Category: Poetry

Finding Just the Right Word

Slipping into someone else’s voice when writing a poem is one of my writerly challenges and delights. In my hospital-themed poetry collection for adults, Unity Hospital, the poems are in the voices of women who intersected with the hospital in some way: nurses, a doctor, a reporter, a candy striper, and more. (It’s out on submission now.)  I love immersing myself in a time period and the particulars of a profession, then trying to find just the right words to convey that time and place and person.

The word “handsy” is a word not used often these days, but I think it is both descriptive and belittling at the same time, and evocative of a certain time period and attitude.  Interviewing a retired nurse, the mother of a friend, gave me the spark for “Call the Doctor,” just published in an online journal from the medical community called Medmic. You can read it here.

In memory of Barbara Maniaci

Barbara, the mother of my dear friend Kathie, worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse for over 40 years. She passed away six months ago, and I’m so grateful I got to learn a little more about her nursing experiences, and about small acts of transgression in the nursing world of the past.

Happy Friday, poetry friends! Here’s to finding our voice, and to small acts of transgression!


On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. Check out the celebration of poetry on Jama Rattigan’s blog today!

The history of a hospital– in a poetry collection!

Over the past three years, one object of my writing obsession has been the hospital in Brooklyn where my grandmother completed her nurse’s training as a young Irish immigrant. The nurse’s residence was the address on her marriage certificate. It was called Unity Hospital, located in Crown Heights. I dove into newspaper archives, reading tragic and heroic accounts of the role that Unity Hospital played in people’s lives. I’ve written a poetry collection for adults, UNITY HOSPITAL, that spans the 50 years that the hospital was in existence. It’s out on submission now.

The poems are in the voices of an array of women who intersected with the hospital in some way: nurses, patients, a candy striper, a switchboard operator, new mothers, a “pantry girl,” a woman who died from a botched 1952 abortion, a newspaper reporter, a medical clerk, and more. Many of the poems were inspired by news accounts.

 

Passager is a journal and press for writers over 50

And one of the poems was selected for a beautiful journal, out now, called PASSAGER! So here’s a peek at one voice from Unity Hospital– an emergency room nurse in 1947. More to come soon, hopefully!

My poem, “Silent,” from UNITY HOSPITAL

The text of the poem:

SILENT

Emergency room nurse, 1947

 

Barely 20,

he huddles silent on the gurney,

all knuckles and knees.

One eye wide,

one swollen shut.

He’s not talking,

but I can read the story on his body—

abrasions

contusions

lacerations.

Some punks worked him over like a side of beef.

They nearly killed my brother that way—

tried to beat the sissy out of him,

like this kid.

It won’t work, bastards.

It won’t work.

~~~~~~~~~~~

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Rose hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup on her blog Imagine the Possibilities. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

Hope is a Drum

Feel that drumbeat? School is starting.

A new school year fills me with hope– hope for fresh starts, open hearts, new learning. I’m back to work in my job as an elementary school Literacy Coach. How perfect to kick off this school year by celebrating the publication of a new middle-grade poetry anthology from Pomelo Books called WHAT IS HOPE? 

I’m delighted to have a poem included in this collection. “Drum” was fun to write, and I’m hoping to collaborate with the music teacher in our school to do something together with the students around percussion and this poem!

I’m grateful to editors Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell for including my poem in this lively and full-of-heart book. 100% of the profits from the book go to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund. Where can you order it? Check here.

My wish for you is that this new school year, and this new season, starts with hope.

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. Check out the Poetry Friday gathering at Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog today!

 

“Make it poetic, but not rhyming.”

You might have heard this advice before; I know I have. A quick search on the internet finds lots of similar examples…

“Tips for writing picture books: don’t write in rhyme.”

“The editor loved the concept, but was not drawn to the rhyme.”

I admit it—I love rhyme! But I also try to challenge myself to utilize other tools in my poet’s toolbox, too:

repetition, rhythm, assonance, consonance, alliteration, and more.

I recently happened upon a wonderful example of a poetic, lyrical picture book text: A ROOM OF YOUR OWN: A STORY INSPIRED BY VIRGINIA WOOLF’S FAMOUS ESSAY by Beth Kephart, illustrated by Julia Breckenreid (Cameron Kids, 2022). 

First, the concept is brilliant: talking about having a room of one’s own in which to dream and create, and then encouraging children to think about where their “room” might be, their place “to think, to dream, to be.”

Could it be under a table, in a hayloft, up a tree, or on a cool city stoop?

Second, the narrative is lyrical, poetic, and a beautiful example of a text that does not rely on rhyme yet is packed with so many other poetic elements. I now have it on my shelf to boost my creativity when I find myself leaning too heavily on rhyme!

I hope it inspires you, too, and that you have some sweet summer days ahead of you in a room of your own.

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Mary Lee Hahn hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

 

Glimpses of Green- a poem about nature in the city

I’m delighted that my poem “Glimpses of Green” is published today in the online children’s poetry journal Tyger Tyger, based in the UK. What I love about Tyger Tyger is that it is aimed at children and teachers– giving educators (and anyone who cares for children and loves poetry!) free access to high-quality poems. I wrote “Glimpses of Green” in response to their call for submissions for the “outdoors” theme, and I had fun remembering that even city kids can savor and notice signs of the natural world as they go about their day.

“A tree tickles windows next to my bed.”

I recalled running through the grass in Central Park, playing under shade trees in St. James Park in the Bronx, and laughing at the antics of city squirrels.

“In the middle of traffic, buildings, and people,

nature thrives in my city for all to observe.”

You can read “Glimpses of Green” here, and enjoy other wonderful poems about blowing on puffy dandelions, beachcombing, cloud gazing, and more. 

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Margaret Simon hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

Red Blouse, or how we cope with the intolerable

Last week while visiting Ireland, I found myself in the strange position of answering my cousins’ questions about gun violence in America. As we sat around the table with little cousins running in and out of the room, the adults wondered–how can we tolerate having lockdown drills with young children, hiding in the corner of a darkened classroom, beseeching them to remain silent? How do we normalize all of the school shootings? There are no answers.

I tend to “telescope” when something bad happens, as a way of coping, I suppose. I usually fasten my attention on one particular person, and I root for them and pray for them and worry for their safety or solace. That’s why I wrote this poem, “Red Blouse,” for Kimberly Mata-Rubio, whose daughter Lexi was killed in her school in Uvalde, Texas. It was published last week in The Rise Up Review.  Lexi was recently remembered at an End Gun Violence event in Fenway Park, pictured below. The photo shown at Fenway, which was shared by her family on social media, was taken at an awards ceremony on the morning preceding the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

For more on fighting the epidemic of gun violence, see Moms Demand Action.

 

Poetry in the Bronx!

It was a joy to be the Visiting Poet at PS 86 in the Bronx last week!

I attended kindergarten there, and PS 86 was also the polling place in our neighborhood. I have many memories of accompanying my parents to vote, and of my mother working as an election worker there. Returning to the school, meeting the vibrant staff and wonderful children– what a delight!

I led three sessions of poetry workshops, meeting with a third-grade class, fourth-graders, and fifth-graders. The students were well-prepared, engaged, and excited. The fifth-grade students even brought their own poetry books with them so they could show me, and I was blown away by their poetry! We met in the library, which was chock full of beautiful books.

In my workshops, I shared several of my poems, and then we focused on one: “Cousins,” from the anthology What is a Family? (Pomelo Books, 2022). We talked about how family members may look alike or have different skin tones. We talked about the word “cousins” in different languages. We talked about how some people have many cousins, and some just a few (or none). And we talked about how some of us don’t see our cousins often if they live in a different country. 

I challenged the students to “think like an illustrator,” and each student illustrated the poem “Cousins.” As they drew, they spoke of their families with tenderness, or told funny cousin stories. I listened to students from Yemen, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic as they shared their family stories with me. 

I left PS 86 with a full heart and deep appreciation for the staff there: Assistant Principal Stephanie Fitzpatrick, Librarian Matt Egan, Literacy Coach Cara Midlige, and the other teachers and staff who welcomed me warmly and shined with enthusiasm even as we approach the last lap of the school year. I hope to return to PS 86 next year, and I left with a feeling of deep, deep joy.

Students reading from WHAT IS A FAMILY? and THINGS WE DO (Pomelo Books)

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, poet Buffy Silverman hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

Vitamin P: A Poetry Workshop for Teachers

This week I led a professional development session for teachers, “Vitamin P: Boosting the Use of Poetry in the Literacy Block.”

“Animal Talk” by Charles Ghigna

For three hours, we played with poetry! We talked about how to infuse poetry across the curriculum, find rich and meaningful poems, and present poetry in different ways– charts, slides, big books, and more.

THINGS WE DO anthology by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

The teachers perused a huge selection of poetry books and made poetry charts for their classrooms, choosing poems that were just right for their students. 

“All Kinds of Kids” by Elizabeth Steinglass
“My People” by Langston Hughes. Book illustrated by beautiful photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr.

It was joyful, creative, and energizing. And the teachers’ feedback was amazing…

“You are so passionate about poetry! It is infectious :)”

“It’s so exciting to reignite the power of poetry in the classroom, especially to spark SEL conversations.”

“I really feel that poetry helps to level the playing field for many struggling readers and kids who may feel unsure of themselves, as well as a powerful place for higher level thinking.”

“This filled my soul! I needed ‘permission’ to use poetry again!”

*****As a presenter, it was an exciting and delightful day.

As a poet, I was thrilled to reignite the poetry flame in many of the teachers.

We all left the workshop with an elevated dose of “Vitamin P!”

“Ask” by Janet Wong

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, check out the Poetry Friday Roundup here

A portrait of Octavia Butler in poems: Ibi Zoboi’s STAR CHILD

There’s one book I can’t stop thinking about– STAR CHILD: A BIOGRAPHICAL CONSTELLATION OF OCTAVIA ESTELLE BUTLER by Ibi Zoboi.

The brilliant combination of poetry and nonfiction is what drew me to Zoboi’s amazing middle-grade biography of author Octavia Butler. Telling the story of a life in poems requires such precision and artistry. Zoboi does this in a way that is seamless and spare and beautiful. 

This is one of my favorite books for young readers that I’ve read recently. Zoboi acts as a sculptor—paring, shaping, and providing just the right detail in just the right words to deliver a poetic portrait of a powerful woman and commanding writer. This beautiful book recently won an Honor in the We Need Diverse Books 2023 Walter Awards.

Don’t miss it!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Marcie Flinchum Atkins hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

 

Playing with Poetry– A Circle of Sun

Playing with poetry in the classroom– that’s one of the best parts of my job as a Literacy Coach in an elementary school. 

Recently, I introduced the poem “Circle of Sun” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich in the first-grade classroom I work in each morning. It’s the opening poem in the outstanding poetry book HERE’S A LITTLE POEM, collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.  One reason I love this book for use in the classroom is that it’s a generous size, perfect for reading aloud to a group. 

HERE’S A LITTLE POEM (Candlewick, 2007)

“Circle of Sun” is chock full of vivid images and lively verbs, with beautiful lines like “I’m earth’s many colors” and “I’m honey on toast”– perfect for the multiracial, multicultural school community in which I teach. It’s a joy to read aloud!

But then came the best part– we made a classroom book. Each child took a line from the poem and illustrated it.  This made the poem more meaningful– each first grader focused on image and word choice in their line of the poem and used that as their springboard for illustrating.


Now we have a beautiful classroom book, celebrating our diversity and love of poetry. Thank you to Rebecca for crafting such a meaningful and memorable poem!

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Karen Edmisten hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!