Posts Tagged ‘Ava Leavell Haymon’

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

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

Last week, Michelle welcomed Laura Shovan to her blog with a workshop idea around Fractured Fairy Tales.

I have ordered the two books she suggested, Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen and Mirror, Mirror by Marilyn Singer.

Ava reading at A&E Gallery, November, 2013

Ava reading at A&E Gallery, November, 2013

In the meantime, I was reminded of a book of poetry I have by Ava Leavell Haymon, former poet laureate of Louisiana, Why the House is Made of Gingerbread. This book is really for adult readers, but a few years ago Lemony Snicket published a collection of poems for adults that children would like, available here on the Poetry Foundation. He selected Ava’s The Witch has Told You a Story for this collection.

You are food.
You are here for me
to eat. Fatten up,
and I will like you better.

Your brother will be first,
you must wait your turn.
Feed him yourself, you will
learn to do it. You will take him

eggs with yellow sauce, muffins
torn apart and leaking butter, fried meats
late in the morning, and always sweets
in a sticky parade from the kitchen.

His vigilance, an ice pick of   hunger
pricking his insides, will melt
in the unctuous cream fillings.
He will forget. He will thank you

for it. His little finger stuck every day
through cracks in the bars
will grow sleek and round,
his hollow face swell

like the moon. He will stop dreaming
about fear in the woods without food.
He will lean toward the maw
of   the oven as it opens

every afternoon, sighing
better and better smells.
Ava Leavell Haymon

My lesson plan around fractured fairy tale poems will include this poem about Hansel and Gretel.

Jane Yolen challenges us this month to write a septercet, a form she invented.  Each line of the 3 lined stanza has 7 syllables. I will ask my students to write a septercet about a favorite fairy tale, fractured or not.  So I’m giving it a try myself.

Fairy White

When she wanders in the woods,
soft white reflecting diamonds,
her fair skin glows like snowflakes.

Apple laced in evil spells
tastes of beauty golden red
slips her slowly into sleep.

Finally she rests from all
her troubles. Let her be free.
Love will find a peaceful soul.

–Margaret Simon



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Poetry Friday round up at Keri's farm.

Poetry Friday round up at Keri’s farm.

Poetry Friday is here. I always feel a sense of excitement and anxiety working on a post for PF. Today’s poem has been through a morphing of sorts. I started it in my notebook writing with my young writers camp. We stopped into our local independent bookstore, Books Along the Teche. My prompt was to steal a line from a favorite book to write from.

Ava Leavell Haymon is(was) the Louisiana poet laureate. Her latest poetry book, Eldest Daugther, was sitting near the front of our bookstore watching me and my students. I opened her up and found a line. “I am the light, standing in the kitchen window.”

I love to watch the light change from my kitchen window. This morning it illuminated a blue bottle on my outdoor bottle tree. Using PicMonkey, I altered the image and typed in my poem.

kitchen window

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Find more Poetry Friday with Becky at Tapestry of Words.

Find more Poetry Friday with Becky at Tapestry of Words.

A few weeks ago I attended a poetry writing workshop with our Louisiana state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon. I posted about one of the exercises here. The second exercise she led us through began with an image. We were to remember a room, kitchen or bedroom. Then we drew it, recognizing that this was a prompt for writing and no great work of art.

I thought of my daughters’ bedroom, the one two of them shared growing up. The room was small. My husband had built a bunk bed for them. He is a good carpenter, but he doesn’t make anything halfway. This bed filled up the small room. In fact, when we moved, we left the bed. We could not get it out of the room.

Bunk Bed Fills the Room

That is the bedroom where
I looked at the mess,
sheets unmade,
the angry child
red with fury.

Her bunk bed filled the small space.
No room for my approval.

I could only see
the mess,
the wild squealing.

I forgot to look
under the sheets,
under the pile of toys,
under the dirty clothes
to see her child-heart.

–Margaret Simon

Mary Cassatt Young Mother Sewing

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Find more Poetry Friday at Random Noodling with Diane.

Find more Poetry Friday at Random Noodling with Diane.


Even purple lemurs named Violet can write.

Even purple lemurs named Violet can write.


My students make really good guinea pigs when it comes to trying out new writing activities.  This week I showed them a free writing activity I did with our state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon, at the Book Festival Wordshop last Friday.  I was not sure how this rather random exercise would work for producing a poem.

We started with a clean piece of drawing paper.  Each edge of the paper, we filled with sense words (colors, sounds, tastes, smells, and physical feelings.)  Then I asked them to draw a large circle in the middle of the paper.  When Ava gave us this exercise to do, she talked about the negative voice that often invades our minds when we are trying to write, saying terrible things like, “You are stupid,” and “Why do you think you have anything to say?”  Each student selected a bad color to use to make a shape around their negative voices.  Some students had no shapes and others had multiple ones filled with ugly words.  I think this helped those who feel intimidated by writing.

Inside the circle, I told my students to free write for 7 minutes.  Free writing is anything that comes into your mind.  Just keep the hand moving.  I even gave them ink pens to use, a treat.

Select six concrete words from your writing.  Then write a six-lined poem.  The poems were as varied as the students themselves.  I enjoyed hearing how the free writing influenced the final poem.  I think they were richer somehow.  We then created a folded book from the art paper and wrote the six lines on the six pages of the book.

Fall weather warmth

A caramel taste
an amber color
chilly nights
candle lights
a honeysuckle scent–
Fall weather warmth.

by Vannisa


I remember

I remember
sucking on an orange butterscotch,
being embarrassed about something I said
(what a thing to feel).
I remember it all happened
on Thanksgiving.

by Matthew


Night Warrior

Be a warrior.
Ride on your unicorn.
To battle the bullies,
be a sweet, kind hero.
Climb into the sunset.
You become a pink image.

by Erin

Folded book poem

Folded book poem


NCTE is around the corner.  I am getting nervous and excited.  If you plan to be there, please try to attend the Elementary Get Together to support me as I receive the 2014 Donald H. Graves Award.  I am also presenting with colleagues from the National Writing Project on Friday.


NCTE Presentation Flier


Link to my presentation at NCTE: Friday, Nov. 21st at 12:30 PM. 



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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

View of the state capitol from the top floor of the state library.

View of the state capitol from the top floor of the state library.

The weekend was absolutely beautiful for a trip to the capital city of Baton Rouge for the annual Louisiana Book Festival. The sky was clear, the air was cool, and the sun was bright. A great time to celebrate literary works.

I treated myself to a day off and attended a poetry workshop with our state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon. Ava is brilliant and funny and an out-of-the-box thinker. She gave us each a large sheet of drawing paper and had us begin on each edge by writing different sensory words, i.e. sounds, smells, colors. Then we drew a large circle with a gold marker. In this circle, we were asked to free write. She said something about drawing other shapes to put your over-the-shoulder-negative voice into, but I didn’t do this part. After free-writing, we circled concrete words from our writing to use in a poem. Then to complete the task, we folded the large paper so that it made a book. (I found online instructions for the book form here.) After all this, I ended up with this poem.

Rose-colored Glasses

In-box flashes
“Teacher evaluations”
Her plate spills.
All she wants is to be
invited outside
to the trampoline.
–Margaret Simon

Completed poem book

Completed poem book

As crazy as this whole exercise seemed, I like the idea of using a free write to compress ideas into a small poem. I want to try this with my students. I have not done free writing yet this year. I usually have a theme or prompt for writing. I wonder if students will be able to work with the randomness. Or maybe that’s the idea, random writing leads to poetry.

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See more Poetry Friday with Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

See more Poetry Friday with Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

How do you write a poem? Where do you begin? I learned long ago from working with children writers that they are full of ideas. I wrote an article for the National Writing Project journal The Quarterly in 2005 when it was still in print titled “Writing with William.” (I was pleased to find it on a Google search.) In the article, I described a tutoring experience that led me to understand young writers need tools, not ideas, structures, not prompts. When I was talking with Ava Haymon, our state poet laureate, last weekend about writing ideas for students, she said a technique that she likes to use is repetition.

Using Ava’s poems as models, I introduced this structure to 6th graders at our monthly enrichment day we call WOW (Way out Wednesday.) “The Child Born” begins each line with the same three words, “The child who.” I asked the students to listen for the details. Following the reading, we did a memory test. “What did you remember?” While they didn’t quite understand the poem, they did remember almost every line, especially “The child who bites cuticles instead of fingernails,” and “The child who sucks her hair at night.” Details are memorable. Another model I used was Betsy Franco’s “Fourths of Me” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

Then I gave them the assignment: Write about whatever you want to, but begin each line or each stanza in the same way. Examples: Before, Everybody, As long as, The child who, Anyone, Who, Why, I am. The students also added beginnings to the list.

This was a successful lesson because everyone wrote a poem. Even the kid who said he hates writing poems. Even the one who said she has never written a poem before. After writing, we shared and did a memory test for each other’s poems. They realized the importance of using specificity and original ideas to draw a reader’s attention.

What Do You See?

When you see the stars, you see the sky
But when I see the stars, I see the days passing by.
When you see the beach, you see grains of sand.
But when I see the beach, I see a place untouched of man.
When you see the ocean, you see fish and pearls.
But when I see the ocean, I see an underwater world.
When you see a child, you see a small man.
But when I see a child, I see a gift from God’s hands.


Before and After

After the sun sets at night,
After the bud blooms,
After the plane takes off in flight,
I’ll go home to my room.

Before the sun rises at dawn,
Before dew forms on the flower,
Before the bird lands in its nest,
The king will give up his power.

This time I will not stay silent,
This time I will speak.
This time I will not be shy,
This time I’ll be bold.


My Dream

I am the frail one.
I am the fragile one.
I am the annoying one.
I am the one in the back of the classroom.
I am the new student.
I am the one no one wants around.
I am the dumb one.
I am the one nobody talks to.
I am the runt of the litter.
I am the timid one
Only in my dreams.


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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Ava enjoys paella at the Spanish Festival.

Ava enjoys paella at the Spanish Festival.

I am having a hard time putting into words this feeling. This good, fulfilled feeling after a successful Fall Poetry Night. I think magic happens when a poem is read aloud, the words shared become everyone’s words. Your life becomes theirs, and theirs yours. We become a community.

On Saturday, I hosted our state poet laureate, Ava Leavell Haymon. (See a previous post here featuring her poetry.) She came into town in time to have paella downtown at the second annual Spanish Festival. Ava laughs at her new title. She said it has a certain amount of celebrity to it, but in the same way a rare boa constrictor might; Everyone comes to see what it is.

I don’t think that was the case for our audience Saturday night. I had been getting messages on Facebook from a variety of people who wanted to read. I wouldn’t dare say no to anyone who has the courage to read his own poetry aloud. So we had 4 featured authors and 5 readers in open mic. Good thing the food truck man was coming, and a number of friends had brought treats.

Ava took notes as each poet read, and she made a point of speaking to each one with specific comments about their writing. What a gift! When she read her own poetry, she instructed us as well on the forms of her poems. The teacher in her is natural. All weekend we shared stories of teaching poetry. I look forward to trying some of her ideas with my students. (And sharing them here.)

Ava reading at A&E Gallery.

Ava reading at A&E Gallery.

I entertained an angel this weekend, an angel who taught me about opening my ears and my heart to all poets. Ava was still smiling Sunday morning. She told me after all of the traveling and many activities of her new position, the energy of Saturday night had rejuvenated her. I felt she did the same for me and for all who attended and participated in the Fall Poetry Night.

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