Poetry Friday: Poems are Teachers (plus a giveaway!)

Some people just can’t sit still. It was almost exactly one month ago that I featured my friend Amy Ludwig VanDerwater on the ol’ Triple-R blog here, as she celebrated the release of her newest children’s poetry collection, Read! Read! Read! (Boyds Mills Press). Well, guess what…she’s back!

Yesterday marked the book birthday of Amy’s newest baby, Poems are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann) – a tremendously useful and easy-to-understand resource designed to help educators not only teach poetry, but to teach them how poetic tools, forms, and devices strengthen (as the title suggests) writing in general.

The book is a wealth of information and includes poems from folks as diverse as Kwame Alexander, J. Patrick Lewis, Jack Prelutsy, Jane Yolen, Naomi Shihab Nye, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Margarita Engle, and – whoa! Wait a sec…how did I end up in this book?? Indeed, it’s true; many, many of our Poetry Friday family members are contributors, as well!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

The book also includes numerous poems written by children – students who are learning the particular lessons Amy writes about. But how, exactly, did this book come to be? Amy was kind enough to join us today to talk about it…

Thank you for taking the time to visit, Amy! There are plenty of books out there about poetry and how to teach it, so what made you first decide that this particular book needed to be written?

I have been rolling this book around in my head for a long time.  Reading wise poems has deepened my heart, and writing hundreds of poems has honed my prose. Watching poetry disappear from many classrooms in the name of “Standards” was making me cry, and this idea felt like a secret door in again.  

As Mary Lee Hahn wrote, so many of us are trying to “bring poetry back to writing workshop” and into children’s lives.  My hope is that Poems are Teachers will introduce children and teachers to many poets and that it will open doors between poetry, and narrative, poetry and information, poetry and opinion writing.  Poetry is friends with all!

How does one go about finding a publisher for a book like this before it’s written? Did you approach Heinemann with a proposal first?

Heinemann has a whole process for proposing  professional book which you can check out HERE.  I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Heinemann as an occasional consultant for the past 15+ years, and I am also co-author with Lucy Calkins and Stephanie Parsons of Poetry: Big Thoughts in Small Packages, part of the Grade Two Writing Units of Study.  

I couldn’t feel more grateful to be publishing this book at this time with this thoughtful company and with Katie Wood Ray, an author I’ve admired for years, and an incredible editor.

How did you approach the task of putting it together? That is, how did you determine the best format, the aspects of writing that you wanted to include, etc.?

I am a terribly disorganized person, but I have been teaching writing and about strong qualities of writing for twenty years, so organizing this book through the various layers of writing – from idea-finding through language play – made complete sense to me.  

The challenge was knowing when to stop and trying to juggle the over 150 poems by both adult and child poets.  Imagine piles of poems and permission forms and me….looking bewildered.  I struggled with confidence and with my own writing demons, but that’s where Katie saved the day.

There is plenty for people to learn inside this book…but what did YOU learn from writing it?

I learned that I can do something scary.  And I learned that poets, teachers, children, and families are very generous.  I learned, too, that I still have tons to learn.  This book is just a wee bit about poetry.  There are so many beautiful books, so much to explore.  My hope is that however long my life is…I’ll use each day to become a little bit better of a person and writer.  I know that poems will keep teaching and feeding me.

You also have a brand-new poetry collection that just came out a month ago, Read! Read! Read! (Boyds Mills Press), plus you have more books coming out next year! Considering you started The Poem Farm several years before you were published, how does it feel now, with so much going on??

It feels humbling.  I started The Poem Farm so as not to write alone.  I never imagined all of this goodness.  I hope to be of service and to keep writing in my notebooks, to make a little difference.

Thank you tons, Matt, for sharing your superfun poem, “Soccer Sides” in Poems Are Teachers, and thank you for inviting me here today!  

Well, thank YOU, Amy – for everything you’ve been doing to spread poetry to our kids. Congrats on both of your new books!

I am still smiling like crazy about your Flashlight Night and my Read! Read! Read! releasing together with Boyds Mills Press last month.

That was a great week, I have to agree! Thanks again, Amy.

By the way, folks – if you’d like to WIN A FREE COPY OF POEMS ARE TEACHERS courtesy of our good friends at Heinemann, just leave a comment below, or share this post on Twitter or Facebook (and be sure to tag me, so I’ll know!). I’ll pick a name at random next Thursday at noon and announce the winner in next Friday’s post.

As for my contribution to Poems are Teachers, Amy asked me to write a poem with two distinct halves. Not necessarily two stanzas, but two separate thoughts that combine to make a whole, such as a before-and-after scene, two people talking, or two perspectives of the same subject.

So I thought about it for awhile, and one night driving home from one of my indoor soccer league games, an idea hit me. This is what I came up with:

Soccer Sides

Offense means head down the field –
………..dribble,
………………….pass,
…………………………….try to score!

Goalie blocked your shot?
No sweat!
Follow up and shoot some more!

……………………………………………………………….Defense means hang out in back.
……………………………………………………………….Better keep a watchful eye!
……………………………………………………………….Their offense wants the winning goal –

……………………………………………………………………………….Ha! –
                                                                                                …..I’d like to see them try…
.

– © 2017, Matt Forrest Esenwine, all rights reserved

(click to enlarge)

From the book, here’s a little background on how the poem came to be along with a few words from Amy about the structure:

Whether you teach poetry or write it, this book is an invaluable resource – so I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy. And speaking of poetry, Leigh Anne Eck is hosting Poetry Friday today at A Day in the Life, so be sure to head on over and check out all of this week’s poetry links and fun!

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More “Flashlight Night” news:

I just learned a couple of days ago that Flashlight Night has been selected as one of the Top 20 “Best in Rhyme” rhyming picture books by Angie Karcher’s Rhyme Revolution website!

I’m very happy to be in company with folks like Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lisa Wheeler, the late Anna Dewdney, and fellow former Poets’ Garage alum, Diana Murray, among others.

The final 2017 Best in Rhyme Award announcement will be Feb. 3, 2018 in New York City on KidLit TV – and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Oh, and the Flashlight Night road tour continues rolling along! Where will I be? When will I be there? Here’s my updated schedule:

  • Oct. 27, 6pm:  Barnes & Noble, Manchester, NH
  • Nov. 1, 12pm:  Concord Hospital Early Childhood Learning Center / Gift Shop, Concord, NH
  • Nov. 11: Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA (“The Making of a Book” Children’s Author Day)
  • Dec. 2: Barnes & Noble, Peabody, MA
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Barnes & Noble, Nashua, NH
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Barnes & Noble, Newington, NH
  • (soon-to-be-confirmed: Toadstool Bookshop, Keene/Peterborough/Milford, NH

I’ll continue updating this as dates are added…and thank you again for your support!

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Thank you so much to all who have enjoyed “Flashlight Night” enough to write about it:

“Delicious language…ingenious metamorphoses” – Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“The verse is incantatory…a simple idea that’s engagingly executed” – School Library Journal

An old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure” – The Horn Book

“[Esenwine and Koehler] don’t just lobby for children to read—they show how readers play” – Publisher’s Weekly

“Imaginative…fantastical” – Booklist

“Favorably recalls Where the Wild Things Are” – Shelf Awareness

“Begs to be read over and over” – Michelle Knott, Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook/Goodreads

“A poetic and engaging journey” – Cynthia Alaniz, Librarian In Cute Shoes

“Illuminates the power of imagination” – Kellee Moye, Unleashing Readers

“Readers will be inspired to…create their own journey” – Alyson Beecher, Kidlit Frenzy

“Beautiful words and stunning illustrations” – Jason Lewis, 5th grade teacher at Tyngsboro Elementary School, Tyngsboro, MA

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Poetry Friday: “Beulah Buford,” for Valentine’s Day!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllIn advance of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d resurrect this little thing that I wrote several years ago…in honor of the emotional rollercoaster young folks go on when it comes to friendship, love, and the opposite sex. Not very tight metrically, but I kind of like it, nonetheless:

Beulah Buford

Beulah Buford picks on me;
calls me names, kicks my knee,
teases me about what I wear,
sticks gum in my books and hair.
I read her Valentine card, and SURPRISE –
it says she wants to apologize!
For now, I’ll stay far out of her way.

I hit her with a snowball at recess today.

© 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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For more (and much better) poetry, be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for today’s complete Poetry Friday 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!
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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: Throwback Summer takes a 180 turn…

…into Not-Quite-So-Bad Land.

As you might have heard, I’m sharing some of my old high school poetry each Friday this summer – and yes, most of it has been painfully horrendous.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllBut as we’re coming to the final stretch of this series (I anticipate wrapping up this trip back in time the first week of September), I’m now sharing a couple of poems I wrote in college. And although they are not the best poems ever written, they are nowhere near as vomit-inducing as most of the previous ones I’ve subjected you to.

(In other words, if you were expecting another “Ode to a Dishrag,” prepare to be disappointed)

Today’s poem was one of the first free verse poems I ever wrote. (The very first one was actually published!) It was written for my college Creative Writing class with Dr. Joyce Thomas, at Castleton State College, Vermont. I recall revising it a number of times, so I think  this was the final version. If you don’t mind mixed metaphors, verbose lines, and obvious connections, read on…

The Performance

Houselights down:
the sky grows increasingly dark
pinholes of stars shrouded
by clouds fully drenched with water;
giant sponges
floating in the otherwise barren atmosphere,
waiting to be squeezed by some giant hand.
A burst of light, center stage –
a short flash of lightning illuminates the earth below,
the black, India-ink sky turns to a dull gray.
The celestial sphere appears as an oyster shell.
Two more bolts spotlight the event;
……….Act I, Scene 1.
Hesitant only for a split second
lightning’s comrade enters stage right,
jarring the thoughts of those already attentive.
The deep baritone voice of the leading man
echoes throughout the auditorium;
more loud rolls of thunder echo each other,
flowing over grassy hills that provide proper acoustics.
the curtain of soaking rain
drops from the proscenium
to a captive audience lost
in bewilderment.

The show begins.

– Matt Forrest Esenwine, 10-20-88, Class: ENG465

This is one of those poems that I’d really like to shave down and rewrite…but I have so many other more pressing things to do I’m sure it’ll never happen! The one thing I like best about this is the fact that I was able to combine a narrative with some poetic imagery and internal rhyme, even if it was quite amateurish and clunky.

My professor (a published poet), knowing how bad most of my poetry had been up to this point, seemed genuinely impressed that I had somehow knocked this out onto paper. With her encouragement, I soldiered on and wrote many, many more truly horrible poems in-between a handful of publishable ones. I like to think that I have now turned that ratio on its head…but that might just be me being delusional.

Ready for some more poetry? Much better poetry? Then please visit Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads for today’s complete Poetry Friday 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!
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Poetry Friday: The poem that killed William Shakespeare, as Throwback Summer continues

Before we get to my very first attempt at iambic pentameter (or at least, the first documented attempt), I want to take a quick moment to encourage you to check out my astounding news from this past Tuesday!

As for today’s post, yes, it is another “lost classic” from my high school English journals…and it’s poems like this one that prove some things need to remain lost.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllAs I have mentioned before, I am sharing some choice entries from my early years as a way to a) show you what a geek I was; b) test your stamina for reading bad poetry; and c) show how far one can go in his/her writing career, even when the start of that career is inauspicious, to say the least. Heck, if I can get published, anyone can get published!

This is a poem to which I have previously alluded, but wasn’t sure if I could even find! It’s one of those poems that I remembered writing, but didn’t know if would show up in one these journals. As it turned out…it did!

Now, before you read this, you need to understand a few things:

  • I had an odd but very healthy sense of humour.
  • I wanted to write something in iambic pentameter, but didn’t want to write about anything typical.
  • If I was going to write about something ridiculous in iambic pentameter, I would need to write as loftily (is that a word?) as possible, for the fullest humourous effect.
  • I added to the preposterousness of this poem – and made fun of my past poems, as well – by providing a study guide. Because that’s what high school English classes do, don’t they??

Less than one month before graduation, I was writing stuff like this… (click to enlarge)

Journal - Ode to a Stool
It is generally accepted that Shakespeare died of a fever after drinking too much. However, scholars now believe it was actually this poem that did it.

My angst-ridden, love-addled classmates had nothing on me when it came to elevating the most mundane subjects into soaring, metrical verse. Somehow, I’ve managed to maintain my sense of humour while actually making a living reading, writing, and speaking. Go figure!

That’s why I say it’s important to write – no matter what it is. It may only be for your eyes, but it’s working your brain, it’s connecting synapses that hadn’t existed before, and it’s ultimately helping you develop your craft. #WriteLikeNoOneIsReading!

By the way, I’ve still got a few more “gems” I’ll be sharing before the end of the month, so consider yourself warned. If you’re still in the mood for poetry – and I apologize if you need a moment to compose yourself – you can check out today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup at A Teaching Life with Tara Smith!

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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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Poetry Friday: Monarchy memorization, as Throwback Summer stumbles along

As I scan through the pages of my final senior English class journal, I am met with all sorts of strange writings: word puzzles, short essays on why I was so different from everyone (ya think?), and even long treatises on how bored I was about having to write in a journal.

(The treasure trove of history and nostalgia that I came across at my parents’ house earlier this summer has been eye-opening, to say the least; you can read more about what I discovered and why I’m featuring my high school writings HERE.)

Today it’s a little rhyming (more or less) history lesson. In my journal, I admit the poem is crude – but even now, I have to give myself credit for even thinking this thing up. If you’ve ever wanted to memorize the kings and queens of England, look no further…

Homework

1660, the Stuarts came;
2nd Charles and 2nd James,
Billy 3rd and Mary 2,
finally Anne was the last of the Stu’s.

Then the house of Hanover:
1st four Georges did come over.
William 4 was next in line,
Vicky lasted for some time.

Just two kings for Saxon-Coburg:
Ed the 7th and 5th of George.

Then the House of Windsor came.
George the 5th (same man, new name),
Ed the 8th one year was in,
then George the 6th, and Beth’s still in.

– Matt Forrest Esenwine, 5-1-85

Just over a month away from graduating high school, and while all the girls were writing poems about love, lovers, love lost, love regained, love unrequited, love, love,  love, blabbedy-love…here I was with my English monarch ditty. If you wonder how popular I was in school, this should leave no doubt.

For more poetry (and much better poetry, I might add), I encourage you to visit Margaret Simon’s home on the web, Reflections on the Teche, for today’s Poetry Friday 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!
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Poetry Friday: “Ode to Lint,” a Throwback Summer lost classic

poetryfridaybutton-fulllYes, this poem had been lost for a long time…and had I not stumbled upon it in my parents’ attic, we all would have probably been better off.

If you have somehow not heard, I am sharing bits and pieces of my high school journals this summer, having come across a huge stash of old schoolwork while cleaning out my folks’ house, in preparation for its sale.

Back in June, I wrote about the initial discovery, and just this past Tuesday I explained why it was inevitable that I ended up in careers involving writing and advertising. Today, I’m sharing another one of the chestnuts I wrote in my English journal during senior year…and although it’s far from stellar-quality, it is probably the best-written poem I’ve shared from my journals so far.

You be the judge…

“Ode to Lint, II”

What is this, that I do see
floating past, in front of me?
Small dust speck, or puff of hair?
What is that thing flying there?
I reach out, it comes to me,
hardly larger than a flea;
I look close, I analyze.
Staring hard, I scrutinize
and attempt (as best I can)
to discern this work of Man.
Oh, too hard to contemplate!
Leaves my hand to impend fate.
What is that, that I do see
floating past, in front of me?
Small dust speck, or puff of hair?
What is that thing flying there??

– © 1985, Matt Forrest Esenwine, 4-4-85

Now, you have not known this until now, but I’ve done you the great service of not sharing most of the horrible poetry I wrote back then. Yes, yes…hard to believe, considering the subterranean level of quality of most of it. But true.

I had a penchant for trying to elevate the most mundane, ridiculous objects into flowery, verbose poems – so consider yourself fortunate that I have not shared my “Ode to a Stool,” “Ode to a Desk,” “Ode to Crust,” “Ode to Dropping Socks,” “Ode to Slippery Shoes,” “Ode to a Deep Thought,” or – what just might be the worst of all – my “Ode to Lint, I.” That’s right, I wasn’t happy with just one poem about lint; I apparently felt the subject was worthy of two, at least.

For today’s complete Poetry Friday roundup, head on over to Books 4 Learning. And be prepared…there’s a whole lot more mediocrity coming your way next week, right here!

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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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Throwback Summer continues: “The Inevitability of Advertising”

As I mentioned at the beginning of summer, I recently came upon several boxes of my old schoolwork, hidden away at my parents’ attic which I’m cleaning out in advance of its sale.

While it’s nostalgic to look back at these journals, projects, and tests – and a bit disheartening, knowing my childhood home is going to be sold – it has been enlightening for me, as well. I have been able to read so many things I’d forgotten about, that I can now look back on and realize how they played a role in me developing into…well, me.

Scan_20160718 (4)
Wow, what happened? Before the contacts, before the braces, before the male pattern baldness…I was a high school senior 3 1/2 months away from graduation. This photo was taken by Mrs. Jencks, my English teacher, in Feb. 1985. Considering how straight-laced I was, I have no idea why I look so stoned.

Since I have been spending my Fridays sharing some of the >ahem< “poetry” that I was writing in my journals back then, I thought I would share something that foreshadowed my other career: advertising.

I began working in radio right after my college freshman year, and I’ve been writing, voicing, and producing commercials ever since. It’s no wonder I do voiceover work for a living! (If you’d like to learn more about that aspect of my life these days, or would like to know how I might be able to help you with your advertising, please click HERE.)

I loved writing and acting before I had even entered high school, and in addition to poetry and short stories, I developed a fondness for advertising. I owe this to the genius of Stan Freberg, whose old radio shows and commercials I had grown up listening to, thanks to my dad.

Scan_20160718
(click to enlarge. But why would you??)

By the time I was in high school, I was writing and voicing (and sometimes pre-recording) the morning announcements and living the dream in drama club. Reading a steady diet of Mad Magazine, Cracked, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while watching British comedies like Monty Python and the under-appreciated The Goodies carved my sense of humor into what it is today.

Looking back on all this now, I completely understand why I made up fake advertisements for some of my journal entries, like this…

And since I made reference to “Loc-Tite” doorknobs, I figured I’d resurrect the product for what I think was a Creative Writing class project. I didn’t fool around, either – this thing was poster-sized:

Scan_20160718 (3)
(click to enlarge. Again, I have no idea why you would)

That’s right, kids – we didn’t have Photoshop, we didn’t have scanners, we didn’t have selfies. This selfie, in fact, was probably taken by one of my parents on my old 110 camera, which was then brought to a Fotomat and developed in time for me to cut it out and paste it, and — whoa, hold on. I think I just hit old age. Pass me the Geritol.

Scan_20160718 (2)
(click to enlarge. But you should really know better by now)

Anyway, even though I can tell I was trying too hard to be funny, I can completely appreciate where this style of humor came from. Like I said, too many issues of Cracked magazine and too many episodes of Fawlty Towers.

And a big, big influence from Stan Freberg, who I referenced earlier. He still influences my copy writing to this day.

Oh, and then there was this masterpiece journal entry from Feb. 1985, just a few days after that horrible photo of me was taken…

And yes, these were journal entries.

While some teens were pouring their hearts out in belabored free verse and others were writing about partying over the weekend, I was there making up fake advertisements, ridiculous rhyming poetry, and concocting word puzzles.

Somehow, I graduated as valedictorian. So the moral of the story is, if I can do it, anyone can!

(Stay tuned…more dubious-quality poetry coming up this Friday, when I feature “Ode to Lint!” And yes, I’m totally serious!)

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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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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!