Archive for June, 2013


Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Betsy, a kindergarten teacher and fellow blogger, is hosting a round up of chalketry, poetry in chalk, at her monthly Chalkabration. On the last day of Write your Way youth writing camp a few weeks ago, we wrote haiku in chalk or chalku for the parents to read as they walked to the classroom for Author’s Chair. Here’s a sampling.

Flowers in a bush Fresh cut grass under my feet What a pleasant smell! by Kaylie

Flowers in a bush
Fresh cut grass under my feet
What a pleasant smell!
by Kaylie

Roses are in bloom
Bees buzz around the garden
All is peaceful

Shadows dapple, splayed
beneath the crooked oak’s arms
Swaying though untouched

Trees blow in the wind
Growing and growing until
They all pass away

Shadows move slow and birds tweet quiet I write in the shade. Kylon

Shadows move slow
and birds tweet quiet
I write in the shade.

A shady oak tree.
The perfect place on a hot day
A cool breeze blowing its leaves
By Lily

chalku rayn

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Ocean Call

I am participating in the 2013 summer Poem Swap that Tabatha Yeatts is organizing. What fun it is to receive a poem in the real snail mail! This week Tabatha sent out a picture prompt suggesting an ekphrastic poem. Some poet will receive this poem this week.

The photo that prompted this poem is Noise of the Waves by Phillip Schumacher.

Ocean Call

If you feel small,
sit on the grass-lined dune
near the sea,

cross your legs,
cup your ear,

The wind will call to you
on wisps of white clouds,
over the roar of waves

your simple thoughts,
inviting you to be one
with the sculptor of things.

–Margaret Simon

For more Poetry Friday, go to Amy’s site Poem Farm.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at Poem Farm

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Amy at Poem Farm

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life


I have had a wonderful, peaceful week with my parents in Madison, MS. on New Castle Lake. They look out at the lake every day. There is something so calming about watching water. Each day, they are visited by a great blue heron, a gaggle of Canada geese, and a family of mallards. Each evening, the sun sets over the horizon making a new painting in the sky.

Sunset 1

Each day we embarked on an outing. The first fell on my mother’s birthday. We attended her monthly book club meeting that took place in a Circa 1908 Revival mansion The Fairview Inn B&B and restaurant. I loved being surrounded by smart southern women discussing books and life! They put a candle in Mom’s crème brûlée.

Happy Birthday, Dot!

Happy Birthday, Dot!

The next day the three of us went to the Mississippi Museum of Art for lunch and a viewing of the Old Masters to Monet. We also enjoyed the permanent collection and the quilt competition.

On Thursday, we went to the Mississippi Craftsmen Center on the Natchez Trace. So many talented artists and craftsmen in Mississippi!

The rest of the week included hearing my brother play with two other musicians at a fine restaurant, a bookstore visit with my dad, and seeing my sister-in-law in Steel Magnolias. She played the mother, M’Lynn and had me sobbing by the end.


My favorite part was just being there, having time to read, write, and visit with my family. One evening we sat out on the screened-in porch. I read aloud poems by Natasha Trethewey (who is originally from Mississippi) while Mom tracked the stars on her iPad. I wrote the following poem:

instead of TV,
we stargaze;
chart the evening sky on the iPad app.

Mom announces Venus
above the horizon
glimmering like an orange diamond,

not unlike the firefly
with its lonely, silent flashes.

When we stop talking,
frogs moan, crying
like spoiled children resisting bedtime:

Let me stay a little longer,
to find more stars,
to catch more stories,
to be more awake!

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Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol's Corner.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Last week for Poetry Friday, Mary Lee had a feast of verse novels. These have attracted my interest lately. While I read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse years ago and have shared Love that Dog, Love that Cat, and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech with my students, the genre feels new.

This week I read Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The book is based on her own life story of coming to America from Vietnam. The verse was simple, yet moving. In a verse novel, each chapter/verse/poem should stand alone yet hold the whole together. Lai does this. The novel made me think about 1975 when refugees were coming in to my own city. I don’t remember how I reacted. I hope I was kind. Not everyone in Lai’s book is kind. Our students can learn from Lai that not everyone looks the same or speaks the same, but everyone should be kind.


Wet and Crying

My biggest papaya
is light yellow,
still flecked with green.

Brother Vu wants
to cut it down,
saying it’s better than
letting the Communists have it.

Mother says yellow papaya
tastes lovely
dipped in chili salt.
You children should eat
fresh fruit
while you can.

Brother Vu chops;
the head falls;
a silver blade slices.

Black seeds spill
like clusters of eyes,
wet and crying.

–Thanhha Lai from Inside Out & Back Again

Last year during Teachers Write camp (which, by the way, begins Monday), Gae Polisner had Caroline Starr Rose, author of May B, as a guest on her Friday Feedback blog post. I was turned on to writing in verse. I have a WIP (Work in Progress) that hasn’t gone anywhere in years, and by turning to verse, I was able to revive it. I am attracted to this genre because it’s a way to combine my love of poetry and writing for children. Here’s a sample verse from my WIP Dear God:

Dear God,
Winter can be so boring,
short days, long nights.
But today, snow fell
for hours.
No school.
I watched the snow from the window,
picture perfect,
piling onto the bare tree branches,
sparkling, gleaming.
Benjie and I bundled up,
headed over to the hill by the park.
Neighborhood kids were there with sleds
and makeshift sleds of cardboard.
I helped Benjie climb onto the sled and pushed him off,
down the hill, twenty times at least.
When we finally headed home,
my nose and fingertips were frozen solid.
Mom made us hot chocolate and vegetable soup.
Simone could not play in the snow.
When we passed by, she waved at us from her window seat.
She wore a knit cap and a scarf around her neck,
looking like a snowman herself, pale and hairless.
She wasn’t sad, though.
Her smile was big and sparkled like the snow.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life


In Ed Bacon’s book, The 8 Habits of Love, through anecdotes from his own life and the lives of others, he outlines 8 habits for us to live in love rather than through fear. The third habit is the Habit of Truth. In this chapter, these words were speaking to me.

The Habit of Truth can help us ascertain which choices are truly ours–and which come from someone else’s script for us that we may be following out of fear.

Truth is not static; it represents constantly developing ideas and insights about ourselves and the world.

When I was 14, all I wanted to be was a writer. I found a page in my diary along with a bad poem,”I want to be a writer.” Here is a picture of a page in my diary.

"I would love to be a writer if only someone would give me confidence!"

“I would love to be a writer if only someone would give me confidence!”

When I was 15, I volunteered at a camp for underprivileged children called “Operation Life Enrichment.” Here I spent time with children who had few advantages. I read with them, went swimming with them, and loved them. I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

I knew at a young age what I wanted to do and be. I have kept them both a part of my life. But sometimes there are those people who come along and try to change your path. I think teachers and writers both are susceptible to other people’s expectations of who they should be.

A few years ago, I had a difficult situation in a teaching position. My administrator saw a weakness in me in the area of math. Well, yes, this is true. I am most passionate about teaching reading and writing. Math is not my thing and never will be. Sorry. No amount of remedial education will change this truth about me. I was devastated, however, that my position depended on it. If I didn’t go back to school, I did not have a job. I could’ve done it, but my instincts told me it was wrong. I cried on the shoulder of my husband.

He asked me, “What do you want to do?” What a great question! He was honoring ME. What I wanted was important!

I responded, “I want to teach writing.” That began my search for a new position. None of this was easy, but I was driven by the Habit of Truth. I had to be true to myself. With my masters in gifted, I was able to get an elementary gifted teaching position. And I do occasionally have to teach math. But they also write.

During this time, a friend gave me a poem. This poem saved me. Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese.

Mary Oliver told me I didn’t have to be good. I had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I go back to this poem often remembering that I am responsible for being true to myself in the family of things.

Our Truth is not always an easy choice to make. Truth is not always evident either. It is constantly unfolding. We must listen to the voice of Truth in order to live a vital and honest life, a happy life.

What is your Truth? When have you had a difficult time choosing for yourself over what others expect of you?

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Poetry Friday is here!

Poetry Friday is here!

Today, I am hosting the Poetry Friday blog roundup. Please post your link in the comments. I thought when I signed up for this date that it would be a quiet summer Friday, but it is actually the last day of a writing camp for students. I will check in periodically and post links as they come in.

Writing in the gallery

Writing in the gallery

Leading a writing camp is one of the highlights of my summer. This year we have 9 students ranging from entering 4th through 10th grade. Each of them is in a different place in their writing, yet each has a unique voice. My partner teacher, Stephanie Judice, and I also come from different places. I teach elementary, and she teaches high school. I write poetry. She writes fiction. A perfect match. Every morning, I led the poetry writing, and she led the fiction. Worked out well.

Our favorite day is always Wednesday, the writing marathon. The writing marathon was invented by Richard Louth of the Southeastern Writing Project. He was inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in which she talks about writing in restaurants. She encourages writers to find a space and write continuously for a period of time. So on a writing marathon, the rules are 1) declare yourself a writer; 2) travel from place to place, write in that place, and if appropriate, order something; and 3) share and thank each other. (No criticism or comment, just thank you.)

One of our stops on the writing marathon was the A&E Gallery, a collaborative gallery of a variety of artists owned by Paul Schexnayder. We did two writing periods at the gallery. During the first one, I asked the students to walk all around the space and to collect words that came into their minds as they walked. After collecting words, we found a spot to sit and write. The second prompt was an ekphrastic poem about one particular piece of art. I am sharing the poem I wrote from the gallery walk and a student’s poem from a group of metal faces.

Mermaids float above her majesty, the sea
swirling waves as a potter’s wheel
forming a lily-lined path
to the land of mortals.

On the shore, rusted beauty emerges
from layers of water–a mint for the gatherers of things.

Look with your soul,
feel the release of imagination.
Find your buried hope.
The music in you awaits!

–All rights reserved, Margaret Simon


Metal Faces
Their open metal mouths,
staring into me,
looking past my casual writer’s appearance.
Can they see my conscience?
They read me as if
I were the art on display.
Their wide eyes,
penetrating my heart,
are full of distaste.
Like judges,
and I have earned myself
a low score.
Their scraps
that they call facial features
bore into me,
like they know everything.
And, perhaps they do,
but it doesn’t show.
All they can do
is watch me,
beg for me to stay
when I’m passing by,
so they can look into my soul.

–Kaylie, 12 years old

Go nuts with Charles at Father Goose with a tribute to Jama Rattigan.

At Random Noodling, a Robert Frost poem “Questioning Face.”

Kurious Kitty has some Flag Day poetry.

At KK Kwotes, find Albert Camus.

At NC Teacher Stuff, find a short poem about fathers by William Hamilton Hayne.

Keri is discovering a children’s bookstore in Vancouver, BC.

Matt Forrest has a poem for his daughter.

Jama is featuring a bilingual poetry collection called Laughing Tomatoes and other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y ostros poemas de primavera by Francisco X. Alarcón and Maya Christina Gonzalez.

Laura Salas has a rodeo poem by Nancy Bo Flood.

Mary Lee is here with a feast of verse novels.

Ruth has a turtle-y post.

Tabatha is thinking about plagiarism.

The Teaching Authors share online resources and April has a poem about giving up privacy in exchange for a free app.

Renee at No Water River has another wonderful video featuring Margarita Engle sharing her verse picture book When you Wander: A Search and Rescue Dog Story.

Linda at Teacher Dance has a poem she heard at a teaching workshop.

Today at The Poem Farm, Amy has a little goodbye poem from a teacher’s point of view along with a Poetry Peek from kindergarten teacher Erin Jarnot and her students from Elma Primary.

Julie is back this week with an original poem called “Anniversary” and some musings about translation and mistranslation.

Bridget Magee is here with an original poem, “Summer Hazard” about one of the perils of living in the desert.

Over at Today’s Little Ditty, Michelle has a dream poem written by her dad in honor of Father’s Day.

Robyn Hood Black is here with Full Hearts, Empty Nests, and Emily Dickinson.

MM Socks has an original poem today Woodrow’s Shadow.

Doraine Bennett has Winslow Homer and J.G. Whittier.

Irene Latham has a menagerie of Valerie Worth poems.

A traveling poem over at The Florian Cafe this Friday morning.

Author Amok is celebrating with a picnic-full of third graders’ food poems. Chocolate pie, anyone? We can’t end school without some teacherly wisdom. I’m also featuring a portion of poet Joseph Ross’s beautiful post “The Gifts of Teaching.”

Karen Edmisten has a Billy Collins poem to share.

Cathy has an original cat poem.

Lorie Ann Grover offers a haiku today, Whispered through Steam.

Joy at Poems for Kids Joy has an original poem about her flag for Flag Day.

Here’s Becky with Math Poetry.

All About Books with Janet has a doggy poem “I Didn’t Do It” written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest and illustrated by Katy Schneider.

For some hippity-hoppity froggy fun, go to Reading to the Core.

Little Willow posted Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson at her blog Bildungsroman.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

In my series of posts on the “8 Habits of Love” by Ed Bacon, I am responding this week to the second habit, The Habit of Stillness. The above Animoto video features a triolet poem I wrote using lines from William Wordsworth’s poem It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free. The images are used by permission from Dianne Dempsey-Legnon, Dot Gibson, and a drawing by John Gibson.

You may encounter stillness while on your daily commute, while exercising, or while listening to music. You may find it outdoors or indoors, with a much-loved pet or in solitude. Each of us can experiment and find our unique practice of the Habit of Stillness, which is a foundational habit for opening your heart and your mind, allowing you to experience your loved and loving self. —Ed Bacon, 8 Habits of Love

My habit of stillness
is in the morning,
a dog walk with Charlie,
listening to the symphony,
the loud jeer of the jay,
a mournful coo from the dove,
and a chattering of chickadees.
The world is waking up,
And I am waking to it.

Distant train,
the whirr of Saturday mowers
tries to disturb.
Stillness is not still.
My senses awake like resurrection fern after the rain,
sweet scent of magnolia blossoms,
toot tweets of birds. Even the bayou
is not still today,
soft ripples reflect the rising sun
like the twinkle of evening stars.

When I open my mind to the listening,
the singing, the scented air,
I open my heart to the Holy.

Some ideas for Stillness practice:
*If you are traveling in Louisiana and want to stay in a quiet cottage in the historical town of Breaux Bridge, call my friend Jen at Bonne Terre Cottage.

*If you have a few minutes and love puppies, Olive has a new litter to watch: Olive’s Pups, Nursery Cam

What is your Habit of Stillness? How do you find to time to be alone, quiet, and in communion with God?

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Years ago, the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was a popular book. I read it when I was a young mother searching for my own creativity. I was looking for inspiration. I was reminded of this book on Saturday because my whole day was an artist date. Julia Cameron describes the artist date as a block of time you intentionally set aside to nurture your creativity. “…opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.” When I read this as a mother of 3 young children, I remember thinking, “Yeah, right. When will I ever find time to do this?” But now, as an empty nester, I can find that time to treat my inner artist to a day of creative energy.

The Big Sky, Margaret Simon

The Big Sky, Margaret Simon

First I went to A&E Gallery downtown for a watercolor workshop. We all painted the same painting, but it always surprises me how different each one becomes. I haven’t painted in a long time, so I was rusty. (I’m sure Julia Cameron would have something to say about this.) I had a good time, though, playing with the cloud shapes. Then all day I was observing the sky. The June sky is vibrant with thick, fluffy clouds, some bulging with rain, some light and wispy. I even saw a rainbow. What a treat! So the painting was not meant to be a perfect product, but rather a guide to my inner artist to look up!

Then I went to The Big Easel, an outside art show. I visited with some artist friends and filled up my cup with all the different expressions of creativity.

The third activity was Acadiana Wordlab with Kelly Clayton. Kelly was all alone in the conference room of the Acadiana Center of the Arts. I was her only “student.” She was just what I needed. She read a piece about perfectionism and procrastination. How we put off doing our creative work because of perfectionism disguised as procrastination. Yes, I do this…big time!

Kelly Clayton's word collection

Kelly Clayton’s word collection

Kelly collects words and writes them on paint chips she pilfers from Lowe’s and Home Depot. I loved this idea and plan to steal it (and paint chips, too.) Her suggestion was to pick out three words that you were attracted to and play with writing. I did play. I wrote a silly piece about cooking. It spoke about my fight with perfectionism using the metaphor of cooking apple pie.

My favorite part of this day had to be our gallery walk. Kelly and I went downstairs to the art exhibit and walked to each piece. We wrote any word or words that jumped out to us. Again I was so surprised and pleased by the different things we each drew from the same collection of work. We brought our journals back to the conference room and wrote. Each of us wrote a powerful piece. I’ve revised mine and posted here.

Junk Drawer

She opened the drawer
to look for a paperclip,
got lost for an hour
letting time fend for itself for a while.

The drawer held metaphorical evidence
of lifesighs: a metal button –Collector Series–
the Golden Gate Bridge of their honeymoon.
She remembered saying my husband for the first time
to strangers. How the sound of his name felt new and nice.

Then there, next to an old pair of glasses,
the bone from a sea monster,
beach vacation when he lost his ring in the waves.
Sweet memory of a new ring and a renewal of vows
on a Sunday at the communion rail.

Time blurs the lines now between
Father and Son. The torn photo
with the same expression, stalwart
yet soft around the eyes.
There’s a Christmas ornament, Styrofoam ball
of sequins and pins, personalized by
a favorite second-grade teacher.

She could feel her heart pound a steady beat
alone here with the stuff of years,
woven into a pile with no pattern,
no beauty, yet full of the story
no one tells, hidden in the drawer
missing a paper clip.
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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Poetry Friday is hosted this week at The Opposite of Indifference with Tabatha Yeats

Poetry Friday is hosted this week at The Opposite of Indifference with Tabatha Yeats

Today, for Poetry Friday, I have a guest post from Sandra Sarr. Sandy is completing her MFA program this summer from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Whidbey Writers Workshop. To hear her talk about this low residency program, I feel her enthusiasm. While working on her MFA, Sandy has been writing a novel, “The Road to Indigo.” (To read about our meeting and my poem for her, click here.) Sandy’s MFA program required that she write in all genres. She wrote this poem while taking a poetry class. I was intrigued by this Terza Rima for a number of reasons. One, I am especially interested in learning about form, and two, I loved diving deep in the ocean with her turtles. And three, Sandy uses our nation’s Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, as a mentor. I have also included Sandy’s commentary about her process. Even though Sandy’s concentration is in fiction, I personally think she is also a wonderful poet.


After Natasha Trethewey


Underneath, turtles sweep in threes—
their sea wings caress the deep warm wet
long night fading in day’s dreams.

Out past the pull of tide, newlywed
swimmers shadow angels. Dawn-lit bay
gives way to the abyss where night ones fed.

Shore fades. Two pursue three out way
past breaking waves. One more mile, breathe deep,
clasp hands, sprout wings, turn back, now pray.

Today, this longing—this primal need
to taste what came first—urges a feast
of what drifts out, flows in, floats out, flows free.
–Sandra Sarr, all rights reserved

About the poem:
“Matinal Oceania,” represented Washington State in YARN literary journal’s 2012 National Poetry Month’s project, Crossing Country Line by Line.

In “Matinal Oceania,” sea turtles wing their way through the morning ocean. Newlyweds shadow them into unknown—even dangerous—depths on an ancient primal path in which they innocently pursue their watery origins as a species and their uncertain destiny as a couple.

The tidal waters off the coast of West Maui inspire the poem’s unnamed setting. I choose Natasha Tretheway’s “Vespertina Cognitio” as inspiration for poetic form and go further by adding rhyme in a braided aba, bcb, cdc pattern of end words. “When the rhyme patterns link up, weaving a bracelet of sound across the stanzas, we’re reading terza rima,” writes poet Wendy Bishop in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poem. I arrange my terza rima’s stanzas in step-indented format to evoke in the reader a sense of flowing waves reflecting the poem’s subject. (I apologize, in WordPress, I was unable to format the step-indentation.)

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
–Mary Oliver
View the entire poem here.

My mother sent me a book. This book came from Amazon during Easter break, so I sat in the cool grass enjoying a spring day, and read the Introduction. I felt an immediate connection to Father Ed Bacon and thought, “I know him from somewhere.” I went to my closet to find a journal from the summer of 1993 when I attended a workshop at Camp Kanuga in North Carolina. A coinciding workshop on Art and Spirituality was being led by a team from St. Andrews Cathedral in Jackson, MS. One evening at dinner (family style) Ed Bacon, the leader of the Art and Spirituality workshop, invited us to join one of the sessions. I remember thinking then (and writing about it in my journal) how generous this man was to let us join their group and enjoy their fellowship as well as experience art and spirituality. And now, 20 years later, I was reading his book “8 Habits of Love.”

The first habit is The Habit of Generosity. Fr. Ed writes, “The human spirit, just like the seas, needs both inflow and outflow in order to foster life and create energy.” We need generosity as much as we need the air we breathe. The more we give, the greater our life becomes with deeper meaning and growth of our spirit.

When I was a senior in high school, my house flooded 5 feet. The exact measurement sticks in my head because that was the height of the top of my closet, so I knew whatever I stored in that space was saved. Everything else was full of mud and soaking wet. This experience was profound for my family as tragedies often are. It was the opening of our hearts to the generosity of others. And there was so much overflowing of generosity, greater than the 5 feet of flood waters. Twenty-one people from our church community showed up to clean out the house. We received donations as well as emotional support from so many. Generosity of spirit overcame the loss of material things.

And today, when we hear about tragedies such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma, we hear, too, the stories of generosity and how that grows and holds up the victims. Generosity knows no limits. It is not bounded by anything because the human heart holds the Beloved.

Sometimes we hit upon road blocks, things that steer us away from a generous spirit. We get busy with the day to day work. And sometimes fear seeps in. We cannot function outside of ourselves when we give in to fear. We must open ourselves up by giving. When we connect with others in a generous way, the walls are broken down. We find love.

Every week, I wake up early on Tuesday morning and go to serve at Solomon House, our church’s outreach mission. We hand out bags of groceries to the needy. But I hate to even use that word…needy, because I may be feeding them physically, but they feed me emotionally. They show me who the Beloved is, in their gentle touch, their laughter, their kindness, their humbleness. Many of these faces are faces of friends.

“The Habit of Generosity is often as much about giving emotional or spiritual support as it is about giving money. At its core, it is about communicating kinship with others.” –Ed Bacon

No matter what the situation, who we come into contact with, if we approach them with loving generosity, we can find a way to connect. And this is what love is all about-connecting one heart to another.

I’ve decided that this summer my Tuesday Slices will be in response to “8 Habits of Love.” Next week the habit is one of stillness.

Please share in the comments how the Habit of Generosity has worked in your life.

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