Friday, August 19, 2016

How Is a Poem Like a Cartoon? Part II

Poet Cody Walker

 First, a poem by W.S. Merwin (it seems the older I get, the more I like Merwin) about late summer for my Poetry Friday contribution:

Ripe Seeds Falling

At home in late summer after the long
spring journeys and their echoing good-byes
at home as the year's seeds begin to fall
each one alone each in its own moment
coming in its blind hope to touch the earth
its recognition even in the dark
knowing at once the place that it has touched
the place where it belongs and came to stay
this is the place that I wanted to hear
to listen to the daylight and the dark
in this moment that has come along with me.

-- W.S. Merwin

Fine goal, to listen to the daylight and the dark.

Next: An update on last week's post about an interview of Dusan Petricic talking about how a poem is like a cartoon. This week I hope you'll read an elaboration on that theme - it's an essay by the wonderful poet Cody Walker who uses the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest to teach students how to write poetry, reminding them that economy of expression (rather than schmears of "lyrical" adjectives) in both genres is paramount - not only is "right words/right order" good advice, but so is "as few words as possible."

At one point in "Captions in the Classroom," Cody - who is a former winner of the Caption Contest, former "Poet Populist of Seattle," and current teacher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor - says this: "Inexperienced writers sometimes imagine that good writing comes from good ideas. But that’s not right: good writing comes from good sentences. It comes from caring about sentence construction: the rhythm of the clauses, the placement of the predicate. And working on captions—fiddling with punctuation and modifiers—reinforces this lesson wonderfully"

You can read more of Cody's thoughts about poetry at The Kenyon Review and there are examples of Cody's economical ditties  online - don't miss his Mad Gardener poems (and try writing one yourself - harder than it looks!)  He's outrageous and wonderful, and he has a new book is out titled The Self-Styled No-Child: "This second book of poems by Cody Walker offers an unlikely array of characters: Edward Lear, Mitt Romney, Amy Clampitt, and Andy Kaufman share the stage. Walker himself is ever-present, with his shrugs, his heartbreak, his "way-out rhymes": 'I'd like to write some lines about the snow, / but -- I dunno, / the snow seems so / fleeting: / a flock of gulls, late for a meeting.' Full of comic interruptions and grave forecasts, these poems surprise, delight, and terrify."

Cody's practices what he preaches, and his advice is good: Give the Caption Contest a try. Go ahead. Do it.

Today Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Dori over at Dori Reads. Head there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Is a Poem Like a Cartoon?

from My Family Tree by Dusan Petricic

For Poetry Friday, here's a little something I read over at the Art of the Picture Book blog. It's from an interview of the Serbian/Canadian illustrator and political cartoonist Dusan Petricic (author/illustrator of My Family Tree):

I love poetry. I think it is the most important field in literature for me. With poetry you have to be very precise, very focused and explain simple things. There’s always something a little bit conceptual in each poem. So I love to do that. It’s a lot to do with my opinion about cartoons in general, not only political cartoons. The cartoon is a way of thinking. So poetry and cartoons are similar to me. And that similarity is very simplistic, with the concept of how to find the right, the most precise way to explain yourself. With the least possible words.” 

Well said!  So my poetry contribution this week is not only that quotation but one of Petricic's cartoons -  a piece of social commentary that definitely explains itself with the least possible words. Think of it as a poem about America in the year 2016.

You'll find the Poetry Friday round-up (and a wonderful poem by Howard Nemerov titled "Summer's Elegy") over at Tara Smith's blog, A Teaching Life. And I have a post up this week at Books Around the Table, featuring a link to the blog mentioned above, Art of the Picture Book. Enjoy!

Dusan Petricic

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday: Playing with Mother Goose

Mother Goose illustrated by Jesse Wilcox Smith
I've always found Mother Goose a perfect beginning point for anyone wanting to learn about writing poetry, and I don't just mean writing poetry for kids. One of my professors at the University of Washington, Rick Kenney, directed me toward Mother Goose rhymes - for their musicality, their memorability, and for their weird and wonderful and nonsensical content.

Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright
Later, as a creative writing teacher myself, I asked my students to write "new" Mother Goose rhymes, paying attention to the traditional sound a Mother Goose rhyme makes (often a jump-rope rhythm, with bizarre little tweeks and twists) but with modern content. What resulted were some of the best poems written by those students in any given semester.

Mother Goose - Artist Unknown
So today, in honor of Poetry Friday, I'm offering up another poem that takes Mother Goose as the baseline and plays with it in a slightly different way, abandoning the rhythms but focusing on the content and turning it inside out, or maybe pushing it sideways. I recognize Humpty Dumpty, Little Nanny Etticot, Three Blind Mice, and Rock-a-Bye Baby, but what is the poet saying about them?   Full confession: I don't know what the poet is saying  - it's as if a Mother Goose rhyme had been turned into a modern riddle. Or as if the nonsensical nature could be imported to a poem for adults that is equally nonsensical. I need to study it more.

Mother Goose - Artist Unknown
But I love how a nursery rhyme (or, in this case, several nursery rhymes) can become the subject of a serious poem, and I challenge anyone reading The Drift Record this week to try their hand at one of two things: 1) writing a modern Mother Goose rhyme, with jump rope rhythms but modern content or 2) taking an existing Mother Goose rhyme, sticking with the characters and the storyline of a rhyme but stranging it up, turning it inside out, going a little surreal with it. If you can't figure out your own poem, so much the better! Think of it as a riddle. You might just have said something that will surprise you, which is always a pleasure when writing, no? 

Mother Goose illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Here is Josephine Jacobsen's poem (from her book In the Crevice of Time) - and if you want to learn more about this wonderful poet, you can read many of her poems over at Poetry Explorer, and you can read my essay about her over at Numero Cinq magazine by clicking here.

The Primer

                      I said in my youth
“they lie to children”
but it is not so.
Mother my goose I know
told me the truth.

I remember that treetop minute.
That was a baby is a woman now;
in a rough wind, it was a broken bough
brought down the cradle with the baby in it.

I had a dumpy friend (you would not know his name
though he indeed had several), after his fall
lay in live pieces by my garden wall
in a vain tide of epaulets and manes.

I had another friend (and you would know her name),
took up her candle on her way to bed.
She had a steady hand and a yellow head
up the tall stairway, but the chopper came.

So small they meant to run away, from sightless eyes
three mice ran toward my mind instead;
I seized the shapely knife. They fled
in scarlet haste, the blind and tailless mice.

Cock robin was three birds of a single feather.
Three times cock robin fell when a breeze blew;
eye of fly watched; arrow of sparrow flew:
three times cock robin died in the same weather.

                                                --Josephine Jacobsen

You can check out what other people have posted this week over at Diane Mayr's wonderful blog, Random Noodling.  And let's all shout hooray: It's summer, the season of full belief. Time for raspberries, ripe peaches, Rainier cherries. Time to run through some sprinklers. Time to be a little lazy in the noonday sun. And in the noonday shade. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Poetry Friday Is Here Today!

Welcome to The Drift Record - It's Poetry Friday!

Today (a bit early, actually, it's Thursday night) I'm your host for 
the Poetry Friday Round-Up. 

Since I'm not using Mr. Linky, just doing it the old-fashioned way, please leave the name of your blog plus your URL links/descriptions in the Comments section and I'll gather them together here during the day (one early morning gathering, one mid-morning, one afternoon, and - if needed - a final evening gathering)  I'm hoping you'll check other links out over the next few days, and you'll let individuals know if you've enjoyed what they posted. 

I'm posting a strange little poem of mine (do I have any other kind lately?) It's a bit of fizz based on an article I read in The Smithsonian magazine about a "disappearing" river. Wonderful magazine, The Smithsonian, so support it and the important museum it represents, if you can. I've linked the title of the poem to the article this was based on, as a way to acknowledge that inspiration can come from unpredictable sources.  Hope you will read both poem and article.

 "The Mystery of Minnesota's Disappearing River" - The Smithsonian, July, 2015

Her family never realized that half of her was missing. 
Most likely, half of her was enough for them, most likely 
some thick knuckle of something had split her in two, 
that’s all, and before anyone knew it,  half of her
disappeared – it was right where her bed dropped out 
from underneath her. 
                         Half of her fell right into the hole there,
and half of her just kept on flowing, there was a rift 
she couldn’t handle, it was that simple on the surface of it, 
and down she went, at least the half of her drawn that direction, 
toward disappearing.
                         Those who noticed long suspected
that caves were to blame, a shift in the continent,
an underground channel where the Devil kept his kettles 
and cooked his meals, but the mystery remains. 
Few call for help, so no one quite knows how it happens, 
the long drop -- some say they heard a part of her 
shout goodbye but most say the roar was too loud that day.
Besides, half of her is still a river, which some say
is all that matters. 

Devil's Kettle Falls, Minnesota - Here, She Disappears

P.S. I've put up a new post over at Books Around the Table, all about the power of non-fiction. Check it out here. 

Now, on to Poetry Friday links, filled with Memorial Day reminders and creative poetry challenges:


1. At Friendly Fairy Tales, Brenda Harsham offers us two tanka about lilies of the valley and the memories they inspire.

2. Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink shares her responses to Laura Shovan's challenge to write a persona poem (the challenge appears on Michelle H. Barnes's Today's Little Ditty blog.) And don't miss Linda's invitation to contribute a poem to her Spring's Seeds Gallery.

3. Linda Baie posts a contribution to Michelle and Linda's persona poem challenge, too, at her blog, TeacherDance.

4. Robyn Hood Black helps us remember that Memorial Day is on Monday with her tender haiku at Life at the Deckle Edge.

5. Over at Sally Murphy's blog, you'll find a lovely David Attenborough video plus an original poem based on the song A Wonderful World. Sally challenges you to write a poem using a song's title, with individual words of the title opening each line of your poem. Go on, give it a try!

6. Fats (via Myra Garces Bacsal at Gathering Books) shares a poem titled "Looking Like Me," from a book of the same name by Walter Dean Myers (illustrated by his son Christopher.)

7. Tabatha Yeatts posts the poem "To a Child," by the 19th-century New York poet Sophie Jewett. You'll find it at her blog, The Opposite of Indifference.

8. I'm so excited to see that Mary Lee Hahn is sharing pre-publication news of the new verse novel by Skila Brown titled To Stay Alive.  I loved Skila's first book, Caminar, and I expect this next one will be equally good. Go to A Year of Reading for Mary Lee's review of it (paired with a review of Nathan Hales' Hazardous Tales:  Donner Dinner Party.)

9. Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme shares his poem, "Spring at Pond Meadow."

10. And Laura Shovan shares odes to shoes written by 3rd graders in her poetry workshop at Northfield Elementary. Go to her website at to read them.

11. Check out Laura Purdie Salas's sad haiku over at Writing the World for Kids - it's about standardized testing in schools today.

12. Irene Latham's new book, Fresh Delicious, has inspired a poem about blueberries by 10-year-old Rebekah. Read it at Live Your Poem today. 

MID-MORNING (on the Pacific Coast!)

13. Penny Parker Klosterman hosts author Brenda Harsham and her daughter, Anna, for a collaborative project (art by Anna and poetry - "Anna's Cats" - by Brenda.)

14. We get a breakfast buffet at Alphabet Soup, the ever-delicious blog of Jama Kim Rattigan.

15. Double the pleasure: Diane Mayr offers up an original poem about Marc Chagall over at Random Noodling,  plus posts a poem ("The Laughter of Women") which celebrates Amelia Bloomer over at Kurious Kitty.

16.  At Today's Little Ditty, Michelle Barnes posts a real treasure trove of persona poems written by Poetry Friday friends over the month of May in response to an earlier challenge sent out by Linda Shovan. Don't miss the giveaway of a signed copy of Linda's book, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary - you still have time to enter by posting a comment on Michelle's round-up.

17. Catherine is sharing a persona poem for Michelle and Laura's Ditty Challenge, "Through an Open Window," inspired by Winslow Homer's "Morning Glories." Read it at her blog, Reading to the Core.

18. You can read Emily Dickinson's poem, "Just lost when I was saved...." at Little Willow's live journal post today. I love Dickinson's line, "Next time, to stay!"

19. Doraine Bennett posts a poem about wandering by the ever graceful and passionate John Masefield over at Dori Reads.

20. Student poems honoring veterans on this Memorial Day weekend, posted by Jone MacCulloch at Check It Out. 

21. Karen Edmisten is sharing "In the Middle," a poem by Barbara Crooker ("Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach....")

22. Steven Withrow offers us an original poem, "Mosquito Season," over at Crackles of Speech. Well done, and welcome back to Poetry Friday, Steven!

23. Adelaide Crapsey's poem, "The Properly Scholarly Attitude," appears on Kelly Fineman's live journal, Writing and Ruminating.

24. At Carol's Corner, Carol has posted three poems by a very talented first grader.

25. Margaret Simon reflects on joy and the gift of touch in an original poem titled "the butterfly" at Reflections on the Teche.

26. At Pleasures from the Page, Ramona takes a look at Bob Raczka's fabulous new book of concrete poems, Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems.  

I think that's all for this week though I'll check again before bed for any late links.

THANKS everyone for your wonderful posts!  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Nice Surprise

First, a confession: I cringed a little when I saw the subtitle of Leave This Song Behind: Teen Poetry at its Best. My assumption was that the book would be filled with a certain sentimentality, with prose broken into random lines, with poems unmindful of the music of language, and with poems over-saturated with sex, self-doubt, self-infatuation and angst. I assumed, too, that the poetry would feel "forced,"  that is, it would be the kind of poetry wrung out of bored teens by well-meaning English teachers trying to keep a love of poetry alive in 21st-century America.

Second, a correction: All my assumptions proved wrong. This is an exciting book, filled with strong poems. It makes me hopeful about that "keeping poetry alive" dream. I hope high-school teachers reading this post will take a look, and, if they like it, will share it with their colleagues and students. All the poems were published in Teen Ink, a magazine of teen writing which has been published since 1989. The editors of both the anthology and the magazine are Stephanie and John Meyer, who must be doing something right - it isn't easy to keep a poetry journal alive for 27 years.

I found plenty of favorites, and the poem below is one of them - it's the first poem in the book, and it got me turning the pages. Just look at its attention to the sound of the words. It engages the three elements Ezra Pound found most essential: melopoeia (words charged with a certain musicality which further affects their meaning), phanopoeia (the effect of image on the imagination), and logopoeia ("the dance of the intellect.") See what you think:


She liked to sit in the backyard
And watch the neighbor's laundry
Swing on the clothesline, crisp pale
Blue button-downs of the husband
Wrinkling in the half-wind, Summer
Sighing across the silky surface of
The twisting sundress, first one way,
Then the other, like soft hips
Swinging, one way, then the
Other, and when they were just
Washed and still wet they would
Flap and flick beads into the grass
That would flash fast down like
Little silver raindrops, one way,
Then the other.

                      Ariel Miller

That's a lovely poem, and (minus a few idiosyncratic line breaks) I wouldn't mind having my own name at the bottom of it.

The anthology divides poems into categories that can help teachers explain what makes a good poem tick (strong images, sensory details, clear language, playing with structure, establishing a narrative, metaphorical thinking, wit, and "fresh takes on the familiar.") So it would make a great textbook without feeling dusty or dull. And what better way to motivate teens than giving them a book of poems written by teens?

Let your students know that submissions can be made at the website for Teen Ink (click here for the link.)

The poetry of a clothesline.....

The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by Violet Nesdoly - head over to her blog to see what other people have posted.