Friday, December 7, 2012

Poetry Friday: From the Hip

Sometimes, you need a plan. You've gotta think about things before you do them. Figure out what to do first, next, and last. Obsess over the details. Try to get it all right. Set yourself up to ensure success. Whether it's a lesson you're teaching, a vacation you're planning, or figuring out how to ask somebody out. Sometimes you need a plan.

And then there's those other times. The times when you just have to go for it and say "forget about a plan."

I'd love to be more like the latter, but I have to admit that it's the former that tends to describe my M.O. most of the time.

What's my point? Not sure. But today I'm picking the first poem I see to share with you. Rebellious, I know. But you have to start somewhere.

So here's the first one I found when I did some poetry hunting today, and it's by a poet I'm not all familiar with beyond the name, Willa Cather.


Where are the loves that we have loved before
When once we are alone, and shut the door ?
No matter whose the arms that held me fast,
The arms of Darkness hold me at the last.
No matter down what primrose path I tend,
I kiss the lips of Silence in the end.
No matter on what heart I found delight,
I come again unto the breast of Night.
No matter when or how love did befall,
'Tis Loneliness that loves me best of all,
And in the end she claims me, and I know
That she will stay, though all the rest may go.
Read the rest of this poem here. Not the most uplifting choice, but it's beautifully written, and that brings me joy. I wonder how long it took to write it. How much planning and thought went into it? How many drafts? Does great poetry ever come from the hip? Maybe in the early stages, when the idea first forms? Maybe someday I'll figure it out. Until then, be sure to enjoy the rest of the Poetry Friday offerings courtesy of today's host Read, Write, Howl

Friday, November 2, 2012

Poetry Friday: A Poet to Know--Maureen N. McLane

I don't know about you, but when I discover a new poet, I get so excited. By "new," of course, I mean new to me. It's just so fun to read a great poem and then dig into a little internet searching to find another and another of their gems. And then maybe dial up the library or bookstore to request anything and everything they've published.

Here's someone I found today, Maureen McLane. I just had to share some of her stuff in honor of the first Poetry Friday of my mostest favorite month, November.

Check out this beauty:

Populating Heaven

by Maureen N. McLane

         If we belonged 
to the dead, if we had our own
Egyptian culture of care—
the amulets of home entombed
for solace everywhere—
would we then have found
a better way to cast beyond
the merely given earth?
         If you want to follow me
you'd better leave your plaid
suitcase and makeup kit
behind.  I hope you won't
mind the narrow corridor;
the air in the chamber's
thinned out.  In this dark
I think my life's an old hinge
creaking in silence.
         Open the door
and you'll see the creatures
I imagined while you were waiting:
the green-eyed dog upright
on his throne, the winged lion,
the woman whose third eye
brightens the room.

You can read the rest here. It's written in such clear language. And it says so much.

And this next one appealed to me in the same way. I'm in a new position at my school as an instructional coach this year, so I'm out of the classroom...hardest part about this? Not getting to teach poetry. I would love to teach this poem and have students write their own "What I'm Looking For" poem:

What I'm Looking For

by Maureen N. McLane

What I'm looking for
is an unmarked door
we'll walk through
and there: whatever
we'd wished for
beyond the door.

What I'm looking for
is a golden bowl
carefully repaired
a complete world sealed
along cracked lines.

What I'm looking for
may not be there.
What you're looking for
may or may not
be me.

The rest of this poem is here.

If you like these two and you enjoy a good love poem (and even though I say I am not a love poem fan, poems like this one make me change my mind) you will really like "Syntax."

Thanks for enjoying the poetry of Maureen N. McLane with me. Be sure to check out the rest of the Poetry Friday lineup today at Mainely Write (best blog title ever???).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Poetry Friday: Good Poems for Hard Times

I don't blog too much about my personal life. First of all, it's personal. Secondly, it's not all that interesting! I will say that I've been juggling a lot of work lately, including a new job, a book manuscript that's due in 2 months, and some big presentations that are coming up. It's been pretty stressful. Reading poetry is something that calms me, but I haven't made the time to do so during these hectic and anxiety-ridden early-autumn days.

I decided to remedy this situation today, so I downloaded a pretty fantastic book that I really need to tell you about. It's called Good Poems For Hard Times. It's an anthology that was edited by Garrison Keilor. I don't know much about Keilor outside of A Prairie Home Companion. And even that isn't something I'm very familiar with. But Keilor is, without a doubt, a poetry lover, and wow, can he pick a good poem (it's an aptly titled collection). Just look at what he has to say about poetry in the book's introduction...

"Poetry is about driving the nail into the pine, killing the chicken, mowing grass, putting luggage into the car, gratitude for food, the laughter of a little girl, about our common life."


"American poetry is the truest journalism we have. What your life can be, lived bravely and independently, you can discover in poetry...Nobody will ever speak to you as straightforwardly as poetry does. Nobody."


"Poetry is a necessity as simple as the need to be touched and similarly a need that is hard to enunciate."

So I turned to GPFHT the other day while riding the bus to work. I got through a total of one poem--and not because it was no good but rather because it was so good I had to keep reading and re-reading it. It was the very first poem in the book and it's called "Break of Day" by Galway Kinnell. Take a look:

Break of Day

He turns the light on, lights
the cigarette, goes out on the porch,
chainsaws a block of green wood down the grain,
chucks the pieces into the box stove,
pours in kerosene, tosses in the match
he has set fire to the next cigarette with,
stands back while the creosote-lined, sheet-
metal rust-lengths shudder but just barely
manage to direct the cawhoosh in the stove—
which sucks in ash motes through gaps
at the bottom and glares out fire blaze
through overburn-cracks at the top—

What a perfectly captured moment. And I'm an instant fan of any poem that has the word creosote in it. You can read the rest of the poem here.

What a great day for a Poetry Friday roundup, which is hosted today at Teacher Dance. Be sure to check it out!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Poetry Friday: Persona Poems

Persona Poems, poems written from the point of view of another person or an inanimate object, are one of my favorite types of poems for students to write. It's exciting and challenging to push them to "get inside the head" of someone else. It's also an excellent way to integrate poetry writing into your reading class (write a poem from a character's perspective) or social studies (write a poem from a historical figure's point of view).

I think it's also challenging to have students write as if they were an object. One of my most successful assignments came to me when I noticed someone's hat on the roof of our school. Students wrote poems in the hat's voice that told the story of how in the world it got up there. Good fun and yet another example of how poetry can bring the oft-neglected aspect of PLAY into the classroom.

One thing that's helpful to have when assigning poetry writing assignments is mentor poems, poems written by others (be it published/famous poets or other students) that can serve as models and inspiration.

There are plenty of mentor persona poems out there, but today I found a good one while looking for some poems by one of my favorite poets, Nikki Giovanni:


by Nikki Giovanni

(for Sally Sellers)

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my 

Read the rest of the poem at I love how the poet makes me feel (I know this isn't eloquently stated, but it's true) like a quilt. And this is definitely going to be one of the mentor poems I use when teaching persona poems in the future.

Please check out the Poetry Friday roundup, which today is being hosted at Paper Tigers.

Photo Source: 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Poetry Friday: I Love Poetry 180

Last time I posted, I wrote about how much I love Ted Kooser's site, American Life in Poetry. I thought I'd share another of my favorite poetry resources today, Poetry 180.

Poetry 180 is a project started by Billy Collins and the Library of Congress as a way of providing one poem each day for high school students and teachers. You can sign up to have the poems delivered to you via RSS or email.

Here's one from the collection that I really like:

After Us

Connie Wanek

I don't know if we're in the beginning
or in the final stage.
                    -- Tomas Tranströmer

Rain is falling through the roof.
And all that prospered under the sun,
the books that opened in the morning
and closed at night, and all day
turned their pages to the light;
the sketches of boats and strong forearms
and clever faces, and of fields
and barns, and of a bowl of eggs,
and lying across the piano
the silver stick of a flute; everything
invented and imagined,
everything whispered and sung,
all silenced by cold rain.

You can read the rest of the poem here. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you enjoy the Poetry Friday round-up, which is hosted today at No Water River.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poetry Friday: One of My Favorite Poetry Sites

Do you have someone in your life who not only shares poems with you and who never EVER shares one that isn't absolutely brilliant? How they do it, I'm not sure. But I'm lucky enough to have poet laureate Ted Kooser to do just that for me.

Now, Ted and I aren't friends per se. But I do have an RSS subscription to his site, American Life in Poetry. So we're practically BFFs. And Mr. Kooser is one of those kinds of friends...every poem he shares (one per week) is pure gold. I highly recommend subscribing to his site.

Here's some evidence to support my opinion:

The Word That Is a Prayer 
By Ellery Akers
One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air

Read the rest here.

You MUST also read this one, which I featured here previously.

Night Dive 
By Peggy Shumaker
Plankton rise toward the full moon
spread thin on Wakaya’s surface.
Manta rays’ great curls of jaw
scoop backward somersaults of ocean
in through painted caves of their mouths, out
through sliced gills. Red sea fans
pulse. The leopard shark
lounges on a smooth ramp of sand,
skin jeweled with small hangers-on.
Pyramid fish point the way to the surface.

Read the rest of this poem here.

And be sure to check out the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted today at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry Friday: A.R. Ammons

Is there a greater gift than a book of poetry? A friend and colleague of mine made a special trip to my school earlier this month to deliver a book of poems by A.R. Ammons. He even wrote an inscription and highlighted his favorites! That's how poetry lovers give gifts.

So I've been sort of slowly soaking myself in Ammons's work. He's not a poet I was really familiar with beyond recognizing his name. But I'm definitely a fan.

My favorite so far is called "Staking Claim." But, I can't find a copy online that I'm authorized to use. So instead I bring you the beginning portion of a long but elegant poem called "Corsons Inlet:"

Corsons Inlet

I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning
to the sea,
then turned right along
   the surf
                         rounded a naked headland
                         and returned

   along the inlet shore:

it was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high,   
crisp in the running sand,
       some breakthroughs of sun
   but after a bit

continuous overcast:

the walk liberating, I was released from forms,   
from the perpendiculars,
      straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends   
               of sight:

                         I allow myself eddies of meaning:   
yield to a direction of significance
like a stream through the geography of my work:   
   you can find
in my sayings
                         swerves of action
                         like the inlet’s cutting edge

Explore the rest of this beauty at the Poetry Foundation. And be sure to check out the Poetry Friday
roundup at Poetry for Children

photo credit: Beaulawrence via photo pin cc

Friday, August 17, 2012

Poetry Friday: Birthday Poems

I set out this morning to find a poem about birthdays to share with my wife, whose birthday is today. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought.

When it comes to good birthday poems, it seems there have been a lot of them written from parent, to child. These don't suit the occasion at all, really.

There are also many poems that reference a specific age--15, 64, etc. These were a little too specific for my tastes.

There are also several birthday poems out there that are pretty good...but kind of dark. Yea, that won't do for me.

I did find this gem about birthdays by Stanley Kunitz, though. I like it a lot, but it might not make a good "gift:"

Passing Through

—on my seventy-ninth birthday
Nobody in the widow’s household   
ever celebrated anniversaries.   
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.   
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke   
in a fire at City Hall that gutted   
the Department of Vital Statistics.   
If it weren’t for a census report   
of a five-year-old White Male   
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester   
I’d have no documentary proof   
that I exist. You are the first,   
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

I settled on a poem called "Crossroads" by Joyce Sutphen. It references "middle age," which doesn't apply to my wife, but I like what it's trying to say, so I think I'll share it with her...and you!


by Joyce Sutphen

The second half of my life will be black 
to the white rind of the old and fading moon. 
The second half of my life will be water 
over the cracked floor of these desert years. 
I will land on my feet this time, 
knowing at least two languages and who 
my friends are. I will dress for the 
occasion, and my hair shall be 
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old 
birthday, counting the years as usual, 
but I will count myself new from this 
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift, 
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder, 
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road. 
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed, 
fingers shifting through fine sands, 
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet. 
There will be new dreams every night, 
and the drapes will never be closed. 
I will toss my string of keys into a deep 
well and old letters into the grate.

Read the rest here.

Today's Poetry Roundup location, at the time of this posting, is difficult to determine. Check with Julie Larios, who posted that she's looking into it. See you next week!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Poetry Friday: A Poet to Know--Heather McHugh

Ok, so you probably already know Heather McHugh. If you don't, though, don't feel bad. Neither did I until a few years ago. Ok, so I knew nothing about poetry until a few years ago. But that is neither here nor there.

Last week, I wrote about Elise Paschen and shared some of her amazing work. I came across a poem by Heather McHugh that I really liked, and I thought, "I should do the same thing for her." So now, I bring you "Glass House:"

Glass House

by Heather McHugh

Everything obeyed our laws and
we just went on self-improving
till a window gave us pause and
there the outside world was, moving.

Five apartment blocks swept by,
the trees and ironwork and headstones
of the next town's cemetery.
Auto lots. Golf courses. Rest homes.
Blue-green fields and perishable vistas
wars had underscored in red
were sweeping past

Read the rest of the poem here. Gosh, how I love a poem with a good ending. Make sure you click through, it's totally worth it. And I just love the word "nonplussed." I think I will start using it more.

If you thought that was good, wait until you read "Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun:"

Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun

by Heather McHugh

A book is a suicide postponed.
Too volatile, am I?  too voluble?  too much a word-person?
I blame the soup:  I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's:  sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror's not convincing-- that at-best in-
ferred person.

Check out the rest of this poem here. If you're not familiar with the ghazal poetic form (I wasn't until...well, you know), click here. And that one's ending might have been better than "Glass House's," don't you think? "McHugh, you'll be the death of me." The poet talking to herself (or her offspring???). Nice move, McHugh. Halfway to the third person" (a.k.a. the second person) is really, really smart (for lack of a better word), too. Wow! Love those poems.

Here are 2 more you'll like:
Heck, she's so good, just go to the Poetry Foundation and read all that she has there!

This week's Poetry Friday is hosted by Violet Nesdody HERE. Be sure to check it out.

Photo source:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Poetry Friday: A Poet to Love--Elise Paschen

Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago

Four Poetry Fridays in a row...after such a long hiatus, I'd say that's pretty good. Today I was going to share a short poem I found and adored. It was so good that I couldn't help but start searching for other poems by the poet. Here's the first bit of the first one I found, "Division Street" by Elise Paschen.

Division Street

by Elise Paschen

                         ". . . Prayer book and Mother, shot themselves last Sunday."
                                        Gwendolyn Brooks

The spire of Holy Name Cathedral rose like a prayer
above Chicago Avenue. I thumbed a leather-bound book
in catechism class, recited the Hail Mary. Fire and
devils blazed at night. The nuns told my mother
I had a calling.

Read the rest of the poem here at

You really have to love a short poem. I've written before about how fascinating I find them. Brevity is not a strength of mine, so I'm awestruck when a poet can weave magic using a few short lines.

But I digress...I was so enamored with this poem that I absolutely had to find more by Elise Paschen. Here's a bit from one that tells sort of a heart-wrenching and uncomfortable story, it's called "Voir Dire:"

When he phoned the next morning from another state,
saying that, after our dance,
after my exit, in full view of the guests,
the waiters at long tables
of open bars, she lunged at him, tearing his tux,
his dress shirt, scratching his chest,
drawing blood with her nails, demanding a response:
"Why can't you love only me?"

You can read the rest here, at The Poetry Foundation.

Finally, I'll share two more, that you can click these links to read. They're worth it...

Be sure to check out the Poetry Friday roundup over at On the Way to Somewhere, a new member of the Poetry Friday host club.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Poetry Friday: School is in the Air

Our friends among us who are educators are heading back to school soon. During the next five weeks or so, teachers and students will be starting another school year. For me, it will be the start of my 12th full year of teaching. (Although this year for the first time I'm working as an instructional coach, so I'm teaching teachers so to speak.)

Back to school time is always a mix of pleasure and pain. Pain when I think about all the things on my to-do list that didn't get done (I will fix you soon, storm door!) and pleasure regarding the excitement of a fresh start--new students, new goals, new ideas, etc.

So today's poem goes out to all the educators out there. It's a poem with school as the setting, but it's definitely about more than just school.

Handwriting Analysis

On the first day of fourth grade, Mrs. Hunter
collected our penmanship samples to save

until June; by then, she said, we'd write
in the handwriting we would have all our lives.

Though she probably read that in a book
on child development, I was so excited

I could hardly stand it. In nine months
my adult self would be born, she would

send me a letter; in the ways she swooped,
careened, and crossed her t's, I could

read everything I would need to know.
We were writing ourselves into the future.

Read the rest of the poem here. I think it would be a great poem to read with students. I'm curious about what they would think. And about what you think!

Next week I'll try for four Poetry Fridays in a row. I think I can do it! Until then, you should check out this week's Poetry Friday Roundup, hosted at a blog that's new to me and that's definitely worth a subscription, Life is Better With Books.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Poetry Mixtape: Poems From Outer Space

I just love a poem that gets into my head. Maybe I'm the only one that happens to? I don't know.

What I do know is that lately, when Gotye or Carly Rae Jepsen isn't stuck in my head, it's been this poem:

Mars Poetica

by Wyn Cooper

Imagine you're on Mars, looking at earth,
a swirl of colors in the distance.
Tell us what you miss most, or least.

Let your feelings rise to the surface.
Skim that surface with a tiny net. 
Now you're getting the hang of it.

Tell us your story slantwise,
streetwise, in the disguise
of an astronaut in his suit.     

Read the rest of the poem HERE.

I just love the title's play on "Ars Poetica," and other subtleties such as the narration. Who's talking? Aliens? Cylons?

I also like the idea of telling a story "slantwise..." how does one do that exactly?

And the ending...the ending is tremendous: "how words mean things / we didn't know we knew." You're compelled to pause and think about that for a bit, and that's just beautiful. I would definitely enjoy teaching and discussing this poem with students, wouldn't you?

If you're like me when you read this, you get to wondering if there are any other poems out there about outer space. Well, you're in luck! I decided to make a little Poetry Mix Tape for you:

Ok, so some of those aren't exactly about outer space, especially the last few. But they have a celestial tilt to them, at least.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Please be sure to check out the amazing things happening at the Poetry Friday Roundup, being hosted today HERE.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: Ending the Hiatus

I've had every intention of posting more often. I apologize, dear readers. Obligations with my teaching job and my side gig as CEO of a small educational consulting start-up have been more demanding than expected.

But I return today with a renewed commitment to at the very least participating in a few Poetry Fridays each month. I've been collecting poems with the plan of blogging about today I want to share a few that stood out.


The first is one that I'm sure I've shared before, by one of my absolute most favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye. It's called "Famous," and I read it at the end-of-year ceremony for my fifth graders, who finished elementary school last month. I think it was fitting for the occasion.

FamousBy Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

Read the rest of the poem here at Poetry Out Loud. It's nothing short of brilliant.

To make up for my absence, here are two more poems I discovered. The first would be great for classroom use...the descriptions are incredibly vivid. The's one of those I'm not sure why I like it. But I do. A lot.

To The Field Of Scotch Broom That Will Be Buried By The New Wing Of The Mall

by Lucia Perillo

   Half costume jewel, half parasite, you stood
swaying to the music of cash registers in the distance
while a helicopter chewed the linings
of the clouds above the clear-cuts.
And I forgave the pollen count
while cabbage moths teased up my hair
before your flowers fell apart when they
turned into seeds. How resigned you were
to your oblivion, unlistening to the cumuli
as they swept past. And soon those gusts
will mill you, when the backhoe comes
to dredge your roots, but that is not
what most impends, as the chopper descends
to the hospital roof so that somebody's heart
can be massaged back into its old habits.

Read the rest here at

Saw You There

by Ander Monson

"Carrie says I should make my connections into a poem." —Dennis Etzel Jr.
   Sawed you there, through you there, girl whom I name
Carrie, shine of sun on bonnet-handle at that Walgreens 
on 28th. A Friday night. It looked like you came straight
from fighting something that looked like lightning.

You were all scorched up. Tired look but with a residue
of glow, not in the family way, as they used to say, 
and as I still do, since I venerate the old, but filled 
to the heart with stars. Looking light years away, the way

you operated that Redbox: how can a girl seem so far 
from Earth while at a Redbox?

Read the rest here at

I hope you enjoyed these three gems. I hope to be back next Friday with more. 

Be sure to check out the other Poetry Friday posts at today's host, Jone at Check it Out.