Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Carol is hosting Poetry Friday today.  Check it out.

Carol is hosting Poetry Friday today. Check it out.

Art work by John Gibson, 2006

Art work by John Gibson, 2006

Last week on Poetry Friday, Laura Purdi Salas wrote a triolet about icicles. Her poem inspired me to try the triolet form. I am working on writing poems to my father’s Christmas cards. Here is a triolet for his 2006 card. The epigraph is his greeting inside the card.


Listen for the music of angels

Songs of heaven come to you
in mourning tunes of doves.
An angel plays her trumpet; true
Songs of heaven come to you.
From towers, hear a cathedral tune
echo like a hymn one loves.
Songs of heaven come to you
in mourning tunes of doves.

—Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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Quiet Morning

As usual, I am up early on Christmas morning. I woke up with the storm and now I am listening to the rain and cuddling with Charlie, my schnoodle who is afraid of storms. Soon the hustle and bustle of opening gifts and eating dinner with family will interrupt this silence. We need both, silence and noise.

Last night at the Christmas Eve service, we had quiet prayer and joyous hymns. I love singing at Christmas time because I know all the words and all the alto parts. Having all three girls home makes the house loud and busy. I love this, too.

But the quiet is where I find God. This early morning Christmas, I pray for the families of Sandy Hook victims. May they find peace. I remember those who are absent from our own family. And I pray that this day will fill our hearts with enough love to block out all the evil in this world.

I have given myself a writing challenge this season. My father has been creating a Christmas card each year for the last 9 years. I have the collection on display. I am attempting to write a poem for each one. Inside each card, he wrote a biblical message. I use this message as an epigraph.

John Gibson, 2008

John Gibson, 2008

Out of Egypt

“Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

Out of
the cool dark night
in the midst
of old tales,
myths of Egypt,
land of Kings,
I hear His voice–
a whisper–Go.
Take my Son,
Embrace hope.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

Read other Slice of Life writers at The Two Writing Teachers

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Heidi is hosting today.

Heidi is hosting today.

Artwork by John Gibson, 2012

Artwork by John Gibson, 2012

“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

The light
like a ripple in calm water.

than morning sun,
this evening star beams

dust particles to dance
around his little head.

He nurses,
content and strong,
pulling my heart.

-Margaret Simon, all rights reserved.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

I hear their names.
My heart aches,
Tears form.
Tears of fear
or cleansing, prayerful,
hope-filled streams?
I cannot bear to look
at the smiling faces
at the ball park,
on a swing-set,
with the family on the beach.
They are the kids next door,
the little boy at the grocery store,
my very own students.
They are us, and we are them.
Our lives are forever changed.
Now I will lock my classroom door.
I will teach my students to stand
against the wall,
be still and quiet,
in lock down.
No words.
No reasons.
The names–remain.

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Join Jama at Alphabet Soup for more of Poetry Friday.

Join Jama at Alphabet Soup for more of Poetry Friday.

At this time of year, the days grow shorter, the weather cooler. In a recent e-newsletter from Poets.org, I found a lesson plan designed for 9th-12th graders about exploring darkness and light through poetry. I teach gifted elementary kids, so I adapted the plan somewhat to fit my level of students. But I kept Emily Dickinson’s poem There’s a Certain Slant of Light. The poem is presented on Poem Flow in which a few words appear on the screen and fade out to the next lines. This technology added interest to the lesson. My students didn’t quite “get” the message of the poem, but they learned about the sound of poetry. We talked about some of our “wonder” words, like heft, affliction, and oppression.

Before presenting the Dickinson poem, I turned off the lights and we wrote words and phrases that we thought of in the dark. Then they chose words they wanted to “steal” from Emily Dickinson. Then we wrote. Each time we write, we share. We have a class Kidblog site, so they post to it. Since I travel between two schools, this allows my students to read and comment on writing from another school’s gifted class.

Some of our poems were coming out pretty spooky and dark. OK, I know I set that up with turning out the lights and reading There’s a Certain Slant of Light, but I challenged myself to write a happy poem. I was pleased with my poem that the students helped me title “Silhouettes.”


We turn out the lights
Behind sheets, our hands
Make shapes–a story,
a dance,
a play–
No audience
No stage
No flashing lights
Just my brother and me
on a winter afternoon.

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

One of my students wrote a short piece with a repeating line, so when I conferred with him, I taught him about the Pantoum form in which the second and fourth line becomes the first and third of the next stanza. This is his revised poem:

Winter (A Pantoum)
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.
It blinds me in sadness.
Its dull appearance gives me the blues.
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.

Darkness blinds me in sadness.
Cobwebs surround me.
This is darkness, the black, blurry time of the year.
Shadows everywhere.

Cobwebs surround me.
Tiny bits of light make creepy reflections on the floor.
Shadows everywhere.
This is darkness.

I have a new student who is a third grader. I have gently drawn her into our writing circle. She is shy, yet confident. When she wrote the following poem, it had 3 rhyming lines, but no others, so I talked to her about making a decision in her revision. She could keep the rhyming lines, but since we expect the poem to rhyme, she would need to make some of the other lines rhyme. She decided not to keep the rhyming words and went to the thesaurus to revise. I think she is quickly getting the hang of writing workshop. Here is her revision:

Winter Glory

The winter woods can be glowing

even though you are afraid.

The bright sun shines from behind.

The cold dark woods are sometimes gloomy.

The squirrels are scurrying for the last nut.

I am blinded by the beauty.


Photo by Clare L. Martin
Vannisa’s inspiration came from this photograph.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

As a fundraiser for the Festival of Words, Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana state poet laureate, offered a master class. I submitted 3 poems and was accepted. Twelve poets gathered in Darrell’s home on Saturday afternoon. His house is set in a grove of bamboo. To get to the house, you walk through a shaded garden, enter a beautiful courtyard then into his art-filled home. I immediately relaxed and felt welcome.

Once the others arrived, Darrell quickly began teaching. I’ve known Darrell for more than 15 years. I’ve taken a number of workshops with him, but this was different. While I missed the interchange of ideas of the workshop style, I adjusted to just listening. His knowledge did not intimidate me as I expected. Instead, I understood. I followed. I wrote notes. I was a student and a poet.

He started off by telling us that there are no mistakes. He compared writing a poem to making a quilt. You get all the pieces laid out, and then you can move them around until a new pattern emerges. He challenged us to look for a pattern.

He took each person’s heart out, held it up to the light, and shaped it into something more beautiful, more glowing.

In an email to us all on Sunday, Darrell wrote this verse about this group of poets:

Brushing a child’s hair,
sitting by a powerful river,
taking a lunch break and really listening while being at work,
seeing angels,
standing next to sleeping Gypsies,
traveling toward the beloved,
salvaging the essential after rupture,
letting footsteps become prayers,
searching for traiteurs and medicine men,
sewing a new seam,
visiting monasteries,
standing in the presence of natural wonder
or grieving for a lost child—
these are all common experiences which you made extraordinary by your making them a part of your most essential human experiences. I thank you heartily and I wish you all continued good luck.

To show the results of Darrell’s shaping, I am posting one of my poems in both versions. He found the pattern of commands to make my poem-quilt clearer, stronger, and just plain better.

After the Storm (version 1)
If you want to study the skeletons of frogs,
take a walk after the storm when the sun comes up.
Listen to mockingbirds sing, high-pitched, discordant.
Walk the path of fallen limbs, clustered leaf-puddles.
We are washed yet still unclean. New day sun breaks
deepening the green, solid, and strong earth. Red spots
glitter after I glance at the spotlight. God’s eyes
peak through the ghost of a waning moon. Wren gathers
twigs for nesting, flutters off like a thief with goods.
No need for imagination here; all life breathes.
The beat of my footsteps become my prayer.

After the Storm (Darrell’s reshaping)
Study the skeletons of frogs.
Take a walk in the light after the storm.
Listen to mockingbirds in discordant songs.
See the sun deepening the green earth.
Glance at the sun; see the red spots glitter.
Peak through the ghost of a waning moon.
Gather twigs for nesting; become the wren.
Flutter off like a thief with his stolen goods.
Imagine nothing; all life breathes.
Let my footsteps become prayers.

After a storm, resurrection fern fluffs up and becomes a green blanket on the live oaks.

After a storm, resurrection fern fluffs up and becomes a green blanket on the live oaks.

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Thanks to Robyn Hood Black for hosting Poetry Friday today.

Thanks to Robyn Hood Black for hosting Poetry Friday today.

Prepositions were on parade in my class this week. We brainstormed a list of prepositions. The list grew to 50 words. Wow! Who knew there were so many?

Students wrote poems in which each line began with a preposition. To help our readers along, we decided the title should give a clue to the theme. Students experienced through practice how to use prepositions, and it was fun.

Mother Nature

From the high branch
of that cypress tree
beyond the flowing bayou
near a wading heron
through the slightest breeze
toward my longing heart
upon this lonely landscape
for eternity.
—Margaret Simon, all rights reserved.

My Rainbow

under the setting sun
across the ocean
with rays of light
through the oak trees
over the valleys
to the depths of the bayou
through my heart.
—Emily, 2nd grade


Through the tallest sugarcane
on the fastest feet
over the wettest mud
with the newest creatures
until I am at home
—Brooklyn, 5th grade

The Innocent Mouse

in the classroom
nearby kids on top of their desks
inside the cabinet, scratching
out he comes
across the room
beyond the bathroom
under the desks
as the kids try to escape
from the tragedy
except he only wanted paper
—Keana, 6th grade

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The prairie inspires artists and writers.

The prairie inspires artists and writers.

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

This weekend I was invited to read at a festival in Arnaudville, a small town about 40 miles north of New Iberia. The drive to Arnaudville along Highway 31 follows the curving Bayou Teche. Years ago, I drove this same highway to a fiction writing workshop. It was in this workshop that I wrote the first chapter of Blessen. The workshop took place in NuNu’s, an arts collective with a performance area and a cafe in the back. The building sat on a high ridge near the bayou. A few years ago, the place burned. Now Nunu’s is housed down the highway in a large old lumber company building. Walking into the place, you step back in time on long leaf pine floors and high ceilings. You look out onto endless rice fields. I felt a sentimental connection to this birthplace of my first novel. And it was here that I connected with new friends who write.

Clare Martin organized the event in conjunction with the Fire and Water Festival “Le Feu et l’Eae.” (All festivals in South Louisiana have French names.) She titled the readings, “Words of Fire, Words of Water.” I felt privileged to be among the readers. Clare read from her recent book of poetry, Eating the Heart First. I felt an immediate connection to this woman who has turned her grief into beautiful poetry. Talking to her after the reading, I shared something about not expecting to sell many books that day. (I sold 6! A good day!) Her response was so encouraging.

Each success no matter how small in practice of what I love is a lightning strike against the dark.

I loved this! Another woman-writer-friend, Chere’ Coen, (See her blog post about the event.) gave me a Gris Gris bag for courage. And guess what symbol it had on it? A lightning bolt! More synchronicity.

The gris gris bag for courage with Clare's book of poetry, my prizes from Words of Fire, Words of Water.

The gris gris bag for courage with Clare’s book of poetry, my prizes from Words of Fire, Words of Water.

Traveling home from the lovely day in Arnaudville, (not to mention, after a delicious catfish po-boy, hazelnut latte, and double-chocolate cake ball) I felt full. I was full of the spirit that brings us life and creativity and art.

2012-12-01 13.48.09

This poem by Clare L. Martin moved me to tears:


The hospital room is cool.
There are moths in your breath.

Circled in ice, you’re enwrapped in white fire.
Coffee-colored urine drains in a bag.

I swab your lips with lemon glycerin.
Your pulse beeps loss. I buzz a nurse out of the void.

I cannot watch you die.
The doctor scowls at my cowardliness.

Stunted from birth, plucked too early—
You were wingless.

It took me years to believe it wasn’t my fault
you despaired in an infant’s life.

I choose blue for the burial
like the thunderhead in your eyes.

The undertaker powders the fine
hairs of your face, seals you in secret.

First published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
Reprinted by permission from the author

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