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Bayou Song is on the wall of books!

The rains had ended, the cool front came through, adding an element of celebration (like Christmas) to the Louisiana Book Festival.  This year was the 15th annual book festival and the 15th awards ceremony for LA Writes, our state youth writing contest.  I have been involved since the first contest and the first book festival.  I always marvel at the young authors as they arrive dressed up with their whole extended families with them. It is an event for celebrating good writing and for families celebrating their authors.

My student Chloe reads her winning poem, Cool Words.

Following the wonderful awards ceremony, I offered a student writing workshop.  You never really know what kind of audience to expect.  I was delighted to have 3 writers join me.  One was a 6-year-old who wrote and drew, then buzzed around. Her mother said, “She’s doing a lap.”  Then she was back to writing and drawing.  The other two girls were a sister pair.  The older sister is a student at LSU.  I am not accustomed to teaching college kids, but I was pleasantly surprised at how she responded to my prompts.  She wrote an I am poem about the river. (Baton Rouge is located on the Mississippi River.) When I taught them about the zeno poem, she transformed her I am poem into a zeno.  This was an unexpected transfer that worked well for her poem.  She gave me permission to publish it here.

I am a rusted red river.
My mouth echoes
rising
flood.
I touch cities
with their
blood.
Reminder they
come from
mud.

–Jami Kleinpeter

Thanks, Jami, for enriching our lives with your poem and for showing me how a simple (meant for elementary kids) prompt can be transformed into a sophisticated and profound poem.

 

 

 

Poetry Friday round-up is with Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty..

I’ve been reading aloud Kwame Alexander’s Newbery Award winning book in verse, The Crossover. This is a great book to read aloud, but it’s also visually appealing.  I don’t think there is a name for this form of writing when the written words express the feeling of the word.  But my kids got it!  Such a fun way to write about sports.  Of course, I wrote about dancing.  Have some fun with the way the words look on the page, Kwame style!

Karate by Breighlynn, 3rd grade

 

 

I kick the ball

and watch it

f

a

l

l

GOAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

we yell

cause that’s where it

f

e

l

l

I take a glance at my team

And realize we look like we’re from a meme

It’s up to me to save the Day

Cause if we don’t win

This is where our

G

r

a

v

e

s

will lay

I Kick

b           u             c               s

It          o            n              e

And I scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Will my team really loose?

Will they think we’re fools?

NO, NOT IN THIS LIFE NOR THE NEXT!!!!!!!

Jayden, 5th grade

 

by Margaret Simon, 2018

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Phebe Hayes with Emma Wakefield marker.

This weekend I had the opportunity to be a part of a historical event: the commemoration of Dr. Emma Wakefield Paillet. In early April, I met with Phebe Hayes, the founder of Iberia African American Historical Society. She shared with me her passion about a project to correct the history of our town, New Iberia, as well as our state’s history.  Through her research, she found that the first black woman to become a doctor in the state of Louisiana was Emma Wakefield Paillet. Emma graduated with honors from New Orleans University and was the only woman to take the medical exam in 1897.  She not only passed but “with honors, and submitted one of the best papers passed upon by the board.” (April 20, 1897 The Times-Democrat)

The unveiling of a historical marker in downtown New Iberia occurred almost 150 years after Emma Wakefield’s  birth on Nov. 21, 1868.  This momentous occasion was met with enthusiastic cheers.

Back in April, Phebe asked me to write a biography in poems about Emma.  I didn’t know if I was up to the task, but as I researched and studied literary voices of the time, I was inspired and wrote 21 poems about her life.  This book of poems is currently out on submission.  At the ceremony on Saturday, I read four of them.  I was moved by the emotion of the event and choked up on my own words.  I was embarrassed, but I just kept going.  Emma’s voice spoke through me.  I hope these poems will inspire others to learn about forgotten women who, like Emma, rose above poverty, oppression, and grief to become a hero.

Program and button with artwork by Dennis Paul Williams.

The opening poem is based on the African American spiritual Were You There first printed in 1899.

Were You There?

Were you there
when Momma held my hand?
when she walked with me to school?
when she knelt down in the sand?
when white men were so cruel?

Were you there
when babies cried at birth?
when Negroes cut the cane?
when shadows veiled the earth?
when teardrops fell like rain?

Were you there
when we finally broke the chains?
when hollow cries were heard?
when mothers’ sons were slain?
when I could read your word?

Oh, Lord, were you there?

–Margaret Simon, (c) 2018

 

 

 

Poetry Friday round-up is with Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

 

Autumn takes its time coming to South Louisiana.  It comes in small, unnoticeable ways like the browning of cypress trees, or in larger, violent ways as in a storm leading a cold front. So here we are on the second day of November and temperatures have dropped to the 50’s, a pleasant change from the 80’s to 90’s of the previous six months.  I so envy the images of orange and red fall leaves filling the trees.

Since we have not changed our clocks quite yet, the sun is coming up later each morning, and I’ve noticed a heron on the bayou sitting right in the direct ray of the rising sun.  I tried to capture him with my telephoto lens, but he heard me and flew off.  No matter.  I can still write him into a poem.

Carol Varsalona curates a gallery at her blog site for every season.  Currently she is collecting images and poems for Abundant Autumn. I borrowed a photograph of a heron at the beach from fellow poet (and better photographer than me) Wendi Romero to use as a backdrop to my poem. I love how the challenges of Poetry Friday peeps push me to spread my writing wings.

Round up is with Ramona at Pleasures from the Page.

It really wasn’t a bad day, but not such a good one either.  I had a lingering cold and was scheduled for my yearly mammogram.  One of those necessary uncomfortable things we women are subjected to, but the tech was pretty upset that I had come in with a cold.  She ran out of the room for a mask and continually said, “I hope I don’t get sick.  We have a lot of patients who come through here.  I don’t have time to be sick.”

I felt awkward anyway considering I was exposing myself to boob smashing, but I also tried not to cough or sneeze.  And then there was the guilt. Maybe I should’ve rescheduled.

Following this embarrassing encounter, I drove through a coffee shop treating myself to a flavored cold brew.  When I got up to the window to pay, the clerk said that my coffee had been covered.  The lady in the car ahead of me paid for me.  What a kind gift!  I have thought of doing this on occasion, but not often enough.  This woman has no idea how her gesture turned a bad day into a good day, a feeling of guilt to one of gratitude. Then again, maybe she does know, and that’s why she did it.

This stranger lives in gratitude and spreads love with kind gestures.  And I’ve never met her.  Sam, at the window, said she comes every day.  I asked him to thank her the next time he sees her.  But did she do it to be thanked?  I don’t think so.

Living in gratitude means noticing the good, sloughing off the bad, and taking each moment as a gift.

 

Photo by Robyn Hood Black

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Six more weeks until I become a grandmother!  Last week I shared a Billy Collins poem with my students, On Turning 10.  After reading and discussing the poem, I invited my students to write.  What would I write about? “I don’t want to write about turning 57,” I said.

Chloe said, “Then write about being a grandmother.”

Aha!  Thanks!

On Becoming a Grandmother
          (after Billy Collins’ “On Turning 10”)

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like a little girl at Halloween
dressed up in a new costume
that itches at the seams
and yet sends her off in a thrill of confidence.

How a costume can transform you
into a different version of yourself– a witch,
Wonder Woman, or Cinderella–invincible
and transformative!

When I think of that little boy calling me
something grand or made-up– Mimi,
Gran Gran, Nanny–I feel wonder and joy.

I want to memorize the names of constellations
so I can tell him. I need to find that just right
picture book he’ll want to read again and again.
I will learn a lullaby he’ll sing in his mind
whenever he is lonely or sad.

Wasn’t it just yesterday
I was the new mom?
Worries over enough milk
and enough love. I know now
there’s always enough love.

–Margaret Simon, (c) 2018