Posts Tagged ‘Festival of Words’

Poetry Friday round-up is with Denise at Dare to Care.

The Festival of Words yearly fundraising event was once again virtual this year. In a way, this is great because more poets from Louisiana and beyond can participate. I volunteered again to write a commissioned poem for Words for You. How this worked was I volunteered, someone donated to have me write a poem, and we all celebrated with a reading event on Zoom. The reading was last night and it’s on Facebook Live.

For some reason, I felt drawn to the sonnet form. What a challenge I gave myself! My person, Sue, answered a question about her spirit animal being a leopard. I did some leopard research and puzzled it into a poem. The problem was it didn’t hold any meaning. So then I wrote a free verse poem. After that I continued to hack away at the sonnet. After more study of the form, a total rewrite was necessary. The process was challenging, at times frustrating, but in the spirit of the leopard, I did not give up.

It may help to know that Sue is a playwright who is tolerant of Louisiana, but she hates the weather.

(c) Margaret Simon, for Sue Schleifer “Words for You” 2021

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop with our state poet laureate, John Warner Smith as part of the virtual Festival of Words. He presented the poem This is Not a Small Voice by Sonia Sanchez. He asked us to consider the power of collective voice and love in building a more perfect society. I stole borrowed some of Sanchez’s words as well as some from Michelle Obama on Twitter (responding to Biden’s election). “…build a nation worthy of our children.”

In the spirit of poetry,
we raise our collective pens
to toast the power
of words
to move
to reclaim
a spirit of good will.

The mouths of our rivers
have spilled out enough
dirt and grime
to soil a century.
Grab your shovel, friends,
hold it high
and dig.

Dig for gold!
Dig for diamonds!
Dig for poems that move you!

It’s up to us to love
the ones who hate us,
to love with listening ears,
to love with a fever for love,

But before we do that,
kiss the face
of a nation worthy
of our children
and our children’s children.

Let’s kiss her
with all the passion
of our poems. Now

Margaret Simon, draft
A rainbow appeared in the sky on my way home from school this week.
I always stop to photograph rainbows.

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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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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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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life!

Stir Up
These are the first words I wrote in my journal in the Festival of Words poetry workshop with Naomi Shihab Nye on Saturday. I was star-struck… for about 5 minutes. Because Naomi is probably one of the warmest, most welcoming, poetry presenters I have ever seen. She makes everyone feel like they belong there. Even the man who had to step out to take a phone call. She spoke to him with concern and said, “Step out any time you need to. I understand.” And the woman who attended without registering. She pulled up a chair right next to her. “You are no intruder. You are a poet.”

The most wonderful welcome was for my former student, Kaylie. I got special permission from Naomi to bring Kaylie to the workshop. Everyone else there was my age or older, but that did not intimidate Kaylie. She shared like the confident poet that she is. She even read her award winning poem from the LA Writes anthology. Our hearts were full. Can you tell from our picture?

Kaylie and me with Naomi.  Love her!

Kaylie and me with Naomi. Love her!

Inscription to Kaylie from Naomi Shihab Nye

Inscription to Kaylie from Naomi Shihab Nye

Here are a few quotes from the wisdom of Naomi Shihab Nye:

I’ve kicked the word busy out of my vocabulary. I am embracing the word befriend.

When was the last time you really listened to your heart?

What old story are you telling yourself that keeps you from being free?

An artist is doing the art.

Each thing gives us something else.

What have you lost? What have you found?

You are an amazing poet.

with gratitude for your voice.

Kaylie wrote this poem in response to the first writing prompt, “What old story are you telling yourself that keeps you from being free?”

I am free.
I have never been bound by the chains of life,
Never been shackled or held in one place.
My pen is allowed to scribble across the page,
And I never restrain it.
I don’t take the time to think about my past,
I only think about bettering the future.
Held aloft on shimmering wings of gossamer,
My head floating through the clouds,
My heart thumps in a song.
As long as I write, my spirit will live eternally.
I will hide my innocence and curiosity inside of bubbles that float behind me,
Keeping this freedom inside of me flowing forever.
–Kaylie B., all rights reserved

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Discover. Play. Build.

Saturday Celebration is happening weekly at Ruth Ayres site: Discover. Play. Build.

This week was full of celebrations.
1. Chalkabration Day: Read our spooky chalketry here. We loved having Kaylie visit on this special day.

2. A winner: My 6th grader, Brooklyn, placed FIRST in the Jr. High Division of the Festival of Words Contest with her poem, “I’m Home.”

3. I received an awesome evaluation from a school board observer. Here’s a quote from her report, “You have a strong rapport with these students. There is a bond of mutual respect between you and them. The classroom climate is joyful; the students are encouraged to learn the way that works for them.” Her words brought tears to my eyes. This is who I want to be as a teacher and to have an outside observer see that in me is very rewarding.

4. The Louisiana Book Festival: As you are reading this, I am awarding 65 students for their excellence in writing. I coordinate a state writing contest, Louisiana Writes! The fruition of many hours happens in the State Museum at the opening of the Book Festival. Many proud students, teachers, and parents will be listening to readings and taking pictures of young authors holding shiny medals, an anthology, and a certificate from the governor. A wonderful celebration!

30 days of thanks button It’s time to be thankful, a month of Thanks. Today I am grateful for beautiful weather and for my friends who have helped me lead the LA Writes contest for 10 years, Connie, Sara, Joan, and Ann.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

This was my first year to participate in the Festival of Words in Grand Coteau. Grand Coteau is a small historical town about 35 miles north of New Iberia. This summer I met and chatted with Patrice Melnick, author of a new memoir Po-boy Contraband and owner of an artisan shop, Casa Azul. In late September, she hosted a reading and book signing for me. We made a connection, and she invited me to come back for the Festival of Words. I loved the feel of her place, artsy and comfortable, and the feel of the town with the main street lined with Cajun cottages.

The Festival of Words began with an awards ceremony on Thursday evening for the winners of the writing contest. I was privileged to have a student winner, so I picked her up after school, and we drove the hour to the Sunset library, just west of Grand Coteau. She commented that she loved the name of the town “Sunset.” At the awards ceremony, I introduced my student to two state poets laureate, Darrell Bourque and Julie Kane.

My student poetry winner meets the current state poet laureate, Julie Kane.

Following the open mic when students read, we enjoyed two performance poets, Bonny McDonald and Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore. Here is a video I took of Bonny’s performance of “To A natural in E flat.”

On Saturday, I ventured back to Grand Coteau and the Festival of Words. I attended a fiction writing workshop with Randall Kenan. The workshop was small and intimate and we wrote and talked and wrote and talked, the best kind of workshop to me. In the afternoon, I attended Julie Kane’s poetry workshop. Again it was a small group. She talked to us about forms and had us try out combining a praise poem with using the same first word in each line. We brainstormed ideas for mundane things to write about. We wrote about fingernail clippers, mosquitoes, and a volume knob. I wrote about grass. I was actually satisfied with the result.

For today I will step lightly
For your tenderness
For the light of sun upon your greenliness
For tickling my belly
For wriggling between my toes
For your fresh sweet scent
For the settled earth you draw strength from
For your canvas of wildflowers
For clover crowns
For hiding rolly-pollies, fleas, and snakes
For grass.

I wish I had stayed for more readings, but the day was growing long, and my mind weary, but I’ll be back next year.

Students from area high schools did drive-by poetry. Here a student reads aloud a poem by Julie Kane to Julie Kane. She delighted in hearing her own poems performed by these talented students.

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