Robyn Hood Black - children's author, poet, artist

Hannah enjoying poetry workshop

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Hanging with fellow Georgia writers (from top, l-r) Tracy Walker, Heather Kolich, Donna Bowman, (bottom, middle) Janice Hardy and Paula Puckett
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Susan Rosson Spain, Robyn Hood Black, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Myra Meade at the Hall Book Exchange in Gainesville, Ga.
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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - POEMS ARE TEACHERS author Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and a Giveaway!

October 18, 2017

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, teaching, students, book giveaway, poetry resources, Poems are Teachers

As I pack up for a week of school visits in the Atlanta area next week, I am SO excited to be tucking in a brand-new, soul-enriching resource, POEMS ARE TEACHERS – How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres, HOT off the press this week from Heinemann. It is the result of the passion, creativity and smarts of our own Amy Ludwig VanDerwater of The Poem Farm. A graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, and a former 5th grade teacher, Amy is the author of picture books, professional works, and lots and lots of poems!

Each section of POEMS ARE TEACHERS includes a poem by a contemporary adult poet and two poems by students (grades 2 through 8). These are models exemplifying six topics: finding ideas, choosing perspective and point of view, structuring texts, playing with language, crafting beginnings and endings, and choosing titles. Of course, the poems are so rich that teachers and students will find cross-over examples of all kinds of techniques, leading to lively classroom discussions. And the book’s clear organization makes it easy to jump in and out according to specific objectives.

The quality of the poems by adults is a little breathtaking, with names you will surely recognize, including some familiar Poetry Friday contributors. I have to say, the student poems really choked me up (like “What Ifs” by Alex C., grade 8), or made me break out into helpless laughter (such as “A Bacteria Tragedy” by George M., grade 3). These and the other poems by young writers are honest and surprising and fully felt – terrific examples to share in any classroom. (Hats off to the teachers of these young writers.) Each student poem is presented in the author’s own handwriting, making the poetry personal and accessible.

Here’s a sample of a poem by a contemporary adult writer, Kristy Dempsey, in the “Writers Play with Language” section:

Rain Song

Rain taps out a rhythm,
a rapid skipping rhythm
a plitter-plinking, plopping,
hopping, bopping kind of beat.

It starts with just a drizzle,
a syncopated sizzle,
a sound that soon becomes a tune
as raindrops hit the street.

It sets my toes to tapping,
I’m twirling and I’m clapping,
Splashing, dashing, laughing
as I move my dancing feet.

Play the water music,
the thrilling, trilling music!
Spill the notes from every cloud,
DripDrop, PlipPlop. Repeat!

©Kristy Dempsey. All rights reserved. Used with permission. (Thanks for sharing, Kristy!)

Immediately following in “WORDS FROM THE POET,” Kristy says, …To me, all writing is made to be read out loud, to be heard and even performed! When I’m writing, both poetry and prose, you’ll find me tapping my hands or feet, dancing and jumping, and using my mouth and tongue to make sounds – almost like beatboxing – so I can listen to the rhythm of my words.

The book also offers a wonderful foreword by Katherine Bomer, and a heartfelt dedication to Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Ever Amy, the author encourages readers/users of this book to “fall in love first” with texts and poems, and then explore what techniques might be learned from the way those words are put together. The pages of this book are filled with play and with joy – I think lots of teachers will be falling in love! So happy Amy is joining us today for a behind-the-scenes peek.

Welcome, Amy! You are both an award-winning poet and a teacher of writing. How do your own poetic sensibilities inform your teaching?

Because I write and share regularly, I understand the terror associated with writing and sharing. So the more I write, the better I become at approaching young writers with gentleness. I know what it feels like to take a soul-risk, and so I work to listen carefully, to hear what is be most helpful to a writer now, be it encouragement or a tip.

How did the idea for this book come about? What is its own backstory?

Working in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project office with Lucy Calkins back in the early ‘90s changed my life. During that time as a graduate student, I learned from many brilliant folks including Katie Wood Ray, Carl Anderson, Georgia Heard, and Isoke Nia. I got to carry Katherine Paterson’s backpack and listen in as great minds spoke to groups large and small. I heard gorgeous speeches and watched masterful teachers. Then, several years later, I met Lee Bennett Hopkins, my poetry teacher to whom this book is dedicated. My life changed again as I worked hard to write stronger, leaner poems. This book is a marriage of those two wonderful parts of my learning life.

No two students are the same, of course, but do you find students connect to poetry in a different way than they connect to other genres? (As readers and/or as writers.)

Poetry frees us. Many children and adults discover our beliefs and our voices through poems. Again and again, teachers share with me stories of students who did not connect - who even struggled - with other genres. But with poetry...their voices sang with rhythm, metaphor, and deep connection. Children know that poems are full of love.

What is an example of a bridge students can cross between poetry and fiction or nonfiction?

In poetry, we quickly see how repetition can tie stanzas and lines together. We speak often about repeating words and lines and sounds when we read poems. Yet we find repetition threading through narrative and information and opinion texts too: the recurring image, the last line echoing a first line, the surprising yet perfect alliterative phrase. Standing just on one page, a poem can illuminate all kinds of writing techniques. And once we understand, we can bring these techniques with us; we can welcome them to seep into our prose.

You’ve had lots of experience writing poetry and educational texts. What were some of the delights and challenges of being an anthologist of sorts, working with so many different poets, teachers and students?

It was a gift! To be in touch with so many fabulous poets of all ages and so many wise teachers...this whole thing was a gift for me. But difficult, as I am a disorganized person. And difficult, too, because I have read and admire mountains of professional books. I was scared to do this - What if it didn’t work out? Aside from that, the hardest part was knowing when to stop. How many poems? How many explorations? How many words for each? For there’s no end to the possibility. Fortunately, there was a deadline. My amazing editor, Katie Wood Ray, and everyone at Heinemann was marvelous, making extra space and bigger pages to fit so much goodness from so many talented people. POEMS ARE TEACHERS is: one third poetry anthology, one third professional book, and one third celebration of student writing. I can’t believe it’s out in the world.

Thank you, my friend Robyn, for having me at your place today. I am so happy to be able to share your clever poem “Word Wanted” in this new book...and now I think I’ll go celebrate by shopping at artsyletters!

[She really did, and she insisted on keeping that in there. Thank you, Amy!]

Here’s my poem; I’m beyond grateful to have it included in this treasure of a book:

Word Wanted

POEM seeking just the right word.
Must dazzle when written, spoken or heard.

Slight words, trite words need not apply.
Precise and concise words, give us a try.

Regardless of your part of speech,
a noteworthy job could be within reach.

Endowed with sound second to none?
Potential for growth, if you are the one.

©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.

But wait – there’s more! Heinemann has kindly offered to send a copy of POEMS ARE TEACHERS to one lucky reader of this post! Please leave a comment below by Tuesday, Oct. 31 (Boo!), and I’ll announce the random winner on that Poetry Friday. Many thanks to Heinemann, and bouquets of gratitude to Amy for visiting with us today.

Now, please enjoy ALL the instructive poetry this week over at A Day in the Life, where Teacher/Reader/Writer Leigh Ann has the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Thanks for hosting, Leigh Ann.)


  1. October 19, 2017 10:39 PM EDT
    I am sending you a very long-armed hug from New York, Robyn! Thank you for this loving post and for your great poem and for the new necklace and earrings and note cards (!) that arrived yesterday. I will wear them tomorrow in my little NCTE video. xxxx!!!!
    - Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
  2. October 19, 2017 10:51 PM EDT
    This looks like a great book! I especially liked the rhythm in Kristy's poem.
    - Rebecca Herzog
  3. October 19, 2017 11:08 PM EDT
    Oh, I am so grabbing that hug, Amy! Thank you for sharing this wonderful book with us, and with the world (most importantly - with all the kids who will be inspired because of it!!) XO
    [And, I'm so excited your accessories will be artsylettering in your NCTE video - ha! :0) ]
    - Robyn Black
  4. October 19, 2017 11:24 PM EDT
    Hi, Rebecca - it's fantastic. And, each time I read Kristy's poem, I nod and tap a little more. ;0) Thanks for coming by!
    - Robyn Black
  5. October 20, 2017 12:36 AM EDT
    I'm very excited about your new book Amy, and I look forward to having a copy of my own! Thanks Robyn for this through and rich review, I've learned so much more about it! Many Congrats Amy, and I love your do too!
    - Michelle Kogan
  6. October 20, 2017 1:32 AM EDT
    Oh. After the week-that-was here, I was soooo relating to Kristy's poem... and then I was fascinated by your interview with the lovely, talented Amy... and *then* you included 'Word Wanted' - and it's perfect! I love it! You are soooo clever!! (I bet you're chuffed about that poem!!) Great post.
    - Kathryn Apel
  7. October 20, 2017 7:51 AM EDT
    Michelle, so glad this book was already on your RADAR - you're gong to love it! Thanks for popping in.

    Hi, Kat - here's hoping the sun comes out in your part of the world! Though I'm sure a little rain never stopped you. Glad you enjoyed the post and poems, and I'm really chuffed about the word "chuffed." I think I have to stop counting how many fun words you've added to my vocabulary...
    - Robyn Black
  8. October 20, 2017 7:55 AM EDT
    What a beautiful post from two beautiful women! Love all these words, and the book is another Amy gem. So glad Amy pushed through and wove together these parts of her life. What a gift! xo
    - Irene Latham
  9. October 20, 2017 8:07 AM EDT
    Hello, Beautiful Woman! It's a perfect synergistic expression. How's that for some high-falutin' words? But you are right, it's a gift. :0)
    - Robyn Black
  10. October 20, 2017 8:13 AM EDT
    Enjoyed this post, Robyn! Great poems. xo
    - Tabatha
  11. October 20, 2017 8:18 AM EDT
    Glad you came over, Tabatha - thanks! It's chock-full.
    - Robyn Black
  12. October 20, 2017 8:50 AM EDT
    "Must dazzle when written spoken or heard"
    by YOU.

    (I work for that but so often those precise words run away from me.)

    I love both poems shared.
    And so happy to bounce with the reverberating rhythm from Kristy D.
    I enjoy her picture books such as A HOP IS UP & MINI RACER.
    Much to learn from here, especially from Amy's nourishing words.
    Appreciations & Atlanta-bound author, happy trails to you!
    - Bookseedstudio
  13. October 20, 2017 9:12 AM EDT
    Thank you, Jan, for ALL those lovely words. I had the delight of meeting Kristy in the airport up in PA, before my first ever Highlights Founders conference. Her writing is full of joy! And yours always dazzles. :0)
    - Robyn Black
  14. October 20, 2017 10:42 AM EDT
    I attended the Highlights Poetry workshop this week. It was fabulous and it made me aware of how language can dazzle, as it does in your poem, Robyn. Well done, Ladies!
    - Diane Mayr
  15. October 20, 2017 11:00 AM EDT
    Oh, Diane! I was up there in spirit. Would go to every one if I could. So glad you gave yourself a few (glorious, I know!) days to be inspired and to inspire. XO
    - Robyn Black
  16. October 20, 2017 11:01 AM EDT
    Even though I'm no longer teacher, still want this book! I know I would learn from the poets and poems and wisdom within its pages--and I am loving seeing all the peeks inside this week. When I did teach middle school, I started the year by teaching the reading and writing of poetry because I believed it set the stage for all the writing to come. And the best part, seeing students who thought they couldn't write, succeed!
    - Kay Jernigan McGriff
  17. October 20, 2017 11:04 AM EDT
    So, so very excited for this book, and so lovely to see it featured again this week!
    - Jane @ Raincity Librarian
  18. October 20, 2017 12:07 PM EDT
    I LOVE your poem Robyn and I can't wait to get my hands on the book. Have fun visiting schools.
    - Liz
  19. October 20, 2017 12:08 PM EDT
    I'm back from Highlights and missed having you there, too, Robyn, but it was a delight as Georgia and Rebecca show us more about poetry inviting one into a world needed. I'm sad that I cannot use Amy's book in the classroom anymore, and did find that when my students wrote poetry, they found they were writers, and found more of who they wanted to be. Thanks for sharing both poems, can't wait to read them all.
    - Linda Baie
  20. October 20, 2017 12:31 PM EDT
    This book sounds like the perfect vehicle of "Amyness"— an invaluable resource for any classroom! Love your poetic want-ad, Robyn, and Kristy's poem is toe-tapping terrific!
    - Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
  21. October 20, 2017 12:35 PM EDT
    What a delightful way to start my morning, Robyn. Your review of Amy's book made me want to have it in my hands right away. What you chose to feature was just right for hungry eyes. Thanks Robyn and kudos to Amy.
    - Carol Varsalona
  22. October 20, 2017 1:06 PM EDT
    Your poem made me smile, Robyn. Cool that it's included in Amy's new book! Enjoyed the interview. Thanks to you both!
    - jama
  23. October 20, 2017 2:30 PM EDT
    My list of books to put in my stack increases! Thank you for sharing this book and the interview with Amy, the incredible author and teacher to us all.
    - Kiesha Shepard
  24. October 20, 2017 3:28 PM EDT
    Hi, Kay - this book brought to mind my couple of years teaching middle school English a while back - wish I'd had it then! (I emphasized poetry, too.) :0) Thanks for coming over.

    Thanks, Jane - it's worth repeat looks for sure.

    Hi, Liz! And thanks. And your hands and eyes and spirit will be happy when you have a copy. (Good luck - maybe you'll win one!)

    Linda, SO glad you got to go back and be with Rebecca and Georgia again, and poet friends old and new. Love your description of students writing poetry, that they "found more of who they wanted to be."

    Hey, Michelle - "Amyness" - now THAT's an original word. And I know exactly what it means. Thanks for the kind feedback!

    Carol, thanks so much - glad to help your day start with a smile. You are going to LOVE the poems and thoughtful discussions in Amy's book.

    Thank YOU, Jama - glad you enjoyed all around!

    Hi, Kiesha - this volume is a good one to balance that big stack. Thanks for visiting!
    - Robyn Black
  25. October 20, 2017 4:23 PM EDT
    What a fun visit to your blog today. I love the interview and need no more convincing that Poems are Teachers is a book I must have. I cannot wait to get my hands on it. I'm sure I'll share it with my students and teachers....but not until I've had a good about of time with it first!
    Robyn you've so often had the right word and words. Thank you.
    - Linda Mitchell
  26. October 20, 2017 4:40 PM EDT
    Love your poem, Robyn. I'm a sucker for poems about poems:>) And Kristy's is a delight, too. And hearing Amy talk about her book...I haven't read the whole thing, but I love how Amy's encouragement and kindness shines throughout this project.
    - Laura Purdie Salas
  27. October 20, 2017 5:35 PM EDT
    I have been a fan of The Poem Farm for many years, so I'm truly looking forward to getting my hands on POEMS ARE TEACHERS. My copy is on it's way so no need to enter me in the drawing. : ) Loved reading your poem and Kristy's too. xo
    - Linda
  28. October 20, 2017 7:44 PM EDT
    Hi,Linda M.! That sounds like a good plan. And thank you for such kindness and encouragement; same backatcha. :0)

    Thank you, Laura - and your "Tree House" poem is so warm and welcoming; students are going to love it.

    Linda - you will love it! Thanks for swinging by and for the heads' up re. the drawing. :0)
    - Robyn Black
  29. October 20, 2017 8:22 PM EDT
    Love your dazzling want-ad (you answered the ad and found just the right words!) and Kristy's toe-tapping storm. Thanks for sharing Amy's new treasure with us!
    - Buffy Silverman
  30. October 20, 2017 10:58 PM EDT
    Hi, Buffy! Thanks, & glad you enjoyed... I need Kristy's poem to keep me moving when I'm writing! :0)
    - Robyn Black
  31. October 21, 2017 6:27 AM EDT
    No other professional book on my shelf has ever been "soul-enriching," but I agree that Amy's is! I'm honored to have my poem in the same book as yours, and more than anything, to be a part of this amazing reminder that poetry should be a part of every child's education. (no need to enter me in the drawing!)
    - Mary Lee Hahn
  32. October 21, 2017 7:25 AM EDT
    I just came from reading Matt's interview with Amy and was thrilled to read even more about Poems Are Teachers. I can't wait to get my hands on it! Kristy's poem is delightful--exuberant and joyful--and your Want Ad is so clever. Thanks for sharing!
    - Molly Hogan
  33. October 21, 2017 8:07 AM EDT
    Kristy's poem is a mud-luscious delight, a dancing sparkle of a poem. What an undertaking this book must have been, coming together like a jigsaw puzzle from so many hands, to be treated gently and reverently by Amy. Thanks for this great post, Robyn.
    - Brenda
  34. October 21, 2017 10:30 AM EDT
    And your wonderful poem is the first one in the book! It en"riches" on many levels. :0) Thanks for all you do, Mary Lee, and for the heads' up re. the drawing.

    Thanks for coming over for a second helping, Molly! Appreciations for all the kind words as well. And 'exuberant' is the perfect word for Kristy's writing.

    Glad you enjoyed, Brenda - and yes re. 'mud-luscious'; the poetry of cummings was similarly infused with joy, and happy we have new rainy poems to stomp around in like Kristy's!
    - Robyn Black
  35. October 21, 2017 2:09 PM EDT
    What a great interview! I loved your description of a "soul-enriching resource." I can't wait to read this one. and what an honor for your poem to be included, too! Thank you for sharing.
    - Leigh Anne Eck
  36. October 21, 2017 4:49 PM EDT
    Thanks so much, Leigh Anne - and thank YOU for hosting this week! :0)
    - Robyn Black
  37. October 22, 2017 6:21 AM EDT
    Thank you for this wonderful interview, Robyn & Amy! This book is a treasure! I adore "Word Wanted" and can't wait to share it with students.
    - Catherine @ Reading to the Core
  38. October 22, 2017 8:10 AM EDT
    Hello, Robyn! Thanks for this wonderful post. We met a year ago at the Highlights poetry workshop with Rebecca and Georgia. I hope you are doing well. Please enter me in the drawing for this book. I would love to have a copy to use in my classroom.
    Deb Reidy
    - Deborah Reidy
  39. October 22, 2017 9:09 AM EDT
    Catherine - that makes me so happy! :0) Thank you.

    Hello, Deb! I've been a little jealous of this year's workshop which just finished... such a magical place with special people. So great to hear from you, and good luck in the drawing! (& Happy Writing!)
    - Robyn Black
  40. October 25, 2017 12:37 PM EDT
    Thanks for highlighting this book, Robyn! And many, many congrats on getting a poem inside this well needed book!
    - Charles Waters
  41. October 25, 2017 4:32 PM EDT
    HI, Charles! Thanks for visiting. And congrats to YOU for having your poem, "Putting in the Work" included, too! :0)
    - Robyn Black

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In addition to writing books, Robyn has sold her writing to major children's magazines.
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