Friday, February 05, 2016

Poetry Friday - Welcome Mat Is Out!

Welcome poetry lovers! I'm happy to be hosting Poetry Friday this week. I'm especially thrilled to be hosting on a day when the Poetry 7 gang is sharing a crop of new poems.

This month we wrote poems to images chosen by Liz. After attending the Picasso Sculpture exhibit at MOMA, she shared some photographs she took and challenged us to pick a piece and write to it. You can read about the exhibit at Pablo Picasso, Now in 3D. I chose the cat sculpture. (This is not the picture Liz shared, but one that shows the piece at a slightly different angle.)

A photo posted by Ben Sutton (@itsbensutton) on
Early draft 

From Whence Le Chat (maybe?)

Art takes shape
in peace and war
from light and dark
an act of defiance
a voice of truth
in every age

Paris, 1941 …

Declared “degenerate artist”
exhibits halted
he retreated to his studio

German laws
did not douse
creative flames
a world at war
did not quell his genius
La Résistance française
saw to that
smuggling bronze into Paris

In a Left Bank studio
surrounded by Nazis
art did more than survive
it flourished
and le chat was born
Most recent draft

Pablo’s Cat
Paris, 1941 …

Declared “degenerate artist”
exhibits halted
he retreated to his studio

German laws
did not douse
creative flames
a city in turmoil
did not thwart
his genius
surrounded by Nazis
he shaped
smuggled bronze

Le Chat
was welcomed
into a home
swelling with

In a Left Bank studio
as war waged on
could not be quelled
would not be silenced
did more than survive
It flourished
Poems ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2016. All rights reserved.

You can read the ekphrastic poems written by my Poetry Seven compatriots at the links below. 
I hope you'll help me celebrate poetry this week by joining in the round-up and visiting other folks sharing their thoughts. I'm and old-school style host, so please leave a note with a link to your offering in the comments. Thanks to all of you who stop by to read, write poetry, and share in the love of children's literature.

Happy poetry Friday friends! 
Original Poetry
Robyn Hood Black of Life on the Deckle Edge is sharing a lovely little poem entitled Groundhog Day and a story about her neighbor that will make you smile.

cbhanek of Quick Thinks About Literature & Life isn't giving up on snow-inspired photo poems and shares a new poem entitled Chillin'.

Diane Mayr of Random Noodling shares a poem entitled 2016 Antique Mart.

Jone MacCullough of Check It Out shares her poem Super Bowl Sunday.

Joy Acey of Poetry for Kids shares the poem Ducks and issues a poem writing challenge.

Sally Murphy checks in from Down Under and shares a lovely little photo poem.

Heidi Mordhorst of my juicy little universe muses a bit on the nature of blogging and shares a poem entitled INSTRUCTIONS | dmmg.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater shares a poem entitled The Traffic Lights. She also shares an image of her draft and some wise advice for writing.

Ramona of Pleasures from the Page shares a short poem about her upcoming day. Fingers crossed that she has time to share a poem with her students today!

Brenda Harsham of Friendly Fairy Tales shares a poem entitled Squirrel Haven.

Bridget Magee of wee words for wee ones made me laugh out loud! Check out her poem entitled The Ex Files.

Violet Nesdoly is still thinking about and writing nothing poems and shares one entitled I Read Nothing.

Liz Steinglass is sharing a lovely poem entitled Fog.

Kay of A Journey Through the Pages is sharing a haiku in defiance of snow.

Penny Parker Klostermann shares a new post in her series A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt and highlights a beautiful art and poetry collaboration between Irene Latham and her 9 year-old niece.

JoAnn Early Macken of Teaching Authors shares a poem entitled Staring Out the Window.

Found Object Poem Project 
Laura Shovan of Author Amok invites everyone to join in a month-long daily write-in. All of the information people need to participate (and the Week One prompts) are at 2016 Found Object Poem Project.

Matt Forrest Esenwine is hosting Laura Shovan's Poetry Prompt series today and sharing his poem entitled Heirloom Moon, along with those written by others playing along.

Mary Lee of A Year of Reading is also participating in the found object poem fun and shares a poem entitled Mysteries.

Linda Baie of Teacher Dance shares her response to today's found object in a poem entitled Early Valentine's Day.

Carol Varsalona of Beyond LiteracyLink shares a couple of found object poems and issues a reminder about the invitation to the upcoming gallery, Winter Wanderings.

Molly Hogan of Nix the comfort zone shares her found object poem entitled One Plump Tomato.

Poetry of Others
Keri of Keri Recommends shares the poem The Other Side of a Mirror by Mary Coleridge.

Diane Mayr of Kurious Kitty's Kurio Kabinet shares the poem Merry-Go-Round by Langston Hughes for Black History Month.

Tara of A Teaching Life shares the poem Thinking of Flowers by Jane Kenyon.

Tabatha Yeatts of The Opposite of Indifference shares poems by Joy Acey and Robyn Hood Black and sets them to music!

Jama Rattigan of Jama's Alphabet Soup shares a gorgeous Friday Feast that includes Adele Kenny's poem entitled To Blueberries AND a recipe for Bluemisu.

Carol of Carol's Corner provides her own poetic and heartbreaking introduction to the Langston Hughes' poem Let America Be America Again.

Catherine of Reading to the Core is sharing two poems by Judith Moffat and Marilyn Singer that connect to her one little word for the year.

Ruth of There is no such thing as a God-foresaken town shares the poem Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop.

Donna Smith of Mainely Write took up Tabatha's poem/song matching challenge and has selected music to go with poems by Tabatha Yeatts and Irene Latham.

Little Willow of Bildunsroman is sharing the poem The Awakening of Dermuid by Austin Clarke.

Janet of All About Books with Janet Squires shares the poem Birches by Robert Frost.

Doraine Bennett of Dori Reads shares the poem Reply to the Question: "How can You Become a Poet?" by Eve Merriam. She also rounds up a whole bunch of her poems in this post.

Carlie of Twinkling Along shares the poem Genetics by Jacqueline Woodson.

Poetry Books and Interviews
Myra of Gathering Books introduces readers to the book all the words are yours: haiku on love and shares a few excerpts.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes of Today's Little Ditty welcomes David L. Harrison as February's spotlight author, shares his newest poetry collection, and offers up this month's ditty challenge.

Margaret Simon of Reflections on the Teche shares Irene Latham's new book When the Sun Shines On Antarctica, along with some of the poems and poems written by her students in response.

Irene Latham of Live Your Poem shares a Cybils nominated poetry book, Sleepy Snoozy Cozy Coozy: A Book of Animal Beds.

Tamera Will Wissinger is celebrating the  release of her new book There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink. Congratulations Tamera!

Mandy of Enjoy and Embrace Reading shares the book Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco and an excerpt.

Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children shares a mega-list of resources for celebrating Black History Month with poetry.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

PF Early Birds!

My post for tomorrow will go live at 12:00 am and not one second sooner. (I mean, that IS when Friday begins, right?) For all you Left coasters or East coast early birds, go ahead and leave me a note here and I'll round you up early.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Monday Poetry Stretch - Ideograms

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

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

1     A grass blade or cut.

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

3     Shallow mitten for a two-fingered hand.

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

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

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Poetry Stretch - English Quintet

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

Here's an example.

Go, lovely Rose
by Edmund Waller

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

Read the poem in its entirety.

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

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Remembering Francisco Alarcón

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

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

Reading Rockets conducted a nice interview with him. It is below.
Finally, I thought this might be a good time to share again his Poetry Makers interview. This was originally posted April 3, 2010.


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

Ode to Buena
Vista Bilingual School

here Spanish
goes to school
with English

is as easy as

here children
of all races write
beautiful poems

in English
and Spanish
even in spirals

and following
the beat of teacher
Felipe's clave

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

aqui el español
va a la escuela
con el inglés

es tan fácil como

aqui niños de todas
las razas escriben
bellos poemas

tanto en inglés
como en español
hasta en espiral

y siguiendo
la clave del
maestro Felipe

aqui los niños
aprenden a cantar
con el corazón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Poem

not a single
period in all
of my poems--

my life
is really
the one poem

I've been
writing all
these years

--one single
long sentence
with no periods--

the day
I pass away
will mark

the last
and only

of all
my life
Poema Vida

ni un solo
punto en todos
mis poemas--

mi vida
es de veras
el único poema

que he estado
escribiendo todos
estos años

--una sola
larga oración
sin puntos--

el día
que muera

el único

de todo
mi poema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In My Dreams

buffaloes roam
free once again
on the plains

whales become
opera singers
of the sea

dolphins are
admired by all for
their smarts and joy

in my dreams
there is no word
for "war"

all humans
and all living

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

los búfalos rondan
por las praderas
libres otra vez

las ballenas
se vuelven cantantes
de ópera del mar

los delfines son
admirados por todos
por su ingenio y alegria

en mis sueños
no hay una palabra
para "guerra"

todos los humanos
y todos los seres

se juntan como
una gran familia
de la Tierra

Ode to My Shoes

my shoes
all night
under my bed

they stretch
and loosen
their laces

wide open
they fall asleep
and dream
of walking

they revisit
the places
they went to
during the day

and wake up
so soft

Oda a mis zapatos

mis zapatos
toda la noche
bajo mi cama

se estiran
se aflojan
las cintas

muy anchose
se duermen
y sueñan
con andar

los lugares
adonde fueron
en el día

y amanecen

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

To learn more about Francisco, visit these sites.

Godspeed, Francisco. You will be missed.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Poetry Friday - Sandburg's Snow

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

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

VIII. Circles of Doors
4. Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Poetry Stretch - Prefix Poem

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

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

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