A Sketch in Time: Poets Painting the Moment

We are excited to again celebrate National Poetry Month with the help of poet Shirley McPhillips, author of Poem Central. She introduces us to “word sketches” as a way of slowing down, noticing details, finding the wonder if everyday details. She offers some ideas for trying out word sketches in the classroom.

A Sketch in Time: Poets Painting the Moment
By Shirley McPhillips

The poet, in the novelty of his images, is always the origin of language.

—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

One morning this fall, I found myself walking in circles—this time by design. A teen’s Boy Scout project resulted in fashioning a labyrinth on the lush green lawn of his church. A labyrinth—not a maze intended to confuse, but a circular pathway for thoughtful or meditative walking, intended to soothe and heal. At first it was hard to quiet my mind. Walking the labyrinth over time, however, my feet found a rhythm. My mind centered as if following a heartbeat.

Yet still, the rattling times we live in can knock attention, rapid fire, from one matter to the next. Even nature seems to join in with erratic weather patterns—disorienting record heat in February followed by epic arctic blasts. But the lesson of the labyrinth becomes a touchstone: allow the quiet voice inside you to speak; put your attention to the mysteries of a moment, find the surprise, feel the wonder.

Writing “word sketches” is one way teacher-writers and their students can practice finding the wonder in moments of their daily lives. Anyone can train the eye by frequent sketching—slowing the gaze to follow the lines of an object. A simple sketch a day (a coffee cup, a candle, a pear, a chair), even done quickly, can result over time in “seeing” of a different kind—noticing the drama of light and dark, the intricacy of detail and design, the subtle vigor of white space. Writing short word sketches holds the same promise.


The sophistication of the word sketches will, of course, depend upon the experience of the writers and will vary one from another. But, we can start with paying attention: jotting in our notebooks, making lists of what we see—on a walk to school, driving to work, looking out the window.

-a wet street

-a sparrow

-white chairs

-an old plate

As we go, we find our “noticings” becoming more particular and nuanced, especially if we share them, chart them, join others in finding things intriguing.

Next, we’ll want to get some language around what we notice. What else? Where? Doing what? Make a picture.

-the wet street streaked with colors

-a sparrow peeking out of a drainpipe

-two white chairs at the beach

-a plate with cracks in it

Zoom in closer. Enter the moment as if it were a painting. Look around with all your senses. Find the uniqueness. Get out the paints. Don’t be afraid to find unusual words to paint with.

Jack pictures himself walking along a wet side street in his boots. Colors from the buildings are reflected in the rain. His elaborated sketch has the tone and brevity of haiku.

On a narrow street

rain paints a watercolor—

amber, peach—

boots brush a slick design.

Shuyi imagines the sparrow working tirelessly to make a home in such an ignoble place. We know, without any mention of a nest. A true poet.

The sparrow

has built its palace

in a drainpipe.

Mr. Vitturi writes a pure image. Then, like Shuyi, pushes himself to imagine something surprising.

Two white chairs, sunwashed,

sit side by side at the beachfront—

a seat for seagulls.

Sometimes word sketches can be the start of a longer image. Or they can find their way into an elaborated poem. Often, looking back through my notebook, I find lines that seem right in a new poem. Lila pushes past the “cracked plate” observation to find the heart of a longer poem based on a personal story. She sticks very close to the image, revealing “the poem within the poem.” We can see how her practice with observation and detail, her sense of image, sticks with her as she composes “The Cracked Plate.”

Afternoon tea, with tea things spread out

on a lace scarf she made

when she was an English girl,

thin now like the skin of her hands,

lifting the delicate pot to pour.

We sit and talk about different things,

like the cookies on the cracked plate

with the castle scene and the gold rim,

some of this and some of that.


The way we lift our cups and our cookies

to our lips. The way she says, “Do have another,

my dear,” lifting up the cracked plate that holds

so much of what we love.

7 comments April 4th, 2017

A picture and a poem: An intimate connection

We are happy to celebrate National Poetry Month with Stenhouse’s resident poet and author, Shirley McPhillips. In this guest post, Shirl talks about finding connections between paintings and poems, about creating “art from art.” At the end of her post, be sure to look at her paintings and try your hand at writing a few lines inspired by the images. Share it in the comments section for a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s book, Poem Central.

A picture and a poem: An intimate connection
By Shirley McPhillips

I’m growing more and more to believe that our fundamental task as human beings is to  seek out connections—to exercise our imaginations.

—Katherine Paterson, The Spying Heart

03142016 7

It’s all about making connections, both in learning and in life. When objects and activities of the outside world meet an inner world of consciousness and imagination, there is a chance for new perspective, new possibility. In this exchange we develop a sense of self, an anticipation of finding new ideas.

Recently my friend Molly and I had the opportunity to set up an exhibit of our art work for a month in a local library: watercolor, acrylic, found-wood sculptures. Being poets as well, we wanted viewers to find  connections between the visual and the word.

We mounted some of our original poems along with one or two established and student poems and placed them among the paintings. The content of poem and art may have suggested a direct alliance—e.g., “Birdhouse on the Old Outhouse” next to a watercolor of that scene. Or a loose connection like a sound poem next to the abstract “Rooster Ruckus.” Or a random juxtaposition with no obvious connection. Better, we thought, for reaching. Or head scratching.

03142016 8

Poems and art together on display

As an added opportunity to interact with the art work, we set up a “Poet’s Corner.” A place for viewers to invite the muse. To sit in a quiet place, contemplate what they were observing and reading and to compose a short poem of their own. They could write off things around them in their lives, or think off a mounted poem or work of art in the exhibit. If the muse was busy right then, folks could compose at home and put the poem in the book later.

It was important for us to make the “corner” writer-friendly:

-A framed invitation to write, with a quote from Seamus Heaney:

Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it;

            –a small bistro table;

-a Tibetan bench:

-a blue, glass pen holder for pencils (If any disappeared, we imagined they were greatly needed elsewhere, and just replaced them.);

-various types of Post-It notes and paper;

And most importantly, an elegant, flat-lying, “guest book” for poems and art with a photo of a George Bellows painting we mounted on front.

As the book opens, Jack’s hand-printed poem graces page one. He writes of a painting by Eli Rosenthal. His poem encourages those who come after, eliminating “first page shock.”

On Poetry Night, visitors browsed the exhibit, chatted with one another about the art, the poems (and the “nuance” of the Pinot Noir), then settled down for an evening of presentation. Presenters responded in various ways: Expressive readings, movement inspired by a painting or poem, a reading with shamanic drum interpretation, telling a memory connected with a painting, and so on.

At the end of the evening, a few folks who had contributed to the “Guest Book” read their poems and told about connections they had made which resulted in this work.


Scan 2016-4-7 0005People who participated in “A Picture and a Poem: An Intimate Connection” said it best:

Ted: The painting of the birdhouse on the old outhouse cast me right back to my grandmother. Visiting her in the summer.. The weathered boards. Wasps’ nests inside! Her standing outside humming a tune so I wouldn’t be scared. A big hug afterwards. I haven’t felt that safe since.

Marley: “Ah sunflower weary of time.” Blake’s poem. We had to memorize it in high school. I went up to that painting first. Sunflowers are my favorite flowers. I wanted to think about why. Their faces. The connection to the sun. The casting off of so many seeds.

For lots more ideas about making art from art, you might refer to “Poets Facing Art: Ekphrastic Poems,” on page 196 in Shirley’s book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers.


Take up the pen. “Dig with it.”

We invite you to look at Shirley’s paintings below. (Or choose an artwork you like.) What do you notice? What does that make you say? Ask? Remember? Pretend you are sitting or standing somewhere inside this painting. Look around. Write a short poem and leave it in the comments section or e-mail it to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com. Have fun with it!

Scan 2016-3-5 0002-1 Scan 2016-3-5 0002-5 Scan 2015-7-27 0017-1

6 comments April 11th, 2016

The Results of Our Twitter Poetry Contest

We are excited to announce the winner and honorable mentions of our Twitter Poetry contest. The challenge was to write a poem in 140 characters or less. Shirley McPhillips, poet and author of the recent book Poem Central, served as our judge.

And the winner is….

HER by Erika Zeccardi

curved back
leans against the maple,
bare branches outstretched.
Faint whispers of red river valley
dance across the yard


Honorable mentions:


Allowed to speak? Yes.
Of course. But always we must
have something to say.

–Carol Kellogg

Phoenix rises from ashes
Memories in flashes
Fall hard on ground
Voices call her
Daggers take her
A new day begins


Tomorrow’s mystery today?
Please, no.
Now needs full attention.
I can’t afford spending
today with tomorrow.

–Chris Kostenko

Congratulations to Erika, as well as to Chris, A.T., and Carol! Keep writing!

3 comments May 8th, 2015

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Stenhouse

On this last day of March, we are excited to look forward to April and National Poetry Month. We are doing something fun this year — a Twitter poetry contest!

We have asked poet and author Shirley McPhillips to serve as judge for our contest and she enlisted her poet friend Drew Myron to help out. So, if you feel inspired, head over to Twitter and write a poem with 140 characters or less. Leave space for the hashtag #stenpoems so that Shirley can find and read your words. At the end of the month, we will pick one winner and three honorable mentions who will receive signed copies of Shirley’s latest book, Poem Central. The poems will also be published right here, on the Stenhouse blog. (If you are not on Twitter, you can send your poems to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com with the subject line Twitter poem, or you can also leave your poems in the comments section of this blog post.)

Now, what is a Twitter poem? Shirley wrote this great post about Twitter poems — a great read before you begin to write your own. If you are a teacher, encourage your students to give it a try as well! And if you are a teacher who wants to incorporate more poetry into your classroom, here is a FREE download of poetry resources from trusted Stenhouse authors.

Up for the Count: Twitter Poems
Shirley McPhillips

Shirley McPhillips

Shirley McPhillips

I have made this (letter) longer than usual because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter. Blaise Pascal, 1657

Seems like short is the new long. That’s the fun of a Twitter poem. It’s expected to be short. 140 characters or fewer (including the title, if it has one). We may ramble in the beginning, getting lists and lines down quickly. But then reality sets in. How to write something short that has the qualities of a good poem. Now that may take some leisure.

The 140-character limit has spawned waves of creativity as folks test their ability to do more with less. There’s the twaiku movement and Twitterature, a book containing major works of literature boiled down into a bouillon cube. And lest we think this is an activity for the obsessed techno-masses, four major prize-winning poets, two of them former laureates, published Twitter poems in the New York Times one year: Billy Collins, Claudia Rankine, Elizabeth Alexander and Robert Pinsky.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) sometimes sponsors a National Poetry Contest on Twitter. That’s where I met two Twitter poem contest finalists: Leslie Kenna and Liesl Dineen. Their stories about coming into the world of Twitter verse instruct and inspire.

Leslie’s “Short” Story

Leslie grew up in a New York City neighborhood that has an elevated train (the el) running through it. “For years,” she writes, “everything—eating, shopping, reading, sleeping, dental appointments, etc., was done to the beat of passing trains. I think all that shaking got into my bones.” Here is her Twitter poem:


In a waiting room under the el

each time a door closes

the collection of mysteries and tragedies

rattles and sways.

poem-centralLeslie was strategic in her approach to writing “Bound.” A daydreamer and lover of words, she sat down in a comfy chair, stared out the window and remembered her relationship with books when she was a library-card-carrying New Yorker. After all, she would be submitting to a library contest. She would write about reading on the subway. Standing up. Sitting down. All jammed in, touching shoulders. An escape, making the commute go faster.

Once she had a topic in mind, she wrote down every word that came to mind—even repeating a few—looked over the list and circled words that jumped off the page for her…passengers, carry, one inch, bound, commute, straphangers, immobile, gripping, book, still room, sentence, subway, novel, plot, gripping, Delay, air oxygen, freeing nourishing filling feeding raising relaxing, excursions, expansive, colors ideas novelties trips chartreuse, amaranthine, ideas, thoughts, reach, nourish, deep within She played around, rearranging words.

Then came crafting. “Staring up at the ceiling, reciting words over and over in my head, swapping verbs out, stepping back to gauge the effect.” Neglecting the poem for a while, “returning to it with fresh eyes and ears.” Reading it aloud for rhythm and sound. She also kept in mind that the NYPL was judging on originality, creativity and artistic qualities.

Overall, Leslie finds Twitter poems less intimidating than other forms. “No large blank sheet of paper staring at you.” Since it’s a new form, “you don’t have to be versed in 15th Century Twitter poetry to be taken seriously. You can put it out there.” If people like it, they let you know. Right away. “You can keep trying without feeling bad because no one sends you rejection letters. People can access your poems from a smart phone or computer and even contact you long after you write them.”

Liesl’s “Short” Story

One year Liesl and her husband splurged and bought lovely matching plates but never got around to matching silverware. Pondering the “mismatchedness” of things, she wondered about their future. As she thought about some serious life issues, the sorrow started to flow in. At that moment her husband came booming inside with the dogs, and the kitchen was suddenly full of noise and “this new, mismatched crazy, beautifully rhythmic, full life. John, the dogs, our family and my favorite spoon stirring in the cream of life.”

Our mismatched spoons

stir in the cream

in staccato beats to match

the clickety-clack of dogs in the kitchen.

As Liesl worked on this Twitter poem, “The mismatched spoons,” became “Our mismatched spoons.” Her ear caught the sound of the dogs and that came next. “The spoons weren’t sure what they were doing for a while.” She actually started with milk. She uses almond milk but this wouldn’t do. She was telling a story of chaos and fullness, so cream had to be there. “That word carries so much in our collective. The other words arranged themselves once that fell into place.”

Liesl takes herself to sites that nudge her to practice writing short. There she hones her skill of cutting and rearranging. Recently she worked on a #sixwordstory prompt from @WriterlyTweets. Someone meets a clown. She started with, “The girl fearlessly reached out for his nose,” the idea she wanted. Not short enough, and too dull. She changed “the girl” to “she.” “Fearlessly she reached” took her halfway to six words. Three words left to tell a story. Ah, action. She would beep his nose. A fearless girl might do that! The final six-word story: “Fearlessly she reached, beeping his nose.”

Some Tips From Writers of the Short Form

From our conversations online, Leslie, Liesl and I share some suggestions for you as you write your Twitter poems.

  • A Twitter poem is a little poem with a big thought. Like any poem, it is about one thing or theme. Stick to it. A small moment, a simple action, a sound, can carry a big story.
  • Ideas, lines, images, words, stories, come at us all the time. On the subway train, in the shower, on the treadmill, places inconvenient to writing them down at that moment. Keep a list someplace where you can revisit them and choose one when the time is right.
  • To be generative, to practice paring things down, create opportunities for yourself to write and/or submit lots of short poems. 5-word poems, 10-word poems. Write a Twitter-like poem every day. The more you write the better you get. Try: 14wordsforlove.com; #sixwordstory, prompts from @WriterlyTweets.
  • When brainstorming your topic, be generative. Words beget words.
  • Use words that capture an action and tell more of the story: “whispered” instead of “said;” “cream” instead of “milk” (as in Liesl’s poem).
  • Stay in the present tense to create immediacy and sometimes eliminate characters: stirs instead of stirred.
  • When trying to tighten or shorten the poem find one word to do the work of two or three. Instead of “the girl,” use “she.” Strip your lines of small words you don’t need: and, that, was, the.
  • Make your line endings (breaks) strong by using strong nouns and verbs.
  • Say your poems out loud. Hear them the way readers will, not just the way they sound inside your own head. When something snags or doesn’t sound “right,” change it.
  • Step away from your draft for a while. Come back to it with fresh eyes and ears. You might be surprised or enchanted. A “just right” word might slip into place. A glitch might relax.
  • With the right words in the right place, readers can fill in the “story.” Read this by Erel Pilo. Is there anyone who can’t imagine the story?


Eleven cupcakes.

Twelve toddlers

  • The title counts toward the 140 character limit. Decide if you need one. Leslie’s is integral to her poem. Liesl wants more characters in the body of her poem.

After the NYPL retweeted one of Leslie’s poems she was contacted by a beloved author with congratulatory messages. The beginning of a rich conversation. Months later, the author tweeted her the link to a poetry contest run by NASA. “Writing,” Leslie says, “doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. I can connect with people. Directly! In real time.”

“The real challenge,” Liesl says, “was going public with my voice.” Since then she’s started a blog and writes whole months of poems-a-day. “Entering contests is a great way to grow!”


14 comments March 31st, 2015

The Importance of Poetry with Shirley McPhillips

On this last day of National Poetry Month, we are excited to bring you an in-depth conversation with poet and author Shirley McPhillips, whose latest book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers will be available in early June. In this video Shirley talks about her early experiences with language and music that provided the foundation for her love of poetry. She also discusses the joy sharing poetry can bring, and how poems can help us discover something new about ourselves and about the world.

Add comment April 30th, 2014

National Poetry Month: Writing small

On this last day of April we close our National Poetry Month celebration with a post on short poems by Rose Cappelli. We hope you enjoyed our poetry month posts by Rose and Lynne and that you had a chance to check out their latest book, Poetry Mentor Texts. You can preview the full book online for a limited time! And you still have time to download our free e-book on teaching poetry.

Writing Small

By Rose Cappelli

npm2013_logoI enjoy writing poetry. In fact, sometimes it’s easier for me to write a short poem from an inspired image than it is to write a narrative. Maybe it’s because my first writing experience was a poem I created with the help of my father. I was six years old, and I wanted to enter a writing contest that was being held in our county. My father encouraged me to write about something I liked to do. At that time I had just started taking violin lessons, so that is what I chose to write about. When I got stuck, my dad made suggestions, and together (looking back, I think it was more of a shared effort) we wrote the following poem, which won in my age bracket:

My Violin

I like to play my violin
It’s such a lot of fun.
And when my mommy listens in
She’s glad it’s not a drum.

Several years ago I remember a surprise snow at the beginning of April. Bulbs were beginning to push through the ground and the trees were budding, yet here it was—a snowy spring day. Outside the library at my school is a small tree. I remember being fascinated watching four robins (at least I think they were robins) as they flitted about this tree, dodging snowflakes. They seemed confused but undaunted in their quest for any food the tree had to offer. They held on to the swaying branches, tenacious and determined. On a scrap of paper I wrote these phrases: 4 robins, amidst the snow, confused, finding food (?), fat. Later, I wrote this poem:


Robins flit,
Shake the snow from their feathers.
Confused by nature’s foolery,
They feast on fat berries
Enjoying a wintry repast.

All the Small Poems by Valerie Worth can be used as a mentor text to show students that they can write about everyday things. If you can, take them on nature walks or walks around the school building with their notebooks, jotting down words or phrases that can be used to describe the things they observe. Then ask them to think about using those observations in a poem or narrative. Focusing on the small things can help students write big. As E. B. White once wrote: “I discovered a long time ago that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart, the inconsequential but near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace.”

Add comment April 30th, 2013

National Poetry Month: “A Thousand Paper Cranes” inspires writing

On this last full week of April, we continue our National Poetry Month celebration with some student poems inspired by Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and the classroom project centered around the book. We will have one more Poetry Month post next week and you still have time to download our free e-book about teaching poetry.

A Thousand Paper Cranes Inspire Writing

By Lynne R. Dorfman

When I was teaching third grade, my students read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. They were so moved that we searched for websites and more information about Sadako. We asked a fourth-grade class to join us, and we participated in a project with children around the world by sending a thousand paper cranes to Hiroshima for their Peace Day on August 6. The entire initiative for this project came from the students.

Because the students wrote daily in my classroom, conferred, and published frequently, I decided to offer other options to make the project come to life for them. Some of the students interviewed their grandparents or great-grandparents about World War II to gain their perspectives. We experimented with tanka, haiku, bio poems, and persona poems, so we could send our poems to Japan as well. Students wrote letters to family members to talk about what they were doing. We even created a scrolled banner that said, “Peace for the World: Let the Children Become the Peacemakers.” Ethan’s aunt helped us translate our motto into Japanese. Then Ethan carefully painted the letters on parchment paper for us. We displayed our work in the hallways, packaged our cranes with the banner and poetry, and mailed them to Japan. Later, we created a class book of memories with poems, letters, journal entries, and photographs. I still have that book and a newspaper clipping about our project.

Often I write with the children, and sometimes I publish my work alongside theirs in hallways and class books. My students have always viewed me as a member of the writing community. When we have conferences, they’re always writer to writer. They help me revise and see things differently. I am grateful for all the writers in my life. We help each other move forward and imagine the possibilities. A small sampling of our poetry is included here.

Peace for the World
By Lynne R. Dorfman

Blue ghosts linger above Hiroshima’s dome
While deeply scarred faces wander below.
White doves circle a lone statue—
Sadako, stretching outward to release
A crane that joins the flock of peace birds—
Thousands of origami cranes litter the ground.

Silent onlookers remember loved ones lost
As lanterns, fragile warm-yellow swans,
Glide across the cold, black waters.
Families place rice cakes on altars for spirits . . .
For the blue ghosts, for Oba Chan,
And now, for Sadako, too.

Atom bomb brings a mushroom-shaped cloud,
Brings sickness and snatches children
Oh, so slowly . . . oh, so slowly.
Hoping the gods would grant her wish, she labors.
Thick, swollen fingers make fold after fold,
More paper cranes for the hospital ceiling.

Her family waiting, watching, wondering
Who will be the next to join Oba Chan.
It should not be the children . . .
It must not be the children . . .
It will not be the children . . .
Struggling with clumsy fingers,
She makes one last crane.

Remembering Sadako,
she lives.
All over the world
making paper cranes.
Blue ghosts


Young, brave, superstitious
Lover of good luck signs
Who feels frightened and guilty at the same time
Who need enough strength to fold a thousand paper cranes
Who fears death from the dreadful leukemia
Who gives her love and happiness to everyone
Who would like to see herself back on her feet and running
Granddaughter of Oba Chan

—Bio poem by Andrew B. , grade 3

Running, flying fast.
So many cranes to fly with . . .
Sadako still lives.

—Haiku by Alexis & Danielle, grade 3


Wanting to get on her feet again
And run, run, run.
Tangled up in pain,
She still dresses in the kimono
To please her mother.
They need no words.
They ache together.

—Andrew L., grade 3

Folding paper cranes
She bravely fights her illness . . .
Running in the wind.

—Adam, grade 3


Add comment April 24th, 2013

National Poetry Month: A Trade

We continue our Poetry Month celebration with a poem by Lynne Dorfman. She also shares how the poem came to life. Revisit our previous National Poetry Month posts and don’t forget to download our free e-book filled with dozens of tips on teaching poetry.

A Trade

npm2013_logoPoetry is everywhere you look. Last night I started reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and realized that one of her characters, Rocco, speaks in three short sentences or phrases that match the syllable count of haiku. Earlier that day I had downloaded an article, “Mastering Metaphor through Poetry” by Judith W Steinbergh, from Narrative magazine.

The rebirth of my garden and the woods behind my house speaks to me of poems waiting to be written, and I itch to open my new writer’s notebook and get it started with a poem. But today I do not write the garden or woodlands poem. Today I write about my Raggedy Ann doll and my biggest writing territory, my grandfather. He has always been the deep well I return to when I revisit my writer’s notebooks to find ideas I can explore and develop. Today, however, my notebooks do not provide the stimulus to write. As my gaze passes between Ga Ga’s photo (our name for him) and the little doll leaning against a portion of the silver frame, I know a poem is blooming in my mind’s garden. I grab the nearest pen and notebook, find an empty page, and begin to scribble furiously.

After some revision—deleting a few lines, changing the verb form, substituting for stronger nouns and verbs—I am ready to share with you.

A Trade

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Raggedy Ann kept Grandpa company,
Traveling to work with him.
I stood on the curbside,
Jumping up and down . . .
Stretching to watch the old Dodge
Crawl-crawl-craaaaawl in turtle fashion
Down the friendly Emmaus street.
Grandpa waving Raggedy Ann out the window,
Grandma clutching my hand to keep me safe.

At twilight they would return,
Shining with stories about their day.
Minnie (that’s what I called her)
And Grandpa had deliciously delicious tales.
Allentown Plumbing and Heating Supply,
A bustling place filled with mostly men.
I was secretly greener-than-green with envy.
I wished I could have traded places.
I wished I could have been that doll.

I yearned for all her adventures,
The fun she had each day with Grandpa.
Now, every day, I see her nestled on my dresser,
My eyes lingering on the photo beside her.
The silvery hair and the too-much-time-in-the-sun face,
The hazel eyes that match my own and the high brow,
The strong hands that often held a rake or a saw,
The wisdom earned from being a stepfather and grandfather.
Wish I could trade that doll for Grandpa.




1 comment April 15th, 2013

National Poetry Month: Rap is for everyone

We continue our National Poetry Month celebration with a rap, written and performed by author Lynne Dorfman. Have you and your students written a rap, or other unconventional forms of poetry? Share it with us and win a free copy of Poetry Mentor Texts. Don’t forget to download our free e-book full of ideas for teaching poetry.

Columbus Day rap

By Lynne R. Dorfman

npm2013_logoLast weekend I had a chance to see the movie Quartet. I was fascinated with Reggie, one of the aging musicians who lives at Beecham House. He regularly gives talks to teens about music, and my interest was piqued when one of the students explained rap and its similarities with opera. This scene is so powerful because it demonstrates the ability for different generations to bond and learn from one another.

The movie made me think about a rap I had written and performed as part of a presentation for my writing institute experience with the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. My workshop was all about poetry, and I wanted to experiment with some forms I was not familiar or comfortable with. The result is the “Columbus Day Rap” I have included here. My own fourth-grade class performed the poem onstage the next year at my elementary school on Columbus Day. Later that same year, we created a “Dinosaur Museum” and students wrote their own raps to perform (in colorful T-shirts, shorts, and shades!) for our evening presentation to parents.

One of my colleagues at the Upper Moreland Intermediate School writes and performs his own raps on various stages in the Philadelphia area. He has shared his poetry with me and has encouraged me to join him to perform poetry live. I just might do that!


Columbus Day Rap

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He traveled all through Europe,
Searchin’ the land,
Lookin’ for somebody
To lend him a hand.

He’d almost given up
When he finally reached Spain
Where the rain falls mainly on the plain.
He sought out Isabella and King Ferdinand.
He said, “Come on, Isabella,
Please lend me a hand.”

He said, “Come on!”

He said, “Come on!”

“The world is round, not flat.
Let me prove it to you.
All I need is some money,
Three ships and a crew.”
And after Columbus was
Finished with his pitch,
She said, “Sail away,
Columbus. Go and
Make me rich!”

She said, “Sail on!”

She said, “Sail on!”

The Nina, the Pinta, and
The Santa Marie…
Three ships all went a sailin’
Across the sea.|
The sailors got discouraged,
They wanted to turn back—
But Columbus was determined,
Now that’s a proven fact!

A new route to the East
He was tryin’ to find,
But the sailors were convinced
He was losing his mind.
He discovered America,
The land of the free,
Where people take great stock
In democracy.

He became a broken man,
And he died the same . . .
But people to this day
Still remember his name.

He still sails on!


Lynne Dorfman rap

3 comments April 8th, 2013

Why Poetry?

On the official starting day of National Poetry Month we start off our celebration with a post from Rose Cappelli, coauthor of Poetry Mentor Texts. She asks — and answers — the question: Why poetry? What is it about poetry that captures our mind, heart, and spirit? Why are you celebrating and sharing poetry this month?

Why Poetry?

After her mother died, Caroline Kennedy published The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In the foreword she states: “One of the greatest gifts my brother and I received from my mother was her love of literature and language.” Mrs. Onassis encouraged her children to read widely, and she often shared with them the books and poems she loved best. Caroline and John Kennedy were also encouraged by their mother to choose or write a favorite poem to give as holiday or birthday gifts for family members. What a wonderful tradition!

Poetry can help us share our thoughts, feelings, wishes, and dreams. With poetry, we can make things that seem small and insignificant into big ideas that help us make sense of the world. The perfect poem can help us express our emotions in the most eloquent of ways. One of my favorite poets is E. E. Cummings. I remember reading many of his poems in college and copying them onto small scraps of paper that I would eventually find tucked into books and notebooks, or perhaps in a pocket or purse. Most recently I included a copy of e.e. Cummings’s “i carry your heart with me” in the Valentine card I gave my husband. It was the perfect sentiment expressed in the perfect way, and I certainly couldn’t have said it any better than Cummings did.

Sharing poems with others is a special gift. A poem can provide comfort in difficult times when it is often hard to find the right words, or help a friend understand what you are feeling, or perhaps just bring out a smile or a laugh. Poetry can create memories passed on and shared through generations. The rhythms and rhymes of poems can help young children appreciate and develop a love of language that will serve them well throughout their schooling and beyond.

Caroline Kennedy put together two additional poetry collections: A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children and She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems. Over the years she has kept poems given to her and passed them on to others. “To me,” she writes, “that’s the gift of poetry—it shapes an endless conversation about the most important things in life.”

What poem will you share today?

3 comments April 1st, 2013

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