th episode Anita Virgil provides her 9 questions for judging haiku. She says most don’t make it past question 2!


For more Poetry Friday, visit, yes, Diane Mayr’s Random Noodling!

Come back on Tuesday, April 16th to see the 2013 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem progress.


(c) 2013, Elizabeth Steinglass, all rights reserved