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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - DAYENU & Extra Credit Questions for April Halprin Wayland


We’re slap-in-the-middle of Poetry Month! Does it get much better? Well, it does if you get to hang out with one of my all-time favorite people and poets, April Halprin Wayland.

Welcome to Life on the Deckle Edge, April, where I’m always running a wee bit ragged. Until I spend a few moments with something as wonderful as your just-launched More Than Enough - A Passover Story (Dial Books for Young Readers), which invites us to slow down and savor and be grateful. Katie Kath’s exuberant illustrations brim with joy, depicting a loving family’s preparations for their special Passover meal.

Today, I appreciate your playing along for a few “Extra Credit” questions!


April’s Extra Credit Q & A

“We wander the market surrounded by colors – Dayenu.”
First, what is Dayenu? Second, where are your favorite places to wander?


Dayenu (pronounced die-AYE-new) is the title of a song we sing at Passover . It's bright and bouncy and the chorus is a true earworm—it's simply the word Dayenu repeated over and over.

Dayenu means, "It would have been enough." So, for example, we say, if we had only been freed from slavery, that would have been enough—Dayenu! And, if the Red Sea had split and that was all, that would have been enough...etc.

Dayenu is a reminder to be aware of and grateful for the blessings in each moment.

Favorite places to wander? Meadows. And on verdant green hiking trails with my dog or my hiking buddies. Although I live within walking distance of the ocean in Southern California, rolling green hills are what light me up.

“We reach through the bars to lift one purring kitten.” Please, tell us about your pets!

Gladly, Robyn. I include an animal in all of my books.

• Eli is our licky, lanky dog (part Doberman, part German Shepherd, part knucklehead);
• Snot is our tiny tortoiseshell cat (she was the runt of the litter) with a squeaky kitten voice. (And don't blame me—my husband named her);
• Sheldon is our California desert tortoise. We had to get a permit from the state to adopt him because these tortoises are listed as a threatened species.
• We have about ten 10-cent gold fish in our pond (who have grown the size of submarines),
• and we have two red-eared slider turtles. We used to have four, named after the Beatles; we're not sure who survived, so their names could be any two of these: John, Paul, George or Ringo.

“We soak in blue bubbles and dress up for dinner.” What was your most recent dress-up occasion, or one on the horizon?

You can bet that I dressed up for the official More Than Enough book launch at our wonderful local independent bookstore. It was so much fun! I wore a bright hearts-and-rainbow dress, read the book, taught the Dayenu song and played the fiddle as the audience joined in.

Then we passed out coloring pages and I talked to the grown-ups about the hilarious behind-the-scenes story of how this book was born. [This is a must-read, Folks – click here for a tale of flexibility & determination!]

We served my favorite Passover food, charoset. Charoset symbolizes mortar which Jewish slaves used between bricks to build edifices for the Pharaoh. It's made of chopped apples, walnuts, honey, cinnamon, dates and either wine or grape juice. Put it on matzoh and it's yummy-crunchy-sweet—divine!

“We search high and low for the lost afikomen.” Do you have a favorite “found object”?

Such an interesting question, Robyn. My father was a farmer and an artist—and an appreciator of all things great and small. He found a crooked old plumbing pipe about the size of a child's arm, bent at the elbow; he stuck flowers and a chicken hawk feather in it, and brought it home. So quirky-beautiful... and so my father. That's the first thing I thought of.

(Not gonna lie… that made me tear up a little!)
“She wraps us in blankets, then sings Eliyahu.” You’re no stranger to music. Do you sing to the radio or iTunes while stuck in LA traffic? What station? Are you a humble hummer or a belter-outer?


Actually, I usually listen to National Public Radio 24/7—news, not music. And audio books. In terms of music, I'm all about sitting-around-the-living-room playing acoustic instruments and singing folk music with friends. Songs written by songwriters like Tom Paxton and Stan Rogers, to name a few.

But lately when I'm driving listen to the songs from the musical, Hamilton. Wow. I've never understood hip-hop before, I'd never taken the time to really listen to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the lyrics, the music, the book, and who stars in the musical knocks it out of the stadium. (I also listen to In the Heights, which Miranda wrote and starred in, too).

When I'm in the car, I'm a belter-outer. Which are you, Robyn?

Ha! Well, I’m an NPR addict as well. But bring on a classic rock anthem, and I’m belting it out -- if it's just me in the car, anyway!

The children enjoy “… a Passover sleepover.” Best rest for you – rain on a tin roof? Ocean? Crickets? Birdsong and window blinds?

Rain on the roof. (The alarm on my cell is birdsong. It's an almost liquid way to transition from dreaming to real life.)

Thanks so much for joining us today, April. We could never get enough of YOU!

Thank you for having me, Robyn—I love your questions (and you!)

Readers, for some extra fun today, I’m happy to report I’m a guest over at Penny Klosterman’s terrific blog as part of her “A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt” series, where you’ll also get to meet my super-talented niece, Sara, and my delightful great nephew, Carter.

And for even more Poetry Month celebrating than you think you can stand, bop on by Today’s Little Ditty, where the magical Michelle has our Roundup this week.
Dayenu!

[Note: I'm attending a history conference here in Beaufort today and will try to check in at the mid-day break. Go ahead and leave some love for April!]
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Poetry Friday - A Thesaurus-y Celebration


Got your party hats and blowers ready? Monday is the birthday of Peter Mark Roget. You know, the Thesaurus guy! (And much more, too.) He came to us via London on January 18, 1779.

Right after New Year’s – I’m not sure why – I gave MYSELF a gift. I finally purchased THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS by the very gifted Jen Bryant and illustrated by the so-very-talented Melissa Sweet . Published in 2014 by Eerdmans, it won the Robert F. Sibert Medal and was named a Caldecott Honor Book in last year’s flurry of ALA awards.

I’ve so enjoyed savoring, pouring over, and relishing my own copy! Research doesn’t overwhelm the personal story in this inspiring, quirky biography, and the illustrations are clever and wondrous. [Those endpapers! Oh, my….]

Our own Keri shared a lovely post when this book came out over at Keri Recommends, with great links and such. I know there are many fans of THE RIGHT WORD among the Poetry Friday crowd.

I learned from the book’s timeline that it was nearly birthday time, hence this post. And hence my need to share our own Heidi Mordhorst’s ever-clever poem honoring this venerable volume which makes Roget’s name a familiar one two centuries later. Heidi’s poem is found in THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL (PFAMS) from Pomelo Books (2013).

If you haven’t yet read it, you’ll see why Sylvia and Janet couldn’t pass it up:


Meet The Saurus


I sound like a lizard, a dino or fossil;
Instead I’m a reference, a volume, a book.
If you need some help or require assistance,
check in for a peek, a perusal or look.

I’m small, undersized, miniscule or compact
but I’m powerful, potent, I’m mighty or strong.
Please trust in, rely on, depend on, believe me–
I won’t misinform or mislead, steer you wrong.

When you need to state or express or convey
a specific idea or notion or thought,
I can offer, propose, recommend or suggest
the word or expression that hits the right spot.

See me for that nuance, that hint or that shade
of meaning that captures what you want to say,
for I am The Saurus, Synonymous Rex,
King Onomasticon! Extinct? No way!



©Heidi Mordhorst. All rights reserved. Posted with very last-minute-permission, because that’s how I roll.


For a video of Heidi reading this poem herself, paddle on over to No Water River, where Renee included it in her PFAMS Poet Palooza. (Scroll down the post to find Heidi.)

You can enjoy another video created by Karey Pustejovsky on the PFAMS blog from April 2013.

Like Mr. Roget’s Thesaurus, I don’t think Heidi’s poem or THE RIGHT WORD will go out of style any time soon.

For more stylish words today, visit our Round-up host, - WAIT – look who it is! That delightful Keri, at Keri Recommends. (I really didn’t know until I just clicked to see!) She’s got some “big magic” over there.

[And a heads’ up for next week – I’ll be on the road as a visiting poet in a school next Friday – at Morgan’s school as a matter of fact! – and will be too involved with poem-loving kids to post. Hmmm… what’s a great word for, “can’t wait”?! See you at the end of the month!]

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Poetry Friday: Of Mice and Chihuahuas - and Rebecca Kai Dotlich


Just over three years ago, we rescued a three-pound Chihuahua. (Okay, I rescued a three-pound Chihuahua when something tiny ran in front of my car on a busy road. “You’re not even a real dog!” I said, dodging traffic.) Less than a year old, no tags or microchip, and though she’d been loved by somebody, we were unable to find an owner. So she joined the family, and son Seth named her Rita.

We’ve never been “tiny dog” people, but I have to say, this one steals everybody’s heart. More than one vet tech has marveled that she’s a nice Chihuahua.

She’s also entertaining. Her latest antics involve stalking mice below the house from the comfort of indoors. Our small coastal cottage was built on slanted ground with pillars in the back. Boards run from the ground to the bottom all around, but there is open space between them. You can open a gate and walk on dirt underneath the back part of the house. With insulation tucked beneath the floor, it’s evidently an inviting space for little critters to make themselves at home. (Hubby was down there this week, and one of said little critters dropped down as he was tacking up insulation – not sure which one was more surprised! At least it was small.)

From inside the house, Rita has set up a couple of monitoring stations. One is below the dining room hutch. She can fit inside the space between its carved legs. She’ll sniff and then sit on high alert, head cocked and ears up, for quite a while. Then she’ll run around to the rug in the kitchen and adopt the same stance. Wonder what she’s listening to? I’ll ask her, “Rita – where are your mice?”

All this puts me in a mind to share Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s beautiful poem, “Winter Home.” It’s from one of my favorite collections of all time, Sharing the Seasons (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by the incomparable Lee Bennett Hopkins . The rich illustrations by David Diaz are pure magic.

Enjoy!


Winter Home

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

We build our beds
inside this barn,
with shreds of cloth,
old rags, twine. A room
where we can winter-dine
to chime of ice, by windows full
of snowflake art. With dreams of crumb,
cracker, tart, inside this old
wind-whistling place, this cold
and tiny mousekin space,
we cuddle to chase
the chill away,
imagining an April day.



©Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Used with permission.


Savor this poem – it’s one to read again; you’re sure to catch some new poetic treasure the second (or third!) time. So many luscious words/turns of phrase - do you have a favorite?

I wonder if these mice are distant cousins to the ones who usher us into and out of Jumping Off Library Shelves (Wordsong, September 2015)? :0)

RKD fans, take note: If you haven’t seen her oh-so-clever One Day, The End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories (Boyds Mills Press, October 2015) illustrated by Fred Koehler, you’re in for a treat. Keep your antennae out next month for another Boyds Mills title by Rebecca, The Knowing Book, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek of this one, and it’s going to be on my gift-giving list for all kinds of occasions. (“This picture book encourages readers to make the most of their lives….” School Library Journal).

Thanks to Rebecca for sharing the perfect Winter poem today, and to all the wee critters that enrich our lives.

Keep celebrating a new year of poetry with our wonderful Tabatha, rounding up at The Opposite of Indifference today. Stay warm and cozy!
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Poetry Friday: September

YAY Images

I caught it - just for a hint of a moment, just through my fingers and teasing my face - walking at dusk last night. Have you caught it? That wispy slight chill in the air wafting over the scent of grass - the promise of fall?

Fall has always been my favorite season. As a little girl, when that chill in the air and the smell of fresh grass meant I was running around my grandparents' back yard in Tennessee, I loved the start of a new school year. Growing up in Florida, I didn't move to where the leaves change color until college. I am still at a loss each year when the canopy transforms into a yellow golden scarlet aubergine cathedral, shedding stained glass leaves into a carpet. Fall is a time to breathe deeply, to both contemplate and start new things.

On my side of the family, the first great-grandchild for my folks was born Wednesday night to my lovely niece. New life makes everyone pause and feel hopeful. We also discovered that there's a baby due on my husband's side of the family - the first great-grandchild for his folks, so fall will be full of promise. New babies always make me think of Lee Bennett Hopkins's collection AMAZING FACES, with exquisite illustrations by Chris Soentpiet (Lee & Low, 2010). Rebecca Kai Dotlich's opening poem begins:

Amazing Face

Amazing, your face.
Amazing.

It shows there will be trails to follow,
porches to wave from, wonder from,
play on. ...


©Rebecca Kai Dotlich. All rights reserved.

Please click here to read the rest.

There's something about the bittersweet nature of fall that captivates me, too. All that glorious color and fresh air harbors the reality that stark winter is next on the wheel. We are fragile, after all - strong, but impermanent. This sensibility accompanies the best haiku, one reason I'm so drawn to the form.

Somewhat related, the imagist poets often call to me, too. This poem in particular seemed perfect for today, and even relevant with our current concerns around the globe.

September, 1918

by Amy Lowell (1874–1925)

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.


Click here to see the poem at The Poetry Foundation; you can click on Lowell's biography on that page and read more about her extraordinary career.

Finally, let the autumn winds blow you over to Author Amok, where the lovely and talented Laura has thoughts on friendship, more classic poetry, and a terrific Round-Up this week!
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Poetry Friday: "August Morning" by Albert Garcia

YAY Images
Happy August to you!

I have looked at my calendar and must declare myself an honorary European this month; with a trip or two yet to go, and with getting two kids settled into college (first year for one; last for the other) in two different states, and with the Decatur Book Festival at the end of the month where I'll have my artsyletters booth, I'm going to need to take some blog vacation days here in the Dog Days.

But I'd like to share a poem I stumbled across, and it only makes me want to read more of this poet's work. Albert Garcia teaches college English in California. His work has been published in many respected journals and has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. His poetry collections include Rainshadow (Copper Beech Press) and Skunk Talk (Bear Star Press). Here are the opening lines from a poem in Skunk Talk:

August Morning

by Albert Garcia

It’s ripe, the melon
by our sink. Yellow,
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes
the house too sweetly.
At five I wake, the air
mournful in its quiet.
My wife’s eyes swim calmly
under their lids, her mouth and jaw
relaxed, different.
What is happening in the silence
of this house? ...


©Albert Garcia - please click here to read the whole poem.

For lots of great poetry to start off your August, please paddle over to visit lovely Margaret at Reflections on the Teche.

(If you're interested, here's a peek at some new artwork I'm conjuring up for that book festival Aug. 30-Sept. 1. Especially for Book Nerds!)
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Poetry Friday: Margarita Engle is here!


Earlier this summer I was honored to feature a poem by Margarita Engle from her gorgeously crafted The Hurricane Dancers. That only whet my appetite to offer a more fulsome post featuring this talented, generous, adventurous and multi-award-winning poet. But what to focus on - her journalistic career and NPR segments? Her scientific expertise? Her picture books and animal knowledge? (Did you know she "hides" in the wilderness to help search and rescue dogs learn their trade?) Her precision regarding historical figures, some of whom wouldn't otherwise have a voice today? Verse novels?

Well, this column today is mainly about verse novels, with some of those other dynamics woven in. Like me, you'll want to explore more than just one work or form! I'm so pleased to welcome Margarita, whose many awards include a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor, just to name a few.

Your body of work (and that’s just so far!) includes a treasure of stories about Cuba’s history. First, can you share a bit about your rich family history and your visits to Cuba growing up?

My mother is from the beautiful town of Trinidad, on the south-central coast of Cuba. My father is an American artist who traveled to her town after seeing photos of the colonial architecture and traditional customs in the January, 1947 issue of National Geographic. He arrived on Valentine’s Day, and they met on the terrace of a palace that was an art school at that time, but is now known as El Museo Romántico, because it is a museum of Romantic Era art. Since they couldn’t speak the same language, they communicated with drawings. It was love at first sight (or first sketch). They were soon married, and they moved to my father’s hometown of Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. Summers spent visiting my mother’s relatives in Cuba are my fondest childhood memories. During those trips, I bonded with the extended family, including my grandmother and great-grandmother. I also fell in love with tropical nature and the family farm, setting the foundation for a later career in botany and agriculture. The 1962 Missile Crisis, and my loss of the right to travel freely, was the defining moment of my adolescence. I think that might be why I tend to write for eleven-year-olds, since that is the age at which my life was abruptly severed into distinct before and after segments.

Your writing sensitively conveys both the courage of ordinary people as well as the horror of humanity’s dark side in conditions such as war and slavery. How were you able to actually write difficult scenes, such as the recurring tortures endured by Juan Francisco Manzano in The Poet Slave of Cuba?

Thank you, I’m glad it does come across as sensitive. Those scenes were adapted directly from Manzano’s autobiographical notes. On my own, I never would have imagined such terror, but I felt obligated to retain both the facts and the spirit of his notes about his childhood. The stunning illustrations by Sean Qualls really helped soften, and at the same time, strengthen, those disturbing images.

Turning specifically to the form of verse novels, I’d like to share some correspondence with you earlier this summer that helped click this form into place in my mind. You wrote:

The two things I sacrifice in exchange for using the verse novel form's magic are:

1. dialogue---When I encounter dialogue in a verse novel, it usually feels disorienting, so I search for other ways to have characters communicate.
2. detail---I feel the need to research like a maniac, and then omit most of what I have learned. This forces me to only include those aspects of history that seem most important to me. In other words, it forces me to remain constantly aware of what I am really trying to say to young readers.


What terrific thoughts for folks exploring this form! Would you like to share a little more about its magic? Why is the verse novel a vehicle of choice for sharing your stories?


I fell in love with the verse novel form after struggling to write about Manzano in traditional prose, and falling short over and over, for ten years. As soon as I switched to poetry, the life of The Poet Slave of Cuba sprang to life. I think it’s because Manzano was a poet, and I was only able to retain the spirit of his voice by honoring his love of verse. He wrote poetry while struggling to stay alive. I write in safety and comfort, yet we meet on common ground. I have never been a slave or a boy, but I feel a kinship to this enslaved boy who taught himself to read and write poetry. After that first verse novel, I just kept going. The Surrender Tree was next, and the first draft was so unfocused that it was rejected by my wonderful editor, Reka Simonsen. I’m fortunate that she gave me a second chance to re-write it from scratch, because the result was a Newbery Honor. I don’t think that would have been possible for me in any other form. If I’d written a nonfiction book about a wilderness nurse during Cuba’s independence wars, it would have needed footnotes, instead of feelings. Someone else could write that, but I can’t. I need to experience my protagonist’s emotions. After The Surrender Tree, I followed with Tropical Secrets, The Firefly Letters, Hurricane Dancers, The Wild Book, and The Lightning Dreamer. Each of these verse novels explores some aspect of freedom and/or hope, my two recurrent themes.

While we’re on the subject of form, I’d like to take this opportunity to give a bit of advice to anyone teaching poetry to young people. Personally, I would tell kids (and aspiring adult writers) to turn off their gadgets, string up a hammock, and write with pen and paper, just letting words flow. Write as if time does not exist. Write as if rejections and critics don’t exist. Just write because you have something to communicate, deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul. Go exploring.

(I LOVE that advice!) Your main characters are full of light in dark circumstances, and often deal with being perceived in unfair and negative ways. In The Surrender Tree, Rosa (modeled after Rosario Castellanos Castellanos, who lived in the 19th and early 20th century) is a nurse who helps the injured on both sides of conflict in Cuba’s three wars of independence. She must do her healing in hiding, deep in the tropical forests and caves of the countryside:

The Spanish soldiers dress in bright uniforms,
like parakeets.
They march in columns, announcing
their movements
with trumpets and drums.

We move silently, secretly.
We are invisible.


Rosa is called a witch and pursued relentlessly. Under the weight of extreme weariness, hunger, lack, and fear, she carries on. What keeps her going?


Compassionate perseverance is the reason I chose to view 30 years of war through her eyes. I don’t understand that level of generosity and courage. I admire modern nurses for the same reason: they stayed with their patients during Hurricane Katrina. They don’t receive the respect granted to doctors, but they accomplish daily tasks that would exhaust the powers of superheroes. Nurses amaze me. Where does that dedication come from? I think it’s hope, and that’s the reason I admire Rosa la Bayamesa enough to write about war, when all I want to think of is peace.

In your speech at the 2010 National Book Festival (available on the Macmillan Authors site and your own website, and echoing your advice above, you said, “writing is an exploration.” Any projects in the works you want to talk about, or do you prefer to keep creative endeavors under wraps until they’re ready for the world?

I have taken a brief rest from Cuban history to write some animal books. When You Wander, a Search and Rescue Dog Story (wonderful illustrations by Mary Morgan!), is my new picture book, and Mountain Dog is a middle grade chapter-book-in-verse (magnificent illustrations by Olga and Alexey Ivanov, and edited by the amazing Ann Martin!). Both of these dog books were inspired by my husband’s volunteer work, training our dogs to find hikers lost in the Sierras. My role in their training is hiding out in the woods, so the dogs can practice finding a “lost” person. I also have some other picture books pending, about other subjects, including a couple of biographies, one of the most difficult p.b. forms to publish these days.

{Note: When you leave here, please take a moment to enjoy When You Wander, read aloud by Margarita in a video over at Renée's No Water River! An interview follows, and she'll be a special guest over there again soon, too!}

In March, 2014, Harcourt will release a picture book inspired by a Cuban folktale: Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish(gorgeous illustrations by David Walker!), as well as Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal (spectacular cover illustration by Raúl Colón!), a verse novel about the Caribbean Islanders who were recruited to dig the canal, while subjected to U.S.-imposed apartheid. Caribbeans and southern Europeans were paid in silver, while Americans and northern Europeans were paid in gold, hence the title. Silver People is also my personal love letter to tropical rain forests. In this book, every living thing has a voice, including monkeys, ants, birds, snakes, cockroaches, and trees.

That sounds beyond wonderful. I have to mention that among many other things you write, you are a haiku and tanka poet. Do these short forms inform your other writing?

Absolutely! Since childhood, I have loved the short Japanese forms of poetry. They help me remain aware of immediacy, and of the senses. They also help me discover universal images that are extremely useful for triggering emotions in a reader’s mind, so that I don’t have to go on and on in a melodramatic way, naming and describing those emotions. I think haiku and tanka help me fill the blank spaces between lines of verse with unstated thoughts and feelings. It can be described as resonance, like the vibrations that continue after the sound of a bell has faded. It makes reading interactive, without any electronic gadgets, just words.

Readers and writers are always curious about an author’s work habits and inspiration. Will you play along with a short Q & A? Here we go:

Morning or Evening? (or Middle of the Night?!)

Morning. I get up early, work early, and exhaust my creative energy early. By evening, my mind is a sponge, and all I can do is read.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, the stronger the better.

Beach or Mountains? (or maybe Tropical Forest?)
All of the above. I don’t swim, but I love the seashore. Our search and rescue dog training takes us to the mountains once or twice each week. I visit tropical rain forests whenever our budget has room for travel. Most recently, we went to an orangutan reserve in Borneo (after the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, a great conference for any Western authors who want to meet authors and readers from the East). And before you ask, yes, one sort of writing project or another often does grow out of each adventure, so there is an orangutan book in my future (illustrated by…no, sorry, I can’t reveal that exciting secret yet, but it’s edited by Noa Wheeler at Holt...)

(Oooohhh... can't wait!)
Music (What Kind?) or Silence?


Silence. I’ve never understood authors who can write in crowded places. I need to be alone with my characters, whether fictional or historical. Noise or modern music would interfere with my time travel experience.

What’s on your Night Stand? (Or would that be a Kindle?)

I just finished the best grownup biography I’ve ever read: Second Suns, by David Relin, about a heroic Nepali eye surgeon who cures blindness in remote villages. I don’t know whether this book captivated me just because it’s fantastic, or because my son-in-law is from Nepal, and I’m eager to go meet his family---probably both.) Tragically, the author killed himself right after writing this masterpiece. He was discouraged by criticism of Three Cups of Tea, his previous book. Even though accusations against that book’s authenticity were dropped in court, the discouragement must have been overpowering. I think there’s a lesson for all authors here---we can’t let critics destroy us. We have to ignore all the media buzz, noise, whining, and bullying. We have to just focus on doing our best, and ignore attacks by cruel people.

Some of your favorite-sounding words (this week!)?

The following word is on my mind: travel. That’s because I just finished writing a memoir in verse about my childhood travels, and now I’m waiting for news from my agent, hoping the book has found a home.

Thank you, Margarita, for gracing us with your talent and generous spirit today. I’m glad you write so many books, because I can’t wait for the next one!

Thank you, Robyn! It’s an honor to answer such thoughtful and challenging questions.

For more about Margarita, please visit her website.

And to explore more poetry, please check out Semicolon, where Sherry has the Poetry Friday Roundup!
(Note - as of Friday morning, I'm not seeing a Roundup there - but there are some great PF posts in the kidlitosphere today. UPDATE: Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme stepped up to post links he knows of today. Thanks, Matt!)
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Poetry Friday: Full Hearts, Empty Nests, and Emily Dickinson

Willow Tree figure, "Happiness," with student cards...


On Wednesday I grabbed a quick catch-up coffee with a dear friend. Years ago, she taught both of my kids when they were in fourth grade, and I was her room mother each time! Now the youngest, Seth, has just graduated (though not before visiting her classroom to talk about song writing with her students), and I’ve been continuing the tradition of visiting her class to talk about writing each spring. A couple of years ago, my oldest (Morgan, my rising college senior/ed major) tagged along. It’s been a great arrangement; I “experiment” with different writing activities with the students, and they get a little outside spice with their language arts.

Sharon has given me the most thoughtful, perfect gifts over the years as a thank-you. When the creative writing theme involved butterflies (catching ideas!), the class gave me a butterfly coffee cup, matching journal, and bookmarks. Once they gave me a heavy duty pen holder for my desk, decorated with pens on the outside. The most precious gifts are notes and cards from the students, which I think every author cherishes.

This week, along with a bow-tied stack of cards, Sharon gave me the lovely Willow Tree figure in the picture above. This one is called “Happiness” – and Sharon said it made her think of me. Well, that just fills me with joy, and much appreciation.

Willow Tree creator Susan Lordi says of this figurine, “I hope this piece is very open to viewer interpretation. For me, it is the pure joy that comes from creating — in all of its forms. A side note … I love bluebirds.”

I told Sharon the birds were appropriate, as the last thing I’d done before sunset the night before was fish a newly-fledged robin out of our pool. I scooped it up and set it on the ground, where, after sitting there not knowing what to do for a time while its parents fretted, it eventually hopped toward Mom, who escorted it up the hillside and out of my sight.

This baby was the last one to leave this year’s nest in the camellia bush. A big baby bird, I’d already mentioned to it that it was about time. That mama and papa robin had worked tirelessly harvesting gobs of worms to take to the nest day in and day out.

Obviously we have empty nests on our minds these days. My husband said he even got misty watching some baby robins outside at work the other day. They were learning to fly. So, let’s have a bird poem today, in which Miss Emily so beautifully renders the image of flight:

A Bird Came Down the Walk

by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass—
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon
Leap, plashless as they swim.


Click here for more information about Emily Dickinson and links to many of her poems.

Now, flap your wings and glide on over to Reflections on the Teche , where the thoughtful and talented Margaret has the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Also, if you want to see some gorgeous oil paintings, I featured works by my fellow-brand-new-empty-nester-to-be friend and amazing artist Ann Goble on my artsyletters blog this week.
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Poetry Friday: A Poem from Margarita Engle's HURRICANE DANCERS

(Note: the book cover now is covered with many wonderful award stickers! Here's a former library copy, so you can see the art - ©Cathie Bleck...)

Happy Caribbean-American Heritage Month! (Click here for the Presidential proclamation.)

Today I have a poem from the amazing Margarita Engle, from her book, Hurricane Dancers , (Henry Holt, 2011). This novel in verse presents poems in five voices – our main character, Quebrado (the “broken one” – half native Cuban and half Spanish), survives a hurricane and shipwreck in the dawning of the 16th century to escape his life of slavery. The ship’s ruthless captain, Bernardino de Talavera (the first pirate in the Caribbean) survives, too, as does his cruel captive, former conquistador/governor of Venezuela, Alonso de Ojedo. Quebrado befriends Caucubú, daughter of a Ciboney chieftan, and the young fisherman she loves, Naridó.

Of course, these stories and fates become intertwined, and Quebrado must make decisions that affect them all and determine his own character. Around the middle of the book, he shares this poem:

Quebrado (p. 63, Hurricane Dancers)

Storms follow me
wherever I go.

Once again,
the sky looks so heavy
that I would not
be surprised
if black clouds
sank to earth
and grew roots
in moist soil,
creating a wispy forest
of drifting air.

Mysteries follow me
wherever I go.


©Margarita Engle. All rights reserved. (Many thanks to the author for permission to post.)

I borrowed the characters from this book on Wednesday for a kind of quirky, visual-art oriented writing exercise for my monthly column over at Janice Hardy’s THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY. Because I was so taken by the art and design of this book, I also sang its praises on my art blog this week with a link to more incredible art from cover artist Cathie Bleck.

I know all this just whets your appetite. Perhaps like me you’ve long been enchanted by Margarita’s award-winning picture book, Summer Birds , illustrated by the oh-so-gifted Julie Paschkis. Or perhaps you were captivated by The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book and winner of the Pura Belpré Award, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor, to name a few. The Poet Slave of Cuba has a long trail of awards as well, and then there are her dog books, her NPR segments, her haiku (ahhhh…!) – Well, have no fear. Margarita has agreed to return for an interview sometime soon, so stay tuned.

Today, turn your dial over to The Opposite of Indifference, where the multi-talented Tabatha has our Poetry Friday Roundup. But wait, there’s more: If you have some bicycle-themed poetry (or art) that you’d like to submit to an upcoming contest in Flagler County, Fla., follow today’s tropical breezes to my post with information from my friend and Highlights Founders Workshops poetry alum, Stephanie Salkin. (& Thanks, Stephanie!)
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Poetry Friday: A Jane Hirshfield poem for Will and Emily's wedding

Yay Images


This weekend, our family is celebrating the union of my nephew, Will, and his lovely bride, Emily. (She’s a new teacher, by the way – I knew you’d like her!)

In scouting around online, I found a website in the UK that has everything a busy or procrastinating couple might need to plan their special day, including dozens of poems and thousands of speeches uploaded by others. Really – groom, father of the bride, maid of honour/best woman … you get the idea! Toasts, jokes, etc. There are even links to help you plan your “Stag” and “Hen” nights! I do love those Brits.

But today I’d like to share a poem by one of America’s poetic treasures, Jane Hirshfield .

Here are its opening lines and those near the end:

A Blessing for Wedding

By Jane Hirshfield

Today when persimmons ripen
Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow
Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song

Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you


© Jane Hirshfield.

Please do click over to read the poem in its entirety here. And click over to Teaching Young Writers, where the creative Betsy has the Poetry Friday Roundup and Chalk-a-Bration pictures, too!

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Poetry Friday: Terri L. French visits with Haiku and Atlanta Haikufest Info

Haiku Poet, HSA Regional Coordinator, and Prune Juice editor Terri L. French

Smack dab in the middle of National Poetry Month is National Haiku Poetry Day – on Wednesday the 17th this week. Let’s continue the celebration with a spotlight on a terrific poet/volunteer from my neck of the woods, and the amazing haiku weekend she’s cooking up for October in Atlanta.

When I started my own haiku journey nearly three years ago, I got in touch with a couple of folks listed as Haiku Society of America members in my region. They were very kind, but there didn’t seem to be an active group at the time.

Then lo and behold, in swoops Terri L. French from Alabama to reach out and rev up the Southeast Region. Before you could catch a falling cherry blossom, she’d arranged the first annual Ginko (haiku walk) Haikufest last fall in Alabama! I was out of town and unable to make it that weekend, so I was thrilled to learn she was putting together another one for this coming fall. More about that in a minute. First, meet Terri!

BIO: Terri L. French lives in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and has been writing haiku and various related forms seriously for the last seven years. In 2012, she placed third and received an honorable mention in The Haiku Society of America's (HSA) Gerald Brady Memorial Award senryu contest and third place in the HSA haibun contest. Terri currently serves as the HSA's southeast regional coordinator and edits the senryu and kyoka journal, Prune Juice .

Here’s Terri’s take on why she became so involved:

The southeast region of the Haiku Society of America has been a little inactive for the last few years. Geographically we are quite spread out. The region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands! Our first annual Ginko Haikufest was held last year in Guntersville, Alabama. This year the conference will be in Atlanta, Georgia. My hopes are that by moving the conference around the region we can garner more interest and become a more cohesive group.

This year's conference "gazing at flowers," celebrating the 250th birthday of Japanese haiku poet Kobayashi Issa, will be even bigger and better than last year's. We will have a special presentation by HSA's president, David Lanoue; an introductory workshop and "blind" critique; a sumi-e Japanese brush painting class; a performance by a taiko drum troupe; a ginko bird walk; and much, much, more.


I am thrilled to be participating and helping out for this event. Here’s the conference info in a nutshell – mark your calendar!

The 2113, SE Haiku Society of America, 2nd Annual Ginko Haikufest, "gazing at flowers," will be Friday October 25 - Sunday, October 27, at the Artmore Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact Terri French at terri.l.french for registration information and see our events page and the Facebook Haikufest page.

Now, to whet your appetite, two original haiku graciously shared by Terri:

a spot of blood
on the unfinished quilt -
harvest moon


Sketchbook, Vol. 4, issue 5, Sept/Oct, 2009

reflecting pool
trying to see past
what she's not


Frogpond, 34:3, 2011

Poems ©Terri L. French. All rights reserved.

Many thanks for joining us today, Terri!

For a thoughtful haiku in response to the tragic events in Boston this week, see Daine Mayr’s poem at Random Noodling.

*** a couple of different notes:

1.) Guess What? The Authors Guild Folks - evidently also known as “Knights of the Internet” - recovered all my lost comments from Poetry Friday two weeks ago! The Roundup itself was lost, but you can find all the links here in the post just under this one (dated 4/18/2013). The content of my original post for that day is here.

2.) How about this for fun? April Halprin Wayland, Irene Latham, and yours truly made the Children’s edition of Publisher’s Weekly yesterday, with a picture of our “Take Five – Create Fun with the Poetry Friday Anthology” workshop at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg last week. Click here (and scroll down) to see. Woo hoo!

Speaking of lovely Irene, go see what she’s rounding up for Poetry Friday today at
Live Your Poem.
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