Posts Tagged ‘place-based writing’

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

What is the greatest gift a poetry teacher can ever hope for? A student who keeps writing poetry, even though you are no longer teaching her. You may remember my student Chloe. She’s now in 7th grade and attending another school, but last week she sent me a poem. She told me that she was in Thibodeaux, LA for a gymnastics meet. Her father went to college in the town and showed her the route to where he had lived. He asked her to write a poem about it. And what father do you know encourages the poet-daughter? I was charmed, of course, and asked if I could post her poem here. Please leave encouraging comments for Chloe.

Thibodeaux Turns

Extravagant land that turns your world 

The world that grew with you 

That rested with you

That prayed with you

Never felt alone with this land 

These bodies of water mark journeys in our lives 

And heart

And minds

Traveling tree roots that build our homes and house animals that feed us 

This air that circulates our bodies and arms and legs

Blowing away our doubts and fears 

Bringing us to our pot of gold at the end of our Louisiana adventures 

Our sugar cane grounds desperately reaching for the water we provide 

Thibodeaux turns turn our history 

Our signs 

Our lives

Chloe Willis, 7th grade

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See more posts at Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life
Poetry Friday round-up is with Linda at Teacher Dance.

Today is the first day of March, so you know what that means: The annual March Slice of Life Challenge at the Two Writing Teachers!  I will be writing a blog post every day and linking it up to Two Writing Teachers.  What’s the point?

  • Writing every day is an important discipline for a writer and for a teacher of writing.
  • Connecting to other teacher-writers inspires and informs my teaching and writing, and I usually make new friends along the way.
  • There are prizes! 

I first met Jen Vincent through Kate Messner’s Teachers Write, a virtual summer camp for teachers who want to write.  If I remember correctly, we did a Google Hangout with other writers and read a section of our work.  I further connected with Jen through blogging and Twitter and met up with her at NCTE in 2014.  These connections are invaluable to me as a teacher and a writer.

One day I saw that Jen was teaching a workshop.  Silly me, I thought it was virtual, so I replied to her message on Facebook, “I want to come.”  Since Chicago and South Louisiana are pretty far apart, that was not feasible, but Jen thought of a way.  She created a virtual workshop.

We met one Saturday morning by Zoom meeting.  She led me through an exercise from Teachers Write by Tracey Baptiste.  We made a graphic organizer in our notebooks and labeled three places we had been recently. We then divided each column into two columns. On one side we wrote descriptions about the places and the other side we wrote emotions we felt about the places.

I chose school, dance lessons, and a restaurant where we go dancing.  I decided to connect the three places with the thread of dancing.

Dancing Days

I dance through my days…

Halls of smiling teachers
greet my wobbly walk
weighed down with backpack,
lunch bag and Yeti cup.
Miss Marie says, Show me that grandbaby!
After we view the latest pic on my phone,
I dance down the hall to my classroom.

At Dance Around the World studio,
bright purple walls of mirror on mirror
reflect my partner and me.
Miss Lou says, Right. Left. Back step.
We follow along,
find our balance–
weightless in a jitterbug twirl.

I dance my way to Friday night,
Nouveau String Band at Joie de Vivre,
wooden floors echo the sounds
of greetings, giggles, and two-steps.
Buck says, This waltz is for you.
The weight of the week disappears
to the beat of fiddle, mandolin, and drum.

(c) Margaret Simon

This workshop was a test run for Jen for her new Patreon page, Story Exploratory.  If you’d like to find more ways to write, I highly recommend Jen as an instructor. You can view this workshop and others by visiting Jen’s patreon page, Story Exploratory.


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  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

I have been thinking a lot about images and writing lately. An image helps me focus and informs my writing. When working with an image, I can be more specific in sensory details.

Over at Teachers Write camp, the focus has been on character and dialogue and how the setting can be used to guide the dialogue rather than using tags. Megan Frazer Blakemore has a number of tips for writing dialogue.

I am using setting to inform my characters’ actions. In the sequel to Blessen that I am working on, I wanted to put in this tree. It is located on the grounds of a former Catholic girls’ school, and my husband tells me it is called “The Boob Tree.” Can you see why?
boob tree

My former student/ middle school Beta reader advised that I change it. She said if my book was going to be read aloud in 3rd-4th grade classrooms, Boob Tree was way too embarrassing. So I took her advice and changed the tree to The Angel Tree. The tree becomes an important character and gets intricately involved in the plot.

I want the setting of South Louisiana to come through strongly. This morning while I was walking in the park, I came upon a nutria. Nutria are aquatic rodents. They are not too fearful of people (perhaps not too smart), so I got a good close up shot. A nutria makes an appearance in Sunshine (the working title of Blessen’s sequel.)


Something jumps beside the boat. A fish? A snake? An alligator? I paddle faster. It doesn’t help. The boat spins around. I try paddling on the other side. I spin back. I just stop, put the paddle inside the boat, and wait. Breathe.

Then I see it. A baby nutria with its tiny head sticking out above the water. He skims the surface, joining his family in a grove of cypress knees. I am mesmerized. They chatter together. Nutria language, foreign to me. Mother and baby look my way. I whisper hello. Mother nudges baby back into the water and they skim off together into the dark spaces between the trees.

Nutria are large rodents, a glorified rat. But I think they are cute, especially the curious babies. They are as big as a beaver, but their tails are long and skinny. My uncle, who we call Big Brother, used to hunt them for fun. He made me a string necklace once with two shiny orange teeth. He told me they were a nuisance, imported to Louisiana for their fur, but no one really wants a rat for a coat. They have multiplied and taken over.

A few years ago, Momma thought it’d be funny to feed us nutria spaghetti. She didn’t tell us what it was until we all had eaten. You should have seen my Pawpee’s face. He laughed so hard and said, “Cher, Deanie, you make the best nutria spaghetti around.”
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

How are you using setting to inform your writing?

Kim Douillard invites us to take a Photo-a-Day in August, trying to capture the unexpected. Both of the above images qualify as unexpected in nature. I am piggybacking on her challenge and asking you to write a scene, description, poem to accompany your image. The list is as follows:

So August’s challenge is to look for the unexpected as you enjoy the last of the long light and warm days (at least in the northern hemisphere). And to help you look, here are some prompts—one per day—to focus your attention and spur your thinking.

1. People

2. Place

3. Nature

4. Plants

5. Animals

6. Horizon

7. Food

8. Transportation

9. Light

10. Home

11. Smell

12. Sound

13. Garden

14. Inside

15. Thing

16. Drink

17. Sky

18. Outside

19. Neighborhood

20. Weather

21. Early

22. Texture

23. Words

24. Interaction

25. Walk

26. Arrangement

27. Trash (#Litterati)

28. Architecture

29. Close up (Macro)

30. Landscape

31. Pleasure

Once you find the unexpected and capture a photo of it, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts.”

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