Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Poetry Stretch - Animating the Inanimate

I'm rereading Barbara Juster Esbensens's book A Celebration of Bees: Helping Children to Write Poetry and am enjoying the chapter on animating the inanimate. Here's an excerpt.
In the previous two chapters we have seen that words, used with imagination and skill, can bring to three-dimensional life people, animals, birds, and insects of all kinds. We can show the inner feelings of a person simply by describing a walk, or the tilt of a head; we can give ferocity to a lion, flight to a dragonfly, or lanky-legged height to a giraffe.

All this is accomplished by merely choosing the right words. By this time, it must be evident that words are magical and powerful. We can use them to do our bidding. We can be as powerful ourselves as any wizard!
The chapter goes on to explore how to motivate children to look at an inanimate object and see it as something with a life of its own--breathing and alive.

Here's a poem I love that does just that.
School Buses
by Russell Hoban
(found in The Pedaling Man and Other Poems)

You'd think that by the end of June they'd take themselves
Away, get out of sight -- but no, they don't; they
Don't at all. You see them waiting through
July in clumps of sumac near the railroad, or
Behind a service station, watching, always watching for a
Child who's let go of summer's hand and strayed. I have
Seen them hunting on the roads of August -- empty buses
Scanning woods and ponds with rows of empty eyes. This morning
I saw five of them, parked like a week of
Schooldays, smiling slow in orange paint and
Smirking with their mirrors in the sun --
But summer isn't done! Not yet!
So, your challenge is to write a poem in which you animate an inanimate object. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.


  1. This is from a small privately printed anthology based on pieces of jewelry made by Elise Matthiesen. I wrote it for her.

    Dish Ran Away

    Dish ran away,
    not with spoon,
    he was too regular,
    his round face shining,
    a kid off to school.
    She found Green Rock,
    jagged, hardy, been around,
    somewhat polished, faceted,
    who could kiss
    with a long, slow tongue.
    She knew things wouldn’t last,
    but oh those green songs,
    and the leisurely meals after.
    She could always come home later,
    a penitent, and marry Spoon,
    raise little round silver darlings,
    her best memories all, all green.

    ©2009 by Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

  2. I wrote this poem some time ago, and it is true for me. I'll work on another too, for this week.

    When I'm Scared

    Orion is my nighttime friend
    Standing tall in outer space
    Finding me tucked into bed
    Staring softly at my face.

    Shining with his starry bow
    Holding back the heavy night
    He whispers kindly in my ear
    "Everything will be all right."

    Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

  3. I love the Russell Hoban poem--thanks for sharing it!


    Rocking chair swings low,
    swings high, sweet chariot
    of sorrow, singing the blues
    in his creaky old voice,
    dark wood scarred from being moved
    one too many times. He rolls
    his feet in that fine rhythm,
    hums, strums, sometimes even
    drums. Old lady cries, listening,
    remembering the long-before,
    but little boy sighs
    and slips into sleep.

    --Kate Coombs (Book Aunt), 2010, all rights reserved

  4. Here's mine:

  5. Thank you for the fun, Tricia. I've posted another animate-inanimate poem on my new blog.

  6. Love love the rocking chair. Thanks.


  7. I've spent the last two weeks reading Frances books to my class and reveling in the perfection of Russell Hoban's prose; how equally inspiring to read about school buses, "five of them parked like a week of school days."

    Here's a poem from my collection (currently rarin' to get out in search of a publisher) BEANSTALK TALKS, which is all about the inanimate achieving voice:

    Little Bricks, Little Bricks,
    Let Me Come In

    We’re thick thick thick
    We’re dense dense dense
    There’s only one thing
    that makes sense:

    We stick stick stick
    We stack stack stack
    We do not crack
    when wolves attack

    Side to side and back to back
    Our shoulders set our faces flat
    We stand we stick we sit we stay
    Huff and puff at us all day, wolf!

    But bricks don’t budge
    They don’t cave in
    Not by the square of our
    chinny chin chins

    © Heidi Mordhorst 2003|all rights reserved

  8. Thanks, Jane! And Heidi, that is such a cool poem, especially the last 2 lines!

  9. Hi! I haven't played for a very long time. But this sounded like so much fun I took the challenge and came up with: "V is for...".

  10. Sex Appeal

    Popeye ate you out of a can,
    an olive drab, limp soggy mess
    swallowed in one gulp! This was
    supposed to make you appealing?

    So, you tried again with
    a makeover. Attractive,
    young people started eating you--
    fresh and raw! A la Florentine!

    They touted your vitamins,
    iron, and your antioxidants.
    You were a healthy choice.
    Chic, and expensive, you

    became a sexy veggie!
    You forgot to pace yourself,
    though, and went from hip to
    overexposed, just like that!

    “Patata dulce,” a.k.a. sweet potato,
    is the new sexy veggie. She was
    quoted as saying, “I yam, what I yam--
    now available in germ-free cans!”

  11. Here is my attempt for this week!

    Musings of a Quilt
    by Nicole Marie Schreiber

    even I feel cold,
    sprawled out on the couch.
    curled into a ball on a chair,
    or cascading from bed to floor,
    like a waterfall without water,
    cast off,
    treaded on,

    even I feel alone,
    folded neatly in a cabinet,
    stowed safe inside a crate,
    or hanging on a wall,
    while summer’s heat sizzles the house,
    put away,

    even I feel scared,
    stuffed underneath a bed,
    ripped apart by a dog,
    or spilled upon by toddlers,

    But sometimes,
    on cold winter days,
    when the heater acts up,
    the fireplace misbehaves,
    and the sun sleeps in,
    you take me out and
    wrap me around your back,
    your arms,
    your whole body,
    warming me down
    to the
    of my fibers.

    And sometimes,
    even I

  12. Hi Tricia ~ working on revising a book proposal for an agent, so thought I'd pay homage to it here:


    She says you need a makeover
    to narrow you down a bit
    give you a stronger focus
    wipe out some of your
    negative notions
    slap you into shape.

    If we can bring out
    your true essence
    that inner shimmer
    waiting to burst forth
    we might be able to
    sell you off
    to the highest bidder.

    Geez I’m sorry
    please don’t cry
    I didn’t mean to…
    I just didn’t know
    you were still
    so attached
    to me.

    © Carol Weis, all rights reserved


    We annoy some people profusely
    By the wicked way we grow,
    They see us in their gardens
    And decide that we must go.

    We care not where we establish ourselves
    Or take a strangle hold,
    Whether flowerbed or vegepatch
    We are equally as bold.

    Our seeds are designed to travel afar
    By land and sea and air,
    With orders to settle and germinate
    No matter who lives there.

    But let's not forget about gardeners as
    Their problem we become,
    Their herbicides and garden tools serve to
    Make us weeds unwelcome.

    © 04-04-10