Monday, February 28, 2011

Slosh Your Way Through Slush - #334

 Slushy Boots!
Photo by Amy LV

 Rainy Boots!
Photo by Amy LV 

Students - yesterday I went for a walk with our dog Cali, just the two of us.  I had my boots, she had her paws, and we both had a lovely time tromping through the water and slush.  I got to wondering how I went for so many years without a proper pair of boots, and it was such fun to just slosh through it all.  Beginning tomorrow, this will be the way of March: snow, slush, rain, snow, slush, rain.  Beneath it all: tulips!

As I slurped down our road, I played with words, muttering "wet smash of slush" to myself over and over again.  Life feeds writing, and writing feeds life.

Joan Bransfield Graham's SPLISH SPLASH is filled to the brim with playful concrete poems about water.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Are Flamingos Pink? Poem #333

by Amy LV

Students - have you ever scooped a few different ice cream scoop flavors into one bowl?   Have you ever let them sit a little too long?  If you have, then you will remember how the different flavors eventually swirl into one color.  Finding ideas is like this too.  

Tracing today's poem to its idea-finding roots, I found several connections:

1.  My mom just bought Mark a John James Audubon calendar with a flamingo on the front cover.
2.  I have always been fascinated by flamingos and their pinkness.
3.  Our children are in love with the  YouTube video MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON which caused them to make their own video today about John James Audubon shooting a flamingo before drawing it.  This was quite amusing, with Georgia as John James Audubon, Henry as the dead flamingo, and Hope as videographer.

It was fun to think about rhyming words for "diet."  "Quiet" is another good one!

It is true that flamingo diets affect their colors, and if you'd like to read about this, check out The Wild Ones.  For even more information, visit The Straight Dope.  When my mother-in-law traded cigarettes for baby carrots several years ago, she truly did begin to turn orange.  So be careful!

In other animal news, DIZZY DINOSAURS, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Barry Gott, is now available!  I feel very fortunate that my poem "Bathtime" appears in this fun collection.

Nancy Claeys, my SPARK 11 partner, has posted our work (button piece & weather vane piece) together on her blog A Rural Journal.  I encourage you to take a look around her beautiful photographs and writings.  Through this window, I have found a world of new farm blogs to visit.

SPARK 12 will take place in May!

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

SPARK Day - Nancy Claeys & Poem #332

Photo by Nancy Claeys of A Rural Journal

This past week I had the privilege to work with Nancy Claeys, writer, photographer, and blogger at A Rural Journal.  We were paired up through Amy Souza's  SPARK, trading writing and photographs ten days ago as inspiration.  For ten days we each moodled, me with my little pen and Nancy with her big camera, creating works in response to each other's creations.

This powerful eagle weather vane photo I received from Nancy on February 16 could have taken any one of the four cardinal directions as I imagined looking to it for meaning and answers.  Reading through Nancy's blog gave me insight into her life on a farm and as an admirer of old barns and country landscapes.  

I looked up the history of weather vanes at Weathervanes Plus, surprised to learn that "The popularity of weathervanes exploded when a papal edict from the 9th century A.D. helped bring the weathervane to the skies of most of Europe.  Rome declared that every church in Christendom must be adorned by a cockerel, a symbol to remind Christians of Peter's betrayal of Christ: 'I tell thee Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.'" (Luke 22: 34)

As I wrote and thought and read Nancy's words, roosters and birds from all weather vanes - past and present - whispered through the sky.  Hence, this.

Ten days ago, I sent Nancy an old poem, a sad poem.  I wondered how she would interpret it with an image.  

Here is her hauntingly beautiful response which made me suck my breath right in.

Photo by Nancy Claeys of A Rural Journal

This opportunity to work with an artist one has never met, to share pictures and words, is a true joy.  Thank you to Nancy for her partnership in this round, and much gratitude to Amy Souza for making this space and time for us all.  

My first experience with SPARK was SPARK 10, exchanging work with artist Amy Souza (photograph & painting) as well as Amanda Brainerd (digital illustration).  Keep your eyes out for SPARK 12, which I promise to announce here.  Just like Poetry Friday, all are welcome to play!

Students and Teachers - consider setting up such a project in your school.  This type of collaboration can work long distance as well as close by.  It would be perfect for homeschoolers, and again, I offer to help set up such an opportunity for any children who might wish to try this.  If you try this as or with children, please let me know as I would love to feature your work and process here.

Are you still wondering how weather vanes work?  If so, check out this diagram at

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Poetry Friday & Poem #331 - building

Blocks & Words
Photo by Amy LV

This is poem #7 in my Friday series of poems about reading and words and books.

I am humbled daily by what writers do with the same twenty-six letters I have been given, amazed by what people do with the same twenty-four hours.  This feeling of awe urges me to learn more, to peek into the lives and secrets of mentors and to try to strengthen my writing and my spirit.

Students - allow yourself to fall in love with writers, to stand upon their shoulders and try on their techniques.  By saying, "I will try to write without rhyme today" or "Today I will write a serious poem" we stretch ourselves into new shapes and possibilities, shapes and possibilities we may not have even known were inside of us.

Will you fail?  Yup!  But listen to Irish writer Samuel Beckett's words should you begin to doubt.  "Ever tried?  Ever failed?  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better."

 Sara is hosting this week's Poetry Friday over at Read Write Believe.  

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

He Did Not Doughnut in Poem #330

Students - one reason it is handy to keep a writer's notebook is because it will safely hold your ideas until you need them.  For a few weeks, I've had this little nugget in my notebook: I only eat doughnut holes. Why did I have this weird sentence in my notebook?  Who knows?  But the weird sentence became the weird poem, and that's just how it works sometimes.

So, my advice is this.  Get a notebook.  Love it up with doodles and glued in things.  Copy your favorite quotes and stuff in some photographs.  Decide if you like to write in pen or pencil, cursive or printing.  Watch your life unfurl across the lines, and get to know yourself.  Write sloppily if you wish and neat if you wish, but writewritewritewritewrite.  

Do all writers keep notebooks?  Nope.  I'd be a liar if I told you they did.  But a notebook can sure come in handy when the brainwell runs dry.  Plus, rereading old notebooks is a source of great joy and humor.

Hmmm...suddenly I am hungry for a doughnut.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Poem #329 Admires Sign Language

Quiet Hands
Photo by Amy LV

American Sign Language is a very beautiful language, and every time I see people talking with their hands, I am amazed by the grace and communication in the air.

Students - did you wish something that you felt that maybe you should not wish?  It's good to write about feelings.  Sometimes when I read poems and stories by other people, I think, "Wow.  He felt that too?"  Then I don't feel so alone.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Collecting & Collecting in Poem #328

Collection Museum
by Amy LV

This is not a story poem.  It is a list poem.  And like most list poems, it has that "turn" at the end.  The other week I had the opportunity to work with teacher and artist Sarah Paprocki in Webster, NY.  In preparation for our time together, she taught her kindergarten children that list books often end with a "trickster page," or a page that sounds different than the rest of the book.  That's a wonderful way to explain it.  So this poem ends with a "trickster line."  Thank you, Sarah!

Students - once again, I did not have a plan for this poem before settling my bottom into my chair.  Instead, I looked into the little cubbyholes in my desk and took out a pearly swirly seashell.  I just held it for a while, admiring its shine and the teeny hole in one side.  I thought about how nature makes the most beautiful objects of all, and I was transported back to my own childhood shell collection.  I'd pore over those shells for a long time.

Now, as an adult, I love the idea of collecting free things.  Collecting words is so democratic - we are all equal with our lists of well-loved letters and sounds.

Sometimes just writing anything-at-all is a great way to get started with a poem.  Poems have a way of taking shape on paper, not always in our heads ahead of time.  Keep lists in your notebook, watch for strange ideas that go together, and see if any of these form a poem or story idea.

I've written before about my childhood friend, David Manley, who used to collect pencil shavings.  Well, guess what?  Now my son collects pencil shavings!

Now, if you are in the mood for something very unusual, visit Graham Barker's website which chronicles his collection of naval fluff.  And lest you think his beard clipping collection completely crazy, I must admit something here.

I once brought my husband's beard clippings to a teaching interview for luck.  

And you know what?  I got the job!  I saved that little baggie for years, but it's now gone.  True.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Cat is Alive! We Rejoice in Poem #327

Mini's Antibiotic
Photo by Amy LV

This is a true poem.   Yesterday we took our old-and-mysterious cat Mini to the vet.  He just wasn't himself: not eating, not drinking, sleeping all of the time.  We had no idea which way the day would go, and when we saw an old dog carried by his red-eyed owners, I worried even more.

Hooray!  Mini lives!  

We still don't know what his problem was, but the vet said it could have been a simple case of "bird fever" which describes general sickness cats get from eating diseased birds.  It seems that the antibiotics are doing their job, and we are very happy to hear Mini's grateful purrs after each dose.

Students - there are days when your cup of feelings overflows.  Let those feelings pour through your words.  Joy, sadness, pain, laughter...all are poem-worthy.  Feeling poems give us ourselves back to ourselves.

Now.  Go hug an animal.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Artist Speaks in Poem #326

Photo by Amy LV

Students - as I sat down to write yesterday, I felt discouraged.  The past couple of weeks have brought some manuscript rejections, and I was wondering about my own ability and if I could find another poem to write.  But a promise is a promise!  And I believe that the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it.

So, when I settled down on the hardwood floor (by the heater) with a pencil and stack of unlined paper, I just listened.  And this artist spoke to me.  In a way, you could say that today's poem is a pep talk to myself and to all of us who wish to make things, all of us who worry that we don't measure up.  But daily work, perspiration, and dedication make us who we are.  Even when we are frightened, we must show up to our work.  This is how it grows.

When you are feeling down, listen to the advice that echoes from deep within you.  Listen with your pencil, and maybe one of those voices-from-beyond will pour out onto the page.  Maybe it will give you strength, as I got from this artist voice.

Cynthia Rylant's picture book, ALL I SEE is one of my favorite books about the power and mystery of art.

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I claim to be a man of less than average ability....I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make  the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.  - Mahatma Gandhi

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Poem #325 Catches Trees Dancing!

You Never Know
by Amy LV

Driving down Route 77 again yesterday, my little Vibe simply blew itself along. And as I drove my car like a person flying a kite, trees danced along the roadside, grateful to the wind for granting them such freedom of movement!

Students - this is another one of those the-world-is-more-alive-than-we-know poems.  As you may have noticed, I love imagining the secrets of animals, plants, and inanimate objects.  The layering mysteries of the world are an endless source of inspiration.

What about you?  Have you looked at something today, simply wondering, "Hmmm...what is the secret life of THAT object?"

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Poetry Friday & Poem #324 - Every Night

Gigi & Mini Read Jack Prelutsky
Photo by Amy LV

This is poem #6 in my series of poems about books and reading and words.

Students - To find a writing idea yesterday, I pretended that I was a little girl again.  I imagined I was playing mommy, copying my own mom.  What would a mom do?  Read aloud, of course.  As a little-girl-mom, I imagined reading aloud to my cat, and today's poem was born.  Try this sometime.  Remember way back to another time in your life.  Pretend you are there, and discover writing topics as they float across your brain-canvas.

Teachers - this week I made my first Xtranormal movie.  One-and-a-half minutes long, it is about how some schools are losing read aloud time to other programs.  The title of the movie is "Teacher, Will You Read Us a Book?"

Parents and teachers - if you don't know it, don't miss Jim Trelease's work about read aloud.

Mary Ann is hosting today's Poetry Friday, over at Great Kid Books.  It's sure to be a wonderful poetry party...the last one of February.  If you're new to this crowd, please know that all are welcome to share poems or poem news each Poetry Friday.  Simply link into the host-post!

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grandpa Doesn't Like to Talk - Poem #323

War Memorial in Wales, NY
Photo by Amy LV

Students - I read the newspaper every day, and our current war continues on day after week after month.  Seeing flags at half-mast and reading about the funerals of young men and women saddens me.  It also makes me think about my grandfather, who died when I was two.  Grandpa fought in World War II, and my mother told me that he didn't like to talk about it.  In this poem, I tried to capture that silence and also the reflective actions of one who remembers.  And also one who watches quietly, respectfully.

Many people write poems about sad thoughts and times.  Doing so can help us heal and understand, and words can keep us from getting lonely too.

This book, AMERICA AT WAR, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, includes more than fifty poems about the emotional toll of war, traced through the American Revolution straight through the Iraq War. 

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Plea for No More Snow in Poem #322

Yesterday almost felt like spring!  It was only 28 degrees in our part of Western New York, but the sun shone brightly, and it made us feel ready to welcome the robins and the worms back home.  So even though this poem seems like the writer was grumpy in the writing, actually I am just looking forward to more sunshine like we had today.

Students - my favorite part of this poem is the way that "wonderland" and "assault" are right near each other.  Usually such a positive word and a negative word don't go together, so it feels fresh.  As for why the poem goes down one word at a's supposed to mimic snowflakes.

One note about rhyme: sometimes rhyming parts of words are not spelled the same way.  This is why a rhyming dictionary is very helpful.  Had I not my trusty dictionary, I may not have thought of the word "assault" at all!

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pass the Money in Poem #321

Round and Round
by Amy LV 

Students - this poem idea came from three places: the $2 bills my children sometimes receive in holiday cards, the woven valentines I made yesterday from old Chinese paper money, and my constant wondering where every dollar and penny have traveled.  For the most part, this is a wonder poem.  Where has all of the money traveled?  Will I ever touch the same dollar again?

This, like "Thank You to Sun" and "One Yawn," is a cycle poem.  Think about a cycle you understand.  Where does it start?  Where does it end?  Would that idea make a good poem?  One of my favorite cycle poems of all is David McCord's "Cocoon," such spare and perfect lines.

I will again participate in SPARK, an online project where artists, musicians, and writers send work to each other to inspire new pieces.  SPARK 11 goes from February 16 - February 25, and I just sent and received my inspiration piece today.  In SPARK 10, I wrote from a lovely photograph of dahlias and sent my artist, Amy Souza, a poem about the Moon.  I also had the opportunity to send a poem to Amanda Brainerd who made a very neat photo collage to go with it.  90 people are participating in this round!  My partner, Nancy, is here at A Rural Journal.

Teachers - this would be a marvelous project to do with a class.  Simply have all students create a piece of art or music or words and then pass it on to a partner as inspiration.  Visual and musical artists create writing from their inspiration pieces, and writers create visual art or music from their inspiration pieces.  Set deadlines and guidelines, just as Amy Souza does, and see what emerges.  What a gallery display this could make in a school!  Please do let me know if you try this as I would love to feature your project and some of the work.

Homeschoolers - the way that SPARK is organized online would make it a perfect project for homeschooling families.  If you are interested in me helping you to set up a similar project, please just say so.

Woven Money Heart
by Amy LV

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Monday, February 14, 2011

#320 - A Valentine's Day (Crush!) Poem

Aunt Tom's Cookie Sheet
Photo by Amy LV

Students - this is one short poem.  I knew that I wanted to write today's verse for Valentine's Day, one of my favorite holidays, but where to start?  As I daydreamed, the words crush and hush appeared in my mind.  And thanks to my pal the rhyming dictionary, more words joined this poem parade: gush, mush, blush.

For a book about animals all smitten with each other, Marilyn Singer's TWOSOMES celebrates this (or any) day of love!

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The winners of the 2010 Cybils (Children's and Young Adult Literary Bloggers' Literary Awards) are announced today.  Congratulations to all of the winners!  Marilyn Singer, author of TWOSOMES (above) and many other books, won in the poetry category for her unbelievably clever MIRROR MIRROR: A BOOK OF REVERSIBLE VERSE.

Have fun dusting Valentine's Day with powdered sugar and tossing rose petals about!  Happy Valentine's Day!

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Star in Sky...Star in Sea...Poem #319

Window Star by Hope
Photo by Amy LV

Students - this poem came from plain old looking around.  I was sitting in our living room, unsure of what to write about, when my eyes lit on the window star you see above.  Instantly I started thinking about starfish, and right away I wanted to write about them.

This poem is similar to "Skies and Seas," a poem I wrote in back December.  One of the neatest benefits of writing every day is that I am noticing which patterns, topics, and themes keep emerging.

Ed Young's book, I WISH I WERE A BUTTERFLY, has always been a favorite, and surely the theme has sunk into my bones...for here it is in today's poem!

If you would like to learn how to fold paper window stars, here is a book to help you.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Poem #318 Celebrates a Basket of Kittens

Georgia & Kittens in 2008
Photo by Amy LV

Students - we each have life topics, memories, special times that we think and reflect upon over and over again.  I have written about these kittens before, in honor of their mother for Mother's Day.  Somehow I believe that I will return to this memory of kittens again and again, in both my writing and heart.

Pat Schnieder's poem, "How the Stars Came Down" speaks to the power of memory, especially these lines:

...when I got home
home wasn't my real home any more.
I had a new home in my remembering
and it was dark and safe and beautiful
with shooting stars all around.

Read the whole poem, in all of its gorgeousness, here.

I love this idea of "a new home in my remembering." What can each of us do to create internal "homes of remembering" for our loved ones and strangers too? 

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Poetry Friday & A Snowman Story Poem

School Snowman
Photo by Amy LV

This is poem #5 in my Poetry Friday series of poems about books and reading and words as well as poem #317 in my year-long poetry project.  

Last weekend, I saw a snowman on the playground at our children's school.  He looked so winsome, so still, so alone, that I took his photograph.  Later, I looked at the photograph and imagined the life of a school snowman.  Ah, to see inside the school!

Students - I've mentioned this before, but photographs are great jumping-off points for writing.  You may wish to go out and take pictures with the plan to use them for writing or you might find photographs to write from.  Either way, mixing our visual minds with our wordy minds helps us to make new combinations and images and colors we might not find with only one mind.

Carol is hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup over at Rasco from RIF.  Don't miss all kinds of poetry goodies over there, and remember, everyone is welcome to participate in this weekly sharing of poem-love!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poem #316 Explores One Reader's Change

This is poem #6 in Story Poem Week, and even though I post poems about books on Fridays, this one snuck in today.

Students - sometimes I get an idea stuck into my head, an idea of something that troubles or concerns me, and I cannot shake it.  For a while, I have been thinking about how important it is for readers to read for ourselves, not for other people, not for prizes, not for grades.  Reading is so much bigger than any of these things: reading is life.  

When we write, we can explore our feelings, opinions, and ideas about the world.  Other people don't have to agree with us or even read our words, but somehow, through writing, we can make sense of our lives and our own thoughts.  We can discover what matters most to each of us.

What keeps rolling through your head?  Is there something you would like to change in the world?  Is there something you wonder about and wish you could help with?  Your writing is a magnificent place to begin.

Teachers and Parents - Alfie Kohn's article, "How to Raise Nonreaders" offers us some meaty food for thought (and I'm sure it had a hand in this poem too.)  And thank you to Barry Lane for pointing me to Dan Pink's book, Drive.  You might wish to listen to Dan's TED talk, "The Surprising Science of Motivation."

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