Student Poetry Month 04/04/2017

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Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Shovan

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Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting today.

Laura Shovan was interviewed at the CYBILS website earlier this week.  Here are follow-up questions for her.  These questions were generated from the CYBILS Poetry panel and judges.,

School closings like this don’t happen very often. Did you know of a school that was closing or where this idea come from?

School closings are quite common in Maryland. Schools here are part of large, county-wide systems. Boards of education will sometimes shift entire neighborhoods from one school to another to relieve overcrowding, or even close a school that’s below capacity. For example, in 2016, the year THE LAST FIFTH GRADE came out, a high school was closed in Carroll County, Maryland. There was a lot of push-back from the community and from families who wanted the school to stay open. Despite all the research that shows how important community involvement is in making a school feel welcoming and successful, community members are rarely consulted about such closings. They tend to be a financial decision.

How did you choose the character names and did you map out the characters and classroom dynamic in a visual way?

Some of the characters’ name have clues about their situation or personalities. One is Brianna Holmes (homophone for “homes”), whose family is temporarily living in motel. Another is Newt Mathews (the word “math” is embedded in his name), who prefers form poems where he can count out syllables. And the twins, Sloane and Sydney Costley, have the small word “cost” in their last name – a nod to the fact that they are somewhat wealthy.

I’m a visual person. I had my daughter’s fifth grade school photo taped inside my revision binder. Since I come from an education background, I had to make a seating chart. That helped me to see which characters might develop friendships … or tension. I also had a list of who lived in which neighborhoods, who rode the bus together, who lived close enough to the school to walk.
What choices did she have to make to keep each voice unique?

Giving each of the eighteen characters a unique voice was something I focused on during revisions. Instead of working on the book from the beginning to the end, I pulled out each character – one at a time – and only worked on that person’s poems. In that way, I could look at things like vocabulary, cadence, and formal elements. A free verse poem in Sloane’s voice, for example, will incorporate slang and have a lot of rhythms, to capture her attitude. A free verse poem in Norah’s voice will have longer lines and more descriptive language because Norah is more observant than Sloane.

Have you as a child or your children involved in a grassroots campaign?  

No. My family wasn’t very political when I was growing up. I don’t remember my parents talking about the Viet Nam war at all. I didn’t become politically active until I was an adult. My friends at All the Wonders recently did a post on this topic, featuring picture books.

What other books for children would you suggest if students want to learn more about becoming activists in their community?

There are many types of activism that are appropriate for children. I tend to like books about the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and picture book biographies of civil rights activists. Three of my favorites are:

Andrea David Pinkney’s picture book SIT IN: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

Debbie Levy’s WE SHALL OVERCOME: The Story of a Song.

Tony Medina’s LOVE TO LANGSTON, about Langston Hughes’ childhood.

Another great resource is this Nerdy Book Club list from 2014: Top 10 Picture Books for Activists 

What advice do you have for writers who are working on a novel in verse?

I hear from a lot of authors who love reading novels in verse. But because they don’t see themselves as poets, they’re afraid to give the form a try. My advice is to think about the poems as short monologues. In a novel in verse, the main character or characters take the stage and describe their thoughts, feelings, and a moment of change or realization. Poetic line breaks add rhythm to the character’s speaking voice. I think this is what makes the novel-in-verse form so well-suited for voice-driven books. The combination of monologue and rhythm helps the reader hear what the character sounds like.

Thank you, Laura, for your insight!

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Time for Student Poetry Postcards!  Sign-up HERE

 Happy Poetry.

Happy Friday.

Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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It’s Saturday and time to reflect on the week. Thanks to Ruth Ayres Writes for a place to share our celebration.

ONE
Listening to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House in the Big Woods.. It’s been a long while since I read the books. I am reminded why I liked her books as a child. There’s so much in the simplicity of her writing that’s yet so descriptive. As I listen, I am thinking what a way for readers to learn about prairie life.

TWO

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Fall Leaves.

THREE
Kindergarteners. I was explains that I hope I don't need to use my "cranky pants" voice. A kinder said, "You don't have a cranky pants voice, you are telling us how to take care of the books."

FOUR
I’m celebrating commitment. Last May, I applied to the Darcy Pattison Retreat this coming January. It’s getting time to share our manuscripts with my critique group. I need to finish the polishing and remember it IS a revision retreat. It’s a bit scary to know that in two months we will gather to revise and dig deep. Plus I now have a query letter and synopsis to write as well.

FIVE
Yesterday. Our school had their second annual PE/Music Dash. This year we had a Superheroes theme. And for the first time in many years we were allowed to be really festive. I went with my superheroes being spiders (Grandgirls call me Grandma Spider due to my love of spiders). No pics of my cape so instead I leave you with the following:

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What are you celebrating?

Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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It’s Saturday. Time to celebrate all the goodness of the week at Ruth Ayres Writes.

ONE

Summer vacation has begun as of today!  Our last day of school was yesterday. While bittersweet with eight people leaving us, it was a joyous day. So much love to be shared by students, staff, and parents.

TWO

Last weekend I was at my brother’s graduation from the Southern California Health Institute.  Forty years ago this month I graduated from Lewis and Clark College.  This weekend is our fortieth reunion.  Good to catch up with people.

THREE

Kindergartners who brought me cards for reading to them all year.  Singing “Metamorphosis” with the minders…it’s a song about change.

FOUR

I was accepted into the Darcy Pattison Revision Retreat along with 19 other people. In January 2015 (six months away).

FIVE

Getting my first summer poem in the mail for the Summer Poetry Swap from Diane Mayr.  Thanks, Diane.

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What are you celebrating?
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Celebrate: Five Star Things About the Week

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Time to celebrate the week.  More celebrations at Ruth Ayres Writes.

ONE

Monday! Our second day with Susan Blackaby, author.  She spent the day teaching students how to write a five-line poem.

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This was a group poem from Kindergarten.  And she will be back next Thursday for a final writing day.

TWO

A sign of spring.  I spied these on my way into school this week.

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THREE

The dad who volunteered to help the school play with the sound system.  The biggest problem with the school play is the sound system.  No one can ever hear us very well as we have limited mics for all the speakers.

FOUR

Working with kinders to write their own five-line poem.  I modeled the poem and then they wrote their own. It’s so exciting to see the ranges of writers; those who struggle with letters to those who get it!

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FIVE

Our first five-day week since the beginning of January.  Plus my asthma has subsided and I finally worked out this morning.

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And I started the SOLSC 2014 challenge to write every day in March at Deowriter.

In Coversation with Diane Mayr

Are you interested in the craft of writing haiku? Diane Mayr offers up some thoughts about the practice. She has four blogs. She’s been on the CYBILS’ Poetry Panel in past years. We are talking today about haiku and her practice.
Jone: I’ve been reading Random Noodling and am wondering what made you decide to have a blog that featured haiku and haiku?

Diane: By April 2009, I had been posting for about 2 1/2 years on my library blog, Kurious Kitty’s Kurio Kabinet , a year and a half on my quote blog, KK’s Kwotes , and a little less than that with The Write Sisters on our joint blog project . As you may have figured out, I’m quite opinionated, and didn’t feel I had complete freedom to write about what I wanted to write about (I can’t imagine library users wanting to read my rants on poetic forms). I was into haiku in 2009 and only just beginning to think of myself as a poet; I wanted to share my work. In the beginning I was not completely focused on haiku–I would comment or share other things (for example: http://randomnoodling.blogspot.com/2009/12/another-time-sucking-suggestion.html)

I tried to “enlighten” people who think haiku is only 5-7-5–it didn’t always go down well (see “Poetry Friday–What Is Haiku? And Who Decides on the Definition?” ). I’ve backed off a little over the years, however, I will never back off the idea that haiku SHOULD NOT be a “let’s learn about syllables” lesson. Teachers, please explore syllables using some other poetic form. (Like a cinquain or an Etheree, or better yet, make one up.)

Eventually I got into the three posts a week routine. Sunday = Happy Haiga Day! Tuesday = Haiku Sticky Friday = Poetry Friday. It works well for me, although, some of the haiku I post on Tuesdays probably shouldn’t have been posted! Not everything done in a hurry should be published!

For those who don’t know, haiga is, for lack of a better term, illustrated haiku. I really enjoy illustrating my poems. I had been a picture book writer, and I believe that the words and pictures must work together. Either could be read/viewed separately, but together, they form a complete work. Haiga allows me to be both writer and artist (I use that term loosely).

I started with haiga in January 2010, after I had gotten a little digital camera, and, I discovered the free photo editing program, Picnik (since bought out by Google and eliminated). I now use Picmonkey.com. It is free, but I pay for added features. After 4 years, I think I’m getting pretty good at manipulating photos and what-have-you, and, I’m still discovering things I hadn’t known were available.

I purchased Photoshop Elements a while back, because I wanted to do more. Elements didn’t cost the big bucks like Photoshop does, and didn’t require a class to learn how to use it! Or so I thought. I haven’t devoted the time to learn Elements, but it’s on my “to-do” list.

I still remain a haiku poet, but, currently I’m venturing into free-verse poetry, almost all of it very short. I have a special love for ekphrasis (art, in this case poems, about art). Actually, back at a conference in 2001, I heard someone speak on ekphrastic haiku, and I was intrigued by it, so, I guess it’s no surprise that I’m writing ekphrastic poetry now.

I don’t know that any of this has answered your question. In one sentence: I started the blog because I wanted a place to share. And, it’s way easier than the torture of the submission process!

Jone: I read your post regarding the haiku definition. Everyone certainly has different view on the matter.
I’ve been writing haiku most of my life. I was taught the 5-7-5 and it’s only in the last couple of years that I have been until training myself.
What’s your haiku history?

Diane: I think it was back in the mid 1990s that I found haiku. I had heard about it earlier, in school, and was taught the 5-7-5 in three lines rule. I’m not sure what sparked the re-interest, but I soon learned out about the Haiku Society of America. I also read that they were holding a quarterly meeting at Smith College in September 1998, which, as the crows flies, is only about 1 1/2 hours from me. I attended, and although I was definitely not on the same level as the other attendees, I felt welcomed and had a pleasant experience. Also, in September of 1998, my first haiku was published in the Christian Science Monitor. Beginner’s luck! (It was a 5-7-5 poem, which I have since revised to eliminate 2 totally unnecessary syllables.) Over the next few years I read a LOT of haiku. I had to buy a lot of books, because the libraries around here didn’t have much in the way of haiku books. I wrote quite a bit too. I had some haiku published in the anthology, Stories from Where We Live: The North Atlantic Coast (Milkweed Editions, 2000). That too, I believed was a fluke.

I attended the Haiku North America conference when it was held in Boston in the summer of 2001. I was way out of my element there, and didn’t participate as I should have, but by that time, I knew how unschooled I was! So, I continued to read and write. I wrote a haiku book for kids, which made it as far as acquisitions at one publisher. It was ultimately turned down because it wasn’t 5-7-5, and that was “what is being taught in the schools.” Ah, well. I had too much respect for my haiku to rewrite them, so the book remains somewhere in my files. I even had an article published in 2002 in The Writer, a now-defunct magazine, titled, “Too Busy to Write? Keep in Writing Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku.” I thought I was a pretty good haiku writer, however, I never submitted to a legitimate haiku journal. I never had the confidence to face “real haiku poets.” (It’s amazing, what we do to ourselves!) It was when I hit 60 that I decided it was now or never. I started submitting to haiku journals. It was much easier to submit, since most were now online! I always hated to send something off by mail and wait, sometimes forever, for it to be rejected, or, accepted. Several of my haiku and haiga, and even a few tanka, were accepted and published, so I met that goal.

I’ve decided, however, that it is too much work keeping track of things, so I now publish my poetry on my blog, and other people’s blogs. I will admit to wanting to have a non-haiku/tanka poem published in a legitimate journal for “real poets,” but, I’m not going out of my way to explore that avenue. I’m especially interested in getting something accepted for a children’s poetry anthology, so if you hear of a call for poetry, please, let me know! (Where does one find these calls?)

Jone: Good question about the call for anthologies, I wonder that myself. But I will let you know if I hear something and you do the same, okay?

Diane: Will do!

Jone: It’s difficult breaking the 5-7-5. I’m attempting to teach students that haiku is more about capturing nature in three lines than counting syllables. Any tips for them?

Diane: I think the best tip is to have them read contemporary English language haiku–lots of it. Print out a page of haiku you have selected. (You can probably fit 20 poems on a page, but more white space is better). Have students read the poems at least twice. Or, you can read each one aloud while the students keep their eyes closed; read it twice. Then talk about the poem. Can they see a picture? Can they relate to it at all? How does the poem make them feel? If the kids think a poem is “stupid” or “doesn’t make any sense,” discuss why they think this is so. (Believe, me, there are many haiku that I’ve read that have left me scratching my head!) Which poem is their favorite? Why? This poem, by Raymond Roseliep, is my favorite for illustrating that an image can be produced with an absolute minimum of syllables:

snow
all’s
new

(If you have a single kid who doesn’t understand this, let me know, and I’ll stop promoting it!)

As for writing: you might begin with a quick lesson in the concept of “show, don’t tell.” Tell the students the ultimate goal should be to end up with 17 syllables, or, preferably fewer, but to forget that for now. Start by using as many words as it takes to present a picture–a complete picture in a sentence or two. From there, turn it into a game–how many words can be eliminated and still have it make sense? Explain how “freezing cold” is redundant!

It’s a good way to study vocab, too! Ask the kids to find substitute words. For example, “freezing cold” (3 syllables): words like “frigid,” “chilly,” or ” icy” have one less syllable and their substitution may present a stronger/different image. Give them a list of junk words that can be eliminated: very, some, so, only, really, even, still. (Actually, this is what they should do in regular writing, too! Junk words are my big bugaboo and the hardest thing for me to eliminate in my own writing.)

Explain the use of “kigo,” which are seasonal words that those of us with a common background immediately understand. Pumpkin implies autumn, snow = winter, nest = spring. If they’re writing “the spring” and “nest” in the same sentence, then “the spring” can be removed.

When they’ve got a sentence as tight as they can get it, then try to format it into three lines (the middle line may be longer). Now count the syllables. If there are 15 or more, have them look at it again. Collaboration is good at this point. A new set of eyes often sees what is unnecessary or what may be missing. Strong language is primary. Counting syllables is secondary. (Suggestion: find a published 17 syllable haiku and, as a group, try to eliminate syllables. I found that Richard Wright’s book of haiku, Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright, published a few years ago, has haiku that would lend themselves to this exercise.)

Explain that the writer has to give the reader the opportunity to make leaps. If a poem uses “pumpkin,” the writer doesn’t have to also include October, cooler weather, Halloween, falling leaves. The reader can supply all this from his/her own experience.

You may explain about the lack of capitals and punctuation, and introduce the idea of symbols that indicate a pause (ellipses, dashes, etc.). However, it’s difficult to get across the idea of three lines composed of a phrase and a fragment, so I wouldn’t get into that initially (the astute ones will probably pick it up as they read more haiku). The same goes with the celebrated “twist;” forget it for now. Concentrate on presenting a strong image, if they can do that, then you’ve been successful.

What grade students are you working with? The complexity of a lesson, as I have outlined above, will probably be too much for 5th grade or younger. The older the student, the better. I think the best exposure for the younger grades is simply reading haiku. I don’t believe kids have to imitate every form of writing! Read widely! Read widely–then write.

Jone: Have you considered culling a collection of your haiga and then self publishing? Or putting some of your haigas on cards?

Diane: Many of my haiga can only be reproduced clearly on a computer because of the low resolution of the images! So, I could possibly look at an ebook. But, no.

Jone: I am out of my practice of writing a haiku a day. I don’t know if it’s the school or the weather but I am out of synch. What’s your haiku practice?

Diane: No practice. I write on the weekends, and days off, almost exclusively. I don’t do much on the weekends except write. If I think of something at work, or while I’m out somewhere, I’ll write it on a sticky note, stash it in a pocket, and hope that it’ll all make sense later! For two or three years I wrote a haiku or poem a day. I have 4 online files corresponding to each quarter of a year. They’re labeled, for instance, “2010 challenge first quarter.” I continue to set up the challenge files for myself, but I no longer force myself to add a poem each day. I like challenges, so if a blogger, like Laura Salas or Laura Shovan issues one, I try to participate. Laura Shovan’s holding a “Pantone Poetry Project” this month and I’m loving it!

Jone: Yes, I really like challenges to push me. I haven’t tried Laura Shovan’s yet. Looks intriguing. I like participating in the Shiki Kukai Monthly because I get feedback through voting.

Diane: I’ve been participating in the Shiki Kukai since at least 2009. Most times I get one or two points, sometimes no points. It doesn’t matter, really. I know when I’ve sent in something that doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote! Most times my entries are thrown together at the last moment.

I’ve only “won” once, back in June 2010, when I tied for first with this:

stifling heat –
his mother finally sees
the tattoo

The kigo was “nakedness”! This was sort of based on experience. My son got a tattoo in high school and didn’t tell anyone. He left it up to chance for us to discover it, which we did!

Jone: What are your favorite haiku books?

Diane: My all-time favorite haiku book, and one that everyone interested in haiku should read is The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor van den Heuvel. Any edition is worth reading! I also like Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball, also edited by van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.

My favorite haiku how-to book is by Jane Reichhold, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide. A good how-to volume for kids is Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids by Patricia Donegan.

Something a bit out of the ordinary is Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem: A Film by Tazuo Yamaguchi. It comes packed as a set with an anthology and a DVD. (http://brooksbookshaiku.com/)

Jone: I have both Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-On Guide and Haiku: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids. Such great books. Will look into the other titles you suggested.Thank you for this conversation, Diane. Too bad we live on opposite coasts and couldn’t have discussed mor over tea or coffee.

Diane will be back on Friday with a haiku or haiga.

Poetry Friday: Celebrating William Stafford

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Every January, I celebrate the fabulous work of a William Stafford. Born on January 17, 1914, it’s a centennial celebration. There is so many events here in Oregon. For today’s poem, I’m sharing

A Message from the Wanderer
BY WILLIAM E. STAFFORD 1914–1993

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

William Stafford, “A Message from the Wanderer” from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, http://www.graywolfpress.org.

You can listen to it at The Poetry Foundation

Next Wednesday, I will share a conversation between Helen Frost and I about William Stafford. Then next Friday, on his birthday, Helen is sharing her poem from the new anthology, A Ritual to Read To Each Other: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford in honor of the centenary of his birth.

Poetry Friday is hosted at Mainely Write today. thanks, Donna.