Can you picture the house or apartment where you grew up? The texture of the couch, the sound of water in the pipes? Did the windows rattle, and what did the doorknobs look like? Can you draw a map of each room?
So many sensory images come flooding back to me as I read George Ella Lyon’s poetry collection MANY-STORIED HOUSE. She focuses on family, on small moments, on tiny details of her childhood home. Her poems about memory, relationships, and sense of place are beautifully specific and universal at the same time. She’s inspiring me to write about my first home, a two-bedroom apartment in a fourth-floor walk-up on a one-way street in the Bronx. The closet doorknobs were made of glass; the rumble of the subway was our metronome.
Lyon writes for both children and adults, and I’m looking forward to learning from her in an online workshop hosted by poet Georgia Heard in January. You can read about it here. Maybe I’ll see you there!
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Michelle Kogan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
I recently learned of a book for young readers that combines three of my passions: poetry, history, and social justice. THE TRAVELING CAMERA: LEWIS HINE AND THE FIGHT TO END CHILD LABOR (Getty Publications, 2021) balances these three elements beautifully, along with striking images in both Hine’s photographs and illustrations by Michael Garland. I was lucky enough to interview author Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs about her process of writing this biography in verse.
Alex used lots of primary sources in her research, as well as secondary. Through a book of Lewis Hine’s letters, photo captions, and articles, she immersed herself in his words, his language, his ways of expressing what he had seen in factories, fields, and other settings where children toiled. Hine was a prolific writer fighting to end child labor; Alex also had access to the articles he penned for the Child Labor Bulletin and other newspapers.
Alex uses Hine’s striking images and poetic language to great effect in THE TRAVELING CAMERA. Hine had to make his way into factories and other settings in order to investigate and photograph. He would tell factory managers that he was photographing broken equipment, or a salesman, when in fact he was documenting the children who were working in dangerous conditions at young ages. He used the buttons on his coat to estimate the height of children, describing a child in a factory who was “three buttons tall.” These are the details that Alex employs to great impact in her poetic text.
“Poetry is my first go-to when I’m writing. It’s a natural starting point for me,” Alex explains. “My first full draft was in free verse. I do remember talking to my editor at the outline stage and she encouraged me to play, pretty much gave me free rein to be creative and think outside of the box for how to tell Hine’s story.”
Hine himself was a poetic writer, and his language shines throughout the text of THE TRAVELING CAMERA. A man who was slight in stature, Hine wrote that the clunky large camera was “a heavy load/for a featherweight/ to tote.” He was passionate about ending the injustice of child labor and wanting to humanize the children who were working in factories and fields, “Because the human spirit/ is the big thing/ after all.”
Because she had access to so much of Hine’s writing, Alex decided to weave his words into her verse. Italics mark the words of Hine in the text, and it’s a seamless way to give us a sense of Hine’s voice. I think this is a brilliant decision, and it’s noted in the backmatter.
Alex offers a peek into her process: “My biggest focus was Hine’s voice– how to capture his voice, obviously sometimes using his exact words, and then staying true to his voice even when they were my words. Relatedly, this was my first time writing poetry in a character’s voice and in a different time period. To help with both of these, I made a file of quotes and language where I just made a big list of words, phrases, and sentences he used that seemed distinct to him and/or the time period. As I revised if there were places I wanted to make his voice come through more, I turned to that list.”
I appreciate Alex offering us a peek into her process. Her techniques and craft decisions have much to offer poets and biographers. Be sure to get your hands on this beautiful book– biographies in verse are rare, and this one is especially wonderful. If you want to order a personalized copy, check here. (Be sure to specify how you’d like the book to be signed.)
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Matt Forrest Esenwine hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at his blog Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
I’ve learned so much about what it takes to put together a poetry anthology by taking classes from Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell. “Poetry PLUS” is one aspect of the art and craft of assembling an anthology that fascinates me as a poet and an educator.
We believe in “Poetry Plus”—poetry PLUS writing, poetry PLUS language arts mini-lessons, poetry PLUS curriculum connections for social studies and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), poetry PLUS mindfulness and movement, and poetry PLUS lots more fun!
Janet and Sylvia’s latest anthology, THINGS WE DO, is a beauty. I may be biased since I have a poem in this collection! THINGS WE DO is an alphabetic book of playful poems bursting with children in action– from Ask to Zoom! Each spread in this book features a vivid photo of a child doing something active, accompanied by a poem such as Invent, Dance, Fly, and Type.
But beyond those 26 poems, there’s more! This is where the PLUS comes in. There is a section for parents, caregivers, and educators called “Tips for Readers” that details “strategies for sharing poetry with children” such as using props and “echo reading.”
The “Fun Activities to Try” section features suggestions on extending the poetic experience with movement, learning letters, writing poetry, reading a poem at breakfast time, and sharing with special family members.
But there’s even more to the PLUS! So many gems are highlighted in the web resources, including Reading Rockets and We Need Diverse Books. And finally, there is an “About the Poets” section, with a tidbit of info about each of the poets.
I have a poetry collection out on submission now (fingers crossed!), and I included “Poetry PLUS” by featuring juicy facts, almost like side-bars, to add some nonfiction heft to each poem. That’s one way to add more “Plus” power to poetry. But THINGS WE DO has inspired me to consider other ways of adding to the poetry experience for readers.
What might you add to your poetry? Or what have you included? STEM connections, craft activities, maps, timelines, or something more? The possibilities are exciting! Thanks to Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for the inspiration.
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry.
Don’t you love moss? When I’m on a trail walk, surrounded by lots of moss, it just makes me happy. I’m going to focus on that today instead of the storm-related stresses that have dominated the week here on Cape Cod!
There is a delightful website all about children’s poetry; it’s based in England and called “Dirigible Balloon.” It’s a fun source of poetry for kids, parents, and teachers, with no advertising or other clutter… just poems that are fun, funny, meditative, lyrical, and more!
My poem “Moss” is now up on Dirigible Balloon. This one’s for you, all my fellow moss fans!
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Linda hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog TeacherDance. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
It’s publication day for a very special poetry anthology for young children. THINGS WE DO is an alphabetic book of playful poems bursting with children in action– from Ask to Zoom! Each spread in this book features a vivid photo of a child doing something active, accompanied by a poem such as Invent, Kick, Jump, and Clap. Published by Pomelo Books, THINGS WE DO is now available by ordering from QEP Books, and will soon be available on Amazon. It’s perfect for PreK through first grade.
Many poets contributed to this A-Z collection, including some very well-known poets! My poem, “Type,” is inspired by my work as a K-2 Literacy Coach. Each day I get to see children making letters, then their names, then words… it’s a magical process that made its way into my poem. I can’t wait to share it with the first graders I work with each morning!
THINGS WE DO is a beautiful and playful book of poems, perfect for the young child or teacher in your life. Be sure to add it to your holiday shopping list!
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Jama Rattigan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blogJama’s Alphabet Soup. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
So begins “Tenth Month,” a poem about October by Irene Latham in the just-published 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY. I found so many poems that would be perfect for a middle-grade English Language Arts classroom. In Irene’s poem, for instance, there is both playfulness and reverence for nature; plus it’s packed with great verbs!
Science teachers will find wonderful content in Janice Scully’s brief yet descriptive poem “The Floating Water Strider,” about how an insect manages to skate across the surface of water.
Poet Moe Phillip’s description of a tug-of-war competition will have children laughing in recognition– “Heels dig in, teeth are bared, toes to temples taut.” It’s brimming with juicy language that will inspire young writers!
Bridget Magee created THE 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY around ten themes or prompts, including the words tentative, tenderness, and tenacity.
My poem, “Necessary In-Tent,” is included in this collection. It’s inspired by a memory of going camping for the very first time as a 12-year old (tentative!). I was used to city living and city sounds, and the nighttime woods were a bit scary for me! Many of the poets who I follow on Poetry Fridays and elsewhere are included in this collection, including Jay Brazeau, Linda Baie, Janet Fagal, Marilyn Garcia, Mary Lee Hahn, Michelle Kogan, Carmela Martino, Linda Mitchell, Aixa Perez-Prado, Laura Purdie Salas, Buffy Silverman, Eileen Spinelli, Linda Kulp Trout, Janet Wong, Tabatha Yeatts, and more!
There are many riches to explore in this anthology– and it would make a great gift for the teacher in your life.
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Bridget Magee (editor of the 10-10 Anthology!) hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog Wee Words for Wee Ones. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!
Today is the publication day for RHYME & RHYTHM: POEMS FOR STUDENT ATHLETES! This anthology of poems is about all aspects of sports… from the joy, the sweat, and precision… to the emotional, family, and social aspects.
I’m proud to have a poem in this collection. “A Slice of Time” is about intramural floor hockey played in a high school gym after school… but it’s really about how socio-economics affects young athletes, with a girl-crush thrown in for good measure.
Congratulations to editor Sarah J. Donovan PhD… as well as the many poets whose work appears in this stellar collection: Nikki Grimes, Zetta Elliott, Padma Ventrakaman, Laura Shovan, Bryan Ripley Crandall, Heidi Mordhurst, Beth Brody, Krista Surprenant, and more!
It’s the perfect gift for the athlete in your life! Available in all the usual places and here.
As writers, we get used to leaning into headwinds, persevering through all of the rejections and maybes and the waiting. Then when something wonderful happens, it’s a shock to the system!
Yesterday, my poem about growing up in the Bronx appeared in the New York Times. Right there in the Metropolitan Diary section of the Sunday Times was “Ars Poetica, Bronx,” a poem I wrote about how I became a poet. It was inspired by a prompt from a class on poetic forms, taught by poet Georgia Heard in spring 2021. It was written in my favorite time of day, when I rise at 5 a.m. to enjoy an hour or two of writing time before the world wakes up, a ritual known to many writers as #5amwritersclub.
Sharing the poem brought me so much joy yesterday– and enthusiastic responses from friends and family in Massachusetts and New York, California and Ireland, the UK and Brazil. It brought back vivid memories of the breakfast table in our apartment in the Bronx, where the Times was a fixture.
When the “yes” days happen, it’s important to savor them! Yesterday was a “yes” day.
When you get to combine teaching with a topic you’re passionate about– that’s the sweet spot! I just finished teaching one of my favorite courses at the community college, “Poetry in the Early Childhood Classroom.”
In this class, we dove deep into poetry: how to infuse it throughout the curriculum, how it can foster social-emotional growth, how a poem can be a window, mirror, or sliding glass door for a child.
One of the assignments of the course is “Author Study of a Poet.” This summer, my students (who all teach in early childhood) focused on Nikki Giovanni, Janet Wong, and Douglas Florian, among others. They also completed Poetry Portfolios to use in their classrooms, and made big beautiful poetry charts for shared, choral reading.
It was a creative, fun class, and their final reflections show that! Here are some of their postings:
**My view on poetry in the preschool classroom has changed dramatically. Prior to this class I would have considered myself not a fan at all. I had no idea how helpful the addition of poetry could be to introducing and elevating the curriculum in the classroom. I love the idea of adding connections to the subject at hand by utilizing poetry to enhance the topics. I am also intrigued by the humor that can be added by selecting the right poem. I love to make the kids laugh.
**I never really took the time to read poetry, but now after taking this class, it has really opened my eyes to all the different ways poetry is useful. Especially tonight’s class and listening to Mary explain how poetry can be used, like as a dipstick to see what children know, or to preview a topic. I like how poetry can also be used as an emotional rehearsal. Things can always be related to poems or vice versa.
**The same way I sometimes underestimate the power of a walk through nature is the way I can “overlook” the power of poetry in the classroom.
**I will definitely take away from this class the idea of servicing through teaching in a new light. The idea of helping a child with transitions by utilizing poetry and books as windows hit me in a whole new way. I also will take away the positive impact that poetry can have on speech development and shyness.
I had that hit of “mission accomplished” as I read these comments, and I hope they inspire any teachers who read this to add more poetry to their teaching.
This beautiful book of poems by Nikki Grimes is a revelation and inspiration. First, it allows us to
discover the poems of lesser-known black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance–poets like Jessie Redmon Fauset, Gwendolyn Bennett, Effie Lee Newsome, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson. Then, masterful poet Nikki Grimes follows up each of those poems with a “Golden Shovel” poem of her own.
The Golden Shovel form was developed by poet Terrance Hayes in homage to Gwendolyn Brooks; it’s a way of resampling the work of another poet. Here’s a good explanation of how to write a Golden Shovel poem. Grimes writes of this form, “This is a very challenging way to create a poem, especially to come up with something that makes sense, but I love it for that very reason!” I can’t wait to try my hand at this poetry form!
LEGACY: WOMEN POETS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE is a treasure trove of a book. There’s so much to love and dive into. There are the poems by the Harlem Renaissance poets, the poems by Nikki Grimes, the amazing art, and the wonderful poet biographies and artist biographies in the backmatter. It’s a whole package of wonderful, a perfect way to celebrate #NationalPoetryMonth, and as one reviewer wrote, “Black girls everywhere, this collection is salve and sanctuary.”
On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share their love of all things poetry. This week, Catherine hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today ather blog Reading to the Core. Check out the feast of poetry there today!