Archive for September, 2020

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I know school looks different for most teachers this year. For me, I spend my whole day in one building. For the last 12 years, I’ve been an itinerate teacher, traveling to 3 schools each day. Now I travel through a screen to different students. I’m providing virtual gifted services for students who’ve chosen the virtual option. I’m learning very quickly what kinds of writing activities work well and which ones do not in this virtual setting.

Last week I presented a question for quick writing. Yesterday I used a different approach. I presented a poem and asked students to take a line and write from that line. It seemed to go well; however, the kids were not throwing their hands up (or turning their mikes on) to read what they wrote. This is the part I can’t quite figure out. Do they just need more time or is this how it’s going to be?

I still believe in writing alongside my students, so I wrote a poem with them. The poem we were reading together came from Teach this Poem from Poets.org, Cento Between the Ending and the End. The lines I took frame the poem. Before sharing my poem, I explained that when we write together in quick writes, we often write about whatever is on our mind at that moment. My youngest daughter is getting married in our backyard in 3 weeks. As plans begin to finalize, I am getting excited about the family (immediate family only) that with gather with us.

Unopened Gift

Everyone we love
is gathered
around the bride and groom.
Side by side,
their eyes glow.

We understand
this kind of love,
tender and new,
like a gift
waiting to be discovered.

We hold their hearts
in our hands,
bless them
with all that we have.
Send them to the blue sky
with golden light.

Margaret Simon
Photo by Secret Garden from Pexels

With my 6th grader, Daniel, we wrote back and forth (in a shared document), adding lines to create a Cento* poem. When the first stanza turned out to rhyme, it was a challenge to keep it going. We were both pleased with the results.

I soar to the sun
Look down at the sea
Bloom how you must, wild
Until we are free.

I wish I could share
All that’s in my heart.
It’s like the world
That keeps us apart.

Everyone we love
Gathered at the lakeside
Marble-glow the fire
A new one inside

I wish I could live
The body whole bright-
Of the day beautiful,
Honeyed light.

Cento from I Wish I Knew by Nina Simone and Cento Between the Ending and the End by Cameron Awkward-Rich

*From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets.

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Poetry Friday: Arun poetry form

Poetry Friday round-up is with Jone at her fresh new blog site.

A few weeks ago Jone asked the Poetry Friday gang to post poems using mathematical structures. She listed the Arun form. I was curious about this form, but a Google search of forms continually came up with nothing. I finally went back to Jone’s post and followed the link to a blog by Girlgriot. On this site, Girlgriot writes about the form and its rules.

An Arun: a fifteen-line poem in three sets of five lines. Each set of five lines follows the same syllable structure: starting with one syllable and increasing by one (1/2/3/4/5 — 3x).

Girlgriot, March 21, 2017

More digging led me to this post in which Girlgriot reveals that she invented the form. And why not?

It still doesn’t seem possible that I created a form. That really should be, must be, someone else’s domain. But here we are, with the arun. “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba (according to The Google), and the name was chosen by popular vote in a little blog poll I put up. It’s not super sophisticated, but I like it.

GirlGriot, March 22, 2017

When I talked to my student Chloe about the form, she suggested that we write one together about “Back to School.” This is our collaborative poem:

Back to School

line the
hallways to
class, but it’s not
Halloween Day yet.

switching in
style with a cart
but we stay in place.

by one
take it slow
better be safe
and not stuck at home.

To help you understand the stylish carts, I took a picture of my across-the-hall colleague and her cart. As you can see, it’s like the teacher carrying her whole desk from room to room.

Teaching in Fall, 2020

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I’m in my second week of teaching, and it’s going pretty well, despite the weather which has been churned up by Tropical Storm Beta. Dreaming of travel, I took notice of Paula Bourque’s pictures from Maine. She’s taking day-adventures with her husband. This was her message on Sunday:

Mornings are filled with meaningful lessons. They show me that everything changes and moves on. If I can embrace that, I can be open to new wonders and stop wishing for what was, to always be. Life is change.
Sunday sermon over.

Paula Bourque, Facebook post

Paula is the author of Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms. We met at NCTE last year when I was the “chair” of her round table session. She presented ways to use images to prompt quick writes in the classroom. So here I am, full circle, using one of her photos as a prompt for a quick write.

Sunrise at Gardiner Landing by Paula Bourque

Leave a small poem in the comments or jot one in your journal. If you share, please respond to other writers with encouraging words.

I would like to be remembered*
as someone who softened things
like the still, blue surface
of a lake at dawn.

Margaret Simon, draft
  • words from a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote, “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”

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Slice of Life: RBG

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.
Photo by Irina Anastasiu from Pexels

Like many, I am saddened by the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ethical ELA is having its September Open Write. Monday’s prompt came from Denise Krebs. She asked us to write about news that resonated with us. My poem is somewhat of a found poem. I found words and phrases but changed the order to create this poem.


There’s an empty chair at the table,
a vacancy on the highest court.

Candles burn a vigil
for a cherished colleague,
champion of Justice.

Joan Ruth–a pioneer
for equality,
for women,
for righteousness.

Historic tributes glow
for her stalwart stature
in a lace collar.

Margaret Simon, found poem

The Learning Network of the New York Times has this great Lesson of the Day about RBG.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Matt at Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme.

Last week I posted a poem I wrote for my mother-in-law, a work commissioned by her for a local writing festival fundraiser. I commissioned a poem for myself and selected Bonny McDonald to write it for me.

Bonny and I have lost touch over the years, so I enjoyed our email exchanges that put us back into that comfortable place of friendship. You know the kind. When you feel like you were never really separated.

Bonny didn’t just take the questionnaire that was given by the Festival of Words organization. No, she emailed me more questions like
What makes you think of your ancestors, and what messages do you get or teachings do you carry in your heart from those who came before you in your family?

My answers to that question and to “Who is your favorite poet lately?” (Jericho Brown) led to this wonderful duplex poem just for me. I cried when she read it at the Zoom event.


A duplex for Margaret Simon, 
 inspired by the portrait of her grandmother, Margaret Shields Liles  

The mother of your mother is with you 
Margaret, still, a figure in a painting 

Margaret’s figure sits still in the painting 
Her violin poised to spring up for a tune 

A tune fit for a violin springs up 
For the child of your child in your lap 

Oh child of my child, a song for you 
I wrote a few verses to leave with you 

Now to leave them is what’s left to do 
A note resonates with the lift of the bow 

A note resonates a little while  
Harmonics hold to a foundation 

Your grandchildren hold you to the place where
The mother of your mother is with you 

Bonny McDonald, all rights reserved
This portrait of my grandmother Margaret hangs in my dining room.

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These first days of school have been exhausting. Yet I am happy to be doing what I am meant to do. When I get home, I mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed. I love posts that relax my brain, beautiful landscapes, quotes, flowers…

This one caught my eye. I haven’t seen these colors yet. Dianne Dempsey-Legnon posted this wistful message, “It’s almost here. Looking forward to the crunch of leaves under my feet, the crackle of a fireplace, and cinnamon in my hot tea.” Ah, yes! With all the back to school prep, I forgot that the season is changing. Fall will come.

Photo taken on Pig Trail outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas by Dianne Dempsey-Legnon, 2019

In the comments, post a small poem inspired by the photo. Please comment on other writers with encouraging words.

Fall in the air
makes me sneeze.
Mumbled through a cloth mask,
you say, Bless you
and mean it.

Margaret Simon, draft

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge

Last night I participated in a poetry reading Words for You with the Festival of Words. It was a fundraiser event for the festival. We usually find sponsors and read in a day long poetry event in downtown Lafayette, but this year fundraising, as everything, looks different. Louisiana writers volunteered to be commissioned to write a poem. Each poet wrote a special, unique poem for the person who selected them. I was chosen by my mother-in-law, Anne Simon.

I was touched by a poem by Li-Young Lee “From Blossoms” and used it to form a poem for “Minga” (her grandma name my oldest child gave her). Just a few words about this amazing woman. She is a retired district judge. She’s the mother of three, grandmother to six, and great grandmother to 2 with another on the way. She is fond of birds and flowers, tennis and basketball, and foreign travel. She’s taken me along on a trip to Greece when she turned 80 and Africa for her 85th birthday.

I hope that my poem honors who she is in some small way. Writing for someone you know well is not as easy at it may seem.

Desert Rose
for Anne Simon
after Li-Young Lee “From Blossoms”

From a broad-base bonsai trunk,
trumpet-like blossoms pop festival-red,
that desert rose Julie bought at Lowe’s
when Love was a potted plant.

From desert soil “complex, yet refined”
a pearl in an ocean of sand, your hand
taps to test its dampness. You are judicial

even in your watering. The flowers stand up
and notice your kindness. O, to take what we love
inside the porch, a safari, to see 
not only the rose, but the whole Serengeti.

There are days we talk
as if death will not separate us;
Your voice, my heartbeat from love 
to love to love, from rose 
to soil to deepest esteem,
the deepest kind of esteem. 

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved, 2020
Desert Rose on Anne’s patio

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Today’s posts will be gathered at Karen’s Blog.

I’ve been raising monarchs. See this post. I am also planning for hybrid teaching, some in person, some virtual. Finding my direction through these tasks has challenged me in new ways.

Male monarch by Judy Rizzo

The word alchemy came across my radar. I found this definition: “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” The process of metamorphosis is alchemy and in many ways, so is the way we have to teach this year. I decided to mine alchemist for words using Wordmaker. Following a poetic process created by April Halprin Wayland, I wrote a poem that probably doesn’t make sense to anybody but me. Let’s just say, finding my direction through this unique school year has taken some proactive effort. (The words from Wordmaker are in bold.)

Finding Direction

Connect line by line, etch
a trail through calm
worry, eyes that smile
despite each
new hurdle to scale.
Raise the latch
and release butterfly-mail
to the gods of ethics

Margaret Simon, draft
Monarch in olive tree by Judy Rizzo

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This weekend I was driving home from a trip to New Orleans for my grandson’s first birthday. On the drive I saw the sun shining from behind a cloud overlooking the tall sugarcane fields. Harvesting will start soon. I love the fall.

Sky speaks
with a strong voice,
Sprinkle your light
wherever you are.

Margaret Simon, draft

I invite you to write a small poem in the comments. Leave an encouraging comment for other writers. Experiment with words. Find a line; follow its lead.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Hurricane Laura threatened our area two weeks ago. We were lucky that we didn’t get a direct hit, but I was worried about the eggs on my milkweed plants. I had observed a female flitting around and laying eggs, so I knew there were a few.

Photo by Lory Landry

Lesson #1: Where there is one, there are many: The monarch egg is tiny and difficult to see, so when you see one, there may be more. I cut all my milkweed and put it into small bud vases inside a butterfly enclosure. Before I knew it, one became many. After I counted 30, I stopped counting. Every day there were more.

Lesson #2: They don’t all make it. When we were raising wood ducks, a wise Cajun fiddle player, 20 year old Adelaide, told us, “Don’t get attached. They don’t all hatch.” The same is true of monarch caterpillars. I stopped counting how many I’ve lost. They’ve died at different stages, some as tiny newbies, and others within the chrysalis. I have learned to accept loss as part of the process. Only 2% make it through the whole life cycle. That’s a tough statistic.

Clip from a video shows two caterpillars just days apart each other in growth.

Lesson #3: Farmers rise early. School has started and to be able to get to the chores of cleaning and feeding my “cats”, I have to get up early. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is no exaggeration. They eat and poop a lot! They’ve gone through all my garden milkweed, the trimmings from a friend’s yard, 4 plants I picked up at a nursery, 4 plants that my friend bought, a bag of frozen butternut squash, and half of a fresh butternut squash. I still have some feeding. I am not kidding!

Lesson #4: Hang out with the experts. I have joined a Facebook group called The Beautiful Monarch. You can post images there for celebration, but there are also experienced farmers to offer advice and commiseration. The raising of monarchs is “a whole world.”

Clip from a video of a caterpillar in J-formation getting ready to pupate.

Lesson #5: Give the gift of resurrection: I have had to find and buy more butterfly enclosures. But in so doing, I can spread the joy to others. Judy didn’t understand why her milkweed was bare. At closer inspection, we discovered 4 hungry caterpillars. They came home with me in a small terrarium that she had handy. Once the chrysalises were formed, I gave it back to her to enjoy the emerging stage. I also gave an enclosure with 3 chrysalises to a colleague in need of encouragement.

I have mixed feelings about this whole experience. It’s been a hard job to do well. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. But isn’t that the way we feel about any new experience, inept yet open to learning? Kind of like educating children in a pandemic.

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