Tuesday, July 28, 2015


What is a poem?

I have written many answers to that question.  Here is one of my favorite answers that I shared, along with other remarks about poetry, at  Kevin Cordi's  Poetry Box Celebration and Reception back in April, and also in a previous post, Essential Poetry Collections.

Poetry is....
A moment frozen
in time and words
that I remember
and you recognize
as truth
and reality
a tiny slice
of everyone
and all life

Poetry is...
for us to notice
a word in the air
a phrase turned
just right

Poetry is...
the wiggle
the shimmer
an iridescent light
on what was
always there.

In my classroom, I  regularly offered possible explanations and models of poetry.   Together, we wrestled with definitions and parameters as we read and wrote pieces of writing that we called poems.

I am always asking myself:  Does this event, this experience, this feeling want to be a poem?

What is poetry?

I am ever finding new responses to this question.

I recently discovered  a delightful answer in a picture book.

In This is a Poem that Heals Fish  by Jean-Pierre Simeon, Arthur's fish is sick. He is dying of boredom.  His mother suggests  with an eye roll that he write him a poem, but Arthur is not sure just what that means.

What is a poem?

Arthur searches the house,  asks a number of people, including shop owners and neighbors, his grandparents, and even his canary.

The answers vary greatly, delight us trremendously , and in the end form a poem which defines poetry.

Arthur finds, in part, that a poem is:

...when you have the sky in your mouth.  
It is hot like fresh bread,
when you eat it, 
a little is always left over...

This book is perfect for introducing.... or continuing ... or deepening the discussion of poetry.

When I was younger and struggling to define my own poetry personality, I discovered with relief and pleasure, the poetry of e.e. cummings.  His work opened the doors and released me from the  prison of  "school poetry" with its rhyme and measured meter, with its one acceptable explanation, and structured, square shape.

I was freed to experiment, explore and create my own style,  to stamp my personal poetic imprint.

Matthew Burgess has created a new biography that offers that same discovery and  transformative experience to younger readers.

In Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings, we meet Edward Estlin Cummings ( e.e. cummings) before he is a famous poet.  We travel with him on his journey of discovery of words and experimentation  with forms.

We watch as he watches the birds and speaks his first poem at three-- His mother began to write his poems down in a book she kept.

We witness both his ever growing imagination and fascination with words.

We travel with him through many life experiences that all lead to his poems being "alive with experimentation and surprise!

Woven throughout the narrative are Cummings's poems, creating a text in which we learn his story, as we taste his words and creativity.

This book, too, will spark much discussion about the nature of poetry.
It will also answer questions we have not yet introduced:  Who are poets? What do they do?

 And finally, as I continue to seek to define poetry, my newest favorite blog, The Poetry Question, offers a thought-provoking answer.

You absolutely must read the entire post-- for its beauty, for its answer to our question-- and to see why Lewis Mundt wrote the following words in The Power of Poetry #18: The Vineyard Owner:

 ...anything can be a poem, and that I think it’s that universality, almost a yes we can make this moment something else can’t we? that’s the true power of poetry and the reason it’s been a celebrated art form for thousands of years. We don’t love cave paintings because they’re breathtakingly artistic; we love them because we’re drawn to these windows into someone else’s record of the world...
What is poetry?

 Related Blog Posts

Poetry in  the Time of Pain

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is poetry? What is a poem?

Who are poets?  What do they do?

Poems about poetry are called ars poetica. 

Write several poems about poetry ( ars poetica)  that offer answers to these questions

Friday, July 17, 2015


By Gerbil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

We all have heroes, folks we look up to, admire and adore, folks we worship beyond measure.
We all have heroes who save our world, make our world.... contain all  of our worlds.

We may know our heroes personally; they may be family or friends, co-workers or mentors.

They may be friends-in-our-head--movie stars, politicians, business entrepreneurs.

These folks we follow and imitate.  These heroes we quote and cite as our reasons for.... everything.

And then.... comes the affair, the bankruptcy, the murder, the lurid past catching up, the surprising present revealed.

What do we do when our heroes fall from grace?

What do we do with the now hollow praise, the expansive admiration with no object?

We are used to folks falling from grace-- the scandal, the frantic, almost gleeful media reports, the  viral explosions on FaceBook and Twitter. The talk shows. The witnesses coming out of the woodwork, from under rocks, from behind 30 years of silence, to collaborate, to denounce,  to  attest and announce their version of betrayal, each new report adding to our horror or causing us to nod in that cynical "I am not surprised"  way.

For months, I defended Bill Cosby.  These are only accusations. I  said. He has not been arrested or charged. I argued.  Why have they waited so long if this is true? I asked.  What are they gaining? I wondered.

But now we have his own words corroborating everything or at least some accusations.

What do we do with this?

How do we now separate the man from the character that we all loved?  That character that brought the first professional upper-middle class black family into our living rooms each week..

How do we separate that lovable Huxtable Dad who always knew just what to say and how to   help from the man and husband who has caused so much hurt.

Do we still watch the old reruns? Are we still allowed to enjoy them or have we been betrayed so deeply that this is now an impossibility? Will they even remain on the air or be erased from  air wave memory?

And then we have to ask who knew and didn't tell, swept it under the rug, or excused-- for whatever reason?

There are bigger issues.

What does all of this say about how we treat women and girls?  Would we have believed these women individually?  Did we believe them collectively?  There was  a lot of talk about conspiracies and economic gain?  I participated in that talk with lots of other people.

I was wrong... along with many others.

And it is not just Bill Cosby.

We witness this falling from grace often.

Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong,  Bill Clinton, The Subway spokesperson... a host of politicians, sports figures....

We hoist people onto pedestals  and  when  they come crashing down we are shocked and disappointed.

Despite the frequency  of public falling , we never see it coming and we still  take it personally.

What can we do?

As we witness the falling of others this may be a perfect time to  assess our own precarious positions on pedestals that other may have erected for us... with or without our knowledge or consent.

Who will be disappointed if/when we fall?

We can only come to terms with fallings and failings if we recognize the universality of imperfection in both ourselves and others.

And we may cope more easily if we accept the realities and paradoxes of both/and rather than expecting our world to be either/or.

Where can we turn?

When in doubt I turn to poetry.
I write poetry to question, wonder, wrestle, think, figure out what I think...  tell you what i think...

I read poetry in an effort to name my questions, my  wonderings, my uncertainties...my un-name-able.

 In her poem Imperfections, Elizabeth Carlson reminds us to love our own bumps and foibles (and I would add those of others, as well):

...I am learning to love
the small bumps on my face
the big bump of my nose,
my hairless scalp,
chipped nail polish,
toes that overlap.
Learning to love
the open-ended mystery
of not knowing why...

Robert Frost reminds us that Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Remember a time someone you know and/or loved fell from grace.

Write a list of questions you have about the surrounding events.
Your questions may be addressed to the person,  to others involved, or even to yourself.

Write a poem based on your list of questions.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Čeština: Budapešť, socha neznámého (Writer in Budapest) by Dezidor

Writing is hard.

Writing is hard when
ideas get stuck
in the crowded funnel
interrupting or stopping
the easy flow of words

Writing is hard
when ideas get stuck
in the tunnel carrying our words
from our heart to our brain
to your ears  and your eyes... and beyond.

We are not being honest
when we portray writing
as an easy thing
or when we think writers are just sitting
at a table or a desk,
somewhere in a cozy retreat with a view
churning out pages
and pages
and pages

every now and then
to take a walk
to smell the lilacs
to sip their bourbon
and feed their dogs
while words are sparring
offering themselves
to be first from the pen
or onto the screen.

Writing is hard.

Words are scratched
from the dirt,
once fertile
now famine dry

Words are ground
between our teeth
as we chew and reject
taste and spit out
or swallow whole
missing the savory flavor
for which we search

Writing is hard.
we sit still ...waiting
for an angle, a hook, ..one word
to follow another
to follow another...

Writing is hard.

In June, I  spent two weeks with  a group teachers from the Columbus Area Writing Project, engaged in the hard work of writing,  I wrote beside these fellow teachers as they were also engaged in that same hard work.

We were remembering and examining our lives as teachers, retelling and  reflecting our journeys--including the highs and the lows, the warts and the beauty marks, the inevitable failures and the great moments of success.

As we wrote, we recognized patterns and echoes woven through our stories, individually and collectively.

We identified turning points and  critical moments that split time into a before and an after.

We cried and laughed as we narrated the complexities and messiness of the personal lives that backgrounded our equally complex  and messy teaching lives.

We marveled  at how we had survived --and arrived  at our present points, our current pages in our stories.

Writing is hard.

We got stuck between words sometimes...  sandwiched between too many memories  or trying to push out that one irretrievable nugget.

 Time stood still when we were in the moment  and words were tumbling over each other like waterfalls in hidden tropical caves splashing onto the pages in fresh satisfying drops.

Time raced as deadlines loomed and words deadlocked in the recesses of our blocked writing brains.

Writing is hard.

We offered our pages to the group--  holy sacrifice and sacrament.

We mourned when they suggested a word, a sentence,  a paragraph needed to be changed, reworded--- or even deleted.

We worked to shape nuances and tones and moods.

We modified the  irreverent, and politically incorrect. Our task was to share and reveal, not offend and negatively provoke.

We walked and snacked on nuts and fruit. We sipped water and coffee and an occasional soft drink.

We talked quietly.  We sat... alone.    We sat.... in company

And. we wrote...

Writing is hard.

In a previous post, Writing Wells: Writing Ideas for When the Well is Dry, I offered  ways to get started writing when the ideas are not flowing.   You may find inspiration there for when writing is hard.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have long carried columns in which writers have shared their lives, their processes, their worries and their joys, as well as the hardships and difficulties of living  their writer's lives.

Both editors of these columns, John Darnton and Marie Arana,  have published collections  of the columns, which may  serve as companions on your own writing journey.


 If you are looking for lighter inspiration spinning the The Wheel of Process at The Book Architect site  may  be just the ticket  for those days when showing up at the computer, the typewriter, the page  is just not enough.

This unique feature offers 40 articles on writing "from inception through editing through completion."   Their seven articles on writer's block may just what you need to jolt you back into productive composing.

Some days... nothing works... and we just have to acknowledge it.

Writing is hard.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

When has writing been hard for you?  

Reflect on a piece that you are currently involved in writing.

What has been most difficult so far?  How did you work through, write through the hard parts?

Write a poem about writing this particular piece or about your writing life.