Friday, October 21, 2016

October - Writing When Your Breath Has been Taken Away

Our Barn on October 20, 2016
Photo by Georgia VanDerwater

Students - Yesterday, driving to our home with my children, my daughter said, "Look at the hill!  It's breathtaking.  Really, my breath is taken away."

The Hill from the Road
Photo by Amy LV

Later, she took the photo atop this post.  This time of year in Western NY always takes my breath away, and today's post is simply a celebration of fall.  And, well, I suppose it's a celebration of repetition too.  Did you notice the rolling repetition in this poem?

Look for beauty.  It's here.  Even on a down day, it's here.

Through tomorrow, if you are a bilingual primary teacher (English/Spanish), you may enter my giveaway on Twitter.  You can see the information below, and primary teachers of bilingual classrooms may retweet to enter.  Teachers - you can find me on Twitter at @amylvpoemfarm.  If you are not on Twitter, please just comment with the bilingual grade you teach, and I will enter you! 

Tricia is hosting today's Poetry Friday party over at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Please know that everyone is always welcome to Poetry Friday: to read, to celebrate, to share.  Happy PF!  xo, a.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Writing Grows from Questions We Carry: A Voting Poem

Students - Above today's poem, you see a question.  I cut and pasted the image from Twitter, where Mrs. Miller's fourth graders at Glacier Ridge Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio often share their learning and questions.  

When I first read their question, it felt like a piano had fallen from the sky onto my head.  Would I write about the election?  Why had I not already written about the election?  What would I say?  I have strong opinions about this election, so how could I write a poem about the election without pushing my opinions on other people?

I thought about this for a week.  And then, in my bed late one night, the first few lines began to form.  I followed them, thinking about my own life as a voter and as a citizen, and I offer this poem to Mrs. Miller's students and to all who are thinking about the election and to all who care about their communities, who work to make good lives for others.

I carried this question in my hand for a week and let it turn around and around in my mind before I began writing. What questions do you carry?  You might wish to list such questions or make a quick note of them as they come to you.

Here, in this document from the North Carolina Citizenship Project, you can learn about the U.S. Voting Timeline, who got the vote when.  It is very interesting, and a reminder that all people have not always had voting rights in the US. This document only goes up to 2002, so I also recommend visiting the American Civil Liberties page about the Voting Rights Act.  

Making sure that United States citizens have access to free and fair voting something that the ACLU is always working hard to do, and this is deeply important.  Learn more HERE about current work to end restrictive voting laws.  Don't miss the great map where you can click on states with such laws.

Around the world, it is true not all people have this very human right, to help choose leaders.  This is something we can continue to talk about, work toward, speak out about.

In the name of community and celebrating how differences make us stronger - and make our vote stronger - I am offering a giveaway on Twitter.  You can see the information below, and primary teachers of bilingual classrooms may retweet to enter.  Teachers - you can find me on Twitter at @amylvpoemfarm.

Irene Latham and a thoughtful scarecrow are hosting today's Poetry Friday Palooza over at her joyous home, Live Your Poem.  Please know that everyone is always welcome to Poetry Friday: to read, to celebrate, to share.  Happy PF!  xo, a.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Notebooks are for Flotsam and Jetsam

My Friend Yvonne's Cat...Casey
Photo by Yvonne Sciolino

Students - Last week I had the good fortune to visit five schools in Northern New Jersey.  During a talk at Central School in Glen Rock, NJ, I mentioned how my cat likes to sit on notebooks and computer keyboards, always wanting to be close to writing.  Many students raised their hands sharing that their cats also do this, and so I pulled out my notebook and wrote:

Notebook Jot - Central School, September 28, 2016
Photo by Amy LV

Those four words simmered there for a little while in my notebook, and then this week my friend Yvonne shared a photograph of her cat Casey working away at a laptop.  See?  It's a cat thing.  Cats DO like to write.  Ah HA!

Keeping a notebook, just jotting down the flotsam and jetsam of life is a magical way to capture wayward writing ideas.  Snips of chat, wisps of wonder...slap them all down on the page.  We never know when such bits will come in handy.  The mind is a strange place, with thoughts-like-leaves blowing around here and there.  A notebook helps us corral them, tame them, give them form.

Today's poem is written in rhyming couplets, but stanza four is s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out onto four lines instead of two.  I could have kept it two lines, but I wanted more of a listy feeling in that section of the poem, so dividing each line into two felt right.

In Sharing Our Notebooks (my other blog) news, congratulations to Brenda Harsham, winner of Kiesha Shepard's generous giveaway of a copy of Mary Oliver's book EVIDENCE.  Please don't miss Kiesha's wonderful notebook post, and Brenda...please drop me an e-mail to with your snail mail address, and I will share it with Kiesha.

Violet is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at her online home, Violet Nesdoly / poems.  Don't miss the poems, the friends, the book recommendations, the surprises.  All are welcome.  Always!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Griffins Mills Cemetery: Go Somewhere, Watch People

Griffins Mills Cemetery - West Falls, NY
Photo by Amy LV

Students - About a month ago, I stopped in a local cemetery to walk around, to think.  I often do this; something about the quiet dead reminds me to live while I can, something about the stones and stories speaks to me.  

Well, on this day, I paused in my car for a bit as a woman visited graves and placed flowers -- some on the headstones and some stuck into the dirt, as if she were planting them.  I was moved by her thoughtfulness. When the woman left, I followed her path, reading the names of the people she had visited.  I imagined they were her friends.

I wrote about this in my notebook, drafted an early poem, and revisited it, playing with form and sound and line breaks for today's poem.

Places.  People.  Go somewhere and just watch.  Think about the stories going on all around you, the ones you might miss if you're thinking about what you need to do later or if you're looking down at a phone or a game.

Just go somewhere with your notebook.  Watch people.  The world is full of stories waiting for each one of us.

Many congratulations to Kathleen Sokolowski, winner of Georgia Heard's AWAKENING THE HEART and HEART MAPS!  Thank you again to Georgia for such an inspiring post last week, and thank you to Heinemann for the generous giveaway.  Kathleen - please send me an e-mail to with your snail mail address, and I will forward it on to Heinemann.

In my other online home, I am so happy to welcome fellow Poetry Friday blogger, writer, and teacher Kiesha Shepard to Sharing Our Notebooks.  Stop on over there, peek into her notebooks, leave a comment...and maybe, just maybe, thank you to Kiesha, you might win a Mary Oliver poetry book.

If you are a teacher in an urban school, and if you are interested in trying a poetry lesson or two, please send me an e-mail to  I am writing a book which will include student poems, and so this is a possible (unpaid, but cool) publishing opportunity for students in grades 2 - 8.  

Catherine is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup over at Reading to the Core.  All are always welcome to visit the roundup, to meet new poems and friends.

Pink Carnation Gift
Photo by Amy LV

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Hearts, Heart Maps, & a New Georgia Heard Book!

Seeing Into Hearts
by Amy LV

Students - I wrote today's poem thinking about the many maps of many hearts that children and grownups have drawn over the past many years since Georgia Heard first suggested we do so.  As I considered this exercise and my own heart's table of contents, I imagined for a moment what it would be like if we could each just see inside each others' hearts, could know what others were carrying inside.

I got to thinking about my sister-in-law Suzi's e-mail tag line, how very true it is, how kind we might each be if we could only know the battles of others.  Since we cannot, we must trust that they are there.

In writing, one thing leads to another, and we must be open to this leading, this mystery.  Allow yourself to begin anywhere with your writing...and see where you end up.  The journey!  The journey!

I am so happy to welcome Georgia Heard, one of my own mentors, to The Poem Farm today. I was fortunate enough to first hear Georgia speak twenty-two years ago, and she lit a bright candle for poetry in my own heart.

Georgia Heard: Poet, Author, Teacher

I have learned lots from Georgia's books and talks throughout the years, and her new Heinemann book - HEART MAPS: HELPING STUDENTS CREATE AND CRAFT AUTHENTIC WRITING - is out just this week, so it's a perfect time to celebrate hearts!  

Georgia allowed me to ask her a few questions about this new book today, and Heinemann generously offered a set of two of her books: HEART MAPS and AWAKENING THE HEART to one commenter on today's post.  Much gratitude to both!

How did you begin working with heart maps as a way to spark writing?

I was a visiting writer in a school in Phoenix, Arizona and I began a heart-mapping project with third-graders. My goal was to inspire these young poets to write from their hearts – to show them that writing poems can give voice to our truest selves. I wrote about that experience of using heart maps to kindle writing in AWAKENING THE HEART: EXPLORING POETRY IN ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL. Since that time I’ve introduced heart mapping to hundreds of writers of all ages as a way not only to dig deep into ideas for writing poems but also to spark writing in many different genres.

How has your work with heart maps deepened through your years as a writing teacher?

I began with the idea of one heart map: map what you love and what you’ve stored in your heart.  Over time I realized that other kinds of heart maps could provide opportunities for students to discover not only poems but also stories, ideas they want to explore, and what they wonder about. In my new book, I introduce twenty types of heart maps that I hope will inspire writers to bring their passions to the page no matter what genre they’re writing in.

Would you be willing to share one of your own poems that grew from a heart map?

Poets find poems everywhere in the surprising nooks and crannies of the world. I wrote about finding poetry in the world, and in my heart, in this poem “Where I Find Poetry.”

Where I Find Poetry
by Georgia Heard

I open my eyes and what do I see?
Poetry spinning all around me!

In small ants trailing over the ground,
Bulldozing dry earth into cave and mound.
In a hundred grains of ocean sand,
that I cradle in the palm of my hand.

In a lullaby of April rain,
tapping softly on my window pane.

In trees dancing on a windy day,
when sky is wrinkled and elephant gray.

Poetry, poetry! Can be found 
in, out and all around.

But take a look inside your heart,
that’s where a poem truly likes to start.

One of the heart maps in the book is called WHERE I FIND POETRY HEART MAP where writers look closely at the world to find poetry in all of its surprising specificity and then write and draw on their heart maps. Here are two examples of student WHERE I FIND POETRY HEART MAPS:

Thank you again to these two young heart Suzi...and to everybody who stopped by today.

I wish each and every one of you very full hearts this week.  May your own hearts overflow with goodness, and may you have the eyes to see the burning candles in the hearts of others.  Please leave a comment on today's post (by midnight on Thursday, September 22) to be entered in the drawing for a set of two Georgia Heard books - the new HEART MAPS and the classic AWAKENING THE HEART.

Speaking of great giveaways, congratulations to Linda Mitchell of A Word Edgewise, winner of the five copies of YOU JUST WAIT from last week's post. Linda - please just send me a note to with your snail mail address, and the books will wing their way to you.  Thank you again to Janet and Sylvia of Pomelo Books for the generous gift!

In my other space, I am tickled to welcome fellow Poetry Friday blogger, writer, and teacher Kiesha Shepard to Sharing Our Notebooks.  Stop on over there, peek into her notebooks, leave a comment...and maybe, just maybe, thank you to Kiesha, you might win a Mary Oliver poetry book.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is over with Michelle at Today's Little Ditty.  Enjoy all of the poetry joy all week long!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Poetry Friday, Connecting Poems, and YOU JUST WAIT

Happy Poetry Friday!  
I am hosting today, and I welcome you!

Soccer Stuff
Photo by Amy LV

Both Books Created and Edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

Students - Many of us have been new before: to a school, to a neighborhood or family or team or friend group.  And while being new is exciting, it can also be a little bit scary.  Today's poem is from a brand new book I'm celebrating for Poetry Friday today. The title of the book is YOU JUST WAIT, and it was created by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell.  I was honored that they chose this poem of mine (from THE POETRY ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL) to be part of the story.

YOU JUST WAIT is different from most other books as it threads together poems by many poets to make one complete story. And interspersed between the poems are various writing exercises to try out yourself.

This is a neat idea, this taking poems by many people, writing some new ones, and stitching them together to make a new and complete whole.  Poems that never knew each other before are now woven together into a book, telling a story.  You could try this too - tie connections between others' poems that have never been connected before, and write some of your own new poems to fill in between the cracks.  It's like a verse novel marrying an anthology marrying a book of writing ideas!

Many of you may know about the Poetry Friday Anthology Series, published by Pomelo Books, and today I am happy to welcome creators and editors Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell to The Poem Farm.

Sylvia and Janet Hugging some Poetry Friday Anthologies
Photo by Emily Vardell

While YOU JUST WAIT - Pomelo's latest book - is for is also for writing.  Janet joins us today to share thoughts about this newest book.  And she is also offering five copies to one winner who comments on today's post. Welcome, Janet...take it away!

We wanted to try something really different with YOU JUST WAIT: A POETRY FRIDAY POWER BOOK. Last spring I revisited a great post on Lee Bennett Hopkins by RenĂ©e M. LaTulippe at her No Water River blog and was reminded by how Lee has always pushed for something new and original with each book. 

For instance, his HarperCollins I Can Read Books were groundbreaking in the way they used quality literature as instructional text. Lee was also one of the first to combine nonfiction informational text with poetry—now a standard element in poetry books with a social studies or science connection. 

With YOU JUST WAIT and hopefully with forthcoming books in a Poetry Friday Power Book series, we’re also happy to defy categorization. YOU JUST WAIT is a verse novel made for tweens and teens, yes. But it is also a journal for young writers. And a creativity book that encourages kids to doodle and explore their thoughts on life. And a book on poetry instruction, with mentor texts for teachers. All that, rolled into one.

(from page 7 of YOU JUST WAIT):  This book offers you several choices for reading, thinking, writing, and responding. Overall, it’s a story in poems, but all of this is also organized in PowerPack groups that help you get a “behind the scenes” look at how poems work and how poets write and think. In each of these PowerPack groups, you’ll find five things:
PowerPlay activity
Outside poem (from another poetry book)
Response poem 
Mentor text 
Power2You poem writing prompt

Below, you can take a look at Powerpack10 from the book.  Each Powerpack is organized in the same way, with these same five sections.

(Please click to enlarge any images that are too small for you to read.)

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

Created and Edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell

What do I want kids to do with the book? I say: “You can write in your book, draw in it, follow the writing prompts to write poems, whatever you want. The book is YOURS.  My hope is that kids will really enjoy taking ownership of their books. I want the books to look ragged and well-worn 12 weeks after students receive them. (There are 12 PowerPacks in the book.) 

It is a treat to offer not one or two or three or four, but five copies of YOU JUST WAIT to one commenter on this post, enough for a little group to have a lot of fun with this latest addition to the Poetry Friday Anthology Series.  Please simply leave a comment on this post by next Thursday, September 15, to be entered into the drawing.  I will announce the winner next Poetry Friday, September 16.  Thank you to Janet and Sylvia for such generosity.  If you win, you'll have five of the first off the press.

If you would like to read more about YOU JUST WAIT, Sylvia Vardell is celebrating this book birthday over at Poetry for Children!

If you have a link you'd like to share for this week's Poetry Friday roundup, please do so below!  I will be out and about commenting through the early part of next week as I'm off on a road trip to Vermont.  It's my sweet nephew Luke's first birthday!  xo

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Keep a Word List: A Word List is Your Friend

Wolf's Moon
by Amy LV

(I will add the audio recording later today...having troubles at the moment.)

Students - Today's poem grew from an exercise I learned in a Highlights Foundation Workshop with the wonderful poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich in 2001.  She told our class that she had learned it from the wonderful poet Myra Cohn Livingston.  Today I will share it with you.

In the back of my notebook, I always keep a list of words that I love.  It grows because I add to it regularly and also because I share word lists in workshops and we share our words with each other...because words are free and we can all swap and share our faves!

At our workshop in Honesdale, Pennsylvania many years ago, Rebecca asked us to each list some words we loved - words we loved for the meaning, the sound, anything.

Then we went around the circle, each reading a few of our words out loud.  If anyone liked a word on someone else's list, that person could add it to his or her own list.

After this, we took a few minutes to draw lines between our words, as you see below (this is my current notebook).  We drew lines without thinking carefully about the connections.  We drew lines to surprise ourselves with connections.

From Amy LV's Summer 2016 Notebook
Click to Enlarge these Pages

Then, we went off to write, either from one word on our list...or from one pair.  See, the beauty of the random line drawing is that often we make new connections that we would never make in any other way, connections that surprise and delight us.  

Can you find where I paired WOLF and WISH in the word list above?  Well, that's what I decided to write about one day this summer...and you can see the beginnings of a poem below in that same notebook.

From Amy LV's Summer 2016 Notebook
Click to Enlarge this Page

Sometimes, all a writer needs is a way to get started...a window to climb into the writing.  Word lists are whimsical and magical windows.  Each word is a portal to a new place, and when you start pairing the words...well...anything can happen!  You might want to give this a try, and if you do, I'd love to see some student poems grown from simple word lists.

I just held a giveaway over at my other blog, Sharing Our Notebooks.  Congratulations to Julieanne, winner of HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY by Orson Scott Card! I am so grateful to Alexandra Zurbrick for her post, and excited about our next writer - Kiesha Shepard from Whispers from the Ridge.

While I am here on Saturday today instead of on Friday this week, know that this week's Poetry Friday roundup is over with Penny at a penny and her jots. Please stop on over to find out what's happening poetry-wise all around the kidlitosphere this week.

And next week...Poetry Friday is at my place!  Come on over!

Please share a comment below if you wish.