POEMS IN MANY VOICES

I love reading a poetry collection in many voices, and Walter Dean Myers’ HERE IN HARLEM is a masterful example of this. In his introduction, Myers writes that he was inspired by Yeats, Synge, and Spoon River Anthology to write about his beloved neighborhood in Harlem. “As the idea for this book ripened in my mind, I began to imagine a street corner in Harlem, the Harlem of my youth, and the very much alive people who would pass that corner. So began Here in Harlem.”

About ten years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Myers and he signed my copy of HERE IN HARLEM — a treasured book on my shelf.

I’m working on a poetry collection in many voices. It takes me down research rabbit holes and illuminates forgotten corners of history. I’m taking it slow. Each poem allows me to step into the shoes of another person, to see the world through their eyes.

 

Myers did this beautifully in HERE IN HARLEM, whether that was a newsstand worker, a little girl, or a tired nurse from Harlem Hospital (in a poem that could have been written in the time of Coronavirus!).

HERE IN HARLEM is a poetic gift I return to again and again. If you were going to write a poetry collection in many voices set in one location, I wonder where it would be.


On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share their love of all things poetry. This week, Tabatha hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at The Opposite of Indifference blog.  Check out the feast of poetry there today!

Telling a Life in Poetry

I love reading biographies, and when an author succeeds in telling the story of a person’s life in poetry– that’s magic. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are three favorites I have come across lately.

 

RUNAWAY: THE DARING ESCAPE OF ONA JUDGE by Ray Anthony Shepard, Illustrated by Keith Mallett. (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2021)

Shepard manages to break open history in a way that is bracing and forthright. Many young readers may not know that there were enslaved people in the household of our nation’s first president, George Washington. Ona Judge was one of those enslaved people, and she escapes in this dramatic and poetic story of her life. Shepard uses lyrical language and repetition in such an effective way. As Shepard writes in the backmatter, “In my poem, I reclaim those questions to show the inherent humanity of the enslaved.” I love this book and the illustrations by Keith Mallett are breathtakingly beautiful.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: ARETHA FRANKLIN, QUEEN OF SOUL by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Frank Morrison. (Atheneum, 2020)

Masterful poet Weatherford manages to tell the story of Aretha Franklin’s life in a spare, poetic text that highlights adversity as well as Franklin’s rise to fame. The story is told in COUPLETS, and it works beautifully! And they all have the same end rhyme– a poetic feat. In less than 300 words, Weatherford conveys the Queen of Soul’s life, her struggles, hardships, and glorious moments of triumph.

GRASPING MYSTERIES: GIRLS WHO LOVED MATH by Jeannine Atkins. (Atheneum, 2020)  

In this middle-grade work in verse, Atkins portrays the life of seven women who employed math in their trailblazing lives. A Native American statistician, two astronomers, a scientist who mapped the ocean floor…each portrait in verse uses precise, poetic language to show us the subjects in childhood, their love of math, and their striking accomplishments. Atkins drew me into each life with finely crafted images, lyrical language, and a sense of wonder. As she writes in the backmatter, “History can happen when no one watches, as simply as a girl wonders about the sea, counts backward, turns over a rock, or reaches up holding the string of a kite.”  With beautiful illustrations by Victoria Assanelli.

As I work on my various projects, including a poetry collection and a picture book biography, these poets inspire me! I hope they inspire you, too. Happy National Poetry Month!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share their love of all things poetry. This week, Mary Lee hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at A Year of Reading. Check out the feast of poetry there today, and all the treasures abounding for National Poetry Month!

The Writing Life: Creativity, Generosity, and Luck

Writing is a solitary craft. But we also need the spark and alchemy of sharing with and learning from others.

I’m right in the middle of a three-week poetry forms class led by poet Georgia Heard. I am learning wonderful techniques that will elevate my writing, but I’m also gaining so much from the energy and insights of the other poets, and the way that Georgia establishes a sense of community. Last week we had poet Marilyn Singer present to us about reversos!

The magic that happens in a supportive creative community is a key to surviving the writing life, and so is sharing time and talents with a generosity of spirit (something Georgia Heard does especially well!). Twyla Tharp writes about this in her amazing book THE CREATIVE HABIT:

“I cannot overstate how much a generous spirit contributes to luck. Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. What are they doing that singles them out? It isn’t dumb luck if it happens repeatedly. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared, they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky around them.”

I think this captures the spirit of Poetry Friday, too!  Wishing you a happy Friday, a good weekend, and a way to share time and talents with supportive and generous friends.


On Fridays, I love taking Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share their love of all things poetry. This week, Susan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Soul Blossom Living. Check out the feast of poetry there today!

A fun poetry form: the Reverso

On this Poetry Friday, I made my first attempt at writing a reverso. 

Poet Marilyn Singer developed this form. She has written three books of reverso poems! This is her definition of the form:

“A reverso is a poem with two halves. In a reverso, the second half reverses the lines from the first half, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization — and it has to say something completely different from the first half.”

Books of reverso poems by Marilyn Singer

Marilyn was the guest presenter in the Tuesday evening poetry class I take, led by poet extraordinaire Georgia Heard. A few days ago, Marilyn shared some reverso poems with us, and others, too. Her dramatic reading skills are inspiring! 

I tried my hand at it this morning. I’d love to add a reverso to the firehouse-themed poetry collection I’m working on.  I even got out the scissors, clipping and snipping lines and moving them around. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I hope to have a draft of a poem ready for next week’s class with Georgia!

 

Hop on over to Linda at TeacherDance for more Poetry Friday posts!

Poetry Friday- Christmas Eve Wishes

A friend recently sent me a photo that was a throwback to 2004… the year my poetry was first published in an anthology. She had asked me for a signed copy and I’d sent her one.

 

Mistletoe Madness, published by Blooming Tree Press, was chock full of poems and stories for young readers about Christmas. My poem, “Christmas Eve Wishes,” was included in the anthology alongside the work of so many other writers and illustrators, including Linda Joy Singleton, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, and Agy Wilson.

Mistletoe Madness, from Blooming Tree Press (2004)

Do you ever want to get out an editing pen, even after your work has been published? That’s been the case almost every time my poetry appears in any collection or anthology, and this one is no exception. Still, I love it because it was the first.  

 

Christmas Eve Wishes

by Mary E. Cronin

 

Our gifts are stacked and laced

With ribbons curling bright

For every child who’s yearning

I wish a gift tonight.

 

Our dinner plates sparkle

On the tablecloth white

I wish all hungry families

Will have a feast tonight.

 

As carols play softly

Our Christmas tree’s alight

I wish a peaceful evening

For the whole wide world tonight.

 

***

I love being a part of Poetry Friday, a weekly celebration of children’s poetry. Painter, poet, and illustrator Michelle Kogan is hosting the Roundup of Poetry Friday posts today at her blog, which features a beautiful poem, “Stardust.”

Wishing all in the Poetry Friday community the happiest of holidays, even as it may be a quieter Christmas than usual.

Poetry Friday- School People

The pandemic has shifted so much of life off of its axis, and schools are no exception. All of the typical conventions of school life have shifted, and as a former preschool, kindergarten, and special needs teacher, I think about the loss of relationships that the changes in schooling have brought. Those relationships serve as an anchor for so many children. 

School People (WordSong, 2018)

The poetry anthology SCHOOL PEOPLE by Lee Bennett Hopkins captures those connections between children and caring adults who serve all sorts of roles- crossing guard, librarian, custodian, bus driver, teacher, cafeteria worker, school nurse. 

“Bus Driver” by Matt Forrest Esenwine

The poems in this collection can serve as a reminder of all of those special people, who are working now, who are waiting to greet our children when they return to classrooms, who are doing their best in trying times.

“Nurse” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

I love being a part of Poetry Friday, a weekly celebration of children’s poetry. Author Buffy Silverman is hosting the Roundup of Poetry Friday posts today at her blog.

Poetry Friday- A Celebration of Nursery Rhymes

At my local community college, I teach a course called “Poetry in the Early Childhood Classroom.” Teachers of young children gather over poetry books, in real life or via Zoom, and we talk about how to best use poetry in a lively early literacy curriculum.

The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews

One of my students’ favorite books is this one, which I want to celebrate on this Poetry Friday. As they became more attuned to issues of diversity and racial justice in children’s literature and beyond, we had powerful conversations about the vibrant images of black and brown children accompanying the familiar nursery rhymes in THE NEIGHBORHOOD MOTHER GOOSE by Nina Crews. One of my students remarked, “I never realized all the nursery rhyme books that we own are so… white.” 

To Market, To Market
To Market, To Market

Nursery rhymes are often a child’s first introduction to rhyme and poetry. This book is a treasure for all children and deserves a place in every early childhood classroom and on the bookshelves of young children. 

Thanks to my friend Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for encouraging me to join in on Poetry Friday, a celebration of children’s poetry. Mary Lee Hahn is hosting the Roundup of Poetry Friday posts at A Year of Reading. 

Happy Friday!

 

Windows, Mirrors, and Anti-Racist Course Design

This past Friday, I presented at the Teaching, Learning, and Student Development (TLSD) conference at Roxbury Community College in Boston.

The theme this year was “Employing an Anti-Racist Lens to Build Inclusive College Curriculum and Student Services.” My presentation, “Windows and Mirrors: What Children’s Literature Can Teach Us about Anti-Racist Course Design” was an opportunity for me to share my passion for the work of children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop with an audience of higher education faculty and administration, relating her concept of windows and mirrors to the foundations of how we design our courses. It was such a rewarding experience, and in the course of the day, I attended other workshops that challenged my thinking about how we support students in need, deal with issues of plagiarism (educating vs. punishing), and use the term “first generation.” An amazing day that I was proud to be a part of!

 

 

 

 

Radio Round Table on Diversity and Children’s Books

It was a delight to be part of a (remote) round-table discussion this week on WCAI-FM (the Cape and Islands NPR station) about children’s literature and diversity. On “The Point” program hosted by Mindy Todd, I was joined by an educator from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,  Jennifer Weston of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. We were also be joined by two librarians and the co-owner of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Sara Hines. 

What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors.  I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!

You can listen to the recording on the link here.

 

Signing with a Literary Agent

A ray of light in a pretty dark time– that’s how I am feeling about signing with literary agent Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.

When Lori and I talked on Zoom, I could tell she was excited about my work. She said one of my picture books gave her goosebumps! As a writer, having someone in my corner who is enthusiastic about my work is just what I need. 

Publishing expert Jane Friedman has this to say about literary agents:

“In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books published by New York houses get sold by literary agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry and represent the interests of their author-clients. They have inside contacts with specific publishers and know which editors are most likely to buy a particular work…

The best agents are career-long advisers and managers.”

Because writing can be a lonely business with a lot of waiting and rejection, it’s the role of adviser and manager that I am most excited about. What manuscript should go out next on submission? How can I improve this piece before we send it out to editors for their consideration? Those are things that Lori can help me figure out.

This represents a new chapter in my writing life, and in the midst of all the other stressful things going on in our world, it’s given me a gust of hope.