Linda Kulp Trout

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Poetry Friday

I subscribe to American Life in Poetry, and it's helped me discover some wonderful poets.  This week's poem was "Veil" by Todd Davis.  It was the first time I'd read anything by Mr. Davis.   I enjoyed "Veil" and wanted learn more about the poet.  His website includes several sample poems including the title poem for his collection Some Heaven. I was very touched by the emotion and spirituality of his poems.


In this low place between mountains
fog settles with the dark of evening.
Every year it takes some of those
we love—a car full of teenagers
on the way home from a dance, or
a father on his way to the paper mill,
nightshift the only opening.

-Todd Davis, all rights reserved
You can read the rest of the poem here.

Some Heaven

The rabbit’s head is caught
between the slats of the fence,
and in its struggle it has turned
so the hind legs nearly touch
the nose—neck broken, lungs failing.
My boys ask me to do something
but see no mercy in my plan.

-Todd Davis, all rights reserved

You can read the rest of the poem here. This link will take you to Todd Davis' homepage. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Bullying has been in the news a lot lately. Most of us have been bullied. Bullying isn’t new, but it seems to be increasing in intensity.

For the past two years, our school has participated in an anti-bullying program. Through role-playing activities, students and teachers are taught about the effects of bullying and how they can help stop it. Kids are still being bullied, but we've seen an increase in reporting it by the victims and by kids who witness it. When bullying is reported, all the kids that were involved (the bully, the target, bystanders, etc.) receive counseling. We are working hard to make our school a safe place for all kids.

Over the years, I've known many kids who have been the victims of bullying. It's a heartbreaking part of my job. Last night, I couldn't sleep so I wrote this poem. My hope is to work on it some more so when my students read it, they'll see that they can take an active role in stopping a bully. Wonderful readers, your suggestions are much appreciated.


Some guys at school
make fun of Jamie
because he’s overweight.
Guys who used to be his friend
before Billy came to our school
and decided he didn’t like Jamie.

Now they call him ugly names
make faces at him
laugh when he walks by—
“ Oink” at him in the hall.

Jamie is always alone,
sits alone, works alone,
eats lunch alone.
Everyone stays away—
too afraid to be his friend.

I stay away too- afraid.
But Jamie is nice to me.
He offered to help when
I didn’t understand fractions.
He gave me a pencil when
I lost mine.

I feel sorry for him
but I don’t know what to do,
so I do nothing—

I’m afraid
if I speak up
they will pick on me too.
I’m afraid I’ll be called a snitch
I’m afraid I’ll end up alone—
just like Jamie.

Then tonight
I heard on TV
about a kid like Jamie
who ended his life
because he couldn’t take
being bullied
any longer.

I thought about Jamie
the way his eyes always
look so sad
The way he always
looks so scared.

And I decided
I’m telling

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Best Books: First Dog's White House Christmas

First Dog is back, and he is ready to celebrate Christmas. I hadn’t planned on blogging today,  but when this adorable picture book arrived on my doorstep, I had to tell you about it. This is the second First Dog book written by father-daughter team J Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello. It is not a collection of poems, but since one of our most beloved poets wrote it, I thought it deserved a spot on Poetry Friday.

It all starts when First Dog invites his friends from around the world to celebrate Christmas at the White House. He asks each of them to share a Christmas tradition from their country. Through the  warmth and humor of First Dog, readers learn some pretty cool facts about this special holiday. For instance, did you know that in Germany, they hang a glass pickle on the tree and the first child to find it gets an extra present? I can’t wait to hear my students’ reactions when I read them this book in December. It will fit perfectly with the essay they write about their own family traditions.

Another thing I love about this book is that readers learn about a breed of dog from each country. The descriptions of the dogs along with Tim Bowers’ gorgeous illustrations reveal each canine's personality and had me laughing out loud. Just picture this lovable character, “The visitor from Italy, the Neapolitan Mastiff, had a face that looked like a map of the Alps— without the snow.” He really is very cute.

This book was so much fun to read, I hope more First Dog books will follow. Thanks Pat and Beth for a book my grand-daughter is sure to love for years to come.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Saturday is the last day of my challenge to write a poem a day during the month of July.  It's been a learning experience, both difficult and fun.  My goal was to have at least thirty poems I could continue to revise and polish during the school year.  I ended up with about twenty.  Some days I went back to revise the poem from the previous day and never got around to writing a new one. Even though I didn't meet my goal, I feel good about the experience, and I'm glad stuck with it.

This week I worked on writing poems that tell a story.

North Star

The summer our parents got divorced, my
brother and I were sent to the country
to stay with Grandma. I was eight, Jim was
ten— not knowing then how our lives would change—
we were wishing for something permanent.

Grandma knew
what we needed.

Every evening after supper
she led us to the backyard to watch
stars snuggle into the folds of night.

Tracing constellations
she explained
They change with the seasons,
but some things stay—

She taught us how to follow the Big
Dipper to the North Star— with a promise
it would be there when we need
to find our way home.

While Mom and Dad were splitting
a house of furniture and dishes—
Grandma kept Jim and me nestled
in the constant compass
of her love —

Thursday, July 22, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: Miss Myrtle's Table

Miss Myrtle's Table

Every Saturday
Mom and I clean
Miss Myrtle’s house.

I like cleaning the dining room best,
it’s toasty warm in winter,
cool as a peppermint stick in summer.
The smell of cinnamon buns baking floats
from the kitchen.

And three tall windows let sunshine tiptoe
across the room all morning long.

I glide the dust mop over the hardwood floor
sweeping it around and around the big
chocolate brown table that stands
in the center of the room surrounded
by twelve matching chairs.

The table is covered with lace
like a hundred tiny snowflakes
carefully stitched together.

Cradled on top—
a dozen crystal candy dishes
each filled with sweet treasures:
lemon drops, caramel creams
butterscotch, bonbons, and lollipops.

I circle the table polishing it
watching wrappers sparkle like jewels.
I look over the candies carefully
imagining the liquid of lemon,
the crunch of peanut brittle,
the creaminess of chocolate kisses.

But I don’t touch them
because I know it’s not polite—

At the end of the day
Miss Myrtle pays Mom
and offers me the pick of the table.

It’s so hard to choose.

When I finally do,
I unwrap the candy
and place it on my tongue
holding it there
allowing it to melt
all the sweetness
will last.

When I was a little girl, we lived next door to my great-aunt.  She had big family dinners every Sunday, and there was always the most delicious smells coming from her oven.  Her house was filled with beautiful furniture, an organ, a piano (things I'd never seen in any one's house.) The thing that amazed me the most was a huge table with beautiful candy dishes filled with every type of candy your could imagine.  It looked so magical in the sunlight. 

More than forty years have passed since I last saw that table, and yet I still remember the excitement of choosing any candy I wanted.  Sometimes, she would give me a bag of candy to take home. I felt rich as I shared my bounty with my brother and sisters.  Even the bellyache was worth it!

To enjoy more poetry fun, head on over to Language, Literacy, Love for today's Poetry Friday Roundup!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: Poems about Objects

Do you have an object that you never or hardly ever use, but you keep it because it reminds you of someone or someplace special? When I look around my house, I see all sorts of things that I don't use, but I could never part with them.  For instance, there's the mantle clock my mother gave me that hasn’t worked in years, a tarnished necklace from my first boyfriend (almost 40 yrs.ago), a baby spoon bent from getting stuck in the disposal, movie ticket stubs, a cocktail umbrella from a night out, and  a stuffed bunny my 12 yr. old cat played with when he was a kitten. Some people would see these items as junk, but to me they are all treasures. I keep them because they hold memories, and looking at them keeps a special time in my life alive. This week I wrote poems about objects.  I had a hard time coming up with the "so what" endings I was aiming for, but I decided to share two of them anyway. I welcome your suggestions.

Dad's Corvette

Every Saturday
Dad waxes his Corvette

until it shines
Candy apple red

But he hardly ever drives it anymore
with its engine that rattles and roars
so loud you can hear it
two streets away
(so embarrassing).

When Dad asks
if I want to go for a ride
I just roll my eyes
and shake my head

This morning when
I asked Mom why he keeps
that good-for-nothing car
she said it’s not just a car,
for Dad, it’s about memories

of their first date
and how they got soaked
in a sudden spring shower
before Dad put the top up

of me age three
sitting behind the wheel
pretending to drive

of going to car shows
with Grandpa
the year before he died

Now I understand
It’s like my collection of postcards—
they help me remember
all the places I’ve been

So next time Dad asks
if I want to go for a ride
I won’t roll my eyes
or shake my head—
I’ll  just smile and say

Grandma's Teacup

Grandma’s favorite teacup
sits on the kitchen shelf
she gave it to me to remember
our tea parties—
       the two of us sipping
       cinnamon apple tea
       eating oatmeal raisin cookies
       and playing card games

But every year that passes
I remember less and less
So now and then
I take her teacup down
and make cinnamon apple tea
just the way she showed me
and all the sweet memories
of Grandma
float back
with every sip

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at my juicy little universe.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: My Poetry Month So Far...

This week I did a lot of playing with poetry exercises and forms. I didn’t put much time into revising because my goal was just to have fun and get some rough drafts down.

One exercise I tried came from Charles Ghigna’s Father Goose blog. The idea is to write metaphors for a poem. This would be an excellent activity for introducing the concept of metaphor to students. You can check out the details of the exercise here.

I wrote four little "poems" comparing a poem to all sorts of things such as a skateboard, a comet, and a kitten. I wrote this one after looking at a picture of my grand-daughter, Evie.

A poem is a baby
Smiling up at you
Full of surprise and wonder
Discovering something new

Another picture of Evie inspired this little poem.

Swimsuit Edition

Those models in that magazine
They think they’re pretty cute—
But they haven’t seen me yet
In my brand new bathing suit

I also worked on some tanka.

Left Out

Boys shooting baskets
laughter bounces through the air
I sit on the porch
watching them and wondering

Why won't they ask me to play?


Maggie’s father left
in the middle of the night
without a good-bye—
It’s been over a year now
she still waits for his return.

No letter, no calls
she believes he once loved her—
Did he change his mind
wanting his freedom instead
of a daughter who still waits.

A special thank you to Amy (The Poem Farm), her encouraging words were much appreciated this week!

Carol's Corner is our host for Poetry Friday this week.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Poetry Friday

For the past ninety-two days, I've  been enjoying the very talented Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's daily poems.  In fact, I've enjoyed her work so much that she has inspired me to jump on board and try my hand at writing poems for the month of July.  I"m only working part-time this month, so it's the perfect time to try this experiment.

This month I'm hoping to accomplish three things: to get into a daily writing routine, to gain more confidence in my writing, and to have a group of poem sketches I can revise and polish during the school year. 

I'm  nervous about sharing this commitment, but I need to make myself accountable.   To stay on track, I'll post an update every Friday.  I don't have the time or confidence to post daily poems, but I promise to be honest about my progress. 

I am grateful to Amy for encouraging me to try this experiment. If you want to read some great poems head on over to  The Poem Farm. Amy is also our host this week for Poetry Friday.

Today I'm sharing the first poem sketch  from MyPoWriMo. I decided to make a list of some of my favorite things about summer, and this is what I came up with so far.

Summer Fun

Snow cones, sweet tea, lemonade
Ice cream, picnics,and parades

Riding skateboards, scooters, bikes
Sunday morning nature hikes

Baseball games played in the park
Catching fireflies after dark

Watching movies, staying up late
Sleeping in way past eight

Playing outside in the sun—
Let’s go have some summer fun!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: Dizzy Dinosaurs

Dizzy Dinosaurs is a new I CAN READ! collection of dinosaur poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, available February 2011. Young children love dinosaurs, and they are going to love this funny book. Barry Gott's detailed illustrations are hilarious and reflect the personalities of these very silly dinosaurs. I feel so fortunate to have my poem, "Saltopus" included in Dizzy Dinosaurs.


I am Saltopus.
I am nasty. I am mean.
My teeth are sharp as daggers.
My legs are short and lean.

I dine on luscious lizards.,
bugs are tasty snacks.
I am a mighty hunter—
I'm ready to attack.

I am Saltopus.
My brain is rather small.
I could be a Dino King—
But I'm just one foot

Thank you, Lee for including my poem. Thank you Barry Gott, your illustration is sure to spark lots of laughter!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


The school where I teach is known for its diverse population of students. I feel so fortunate to hear their stories, learn about their cultures, and to see their amazing faces. As my students work together, they quickly learn that they are much more alike than different.

I'm always on the lookout for literature that inspires a sense of community among my students. I found a collection of poetry I can't wait to share with them next August.

Amazing Faces is the latest anthology by master poet Lee Bennett Hopkins. The collection of sixteen vivid poems celebrate our diversity. Together the poems and illustrations bring to life "faces that reveal the universal feelings we all share. " Chris Soentpiet's detailed illustrations not only complement the poems, but they also honor the faces depicted on the page.

An impressive group of poets including: Joseph Bruchac, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, Pat Mora, Carole Boston Weatherford, Janet S. Wong, Jane Yolen, Mary Cronin, and others contributed works for Amazing Faces.

One of my poet heroes, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, introduces the theme with a poem near and dear to my heart. The accompanying illustration shows a mother holding up her baby. Her poem says exactly what every mother thinks when she looks into the face of her child, "Amazing!" Here is an excerpt from this beautifully crafted poem.

Amazing Face

Amazing, your face,

It shows there will be trails to follow,
porches to wave from, wonder from,
play on.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, all rights reserved

I recently asked friend and KitLit blogger, Mary Cronin, to share the inspiration for her lovely poem "Firefighter Face."

"I enjoy shining a light on the work of firefighters in my writing; my father was a New York City firefighter for over thirty years. While he never talked about “the job” at home, we knew he loved his work and took great pride in it. “Firefighter Face” was inspired by a picture in a photography book about New York firefighting. In the photo, a firefighter pauses, grimy and exhausted; yet there’s no mistaking the expression on his face, the look of satisfaction in a job well done. I wanted to capture that amazing expression in poetic form, and I dedicate the poem to firefighters and their loved ones."

Firefighter Face

Trickles of sweat etch silvery trails
down wind-bitten cheeks coated with ash.
Curtains of vapor, with each breath he exhales,
wreathe his tired smile, his drooping mustache.

Framed by smoke-smudged wrinkles,
soot-black eyebrows cannot hide
a flash of blue eyes that twinkle
with strength and triumphant pride.

Mary E. Cronin, all rights reserved

Amazing Faces has been awarded a starred review by Publishers Weekly. You can read an interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins and Chris Soentpiet here. As a teacher and writer, I love reading the inspiration behind a poem. You can read stories behind the poems in Amazing Faces here.

Amazing Faces makes my Best Books list for teachers and poetry lovers of all ages.

Sneak Peek: I had also planned to blog about another of Lee's anthologies due to be published next spring, but it's getting late and I can hardly stay awake so I'll hold off until next week and just give a sneak peek. Dizzy Dinosaurs is a collection of silly dinosaur poems. A fun fact is several KidLit bloggers including: Laura Salas, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Douglas Florian, and I have poems in this volume. Dizzy Dinosaurs is available for pre-order on Amazon. I'll share some excerpts soon, so stay tuned!

Two Writing Teachers is hosting today's Poetry Friday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: What I Learned from...

Children often think that learning only goes on in the classroom. I do an end of year writing activity that gets my students thinking about what they've learned outside the classroom.

I start by reading an excerpt from Robert Fulghums's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Then we brainstorm the experiences and activities they've participated in during the year that helped them learn some important life lessons. Their wisdom at such a young age always blows me away. I thought I'd share a few of their poems with you today.

What I Learned from Lacrosse

Patience is everything,
Rushing doesn’t work.
Pay attention to the rules.
Play fair.

Working as a team
is better than alone.
Be kind to others
even if they aren’t
your friends.

And remember
practice makes perfect.
Never give up,
no matter how
hard your goal is!


What I Learned from Fishing

Violence is never rewarded,
so don’t hurt anyone or anything.
A little bit of friendly competition
can make life even more enjoyable.
The best in you comes out when
you’re having fun.
When the fish don’t bite,
there’s always tomorrow.

Untangle your own line.
When you lose a fish,
just put more bait on your hook
and try again.
Patience is always rewarded.
But most importantly,
the size of your catch doesn’t matter
as much as having fun does.


What I Learned from Soccer

Play the game you’re given
with everything you’ve got.

Sometimes the best decisions
are made on the spot.

You should never give up
until the final whistle blows.

Don’t forget about your teammates,
you don’t walk on the field alone.

Charge toward your goal,
and never quit trying.

Your’ gonna’ get fouled on,
so there’s no point in crying.

Listen to other people,
but follow your own heart.

Don’t over think it,
just play the game smart.

Sometime you will fail,
but never have shame.

Remember not to hate the players,
instead love the game!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I live in an area that has a huge deer population. They are beautiful, graceful and very dangerous. I've had many close calls with deer jumping out in front of my car. Somehow I managed to avoid hitting them. That changed last fall when I was riding in a car that struck a deer. A doe suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The driver swerved. It was too late. The deer rolled over the hood of the car and was thrown to the opposite side of the road.

While the driver got out to gather broken pieces of bumper, grill, and headlights, I stayed in the car and watched the doe, still alive, still moving. She slowly raised her head and tried to stand, but she was too weak. I knew there was nothing I could do except pray that death would happen quickly and end her pain. I didn't want her to die alone so we sat silently in the car and waited until she was gone. It broke my heart to watch her eyes close and her head drift down onto the cold asphalt .

Yesterday, I came across "Traveling Through the Dark" by William Stafford. It brought back the sadness I felt that last fall. I love the way William Stafford can tell such a powerful story in just a few short lines of poetry.

Traveling Through The Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer

dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I've wanted to blog about this book for some time, but keep getting sidetracked with other things. Well, here it is Thursday night and I'm knee-high in papers to grade and chores to do, but I wanted to share this book now so that teachers can put it on their summer reading list.

One of the best books I've found for teaching poetry is Betsy Franco's Conversations with a Poet: Inviting Poetry in K-12 Classrooms, Richard Owen Publishers, 2005. There's a lot to love about this book if you're a teacher or if you're someone who wants to learn more about writing poetry. One of the many things I love is that reading this book really does feel like you're having a conversation with Betsy.

Conversations with a Poet is divided into two sections. Section I is titled "Rationales and Practical Ideas for Teaching Poetry. It discusses teaching poetry from a poet's point of view. Many of our favorite children's poets (Lee Bennett Hopkins, Marilyn Singer, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Bobbi Katz, etc.) share information about their writing process and thoughts on poetry.

Here's a small sampling of what else you'll find in Section I: understanding rhyme and line breaks, revision, assessing poetry, and ways to present and publish student work. I especially love the chapter on the importance of teacher demonstration. I've never understood how someone who doesn't like to write could teach others to write. In my opinion, teacher modeling is essential. If you want them to write, you must write!

If you're a teacher, you're going to want to give Betsy Franco a huge hug! Section II is titled "Unpacking the Poetry Forms," and boy does she do a good job of showing us how to unpack them! This section contains 16 poetry forms with their historical information, characteristics of the form, everyday life parallels of the form, how the form meets objectives and curriculum standards, samples for various levels (primary, elementary, middle/high school), think throughs to get us in the mind of the poet, and a bibliography of other samples of the form. Didn't I tell you this book is a gem! Betsy knows how busy we teachers are, and she's given us everything we need to teach our students the joy of reading and writing poetry.

There is so much more I could say about Conversations with a Poet, but the timer on the dryer just went off, I have two cats demanding to be fed, and then there's those papers to grade (gulp!). This is a very quick overview. I wish I had this book when I first started teaching! I'm amazed at how many resources are packed in this one book. It's reader friendly, but most importantly, it's teacher friendly. Thank you Betsy Franco!

Friday, May 21, 2010


A month ago, my doctor called to say that my x-ray turned out abnormal. Within days, I was scheduled to see a surgeon who recommended a biopsy. It took a week to get the results. Then two more biopsies were scheduled. By that time, I was beginning to panic. Waiting for the results for each biopsy was excruciatingly difficult. The more time that passed, the more worried I became. Trying to keep my mind focused on my students each day was hard, but at least I was busy. I spent my evenings on the Internet reading everything I could about the diagnosis I feared would become a reality.

I couldn't sleep so I spent my nights with my dear friend, Poetry. I read and reread poems that brought me comfort and gave me hope. I read Trisha's interviews with children's poets. I read the original poems Greg posted over at GottaBook. And I looked forward to reading every post each Poetry Friday. Your poems, interviews and book reviews were a welcome escape.

Thankfully, the biopsies came back okay. I still need some follow-up tests in a few months, but I'm feeling so much relief, I just want to enjoy the present moment. I am so grateful for each of you for putting your heart into sharing your passion for poetry with us every week. I've been reading your blogs for years and feel like many of you are old friends. Your words touch me and make me smile. There's magic in the Internet and the way it connects us to one another. Poetry Friday is a perfect example of how we can make a difference in the lives of others we've never even met.

Last night when I was trying to decide which poem to share today, Jane Kenyon's wonderful poem, "Otherwise" came to mind. I love how she reminds us to enjoy life's simple pleasures and enjoy what we have right now.


I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: My First Grandchild

My beautiful granddaughter arrived on Monday, and I have been on Cloud 9 ever since. She is perfect in every way. It's amazing how someone so tiny can change your life and your priorities.. The only heartbreak has been that she is still in NICU. I haven't been able to see her or hold her. Through my son's kindness, I've gotten to see lots of pictures and some videos of her.

Watching my son these past few days has been very emotional for me. He didn't leave his wife's side from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday when she was released from the hospital. Every day the two of them spend every possible moment in NICU caring for their baby girl.. He reads her stories and plays music for her while Mommy rocks her and tries to get her to nurse. When my son speaks of his daughter, the love in his voice is overwhelming. I'm so proud of both of them. They're already the most wonderful parents.

My First Grandchild

Not long ago
I sat in small room
with your mommy and daddy
watching your image
appear on a big white screen.

It was so exciting
to see the shape of your face
those chubby cheeks
long delicate fingers
and ten tiny toes.

You were a dream
in my heart—
waiting two more months
for your birth
seemed like an eternity.

But today,
my angel,
a surprise—
you arrived
six weeks early.

And I can’t wait
to hold you
to spoil you
to tell you stories
to watch you grow.

You are
my first thought
every morning
my first prayer
every night.

I'll love you forever
and I’m so grateful
God has given me you
Evelyn Marie—
My first grandchild.

My Son
You don't raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons,
they'll turn out to be heroes, even if it's just in your own eyes.~
-Walter M. Schirra, Sr.
The picture you sent—
You cradling your newborn baby
in your strong muscular arms,
your blue eyes gazing down
into her tiny blue eyes,
brought me to tears.
I have never seen you so happy.

I want you to know
how very proud I am of
the man you have become.
and even though you are a daddy,
you will always be my baby.
My love and support
are with you always.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: After the Storm

After the Storm

I like watching does
and their fawns trudge
through deep snow to
nibble sparse wet
grass beneath
my deck

I like watching them
balance on thin hind legs
stretching their necks
reaching for last ripe
crabapples on
my tree

And I like watching them
gather into a herd then
stroll back to the woods
leaving behind a
trail of hearts
in the snow

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing: Making Connections

Right now I'm sitting on my deck, a chilly breeze is blowing across the snow and the air feels fresh. There is a wooded area behind my house complete with a variety of wildlife and a gurgling stream.

Two squirrels in a nearby tree chatter as they jump from limb to wobbly limb (reminding me of Kristine George's poem "Tree Traffic"). A flash of cardinal wings his way just above the glistening white snow.

It's late afternoon and the deer have come to graze on the little patches of grass near the stream and below my deck. There are eight of them, six does and two young ones. At this distance, t's hard to tell for sure if they are all does. (Bucks don't have antlers during the winter months. ) All eight are very thin. I wish I could feed them, but I know that's the wrong thing to do. Feeding them would make them dependent on humans We need to sell our house before we can retire (way too expensive to live here) and won't be around to feed the deer so they would probably starve.

Seven of the deer are busy grazing, one is staring at me. I think she must be the guard. Every now and then, they all stop and watch me, but this particular doe never turns away for a second! Finally, she starts to eat while two others key their eyes on me. I sit very still so I don't frighten them away. I feel so fortunate to be able to observe these graceful creatures.

I love it here. I feel peaceful and inspired to write. The words come without effort. I know this is far from a polished piece of writing, but maybe it could be the start of something more. Maybe the secret of writing is finding a topic you're actually passionate about. Could it be that simple?

For a long time, I've been asking myself if my goal is to get published, to write what I love, or to write to make a living. My dream would be to combine all three. Stuggling to figure it out has kept me stuck and jumping from project to project instead of finishing anything. So maybe if I connect my desire to write with topics I'm passionate about, I'll actually finish something.

Friday, February 19, 2010

POETRY FRIDAY: Remembering Lucille Clifton

In honor of Lucille Clifton who passed away last Saturday, I'm sharing one of her poems that I use with my students. I first read "Listen Children" in the poetry collection for children, Pass It On: African-American Poetry for Children. This is a wonderful collection with poems by some of my favorite poets: Nikki Grimes, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, Mari Evans, Counteee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Henry Dumas, and others. The title of the collection comes from the last line in "Listen Children."

Listen Children

listen children
keep this in the place
you have for keeping
keep it all ways

we have never hated black

You can read the rest of this poem and other poems by Lucille Clifton here.

Pass it On: African-American Poetry for Children selected by Wade Hudson, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper, Scholastic, 1993.Listen Children

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing and Fear

A few years ago, a friend wanted me to go snow tubing. My first response was, "I'm too old for that." Since he's close to my age, he wasn't buying it. I continued with every excuse I could think of: "I don't have the right clothes to wear, I have too much to do, I'll try it another time." I was afraid of failing, and he knew it. He wouldn't relent unitl I agreed to try tubing down a hill in our neighborhood.

Walking to the top of that hill, my mind was racing. What if I get hurt, what if I hurt someone else, and what will people watching me think? Tubing was not in my comfort zone, but my friend wouldn't let me back out. Then, suddenly there I was whooshing down the hill. Immersed in the experience, the fear was gone and I was actually enjoying myself.

It's the same way with writing, especially writing poetry. My poems come from my life and putting myself out there for everyone to see is scary. Fear blocks me from writing the truth. What if I cross the line and expose too much and look like a fool? What if I reveal something that hurts someone I love? What if I don't have anything worth saying? When fear takes over, I start censoring every word, and my poems feel artifical.. They don't mean anythigng to me or to anyone who reads them.

Even when I'm writing in my journal, I sometimes censor my thoughts, especially when I'm writing about a family member. But, mostly, my journal is the place I feel safe enough to write the truth, my truth. This is the place I can write without fear. This is the place I am free to immerse myself in whatever I happen to be writing. So, how can I transfer that fearlessness to the writing I want to share with others? Do professional writers ever experience this kind of fear, or have they learned to overcome it?

This week I've been thinking a lot about Lucille Clifton. Her poems came from her life experiences. I think she might understand what I'm feeling. She wrote about fear in her poem, "telling our stories."

telling our stories

the fox came every evening to my door,
asking for nothing. my fear
trapped me inside, hoping to drive her
away but she sat till morning, watching.

You can read the rest of the poem and a tribute to Lucille Clifton here.

How about you, have you ever experienced fear when you sit down to write? Do you have any tips for moving past the fear?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SNOW! SNOW! and more SNOW!

Two blizzards in four days left us with a lot of snow! Schools have been closed since Feb. 5. Driving continues to be a challenge with huge piles of snow EVERYWHERE!

Although I'm not happy knowing we've lost our spring break and will be in school until the 4th. of July, for me, the snow was a gift. Normally, the days and weeks fly by so fast I feel like a hamster on a wheel- spinnning and spinning but not getting where I want to be. Like most people, I'm always overscheduling and thinking I have to be the one to get the job done.

The snow has been a blessing because it forced me to slow the pace! The first five days were busy, busy, busy with shoveling and baking and doing household chores. Then finally, finally things slowed down. I finally ran out of "have to dos" and had time for some "wanna dos." For the first time since last summer, I had time to think, time to read, and even some time to write. School will be back in session tomorrow, and things will get crazy again. But for now, I'm going to have a cup of tea and enjoy my time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This week the American Life in Poetry column featured a poem by Lyn Lifshin that I liked so much, I wanted to share it with you.

The Other Fathers

would be coming back
from some war, sending
back stuffed birds or
handkerchiefs in navy
blue with Love painted
on it. Some sent telegrams
for birthdays, the pastel
letters like jewels. The
magazines were full of fathers who
were doing what had
to be done, were serving,

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Writing to Inspire

I love reading articles and books about writing. I have four entire shelves of writers' memoirs and writing how-to books. Maybe I read so many of them because I'm still trying to figure out where I fit in the world of writing.

Lately, I've been reading INSPIRE! WRITING FROM THE SOUL by Linda C. Apple. Linda has written many stories for the CHICKEN SOUP series. I love the CHICKEN SOUP books. I've found inspiration and comfort in the stories, and judging by the popularity of the series, so have many other people.

When I heard that Linda Apple had written a how-to book about writing for the inspirational market, I had to have it. The book is a combination of writing exercises, marketing information, and the author's personal revelations about how she came to write inspirational stories.

One exercise I've been working on asks, "What is your landscape?" (p.23). To find the landscapes of your life, begin by listing the influential people and events in your life. Then make a separate sheet for each item. Each day, choose one (event or person) and list every memory that comes to mind. This excercise is similar to the Nancy Atwell's writing territories exercise I use to help my middle school students find meaningful writing topics, but the questions are a bit more guided.

I was surprised by the things I remembered when I listed my "landscapes." I wrote a poem, "Thrity-Two Cents" about an event I had forgotten for many years. At first, I worried the poem would give a negative impression of my mother and wasn't sure if I should post it on my blog. But, this quote from the book, "We cannot change the pain of the past, but we can give health to the future," reminded me that by telling our stories, we might help someone else, help ourselves understand the experience better, and make peace with the past.

What I like most about INSPIRE! is its encouraging tone, the writing exercises, and the marketing tips. One of my writing goals has always been to write something that would help and inspire others. I don't know if I can do that, but I'd like to try. I need to work on the "landscapes" exercise a bit more to find out if the inspirational market might be right for me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year, A New Blog

For years, I've written my thoughts, joys, and frustrations about writing in my journal. After looking through some of the entries, I started wondering how other writers handle the ups and downs of the writing life. There's so many questions I wish I could ask them.
Journals are great, but they are usually private so I decided that this year, instead of writing in my journal about my writing experiences, I'll blog about them. I'm hoping other writers will join in to share their thoughts and experiences so we can learn from each other. I named the blog Word-by-Word because this year I'm focusing on taking small steps to accomplish my goals. I hope you'll stop by.
Welcome to Word-by-Word! The beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to try something new. Writing is mostly a solitary act, and sometimes we feel alone in our experiences. As someone who is still learning about the craft and business of writing, I wanted a place to share random thoughts and connect with other writers. My hope is that the blog will be interactive with an exchange of ideas and support. If you have an aspect of writing you'd like us to discuss, please leave a message in the comments section, and I'll include it in an upcoming post. I hope to hear from you!

Writing and Self-Doubt

Most days when school is in session there's little time to do anything except school work and household chores. This holiday season, thanks to the blizzard, I've had two weeks off from school. The perfect time to get some writing done.

Every morning I told myself that I'd block out some time for writing, but the days passed with very little time spent writing. It seemed like there was always something else that needed my attention. It often happens this way, when I have a lot of time to write, I don't. Now, with only two days before I return to a busy teaching schedule, I'm questioning why I haven't worked on any of my projects.

Is it because I don't really want to write? I don't think that's it. I make time to write in my journal almost every day. I write emails to friends and family. I write poems, stories, and essays to use in my classroom (not great pieces of literature, but they serve the purpose.)

Am I just being a lazy procrastinator? Hmmm, maybe, but anytime I have a deadline to meet (writing or otherwise), I always finish early. I just finished a work-for-hire project where I wrote 30 short poems (4-6 lines each) in about 3 weeks. It was an assignment. I signed a contract. It had to be done, so I got right to work. In fact, I've had a number of poems and essays published, but almost all of those were "assignments" with deadlines.

Am I someone who wants to "have written" instead of actually doing the writing? I don't that that's it either. When I finally get started writing, I'm totally immersed in it and lose all track of time.

So what is keeping me from accomplishing my writing goals? Could it be the fear that I'm really not very good at writing? Every time I start working on one of my "projects" Self Doubt jumps up on the keyboard and growls, "Who do you think you are? Look at the great poems and stories other people are writing. You're wasting your time. No one wants to read your writing, leave it to the professionals!"

Suddenly, my mind is paralyzed just like the day I had a panic attack and couldn't make a left-hand turn on a busy intersection. Car horns blared , a man in a pick-up truck shouted obscenities out of his window, and my two young sons in the back seat begged me to, "Go!" I couldn't think. I couldn't move. Writing feels like that sometimes.

Funny, how it never happens when I write in my journal or emails or poems just for me. No one judges that kind of writing, do they? No worries about looking foolish or embarrassing myself for not using enough imagery or the right words. I just write for the joy of it.

So, here I am on New Year's Day with big dreams of writing poems and stories that inspire and encourage young readers. I've tried to move on to something else and give up my dream, but the writing bug won't let go.

How do I overcome self-doubt and get on with the writing? Would I be happier keeping my writing to myself? Will I ever know if my writing is truly good enough for others to want to read? These are the questions I need to answer for myself.

Have you ever struggled with feelings of self-doubt? If so, I'd love to know what you've done to overcome it.

You can read about how another writer deals with self-doubt here.


A New Year Begins

Like a field of fresh fallen snow
with possibilities

unblemished, unspoiled, unbroken
gone too soon.

Happy New Year!
May all of your hopes and dreams come true!

You can read other poems about beginnings and endings here.