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A teacher educator discusses children's literature and issues related to teaching children and their future teachers.
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1. How a Pantoum Starts

This month the poetry seven have been focused on writing a pantoum using the words certainties and flight. They will debut on May 1st. YIKES! Mine is not even close to written yet because I'm still tossing around ideas. Here's the work I did yesterday as I sat in two different meetings. This is not surprising, as words and poems seem to emerge in the most inconsiderate of moments.

Here's what emerged during the morning meeting.

When I got back to the office, I dumped my ideas into a form, playing a bit with the lines.
Unsure of the this idea, I tried something new at my second meeting.

The ideas I'm working with are fledgling birds (ducks!) and leaving rural life. I'm not sure if either one will work, but we will find out next week!

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2. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Poems of Apology

Poems of apology ... well, we must begin with the poem that started it all.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Poem ©William Carlos Williams. All rights reserved.

There are some who call this "the dreaded plum poem." I happen to like "This is Just to Say". Was the speaker truly remorseful? It's hard to say. Would I have forgiven the writer? Eventually, but I would have been really aggravated to find and read that note. I can just imagine it today, scribbled on a Post-It note stuck to the refrigerator.

The books that follow contain poems in the style of Williams, and are written as apologies.
This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness (2007), written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by is written in the voices of school children and is organized in this fashion.
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction written by Anthony K., a "student" in Mrs. Merz's class
  • This Is Just to Say, by William Carlos Williams
  • Part 1: Apologies
  • Part 2: Responses
This book is a direct result of Sidman's work as a writer-in-residence at schools, where she uses the poem as a model. There is a wealth of material here, with seventeen apology and seventeen response poems. Here's a sample pair of poems. 

The Black Spot
(written by Alyssa for her sister Carrie)

That black spot on your palm.
It never goes away. 
So long ago
I can hardly remember,
I stabbed you with a pencil.
Part of the lead, there,
still inside you.
And inside me, too,
something small and black.
Hidden away.
I don't know what to call it,
the nugget of darkness,
that made me stab you.
It never goes away.

Both marks, still there.
Small black
reminders.

Roses Are Red
(written by Carrie in response to Alyssa)

Roses are red,
violets are blue.
I’m still really
pissed off at you.

Poems ©Joyce Sidman. All rights reserved.

The topics and emotions related in these poems are those that any child today might deal with. There are apologies for making fun of the dress a teacher is wearing, breaking a mother's precious glass deer, not winning a spelling bee, hitting a friend too hard with a dodge ball, and more. Some of the poems reveal the writer to be truly remorseful, while others are only slightly apologetic. 

To learn more you should check out the particularly useful reader's guide at Sidman's web site. You may also want to take a moment to watch and listen to her read from the book.

Forgive me.
This next book
is anything 
but remorseful.

Since it borrows
Williams' form,
I had to include it.

Please read on
and chastise me
later.

Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It: False Apology Poems, written by Gail Carson Levine and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is a collection of poems connected with nursery rhyme or fairy tale themes and characters that borrow Williams' form but include apologies that are conditional or utterly insincere. Some of these poems are dark, but they're all entertaining and some are downright funny. Here's one of my favorites.

This Is Just to Say

I have shortened
my nose
with your saw

because 
honestly
telling lies
is so much fun

Forgive me
I don't care
about becoming 
a real boy

(Pinocchio)

Poem ©Gail Carson Levine. All rights reserved.

You can download an excerpt from the Harper Collins site. Better yet, head over to Matthew Cordell's blog for a view of the art and some of the poems.

If you are interested in writing poems of apology with your students, check out some of these resources.
That's it for poems of apology. Join me this weekend for interviews with Joyce Sidman and Joan Bransfield Graham.

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3. Poetry Friday - 2015 Progressive Poem: Day/Line 24

Today is Day 24 of the 2015 Progressive Poem created and nurtured by the lovely Irene Latham. This project is a community writing experience where a poem travels daily from blog to blog, with each host adding a line. It began on April 1st and is nearing its end. I am happy to be participating for the very first time this year, though am  bit intimidated by the form and subject. I'm really not a narrative poem kind of girl, or a free verse girl (not often anyway), so adding a line was a daunting task for me.

As the poem has moved from one poet to another, it has occasionally been reformatted. To date, no one has done the kind of work that my predecessor did, however! Tamera Wissinger's transformation of the line breaks is a thing of beauty. I've kept Tamera's version for those who want to see it carried on in this fashion. For those who need to see it in its "original" couplet form, I've got that too.

So, without further ado, here are both forms of the poem (same words, different breaks), with my line added to the end of each.

Version 1 

She lives without a net,
walking along the alluvium of the delta.
Shoes swing over her shoulder,
on her bare feet stick
jeweled flecks of dark mica.
Hands faster than fish swing
at the ends of bare brown arms.
Her hair flows,
snows
in wild wind
as she digs
in the indigo varnished handbag,
pulls out her grandmother’s oval
cuffed bracelet,
 strokes the turquoise stones, and steps
through the curved doorway.
Tripping
on
her
tail
she
slips
hair first
down
the
slide…
splash!
She                  glides               past                 glossy              water
hyacinth to shimmer with a school of shad,
listens to the ibises
roosting in the trees
of the cypress swamp
an echo
of Grandmother’s words, still fresh
in her windswept memory;
“Born from the oyster,
expect the pearl.
Reach for the rainbow
reflection on the smallest dewdrop.

The surface glistens, a shadow
slips
above her head, a paddle
dips
she reaches, seizes. She’s electric energy
and turquoise eyes.
Lifted high, she gulps strange air – stares
clearly into
 Green pirogue, crawfish trap, startled
fisherman with turquoise eyes, twins
of her own, riveted on her wrist–
She’s swifter than a dolphin,
slipping away,
leaving him only
a handful
of memories
of his own
grandmother’s counsel:
“Watch for her.
You’ll have but one chance
to 
determine—
to decide. Garner wisdom from the water
and from the pearl
of the past.”

In a quicksilver flash,
an arc of resolution, he
leaps
into the shimmering water
where hidden sentries restrain
any pursuit and the bitter taste
of impulse rushes
into his lungs.
Her flipper flutters his weathered toes
–      Pearl’s signal –
Stop struggling.
The Sentinels will escort you
He stills, closes his eyes,
takes an uncharacteristic breath of ...
water!
Released, he swims


Version 2
(Couplet Version)

She lives without a net, walking along the alluvium of the delta.
Shoes swing over her shoulder, on her bare feet stick jeweled flecks of dark mica.

Hands faster than fish swing at the ends of bare brown arms. Her hair flows,
snows in wild wind as she digs in the indigo varnished handbag,

pulls out her grandmother’s oval cuffed bracelet,
strokes the turquoise stones, and steps through the curved doorway.

Tripping on her tail she slips hair first down the slide… splash!
She glides past glossy water hyacinth to shimmer with a school of shad,

listens to the ibises roosting in the trees of the cypress swamp
an echo of Grandmother’s words, still fresh in her windswept memory.

Born from the oyster, expect the pearl.
Reach for the rainbow reflection on the smallest dewdrop.

The surface glistens, a shadow slips above her head, a paddle dips
she reaches, seizes. She’s electric energy and turquoise eyes.

Lifted high, she gulps strange air – stares clearly into
Green pirogue, crawfish trap, startled fisherman

with turquoise eyes, twins of her own, riveted on her wrist–
She’s swifter than a dolphin, slipping away, leaving him only a handful of

memories of his own grandmother’s counsel: Watch for her. You’ll have but one chance to
determine—to decide. Garner wisdom from the water and from the pearl of the past.

In a quicksilver flash, an arc of resolution, he leaps into the shimmering water
Where hidden sentries restrain any pursuit and the bitter taste of impulse rushes into his lungs

Her flipper flutters his weathered toes –Pearl’s signal–Stop struggling. The Sentinels will escort you
He stills, closes his eyes, takes an uncharacteristic breath of ... water! Released, he swims 


Tabatha Yeatts is up next. I can't wait to see where she'll take us (and them!)

If you want to see how this poem has come together, you may want to begin at Day 1 and follow its evolution. Here is list of this year's participants with links to their posts. 

2015 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem
1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Thanks to Irene for organizing this event and for including me.

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Renee LaTulippe at No Water River. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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4. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Parody

Parody is the imitation of a particular writer, artist or a genre, that is exaggerated deliberately to produce a comic effect. 

The Poetry Archive defines parody in this way.
Parody is the imitation of the style of another work, writer or genre, which relies on deliberate exaggeration to achieve comic or satirical effect. It is usually necessary to be familiar with the original in order to appreciate the parody, though some parodies have become better known than the poems they imitate.
I've heard folks complain about parody, suggesting that this form is responsible for "dumbing-down" poems. I find this argument irritating. To write a successful parody, the author must have extensive knowledge of the original work. I believe that kids can find their way into poetry when they are hooked by a parody. Parody poems can help students make connections so that when they encounter a poet or classic poem later on, they will have some knowledge and background information to enhance their reading of it.
Science Verse (2004), written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a collection of science poems that parody poems by Joyce Kilmer, Lewis Carroll, Ann Taylor, Robert Frost and others, as well as nursery rhymes and childhood songs. It begins:
On Wednesday in science class, Mr. Newton says, "You know, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything." 
I listen closely. On Thursday, I start hearing the poetry. In fact, I start hearing everything as a science poem. 
Mr. Newton has zapped me with a curse of SCIENCE VERSE.
Poems parodied include "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer, "The Star" by Ann and Jane Taylor, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Paul Revere’s Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "A Visit From St. Nicholars" by Clement C. Moore, and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. Here's an excerpt.

Lovely
by Jon Scieszka

I think that I ain't never seen
A poem ugly as a spleen.

A poem that could mke you shiver,
Like 3.5 . . . pounds of liver.

A poem to make you lose your lunch,
Tie your intestines in a bunch.

A poem all gray, wet, and swollen,
Like a stomach or a colon.

Something like your kidney, lung,
Pancreas, bladder, even tongue.

Why you turning green, good buddy?
It's just human body study.

Poem ©Jon Scieszka. All rights reserved.

The book ends with our young hero waking from a dream, cured of his Science Verse. 
Classic Poetry for Dogs: Why Do I Chase Thee (2014), written by Jessica Swaim and illustrated by Chet Phillips, is a collection of parodies of classic poems told by a group of cultured hounds like William Shakespaw, Elizabeth Basset Browning, Edgar Allan Pug, and many others. You'll find poems like "Shall I Compare Thee to a Steak Fillet?," "Why Do I Chase Thee?," "The Maven," "Song of Me," "Sizing Up Shoes on a Soulful Evening," and many others. Each new section begins with an introduction to the hound-author.

Here is what Swaim writes about Emily Doginson.
Emily Doginson, a skittish saluki mix, loved to spy on passersby from the front window of her family's luxurious digs in Scramherst, Massachusetts. When visitors rang the doorbell, shy Emily retreated to her crate, refusing to emerge except for choice bits of chopped liver. Paper-trained from an early age, she wrote copious letters to the world, most of which were returned for insufficient postage. Ultimately, she selected her own society, then shut the doggy door. 
And here is one of Emily's poems.

Skunk is the Thing With Stink Bombs

Skunk is the thing with stink bombs
That leads a merry chase,
Then turns around and flicks its tail
And squirts me in the face.

Bath is the thing with soapsuds
And water cold as ice.
I wonder as I'm shivering,
Why was I hoodwinked twice?

Text and poem ©Jessica Swaim. All rights reserved.
 
Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers In Classic Poems (2012), written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Michael Slack is a collection of cleverly disguised math problems in the form of parodies of classic poems. Can you guess the classic that inspired this poem?

Once upon a midnight rotten,
Cold, and rainy, I'd forgotten
All about the apple pie
Still cooling from the hour before.
I ignored the frightful stranger
Knocking, knocking . . . I, sleepwalking,
Pitter-pattered toward the pantry,
Took a knife from the kitchen drawer,
And screamed aloud, "How many cuts
Give me ten pieces?" through the door,
          The stranger bellowed, "Never four!"

Go ahead, draw a circle and give it a try! The answer can be found upside-down on the opposing page. (Look it up or figure it out because I'm not telling!) Mathematically you could use four cuts, however, the pieces would not be equal in size.

Here's one more to whet your appetite. Yes, it contains fractions, but be brave!

Edward Lear's Elephant with Hot Dog
Inspired by "There Was An Old Man With a Beard" by Edward Lear 


When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
     Of an eighty-foot bun
     And a frankfurter, son
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?

Poems ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

Since I'm highlighting J. Patrick Lewis at the end here, let me follow up with a few more poems. Pat was kind enough to share some parody poems he is working on for a new collection. The original is presented first, then Pat's parody.

Happy Thought  

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson
___________

Sleepy Thought

The world is so full of a number of dreams,
I’m sure all our pillows should burst at the seams.

J. Patrick Lewis


“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson
____________

Grief is the thing with tissues
For mopping up the tears,
So that when you’re in bed at night,
They won’t fill up your ears.

J. Patrick Lewis

Poems ©J. Patrick Lewis, 2015. All rights reserved.


If you are interested in learning more about parody poems, here are a few resources.
That's it for parody. I'll see you back here tomorrow for poems of apology.

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5. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Apostrophe/Poems of Address

An apostrophe is a poem which directly addresses a person or thing that is generally absent, hence the more common name of poem of address. There are many days when I want to talk to someone who isn't here, to ask questions, to wonder. Poems of address require poets not to write about something, but to imagine what they would say if they could speak to the person, place, or thing being addresses.

The word apostrophe comes from the Greek for "turning back." Apostrophe has been a part of storytelling since Greek drama. Because there is a clear speaker and change of addressee, apostrophe is often found in plays. However, it also occurs in prose and poetry. Here are some beginning lines from classic poems that use this form.

Edgar Allen Poe - To Science
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

Percy Bysshe Shelley - 
Ode to the West Wind
O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

John Pierpont - The Fugitive Slave’s Apostrophe to the North Star
Star of the North! though night winds drift
The fleecy drapery of the sky
Between thy lamp and me, I lift,
Yea, lift with hope, my sleepless eye
To the blue heights wherein thou dwellest,
And of a land of freedom tellest.

William Shakespeare - Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.

You can learn more about apostrophe at literary devices. This apostrophe is not the same as the punctuation mark. For more on that, read this poem.

Apostrophe to the Apostrophe
by Eric Nelson

Small floater, you stay above the fray,
a wink at nothing's nod, a raised brow
watching p's and q's, a selfless mote
between I and m, a little horn of plenty
spilling plurals, disdaining the bottom line.

Read the poem in its entirety.
Hey You!: Poems to Skyscrapers, Mosquitoes, and Other Fun Things (2007), selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Robert Rayesky, is an anthology entirely filled with poems of address. Here is how it begins in the section entitled Imagination on the Loose.
Have you ever spoken to your sneakers? Or talked to your mailbox? Sounds wacky, doesn't it? Well, this book is filled with poems that were written to things. What kinds of things? How about poems to a fork or an octopus? They're in here. So are poems to mosquitoes and a skyscraper. There's even a poem in this book to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 
Why would anyone write a poem to a thing? Because it's fun! And it can also be a challenge. You need to really observe the thing and discover what  you might say to it. Then, of course, you'll need to find the right words to make it come alive.
Here are two examples.

To An Astronaut
by Beverly McLoughland

When you're in space
So far away
With darkness all around,

And you see the little Earth
Beyone,
Do you miss its windy sound?

Do you feel alone
With endless space
The neighbor at your door?

Do you miss the Earth
So far away?
Do you love it even more?

Poem ©Beverly McLoughland. All rights reserved.


Straight Talk
by Nikki Grimes

Look, Bee
Fair is fair.
I don't burst into
Your honeycomb
Willy-nilly
Or interrupt you
While you feed on
Rose and Lily
So leave me alone, drone
Show yourself the door
And don't come
Buzzing round here
Anymore

Poem ©Nikki Grimes. All rights reserved.

You'll find poems of address sprinkled throughout many a poetry collection. Here are a few I particularly like.
Dear Hot Dog (2011), written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, is a collection of poems that show the joy of childhood over the course of a day. The poems follow three friends from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed. Many of the poems are written as poems of address. Here is an example.

Light

Where do you go
when it's dark?
Back into lightbulbs
when I turn them off?
Do you hide in closets,
under the covers,
or in refrigerators?
Why can't I
fill a bag with you?
Where do you
go at night?
You have to be
somewhere!
Maybe tonight
I won't sleep.
I'll just stay up,
searching
the darkness,
till I find
you.

Poem ©Moridcai Gerstein. All rights reserved.
Eric Carle's Animals Animals (1989), is a collection of poems by various authors, illustrated by Eric Carle. From classics to modern poems, there are a number of poems of address here. Here are two classics.

The Octopus
by Ogden Nash

Tell me, O Octopus, I begs,
Is those things arms or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus:
If I were thou, I'd call me Us.


Bee! I'm Expecting You
by Emily Dickinson

Bee! I'm expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
And settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You'll get my Letter by
The seventeenth: Reply,
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

Now that you've read a few examples for inspiration, here are some useful resources for reading and writing poems of address.
That's it for poems of address. I hope you'll join me here tomorrow for another form.

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6. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Mask/Persona Poems

Mask or persona poems are poems in which the subject of the poem is the speaker.  In creating the poem the writer takes on a "mask" or personality and speaks in the voice of an animal, element of nature, or inanimate object.

In her book Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams: A Collection of Poems (1980), Karla Kuskin shares a number of mask poems. The preface to this section of the collection reads:
The following five poems do not have titles. As you read each poem you will figure out what it is describing. Each one tells how it would feel to be something other than yourself.
I've read a lot of definitions and descriptions of mask poems. I think I like this one best for kids. Here's one of the poems she shared.

If you,
Like me,
Were made of fur
And sun warmed you,
Like me,
You'd purr.

Poem ©Karla Kuskin. All rights reserved.

In the book Conversations With a Poet: Inviting Poetry into K-12 Classrooms (2005), written by Betsy Franco, the chapter devoted to the persona poem includes this background.
In a form or mode of poetry called the persona poem or "mask poem," the poet takes on the voice of someone else--puts on a mask. In these poems, the poet takes over the persona of someone other than himself or herself and speaks in the first person. In the 1800s Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote persona poems, among other forms. These poets and their contemporaries usually took on the voice of a historical or mythological character. This is also done in modern persona poems, but nowadays, poets also speak as if they were such things as an object, a place, an animal, an abstract idea, or a fantasy character.
There are many, many good books of poetry written entirely as mask poems. Mask poems can also be found in numerous children's poetry collections. Here are just a few of my favorites.
Dirty Laundry Pile: Poems in Different Voices (2001), selected by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, is a collection of poems in the voices of a broom, kites, gloves, crayons, and more. In the introduction Paul writes:
I collected the poems in this book because I love reading poems written in the voice of an object or an animal, as if that thing or creature were speaking to me. In these persona or mask poems, as they are called, the poets let their imaginations fly and feel what it might be like to be a mosquito, a crayon, a kite, a turtle. It's something like wearing a Halloween costume or playing a part in a school play. Great fun, don't you think? As you read these poems, if you find yourself wondering what it would feel like to be a caterpillar, a soccer ball, or a honeybee, grab a pencil and let your imagination fly in a poem. Let that new voice sing!
In this book you'll find poems like "The Vacuum Cleaner's Revenge," "Scarecrow's Dream," and "Prayer of a Snowflake." This book is a terrific mentor text for using with kids learning to write mask poems. Here is an example.

Shell
by Deborah Chandra

Come, press my mouth against your ear,
I hold a message just for you.
Deep inside my throat is where
It curls, waiting for you to hear.

Put there by the sea itself,
Who whispered something you should know
In shadowy sounds wound round my shell,
And with my hidden tongue, I'll tell.

Poem ©Deborah Chandra. All rights reserved.
in the swim (2001), poems and paintings by Douglas Florian, is a collection of humorous poems about underwater creatures. Many of the poems in this volume are written in the voice of the animal. Here's one of my favorites.

The Starfish
by Douglas Florian

Although it seems
That I'm all arms,
Some other organs
Give me charm.
I have a mouth
With which to feed.
A tiny stomach
Is all I need.
And though it's true
I have no brain,
I'm still a star--
I can't complain.

Poem ©Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.

This title is but one in a long line of books on animals, all of which contain mask poems. Additional titles to look for include beast feast (1998), on the wing (2000), insectlopedia (2002), mammalabilia (2004), lizards, frogs, and polliwogs (2005), and more.
Two titles by Marilyn Singer, Turtle in July (1989, OP), illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and Fireflies at Midnight (2003), illustrated by Ken Robbins, are both collections of mask poems. Turtle in July is a collection of poems that pairs animals with the months of the year. It also includes four seasonal poems focused on the bullhead (a type of catfish). Fireflies at Midnight is a collection of poems about animals at different hours of the day on a summer day.

Here's a favorite poem from each book.

Canada Goose
(from Turtle in July)

Did I tell you?
I should tell you
Going home
We're going home
Are you coming?
Yes, you're coming
Going home
We're going home
How the sun will warm each feather
How the wind will make us fly
Follow me -- I'll be your leader
As we flap across the sky
Are you ready?
I am ready
Going home
We're going home
Is it time now?
It is time now
October's happened
And we're going home


Crayfish
(from Fireflies at Midnight)

I, crayfish,
no day fish
no way fish
at all
Nosy otter, watch its jaws
Careless wader, watch my claws
Spend each morning
lying soundless
under stones
Spend each evening
shredding stems
picking bones

Poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.
Volcano! Wakes Up, written by Lisa Westberg Peters and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, is a collection of mask poems that describe a day in the life of an imaginary Hawaiian volcano. Ferns, lava flow crickets, a small black road, and the volcano itself all speak in these poems. Here's how it opens.

Volcano

I'm the baby.
I'm much smaller than my
big sister volcanoes. I'm a little sleepy
now, but when I wake up, watch out! I throw
nasty tantrums. It always works--I get the most attention!

Here's what the ferns have to say when they realize the volcano is awake.

Ferns

Fire-maker's awake!
She's about to 
make
this caldera
a lake of fire and
lava. Ah, the
party
must be over.
Put away all the
streamers.
Say 
good-bye,
honeycreepers.
But wait . . . it's
not
hot yet. It's 
not even warm
yet. What a 
lucky
delay on this
beautiful day. Hey,
everybody, let's 
party!

Poems ©Lisa Westberg Peters. All rights reserved. 
Button Up!: Wrinkled Rhymes, written by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Petra Mathers, is a collection of 15 mask poems in which the author speaks in the voices of shoes, galoshes, undies, a bicycle helmet, and more. Here's an excerpt.

Bertie's Shoelaces
by Alice Schertle 

Good old Bertie,
he lets us hang around.
It doesn't bother Bertie
when we drag along the ground.
We're not up tight
as our Bertie Buddy knows.
We're hang loose laces and
we don't do bows!

Poem ©Alice Schertle. All rights reserved.

Now that you've seen some great examples, here are some helpful resources for reading and writing mask poems with your students.
That's it for the mask/persona poem. I hope you'll join me back here tomorrow for another form.

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7. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Reverso

The reverso is actually two poems in one. Read it down (in the normal fashion) and it has one meaning. Read it again from the bottom up, this time with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and you have a different poem. Generally these poems are written as a pair so that the inversion (reversal, hence revserso) is easy to see and appreciate.

Invented by Marilyn Singer, her author's note gives readers some insight into the form and her process. Here's what she says.
We read most poems down the page. But what if we read them up? That's the question I asked myself when I created the reverso. When you read a reverso down, it is one poem. When you read it up, with changes allowed only in punctuation and capitalization it is a different poem.

The first reverso I wrote was inspired by my cat, August:
A cat
without
a chair:
incomplete

Incomplete:
a chair
without
a cat.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems (2010), written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse, is a collection of fairy tale inspired poems written in the reverso form. This means that each poem is presented twice, once read in the traditional manner (down), and once read from the bottom up (though presented in a traditional top to bottom form). Confused? Don't be. Presented together, readers get two perspectives on a story, told with the same words but meaning different things. Here is an example.

In the Hood

In my hood,
skipping through the wood,
carrying a basket,
picking berries to eat—
juicy and sweet
what a treat!
But a girl
mustn’t dawdle.
After all, Grandma’s waiting.

After all, Grandma’s waiting
mustn’t dawdle...
But a girl!
What a treat—
juicy and sweet
picking berries to eat,
carrying a basket,
skipping through the wood
in my ’hood.

I can't imagine how difficult it is to write a poem in this fashion. The fact that it makes perfect sense in both directions and tells two sides of the same story is quite remarkable. Here's one more, the poem that gives the book its title.

Mirror Mirror

Let me help you get some rest.
Mother knows best.
Listen to me,
Snow White.
Sleepy, Dopey, Happy,
you've been working day and night.
You look worn out.
A long nap?
A blanket?
An apple to eat?
What would you like?
Time to get off your feet.

Time to get off your feet.
What would you like?
An apple to eat?
A blanket?
A long nap?
You look worn out.
You've been working day and night
Sleepy, dopey, happy
Snow White,
listen to me.
Mother knows best.
Let me help you get some rest.

You can read and listen to some examples at Marilyn Singer's site. You may also want to check out the educator's guide for the book.
Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems (2013), written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse, is the sequel (dare I say follow up?!) to Singer's first book of reverso poems. Fairy tale poems in this new collection tell opposite sides of the stories from Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, The Golden Goose, Puss in Boots, and others.

Ready, Steady, Go!

That ridiculous loser!
I am not
a slowpoke.
Though I may be
the smallest bit distracted,
I can’t be
beat.
I’ve got rabbit feet to
take me to the finish line.

Take me to the finish line!
I’ve got rabbit feet to
beat.
I can’t be
the smallest bit distracted.
Though I may be
a slowpoke,
I am not
that ridiculous loser.

You can read and listen to some examples at Marilyn Singer's site.

All poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.

I'm not only enamored with this form, but also the subject matter. After all, one of my favorite books of poetry is The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales, edited by Jeanne Marie Beaumont & Claudia Carlson.

Incorporating fairy tale poetry in the classroom is a great way to spark interest in poetry itself. The topic is familiar and lends itself to examination from multiple perspectives. That's one of the reasons that these books work so darned well. The unexpected second perspective is often surprising and funny.

Whether your state uses Common Core or some other set of standards, the study of fairy tales and fables is an important part of English/Language Arts curriculum. Teachers have become pros at integrating fairy tales from other cultures and "fractured" fairy tales. It is high time for poetry to take its rightful place as part of this study. 

For some ideas on integrating fairy tale poetry into the curriculum, check out these resources.
If you're feeling brave, perhaps you'll even try writing some simple reverso poems with your students! 

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8. Monday Poetry Stretch - Dorsimbra

If you read Marilyn Singer's interview yesterday, you'll have noticed that she mentioned a number of forms she might like to try. Today's challenge is one of these forms.

Dorsimbra is a poetry form created by Eve Braden, Frieda Dorris and Robert Simonton. It contains a set of three quatrains.  Each quatrain is written following specific guidelines. They are:
  • Stanza 1 - four lines of iambic pentameter rhyming abab
  • Stanza 2 - four lines of "short and snappy" free verse
  • Stanza 3 - four lines of blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) with the last line the same as the first line of the first stanza
In addition to these guidelines, the form’s creators suggest the use of enjambment, interlaced rhymes, and near-rhymes to bind the three stanzas.

You can read more about this form at Sol Magazine and Poetry Base.

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

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9. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Interview with Marilyn Singer

In preparation for sharing forms this month, I wrote to a number of poets and asked if they would respond to a short list of questions on poetry, writing, and form. I'm thrilled every time one responds positively and find they have all been extremely generous with their time.

Today I'm sharing the thoughts of Marilyn Singer, author of more than 80 books in a range of genres, including non-fiction, fairy tales, picture books, mysteries, poetry, and more. Recent poetry titles include Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents (2013), Follow Follow: A Book of Reversos (2013), A Strange Place to Call Home (2012), The Superheroes Employment Agency (2012),  A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play (2012),  A Full Moon Is Rising (2011), Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Poems (2010), and First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems (2008).

How does a poem begin for you — with an idea, a form, an image, or something else?
Marilyn: For me, a poem can begin with any of those things.  Sometimes, it’s an image.  I saw the full moon between skyscrapers near Times Square, NYC, where the Broadway theatres are, and it led to the image of the moon as an actor waiting in the wings to make an entrance.  That in turn led to the poem “Broadway Moon” in A Full Moon Is Rising (Lee & Low).  Other times, it’s an idea that sparks a poem.   I was thinking about the nature of fire and these lines came into my head:  “Fire has contradiction/at its heart/from that wintry blue part/to its jagged golden crown.”   They became the opening of the poem “Contradiction” from Central Heating (Knopf).  For my reverso poems, the process of writing obviously begins with form. A reverso is a poem in two parts.  The second part reverses the lines from the first part, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it has to say something different from the first part. Mirrror Mirror and Follow Follow, both published by Dial, are my books of reversos based on fairy tales, and I have a third book of reversos, Echo Echo, based on Greek myths, coming out next spring. When I decide to create a reverso, I have to find a narrative that will fit that form. I look for two sides to a story, and then I find lines that can be flipped, which requires a lot of participles, questions/declarations, etc.  I usually write poems by hand on paper, but I have to write the reversos on a computer in order to shift around lines more easily and see what makes sense.


How do you choose the form of your poems?
Marilyn: Other than the reversos, which are a deliberate choice, I’m not really sure how I choose the form of my poems.  I don’t think that there’s one thing at work which determines my choice. Sometimes a line begs to be repeated, for example, “A stick is an excellent thing,” from the title poem from A Stick Is an Excellent Thing (Clarion).  That call for repetition suggested that I use the line in a triolet, one of my favorite forms.  But often, my choice is more like: I’m going to write about spadefoot toads for my book about animals in dangerous habitats, A Strange Place to Call Home (Chronicle), and I’ve researched them, and, they’re in the desert, which is dry and sparse, and the poem’s about nature, and  how about a haiku: “They can deal solo/with dryness, but give them rain,/and then: toads explode.”


Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Marilyn: There are lots of forms I’ve seen on lists and don’t know anything about. Tetractys? Tyburn? Dorsimbra? Maybe I’ll get to some of them—and maybe I won’t. I tried my hand at some villanelles and enjoyed them, though they were quite difficult. I’ve never written a sestina, and I don’t know if I ever will.  It seems a bit daunting. In general, I’m drawn to forms that are more concise—triolets, cinquains, haikus, as well as free verse—forms that say a lot in a little.  But, who knows, maybe I’ll wake up some morning with the burning need to write epic verse (though probably not!).


What tools (rhyming dictionary, book of forms, etc.) do you use in writing poetry (if any)?
Marilyn: I use all of the above—a rhyming dictionary (mostly online), a thesaurus, and reference sites to forms—as well as spell check.  ;-)


What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Marilyn: When I was very young, my parents read poetry to me.  It made me fall in love with words and what they can convey.  It also made me believe that there is not just one view of the world. Poetry is about surprise—seeing a cat, a stone, a trip to the ocean, an annoying neighbor, racial politics, climate change, bird migration, something conceptual or concrete in a unique way.  And the poet’s efforts to do that allow the reader or listener to share that view, and perhaps use his or her own mind and senses to look at things differently.

Also, poetry can be a fun game. Writing my reversos, in particular, has been the ultimate word game. And I think, for readers, figuring out what the poems say and how they say it (and then maybe trying to write reversos themselves) is also a good game.


Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?
Marilyn: Here’s the title poem from Follow Follow.  It’s based on the Pied Piper tale.  Who is speaking in each part of the poem?

FOLLOW, FOLLOW

Hundreds of rats,
my dear citizens of Hamelin,
shall never return!
All the children
once again play merrily in the streets.
On this festive day
I will
tell the council to relay what I say:
“Many thanks
for your
trouble.
There will be
no pay.
It is time, Piper, to go away.”


It is time, Piper, to go away?
No pay?
There will be
trouble
for your
"many thanks."
Tell the council to relay what I say:
I will,
on this festive day,
once again play merrily in the streets.
All the children
shall never return.
My dear citizens of Hamelin—
hundreds of rats.

Poems ©Marilyn Singer. All rights reserved.


A million thanks to Marilyn for participating in my Jumping Into Form project this month.

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10. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Interview with Avis Harley

In preparation for sharing forms this month, I wrote to a number of poets and asked if they would respond to a short list of questions on poetry, writing, and form. I'm thrilled every time one responds positively and find they have all been extremely generous with their time.

Today I'm sharing the thoughts of Avis Harley, a former teacher and author of 5 books of poetry for children, including African Acrostics: A Word in Edgewise (2009), The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings (2008), Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems (2006), Leap into Poetry: More ABCs of Poetry (2001), and Fly with Poetry: An ABC of Poetry (2000).

How do you begin a poem? 
Avis: It varies.  It can be a visual image, a musical thought, a physical sensation, or perhaps just a single word.  But before I start writing, I like to immerse myself in someone else’s poetry. Sometimes an idea might come from this reading, but mostly I return to my earlier inspiration.  A word grows into a phrase that grows into a line, and slowly, over time and many, many rewrites, a poem might emerge.


How do you choose the form of your poems?
Avis: 
It’s crafty business, poetry writing,
But poetic forms are so inviting!

Should it be free verse?  Rap?  Haiku?
Intravista?  Sonnet?  Clerihew?
Limerick?  Villanelle?  Elegy?
A Couplet?  Acrostic?  A parody?

A myriad of forms from which to choose,
but the content decides which one to use.


What tools do you use in writing poetry?
Avis: I enjoy playing with rhyme, and have three different rhyming dictionaries. My Penguin Rhyming Dictionary is a well-thumbed paperback.  Another book is A Rhyming Dictionary and Poets’ Handbook by Burges Johnson, where the words are grouped into one-syllable rhymes, two-syllable rhymes, three-syllable rhymes, and so on – a double-dactyl-delight.  I also like Walker’s Rhyming Dictionary.  It is a reverse-order dictionary and a handy source for eye-rhymes, where endings are the same in spelling but not in sound.  I love eye-rhymes, and wrote a whole book of them, but recognize this obscurity is hard to sell.  But they were fun to write, and here’s one of them:

TOUGH

Dandelions plough
straight through
cement.   Although
just a golden hiccough
shining in its tiny trough,
for Dandelion, that is enough.

I also use the thesaurus, plus a Webster’s and an Oxford dictionary.  Canadians sometimes have different pronunciations and spellings to the Americans for certain words.  The ‘u’ in words such as honour, savour, humour, etc., disappears when my poems go over the border, bringing back childhood memories of a big red X on a spelling test if the ‘u’ were ever omitted.

But most of the time we both agree,
except when saying ‘zed’ or ‘zee.’

For forms, I often refer to The Harper Handbook to Literature, edited by Northrop Frye, et al.  Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics is a wonderful resource.  A book I encouraged my teacher/librarian students to read when I was teaching a poetry course at the University of B.C. is called The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms, edited by Ron Padgett.  It’s full of useful information and reader-friendly definitions.   I am somewhat addicted to collecting books of form, if only to discover new and obscure kinds of poems I’d like to try.


What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Avis: It doesn’t always have to rhyme or be funny. Poetry is the most inspiring and beautiful arrangement of words language can offer. Poetry is a producer of the ‘ah-ha’ moment. Robert Frost said “Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” I would like children and students to discover this delight and wisdom by reading lots and lots of good poems – all kinds. Poetry is meant to be enjoyed; too many ‘simile-safaris’ can kill poetry. I would like them to know the wonder of language, and to try writing their own poems, and learn through this experience that poetry writing is not easy, but so rewarding.  It is a lifelong friend.


Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Avis: Yes, there are a lot of forms I have not yet tried!  I have experimented with many different ones in two ABC poetry books I’ve written, and do have my favourites – especially haiku, triolet, sonnet, limerick, and acrostic.  I’ve always been intrigued with puzzles and word games: crosswords, scrabble, anagrams, acrostics, words-within-words, rebuses, and any type of word fun that could be a springboard for a poetic form.  I like to create poems with messages inside, and enjoy inventing my own forms.


Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?
Avis: "Foreign" can mean unfamiliar, and my choice of verse form will be unfamiliar, as it is an original poetic form I have created.  I’ve called it the intravista, where words within words, arranged downward, make a poem within a poem.  Here is an intravista about our old cat, Sockeye:

                        THE CONTENTED CAT

                        A thermal cushion arrives on my lap,
                           spurred on by the thought
                   of a blissful nap.  She neatly
                          washes paws and chin – then lets
              her heartwarming purr begin.
                   So pleasant that murmur of purr and meow,
                            there’s enough contentment
                     to unfurrow my brow.

Her
purr
is
as
warm
as
her
fur. 

By hiding a word within another word, the intravista continually surprises me.  Coming up with an unusual word to envelop another one always seems to spark an unexpected idea, and it’s fun to have an inner voice give you two poems for the price of one.  As April is the month of blossoms, and also Poetry Month, I’d like to close with this poem:

                      IN THE KEY OF BEE

                      Blossom weather!
                           The sun-dappled
                                         street is alive
               with humming.  Listen
              to these trees blissfully thrumming
                                in the soft key
                              of honeybees!

The
apple
tree
is
full
of
                                                       bee!

Poems ©Avis Harley. All rights reserved.

A million thanks to Avis for participating in my Jumping Into Form project this month.

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11. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Acrostic

An acrostic poem is one in which the first, last or some other letters, when read in a line moving downward, spell out a word or phrase. Acrostic poems date back to ancient times. They are found in the Bible and Roman ruins. Chaucer wrote them in the Middle Ages. Christopher Marlowe, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll and others have written in this form.

Here's a bit of background on the form from Avis Harley's book, African Acrostics.
The acrostic is a playful poetic form that people have enjoyed writing and reading since ancient times. The name comes from akros, the Greek word meaning outermost, or end, and stichos, meaning row, or a line of verse. Although the form has many variations, the most popular is the traditional acrostic, in which the first letters of the lines, when read downward, spell a word or words.
... Acrostics offer the writer an intriguing framework for a poem, and single acrostics are not difficult to create. Think of a word, phrase, or even a whole sentence that catches your imagination. Then write it vertically. You can use one words per line, or many words—rhymed or unrhymed. A predetermined letter can sometimes spark an unexpected idea, and it's great fun to hide a word or message for your readers
Astonish yourself— s
Create a poem that
Reads
On its
Side.
Think of the fun when
It lets the letters help you
Choose.
Text and Poem ©Avis Harley. All rights reserved.  
On my regular travels through classrooms I have noticed that students are often asked to write acrostic poems. Sometimes I see their names or the topic they are studying as the spine of their poems. Too often these acrostic studies are merely lists of descriptive words or phrases. Poetry they are not. I think good acrostic poems are hard to write. To inspire students in their acrostic writing you need strong mentor texts they can use as models. The books that follow provide outstanding examples of acrostics that work.
African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways (2012), written by Avis Harley with photographs by Deborah Noyes, is a collection of 18 acrostic poems, each accompanied by a gorgeous photograph of the animal described. Poems cover the crocodile, rhino, kudu, lion, hornbill, elephant, stork, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, ostrich, African wildcat, lioness, bonobo, impala, hippo, bat-eared fox, and leopard. The book opens with a poem about the form.

ACROSTIC (uh-Kros-tik)

Welcome, all poets--both new
Or well versed. Non-rhymers or
Rhymers! Come,
Dive in headfirst!

Inviting all writers--
Now you're just the right age.

Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get a word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself. Find that poem within!

Now that you've been introduced to the notion of a "word in edgeways," I doubt you'll ever look at an acrostic in the same way. In fact, Harley pushes the boundaries of the form and does more than write simple acrostics. Let's skip to the endnotes for a moment where readers will find descriptions and examples of the many forms found in this collection, such as the double acrostic, multiple acrostic, cross acrostic, and more. Here's an example of a double acrostic.

Eye to Eye

Ear-sails flap in a breeze.
Leather limbs in rhythm
Evenly swaying in step
Plod slowly over Africa.
Huge as a dinosaur, yet
tender soul from such
Noble mammoth alumni.
There is wonder abuzz,
Staring into eyes so wise.

Poems ©Avis Harley. All rights reserved.

The poems in this book are deftly created. The words spelled out vertically range from single words (herald, lying, poppet, outstanding) to phrases (wild stripes, cloud friends, fatherly advice, beauty in the beast). The double acrostics, quintuple acrostic (yes, that's FIVE words), and concrete acrostic deserve some special attention. The patterns that exist within them never get in the way of the poem itself, and finding them is a bit of a surprise. 
Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic (1999), written by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Leslie Evans, is a collection of 26 acrostics from April to zenith. The poems each serve as a complete thought about the subject and are crafted exquisitely with what seem to be just the right words. Here are a few examples.

After days of
Pouring
Rain, the last
Ice and snow finally
Leave the earth.


Egrets, ducks and
Geese nest in the marsh
Grass, waiting for their
Shells to hatch.


Nestled under the
Eaves, a
Song-filled ark of
Twigs and grass.

Poems ©Steven Schnur. All rights reserved.

You will also find poems for the words buds, calf, dawn, frog, grass, hopscotch, infant, jungle, kites, ladder, May, outside, parade, quintuplets, raft, seeds, twilight, umpire, Venus, wheat, Xing, and young.

There are four books in this series, each one with carefully crafted acrostics. You can view some of the illustrations in the series and read a few more poems on Leslie Evans' web site.
Silver Seeds, written by Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, is a collection of 15 nature poems using the acrostic form. The verses are ordered to follow a young boy and girl through the day, beginning with dawn and ending with night. In between they encounter sun, shadow, hills, trees, leaves (though the word is leaf), a bee, butterfly, hummingbird, clouds, fog, rain, the moon, and stars. Here is the poem that gives the book its title and one on clouds.

Silver seeds
Tossed in the air
And planted in the sky,
Reaching out of the darkness
Sprouting wonder. 


Creamy scoops of ice cream
Lying
Out
Under a
Dreamy blue
Sky.

Poems ©Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer. All rights reserved.

The poems in each of these collections are economical and evocative. The metaphors are carefully selected and spot-on.

You will notice that each of the poems shared are fine examples of the form, far removed from the school-assigned poems to write an acrostic using your first name, or some vocabulary word being studied. Now that you've had a chance to think a bit about this form, here are some resources you may find helpful.
That's it for acrostic poems. Come back this weekend for two new interviews with children's poets.

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12. Poetry Friday - A Potpourri

Today I'm sharing some thoughts on form and writing poetry. These are the views of Kevin Boland (known to his baseball-playing buddies as Shakespeare), the main character in Ron Koertge's books Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and its sequel, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs.

Man, sonnets are hard: counting
syllables in every line, trolling
for rhymes (SBC, p.16).


I'm still trying to slip in some inside
rhyme, just a few things that chime
a little but don't go bongbongbong
at the end of every line (SBC, p. 61).

He calls rhyme a benevolent bully because it'll make a poet
look hard for the right word and then maybe he finds
an even better one (SMTP, p. 11)!


The sestina is almost impossible. I tried one once
and after a couple of stanzas threw myself onto
the nearest chaise and wept. Copiously (SMTP, p. 80)

Poem excerpts ©Ron Koertge. All rights reserved

At the Storyteller's Inkpot, Koertge has written about working with a student/poet who refused to write in forms. It's an interesting piece that makes a good case for writing in form. And Koertge ends on a note that gives me hope. He says:
Most of my poems are failures, anyway, but as Samuel Beckett (Mr. Sunshine) famously said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When I embarked on my NPM project this month, it was in part a reaction to rhyme exhaustion. Often times I think and feel the way Laura Shovan describes in her piece Why I Hate Rhyme. If you haven't read it, you should. And ultimately, it's not really hate. Laura says:
In reality, I don’t hate rhyme. Instead, I recognize that using rhyme in a poem is a complex task. 
Amen and AMEN. Many forms that I write in actually use rhyme, but I don't feel boxed in when following the "rules," but rather feel free to play within them. In doing this, the rhymes feel less forced and more thoughtfully selected.


I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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13. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Sonnets

Oh sonnet ...

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

Do you recognize the lines above? They come from Sonnets from the Portuguese (this is 43) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The sonnet is a fourteen-line lyric poem that originated in Italy and slowly made its way across Europe and to England. Sonnets were first written as love poems. The type of sonnet, Petrarchan (Italian) or Shakespearean (English) generally determines the structure and rhyme scheme. Before we get into the "rules" and specifics, let's start with a some words about the sonnet.

In That Book of Dad's 
I Borrowed

chapter two was about the sonnet.
Man, those made me want to go back to
haiku. Like a burger with everything on it,
sonnets are packed with roses and dew,
summer days, tender breaths, rocks and rills
(whatever rills are), and tons of wimpy guys
who apparently thought it was a thrill
to sit around with some sheep and sigh
about everything. I'm not that lame.
I'm just a former baseball whiz who'd like
to do what I used to do. Again.
Even if it means getting called out on strikes.
Sorry, Will, the sonnet's not for me.
Baseball's my love—not some thou or thee.


It Took Forever

to write that, and it isn't very good.
I finished, though, because I might be
skinny and sick but I'm not a quitter.

Man, sonnets are hard: counting
syllables in every line, trolling
for rhymes.

But it's really cool how everything fits
into fourteen little lines.

It's kind of like packing a lunch box,
getting in way more good stuff
than I thought I could.

Poems ©Ron Koertge. All rights reserved.

These two poems are from Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge. Kevin Boland (known to his baseball-playing buddies as Shakespeare) is sidelined by mono and must spend time at home resting and recuperating. What's a boy to do when he's told he's sick and can't play the sport he loves? His father, who is a writer, hands him a marble composition notebook and says, "You're gonna have a lot of time on your/hands. Maybe you'll feel like writing/something down." Soon after this Kevin takes a book about poetry from the den and secrets it away to his room.
It feels weird smuggling something about
poetry up to my room like it's the new
Penthouse.
As Kevin recovers from mono he writes about the death of his mother, girls, baseball, the past, and the struggles of a typical teenager. The poems take a variety of forms, including sonnet, couplet, free verse, elegy, pastoral, pantoum, and more. One of the things I love about this book is Kevin's perspective on writing and poetic forms, particularly the sonnet.


So how is a sonnet structured? First, most are composed of 14 lines and written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is the meter pattern of syllables. An iamb is a foot (two syllables in this case) that are unstressed/stressed in pattern. Since the prefix pent- means five, iambic pentameter is a line consisting of 5 iambs. It is stressed in this fashion:

da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM

Italian Sonnet
  • The Italian sonnet is divided into an octave (8 lines), followed by a sestet (6 lines).
  • The rhyme pattern for the octave is a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a. For the sestet the pattern can be c-d-e-c-d-e OR c-d-c-c-d-c.
  • The transition from octave to sestet usually contains a turn.
English Sonnet
  • The English sonnet is composed of three quatrains and a final couplet.
  • The rhyme pattern is a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d-e-f-e-f-g-g
  • The turn in this version comes with the final couplet.
A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), written by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Philippe Lardy, is a heroic crown of sonnets, or a sequence of 15 sonnets that are interlinked like a normal crown of sonnets, except in the heroic crown the last sonnet is made entirely from the first lines of the previous 14 sonnets. One of the things that makes this heroic crown such an achievement is the the last sonnet is also an acrostic poem, in which the first letters of each line spell out the phrase “RIP Emmett L. Till.”

The poems in this crown are not easy to read. They are unsettling, shocking, and sad, but this is an important event in the history of our nation that needs to be told again and again. The book ends with a short biography of Emmett Till, extensive notes on the 15 sonnets, and an artist's note. The tempera illustrations by Philippe Lardy quietly reflect the themes and moods of the sonnets.

One of the sonnets in this crown is written from the perspective of the tree witnessing the lynching, and echoes some of the sentiments expressed in Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem The Haunted Oak.

Pierced by the screams of a shortened childhood,
my heartwood has been scarred for fifty years
by what I heard, with hundreds of green ears.
That jackal laughter. Two hundred years I stood
listening to small struggles to find food,
to the songs of creature life, which disappears
and comes again, to the music of the spheres.
Two hundred years of deaths I understood.
Then slaughter axed one quiet summer night,
shivering the deep silence of the stars.
A running boy, five men in close pursuit.
One dark, five pale faces in the moonlight.
Noise, silence, back-slaps. One match, five cigars.
Emmett Till's name still catches in the throat.

Poem ©Marilyn Nelson. All rights reserved.

You can listen to an interview with Marilyn Nelson on NPR and hear her read the entire poem. If you are interested in using this book in he classroom, you can download a teacher's guide from Houghton Mifflin.
The Emily Sonnets: The Life of Emily Dickinson (2012), written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Gary Kelley, is a sequence of sonnets that together tell the story of Dickinson's life. Written in the voices of Dickinson, her dog, sister, and others, each poem lovingly points back to the words used in Dickinson's own works. Back matter includes detailed information about the context of the poems and includes interesting and endearing anecdotes to accompany each sonnet.

Here are Yolen's words from the Author's note about the collection.
In this book of sonnets about Emily's life, I have given each poem a title and an indication as to the speaker, whether Emily herself, her sister Lavinia (Vinnie), her niece Martha (Mattie), her mentor/friend Thomas Wenworth Higginson, an unknown critic, or me (JY). I have tried to tell the truth of her life, but as Emily said: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—/Success in Circuit lies ..."

The Brick House (Emily Speaks)

No house in town was built of brick
Except the one that bore me.
The roof was slant, the walls quite thick.
My mother did not adore me.
My father's smiles were rare and swift,
A grimace more than joy.
I was the second child, a gift;
The first one was a boy.

We two, like sailors in a storm,
Clung desperate to each other,
Trying to stay safe and warm,
Small sister to big brother;
He strove so hard my life to save
From drowning in that icy wave.

Poem ©Jane Yolen. All rights reserved.


It's rare to find sonnets in poetry for children, so I have one more title to recommend.
Shakespeare's Seasons (2012), created by Miriam Weiner and illustrated by Shannon Whitt, is an introduction to Shakespeare that combines snippets of his verse (mostly sonnets) accompanied by illustrations that span the seasons of the year. Back matter includes a short note about Shakespeare and his work. Here is an excerpt.
The way people speak to each other has changed a bit since Shakespeare's time. This is why some of the words in this book—words from his sonnets and plays—may sound funny to you. But listen carefully and you can enjoy the music of his words, and the pictures they create in your mind.
The book opens with the season of summer and these lines.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
                                                                              Sonnet 18, 1-4

Most excerpts shared are four lines or less, though the longest quote is eight lines. Shakespeare's words, paired with Whitt's lovely images, make the language and ideas easily accessible for children. If you haven't seen this title, take a quick look at the images from the book at Shannon Whitt's web site.

If you are ready to tackle reading and/or writing the sonnet with your students, here are some helpful resources.
That's it for the sonnet. I'll be back tomorrow with another form.

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14. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Found Poems

At the most basic level, found poems are poems composed from words and phrases found in another text. Here is a more comprehensive description from the folks at Poets.org.

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.
And here is what is written on the "About" page at The Found Poetry Review.
“Happy poets who write found poetry go pawing through popular culture like sculptors on trash heaps. They hold and wave aloft usable artifacts and fragments: jingles and ad copy, menus and broadcasts — all objet trouvés, the literary equivalents of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and Duchamp’s bicycle. By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.” — Annie Dillard

Put another way, found poetry is the literary version of a collage. Poets select a source text or texts — anything from traditional texts like books, magazines and newspapers to more nontraditional sources like product packaging, junk mail or court transcripts — then excerpt words and phrases from the text(s) to create a new piece.
What I love about the Found Poetry site is that they describe different types of found poetry and where possible, provide examples. You can learn about erasure, free-form excerpting and remixing, cento, and cut-up. They also provide a quick but very helpful introduction to issues of fair use.

In an NCTE article on found and headline poems I found this most useful and inspiring language for thinking about found poetry.
Plenty of strong and beautiful poems are made from plain language. You sometimes hear such language in conversation, when people are talking their best. Listen. Sometimes you yourself say wonderful things. Admit it. You can find moving, rich language in books, on walls, even in junk mail. (From such sources you’ll probably find better poems, or better beginnings for poems, than from dictionaries and other word books.) 
So, poems hide in things you and others say and write. They lie buried in places where language isn’t so self-conscious as “real poetry” often is.
So found poetry is inspired by every little thing, you just need to keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to the possibilities.
The Arrow Finds Its Mark: A Book of Found Poems (2012), edited by Georgia Heard and illustrated by Antoine Guillope, is a collection of 40 found poems. The guidelines for creating the poems found in the book are outlined in the Introduction and are excerpted here.
  • Poets were asked to find text that already exists in a form other than poetry and present that text as a poem.
  • Poets could find poems from any source (other than poetry).
  • Poets were encouraged not to change, add, or rearrange words but, as in any creative endeavor, they stretched these guidelines and were allowed to make minor changes in order for the poem to flow more smoothly or make better sense. They could also change punctuation, tense, plurals, and capitalization.
  • Poets created their own titles that often gave the poems depth and added another layer of meaning.
  • Poets could combine the found poem with an other form.
So, the intrepid poets in this volume set out to find poems in the texts of everyday life. Here are a few of the poems they came up with.

Found by Janet Wong
on a box of OxiClean detergent

Pep Talk

Keep cool.
See a brighter solution.
Maintain freshness.
Boost your power!

Poem ©Janet Wong. All rights reserved.


Found by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
in Drawing On Both Sides of the Brain
by Betty Edwards

Artist's Advice

Draw everything and anything.
Nothing is unbeautiful:
a few square inches of weeds
a broken glass
a landscape
a human being.
Observe your style.
Guard it.
Put pencil to paper every day.

Poem ©Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.


Finally, I want to share one more found poem. This is a poem of a different sort. Please visit the Newspaper Blackout site to learn more about Austin Kleon and his work.
Poem ©Autsin Kleon. All rights reserved.

If you would like to try writing found poems with your students, here are some helpful resources.
Now that you are inspired, go out and find yourself a poem! NPM is half over, but I still have more to explore with you. I'll hope you'll come back tomorrow for another form.

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15. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - List Poems

List poems are carefully crafted list, catalog, or inventory of things. Robert Lee Brewer of Poetic Asides writes this in his article List Poem: A Surprisingly American Poem:
The list poem was used by the Greeks and in many books of the Bible. But two of the most popular American poems, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” are list poems. So what is a list poem? 
Basically, a list poem (also known as a catalog poem) is a poem that lists things, whether names, places, actions, thoughts, images, etc. It’s a very flexible and fun form to work with.
Whitman is one of my favorite list poem writers. Here's one that particularly stands out for me.

I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.


What is it about list poems that makes them so accessible? Perhaps it's because the list is so ubiquitous in our lives. Everyone makes lists, so finding them in poetry is not unexpected and makes them seem familiar.

In the book Conversations With a Poet: Inviting Poetry into K-12 Classrooms (2005), written by Betsy Franco, the chapter devoted to the list poem includes this background and helpful information.
The list poem or catalog poem consists of a list or inventory of things. Poets started writing list poems thousands of years ago. They appear in lists of family lineage in the Bible and in the lists of heroes in the Trojan War in Homer's Iliad.  
Characteristics Of A List Poem
  • A list poem can be a list or inventory of items, people, places, or ideas.
  • It often involves repetition.
  • It can include rhyme or not.
  • The list poem is usually not a random list. It is well thought out.
  • The last entry in the list is usually a strong, funny, or important item or event.
List poems abound in poetry collections and are sometimes found in narrative prose. Here's an example from the book Kartography (2004), written by Kamila Shamsie.
This litany of Karachi winter characteristics could easily be turned into a list poem, though I read it as a prose poem as written.
Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems (2009), edited by Georgia Heard, is a wonderful collection of list poems. It begins with this excerpt from the Introduction.
Out for a walk in New York City I see: yellow cabs speeding down Broadway; people lounging in overstuffed chairs at a coffee shop. I hear: cars honking; a dog barking in the distance. As I walk along I make a list in my head of what I observe just like Walt Whitman did over one hundred years ago in his famous list poems Song of Myself. The list or catalog poem is one of the oldest and most accessible of poetic forms.
... Poets meticulously craft their words to create list poems. Falling Down the Page highlights the wide variety of the list poem form, from a simple list of words with a twist at the beginning or end to more complicated and detailed descriptive lists. 
Here are two poems from this collection.

Are We There Yet? 
by Heidi Roemer

Ocean maps,
Weather maps,
Maps that chart the stars.

Road maps,
Train maps
Show us where we are.
Builder's maps,
Landscape maps,
Maps drawn in the sand.

Fold-up maps,
Rolled-up maps.
A globe held in my hand.

Tattered maps,
Treasure maps-
What secrets are they holding?

I like maps.
I read maps.
They get me where I'm going.

Poem ©Heidi Roemer. All rights reserved.


Recipe For Writing An Autumn Poem
by Georgia Heard

One teaspoon wild geese.
One tablespoon red kite.
One cup wind song.
One pint trembling leaves.
One quart darkening sky.
One gallon north wind.

Poem ©Georgia Heard. All rights reserved.

This is a wonderful book, full of surprises. It opens vertically and is visually very interesting. (It was designed by John Grandits, so this should come as no surprise to anyone who's seen his concrete poetry books!) This is not only a great choice for read aloud, but also a terrific mentor text for students learning to write list poems.

I want to close with this list poem by George Ella Lyon.

Where I'm From
By George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

Read the poem in its entirety. You can hear it read on George Ella Lyon's web site or listen to it in the video below.
There are a number of resources available for teachers wanting to use this poem as a model for list poem writing.
If you are ready to work on writing list poems with your students, here are some resources you may find helpful.
I hope you have found this introduction to list poems helpful. I'll see you back here tomorrow for another form.

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16. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Ekphrastic Poems

An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. 

Poets.org defines ekphrasis in this way.
"ekphrasis"a vivid description of a thing. Ekphrasis during the Greek period included descriptions of such battle implements, as well as fine clothing, household items of superior craftsmanship (urns, cups, baskets), and exceptionally splendid buildings.
. . .
ekphrastic poems are now understood to focus only on works of art—usually paintings, photographs, or statues. And modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity's obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects.
Here is how the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College describes ekphrastic poetry.
The creation of original poetry and prose in response to works of visual art, known as Ekphrastic writing, is a writing exercise originating in ancient Greece where schoolboys were assigned composition exercises about painting and architecture. Familiar examples are poems such as John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819) or W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” (1938).
Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth Century American Art (2001), edited by Jan Greenberg, is a collection of poems inspired by and written to selected works of art by Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollack, Grandma Moses, Jacob Lawrence, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O'Keeffe and others. Pieces include paintings, photographs, sculptures and more. An illustration from Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach is even included. This book was a 2002 Printz honor book.

In the Introduction Greenberg writes:
In college I discovered there was a long tradition of poets writing on art, going back to ancient Greece. I read Homer's description of Achille's shield and John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn. The list grew. Now in my books on American art, I find that including poetry enriches the text, adds an element of surprise. For what the poet sees in art and puts into words can transform an image, "giving us a sense," says the poet Bobbi Katz, "of entering a magical place," and extending what is often an immediate response into something more lasting and reflective. 
These connections between reader and viewer, writer and artist, resulted in this anthology, celebrating the power of art to inspire language. 
... Whether the word are playful, challenging, tender, mocking, humorous, sad, or sensual, each work of art, seen through the eyes of a poet, helps us look at the world around us with fresh insight. 
The book is divided into several sections, labeled Stories, Voices, Impressions, and Expressions. Some of the poems in the book tell stories, while others speak from the artwork itself as the voice of the object or a person depicted within. Some describe the elements of the artwork, while others still explore the nature of art and the artist.

In the section on Expressions is a pantoum by Bobbi Katz. It was written for an untitled Rothko work created in 1960. Here is how it begins.
Lessons from a Painting by Rothko
How would you paint a poem?
Prepare the canvas carefully
With tiers of misty rectangles
Stacked secrets waiting to be told.

Prepare the canvas carefully
With shallow pools of color
Stacked secrets waiting to be told
Messages from some unknown place
In the section on Impressions is a poem by Jane Yolen. Here is an excerpt. Can you guess which well-known painting it accompanies? (The title has been excluded for obvious reasons!)
Do not dwell on the fork,
the brooch at the throat,
the gothic angel wing
of window pointing toward
a well-tended heaven.
See how well you did by looking for the answer here.

The ekphrastic poems in this book are moving and lovely. In addition to those mentioned above, you'll find pieces by Kristine O'Connell George, X. J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carole Boston Weatherford, Janet Wong, Ron Koertge, and many others. Back matter includes biographical notes on both the poets and artists.
Side By Side: New Poems Inspired By Art From Around the World (2008), edited by Jan Greenberg, is a collection of poems inspired by and written to selected works of art from around the world. Most of the poems in this work were written or translated specifically for this collection. The artwork represents a mix of "ancient, traditional, modern, and contemporary art." Like her first work, Greenberg has divided this book into the sections Stories, Voices, Impressions, and Expressions. They are described this way.
In Stories, the poet looks at an artwork and imagines a story. In Voices, the poet enters the canvas and speaks in the voice of the subject depicted there. In Expressions, the poet is interested in the transaction that takes places between the viewer and the art object. In Impressions, the poet identifies the subject of the artwork and describes what he or she sees in the elements of the composition, such as line, shape, texture, and color.
In the Introduction, Greenberg says this about ekphrastic poetry.
And ekphrastic poetry has fascinated poets for centuries. The poet takes the time to sit and stare at an artwork, to think about what he or she sees and to write it down. It forces the viewer not only into more than taking in the image but also into finding words to express what he or she feels. Art may challenge our minds, but it also touches our souls. 
The poems in this collection are often presented in two languages. For example, you will find a poem written for Pablo Picasso's Dish of Pears, written in Spanish and translated into English, one for Reha Yalnizcik's Two Leaves in Snow, written in English and translated into Turkish, one for Wafaa Jdeed's Forest, written in Arabic and translated into English, and many others. One of my favorite poems was written in Japanese and translated into English. 
Dawn by Ei-Kyu
Dawn by Ei-Kyu

On Dawn
Translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu
Original poem written by Naoko Mishimoto

wind lulls, cornflower
eyelids close
asleep at night
a faint blue
spiral dream with
birds & insects
birds & insects

I love this volume because it introduced me to many works of art and writers I have never seen or read before. The back matter includes biographies of the poets, translators, and artists.
Paint Me a Poem: Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art (2005), written by Justine Rowden, is a collection of 13 poems inspired by paintings on display in the National Gallery in Washington. It is written for young children, so the poems here often capture a child's imaginings in relation to the art. You can view examples of the art and poems at the author's site.


J. Patrick Lewis was kind enough to send me some poems he is working on for a collection of ekphrastic poems. Here are two examples.
The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

The Sleeping Gypsy

Surprised by Moon, but at his ease,
The imperturbable lion sees
A water jar, a mandolin,
The wooden woman in her skin.

He does not put on brute display  
His fascination for the prey
That other nights on other dunes
Ruthlessly reddens other moons.

He must be fed but must be full;
No doubt his appetite is dull
From ravaging the wicked part
Of his corrupted lionheart.

Whatever reasons there may be
For this pastoral scenery,
Midnight capitulates to dawn.
The lion lingers, and moves on.

Sunday Afternoon by Fernando Botero
Image from LatinAmericanArt

Sunday Afternoon

Is it a picnic? Is it a lark?
Mother and Father swelling the park
with baby blue babies,
baby fat babies,
one bound for outer space,
one on the Ark.
Adolescently wavy,
the Admiral lookout’s
becoming a navy
all to himself,
while Father’s daydreaming
of roast beef rare,
or else the apostrophe
of Mother’s hair.

Poems ©J. Patrick Lewis, 2015. All rights reserved.

Finally, I want to point you in the direction of Irene Latham's Poem-a-Day Project for National Poetry Month 2015. Entitled ARTSPEAK!, Irene is writing a series of ekphrastic poems for a a wide range of images found in the online collections of the National Gallery of Art. Her project focuses on "dialogue, conversations, what does the piece say?"

If you are ready to begin writing ekphrastic poems with your students, here are some helpful resources.
I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction to ekphrastic poetry.

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17. Monday Poetry Stretch - Ya Du

Ya Du is a Burmese poetic form that uses climbing-rhyme. Each poem contains anywhere from 1-3 stanzas (but no more than 3). Each stanza contains 5 lines. The climbing rhymes occur in syllables four, three, and two of both the first three lines and the last three lines of a stanza. The first four lines have 4 syllables each, and the last one can have 5, 7, 9, or 11 syllables. The last two lines have an end-word rhyme. 

Here's an example of what the climbing rhyme pattern looks like.
x x x a
x x a x
x a x b
x x b c
x b x x x x c

Since ya du means "the seasons," the poem should contain a reference to the seasons.

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

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18. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Interview with J. Patrick Lewis

In preparation for sharing forms this month, I wrote to a number of poets and asked if they would respond to a short list of questions on poetry, writing, and form. I'm thrilled every time one responds positively and find they have all been extremely generous with their time.

Today I'm sharing the thoughts of J. Patrick Lewis, former Children's Poet Laureate and author of more than 50 books of poetry. The book he curated, National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom!, will be released in October. You can read more about him at the Poetry Foundation.

How does a poem begin for you — with an idea, a form, an image, or something else? 
Pat: None of the above. A poem for me almost always emerges from a word, one word. “In the beginning was . . .” and so forth. And sooner or later, voila! another word appears. My latest collection began with the word “blue.” I decided to write a series of ekphrastic poems to classical paintings, all of which have a predominance of the color blue in them. If the ms. ever sees the light of
day, that will be its title—BLUE.


How do you choose the form of your poems?
Pat: In poetry, as in architecture, form follows function. In short, it depends on what one intends to write about. Limericks, obviously, are wholly inappropriate for the more serious themes, like civil rights, national monuments, or outstanding women. Likewise, you are unlikely to find sonnets as texts for the very young. I do have a fondness for villanelles, not in spite of but because they are so damnably hard to do well. Elizabeth Bishop took fifteen years to write “One Art,” and it shows. Why write if the challenge isn’t there?


Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Pat: I’m endlessly working my way through Robin Skelton’s indispensable The Shapes of Our Singing: A Comprehensive Guide to Verse Forms and Metres from Around the World. For any poet eager to experiment, there is a surprise on every page.

I would not write a diamante, which is undeserving of the name “verse form.” Unfortunately, teachers often use diamantes with students, who are then led to believe that writing poems is about the search for adjectives. Since writing poetry is difficult, it could never be about hunting for adjectives, which is easy. Poetry is the search for strong personified verbs.


What tools (rhyming dictionary, book of forms, etc.) do you use in writing poetry (if any)?
Pat: What tools doesn’t one use? Another necessary title that is bolted to my desk is Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms (revised and expanded edition). Writing poetry without it is like crocheting without needles. I continually turn to Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Traveled for its wisdom, humor, and suggested exercises. Rhyming dictionaries, yes, of course. The Random House Unabridged is on my dictionary stand, and within arm’s reach is Mr. Roget, silent partner in all my endeavors.

I shamelessly admit that I steal forms (as T.S. Eliot advised) from many a volume sharing space on my bookshelf by some now nearly forgotten poets— Samuel Hoffenstein, Harry Graham, the Carryls, père and fils, W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Guiterman, Ms. Anonymous, and of course, the unforgettable Lear and Carroll.


What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Pat: I would like them to know that, at the age of seven, they should pay no attention to grownups who call them “poets.” They are not poets but practitioners. A seven-year-old who climbs up on a piano stool and bangs on the keys is not a pianist.

Second, and again to paraphrase Eliot, rhyming is not one of your holiday games. If children decide that rhyming is what they want to do, let them begin doing it—at the age of 30 or so. For now, just encourage them to write.


Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?
Pat: The is a Deibide Baise Fri Toin, an Irish verse form. The rhyme scheme is AABB; the syllable count, 3/7/7/1

North Star

            Night’s begun.
              When I can see just that one
              unimaginable star
              far

              out in space
              winking at the human race,
             I feel positively sky-
             high.

Poem ©J. Patrick Lewis, 2015. All rights reserved.


A million thanks to Pat for participating in my Jumping Into Form project this month.

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19. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Haiku (Introduction)

You may be wondering why I jumped into this study of poetic forms with Asian forms (sijo, renga, tanka) and DIDN'T start with haiku. Honestly, it's because I think haiku are really hard to write. Seems ridiculous, doesn't it? But if you follow the rules (and there are lots of them), writing haiku in the spirit intended requires patience, a keen eye, and skill.

Here is the formal definition of haiku and some notes about the form provided by the Haiku Society of America.
A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. 
Most haiku in English consist of three unrhymed lines of seventeen or fewer syllables, with the middle line longest, though today's poets use a variety of line lengths and arrangements. In Japanese a typical haiku has seventeen "sounds" (on) arranged five, seven, and five. (Some translators of Japanese poetry have noted that about twelve syllables in English approximates the duration of seventeen Japanese on.) Traditional Japanese haiku include a "season word" (kigo), a word or phrase that helps identify the season of the experience recorded in the poem, and a "cutting word" (kireji), a sort of spoken punctuation that marks a pause or gives emphasis to one part of the poem. In English, season words are sometimes omitted, but the original focus on experience captured in clear images continues. The most common technique is juxtaposing two images or ideas (Japanese rensô). Punctuation, space, a line-break, or a grammatical break may substitute for a cutting word. Most haiku have no titles, and metaphors and similes are commonly avoided. (Haiku do sometimes have brief prefatory notes, usually specifying the setting or similar facts; metaphors and similes in the simple sense of these terms do sometimes occur, but not frequently. 
I have heard it said that haiku is not a form, but a way of experiencing the world. Like all good poetry, haiku is based on close observation. This is summed up particularly well by J. Patrick Lewis in the introduction to Black Swan/White Crow, where he describes the form and encourages readers to write their own haiku.
To write a haiku, you might go for a walk in a city park, a meadow, the zoo. Put all your senses on full alert. Watch. Listen. Imagine that what you are seeing or smelling or hearing has never been seen, smelled, or heard before--and may never be again. Now take a picture of it--but only with your words.
The best haiku make you think and wonder for a lot longer than it takes to say them.
There are many, many rules and guidelines for writing haiku. For those serious about following in the Japanese tradition, the Shadow Poetry pages are very helpful. I would also reading a 2009 post by Diane Mayr of Random Noodling, in which she shared a thoughtful note from Michael J. Rosen with his views on haiku in response to her review of one of his books. It's a very interesting and provocative conversation entitled What is Haiku? And Who Decides on the Definition? that will definitely get you thinking. 

There is a wide selection of books written in haiku for kids. I would recommend starting with one of these books that includes and/or uses classic haiku by Japanese masters.
Today and Today (2007, OP), is a collection of selected haiku by Kobayashi Issa that are paired with the illustrations G. Brian Karas. Woven together they tell the poignant story of a family over the course of a year. Divided into seasons, the collection opens in the spring. Here are two poems from the first two seasons in the book.
Once snow have melted,
the village soon overflows
with friendly children.


So many breezes
wander through my summer room:
Here's what Karas says about his work.
In my artwork, I have tried to achieve visually what Issa achieves with words, to convey the precise feeling of each moment so that someone else might feel it, too. The buzz of a hot summer day or big wet snowflakes hitting your face—it is ordinary, extraordinary moments like these, strung together, that make up our lives.
Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs: The Life and Poems of Issa (2013), written by Matthew Golub and illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone, is a biography and introduction to the work of Issa, the Japanese haiku poet who wrote more than 20,000 haiku over the course of his life. The work of Issa is interspersed throughout the narrative about his life. While not presented in the chronology they were actually written in, they are rooted in Issa's experiences and nicely complement that story. Each of the poems featured is rendered in Japanese in the outer page margins. Back matter includes information about the book's creation, transliterations and translations of the poems, haiku, and more. Here are two of Issa's poems featured in the book.

Plum tree in bloom—
a cat's silhouette
upon the paper screen.


A kitten
stamps on falling leaves,
holds them to the ground.


Overall, this is a very nice introduction to Issa and the art of haiku.
Wabi Sabi (2008), written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young, is the story of a cat named Wabi Sabi, who goes on a quest to discover the meaning of her name. (Wabi sabi is a Japanese philosophy and aesthetic that finds "beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious.") She asks many different creatures along the way, but they all answer in essentially the same way, telling her that it is a difficult concept to explain. However, each one offers her a little insight in the form of a haiku. By the end of the story, after reflecting on drinking tea with a wise monkey, Wabi Sabi has reached an understanding of her name's meaning.

Reibstein uses three different strands of text. First there is a prose narrative that tells Wabi Sabi's story. There is also the haiku that concludes each of the interactions. Here are two examples.
An old straw mat, rough
on cat 's paws, pricks and tickles...
hurts and feels good, too.

The pale moon resting
on foggy water. Hear that
splash? A frog’s jumped in.
Poems ©Mark Reibstein , 2008. All rights reserved.

Finally, on each spread there is another haiku, rendered in Japanese characters. The translations for these appear in the end notes. These haiku are all classics written by Basho and Shiki.

The carefully crafted narrative, beautiful haiku, and stunning artwork will lead readers to an understanding of wabi sabi just as the cat is learning the meaning of her name. Readers will also find the fact that the book reads like a scroll (from top to bottom) an interesting feature.

Don't miss the Educator's Guide for Wabi Sabi, or this video about its making.
 
I hope you have found this brief introduction helpful. This week we'll be exploring all kinds of haiku and the related form senryu.

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20. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Senryu

Senryu (pronounced sen-ree-you) is a Japanese poetic form similar in structure to haiku. Instead of focusing on nature and the essence of a particular moment as haiku do, senryu are concerned with human nature, political issues, and satire. While one is usually quite serious, the other is more playful. 

Here is how the Haiku Society of America defines senryu.
A senryu is a poem, structurally similar to haiku, that highlights the foibles of human nature, usually in a humorous or satiric way.
The 13th Floor Paradigm has this nice bit of history and other information on senryu.
The Senryu came into existence as an independent genre in the Edo Period (1718-1790). It is often satirical, ironical, irreverent, mundane, cynical and is about human nature, therefore about human foibles including the erotic.  It has the same form of the Haiku, but doesn’t use a seasonal word (kigo) and it doesn’t have a cutting word (keiriji)  (in reality, in English we have no direct equivalents to the keiriji, so we use what’s called a cutting phrase.) 
It would be wrong to think that Senryu is always humorous.  In fact, a Senryu could talk about divorce, sex, murder, war, jealousy, cruelty…in a word every day-to-day events in human society.
Many books of poetry labeled as haiku actually fit the definition of senryu. So, even though I'll probably step on some toes here, I'm going to share some books that have terrific examples of senryu for kids.
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, written by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin - This is the story of a shelter cat and how he acclimates in his new home, told entirely in senryu. While you'll note that the title reads haiku, this is how Wardlaw describes her work in the author's note.
Won Ton's story is told in a series of senryu (SEN-ree-yoo), a form of Japanese poetry developed from and similar to haiku (HI-koo). Both senryu and haiku typically feature three unrhymed lines containing a maximum of seventeen syllables (5-7-5 respectively); each form also captures the essence of a moment. In haiku, the moment focuses on nature. In senryu, however, the foibles of human nature—or in this case, cat nature—are the focus, expressed by a narrator in a humorous, playful, or ironic way.
Whether we call it haiku or senryu, the short verses are entirely fitting for the tale Wardlaw tells. Won Ton's story is divided into sections, including The Shelter, The Choosing, The Car Ride, The Naming, The New Place, The Feeding, The Adjustment, The Yard, and Home. Here are two of my favorites.

Dogs have hair. Cats, fur.
Dogs whine, yip, howl, bark. Cats purr.
I say: No contest.

Scrat-ching-post? Haven't
heard of it. Besides, the couch
is so much closer.

Poems ©Lee Wardlaw, 2011. All rights reserved.

You can find a teacher's guide for WON TON at Lee Wardlaw's site, as well as one at Wild Geese Guides. You can also find a guide on Teaching Haiku in the Classroom.
Wardlaw and Yelchin follow this effort with a sequel entitled Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku (2015), in which Won Ton shares what life is like with a new puppy in the house. Here are two poems from this new title.

Bathroom skirmish ends
in triumph! Boredom subdued—
and I can blame you.


Some parts of woof  I
will never understand. But…
practice makes purrfect.

Poems ©Lee Wardlaw, 2015. All rights reserved.

You can find a teacher's guide for WON TON AND CHOPSTICK at Lee Wardlaw's site, as well as an activity guide.
Dogku (2007), written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Tim Bowers, is the story of a stray dog told through a series of 17 haiku (or senryu). As Clements says in the author's note, "And why did I write this picture book using haiku? Because a picture book is also a small container—not many pages, not many words. Adorable dog + haiku = Dogku. Simple."

The story begins with this haiku.

There on the back steps,
the eyes of a hungry dog.
Will she shut the door?

Well, if she did, there would be no story! Eventually the dog earns the name Mooch and becomes a part of the family. Here is my favorite set of haiku, which remind me of my very own troublemaker.

The house is quiet.
No kids, no mom, and no food.
What's a dog to do?

Chew on dirty socks.
Roll around in week-old trash.
Ahhh ... that's much better.

Poems ©Andrew Clements, 2015. All rights reserved.
Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku (2006, OP), written by Paul Janeczko & J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, is a collection of short, pun-filled, humorous senryu. While there is no information here about form, the last poem gives readers a clue.

A senryu goes
bouncing along into ...
a giant poet-tree!

Here are two of my favorite poems.

Mice dart in shadows
as barn cat waits and grins ...
Ah! fast food tonight


O warm summer night
I awake to rude music:
cat coughing up hair ball

Poems ©Paul Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis, 2006. All rights reserved.
Guyku: A Year of Haiku For Boys (2010), written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is a collection of poems about outdoor play through the seasons. One of my favorites recalls a favorite childhood pastime—riding a bike.

With baseball cards and
clothespins, we make our bikes sound
like motorcycles.

My other favorite reminds me of my brother.

If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

Poems ©Bob Raczka, 2010. All rights reserved.

There is a terrific web site for Guyku. It includes information about the book, resources for teachers, information on how to write guyku, and more. You'll also find terrific ideas for using the book in the classroom at The Classroom Bookshelf.

If you are interested in writing senryu with your class, the page from 
Shadow Poetry on haiku and senryu suggests that a good structure to use is:
     setting
     subject and action (on two lines)

I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction to senryu. Up tomorrow, animal haiku!

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21. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Animal Haiku

When I was planning this project I realized I had more haiku books than I knew what to do with. Therefore, I decided to include a thematic post highlighting this form. Today I turn my attention to haiku that focus on animals.

Let's start today with three books by Michael J. Rosen.
 
The Hound Dog's Haiku: and Other Poems for Dog Lovers (2011), written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Mary Azarian, introduces readers to 20 breeds of dog from bluetick coonhound to dachshund. Back matter includes information about the breeds. Here are two of my favorites from this collection.

Labrador Retriever
     the first duck splash-lands
     speck in the iced pond's lone eye
     soon . . . the chase restarts

Bloodhound
     staccato sniffing
     fills your ribs' parentheses
     you keep scent's secret

The Maine Coon's Haiku: And Other Poems for Cat Lovers (2015), written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Lee Anthony White, is a collection of 20 poems on a variety of cat breeds. Broken into alternating sections of "Inside" and "Outside," the cats are introduced with five breeds in each of the four sections. Back matter includes descriptions of each breed of cat. Here are two of my favorites.

Maine Coon
     crouched before the couch,
     suddenly, cat has all night
     for just one sound: mouse

Siamese
     a toppled lamp shade
     moon moth must be here somewhere
     batted from the dark
The Cuckoo's Haiku: and Other Birding Poems (2009), written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Stan Fellows, is a collection organized by season, beginning with spring. The spare form works well in these poems, highlighting each of the 24 bird species in delightful ways. The illustrations are elegant and nicely complement the text. Each double-page spread reads like a birder's journal, with notes scribbled on the pages. Here are two of my favorite poems. (Please note that the poems in the book are not titled. I have highlighted them this way only as a means of organization.)

Spring - Eastern Bluebird
     on a staff of wires
     blue notes inked from April skies
     truly, spring's first song

Summer - Northern Mockingbird
     the one-man bird band:
     diva, choir, and orchestra
     unbroken record

Poems ©Michael Rosen. All rights reserved.

The back matter for the book contains a section entitled Notes for Bird Watchers and Haiku Lovers. 
If Not For the Cat (2004), written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Ted Rand, is a collection of 17 haiku that encourage readers to see animals in new ways. Without sharing the illustrations these can be read as "Who am I?" poems. Can you guess which animals are described in these two poems?

If not for the cat,
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.


How foolish I am.
Why am I drawn to the flame
Which extinguishes?

Poems ©Jack Prelutsky. All rights reserved.

You can see examples of the artwork and view additional poems in this preview.

I hope you've enjoyed another day of haiku. Tomorrow I will wrap up this form with some additional books and resources for teaching students about haiku.

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22. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Haiku (Conclusion)

I've enjoyed exploring haiku with you the last few days. Today I want to share a few more haiku titles (though there are many more), along with some final thoughts on the form and ideas for teaching haiku. 
 
One Leaf Rides the Wind (2005), written by Celeste Davidson Mannis and illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung, is a nice combination of a counting book and a haiku poetry. It is set in a Japanese garden where a young girl counts the things she sees, like bonsai, koi, and lotus flowers. The left side of each spread contains an illustration of the objects being counted. On the right side of each spread is the printed numeral, a haiku describing the objects, and a footnote introducing readers to various aspects of traditional Japanese culture. Here are the poems for 8 and 9.

What do flowers dream?
Adrift on eight pond pillows,
Pink-cheeked blossoms rest.

Hoping for some crumbs,
they nibble at my fingers.
Nine glittering koi.

Poems ©Celeste Davidson Mannis. All rights reserved.
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons (2014), written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, is a quiet look at seasons that also includes a hidden alphabetic journey (A for autumn, B for broom, C for coat, and so on). In 26 poems, Muth's panda named Koo helps readers see the beauty and simplicity of the world and daily life. From the outset, Muth does a terrific job capturing the essence of haiku. Here is an excerpt from the author's note.
Over time, haiku has evolved, so that many modern poets no longer adhere so rigidly to this structure. I have not restricted myself to the five-seven-five syllable pattern that many of us grew up learning haiku must be.
For me, haiku is like an instant captured in words—using sensory images. At its best, a haiku embodies a moment of emotion that reminds us that our own human nature is not separate from all of nature.
Here are the opening and closing haiku. Readers may notice that the alphabet words in each poem are capitalized.

Autumn,
are you dreaming
of new clothes?

becoming so quiet
Zero sound
only breath

Poems ©Jon Muth, 2014. All rights reserved.
The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons (2012), written by Sid Farrar and illustrated by Ilse Plume, is a small collection of 12 haiku that take readers through the months from January to December. Back matter includes a note about haiku, information on the cycle of life, and more on each season. The last page includes one final haiku. Farrar has done a fine job selecting natural elements that exemplify the seasons. Here is my favorite poem. Can you guess which month this is?

Like tiny fallen 
stars, fireflies quietly blink
their secrets at dusk

And this is the poem that ends the book.

Earth circles the sun
spinning a tapestry of
days, months, seasons—life.

Poems ©Sid Farrar, 2012. All rights reserved.
Black Swan/White Crow (1995), written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Christopher Manson, is a collection of 13 haiku with themes from nature and the outdoors, accompanied by woodcut illustrations. The words and images are spare and beautiful, fully complementing each other. Here are two of my favorite haiku.

Frantic sandpiper--
high tides erasing
her footnotes

Snowdrifts to his knees,
a scarecrow left with nothing
up his sleeve.

Poems ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

Other haiku books I love but which are sadly out of print include Least Things: Poems about Small Natures (Yolen), Stone Bench In An Empty Park (Janeczko), Cricket Never Does (Livingston), and Don't Step on the Sky: A Handful of Haiku (Chaikin).

We've looked at a lot of haiku over the last few days. If you are ready to try reading and writing it with your students, here are some resources that may interest you.
I hope you've learned something new in this exploration of haiku. Tomorrow the limerick is in the spotlight.

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23. Poetry Friday - The Enkindled Spring

Spring has finally sprung here, so I'm celebrating with poetry.

The Enkindled Spring
by D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration        
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed        
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.


I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids. Happy poetry Friday friends!

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24. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Limerick

Limericks are humorous nonsense poems that were made popular in English by Edward Lear. Limericks not only have rhyme, but rhythm. The last words of the first, second, and fifth lines all rhyme, and the last words of the third and fourth lines rhyme. This means the rhyme scheme is AABBA. The rhythm of a limerick comes from a distinct pattern. Lines 1, 2, and 5 generally have seven to ten syllables, while lines 3 and 4 have only five to seven syllables. Here is an example from Lear's book.
If you can't read the text, here's the limerick in the 5-line form usually seen today.
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
   Two Owls and a Hen,
   Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'
You can read Lear's A Book of Nonsense online, which includes 112 limericks. If you want to hold a paper copy in your hands, look for The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, written and illustrated by Edward Lear with an introduction by Holbrook Jackson.

Here are a few books for children that nicely exhibit this form.
 
The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (1989), written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, is a collection of 41 limericks published a few years after Ciardi's death. Divided into five sections under the headings of (I) Sometimes Even Parents Win; (II) It Came From Outer Space; (III) He Was Brave, But Not For Long; (IV) Iron Men and Wooden Ships; and (V) Heights Made Him Dizzy, readers will find humor and wit in these short poems. Here is an example.

Goodbye Please

I once kew a word I forget
That means "I am sorry we met
     And I wish you the same."
     It sounds like your name
But I haven't remembered that yet.

Poem ©John Ciardi. All rights reserved.

Grimericks (2008), written by Susan Pearson and illustrated by Gris Grimly, is a collection of limericks on all manner of monsters appear in this fun volume of poems. It begins with this poem.
Dear Reader, please lend me your ear.
If ghosts, ghouls, and goblins you fear,
     don't open this book.
     No--don't even look!
There are spooky things hiding in here.
You'll find incompetent and unlucky witches, mummies, skeletons, banshees, and more. Grimly's illustrations are full of (appropriately!) grim humor. Here's one of my favorites.
Augustus, a ghoul who played chess,
felt his game was a howling success.
      If a player could beat him,
      then Gus would just eat him,
"Too bad," he said. "One player less."
Poems ©Susan Pearson, 2008. All rights reserved.

At Google Books you can preview some of the images and poems.

If you want to try reading and writing some limericks in your classroom, here are some helpful resources.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief introduction to the limerick. On Saturday and Sunday I will be sharing interviews with children's poets. On Monday I'll return with a look at ekphrastic poetry.

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25. NPM Project: Jumping Into Form - Interview with Helen Frost

In preparation for sharing forms this month, I wrote to a number of poets and asked if they would respond to a short list of questions on poetry, writing, and form. I'm thrilled every time one responds positively and find they have all be extremely generous with their time.

Today I'm sharing the thoughts of Helen Frost,  the author of a number of nonfiction books about science and nature, as well as several verse novels for young people, including Salt: A Story of Friendship In A Time of WarHidden, Diamond Willow, Crossing Stones, The Braid, and Keesha’s House, named an Honor Book for the Michael L. Printz Award.

How do you begin a poem? 
Helen: Each poem is different, of course, but typically I begin with an image or an emotion. Images are usually quite specific, emotions not so much so; I’m exploring what emotion the image is leading me into, or what images will help bring the emotion into a sharper focus.


How do you choose the form of your poems?
Helen: For an individual poem, I often experiment until I find a form (or freedom) that adds strength to the poem and helps it find it’s way. For a book-length form, the process is similar, but takes longer, as I’m developing the story, getting to know the characters, and finding the form simultaneously.


Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Helen: I think I’ve tried most of the forms I know about, some not successfully enough to result in a publishable poem.  I enjoy inventing new forms, or expanding single-poem forms into something that will work for a whole book. In an earlier version of the novel-in-poems that eventually became HIDDEN, I worked for months trying to find a form that would be structured like a DNA molecule. Eventually, I realized that I had already done that without being self-conscious about it: the form I invented for THE BRAID is very much like the double helix of DNA (though without the twist). 


What tools (rhyming dictionary, book of forms, etc.) do you use in writing poetry (if any)?
Helen: I have all those tools—rhyming dictionaries (one for adults, one for children), several different books of forms (again, some written with young writers in mind, others for adult poets). I used them a lot when I was learning my craft and now I use them as references to remind me of the specifics of a form, or to suggest a rhyme I might not have considered.


What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Helen: A question that interests me more might be “How would you like students or children to know about poetry?” I’d like them to dive in with their ears and eyes and hearts open wide and experience poetry before they analyze it too much.

Here’s a question I was asked by a first grader in Ed Spicer’s class about the poem in my new book, SWEEP UP THE SUN (a collaboration with photographer Rick Lieder): How did you make the poem sound like the bird is actually sweeping up the sun?

I answered: First let me say that this is a beautiful question, because it shows that you are reading and listening carefully, and then thinking about the words. The answer is in the poem itself: think of the sky as language, and then think of the birds’ wings as poetry, a special kind of language that pays attention to sound and images (pictures in our minds). When I write a poem, I don’t start out by knowing what I want to say, just as a bird might lift off from a branch without knowing exactly where it is going. But I trust language, as a bird trusts itself to the sky, so I can “ride the wind” (the thoughts that come to me) “and explore” (to find out what I want to say and how to say it).  Writing a poem is energetic, and the sun we sweep up together in this poem (as writer and reader) is like an infinite source of light and warmth.


Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?
Helen: Here’s a villanelle, a form that originated as French, though many of the best-known villanelles are written in English. The poem is set in rural Alaska, more than 30 years ago.

Mud, Sticks, Food

Somewhere a house is empty of these lives,
the mother beaver dead, the pups not born.
Our hands caress the loss. Our thought contrives

to name the brown and violet parts, as if, in naming, it revives
the heart, makes loops and curves and folds less torn.
Somewhere a house is empty of these lives.

We lift the liquid cradles, cut them loose with knives.
Water breaks on fur, feet, tail. Watching, we forget to mourn.
Our hands caress the loss. Our thought contrives

their birth. We wrap the pups in plastic, hang them high in leaves
of willows by the river, to protect their perfect form.
Somewhere a house is empty of these lives.

We clean the inside of the mother's skin. All we do deprives
her house of mud, sticks, food -- leaves her mate forlorn.
Our hands caress the loss. Our thought contrives

to find an exit. The living beaver slaps his tail and dives.
We are enclosed in widening rings of scorn.
Somewhere a house is empty of these lives.
Our hands caress the loss our thought contrives.

Poem ©Helen Frost, from Skin of a Fish, Bones of a Bird, Ampersand Press, 1993. All rights reserved.


A million thanks to Helen for participating in my Jumping Into Form project this month.

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