Archive for July, 2018

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Without young kids or grandkids of my own, I’ve been known to borrow them.  Last week I was planning to hold a workshop around Bayou Song, but no one registered (end of summer syndrome perhaps), but no worries.  My neighbor sent over her almost 8 year old, Jack.  We worked together on an I am poem.  Rather typical boy in the summer, when I asked Jack what he wanted to write about, he said, “Well I really like soccer.”  So soccer it is.  We are going to write a poem from the point of view of the soccer ball using I statements.  Jack caught on pretty quickly and started spouting lines.

When Jack got to the part where he wanted to write words like cool and awesome, I directed him to more specific language.

How do I know you’re a soccer ball? 

I’m a sphere!  And I am patterned with black and white!

Write that down!

I am a super stylish soccer ball.
I spin as fast as a jaguar.
I fly like an eagle.
I get kicked around.
I want you to stop kicking me!

I am a super stylish soccer ball.
I am a sphere.
I am patterned with black and white
like a panda.
I roll to the goal.
I like to win.

by Jack

Then we watched a video of Jen Vincent’s son making a zine with a single sheet of paper.

Jack with Bayou Song and his own zine.

I made a zine with a snake “I am” poem alongside Jack.  He helped me with some of the facts, like snakes sleep with their eyes open.  We Googled what a ribbon snake eats to find an s-word.  I made a video of my zine.

Thanks to Jack for being my guinea pig for this activity.  I look forward to sharing it with more students.  Working one on one, though, is a great way to try out a workshop.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Catherine at Reading to the Core.

The summer is made so much brighter by the exchange of poems arranged by Tabatha Yeatts.  Mailboxes share a bit of insight (along with the proverbial wasp or two).  I have been pleased to receive two poems so far.  The first sent from our friend Ruth Hersey.  Ruth sent a postcard of a Georges Seurat painting, one we are all likely familiar with.  She also sent this photo that she took of observers of the same painting.  Her poem comes from the wisdom of watching these observers.




A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.”  Georges Seurat

On a summer Sunday afternoon in 2018
We look at a painting of a summer Sunday afternoon in 1884.

All those people with exquisite posture
Whom Georges Seurat saw by the Seine
Have been gone for years,
Bustles and parasols packed away,
The monkey’s chittering long silenced.

And all these slightly scruffier people
Looking at his painting by the Chicago River
Will be gone one day too,
Their baseball hats empty
And their phone screens blank.

The sun through the skylight
Illuminates the Parisians and the Chicagoans,
Shines on those millions of dots of paint that will outlast us all.

Ruth Hersey, (c) 2018


My second poem exchange came this week.  It slithered like a snake between bills and advertisements to delight me.  Rebecca Herzog wrote a concrete poem (these are so hard to do well) about the Bayou Teche.  I am touched that she took time to research the legend of the Bayou Teche.  Her research comes together in this fabulous snake.

Poem by Rebecca Herzog (c) 2018


Thanks to Ruth and Rebecca for taking the sting out of getting the mail!






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Jen loves to have visitors at her B&B farm property in Breaux Bridge, Bonne Terre.  Bonne Terre in French means good soil.  While I’m sure this is good earth, I can see that Jen dedicates lots of her time to making it good.  There are signs of her everywhere, in the mown lawns, the growing vegetables, and the attractive, rustic sculptures.  Even in the bathroom, she has selected special aromatic soaps and adorable decorations.  I have to admit I’ve had trouble settling down to write.  I’ve moved positions at least five times.

I asked Jen how many chickens she has.  She had to do the math because she has a variety of breeds, but she came up with 71 (or was it 79?).  Nevertheless, chickens are everywhere.  They are a humorous, noisy lot that make me feel like I am out in the country at grandmother’s house.

I’ve been meaning to treat myself to a full day of writing all summer long.  With only a few weeks left before school starts, I finally did it.  I worry that I will fill this day with things other than writing.  Jen told me, “It doesn’t matter if you write or not.  The point is you gave yourself this space to be present.”

I’ll likely spend the next few hours reading blogs, walking the grounds, and having coffee with Jen, but whatever I do is bon travail on this bonne terre, good work on this good earth.  And look at me!  For what it’s worth, I got a blog post written.

I think this dragonfly wants to be in a poem!

Please hop over to Amanda’s post on Persistence and Pedagogy.  She’s a stop on the Bayou Song blog tour, and I love what she did with her kiddos.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.

Maybe if you’d written over a hundred books for children, you could take a break, but not Marilyn Singer. I first met Marilyn at NCTE a few years ago when she was reading from and presenting about her books of reverso poems. Reverso is a brilliant form that I fail at miserably, but Marilyn has at least three books full of them.

This summer at ALA I was able to grab a new copy of Every Month is a New year. Marilyn signed it, “Happy New Years!” Who knew that every month, someone somewhere in the world is celebrating a new year? The extent of Marilyn’s research alone for this book is impressive. There are 77 sources listed in the back matter of the book!

Illustrator Susan L. Roth uses mixed media for the illustrations. You can imagine touching each piece and feeling the soft paper and fabric collaged together.

The experience of this book is different from other picture books because it opens horizontally like a calendar. Actually, I would love to have it as a calendar I could display in my classroom.

I thought I would share July’s poem since it’s July, but I love, love, love September’s poem and illustration. Ethiopia’s new year is celebrated on September 11th with gifts of daisies. I want to start a movement for us to adopt this practice for our commemoration of the tragedy of Sept. 11th. Random gifts of daisies. From the back matter:

Enkutatash, Ethiopian New Year, on the Ethiopic calendar corresponds to September 11 on the Gregorian calendar. Enkutatash is believed to be the day the Queen of Sheba returned to her homeland after her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem in 980 BCE. She was welcomed with enku, jewels. Enkutatash, which means “gift of jewels,” has another ancient meaning that commemorates the receding of the great flood during the time of Noah. The day also marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of sunny days.
Today, on Enkutatash, children in new, white, hand-woven cotton clothes offer yellow Meskel daisies, along with pictures they have painted, as gifts to friends and neighbors.

I think I have found a new tradition to start with my students!

illustration by Susan L. Roth for Every Month is a New Year

By Marilyn Singer, Every Month is a New Year

In her poem about the June New Year, We Tripantu in Chile, Marilyn leads me in with simple sentence structure, “The night is cold./ My family is warm.” I love when the simplest of language can tell so much. She continues this pattern with “The air is quiet. / My family is loud.” As a writing prompt, I want to try using the pattern of opposites for my own poem. It could be about a season or a celebration. Would you like to try one, too? Share in the comments.

My own New Year celebration happens on my birthday, August 11th. The peak of the Perseid meteor showers occur around this day every year. This year I should make a point of going outside to dance.

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On Sunday, I had a book signing for my new children’s poetry book, Bayou Song. I invited photographer, Henry Cancienne. What a delight to finally meet him face to face! Henry and I have been communicating by email about the photographs he offered for inclusion in Bayou Song.

Meeting Henry, I was not surprised that he is as gentle in spirit in person as he seemed by email. His photographs are a reverence to Louisiana’s amazing natural environment. He told me that his photos are his legacy. We talked about some of his other books and he went out to his car and brought me two of them.

Photo by Henry Cancienne

Photo by Henry Cancienne

Photo by Henry Cancienne

Henry lives in Lockport, Louisiana, about 90 miles east of New Iberia. He goes out in the swamp and marshes nearly every day. Henry is a US Air Force veteran, retired science teacher, petroleum chemist, volunteer fire fighter, and police officer. His photographs have appeared in multiple books and magazines. He told me the story of this photograph of sun rays through live oaks. He saw the scene, pulled his car over, and took the photo. It’s included in Bayou Song as well as Louisiana Swamps and Marshes and currently is displayed in the governor’s office. He says you never know when you will get that perfect shot. Henry is always prepared with camera in hand.

Henry Cancienne

Today Laura Shovan has a stop on the blog tour with a zeno poem about cypress knees. Please stop by.

If you would like a signed copy of Bayou Song, you can order one from Books Along the Teche at 337-367-7621. If you would like it personalized, you can contact me by email. Thanks!

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Silent Sunday

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Sylvia today at Poetry for Children.

Rain is falling again.  That’s the way it is here in South Louisiana in the summer.

Rain and green.

Rain and steam.

Rain and gleam.

I could write a bayou poem about it always raining.  In my new book, Bayou Song, I have a few favorite poems.  Like children, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but today I am thinking about the poem There is always…

This poem uses anaphora, a repeated line. I think I stole it from Jane Yolen, but I can’t be sure.  One thing about writing poetry is poetry begets more poetry. For my next writing project, I hope to keep better tabs on where the inspiration comes from.

If you’d like a personalized copy of Bayou Song, I can mail it directly to you with payment using Paypal.  Email me at margaretsmn at gmail.

Bayou Song has had a beautiful blog tour so far.  Today the stop is with my friend and writing critique partner, Linda Mitchell.  Check it out. 

Friday, June 22:
Michelle Kogan

Tuesday, June 26:
Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core

Friday, June 29:
Ruth Hersey at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town

Friday, July 6:
Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes

Friday, July 13:
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise

Tuesday, July 17:
Laura Shovan 

Tuesday, July 24
Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy

Friday, July 27:
Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink

Monday, July 30
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

Friday, Aug. 3
Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters


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St. Mary Falls, Glacier Park


Montana mountains
marvel me with rugged peaks
water blue as topaz.



Bear Grass wildflower
Glacier Park, Montana


Bear grass blossoms
a mountain spray of stars
invite travelers in.



Kayaker on St. Mary Lake, Glacier Park, Montana.

Lone kayak streams
rock mosaic reflection
private piece of heaven


I understand why Basho turned to haiku to capture moments in nature.  They are just too big to write big about.  Last week, my husband and I spent July 4th with my friend Dani and her husband, Randy, hiking in Glacier Park.  A note about Dani: We meet through a Voxer group and Twitter chats with #G2Great.  It means so much to me to have a close friend so far away.  What a joy to get our guys together and spend time in a magnificent wonderland! These pictures say it all, beauty and majesty, and all that is good.


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I have signed up to participate in a few online communities this summer, two of which started last week while I was vacationing: #cyberpd and an online book club. This week Kate Messner’s Teachers Write virtual writing camp began. As I was thinking about Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change (the book chosen for #cyberpd), I thought of a way I could connect ideas across all that I was studying. Let’s see if this works.

The first chapter of Ahmed’s book guides us to writing activities around identity as a way to begin to see our students and treat them with a kindness that comes from knowing them.

Identity has never been a problem for me, really. I grew up seeing a large portrait of my maternal grandmother holding her violin on her lap. She wore a flowing white gown and looked beyond the viewer in such a way that I felt her presence without judgment. I was named for her and have always thought she was my guardian angel. (She died 3 months before I was born.) This portrait still hangs in my parents’ dining room. Maybe it’s wrong to hang your identity on a portrait, but this heritage comes to mind when I think about who I am and who I came from.

In the Teachers Write prompt for Monday warm-up with Jo Knowles, we were asked to think about the identity of our character in our WIP (work in progress). Her exact instructions involved imagining a photograph of your character at the end of the story, but I made the leap myself to identity.

The character I am currently writing about is far from who I am. She was born on the heels of emancipation as a black woman. Her intelligence and education took her out of the South to San Francisco in 1901. My intuition tells me that she would have struggled with identity. She was a light-skinned black woman, and there is some supposition that she acted as white in San Francisco. If this is true, how did she feel about the denial she was living in? Was she proud of who she had become or ashamed at who she left behind? Identity can be complicated.


In the book I’ll Give you the Sun, one of the characters, Noah, is a boy of 14 coming of age and falling in love with another boy. His identity is rocked by this realization. His expression is his art. In what ways can creativity help us understand our identity? Can poetry, like art, help me write about my character’s identity as well as my own. How connected are we all when it comes to identity? How separate?

Sara Ahmed suggests an identity web for students to draw and come back to throughout the year. Can I use an identity web to better know my WIP character? An identity web is also a great tool for getting to know a fictional character like Noah.

Identity is important when it comes to valuing others for who they are.  We must value our own identities, accept them as OK; we certainly cannot change them.  And yet, when we are faced with new characters in our lives, either from fiction, from history, or our very own students, we should accept and honor their identities.  Our differences, our connections, our shared lives make this world an interesting and wonderful place.

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