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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Littlest Poets

     I have been working with the littlest poets, children of all ages, for more years than I care to calculate, but it is something that I truly love to do. From reading Mother Goose rhymes to babies all the way up to reading (and now writing) novels in verse to big kids. In this post, I'd like to share some of my most recent work teaching an after school enrichment club to children in grades 3 to 5 that I called Playing with Poetry.

      I called it that because that is exactly what I aimed to have the children do if for no other reason than I wanted them to know that poetry is not boring, and that creating a poem is something that everyone can do. My objective though was not to have them write poems but to make them laugh. I really didn't want to hear poems, I wanted to hear giggles because of poems. That isn't at all hard to do.

     We started each session with a read-around (passing allowed for those that prefer listening) from anthologies of the funniest poets for children I could find, relying heavily on Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. We passed around one book and read the poem that was opened to at random. It gets them giggling while the sound of poetry settles on them.

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     Then each week we would try a fun way of creating a poem. The first week was what we called
Twisty-Turny poems inspired by Prelutsky. They took to it as naturally as I thought they would. Below is one child's very first attempt.

     Another week was rebus poems mixing symbols with words. The following week was devoted to Book Spine poetry which is a way of playing with poetry that many adults enjoy (just google it if you haven't played yourself.) Kids, I think, enjoy it more because it gets them up and moving around and talking and they like documenting things digitally. Here are a couple of examples from that day.

      Then I introduced an old favorite of mine that I have done with children as young as age four as well as new adult readers. It always, without exception, produces results that are impressive to me, but more importantly, make the creator feel creative. I call it cut-up collage poetry. It is easy to tell how much they like it when they ask if they can do another, and maybe just one more... I ensure success by doing most of the cutting myself and sharing an abundance of words and phrases for the poet to choose from that are likely to lend themselves well to poetic expression. It results in poems that are also visual works of art. Here are some pics:

     They also spent some club time playing at because there are lots of fun things to do at the site. A little something for everyone.

     While we are on the subject of children and poetry I'd like to encourage you to check out the work of a few of my friends at I Care Foundation and find a way to participate and play with poetry.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Erase-Transform Poem

    Mine is the latest installment of this national poetry project. I found it a bit cathartic. Go ahead and give it a try!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Festival Hopping

      There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when attending festivals three weekends in a row, meant something entirely different than it does now. I haven't written a blog post in a while because I have been so busy attending festivals!

      The first was the annual conference of the New England chapter of SCBWI. Though I've been a member for a few years I had not been able to attend before and I had heard from many writers that it is a conference that really pays off. So I splurged and hopped into the car of friend and Maine author Terry Farish to spend the weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is a huge conference and it is wonderful to spend time with the visual artists as well as writers who descend upon the city. I met so many interesting people I hope to stay in touch with. The dinner conversation I had with one writer whose mother escaped Auschwitz and made it to America will stay with me forever. It was especially helpful to meet and work with others, especially Jeannine Atkins, who write novels in verse, as that is the focus of my work these days. Meeting Jane Yolen was a thrill, of course, but the biggest surprise for me was how inspired I was by another Maine artist, Melissa Sweet. Her keynote presentation was one of the best I've heard in a long time. Barry Lyga gave a great speech too, and I will remember his admonishment to "take the risk" (and the one about ignoring the unsupportive father!). I've been querying up a storm to conference contacts since.

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      The next weekend brought me to the Newburyport Literary Festival which I have been attending for years. It is an excellent and affordable conference in a little city that I love to visit. Except for the unnecessarily long wait in the hot sun to get in to see Jeff Kinney, I was glad I went. I heard another talk given by Melissa Sweet (I really am a big fan now!)
      I loved how she talked about writing up for children, not down, and how she looks for one keyword that serves as an anchor for the art she creates for each page or spread. I intend to track down the essay she mentioned EB White wrote before Charlotte's Web called The Death of A Pig. Here is an example of Melissa's work from Some Writer. She told us all about the many decisions that went into this page and it was fascinating. This book is marketed to children ages 7 to 10 and I have shared it with that age group but it is a great read for adults too.

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     It became downright strange that I kept driving from Maine to Massachusetts to meet exceptional writers from Maine. I haven't read Monica Wood's work yet, but I am looking forward to it. The Portland Phoenix just named her both Maine's best Miane author and best Maine playwright. She gave a fun reading and talk that kept her audience laughing. I felt a silly kinship with her in that we had both been writing about characters named Ona for the last few years.

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     And lastly, I attended the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, another that I have been going to for years, and that is always worthwhile. My first workshop was titled the Poetry and Healing Venue which I will post about on the @Prickly Pear Poetry Project Facebook page.
      In Beyond Giggles: Writing Children's Poetry I picked up a few tips and a bunch of picture book recommendations. Did you know that words that begin with P and K are considered the funniest?  I thought that was plum kooky!
      Meeting Springfield Poet Laureate Maria Louisa Arroyo is going to stay with me for a long time as will her lessons about authenticity in voice. She uses a prompt with children and new American readers in her work that I am sure I will now use in mine; "Tell me the story of your name." I hope I get to work with Maria more in the future, and in the meantime will keep re-working the poem I wrote in her workshop.
     My last panel, called History's Inspiration: Poetry out of the Past, was such an interest to me as much of my work the last year has been poetry created out of the past. Last night when I got home I read Sarah Sousa's book The Diary of Esther Small in one sitting (another Maine connection, but an oh-so-sad one!). I can barely wait for Ellen Dore Watson's next book to come out - her reading was such a teaser!
     I'll close by sharing one of headliner Louise Gluck's poems, something to savor over multiple readings and maybe a warm cup of an earthy tea.
      Thanks to the hundreds of people that put in so much work to make me a better writer these last three weeks.

     The final stanza of Gluck's Afterword speaks to me, writing about what was, for what may be.

Shall I be raised from death, the spirit asks.
And the sun says yes.
And the desert answers
your voice is sand scattered in wind.