Posts Tagged ‘Jeannine Atkins’

Poetry Friday is at Donna's site: Mainly Write

Poetry Friday is at Donna’s site: Mainly Write

In November at NCTE16, I was privileged to finally meet poet Jeannine Atkins.  I got a copy of her upcoming book in verse, Stone Mirrors.  I didn’t know what this book was about.  I just loved the cover.



The beauty of this book is on the inside and the outside.  Jeannine tells the story of Edmonia Lewis, a Objibwe-Haitian-American woman, who in 1862, had the rare chance to attend Oberlin.  While there, she became mixed up in a controversy over poisoning.  She was acquitted, but forced to leave the school.  Her future took her to Boston and Italy where she became a successful sculptor.

The facts, however, are not the important aspects of this story.  What I found intriguing was Jeannine’s unique way of writing story in verse.  As I read, I was drawn in  by the melody of the language as well as the fascinating story. I loved following Edmonia through her growing confidence as an artist and as a woman.  I wonder how Jeannine got into the mind of Edmonia.  How did she know the feel of the stone she carved?  “She hammers out stillness, holding a life in mid-speech or stride, like a deer between danger and trust.”

Intertwined into the story of Edmonia Lewis are lines of wisdom, carved into Jeannine’s poems like the images Edmonia carved in stone.

Broken Colors

Edmonia carves the smokey smell of drawing pencils,
like a burned-down fire, and hardening clay,
with its whiff of a pond bottom.  She goes to the art room,
where each mark on paper offers a new chance.
She has nothing left but hunger for beauty,
small as the tip of a paintbrush.

She wishes the stove were lit,
though if smoke rose she might not be alone.
She smashes ice that sheathes
a jar of water to rinse a paintbrush.
She no longer draws goddesses, gods,
or anyone in transformation.
White people think metaphor belongs to them.

She opens a cupboard with boxes
printed with names, none hers.
She reads them as if studying a map
of places no one expects her to see.
The shelves and boxes are divided
like classrooms where walls come between
art, poetry, and myth. In history class,
teachers separate the dead from the living.
All through the school, lines are drawn between
right and wrong, white and colored, rich and poor,
truth and lies, facts and dreams, courage and fear,
what belongs to one person and what doesn’t.
They forget that every time the wind blows,
the world asks everyone to bend.

from Stone Mirrors, Jeannine Atkins, January 2017


On a recent trip through New Orleans, we crossed the Hale Boggs Bridge. My daughter was driving, so I could take this amazing picture. As the time changes over to a new year, I contemplate what may lie ahead.

Towers reach for time Carved into parting clouds Tuning my future Margaret Simon #haikuforhealing

Towers reach for time
Carved into parting clouds
Tuning a future
Margaret Simon

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Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone's site: Check it Out.

Join the Poetry Friday round-up at Jone’s site: Check it Out.

Revision? Ugh! If you are a writer, revision is a necessary evil. Maybe not evil, but definitely necessary. If I am going to urge my students to revise, I must experience it myself.

I have a copy of Kate Messner’s Real Revision in my stack of professional books for the summer. It’s already dog-eared, written in, and sticky-noted. Each chapter ends with a section “Meet Mentor Author…” I decided for this post that I would take one piece of advice and apply it to an old draft of a poem. However, when I got started, I went in a different direction.

I’ve “met” Jeannine Atkins through Poetry Friday. Her exercise in Real Revision begins, “Try It: Jeannine Atkins tries to use concrete nouns- specific, precise words- and verbs that really suggest action.”

I pulled out my poem “Singing the Blues” that I wrote in a wordlab setting. I liked it but felt that it needed work. Jeannine’s exercise helped me attack the challenge, but once I started pinpointing precise words, I also made other changes. This is a good lesson for my work with students. A revision strategy such as this one by Jeannine can be a starting point, but I also should encourage other changes. Jump in with finding precise words, then move on to confirming the theme, changing the order, or adding in senses, metaphor, etc. Revision can be endless. We should teach our students that it can also be fun and satisfying when your writing takes shape and looks like a bird that may fly.

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

My brother, the performer, Hunter Gibson

Find Hunter’s music on the web here.

Singing the Blues

My mother sang blues in rhythm with her cleaning,
mopped on out to the shade of the oak tree
to cool off and cool down. That Mississippi sun
shone like Jupiter on a summer night.

We played with fire.

The front yard burned.
Smoke rose to the gods,
Chatty Cathy and a set of Lincoln Logs—ashes.
Mom cried when she saw her begonias
seared like sausage on a stick.

I buried my Barbies in the flowerbed, knelt
beside the snake of Eden—I am a sinner.
I Guess that’s Why They Call it the Blues
echoes from the microphone.

Brother now plays the keyboard,
sways his Elton John head
above the noise of a crowded bar.
Does he remember?

We were only children, for God’s sake!
What did we know about heat and rage then?
Our phoenix rose long ago.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

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Discover. Play. Build.

ice 2

Ruth Ayres hosts the weekly Saturday Celebration blog round-up. She is also the co-author of Celebrating Writers. I received my copy this week. I have been using the writing workshop model for almost 20 years, so I wasn’t sure I would get more information from another book on writing. Of course, I was wrong. We are always growing and learning. Ruth has put into words so much of my own thinking I feel like we must be friends. Her writing style is like that, friendly, clear, and unpretentious.

Order Celebrating Writers

Order Celebrating Writers

I am happy to report that without really knowing it, I celebrate writers daily. She writes about the importance of response in celebrating writing. Like Ruth, I love blog comments (hint, hint), but I didn’t realize that I need them, too. Comments nudge me and strengthen my writing. Response does this for my students, too. Comments are a necessary part of the writing process.

My students use kidblog. The last few weeks they have been working on writing a fiction story with nonfiction elements. They are posting chapters on the kidblog site. I encourage each student to comment to two students each week. Celebrating Writers helped me nudge them into more meaningful comments.

I talked to Matthew about the meaning of comments to his own writing. He said, “You are a great writer when a reader sees a mistake. It means they are really reading your story.”

Today, I want to celebrate writing. With two free days this week and the nudge of nerdlution, I wrote every day. I love to write poetry, but coming up with an idea can be difficult. I am celebrating all the prompts I got this week from these sites:

Clare Martin at Orphans of Rain and Dark posted this prompt just for me because I had to miss Acadiana Wordlab last weekend.

On Thursdays, Laura Purdie Salas posts 15 Words or Less writing prompt. She posts an image and her own response and calls for others to contribute. This stretches my writing muscles and connects me with other writers.

Poetry Friday is always a rich round-up of poetry to read and prompts to try. This week Amy Ludwig Vanderwater posted on Poem Farm an original poem and a prompt to begin with a line, “Once somebody asked me.” Then as I read further down, I discovered I won a book giveaway. (Do a happy dance!) Thanks to Amy and Jeannine Atkins for View from a Window Seat: Thoughts on the Writing Life. Can’t wait to get this wonderful surprise gift.

And last, but not least, my students are reading, reading, reading! Here’s a group of them, lined up side by side reading on Friday morning. What a wonderful site! And the room was so quiet!

Reading students

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