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Archive for the tag “school”

Interview with children’s poet David L. Harrison

Last October, I had the opportunity to spend a week with David Harrison and 14 other children’s writers at the Highlights Foundation’s children’s poetry workshop, “Poetry: For the Delight of It.” Although it’s taken several months to post, it’s my pleasure to finally be able to bring you this online conversation David and I had, following the workshop!

David headshotDavid Harrison’s first book for children, The Boy With a Drum, was released in 1969 and eventually sold over two million copies. In 1972, David won national recognition when he received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories.

Since then, David has published over 90 books that have sold more than 15 million copies and earned numerous honors!

He has been anthologized in more than 100 books and appeared in dozens of magazines and professional journals, and his work has been translated into twelve languages and presented on television, radio, cassette, and CD-ROM.

David’s SKY HIGH ON READING program was the International Reading Association’s nationwide winner in 2001. The Missouri Librarian Association presented him with its 2007 Literacy Award for the body of his work.

In the last 25 years, David has been a speaker, featured author, or presenter at nearly 300 state, regional, and national conferences in 30 states, and maintains a blog to let readers know what he’s up to and encourage them to write their own poetry.  David holds science degrees from Drury and Emory universities and honorary doctorate of letters degrees from Missouri State University and Drury University. He has an elementary school named for him and is poet laureate of Drury. He lives in Springfield, Missouri with his wife Sandy, a retired guidance counselor.

Learning through Poetry

Perfect home

First of all, I’d like to thank you, David, for finding the time to do this interview; you’re a busy man! Tell me about some of the highlights (no pun intended!) of what you’ve been up to this past year.

Pun accepted, Matt. It’s kind of you to interview me for your blog. Thanks for asking. In the spring, Shell Publication introduced a set of five books that I co-wrote with Mary Jo Fresch, a professor at OhioState. Collectively the books are called Learning through Poetry. I wrote 96 poems for the series and Mary Jo created classroom activities based on them.

A picture book called A Perfect Home for a Family came out with Holiday House and a kit called Let’s Write this Week with David Harrison was introduced by Phoenix Learning Resources. The kit contains twenty 5-minute DVD lessons, a teacher’s guide co-written with Drury University’s Laurie Edmondson, twenty copies of a student writing journal, and three of my books that were used as examples in the text. PiratesI was in Texas, Boston, and other places to present at conferences and enjoyed conducting another poetry workshop at the Highlights location in Pennsylvania.

A definite highlight was when my book of poems, Pirates, was selected by MissouriCenter for the Book to represent Missouri at The National Book Fair in Washington, D.C. this past fall. I didn’t make the trip but am told that about 200,000 others did.

Speaking of the Highlights workshop, it was a pleasure to finally meet you in person, after having spent so much time chatting on your blog and via Facebook.  What do you feel your role is, as a writer, mentor, blogger?

Mostly I’m a writer. On days without other obligations I work at being a writer from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. This involves numerous activities besides working on a manuscript. My blog takes some time. So does keeping up with correspondence, preparing for workshops, keynotes, and presentations. I also work with various literacy groups and my wife and I travel quite a bit. My rule of thumb is that I will respond to general queries from writers who ask for how-to information but stop short of reading their work. I do critiques as part of a workshop environment, and this year I agreed to be the Missouri mentor for SCBWI.

With so many people trying to break into the world of children’s publishing, and with so many posting their work online via Facebook, personal blogs, or other outlets (Yours Truly included!), do you think it’s difficult for the average reader to differentiate between ‘good’ material and just ‘average’ material? It seems like the less that poetry is being published traditionally, the more it’s popping non-traditionally, and it’s getting hard to keep track of it all!

It’s a good news bad news situation. Thanks to the Internet, many more books and poems are now available to a reading public. Some of the material is wonderful, some is horrid, and the vast majority – as usual – falls somewhere on the slope between the peak and valley. The freedom to publish one’s own work can bring enormous satisfaction. Finding readers is difficult without the traditional support of print publishers, but that’s the tradeoff.

Long term? More poets publishing more poetry for more readers seems like a good thing to me. My assumption is that the good stuff will eventually be recognized for its quality and most of the rest will remain fairly anonymous except for the happy poet and his/her immediate circle of family and friends. Not a bad thing!

Cows (David L)Dog (David L)Grubb (David L)Glaciers (David L)

What advice can you offer aspiring authors and poets? And what do you think aspiring writers need to do, that perhaps they may not be doing?

Beware of advice from duffers and codgers. Back in my day, we had to write our stories in the dirt with our fingers. We had to carry our manuscripts all the way to New York because we couldn’t afford stamps. Editors breathed fire and their breath smelled of coal. I’ve never had much useful advice to offer, Matt. Getting good at anything requires approximately the same approach be it volleyball or be it making it to Carnegie Hall: practice.

If Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed, it takes 10,000 hours of it. I think what makes the craft of writing more difficult than many realize is that it’s a highly competitive profession in which practitioners are often self-taught. It’s like completing a four-year college major on your own. So set up realistic goals. Celebrate small successes of any kind. And write! Write every chance you have. Try different genres. Experiment. But write. Practice, practice, practice.

And of course, read, read, read – it’s one of the best ways to learn! Which leads me to my next question. We all have favourite authors who somehow exert their influence on us, even if we don’t want them to; who are your favourite poets or authors, and how has their writing affected yours?

I like E. B. White’s beautifully written essays, his book on the elements of style and, of course, his books for children. He’s the master of the language. I love Frost’s musings and Elliot’s cats and Collins’s approachable eloquence. I began writing short stories back in the day so I read a lot of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Updike, Bruce Friedman, Kurt Vonnegut, and Terry Southern. I have loved the novels and stories of Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver, and Annie Proulx. Among the writers of children’s literature who inspire me, the list would be long and I would fear leaving out someone by oversight.

So who or what inspires you?  And who do you trust for feedback on your writing?

By training and by nature I love nature. I’m happy watching geese take off from the lake behind our house, as I did during this interview. Wild creatures inspire me. I love children but am rarely moved to write something that has been inspired by them. I find my ideas in unexpected places and believe it’s because some part of a writer’s brain is always receptive to the possibility of turning nothing into something. I work alone and don’t want anyone to see my manuscript until it’s ready. Then I take it to my wife Sandy. She has always been my first reader. She’s honest and I need her to be.


By the way, you are the only person I know to have a school named after them! How did that come to be? 

The Superintendent of our school district called one day to tell me that 40+ names had been submitted by the public for an under-construction elementary school and I was among the final three candidates. He called back sometime later to congratulate me and invite me to a school board meeting to make it official. When the school opened, I was asked to give the opening talk to the student body (K-4), its teachers and staff, and various officials of the district. My family came as well as Kent and Jody Brown (of Highlights Foundation) who flew in from Pennsylvania to honor me with their presence. My speech was put into a time capsule. In the front hall on either side of the library entrance a collection of my work was placed on display for three years in two sixteen-foot long glassed cases.

David Harrison Elementary School cost $10 million to build in 2009 and rests on seventy-two acres. Click HERE to visit their website!

You are also the only one I know who has provided inspiration for a playwright; your poetry inspired Sandy Asher’s school plays, Somebody Catch My Homework and Jesse and Grace: A Best Friend’s Story.  How did these works compare with your originals – and is it even fair to compare them?

Somebody Catch My HomeworkSandy and I have been close friends and writing partners for a long time. For the play, Somebody Catch My Homework, she went through my published poetry and folders of poems-in-waiting and fished out a group of fourth grade characters to form the basis of a play. I love it, of course, and sit up straighter each time an actor in the play steps forward, as though to sing but, instead, recites one of my poems. The play has been a success both here and elsewhere.

Jesse and Grace was also Sandy’s brainstorm. In this case she and I became fourth graders, lifetime friends, who take turns presenting our thoughts in a series of poems. Jesse and Grace have a serious spat and we had to work through it all by expressing our feelings as if we had no idea what the other might be thinking. When it came time to turn the book manuscript into a play, I turned down Sandy’s kind offer to co-write it with her. She’s a wonderful playwright and I’m not. That was her department.

Jesse and Grace went on to receive one of the most prestigious awards in the world of children’s plays, the Distinguished Play of the Year presented by Alliance of American Theatre and Education.

I think it’s important for all of us to be willing to try new things, and that’s what you did two years ago when you published Goose Lake: A Year in the Life of a Lake, an eBook of poetry for adults.  What spurred you to publish this book, and what did you learn from the process?

Goose LakeGoose Lake was something I needed to write. I spend time every day I’m home gazing through the windows or sitting outside watching the comings and goings of an endless parade of birds and creatures. I showed the manuscript to a couple of editors and got some of the most enthusiastic replies about my work that I’ve ever received. But their answers were no. Too local. Too mature. Too eclectic.

I decided to try this e-book thing to see what it was all about. Thus, a collection that appeals to me greatly now lives its lonely life on Amazon and B&N. For a mere 99 cents you can be a proud owner! Is there anything about “lonely” that you need me to explain?

Ha, no…as a poet, we’re all supposed to be lonely and sullen, with dark, tortured souls, right??  Hey, before we wrap up, I need to ask you: what are you working on now?

I just finished the poetry for a new series of three grade level books. What remains are the final revisions to call it a wrap. I’m well into a new collection of poetry for a trade publisher. A recently completed collection of poems is now scheduled for publication although it won’t be until 2016. With Mary Jo Fresch I’m at work on a new proposal for another educational publisher. I have other ideas in various stages and expect this to be a busy year.

Boy w-Drum (David L)Well, thank you again, David, for sharing your time and thoughts…and best wishes for a wonderful 2014!

And thank you again, Matt. I’ve enjoyed it.

To learn more about David, log on to his website here or visit his blog!


Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Problem Solved”

Funny how inspiration can come from anywhere and turn into anything.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllTake this poem, for example. My daughter, Katherine, was about a half-mile down the road from our house, walking home from school one day.  She was looking down, fiddling with her iPod, but when she raised her head she discovered a bull moose standing in front of her, a mere 15 feet away.

One could say she was a wee bit surprised. Fortunately, she didn’t stare at him (that can make them think you’re challenging them, and they’ll charge) and he simply walked right on past her and into the woods. She breathed a huge sigh of relief - and told us the news as soon as she got home.

The idea of meeting a moose so randomly like that stuck in my head for a few days, and eventually came out as this. Not sure what I’ll ever do with it – but I hope you like it! And for more delicious Poetry Friday offerings, be sure to visit Jama’s Alphabet Soup for the complete banquet of info and links!

“Problem Solved”

On a bike ride to school one day who should I meet
but a moose on the opposite side,
and he seemed rather tired when he stopped and inquired
if I’d possibly give him a ride.

Well, I tried to oblige, but because of his size
there was not enough room on the seat.
So we then both agreed and decided that he’d
take the pedals and I’d use my feet.

- © 2010, Matt Forrest Esenwine


PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “First Day in the Cafeteria”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllOK, ok…so I’m a bit late. I know, school has already started and here I am without my late pass.

Students have been back to their classes for one or two weeks now and although I had wanted to post this earlier, I kept forgetting!  Between my wife’s and my lack of sleep with the arrival of our new daughter, Phoebe, 4 weeks ago and that 5-day-long weekend announcing gig at the local fair, my time – and my mind – have both taken some serious hits.

But, hey, today’s Friday the 13th! What better day to write about school?!?

And remember…there’s plenty more poetry out there. For the complete Poetry Friday roundup, be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts!

“First Day in the Cafeteria”        

They could have served us burgers.
They could have served us fries.
They could have served us mac ‘n cheese
or deep-fried chicken thighs.

They could have served cold pizza
or greasy beef pot pies,
so why oh why – our first day back -
do we get “Chef’s Surprise??”

- © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine


PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “Pencils”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllAs I was looking over this year’s poems, wondering which I should share today, I happened upon this one.

I wondered if I should post it because it feels different from some of the other children’s poetry I’ve written, and I debated with myself if it was done, if it was good, if it was anything.  Being the type who can debate with himself at length, a draw was declared with no discernible winner.  So I did what any self-respecting writer would do.

I revised!

And truth be told, I still don’t know if it’s done, good, or anything. But I do know that I wrote it on 5-9-13 and revised it on 9-5-13…so I’ll take that as a little sign that I’m supposed to share this today. Plus, with the kids back in school now, it’s timely, at least.

Hope you like it! (And I hope it’s done) For today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup – and one of my favourites from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – be sure to visit Laura at Author Amok!

shutterstock_96665545 (colored pencils)“Pencils”

That’s what we are,
you and I
and the lady at the store
and that short kid
with the glasses
we met
during lunch.
Different colors,
each one capable
of our own kind of
and filled with stories
yet to be written.

- © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine


PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “What Am I?”

Poetry_Friday logoI have to thank Father Goose, Charles Ghigna, for helping me decide what poem to post today. He doesn’t even realize he helped me.

A few days ago, I was reading a poem he posted at his blog and I had to smile.  It was remarkably similar to a poem I wrote way back when I was in high school! Having just written a blog post about graduation, life, and the ‘problem’ with experience, I had been considering posting something I wrote as a student.

Charles made up my mind for me!

I don’t recall exactly when this was written…but it was somewhere between 10th and 12th grade, which would put it in the 1982-85 range. Like Charles’, this is also a riddle poem. Unlike Charles’, this was written by a 15 or 16-year-old – so there’s not a whole lot of polish on it. Come to think of it, I’m not sure there’s anything I wrote prior to this that anyone would even want to see!

See if you can figure out the answer, but don’t post it; that way, others can try to figure it out. (I don’t think it’s that hard – but then again, I already know the answer!) I’ll post the answer in the ‘Comments’ section on Monday, so be sure to check back.

ID-10051444 (Question die)“What Am I?”

I’m part of the trees, but don’t make up wood;
I stay in the city, for I know I should.
People say I’m in metal (well, that’s what I’m told)
But I’m not part of iron – or brass, bronze, or gold.
Now that we’re finished, I’ll say just one more thing:
I’ve helped make a knight, but never a king!

- Matt Forrest Esenwine, circa 1982-85

Looking for more poetry? Find more Poetry Friday offerings at ‘Carol’s Corner!’


Did you like this post? Find anything interesting somewhere in this blog? Want to keep abreast of my posts?  Then please consider subscribing via the links over here on the right! (I usually only post twice a week - on Tue. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day!)  You can also follow me via Twitter or on Facebook.

Dear Graduates: of life, men, and the problem with experience

ID-10046308 (graduate cap)This past Sunday was a busy day. Not only was it Father’s Day, but it was also the day of my youngest daughter’s high school graduation.

As I thought about my hopes and dreams for her, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the hopes and dreams I had for myself at that age, and the hopes and dreams my father probably had for his only son. When you’re 18 and graduating, the questions abound. Should I go to college? Should I work? If I go to college, what should I study? If I go to work, what will I do? Should I do what my parents want, or what I want?

In considering all these thoughts, worries, and concerns, something occurred to me:

Maturity changes everything.

Looking back over my post-high school years, I realize now what I did right and where I went wrong. I can also see multiple instances where there was no right or wrong. Life experience may be great, but it’s also a problem.

They say experience is the greatest teacher; unfortunately, it’s all on-the-job training.  You don’t get a probationary period. You don’t get a chance to learn the ropes, then go out and live your life.  We’re all in the position of tackling the world with only as much information and experience as we have at that moment – and it is only after we fail or succeed that we get our report card.  No matter how much we think we know – we never know what we need to know until after the fact.

Life is a perpetual game of trial-and-error, and I doubt most graduates realize how many ‘errors’ they will end up accumulating over the long haul. This very realization is, itself, one of the blessings of maturity.  Once we accept the fact that we don’t know everything, that we will likely fail as often (if not more) than we succeed, and that we need the knowledge, experience, and support of others to get us through…life becomes easier. And harder.

You see, maturity is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you see things more clearly and understand better how life and the world operate, which allows you to move forward with wisdom and confidence. On the other hand, you see all your past mistakes with laser-pinpoint accuracy - and although it’s helpful, it’s sometimes painful to watch.

Chilli cookoff, apple picking, hair cut October 2010 020The man I’ll never be

I should probably know more about men than I do, considering I call myself one. I don’t know if they have the same doubts, hopes, fears, and insecurities I have…but I’m sure I’m not the only one who believes:

I’ll never be the man my kids think I am, I’ll never be the man my wife deserves,
and I’ll never be the man my father is.

I think it is due to personal inadequacies I have created, based upon the standards I have set for myself…and again, I wonder if other men share this concern. I don’t think I’m a bad person, but could I do better? Could I spend more time with the kids, teach them more, listen to them more? Could I do more for my wife, help her more, support her more? Could I be a harder worker, better-skilled, more involved with the community?


And it’s not like I don’t try to improve myself in these areas. I just keep falling short of those pesky standards I was talking about. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but I doubt I’ll ever reach them. I’m willing to accept that. But it won’t keep me from trying.

The big surprise awaiting graduates

Taking into account the experience, wisdom, and surprises that come with the blessing/curse of maturity, my recognition of past failings, and my desire to constantly improve myself, I felt it’s important that graduates know one important thing. Whether they go to college or go to work, stay at home or move away, get married or stay single, there is one truth that is universal. It surprised me years ago, and it still surprises unsuspecting young people.

Ready, graduates? Here it is:

Life is harder than you realize.

Are you surprised? No? Well, you should be. If you don’t think it’s hard, just wait. And if you think it’s hard already, it’s actually harder. I’m not trying to scare you or anything – just helping you to be prepared, based on years of life experience and >ahem< maturity.

Life is fun, life is sad, life is exciting, life is boring, life is anything you make it out to be and will take you anywhere you want to go – but it’s up to you to do the driving. Sometimes, life is, indeed, easy. It will often be hard, too. That should never keep you from enjoying it and getting the most out of it.   Hard work can be enjoyable and rewarding, and so is life. Just remember that

Life is harder than you realize.

If you want to do something you think is difficult, do it anyway. Can’t do it? Figure out a way. Never accept impossibility as an option. The best things in life might be free, but the most rewarding ones usually don’t come without a great deal of work, sweat, and perseverance.

shutterstock_132016772 (woman-youth culture)

Are you ready for what’s ahead?

And by the way, if your personal situation is nice and stress-free, what about your neighbor’s? Are they struggling with some sort of problems? There’s probably something you could do to lighten their load. No, I don’t mean just offering them money or food. That’s easy. I mean taking some time to get to know them and actually lending a real helping hand. Being a true neighbor. True, that might be hard to do, but then again…

Life is harder than you realize.

If life is not hard, then you’re either extremely lucky, or you’re doing it wrong.

So be careful out there.

Poetry Friday: “More Than We Are”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllWhere does the time go? One minute your kids are starting kindergarten and the next thing you know, they’re heading off to prom and graduation and the rest of their life.

Whew, that was quick.

My youngest daughter, Katherine, is graduating high school this weekend, so there was no question for me as to what poem I should share today.  Katherine is a very talented young woman, whose photography has graced more than a few blog posts here. She was selected as a New Hampshire Scholar for her above-average course load while in high school, and I’m very proud of her.

I wrote this a little over a year ago – and although it’s not really ‘about’ her, the message was created with her, her older sisters, and all young people in mind.

(Good grief, I just used the phrase “young people.” That makes me think I might not be one of them anymore.)

Anyhoo…for all of today’s Poetry Friday festivities, visit Margaret at Reflections on the Teche!

“More Than We Are (for Katherine)”

An astronaut’s an astronaut,
But may be someone’s dad
Who takes his daughter fishing
When she feels a little sad.
A banker is a banker
But might be a mom, as well,
Who shows her son the alphabet
And helps him learn to spell.

A teacher is a teacher
But could be a singer, too;
The janitor at school may wish
He ran the local zoo.
His son might be a doctor
Who is saving someone’s life;
The lady at the store today
Might be the doctor’s wife.

Half of KatieEach homeless person on the street,
Each writer of a song,
Each boy or girl you chance to meet
Has somewhere they belong.
There’s always more than what we see,
And as we learn and grow,
We’re all more than we seem to be –

And you’re more than you know.


- © 2012, Matt Forrest Esenwine


Did you like this post? Find anything interesting somewhere in this blog? Want to keep abreast of my posts?  Then please consider subscribing via the links over here on the right! (I usually only post twice a week - on Tue. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day!)  You can also follow me via Twitter or on Facebook.

Poetry Friday: “My Book Report”

I thought I’d go waaaaay back in time for today’s post – back to the fall of 2000!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis is one of the first few children’s poems I ever wrote (I started writing for children in ’99, I believe), but when I read it today, it doesn’t feel that old, if that makes sense.  Sometimes when you’re developing a skill - whether it’s writing, singing, painting, whatever – you can tell the older, unskilled work from the newer, more polished stuff.  Personally, I can tell it’s not new…but I’m not embarrassed by it, either (and yes, there are plenty of poems that will never see the light of day for that very reason).

Since the school year is winding down and graduations are ubiquitous these days, I thought a little school-themed poetry might be nice. Hope you like it! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings – including some delicious Mango Bread and a poem by Lesléa Newman – visit Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup!

“Book Report”

My teacher said I have to write
a book report for class -
at least one hundred-fifty words,
or else I will not pass.

So here I sit with pen in hand
and nothing in my mind;
if I don’t get this handed in
I’ll be in quite a bind.

There must be some creative way
I can begin the text:
I know my name, I know the date,
I don’t know what comes next.

Come on, now, brain, you’ve got to think
and help me get this done!
It’s due tomorrow morning, and
I’ve not even begun!

But wait – that’s it – I’ve got it now!
I know just what I need!
The first thing that I’ll have to do…
is find a book to read.

- © 2000, Matt Forrest Esenwine

ID-10052692 (books)

Hands-On Poetry for Kids!

(I debated with myself whether or not to post this today.  After the horrific and cowardly act of terrorism in Boston, Mass. yesterday, I wondered if the light and breezy topic of kids learning to read and write and enjoy poetry seemed a bit out of place. Only living a couple of hours away, I have numerous friends and family in the Boston area, so the tragedy struck especially lose to home for me.

But then I realized: in times like these, giving your kids as much time as you can give them is one of the most important things you can do.  I hope you find something positive in this post, and that you’ll keep the victims of the Boston bombing in your hearts, thoughts, and prayers. Thank you.)


As you probably know by now, this is National Poetry Month, so I’ve been dedicating each of my blog posts to the craft.  Today I wanted to share three ways that kids (and grown-ups, too, for that matter) can enjoy poetry without necessarily realizing they’re learning!

#1) Play with your food

This is a fun and easy project perfect for family gatherings where there will be several kids around, looking for things to do.  Glazed cookies with words written on them can be combined to form sentences…and the fun & learning comes from both the creating and the playing!

Poem CookiesYou’ll need:

1 box of vanilla wafers
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
2 1/2 - 3 Tablespoons water
Food colouring, if desired
Edible marking pens, like FooDoodlers or Wilton FoodWriters

Make a white glaze for the cookies by combining the sugar with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water. If it’s too thick, add a little more until it’s spreading consistency. You don’t want it too thin, though – so be careful. It’s easier to add more water than to add more sugar, so having it a bit on the thick side is preferable - especially if you’re going to add food colouring.

Once the glaze is made, divide it into 2 or 3 bowls, if you plan on colouring it. Add just a little food colouring, as you’ll want to keep the colours light.  Be sure to cover the bowls to keep the glaze from drying out!

Now, frost your vanilla wafers with the glaze and allow to harden (depending on its thickness, this could take 10-15 minutes or more than an hour). Once dry, write words on each of the cookies with the pens!  For the batch of Easter cookies in the photo, I made the nouns pink, verbs yellow, and adjectives blue, just to keep them organized. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to buy the markers, so I used dark food colouring and water with some corn starch to create an edible paint and painted the words on with a fine (clean!) paintbrush.

Kids not only enjoy making these, but they love being able to play with their food…and who can blame them??

#2) Finding found poems

Seuss-cat-hatIf you don’t know what a ‘found poem’ is, that headline’s grammar may seem a bit off. But found poems are a great way to get children to read their books – or read anything, really – in a totally different way.

A found poem is a poem that one ‘finds’ inside another written work – a poem, a story, a news article, even a catalogue or advertisement. You simply scan the words and lines, searching for an element, a phrase, a theme…by which you can tie together other words and phrases within that written work.

In this case, a child can find found poems inside the books they already read and enjoy! Take, for example, the classic “The Cat in the Hat.”  Pulling lines from pages 1, 2, 8, 11, 40, 54, and 58, I came up with this rather dark and not-too-kid-friendly poem:

The sun did not shine.
I sat there with Sally;
Mother, out of the house.
He should not be here.
Run down the hall,
shut the box,
and he was gone.

Sheesh, I think I just spooked myself with that one. But you get the idea. One never knows what kinds of images or connections can be made by tying together words and phrases that at first seem disparate.

Sometimes the poem you create summarizes the main text; other times, you find yourself heading off in a totally different direction, as I just did.  Even for younger kids, simply searching for and combining similar rhyming words helps them recognize sounds and reinforces spelling. And for someone like me who loves word puzzles and wordplay, it’s a fun exercise!

#3) ‘Nothing’ is really something!

This is a good classroom activity; it’s something I often do when speaking to a class about creative writing, and it invariably impresses half the kids and bums out the other half.  It’s a simple way to show that we never do nothing, and it’s interesting to hear what words come up during this conversation…

Very simply, I ask who in the classroom has ever done nothing. Hands go up. I ask specific children, “So, when you were doing nothing, what were you doing?” Answers range from sleeping (which, of course, is something) to watching TV (which is also something) to being dead (which, while morbid, is incorrect; I explain that if you’re dead, you’re decomposing – so you’re still doing something!).

Once the kids get an idea of where this heading, I write down “Nothing” at the top of the blackboard and have them all do the same on a piece of paper.  I ask the children to shout out words that come to mind when they think of ‘nothing,’ and I write 3 or 4 responses below. I then ask them to give me words that come to mind when they think of these words and write down 2 or 3 words for each of the previous words…and then do the same for each of those words.  It only takes 4 levels of words before you have a good 35-40 words on the blackboard.

I then proudly announce that, the next time they tell their teacher they have ‘nothing’ to write about…take a look at their paper!

As I said, some of the kids think the concept of this ‘word-tree’ is cool. But the ones who are used to trying to get out of doing their work don’t seem to like it as much. Go figure!

“Poetry can be fun…really!”

That is the message I try to get across to kids – and adults, for that matter. So many people have the impression stuck in their mind that children’s poetry is simple, repetitive, and boring while adult poetry is all big words, incomplete sentences, and baffling subject matter. That’s not true! There’s so much good poetry out there – and so varied – that one is bound to stumble upon a poem(s) that speaks to them.  It’s just a matter of understanding what poetry is, then finding the type of poetry that you like.

Google your favourite topic and the word ‘poetry’ and you just might be surprised at what pops up. “Pizza” + “poetry” yields 9,570,000 results.  “Baseball” and “poetry” yields 40,300,000 results.  And “Love” + poetry” yields 289,000,000 results - but we could have all guessed that would be off the charts. (Speaking of baseball poetry, be sure to check out Ed Decaria’s work at The Hardball Times - good stuff)

I hope you’ll take some time this April – National Poetry Month! – to read a little poetry, write a little poetry, and enjoy the experience as so many of us do!

Prog poem 2013 graphicRemember, Irene Latham’s 2013 ‘Progressive Poem’ (at Live Your Poem) is now halfway completed! This is a poem that started with one blogger April 1 and is travelling from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a new line to the poem. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!) Here’s the complete list of all of this year’s participating bloggers, including Yours Truly, so you can follow along:

April Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterJoy AceyMatt Forrest EsenwineJone MacCullochDoraine BennettGayle KrauseJanet FagalJulie LariosCarrie Finison 10  Linda Baie 11  Margaret Simon 12  Linda Kulp 13  Catherine Johnson 14  Heidi Mordhorst 15  Mary Lee Hahn 16  Liz Steinglass 17  Renee LaTulippe 18  Penny Klostermann 19  Irene Latham 20  Buffy Silverman 21  Tabatha Yeatts 22  Laura Shovan 23  Joanna Marple 24  Katya Czaja 25  Diane Mayr 26  Robyn Hood Black 27  Ruth Hersey 28  Laura Purdie Salas 29  Denise Mortensen 30  April Halprin Wayland

Poetry Friday: “Irony”

If you’ve been following the #MMPoetry March Madness competition at Ed DeCaria’s website,, then you know some of the insanely difficult words that the poets (a.k.a. the ‘authletes’) are being required to write poems with:  periphery, deleterious, anthropomorphization, and many others.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllMy poem from last week, featuring the word verjuice, failed to garner enough votes to push me into the second round…but it hasn’t stopped me from encouraging folks to continue visiting Ed’s site and reading and voting on each new round of poems. And there have been some terrific ones, too!

But as I thought about the polysyllabic poetic predicaments my fellow poets had gotten themselves into, I remembered this poem of mine that I wrote about a year ago…with polysyllablism to spare! Hope you like it. Be sure to visit Greg Pincus at Gotta Book for all the Poetry Friday happenings!


My teacher said we had to write a poem using couplets.
I thought about it for a while, and used the word ‘quintuplets.’

But then she said my poem didn’t have alliteration.
So I came up with, “creaky, crusty, crabby ol’ crustacean.”

She gave it back to me because it wasn’t metaphorical.
I told the crazy bat my characters were allegorical.

“But where’s the simile?” she asked. “It needs some more revision.”
(I wished I could have turned her off, like dad’s old television)

Her eyes got red, she glared at me – and said it wasn’t metrical.
I stared right back and stated every iamb’s academical.

I turned it in and waited for my grade with apprehension.
For all that work, I got an ‘A’!

I also got detention.

- © 2013 Matt Forrest Esenwine

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