Poetry Friday: A trip back to my alma mater…AND Poetry Out Loud!


Me standing outside Woodruff Hall

Yesterday was a great day.

I was asked to speak to the creative writing class at Castleton University, the school I graduated from way back in 1989, when it was still called Castleton State College.

And the really cool, coincidental thing is…the class was run by the very same professor whom I’d had as a freshman!

More specifically…a professor who began working for the college the same semester I began attending the college! You see, Dr. Florence Keyes was an adjunct who was still working on her PhD at the time, and her class was the first class I ever took at the college.

Little did we know we’d reconnect last fall and it would lead to this day. Funny how life works, isn’t it?

Anyhoo…Dr. Keyes had asked me to talk about poetry, which had been the recent focus of the class, as well as publishing. So I shared some poems as well as insights into the craft, talking about everything from free verse and villanelles to ulteriority and the benefits of specificity.

Oh, yes, we covered an awful lot in an hour and 15 minutes!

One of the poems I shared was this one, published in the TallGrass Writer’s Guild’s Seasons of Change (Outrider Press, 2010):

With this poem in particular, I showed importance of enjambment and internal rhyme as well as what happens to a poem if a few words are edited out; it can change the entire poem. If you don’t believe me, check out the original version HERE and note the words in the last couple of stanzas that were inadvertently removed.

The poem needed those extra words because the entire scene is about The Giving Tree – what happened to the stump 50, 75, 100 years later? Without those words, this poem is about a simple scene in the woods featuring a stump; with those few words, however, the scene becomes something else entirely.

It was also nice to stop into the university’s library and find two of my books! Dr. Keyes teaches a children’s lit course in the fall and has invited me back to chat to that class, so there’s something else I can look forward to!

Speaking of things I’m looking forward to…tonight is the night of the NH State Poetry Out Loud finals, and I’m very honored to be one of the judges.

I’ve been a judge for the state regional finals for a umber of years, but this will be the first time I’ve ever judges the state finals at the statehouse, so I’m really looking forward to it!

If you’re not familiar with Poetry Out Loud, it’s a national recitation competition – and the winning students are truly incredible! I wish there had been something like this when I was in high school.

Students will be reciting poems as varied as “The Charge of Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Whenever You See a Tree” by Padma Venkatraman, “Emily Dickinson at the Poetry Slam” by Dan Vera, and my all-time favorite poem, ever: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

It’s a wonderful event and a great cause, so I’m happy and proud to be able to be a part of it every year. (Especially this year, as everything needed to be prerecorded last year due to the pandemic and much of the excitement and energy that comes from a live performance was lost)

Thanks for visiting today! For the entire Poetry Friday roundup, be sure to head on over to Poetry for Children, where Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong are hosting the festivities with a brand-new food anthology!

Be sure to check out all the cool new picture books arriving this year from my PB22Peekaboo partners!


Order a PERSONALLY-SIGNED copy of my newest picture book, I AM TODAY (POW! Kids Books),
from my local independent bookstore!


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I continue adding to my “Wit & Wordplay” videos ! These videos were created for parents and educators (along with their kids) to learn how to write poetry, appreciate it, and have fun with it. From alliteration and iambs to free verse and spine poetry, I’m pretty sure there’s something in these videos you’ll find surprising! You can view them all on my YouTube channel, and if you have young kids looking for something to keep busy with, I also have several downloadable activity sheets at my website.


Ordering personalized signed copies online? Oh, yes, you can!

You can purchase personally-signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Astra Young Readers, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018)and nearly EVERY book or anthology I’ve been part of!

Click any of the covers below to order!

Available now!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send a comment to the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH requesting my signature and to whom I should make it out. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it, and then they’ll ship it! (Plus, you’ll be supporting your local bookseller – and won’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!




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16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: A trip back to my alma mater…AND Poetry Out Loud!

  1. I actually like the “non-GivingTree” version better… I knew, without those extra words what this scene was alluding to…and I like not being led to it, but imagining it on my own. Btw… it’s beautiful (your poem). It feels vaguely familiar to my golden shovel that I played with and posted this week. Thank you for sharing it! Sounds like your alma mater visit was fulfilling.


  2. I think I agree with Patricia about the version you posted here. I like that one, too. The sentiment about the stump living on is inferred. Either way, it is a lovely poem. It’s always fun to revisit a favorite place – glad you had fun at your alma mater.


  3. lindabaie

    I loved the poem, have been reading more about trees this year, probably because of The Mother Tree & all that scientists have discovered about them. I love the poem, perhaps each version fits better with one specific audience? Have fun at Poetry Out Loud. I bet it’s wonderful!


  4. What a great day. It sounds like so much fun to see Dr. Keyes, from her first year as a teacher to today–you have seen some changes and growth, I’m sure. It sounds like you have some exciting things coming up, Matt. Congrats and best wishes.


  5. How wonderful to come full-circle to your alma mater … what a wonderful opportunity.
    Thanks for sharing both versions of your poem – it was fascinating to compare them and think about the difference adding/taking away some words can make.


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