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1. Monday Poetry Stretch - Ideograms

This in one of my favorite May Swenson poems, second only to Analysis of Baseball.

Cardinal Ideograms
by May Swenson

0     A mouth.  Can blow or breathe,
       be a funnel, or Hello.

1     A grass blade or cut.

2     A question seated.  And a proud
       bird’s neck.

3     Shallow mitten for a two-fingered hand.

4     Three-cornered hut
       on one stilt.  Sometimes built
       so the roof gapes.

I love the notion of writing about the shape of things. What do you see in the number 6? Or the letter Y? What kind of ideogramatic poem can from the word S-P-R-I-N-G? (Ideogramatic? Yeah, I just made that up!)

Visit Joyce Sidman's site to see how she used the words in her name to write an ideogram poem. Now it's your turn to write an ideogram poem. Won't you join us? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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2. Monday Poetry Stretch - English Quintet

The English Quintet is composed of any number of 5-line stanzas with the rhyme scheme ababb cdcdd, etc. The number of syllables may vary and there is no requirement for meter, though they are often written in iambic pentameter.

Here's an example.

Go, lovely Rose
by Edmund Waller

Go, lovely Rose—
      Tell her that wastes her time and me,
      That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Read the poem in its entirety.

In this example, the syllable count is 4/8/4/8/8.

So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing an English quintet. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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3. Remembering Francisco Alarcón

I was saddened to hear of the death of Francisco Alarcón last week. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for one of my National Poetry Month series on Poetry Makers. If you don't know him or his work, his obituary contains some lovely thoughts.

UC Davis poet fought injustice, approached world with sense of wonder

Reading Rockets conducted a nice interview with him. It is below.

Finally, I thought this might be a good time to share again his Poetry Makers interview. This was originally posted April 3, 2010.


Several years ago while looking for some bilingual poetry for a student teacher, I stumbled across the book Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems / Iguanas en la nieve: y otros poemas de invierno, written by Francisco Alarcón and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. The vibrant art on the cover reeled me in, and once I was inside the magic of the poems enchanted me. Here's one I suggested she use with her ESL students, all recent immigrants, all Spanish-speaking.

Ode to Buena
Vista Bilingual School

here Spanish
goes to school
with English

is as easy as

here children
of all races write
beautiful poems

in English
and Spanish
even in spirals

and following
the beat of teacher
Felipe's clave

here children
learn to sing
with their hearts
Oda a la Escuela
Bilingüe de Buena Vista

aqui el español
va a la escuela
con el inglés

es tan fácil como

aqui niños de todas
las razas escriben
bellos poemas

tanto en inglés
como en español
hasta en espiral

y siguiendo
la clave del
maestro Felipe

aqui los niños
aprenden a cantar
con el corazón

Before moving on to Francisco's interview, take a few minutes to listen to him talk about his family and read some of his poems.

How did you get started writing poetry? What got you hooked on children’s poetry?
Francisco: I started to write poems when I was around 13 years. I was in Guadalajara, Mexico, and I wanted to put down in writing my grandmother’s songs she used to sing. I thought the songs were part of the oral tradition but when I found out they were her own compositions that she had never written down, I decided to transcribe them. Since I don’t have a very good memory, I would make up for a line or two that were missing in the traditional ballads that usually have stanzas of four verses each.

I published my first book of bilingual poems for grown-ups in 1985. Later I became aware that there were almost no books of bilingual poems children written by any Latino poet in the United States, and so I wrote and published my first book of bilingual poems for children in 1997, “Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems” (Children’s Book Press). I published three additional books to complete the “Magical Cycle of the Four Seasons” of the year. I wrote a book of bilingual poems for children about dreams. “Poems to Dream Together” (Lee & Low Books, 2005). My latest book, “Animal Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú” (Children’s Book Press, 2008) is a celebration of a natural wonder of the world.

What are the things you enjoy most about writing poetry for children/young adults?
Francisco: I write poetry for children in the same way I write poems for grow-ups. My signature poetics is that “less is really more,” that is to say, that few words in a poem can express a great deal and some times better than long texts. I believe that poems can only be complete when they are read by readers or are heard by listeners. My poems demand readers and listeners who are “accomplices” of the author and can make sense of my poems that I believe are incomplete without the participation of readers and listeners. This is why I enjoy immensely reading aloud my bilingual poems to children during school visits or during poetry presentations in public libraries or community centers.

In the past, I used to present my poems together with slide shows, but last year, at the urging of the organizers of “Words Take Wing,” an annual literary presentation of children sponsored by the School of Education and that takes place at the Mondavi Performing Arts Center at the University of California, Davis, I began doing power point presentations in which my poems are projected to a screen together with visual images from my children’s books. I did this for the first time at a morning presentation at the Mondavi Center together with artist Maya Christina Gonzalez, the illustrator of five of my children’s book.

There were about 1,000 children and teachers in the audience in one of the largest performance theaters in Northern in California. It was a smashing great success and as a direct result, I was invited to visit about 20 schools in the surrounding areas in the following months. I see this as an integral part of the poetic process that starts with my solitary writing of the poems, then includes the edition and publication of the books of poems with artwork by inspired artists and designers, and finally extends to the actual presentation of the poems to children, their families and teachers, and the public in general. This process brings lots of joy and satisfaction to me as a poet and educator.

Who/what made you want to write?
Francisco: I began writing poems as a way to retrieve family memories, first by writing down the songs composed by my paternal grandmother in Guadalajara, Mexico, and then, by giving testimony of my family and personal experiences. After I do presentations of my poems to children, I usually ask children if they have any questions or comments, and often I receive some very insightful comments or questions from children, like the one I received at “El Festival del Libro” on March 14, 2010, in Sacramento.

A nine-year old girl commented that she noticed that all the poems I had read were in some way connected to my own life. I told her that I appreciated very much her insightful comment, and that yes, for me, poetry is an extension of my own life; that my poems are direct reflections of life and reality that I find fascinating, mesmerizing, and magical; that although I celebrate the imagination of other poets and writers, my poetry is a celebration of our surrounding reality, than more than being fictitious, my poetry is above all a testimony of life.

I told the audience that I have thinking about my work as a poet of the past 30 years; that I have come to the conclusion that maybe the main reason why I have never used periods in my poems is that in reality all my poems are really part of a single very long poem that is my life; that a big final period will mark my tombstone. And then I read the following poem that I include here:

Life Poem

not a single
period in all
of my poems--

my life
is really
the one poem

I've been
writing all
these years

--one single
long sentence
with no periods--

the day
I pass away
will mark

the last
and only

of all
my life
Poema Vida

ni un solo
punto en todos
mis poemas--

mi vida
es de veras
el único poema

que he estado
escribiendo todos
estos años

--una sola
larga oración
sin puntos--

el día
que muera

el único

de todo
mi poema

Have you had any formal poetry training? If not, how did you learn to write what you do?
Francisco: I had the privilege of having excellent education opportunities in my lifetime. I was a scholarship student that attended El Instituto de Ciencias, an elitist high school run by the Jesuits in Guadalajara, Mexico. Since I was in the Dean’s List, I was given the keys to a wonderful literary library of more than 3,000 books that was at my personal disposal. This library was a paradise for a teenager interested in devouring books.

Then after I moved to California and went to college, I took many solid courses on Latin American and Spanish literature and got a BA in Spanish and History from California State University, Long Beach. For five years I undertook graduate studies at Stanford University, in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. I consider Fernando Alegría, a Chilean poet and novelist who was the cultural attaché in the Chilean Embassy during the Allende government, and a professor at Stanford, one of my literary mentors. When I was a Fulbright scholar in Mexico, I met and became a very close friend of Elías Nandino, who at 80 years old was a survivor of generation of Mexican writers known as “Los Contemporáneos.” Elías Nandino became my mentor in poetry and life.

While attending Stanford, I moved and lived in the Mission District in San Francisco, California, and met and collaborated with many great poets and writers like Juan Felipe Herrera, Lorna Dee Cervantes, José Antonio Burciaga, Lucha Corpi, Jack Hirschman, Alejandro Murguía, among others.

Being faculty to some intensive poetry workshops like “Art of the Wild” organized by Jack Hicks, professor fo UC Davis, in Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe in California, taught a great deal about poetry. I had the chance to interact with Gary Snyder, who is one of the main teachers of poetry of my generation. Above all I have to say that life is the teacher, mentor, inspiration, and main theme of my poetry.

Can describe your poetry writing process?
Francisco: I am always very puzzled by poets who say that they write poetry every day at a certain time. I have never been able to do so. I write poems really in a fit of passion. I can go on days and months without writing anything and then suddenly poems come rushing to me unexpectedly. I have learned to leave everything aside and become a medium for the poems. Whole collections of poems have come to me in a matter of few days. Most of the bilingual poems my latest book, “Animal Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú.” came to me while I was visiting the Iguazú National Park in Northern Argentina. So, I can say the poems were written in situ.

For some unknown reason, I write most of poems by hand on yellow lined paper blocks. Maybe I see myself as a secretary taking dictation for a poetic brief instead of a legal one. I am so old fashioned; I still use cursive handwriting; for me, the movement and cadence of writing by hand are very inspirational and conducive to poetry.

Do you have a favorite among all the poems/poetry books you have written?
Francisco: This is very difficult question to ask to poet like me. It’s like asking a father about his favorite son or daughter. I celebrate each poem of every poetry book as being unique and part of a large book that I have been writing all my life. For me poetry somehow escapes the realm of the possible. I read some of my poems I wrote decades ago as if I had written them yesterday, and others that I wrote recently I read them as if someone else had written them; they keep surprising me.

Would you like to share the details of any new poetry project(s) that you’re working on?
Francisco: I have been working on two books of poems for children. The first one is collection of bilingual poems about the Mesoamerican origin of Chocolate. I have submitted the manuscript to several published and I have been told by editors that although they loved my poems they found that the subject matter, chocolate, is really a taboo subject for children’s books, because chocolate supposedly makes people obese. But my poems deal with the indigenous origins of chocolate and not about the sugar that was later added to chocolate. I sent the manuscript to a university press that is still considering it. I know that when my book of chocolate poems comes out it will do really well among children, educators, critics, and the public in general.

The second book is a collection of poems about Aztec calendar. I have titled this unpublished book, “Tonalamatl: Book of Days / Libro de los días.” This is a trilingual collection that includes short poems for the 20 days in the Aztec calendar in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The poems in Nahuatl are translations done by Natalio Hernández, one of the most distinguished Mexican poets who write in Nahuatl in Mexico. This book is directed toward middle school children and young readers and is a groundbreaking literary project because it will be the first time that a picture book will be published in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl in the United States. I am in the process of looking for a publisher.

Pop Quiz!
Your favorite dead poet?
Francisco: In English, two of my favorite poets are E. E. Cummings and Langston Hughes. In Spanish, I would say Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda.

Your favorite place to write?
Francisco: I don’t have a particular place for writing. I have written many of my poems on my kitchen table and on small notebooks as I walk around or right after I wake up in the morning, also in the middle of night still on my bed.

Favorite quote on writing/poetry?
Francisco: "The earth laughs in flowers" by E. E. Cumming. I once wrote a poem that resembles this quote:
hills are starting
to crack a green
smile once again

Your nominee for the next Children’s Poet Laureate?
Francisco: I would nominate Pat Mora, who has published so many beautiful children’s books.

Francisco has done such a wonderful job describing his art that I can't add much more. I wish I had thought to ask if he composes in Spanish, English, or both. I'm not sure it matters, but to someone who is sadly monolingual, I am intrigued by those who can "think" in a second language. And frankly, I struggle to write decent poetry in my native language, so reading Francisco's work fills me with even more admiration and wonder knowing he's working in two languages.

I'd like to end this remarkable interview with two of my favorite poems. The first can be found in Poems to Dream Together / Poemas Para Sonar Juntos. The second can be found in From the Bellybutton of the Moon and Other Summer Poems / Del Ombligo de la Luna: Y Otros Poemas de Verano.

In My Dreams

buffaloes roam
free once again
on the plains

whales become
opera singers
of the sea

dolphins are
admired by all for
their smarts and joy

in my dreams
there is no word
for "war"

all humans
and all living

come together
as one big family
of the Earth
En Mis Suénos

los búfalos rondan
por las praderas
libres otra vez

las ballenas
se vuelven cantantes
de ópera del mar

los delfines son
admirados por todos
por su ingenio y alegria

en mis sueños
no hay una palabra
para "guerra"

todos los humanos
y todos los seres

se juntan como
una gran familia
de la Tierra

Ode to My Shoes

my shoes
all night
under my bed

they stretch
and loosen
their laces

wide open
they fall asleep
and dream
of walking

they revisit
the places
they went to
during the day

and wake up
so soft

Oda a mis zapatos

mis zapatos
toda la noche
bajo mi cama

se estiran
se aflojan
las cintas

muy anchose
se duermen
y sueñan
con andar

los lugares
adonde fueron
en el día

y amanecen

All poems ©Francisco X. Alarcón. All rights reserved.

To learn more about Francisco, visit these sites.

Godspeed, Francisco. You will be missed.

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4. Poetry Friday - Sandburg's Snow

Schools here are closed for a preemptive snow day. It doesn't look bad yet, but we are hunkered down for the weekend and hoping we don't lose power.

Today I'm sharing a poem from the book Smoke and Steel (1922) by Carl Sandburg.

VIII. Circles of Doors
4. Snow

SNOW took us away from the smoke valleys into white mountains, we saw velvet blue cows eating a vermillion grass and they gave us a pink milk.

Snow changes our bones into fog streamers caught by the wind and spelled into many dances.

Six bits for a sniff of snow in the old days bought us bubbles beautiful to forget floating long arm women across sunny autumn hills.

Our bones cry and cry, no let-up, cry their telegrams:
More, more—a yen is on, a long yen and God only knows when it will end.      

In the old days six bits got us snow and stopped the yen—now the government says: No, no, when our bones cry their telegrams: More, more.

The blue cows are dying, no more pink milk, no more floating long arm women, the hills are empty—us for the smoke valleys—sneeze and shiver and croak, you dopes—the government says: No, no.

I do hope you'll take some time today to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected by Tara Smith as A Teaching Life. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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5. Monday Poetry Stretch - Prefix Poem

Long ago I read a post at the blog How A Poem Happens. In it, poet Idra Novey shared her poem Trans and described its creation. In the poem she used the prefix trans- as the title of her poem and created sections that begin -late, -gress, -mogrify, -form, and -scend.

I love the idea of taking a prefix and using it to form a series of words, each their own piece of a whole. If you need help generating a possible word list, try More Words. Enter your prefix or word of choice and click search for words. Scroll down the page (past the definitions) until you find the link for list all words starting with __. You'll find this a helpful tool. 

So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing a prefix poem. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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6. Monday Poetry Stretch - Rime Couee

The rime couee is a French poetic form, written as an number of sestets.. The poem begins with an eight syllable rhyming couplet, followed by a six syllable line, another eight syllable rhyming couplet, and a final six syllable line. The rhyme scheme is a a b a a b.

You can read more about this form at Poetry Magnum Opus and The Poets Garret.

So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing a rime couee. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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7. Poetry Friday Post Two - Crown Sonnet Concluded

Welcome back! If you haven't been following the crown or have come here directly from the Poetry Friday roundup, do jump over to Laura Purdie Salas's blog where this crown started and then follow the bread crumbs through the blogosphere to each sonnet in the crown. If you do that, you'll end up right back here.

The sixth sonnet in the crown was written by Tanita Davis. She left me with a bit of magic and alchemy to wrestle with. And remember, since this is the last sonnet in the crown, I also needed to end with Laura's first line. Here is the final sonnet in the crown.
A weapons grade plutonium ring by Los Alamos National Laboratory 

Our mettle tested, move from lead to gold
primordial, decaying and man-made
the final row includes the hard-to-hold
radioactive elements arrayed

Most form inside a nuclear playground 
where subatomic particles collide 
synthetics known for scientists renowned
forever by their names identified

A few were given form before the Earth
from ancient supernova residue,
Uranium, Plutonium give birth 
to energy and bombs--I wish we knew  

Pandora’s box we hold now, God forbid.
The world escapes when we unhinge the lid.

**Time out for a bit of science - If you've been following the news, you'll recognize that this last sonnet is about the now complete 7th period of the table. The four new elements “discovered” were, in fact, synthesized in a lab. Actually, all the elements from 95 to 118 are synthetic. Once formed they very quickly decay into simpler elements.

I hope you'll take some time to go back and read once more the contributions of each poet. Here is where you'll find the posts by each participant in the crown, in the order they were written.
Finally, and at the prodding of my sisters, I am sharing the full crown here.

The Poetic Table of Elements

The world escapes when we unhinge the lid
that traps all elements inside a chart
When science won't stay tethered to the grid,
our only hope is knowledge tamed by heart

One proton—One electron orbits round
a simple element: first row, first place
When hydrogen ignites, we are unbound
from earth--a rocket blazes into space

But what results? What comes from being first
Solutions for our planet's fragile life? 
A cancer beat? Malignancy reversed?  
Or data, fused and used, a sharp-edged knife?

Each element, an elegant, sharp key
Will science break us down or set us free?

Will science break us down or set us free?
What bonds secure us here in time and space?
What kryptonite of mind and heart will be,
the downfall of the species and our race?

But all’s not lost if we exploit the chart
manipulating valencies to make
new cures, bold applications, works of art,
in mankind’s quest to keep the world awake

So row by row assembled pure and raw
our lives, our earth composed of bits that spark
organic forms, the very breath we draw
all wrought from heat, from cold, from light and dark

Row 2 gives form to charcoal, diamonds, steel
what other treasures will the chart reveal?

What other treasures will the chart reveal,
in double-lettered gilded boxes, fine
as Portia faced? AR has sex appeal,
I think, and choose my fate by noble shine.

A lilac glow when placed in voltage fields!
A barrier, so wine may age sans air!
Unseen, from dust, our Constitution, shields!
Argon, you worthy prince! you mighty heir—

You cheat. Hypoxic in the blood, you dope
to win; and ew! you asphyxiate, too—
a “kinder” end to fowl. “Inactive”? NOPE.
Those who search for matter (dark) target you.

Still, even the unstable can excite
A science lover, choosing in the night.

A science lover, choosing in the night
to ponder periodic elements
that cross the bounds of fields of study might
do well to mine fourth row intelligence.

The first row with transition metals, it
is last with elements completely stable.
Though some are poisonous — like arsenic —
radioactivity is down the table.

These minerals derived from the earth’s core,
compose the human body. With their aid,
one can work jewelry, craft circuit boards,
make stainless steel and artificial legs.

So much depends on calcium—like bone—
It’s odd to think it’s metal, and not stone.

It’s odd to think it’s metal, and not stone
that we bite down on, gnash and grind at night.
Fine silver mixed with tin, its pauper clone,
alloyed with other charms to fend off blight. 

The way these chemicals transist, set in --
you’d never know they weren’t a part of us.
Perhaps they are as native as our sins
the framework for our aches, the messy truss.

Rubidium -- are we made up of you?
And cadmium and antimony too?
Unstable ores that blow the earth askew 
so there’s no fault, no consequence undue.

But what if we own up, apologize:
Don’t blame the elements for our demise.

Don't blame the elements for our demise.
What doesn't kill us - staid in chemist's hands,
Transformed through science into health's allies -
Will strengthen, if the cure we can withstand.

We scientists approaching this sixth row
Both toxic radon and earth magnets find.
Radiant metals, some with half-life glow
Can manufacture health for humankind.

The intellect, that bright quick silver streak
Of those who sought the elements to tame
Theory to fact, persistence scales the peak
Of ignorance, lends wings to wisdom's flame

so heirs of strength, persist in courage bold
our mettle tested, move from lead to gold.

Our mettle tested, move from lead to gold
primordial, decaying and man-made
the final row includes the hard-to-hold
radioactive elements arrayed

Most form inside a nuclear playground 
where subatomic particles collide 
synthetics known for scientists renowned
forever by their names identified

A few were given form before the Earth
from ancient supernova residue,
Uranium, Plutonium give birth 
to energy and bombs--I wish we knew  

Pandora’s box we hold now, God forbid.
The world escapes when we unhinge the lid.

I can't begin to tell you how much fun this year of writing has been, and capping it off with a crown has been such a treat. Perhaps most exciting is that even though the year has ended, we've all signed on to continue this crazy adventure. Thank you, my sisters, for one of the best birthday gifts ever.

I do hope you'll take some time today to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected by Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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8. Poetry Friday Post 1 - Crown Sonnet Second Poem

My poetry sisters and I are wrapping up our year of writing with a crown sonnet. This particular project holds a special place in my heart because the very first sonnet I ever wrote was because I was invited to participate in the first crown project with this group. All these years later, I'm still energized, excited, humbled, and honored to work with these women. I'll also admit to being just a bit giddy over the topic of the crown. I never imagined my sisters would choose the periodic table!

The first sonnet in the crown was written by Laura Purdie Salas. She kicked things off beautifully and left me a terrific final line to begin with. Without further ado, here is the second sonnet in the crown.

Rough Diamond by USGS Employee

Will science break us down or set us free?
What bonds secure us here in time and space?
What kryptonite of mind and heart will be,
the downfall of the species and our race?

But all’s not lost if we exploit the chart
manipulating valencies to make
new cures, bold applications, works of art,
in mankind’s quest to keep the world awake

So row by row assembled pure and raw
our lives, our earth composed of bits that spark
organic forms, the very breath we draw
all wrought from heat, from cold, from light and dark

Row 2 gives form to charcoal, diamonds, steel
what other treasures will the chart reveal?

Sara Lewis Holmes took over from here. I hope you'll head to her blog next to see where this goes!

I'll not conclude my Poetry Friday contribution yet, as you'll circle back around to me when this thing comes to a conclusion. I hope to see you back here soon!

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9. Monday Poetry Stretch - Iroha Mojigusari

Iroha mojigusari is a Japanese form of an abecedarian poem. Here's how it is defined in A Poet's Glossary by Edward Hirsch.

The Japanese iroha mojigusari (literally “character chain”) is a specialized version of the abecedarian.The first letter of the alphabet kicks off the first line and the second letter of the alphabet concludes it. The third letter starts the second line and the fourth letter finishes it. This continues until all the letters of the alphabet have been used in order.
While working on this I found that finding words ending in specific letters to be difficult. Try wordHippo for help with this. Under select option choose "words ending with" and search for the letter you need. You'll find it brings up a helpful list of words.

So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing an iroha mojigusari. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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10. Poetry Friday - Fra Giovanni's Letter To a Friend

Fra Giovanni Giocondo was a priest, scholar, architect, and teacher. You can read more about this renaissance man at the Catholic Encyclopedia. This letter was written to his friend, Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, on Christmas Eve, 1513.

Letter Written by Fra Giovanni

I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.

This is the version of the letter I've been acquainted with for some time. Bartleby has a similar version of the letter with this interesting note.
The British Museum stated in 1970 that it had “proved impossible” to identify Fra Giovanni, the purported author of this letter. This was published, probably in the 1930s, “with Christmas Greetings” from Greville MacDonald, son of novelist George MacDonald, and Mary MacDonald.

You can find an excerpt of this letter in a beautiful print in the form of an illuminated manuscript at Prose and Letters.

I do hope you'll take some time this weekend to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading. Happy new year to all and happy poetry Friday friends!

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11. Monday Poetry Stretch - Kyrielle

kyrielle is a French form that was originally used by Troubadours. In the original French kyrielle, lines had eight syllables. Written in English, the lines are usually iambic tetrameters. The distinctive feature of a kyrielle is the refrain in which the final line of every stanza is the same. The name of the form comes from the word kyrie, a form of prayer in which the phrase "Lord have mercy" (kyrie eleison) is repeated.

A kyrielle can be any length as long as it is written 4 line stanzas of iambic tetrameters. A kyrielle also has a rhyme scheme. Two popular forms are aabB/ccbB/ddbB etc. or abaB/cbcB/dbdB etc., where B is the repeated refrain.

Here is an example of the form.
by John Payne

A lark in the mesh of the tangled vine,
A bee that drowns in the flower-cup's wine,
A fly in sunshine,--such is the man.
All things must end, as all began.

A little pain, a little pleasure,
A little heaping up of treasure;
Then no more gazing upon the sun.
All things must end that have begun.

Where is the time for hope or doubt?
A puff of the wind, and life is out;
A turn of the wheel, and rest is won.
All things must end that have begun.

Golden morning and purple night,
Life that fails with the failing light;
Death is the only deathless one.
All things must end that have begun.

Ending waits on the brief beginning;
Is the prize worth the stress of winning?
E'en in the dawning day is done.
All things must end that have begun.

Weary waiting and weary striving,
Glad outsetting and sad arriving;
What is it worth when the goal is won?
All things must end that have begun.

Speedily fades the morning glitter;
Love grows irksome and wine grows bitter.
Two are parted from what was one.
All things must end that have begun.

Toil and pain and the evening rest;
Joy is weary and sleep is best;
Fair and softly the day is done.
All things must end that have begun.
If you want to learn more about the kyrielle you can read this Wikipedia entry. or the article Kyrielle: The Kyrie Reformed.

So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing a kyrielle. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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12. Poetry Friday - A Song For a Christmas Tree

A Song For A Christmas Tree
by Louisa May Alcott

   Cold and wintry is the sky,
   Bitter winds go whistling by,
   Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
   Household fairies kind and dear,
   With loving magic none need fear,
   Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.

   Come and gather as they fall,
   Shining gifts for great and small;
   Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
   Corn and candy, apples red,
   Sugar horses, gingerbread,
   Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.

   Shake the boughs and down they come,
   Better fruit than peach or plum,
   'T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
   Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
   Though snows may gather cold and deep,
   Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.

   Gathered in a smiling ring,
   Lightly dance and gayly sing,
   Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
   Of the little Child whose birth
   Has made this day throughout the earth
   A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.

I do hope you'll take some time this weekend to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. Happy holidays to all and happy poetry Friday friends!

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13. Poetry Friday - I Am Waiting

In this season of anticipation, a poem of waiting seemed appropriate today.

I Am Waiting
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up  
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting  
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier  
and I am waiting  
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

Read the poem in its entirety.

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Diane at Random Noodling. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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14. Monday Poetry Stretch - Pantun

The pantun is a Malaysian verse form, not to be confused with the pantoum, a French verse form. Here is what Poetry Magnum Opus says about this form.

The Pantun is a poem of two halves almost unrelated. The first half, the pembayan (shadow) sets the rhythm and rhyme of the whole poem, and the second half, the maksud (meaning) delivers the message. The form has been referred to as a riddle. These poems were to be exchanged between individuals, not recited to an audience. The Pantun is
  • most often a poem in a single quatrain made up of two complete couplets. 
  • syllabic, all lines are of the same length, lines are written in 8 to 12 syllables each.
  • rhymed, rhyme scheme abab.
  • written in two complete couplets. 
So, there's your challenge for the week. I hope you'll join me in writing a pantun. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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15. Poetry Friday - More Used Book Finds

Every so often I'm lucky enough to find poetry books in a local independent bookstore that sells both new and used books. Here are my recent purchases, bargains at under $20 for the lot. And boy, are they good ones.

There are two written by David McCord and illustrated by Marc Simont, THE STAR IN THE PAIL and  EVERY TIME I CLIMB A TREE. There is a wonderful book all about mice by Aileen Fisher entitled THE HOUSE OF A MOUSE. The last book is little one by Myra Cohn Livingston entitled A SONG I SANG TO YOU.

Instead of retyping a poem or two for you, I thought I'd show you some photos of my favorite pages. (If your eyes are as bad as mine, you can click to enlarge.)

This page is from A SONG I SANG TO YOU.
This adorable illustration (by Joan Sandin) accompanies the poem Portrait, by Aileen Fisher. My favorite part is "Such trim feet/in barefoot shoes."
 These two are from the books by David McCord.
If you don't know the work of David McCord, you can learn more about him in this NCTE piece from the Perspectives Column. Here's an excerpt from the interview.
"It's hard for me to say why man creates poetry. I suppose it's a kind of primitive urge in him to attempt to add his own small stitch to the infinite weave of the world. This is the oldest form of art: The art of creating form from something unformed—as simple as kneading bread. Nowadays, you can pass a pizza parlor and watch a man with bare arms making pizza. That's quite an art. There's a kind of poetry in the way he spins an enormous circle of dough until it flattens to the absolute right thinness."
I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Tara at A Teaching Life. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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16. Monday Poetry Stretch - Flashcard Inspired Poetry

Late Saturday I got to poke around in one of my favorite shops, Parcel in Montclair, NJ. It is a quirky little shop where you can open cupboards and drawers and find all kinds of interesting bits. I found a pile of old flash cards and thought they might make an interesting poetry prompt.

Here are the cards.

Choose any form that works for you. The only rule is that you must use these three words or some form of the words. I hope you'll join me this week in writing a flashcard inspired piece. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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17. Poetry Friday - Celebrating My Sisters

Today I'm singing the praises of my sisters ... my out-of-this-world real life sister who is 10 years older than me and will soon be celebrating her own very big birthday (I'll let you do the math), and my writing sisters who gifted me with a year of poetry by indulging my request to write together.

Let me begin with my big sister. Here we are as youngsters and much later on (in 2006) with our mom on the occasion of our Dad's 80th birthday.
I may have complained when I was younger about having a second mother, but these days I'm forever grateful for her love and guidance. I hope my next 50 years with her are as good as these have been. 

The other sisters I am truly grateful for are my poetry sisters—Tanita Davis, Kelly Fineman, Sara Lewis Holmes, Laura Purdie Salas, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Andi Sibley. Our sisterhood began on November 20, 2007 with this message from Liz. Let's just call her the instigator.
Dear Tricia… A proposition.

I had so much (torturous) fun participating in a crown sonnet writing project recently that I’m ready to try it again, crazy ‘though that may be. And I thought Poetry Friday bloggers might make the perfect crown community. What do you think? 
I’ve gotten a few yeses already – from Sara Lewis Holmes, Kelly Fineman and TadMack (aka Tanita Davis) – plus me. We need seven folks total and Kelly suggested that you might be one of the missing poets we’re looking for! (Suggestions for others are welcome). 
Here are a few of the things we’ll need to agree upon before starting: 
Specific form/rhyme scheme 
The order of the writers/stanzas 
Any subject matter/thematic parameters 
Audience (ie young or adult) *** There seems to be a consensus so far that writing for tweens or teens would be fun *** 
Let me know if you might be interested in writing 14 lines and debuting them in one big whopping crown on a Friday down the road…
Cheers, Liz
Once Laura and Andi were included in the mix, we set off on a grand adventure. Our first shared piece of work debuted on Friday, April 11th. We wrote a number of pieces sporadically over the years, but last fall they gave me the gift of a collective YES when they all agreed to write one piece together each month. It began with a triolet. The work of this year will end in January with a crown sonnet. In this busy, end-of-year season we're taking a moment to reflect.

Over the last year we've written to the following forms or prompts and published on the first Friday of the month (mostly). Here they are listed by the month published, which means we spent the month (or day!) prior to publication working on them.
That last one was tough for me. (Heck, they were all hard!) I wrote my poem on an airplane the day before it went live. I was flummoxed by the image and had no idea what to write about or in what form. I printed a copy of the image and went to work on a 6 am flight from Richmond to LaGuardia. This is how ALL my poems begin, with pen to paper. It's where I work out most of the kinks before I  finally type and post the work. Here's how it began.
I have no idea how I got here, but when I began to write I realized the word sonnet was rattling around in the back of my brain. Without a rhyming dictionary at hand, I listed rhyming words. When I began to edit I went from third person to first. I have several pages that look like this. My poetry notes and notebooks are NOT neat and pretty, but they clearly show the process (and the struggle) of trying to find just the right words.

If I'm honest with myself, I'll admit that I love rules and adore forms. I should not have been surprised that I went here. I do find it much easier to write when I know (or can pretend I know) what I'm doing. Throwing in a theme can be an added challenge, but it makes the writing that much more interesting.

In grateful love and admiration for this amazing group of women who gathered me into their fold, I am sharing the first villanelle I ever wrote (after LIZ threw down another gauntlet in October 2009 and asked us to write a villanelle using the words Thanksgiving and friend). Boy, would I love to revisit this one. However, the beauty of our work this year is that we have given ourselves permission to share our drafts in all their glorious messiness. Perfection is not the goal, but rather sharing bits of ourselves with each other and the world.

Untitled Villanelle (because I don't often do titles)

Dear friends, Thanksgiving!
For glorious oaks and sprawling trees
in winter, summer, fall and spring

For all things green and lush and living
that dance so lightly in the breeze
dear friends, Thanksgiving!

For spiders spinning webs of string
while swinging and dangling on a trapeze
through winter, summer, fall and spring

For sunflowers bold and bright and smiling,
climbing skyward with grace and ease
dear friends, Thanksgiving!

For birds that chirp and peep and sing
while visiting blossoms with bumblebees
through winter, summer, fall and spring

For poems, prose and words that sing
of beauty that brings us to our knees
Dear friends, Thanksgiving
in winter, summer, fall and spring!

Poem ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2009. All rights reserved.

Thank you dear poetry sisters. There are no words to express my gratitude for your support and encouragement in poetry and in life. 

That's a wrap for today. I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Buffy Silverman at Buff's Blog. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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18. Monday Poetry Stretch - Gogyohka

Gogyohka (go-gee-yo-ka) is  a verse form that was developed in Japan by Enta Kusakabe. It is meant to be a freer verse form than the tanka. A gogyohka is a five line poem in which each line is comprised of a single phrase.

You can learn more about this form and read some examples at Ben Johnson Poetry FormsGogyohka (5-Line Poetry) and Writer's Digest.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a gogyohka. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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19. Monday Poetry Stretch - Terzanelle

What do you get when you cross a terza rima and a villanelle? The answer is a poetic form called a terzanelle.

A terzanelle uses the villanelle’s form of five triplets and a quatrain with the interlocking rhyme scheme of the terza rima.

Here is the line pattern and rhyme scheme.

1 a1
2 b1
3 a2

4 b2
5 c1
6 repeat line 2

7 c2
8 d1
9 repeat line 5

10 d2
11 e1
12 repeat line 8

13 e2
14 f1
15 repeat line 11

16 f2
17 repeat line 1
18 repeat line 14
19 repeat line 3

You can read more about the terzanelle at Form and Formlessness.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing a terzanelle. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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20. On Making and Using Book Lists - Considering A Recent Mighty Girl Book List

This blog recently celebrated its 9th anniversary. In nine years I've learned a lot about children's literature that I didn't know going in. I've also met, virtually and in person, a great number of very smart folks who review and share books with kids of all ages from all kinds of backgrounds.

I mention this background because I don't jump lightly into conversations that are uncomfortable and that point out shortcomings in books that have received praise elsewhere. Case in point, the recent Mighty Girl book list Celebrating Native American & Aboriginal Mighty Girls for Native American Heritage Month. While there are very positive books on this list, books that show a range of Native American identities and experiences, there are also books that perpetuate ugly stereotypes and misconceptions.

I don't consider myself an expert in this area, but I listen and try to learn. I spend time in my methods course reviewing books with students to help them understand that as both windows and mirrors to lived experience, books must accurately reflect social identities. We read An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children's Books by Louise Derman-Sparks and How to Tell the Difference: A Guide to Evaluating Children's Books for Anti-Indian Bias by Beverly Slapin, Doris Seale and Rosemary Gonzales. I send them to read blogs such as American Indians in Children's Literature, a blog written by Debbie Reese that reviews and critiques children's and young adult books about native peoples,  De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children, a group blog that reviews and critique children's and young adult books about Raza peoples throughout the Diaspora, The Brown Bookshelf, a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, and others.

I have written a fair number of thematic booklists since the birth of this blog, though they all fall along the lines of science, math, and poetry. I am always excited to find lists written by others, hoping they will help me and my students find the best books for use in the classroom. I was excited to see the latest post from A Mighty Girl show up in my feed, but was disappointed when I looked critically at the list.

In order to move conversations forward about diversity in children's literature, we must be willing to listen to the voices from underrepresented groups when they tell us we're getting it wrong. We must be willing to set aside "classics" and old favorites when the information they present is inaccurate. Nowhere is this more problematic than when faced with a book sporting a Newbery,  Caldecott, or Printz sticker.

I so wanted to leave this feedback for the author of the list, Katherine Handcock, at the Mighty Girl site, but couldn't find a mechanism to do that. I appreciate all that A Mighty Girl does to empower girls and affirm their place in this world. However, this list contains titles that contain stereotypes and inaccuracies that could actually be harmful and less than empowering. I hope everyone who visits will read this list with a critical eye. Stop by American Indians in Children's Literature and check out some of the reviews Debbie Reese has posted or linked to for books on the list she does NOT recommend, such as Julie of the WolvesIsland of the Blue Dolphins, and Mama Do You Love Me?. While you are there, check out Debbie's list of Best Books.

I hope the folks at A Mighty Girl will reconsider this list and think about replacing some of these titles with books that will truly empower Native American & Aboriginal mighty girls.

For more on this, read Debbie Reese's letter to Katherine Handcock.

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21. Poetry Friday is My November Guest

Welcome poetry lovers! I'm happy to be hosting Poetry Friday this week. Many of my blogging friends are in Minnesota at the NCTE conference. I hope they'll be sharing goodies with us this day.

Today I am sharing my favorite poet for fall, Robert Frost. "My November Guest" was first published in the November 1912 issue of The Forum, and later was collected in his first volume, A Boy's Will, published in 1915.

My November Guest
by Robert Frost
(Text from Bartleby)

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.      

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
  Is silver now with clinging mist.      

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
  And vexes me for reason why.      

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.      

I hope you'll help me celebrate poetry this week by joining in the round-up and visiting other folks sharing their thoughts. I'm and old-school style host, so please leave a note with a link to your offering in the comments. Happy poetry Friday all!


Original Poetry 
Laura Purdie Salas shares a poetry sampler and an original poem entitled Soap Bubbles.

Diane Mayr of Random Noodling shares a "not-so-celebratory" (her words, not mine!) Thanksgiving poem entitled Thinking of Thanksgiving.

Brenda Davis Harsham of Friendly Fairy Tales shares a poem entitled Season of Thanks.

Poetry of Others
Michelle Heidenrich Barnes of Today's Little Ditty is featuring Cristina-Monica Moldoveanu in the Haiku Garden.

Robyn Hood Black of Life on the Deckle Edge features Becca McCauley of The Paideia School in Atlanta and shares a peek into her personal exploration of haiku and how she's using it with her students.

Over at Kurious Kitty's Kurio Kabinet, Diane Mayr is sharing a poem about Pilgrims from an old holiday anthology.

Lyrics as Poetry
Laura Shovan of Author Amok shares a book review and connects it to song lyrics from a musical.

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22. For Poetry Friday Early Birds

Hello all you early birds! My Poetry Friday post is ready to go live at midnight EST. If you want to leave your link in advance, feel free to comment here.

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23. Monday Poetry Stretch - English Madrigal

I know that this is a holiday week, but this seemed like a good time to write a madrigal.

The English Madrigal is a 13 line poem written as a tercet, quatrain, and sextain. The lines of the tercet serve as refrains. The English madrigal is written in iambic pentameter and is rhymed. Here is the form.

1 A
2 B1
3 B2

4 a
5 b
6 repeat line 1 (A)
7 repeat line 2 (B1)

8 a
9 b
10 b
11 repeat line 1 (A)
12 repeat line 2 (B1)
13 repeat line 3 (B2)

You can read more about the madrigal form at Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides and Poetry Magnum Opus.

I hope you'll join me this week in writing an English madrigal. Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.

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24. On Thanksgiving

Two poems for my readers . . . and wishes for a joyful Thanksgiving.

By Emily Dickinson

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.

In Harvest
By Sophie Jewett

Mown meadows skirt the standing wheat;
I linger, for the hay is sweet,
New-cut and curing in the sun.
Like furrows, straight, the windrows run,
Fallen, gallant ranks that tossed and bent
When, yesterday, the west wind went
A-rioting through grass and grain.
To-day no least breath stirs the plain;
Only the hot air, quivering, yields
Illusive motion to the fields
Where not the slenderest tassel swings.

Read the poem in its entirety.

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25. Poetry Friday - November and the Gift of Poetry

On this day after Thanksgiving I am looking at the calendar, amazed that the month is nearly over. This means that this is the very last Friday I can share a little gem by Elizabeth Coatsworth.

by Elizabeth Coatsworth

November comes,
And November goes
With the last red berries
And the first white snows,

With night coming early
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.

While some may be out shopping for gifts today, I'm thinking about poetry presents. If you would like to gift yourself some poetry, why not consider an e-mail subscription? Here are a few of my favorites.

Poetry Foundation Newsletters
You can sign up for a number of different newsletters on the Poetry Foundation site, including a poem of the day. If you like to listen to your poetry, you can also subscribe to the poem of the day podcast at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audio?show=Poem%20of%20the%20Day.

American Life in Poetry
American Life in Poetry is a free weekly column for newspapers and online publications featuring a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Ted Kooser. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry. You can register to receive a weekly email of the American Life in Poetry Column.

Poems From Jane Yolen
Did you know that you can get a new poem a day from Jane Yolen? All you need to do is: (1) subscribe; and (2) pledge to either buy a book of Jane's or borrow one from the library.

Poem-a-Day is the original and only daily digital poetry series featuring over 200 new, previously unpublished poems by today’s talented poets each year. On weekdays, poems are accompanied by exclusive commentary by the poets. The series highlights classic poems on weekends.

Poetry Daily Newsletter
Poetry Daily is an anthology of contemporary poetry. Each day on the web site they share a poem from new books, magazines, and journals. If you sign up for the free weekly newsletter you will receive a poem selected from the archive and information on upcoming featured poets, special editorial events, poetry news and reviews, and more.

Getting a poem in your mailbox is truly a tiny little gift each day. I hope you'll consider one of these (or all of them!) as a way to bring a bit more poetry into your life.

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Carol at Carol’s Corner. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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