Friday, February 5, 2016

Listening to Voices, Laughing at Ourselves, Learning

Grey Street in East Aurora, NY
February 4, 2016
Film by Amy LV

Students - Last evening, as I drove my daughter to a friend's house, we hit several traffic lights.  At one of them, this line flashed through my mind -

Someone is coming.
The streetlights
they whisper....

I liked the rhythm of this, and so I set to work, actually writing the draft of today's poem right in my van, sitting underneath a streetlight in a grocery store parking lot.

Photo by Amy LV

The original draft, as you can see, continues describing the "streetlights," and I was happy with it.  Until.

Until I looked up "streetlights" to see if it is one word or two.  This is when I realized something that I already knew but somehow overlooked as I wrote.  This poem is not about streetlights at all.  This poem is about traffic lights!  Streetlights are the lights on the side of the road, the ones that hang a bit over the road, giving white light to pedestrians and drivers.  Traffic lights are the ones that change colors, telling drivers when to go, be careful, and stop.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how reading and learning new things can make a writer realize that she or he needs to abandon an idea.  Well, today, I must share that sometimes a writer makes a silly mistake and needs to go back and fix it!  This is just what I did last night.  See the cross outs?  Please, never be afraid to look at something that does not work and change it; that's what we writers do.

Did you notice how the line breaks in today's poem move across the page?  I did that because I wanted the reader to feel, just a wee bit, like a rider in a bus or car.

And do traffic lights really whisper? No. That's just a bit of personification.  I do like to pretend that the lights whisper to each other,though, telling secrets about us humans coming by in our buses and cars.

So, remember!  Make changes when you need to .  And listen.  Sometimes a line of poetry will just sneak up and tap you on the shoulder, maybe even at a strange time such as when you are sitting in traffic.

Tricia is hosting this week's poetry party with Pablo Picasso's cat over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  Visit her wise blog to find out who is sharing which poetry gifts and links, all around the Kidlitosphere, all week long.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Walking a Mile...Writing from Books and Expressions

Used Sneaks
by Amy LV

Students - Today's poem came about in a difficult way. Honestly, I could not decide what to write about.  I rambled around in my notebook writing about everything from not knowing what to write to describing my cat to the grandfather I never knew to imagining an island full of horses.  My notebook entry that led to this poem is completely scattered.

But then I settled in.  And how I settled into this topic, I am not sure.  It may be because most of my shoes do come from secondhand stores, or it may because I was remembering a conversation I had over twenty years ago with Patricia MacLachlan.  I was riding in an elevator with Patricia MacLachlan at Teachers College, Columbia University, helping her with her things as she prepared to give a keynote in the big auditorium. On that elevator ride, she told me about an idea she had for a book.  It was an amazing idea for a book that she would not publish until over fifteen years later, and I thought about it often through those years.

When EDWARD'S EYES was published, and when I read the description, I squealed at the reality of our conversation coming to real print life.  I will not tell you what the book is about, but if you know it, you will see the connection to this poem.  If you do not know this book, then you must read it.

So maybe the poem comes a little bit from this book.  It also comes from a popular expression, "You cannot understand another person until you've walked a mile in their shoes."

I have written another poem from a popular expression - "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" - HERE.

If you're ever feeling uncertain of what to write about, try thinking about books you have read or conversations you have had.  Maybe make a list in your notebook of expressions.  Ideas are everywhere...sometimes we just have to look into the corners of our atticminds to find them.

It has been such a pleasure to host science author Melissa Stewart over at my other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks, this month.  If you have not read her post full of writing insight and notebook pictures, please stop by.  From now through Sunday, if you leave a comment, you will be entered into a drawing to win three of Melissa's books.

Catherine is hosting a this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at Reading to the Core.  You will love the peek into Irene Latham's new book, WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA, and you'll also love the interview between Catherine and Irene.  

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Momentary Longings, Feeder Birds, & a Poetry Peek

View from Study Window
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Did you ever have a flash of, "Oh...I wish...!"  I sure have.  Sometimes a thought - maybe an impossible, magical thought - will enter my mind, a thought like, "Oh...I wish those feeder birds could come in and eat with me!"  The thought may come and go quickly, within seconds, replaced with a practical thought such as, "I should clear the table."

Well, today I would like to suggest that paying attention to fleeting, magical thoughts or momentary longings is a fine way to find writing ideas.  Listen to the thoughts that sneak in between some of your usual thoughts.  Allow an flash of insight or a quick wish to plant a seed in your mind and in your notebook, growing into a poem or a story or a painting.

The photograph you see atop this post is one that I took through my study window just last week.  I live in Holland, NY, a snowy place in wintertime, and this is what I see each day when I sit at my desk.  My husband feeds the birds to help them get through cold days, and I feel lucky to watch them eat.  But yes, sometimes I do wish to have them as indoor guests.

I shared this photo with my friend, Principal Anthony Morey, of Wealthy Elementary School in East Grand Rapids, Michigan.  And he shared it with the students of his school, inviting them to write from what they saw.  Last year I was fortunate enough to meet these students (you may remember when I wrote about the visit HERE), and so I was excited to think about them writing from this bird picture.

This school will soon have a visit from Laura Purdie Salas, and the children have been studying her work.  One neat thing that Laura offers on her blog each Thursday is an invitation to write what she calls "15 Words or Less Poems."  Readers are welcomed to view a photo on her blog, to write a brief poem (15 words or less), and to share it in the comments.  You can see this week's invitation at Laura's blog, Writing the World for Kids,  HERE.

Well, guess what?  A few students from Mrs. Bishop's second grade class at Wealthy Elementary looked at my bird photograph, and they wrote 15 words or less poems of their own to share with all of us.  I would like to thank these writers, their teacher Mrs. Bishop, their principal Mr. Morey, and Laura Purdie Salas for combining beautiful energies to bring these poems to us today.  Enjoy!

View from Study Window
Photo by Amy LV

Bird Feeders 

There is a bird feeder outside
Hanging from a tree
So calm
No sound
Whispering breeze

by Skyler T.

The Post

A post stands
In the winter cold
Waiting for birds
Come to me birds

by Lillie A.

Bird Seed 

Peck, peck, peck
I am pecking for seeds
I wanted seeds
Mmmm, Mmmm
I love seeds

by Nava T.

Much gratitude to these young writers for sharing your words with us.  I so appreciate the way each of these poems takes a different perspective: Careful description, writing as the feeder, writing as a small bird.

This month I am tickled to host tremendous science writer Melissa Stewart at Sharing Our Notebooks.  If you have not yet done so, please do not miss her post and generous sharing of her own notebooks, process, and a poem that she wrote when she visited a wetlands with some students from Wealthy Elementary school recently.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is living with Keri at Keri Recommends.  Join her for a thoughtful reflection on creativity and to discover many poetrylove posts sprinkled all around the Kidlitosphere this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Walk, Discover, Write, Repeat

Close Up of Tracks
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Lately, my husband and I have been alternating taking walks on our quiet road with walks through our empty pasture.  We once had sheep in that pasture, but now it is a place for us to let our dogs run as we hike around and through the field. Along the one edge of the field, we have a few bluebird boxes mounted on fence posts.  It's so wonderful to see the bluebirds flitting around in summer, and on Wednesday, I noticed the tracks at the base of this post.

Bluebird Box on Post
Photo by Amy LV

Mark-my-husband-the-science-teacher-and-naturalist told me that these are mouse tracks leading right up to the post, that mice have clearly scampered up the post and into the hole to live for winter.

Here's a close up of the bluebird box.  Can you see how a mouse might skitter right up that rough back, holding on with his or her toenails, and into the hole or the place where the box is coming apart?

Close Up of Bluebird Box
Photo by Amy LV

And here, just a few fence posts away, is another box with no tracks at the base at all. I wonder if that's because this box is not coming apart?

Empty Winter Home
Photo by Amy LV

When I learned that mice sometimes spend their winters in bluebird summer homes, I became so excited and happy and ran to the house to get my camera to take these pictures.  I thought, "Oh, this would be an adorable picture book."  I had lots of fun beginning to imagine the pages in my mind, planning what I would write.


But then I did a bit of research here at Sialis, "a resource for people interested in helping bluebirds and other native cavity-nesters survive and thrive."  And as I read, I learned.  I learned that it is not healthy for mice to winter in bluebird houses.  Mice carry a disease that can be harmful to bluebirds, and it is also not a good idea to get mice used to living in a bluebird house.  One wouldn't want to have a bluebird and a mouse competing for the same house or to have a bluebird reject a house because mice were already there.

So that was the end of my picture book idea.  And I was a little bit sad.  But I was a little bit happy too, because I learned that we can clean out our bluebird boxes, take off the roofs next winter, and help those birds even more.  But a part of me wants to build small mouse houses too!

You can see some pictures of mice inside of bluebird houses HERE.  For even though I wanted to open ours up to check on who's inside, I did not want to disturb the mice.

Here are the writing lessons from this whole story:

  • Go for walks - we can find all kinds of interesting curiosities on walks.
  • When you make interesting discoveries, take pictures so that you can think about them later.
  • Research.
  • Be willing to let go of ideas you like if you learn they are somehow unsound or could cause confusion.  There is a saying in writing - "Kill your darlings."  This means that a writer needs to let go of favorite bits sometimes.  It's hard to do it, but it will often make our writing stronger.  Writers need to be brave.
  • Add mystery to a poem.  In my first draft, I indicated that the tracks were "mouse footprints" right away.  But in a later draft, I changed it so that the reader be surprised at the end. This was what I call revision to add mystery!

Writing is always here to teach us.  We may not like what we learn at first, and we may not learn what we expect, but that's why I keep coming back.

Over at Sharing Our Notebooks, I'm thrilled to start 2016 by welcoming wonderful science writer Melissa Stewart and her notebooks.  Please mosey on over and take a peek behind the scenes at her wonderful writing.  And if you're curious about who won the wonderful giveaway from Tanny McGregor, don't miss that announcement.

It's Poetry Friday, and this week's roundup is beautifully held by Tabatha over at The Opposite of Indifference.  Over at her place, you can read today's beautiful poem, explore a fabulous blog, and you can also find links to all kinds of poetry goodness going on this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions - Imaginary Conversations

Photo by Amy LV

Students - Happy New Year! Yesterday afternoon, as I walked our dogs Cali and Sage, I asked them what their New Year's Resolutions were.  They didn't answer, but later, as I wrote in my notebook (I am doing lots of that lately), they did answer.  And their answer became today's small poem.

Many poems grow from words we hear others say or from conversations we have, but we can also imagine conversations and play with ideas about what might be or could be said.  Try playing around with "what might have been said" or "what could be said" sometime in your own notebook.  You can words from people and animals you know or from historical figures or inanimate objects...anyone or anything at all.  What might have been said?  What could be said?

Today's poem is not full of full rhymes, but there are some similar sounds that hold the lines together.  Can you find them?

You can read two other New Year poems in The Poem Farm archives.  Find New Year's Eve from 2014 and January 1 from 2011.  It's amazing how the years keep on rolling by, isn't it?

Over at my other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks, I am pleased to share that we have two winners for Tanny McGregor's generous giveaway. In 2016, I hope to feature more student notebooks in addition to these wonderful adult notebooks, so please, teachers and students, drop me a line if you're interested in sharing!  I will make it easy for you to do so.

In other celebratory news, my first nonfiction book, EVERY DAY BIRDS, illustrated by Dylan Metrano and published by Scholastic, joins library and bookstore shelves next month!  I could not feel more grateful.  If you are a blogger who is interested in reviewing this book, please send me an e-mail, and I will have one sent to you.

Mary Lee is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at A Year of Reading. Visit her place for a beautiful, wise poem, and enjoy the poetry bounty!  How lucky we are to have this community.

Many New Year blessings and joys to all of you!  Happy 2016!  I thank you for visiting.

xo, Amy

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Night and Books

Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Melanie Hall

Students - Today's poem takes me back to my childhood. And while the setting for this poem is Christmas night, it could be about any busy time followed by a quiet time.  I do love busy-ness, and I also cherish the quiet after busy-ness. Quiet time to curl up with a book and maybe a pet.

When I was a little girl, I loved to curl up near our Christmas tree with a book, to sit in the glow of those colored lights and read the night away.  

This year, I find myself inspired by the literary tradition of Iceland, a country of readers and of book-givers at Christmas time.  Curious?  You can read about the Christmas Book Flood here at npr.

A book and quiet.  A tree and a cuddly pet.  These are some things I look forward to this week.

Today's little poem is the first poem that I ever had published in a book - ten years ago!  CHRISTMAS PRESENTS, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Melanie Hall, is a lovely book for this season, and I love owning the original painting for this page.  My husband Mark gave this piece of artwork to me ten years ago, and it was a fantastic and wonderful surprise.

Over at Sharing Our Notebooks, I am still happy to have Tanny McGregor with her superneat notebooks.  Please stop by and leave a comment to be entered into her generous drawing.

The very kind and wise Irene Latham is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup at Live Your Poem.  There you will find all of this week's poetry offerings, all around the Kidlitosphere.

I wish all of you wonderful surprises, happy busy-ness, kindness, art, and magical quiet time for reading and snuggling.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Decorating - Short and Sweet

Our Table
Photo by Amy LV

Students - If you came to visit on Friday and I was not here, I am sorry!  We had sickness in the house and that came first.  Writing is close to the top, but family is at the top.  

Today's poem is about something I am spending lots of time doing lately - baking and eating cookies.  We giggled last night as a friend kept finding broken cookies (hee hee, not really finding) and dipping them into frosting like chips in dip.  And we laughed at the way we decorated some cookies all fancy and some all crazy.  There is something about cut out cookies that just sings celebration.  Here, in the photo above, are some cookies for you, made just last night!

This is a pretty short poem, and I woke up with the first stanza in my head. That doesn't happen often, but once in a while, a wee line will just visit, and if I'm quick, I write it down.  Writing is like that.  Sometimes you have to squeeze your brain like a sponge, and sometimes a line comes up and taps you on the shoulder.  The secret, I think, is being ready for either: the squeezing or the tapping.

Through the end of 2015, I'm so happy to host Tanny McGregor over at my other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks.  Please stop by and check out her amazing notebooks, and feel free to comment to win a copy of one of her books.

While I am a few days late to the Poetry Friday party, please know that Diane is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at Random Noodling. Noodle on over to Diane's cozy home on the web and find out what's happening poetry-wise all around the Kidlitosphere this week.

Please share a comment below if you wish.