Monday, September 15, 2014

Two Dogs - Combining Reality and Fantasy

Dog Brushing
by Amy LV

Students - Today's verse grew from an interruption.  I was writing in my notebook yesterday morning when our daughter walked into the room to tell me how when pulling some burdocks from Sage, she pulled out a huge clump of fur.  This reminded me of times we've brushed huge piles of fur out of Sage, times we've said, "We could make a new dog out of this pile!"

Once again, I learned that paying attention to the world - even when writing - can yield an idea.  It may be a weird idea, but an idea nonetheless.

Sound-wise, today's poem is a little bit breathless.  I could have broken it up into stanzas (where would you do this?) but instead, I kept the lines in one big blob.  I did this because I like the way the lines run all into each other, the way this makes a reader read more quickly.  It feels like a story-I-want-to-tell-now!

Often, I will take a bit from my real life and then play with the reality, adding just a wee bit of fantasy.  The dog is real.  We really brush her.  We really get a pile of fur. The fur pile really feels large enough to make a new dog. But the magic words?  Nope.  And the new dog growing?  Nope.  That's where I play.  Try this yourself  sometime. Start real.  End unreal. 

Our Dog Sage
Photo by ? LV

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Free Verse and a Visit from Irene Latham

Wet Leaves
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Today's poem is a quiet poem, and it is about the picture you see above, a picture I took just yesterday.  On my way into a school yesterday morning, after an 80 minute drive in the rainy dark, I emerged from my car to see these magical leaves, made even more magical by rain and morning sun.  

While part of me wished to hurry into school, another part of me said, "Stop, Amy. Take a picture of this.  You will want to remember this pretty scene, here where you least expected to find one."  I could have taken a picture with my mind.  I could have stopped to draw the scene.  Instead, yesterday, I took a photograph.  And here it is. In photo captured then and later, captured with the photo of words.

This is a quiet poem because this small still life gave me a quiet feeling inside.  So rather than focusing on rhyme-playfuness today, my poem focuses on focus - on looking carefully at one beautiful, surprise life-painting just left there in my busy path. If you have visited The Poem Farm before, you may know that I sometimes push myself to write free verse, unrhymed, poems. This moves me out of my comfortable home in rhyme and bouncy meter.

When you look around at the world, not at a screen and not at the busythoughts inside of your head, you will see beauty in many surprising places.  Each time I do, I feel tremendously lucky.

Speaking of lucky...

Today we are all lucky to welcome poet and novelist Irene Latham.  I invited Irene to share about revision and her newest book, DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, a cool, informative, and beautifully written collection of poems about animals from the African grasslands. 

Available through
your Independent Bookseller
or through Amazon

Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to talk about revision! The Poem Farm is one of my favorite places to visit... so warm and inspiring!

Rarely have I written a poem that didn't go through extensive revisions. Simply changing one word in a poem constitutes a new draft... and often it is that one word that I can't imagine until it wakes me up in the middle of the night! I love watching a poem become more clearly what it was meant to be all along. One of the best ways to be able to “see” this is to allow a poem to rest between drafts. Just like bread, a poem needs a chance to breathe after it's been kneaded. Then you can come back to it and bake it to a nice golden-brown in your mind's oven.

I'm not sure a poem is ever really done, but at some point, we must stop and move on. I was revising the poems in DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST right up until we went to press. A litmus test that I use for myself when putting together a collection is this: if this poem is the only poem a reader ever reads out of this book, will I be satisfied with that? It took me a long time to find the “yes” to that question regarding the snake poem. It's kind of a tricky poem, as it includes all five snake species native to the African continent. That's asking a lot of a poem! Anyhow, here's the poem that appeared in the version of the book when it was first acquired by Millbrook Press:

Lifestyles of the Sleek and Sinuous

My name is Black Mamba.
Wanna chasssssssssssse?

            Boomslang, that's me.
            Welcome to my treehouse.

They call me Cape Cobra.
Seen any weaver birds lately?

            Saw-scaled Viper's my name.
            When I sizzle, you shake.

I go by Puff Adder.
Step on me, if you dare.

See how I tried to include in each couplet a quality unique to that particular kind of snake? That was a good approach, and I wanted to keep it. BUT. I wanted to employ more poetic techniques to really make this poem shine, so I kept at it.

Lifestyles of the Sleek and Sinuous

Black Mamba


Cape Cobra
weaver birds.

            Saw-scaled Viper
            rubs, shrugs

Puff Adder
hisses –
rarely misses.

See how I kept some of the things that were working in the earlier version, but pared the poem AND amped up all the remaining word choices? I made sure there was rhyme in every couplet while still giving information unique to each snake. And now, yes, if this is the only poem you read out of DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, I am satisfied that you've gotten a taste of what the rest of the book holds. No weakling poems allowed! The goal in a collection is to make each and every poem shiny enough to be the title poem. It's something to strive for, anyway. :)

Click to Enlarge this Spread from DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST

If you're reading this, and writing your own poems, be patient with yourself. Remember that we have millions of words to choose from, so endless variations are possible. Keep tinkering – that's where the joy is! And also, rest. You'll know when it's time to stop.

Thank you, Amy, for having me – and for all the ways you share the love of poetry with the world! xo

I am very grateful to Irene for joining us today here at The Poem Farm and also at Sharing Our Notebooks.  To peek into Irene's notebooks, head over there, peek away, and comment to be entered to win your own copy of DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST.

Renee is hosting today's Poetry Friday party over at No Water River.  All are welcome to join in, visit, share, and love poetry in her joyous space today.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Am the New Kid - and a New Book Too!

New Kid
by Amy LV

Students - I have been the new kid, each of our children has been the new kid, my friend Rosie is the new kid this year, and at the start of school, I am just thinking about that feeling of being new.

When I was the new kid (a few times as I went to three elementary schools and then studied as an exchange student after high school), I especially remember not knowing where to look.  Other people were laughing and talking, but not me.  Where should I look?  Each time, that new-kid-feeling went away in time, but during that new-kid-time, I was uncomfortable.

This poem is to honor all of the new kids in new classrooms this year.  And it is also to remind all of us not-new-kids to reach out, say hello, be a welcoming force in this world.

When you sit down to write today, you might try to remember a feeling you once had.  It may be a feeling you have not had in a while, but you remember it clearly.  You might even think of someone you know who has been having a big feeling lately, try to imagine how that person feels.  Close your eyes and feel a feeling.  Then, maybe, try writing in that feeling-voice.  See if you can call it back with your words.

Did you notice how I repeated the line:

Will someone say hi?

at the beginning and the ending of the poem.  Sometimes using such a circular structure, or ending where you began, can be a great way to help a poem hold together.

And now...a new book on the scene!

  Available through
your Independent Bookseller

I am so happy to announce a book birthday, this September 1, of MANGER, the latest stunner of a poetry anthology by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann and starred by Kirkus.  The poems in the book are described as follows:

There is a legend that describes how, at midnight on Christmas Eve, all creatures are granted the power of speech for one hour. In this rich collection, Lee Bennett Hopkins and a dozen other poets imagine what responses they might offer. The poems represent a diverse group of animals, but all come together with one singular purpose: celebrating the joy of the miraculous event.

This collection of graceful poems provides readers with a Nativity story unlike any other -- at times gently humorous, at times profound, but always inviting readers to appreciate the wonder of Christmas. This book is a perfect gift for the holiday season.

I am honored to have written the sheep poem for this book.  When Lee asked me to do so, it felt completely right as we then had a flock of sheep living in our yard.  Here is the poem I wrote from a sheep's point of view.

from MANGER by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Art by Helen Cann, Sheep Poem by Amy LV
Image from Helen Cann's Website - Click to Enlarge

Much later, when Lee shared the gorgeous and tender illustrations by Helen Cann, I was astounded by how the sheep Helen imagined for Lee's book looked exactly like our oldest and most loving ram, ReRa, the first ram of our flock, now gone after a long life.  Of course Helen and I never communicated about this sheep, yet perhaps - magically - we did.

Mark Trims ReRa's Hooves, 2011
Photo by Amy LV

MANGER is on my Christmas list as a book to give this year, and I highly recommend it for all who love books about Christmas, animals, poetry, and love.

Laura Shovan is hosting this week's Poetry Friday party over at Author Amok.  There you will find a delicious buffet of blogs to visit...all celebrating poetry!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, August 29, 2014

She Sells Seashells - Borrowing Lines

Painted Seashells by A. - Ocean City, Maryland
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Our family spent last week camping on Assateague Island, and one evening brought us to the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland.  There I met a young girl, perhaps twelve years old, who sells seashells down by the seashore, just like in the tongue twister.  I was enchanted by her and by her shells, and I bought one to hang on our Christmas tree this year.  (As soon as I find this shell, I will share a photo of it with you.) I asked permission to take the picture of all of this young artist's shells, and she kindly allowed me to do so.

Later, I saw some other customers talking with her about her work.

Seashell Seller - Ocean City, MD
Photo by Amy LV

One reason I love writing poetry is that it causes me to stop more often, to pay close attention to the beautiful people and things I find along the path of life.  And when a moment of life crosses a song or poem or book or tongue twister that I already have in my heart - well, wow!  That is like a small spark glowing.  I was excited all week to come back to this old wooden desk, to write about this creative child and her salty, painty shells.

You may have noticed that today's poem uses words from the famous tongue twister, and sometimes poets do this - borrow lines from other poems, songs, sayings.  There is even a type of poem called a cento, wherein a poem is completely made up of lines from other poems.  You might want to try some borrowing in your own writing. Simply open a poetry book, read some poems, choose a line you love, and let it inspire a poem of your own.  You might begin your poem with the line you love, or you might tuck it into the middle of your poem.  You might choose a line from a poem or song that you already have inside of you, as I did today.  If you borrow a line from a famous poem or song, your readers will have fun discovering it and remembering that other song or poem too. Your piece and the other piece will echo back and forth to each other.

Remember, borrowing one line is very different from copying someone else's poem.  If you read a poem by another poet, and if you love it, copy it into your notebook and include the author's name.  It is wondrous to have a collection of poems that match your soul completely.

She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore.
The shells she sells are sea-shells, I'm sure.
For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore
Then I'm sure she sells sea-shore shells.

Did you know that this seashell tongue twister was originally part of a song written by Terry Sullivan in 1908?  It is based on a real woman named Mary Anning.

I have been away for much of the summer: teaching, making jam, playing in water.  But now fall calls, and so I am back, here at the old desk, so happy to see you again.  

Jone is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at Check it Out.  Hop on over there to meet some new poetry friends, visit with some old ones, and simply enjoy the offerings.  Happy Poetry Friday!

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Wizard at the Fair - Writing Observations as Memories

Artist Jerry Ward at the Erie County Fair
August 7, 2014
Photo by Amy LV

Students - Yesterday, as I watched Jerry Ward carve this bust of Don Quixote, I was transported to a new place inside of myself.  A man appeared from inside of a tree trunk, and it was magical!  Sawdust smells tickled my nose, and I sat mesmerized by this chainsaw artist.  I knew that I would write a poem about my feeling because some moments in our lives just call out to us, "I am a poem!  I am a poem!" and this was one of them.

After Jerry finished carving the bust, he turned to the audience - sitting on big logs - and told us that he releases figures from wood.  When I began to write, this Don Quixote came to life in my poem, happy to be free after many so many years.

My first draft of today's free verse poem was in the present tense: "I sit/watching/the Wizard of Wood..." But as I wrote, I realized that poem would work better in the past tense.  Sometimes when people think about their memories, they think about years and long ago.  But memories are falling around us like twinkling raindrops...every single minute.  You can take something that happened to you today - and write about it in the past tense voice, as if it happened long before.  

What has happened to you today already?  What might happen in the next few hours?  If you live your life paying attention to everything, you will see how a now-happening might just be a poem in the making.  Open your eyes!  Open your ears!  What do you find?

Jerry Ward's Don Quixote at the Erie County Fair
August 7, 2014
Photo by Amy LV

To see more of Jerry Ward's artwork, visit his website here and read about how "Wood is mystical."

Mary Lee is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at A Year of Reading.  Do not miss the poem she shares with us today.  You, too, might "snort your morning tea!"

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Friday, July 11, 2014

My Spirit Animal - Inspiration from Others

Deer Mom & Fawns
Photo by Hope LV

Students - Sometimes things just come together.  Last week, Laura Shovan posted about spirit animals at Author Amok.  She recommended ANIMALS SPEAK by Ted Andrews, and I now have it sitting on my nightstand, just waiting!


At the same time, I decided to read our daughter Georgia's favorite book, WHAT THE MOON SAW, by Laura Resau, a beautiful nature-full and mystical book including spirit animals and much love.

And early this week, our daughter Hope took the doe and fawn picture you see atop today's post.  Could a deer be Hope's spirit animal?  I wonder.

Can you tell that spirit animals are on my mind?  I am watching for signs, wondering if I will find my own spirit animal.  Have you ever felt especially connected to a wild animal?  Do you dream about one particular animal?  Do you see one animal over and over in the wild?  Who might your spirit animal be?

As a writer, it is good for us to keep our eyes and hearts open for where different areas of our lives meet. If a friend says something to you that connects to a book you are reading, pay attention.  If you see something and then read about that same something, listen.  There may be a lesson you are meant to learn.  

Last week, author and My Juicy Little Universe blogger Heidi Mordhorst commented on Laura Shovan's spirit animal post, "I think one of the things that distinguishes poets from 'regular people' and even from other writers is a kind of intense openness to connections of all kinds. It's part observation and part discernment: I notice these signs; I begin to see meaning in them."

Linda is hosting today's Poetry Friday fiesta over at Write Time.  Visit her warm and inviting blog to discover all kinds of poems and poetrylove swirling around the Kidlitosphere this week!

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Wee Summer Break

Yummy Harvest
Photo by Amy LV

The Poem Farm is on a wee summer break: pond swimming, jam making, and falling in love with sunshine and fireflies all over again.  I'll be back soon, and in the meantime, many happy poems to you!  (I do continue to post a favorite poem each day at The Poem Farm Facebook page.)

Here is a July 4 poem from The Poem Farm archives: Tonight.

Don't miss!  Laura Shovan has a beautiful and inspiring post about spirit animals over at Author Amok.  I am honored that she chose to include my "First Flight" from FOREST HAS A SONG, and want to offer many congratulations to Laura on selling her novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, to Random House.  Fly, book, fly!

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi's place. Stop by and celebrate this great day and season with a party of poetry.

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