Poetry Friday: More questionable poetry, as Throwback Summer continues!

Warning: this blog post contains hazardous reading material which may leave you wondering how to regain the 4 or 5 minutes of life you will have lost.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThat’s right…it’s an another thrilling excerpt from one of four high school English writing journals I recently discovered in my parents’ attic! Last week, I explained why I’m sharing these early writings of mine, and how my writing back then helped me develop my writing style now.

This past Tuesday, I shared a few pages from my very first children’s book – more or less. It was a high school Creative Writing project, but the fact that it still exists is stunning.

Today, I have another poem from my sophomore year; this time, from March 1983, the same month that Dr. Barney Clark died 112 days after he had become the first artificial heart recipient, and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was all over the airwaves. (I have to mention, it was also the month that Monty Python’s “History of the World” debuted!)

The following doesn’t say much about my poetry-writing skills so much as it gives you a pretty good idea of my sense of humour:

Some Sort of an Ode
(Click to enlarge, if you dare)

For more poetry, please visit Diane Mayr at Random Noodling for today’s Poetry Friday roundup!

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Poetry Friday: Throwback Summer continues!

When I shared my ground-breaking poem, “Ode to Toads” last Friday, I warned you there were more poems where that came from.

journals - high schoolWelcome to the future, my friend!

Having made huge nostalgic discoveries in my parents’ attic recently, I now have FOUR high school English writing journals from which to cull choice tidbits of my handiwork (and I use the phrase “choice” very loosely).

Earlier this week, I spent a little more time explaining how and why I’m sharing these early writings of mine – and the fact that my time spent writing poems, news articles, and cartoons for our high school newspaper helped shape my style and develop my vocabulary. If you didn’t get a chance to check out the post, I really hope you will.

Today, I have another poem from 1982 – my sophomore year. I’ve said before I never liked keeping writing journals. And as I look through them, I am struck by how much of my time is spent writing about the fact I have nothing to write about.

Ode to a Poem I’m Writing Only Because I Couldn’t Think of Anything Else to Write About

I sit and stare
At a blank piece of paper,
Wondering what to write.
I can’t think at all,
Like my mind’s a brick wall,
Though I’m trying with all of my might.

What should I write about?
What can I write about?
How should my next entry read?
When I sat down to do it,
I thought I’d breeze through it,
But I can’t – so help me, I plead!

– Nov. 5, 1982, Matt Forrest Esenwine

While not as darkly humorous or satisfying as my classic “Ode to Toads,” I do like the fact I was attempting a rhyme scheme that’s not particularly easy. Hey, I was a 15-year-old kid trying to be funny! And I never spent a lot of time putting my entries together, so if I had to guess, I doubt this took me more than half an hour to write.

As I read this, I’m thinking I had probably recently seen the BBC miniseries of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which explains the ridiculously long title. Not quite as bad as Grunthos the Flatulent’s poem, “Ode to a Small Lump of Green poetryfridaybutton-fulllPutty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning,” but it definitely gives all Azgoth poets a run for their money.

For more poetry (and much, MUCH better poetry, I might add), head on over to Carol’s Corner for the complete Poetry Friday roundup – you won’t be disappointed! And if there’s any sort of lesson to be learned from today’s post, it is the importance of spending time practicing, developing, and learning…in other words: #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

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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!
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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)
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Amazing new discovery: My childhood!

Well, ok – I admit, that headline is a bit misleading. As someone who spent 25 years in radio and now writes for children, one could make a case that I never really left my childhood.

Matt lunchbox
The only lunchbox I ever owned. Alas, it’s missing the special “silo”-themed Thermos! Ahhh, memories of lukewarm milk and room-temperature Beefaroni. It’s a miracle I lived through all the potential food poisoning.

However, as I mentioned this past Friday, I recently came upon a huge stash of papers and memorabilia from my school days, while cleaning out my parents’ house. Their attic has been a treasure trove of nostalgia, where I have discovered old school tests and projects, several of my old journals, and even my elementary school lunchbox!

The journals – portions of which I’ll be sharing throughout the summer – were only part of the story.

The folks saved darned near everything

If the strength of a mother and father’s pride in their only child can be measured in the number of school papers and knick knacks they save, my parents are superhuman. Among the additional artifacts unearthed:

  • Poems by Emily Dickenson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others that I was required to memorize in high school.
  • A printout of my senior-year computer class project:  a program I designed using BASIC (any geeks remember that??) to keep track of a basketball team’s stats. I actually went back to school the Monday AFTER I graduated to try to fix a bug in the program. I wasn’t going to get any extra credit for it, but it was one of those things that kept annoying me and I had to fix. Never did. >sigh<typewriter 1
  • The first typewriter I ever owned! Yes, we all have to start somewhere.
  • Copies of the high school newspaper, of which I was a staff member and editor-in-chief my senior year. (see below!)
  • A big, pink, construction-paper heart envelope filled with 2 or 3 years’ worth of elementary school Valentine’s Day cards. You know those cheap, dozen-for-a-dollar cards they sell every year? Mom kept them all.
IMG_1259
My mug shows up twice on these front pages…score extra points if you can find me! (click to enlarge)

I still have wonderful memories of working on the student newspaper:  spending days after school typing stories on the old word-processors; cutting and pasting the stories, artwork, and photos together; and being embarrassed during journalism class when our teacher, Mrs. Jencks, told everyone her two younger daughters liked visiting us after school because they thought I looked like Remington Steele.

Not sure why Pierce Brosnan gets to keep his hair these days and I don’t…but I suppose that’s just more proof that life really is not fair.

IMG_1260  IMG_1263

When I first joined the newspaper staff, I started out entering news stories on our clunky Apple II computers. (MS DOS, anyone?)  I also created word puzzles, which I absolutely loved to do. During my senior year, I was not only editor, but also provided some of the cartoons. The school faced serious overcrowding issues; hence, the cover art on the left! (click to enlarge)

When you suddenly realize none of the kids you knew…are kids

A very sobering aspect of these discoveries is that I look at names and faces and need to come to grips with the fact that none of these children knew what was in store for them.

The kids whose names fill that Valentine heart, in particular – barely older than my 6-year-old son – give me pause to reflect on life, death, and fate. April, who went on to marry her childhood sweetheart. Karen, who became our senior class Salutatorian when I became Valedictorian. Chris, who committed suicide before he had a chance to graduate. Eric, who, a mere 2 months after high school graduation, died in a terrible car crash that should never have happened.

I think about Chris and Eric, and I so desperately wish I could somehow go back in time and wrap my arms around them, these little 7-year-old boys, and protect them the same way I would protect my own little dude.

Hold them. Shield them.

Warn them.

But they grew up, as we all do, and made choices they should not have made…and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

typewriter 2So I’ll continue sifting through my memories, sharing them here, and hopefully creating new ones, as long as God or Fate allow me to do so. And as I watch my son tap excitedly on my old typewriter, making up stories in much the same way I did – albeit with a dry, 40-year-old ribbon – I pray that he, and all my children, and everyone’s children, may live to see their dreams come true.

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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!
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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)
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Poetry Friday: It’s going to be a Throwback Summer!

It was the fall of 1982.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThe phrase, “E.T. phone home” was on everyone’s lips. EPCOT Center had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Sony was selling the world’s first commercially-available compact disc player for a mere $730. (It really kills me to say these things…has it been that long??)

In the midst of all this, I had just begun my sophomore year of high school when my English teacher gave us the dreaded news:

We were to keep journals.

Now, I realize most folks don’t think that’s too terrible an assignment – and for someone who loves to read and write, you wouldn’t think I’d mind – but I absolutely HATED writing in my journal.

I think it’s comparable to assigned reading: If you want to take the joy out of something a person likes to do, force him or her to do it. So as much as I liked writing, keeping a journal was one of the worst parts of my high school life. (And this, from a guy who got bullied, teased, and was generally despised by most of his classmates. But I digress…)

The reason I bring this up is because I made a discovery this past weekend at my parents’ house. I’m in the process of helping them clean the place in preparation to sell it, and hidden away in the attic, I couldn’t believe what I found.

FOUR of my journals!

journals - high school

So, of course, as soon as I made it back to my house, I just had to pore over every page and be amazed at how absolutely awful my writing was. Well, maybe not  “awful.” “Dreadful” might be a better word.

“Labored” would be another.

There are short, ridiculous essays. Even more ridiculous poetry. Even random word lists, word puzzles, and fake advertisements. But I can see now how my style of writing and sense of humor developed and grew, and I am thrilled to have these in my possession again.

I’ll be writing a little bit more about “where it all began” next week here on the blog, and sharing more discoveries. But for today, I wanted to share the poem that started it all…

Not the first poem I ever wrote, but the first poem I consistently received immediate reactions from; the first poem that would instantly elicit a reaction of laughter, eye-rolling, or head-shaking every single time a person read it or heard me recite it.

This is the poem that made me realize I might have a knack for writing:

Ode to Toads

Toads here, toads there,
jumping all around.
Got so many, got too many.
Squash ’em on the ground.

– © Oct. 25, 1982 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

Ah, yes…my “Ode to Toads” will forever hold a special place in my heart. It really is the poem that got this whole “published author” thing rolling, whether you like it or not! And be forewarned: every Friday throughout the summer, I’ll be sharing another Moldy Oldie from one of my journals, so I hope you’ll make a point to join me for what I hope will be a fun – if not embarrassing – trip down Memory Lane.

Rest assured, though, there is plenty of much better poetry elsewhere (in fact, pretty much anywhere); if you’d like to find such a place, I encourage you to stop by Carol Varsalona’s Beyond Literacy blog, where she is hosting Poetry Friday today. And although I haven’t checked, I’m pretty sure there are no dead amphibians.

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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!
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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)
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Book review: “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary” ARC Tour concludes here!

Last 5th Grade coverJust 2 months ago, on April 12, author and poet Laura Shovan celebrated a book birthday: her debut middle grade novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Random House Children’s Books) was officially released, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

In advance of the release, Laura began a blog tour of her ARC (Advance Review Copy), in which children’s lit bloggers across the country could read the book, share their thoughts on it, and pass it along to the next blogger.

Well, it all wraps up today, as I’m the final blogger on the tour – and I’m so happy for Laura!

It’s an engrossing book, detailing the lives of 18 students in Ms. Hill’s class and their personal struggles and joys with themselves, each other, and the fact that the school board has announced that the school will be closing at the end of the year to be turned into a mall.

Each poem is told from a particular student’s point of view, which allows the reader to get to know the characters intimately well. George Furst, for example (whose middle name is Washington thanks to his history-loving parents), is running for class president but wishes his mother and father had not divorced.

Hannah Wiles is the Type-A, in-charge, know-it-all who, aside from also running for class president, is also struggling with parental issues. Brianna Holmes, meanwhile, is creative and proud – and homeless. Newt Matthews has Asperger’s.

Last 5th grade poem

Through each of their poems, the individual students’ personalities develop over the course of the book, and it’s nice to see their progress and level of maturity by the time the last poem ends. Both funny and poignant in turn, The Last Fifth Grade is a touching book that is as easy to read as it is as easy to get lost in. I do have to admit, the students seem far more worldly and mature than my fifth grade class!

In fairness and honesty, the only disappointment I have to note (and I hate to even mention this, as we’re talking about my friend, Laura’s, book!) is that three of the eighteen students are dealing with the lack of a father in their lives: George Furst, whose dad left the family earlier in his life; Hannah Wiles, who has to live with her dad while her mom is stationed overseas, and Mark Fernandez, whose father passed away.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a stay-at-home dad who works out of the house – hence, I’m a bit touchy on this subject – but no one seems to bemoan living with their mother. Yes, there are some very commendable dads in the book, and I appreciate Laura’s implication of the importance of fathers; I just think it would have been more balanced had there been at least one home that was happy with their dad, even though mom was absent.

But that’s a minor quibble. The importance, of course, is the interaction of the students and their growth throughout this transformative year. Through rich yet kid-friendly language, well-crafted characters, and a wide array of poetic forms (from free verse and haiku to sonnets and limericks), Laura tells a tale that kids will want to follow from first page to last!

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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!
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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)
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Poetry Friday: “Coming to Terms” (LGBT Pride Month)

trigger-warningThe following poem was first published in the anthology Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2014), and following its publication I shared it here on this blog. Even though I rarely re-post poems, I felt this would be appropriate in this case, in recognition of President Obama’s recent proclamation of June being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

You see, about 25 years ago, a very close friend of mine went through an extremely difficult time in his life…and it nearly destroyed him. Fortunately, he found support from his friends and therapy from writing poetry:

Coming to Terms

He had to keep quiet.

No one could know of his love, no –
infatuation – for the tall, dark beauty
with whom he shared daily smiles. His thoughts
were his, yet quickly
he became their slave; not uncommon,
of course, as we all succumb
to that numbness, once, at least,
but for his own sake

he had to keep quiet.
None could know, not even
Dark Beauty, who
had no inkling of an unthinkable
courtship, but simply smiled back
as acquaintances do
until one day, in a burst of emotion and discovery,
every passionate detail of his desire
came pouring forth from every pore
in an unintended self-
immolation of love and pain.

The revelation
and cloud of rejection suffocated
and he wished it would
deaden the nerves that allowed him to feel
every word hurled
from Dark Beauty, friends,
parents, the world.
Endless days spent scared and crying
bled into pill-filled nights
that led not to quiet slumber but to weeks
and months
in the ward, safe and distressed. Alone

in his room, with pen
firm between heart and forefinger, line
by line he began to sort through love,
loss, dejection,
reflection
and the realization
he had been lying to himself, thinking

he had to keep quiet.

© 2014 Matt Forrest Esenwine, from Trigger Warning: Poetry Saved My Life (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2014), all rights reserved

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Jone MacCulloch is hosting Poetry Friday today at Check it Out, so for all of today’s links and fun, be sure to…check it out!

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poetryfridaybutton-fulllDid 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!
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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)
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Poetry Friday: “Stumpfield Pond, 1975”

Last 5th Grade coverI mentioned last week that poet and blogger Laura Shovan is celebrating the release of her debut middle grade novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Wendy Lamb Books), which was just released a couple of weeks ago. I did NOT mention how excited I am to be a part of her celebration!

I just received my ARC (Advance Review Copy) of the book yesterday and am looking forward to reading it and providing a review here in the next couple weeks…but that’s not all Laura had in store for those of us taking part in her “ARC Blog Tour.”

Laura also included vintage postcards to each blogger who received the book, to provide some writing inspiration – and inspiration is exactly what hit me last night, as I was looking through the postcards. I came across one in particular that immediately reminded me of my early-morning fishing excursions with my father when I was a child:

(click to enlarge)

Growing up here in New Hampshire, a great fishing spot was never more than 10 or 15 minutes away, so dad & I would get up early, early on a Saturday morning and make our way to a number of different places; this is one of them.

Stumpfield Pond, 1975

His son at his side, Dad slips
the old pea-green fiberglass boat into mirror water,
skillfully slicing the sleeping surface;
ripples race from either side of the bow,
curling and folding upon themselves.
Sand-worn hull grinds on gravel
like thunder in sunshine, unexpected
and startling,
before it finds its buoyancy
10 feet out from shore.
Titmouse, thrush, persistent phoebe sing
from treetops;
the air smells of lilies and dew,
wild iris and fog.
I clamber into the boat first, staking
claim to my usual post
near the bow, small hands
holding gently-rocking sides.
Dad climbs in once I am seated, and grabbing
one wooden oar, pushes hard
against the sand and silt beneath,
heaving the weight of the boat
and himself
and me
into the cool, wet, morning.

– © 2016 Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

poetryfridaybutton-fulllBe sure to watch for my review of Laura’s book in the next few weeks, and for all of today’s Poetry Friday fun, please visit Violet Nesdoly’s blog for the complete roundup!

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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!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
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)
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!