Friday, December 05, 2014

From the Park Bench (it's coming!)

“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

OMG, it's coming.
The publisher (Red Giant Press) said the hard copy proof is in the mail.

This manuscript has stretched and grown over 20 years.  From my time as Public Information Officer at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority through an uncountable number of school visits and conversations with folks, I have taken a lot of notes.  A whole lot of notes. 

There is never just one side to any story, there are always at least two and usually many more.  A fact we have seen playing out on our televisions over these past months (and years).   I don't pretend to have answers to the misunderstandings, I have just listened to the stories.

So has evolved these short poetic dialogues, two voices looking at the same subject from diverse viewpoints.   Democracy, politicking, mother instinct, privatization, welfare, and getting schooled are among the topics.  

For those who read my children's books, I thank you heartily, but advise that this is not the book for you.  This is a book for adults, and hopefully high school students.

For those who have heard my adult poetry, you will hear a familiar line here and there.  I have not borrowed from those poems, rather those poems borrowed from this manuscript, the mother-ship, that has been festering on my hard drive for years, gnawing at me.  As I recently observed to an audience at YALSA, you don't have to be crazy to write poetry, but it does help if you hear voices.

I have never been so excited to go looking for typos.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why Do You Write Sad Poems?

Why do you write sad poems?

Defensive answer: I don't ONLY write sad poems. Did you see the one about how happiness comes hopping? Or the one about saying gross things at the dinner table? Funny stuff.  Seriously funny. Not sad. Not sad at all.

Self-conscious answer: Oh, no. That didn't make YOU sad, did it?  I'm so sorry. It's just that. . . no, seriously, I'm really really sorry.

Have had a lot of years to think about it answer: It makes me feel better. Seriously.

No Way

In a swirl of nothing
inhaling hours
of in between.
What mood is this?
Lost? Collapsed?
Left out? Just tired?
Leftover scraps
of expectation
now outgrown.
Of disappointments
Speech bubbles
of stifled screams.
Drifting clouds.
Unticketed dreams.

Writing a poem is a way to tuck sad feelings in, kiss them on the forehead, and turn the klieg lights out on them.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Pasir Ridge International School: "Eyes twinkling in sunshine"

What’s weird, conducts electricity, and is a good citizen?

The poets of Pasir Ridge International School in Balikpapan, Indonesia, of course!

Balikpapan is a strange sounding place populated by friendly and familiar faces.  Who could forget a mascot such as the one above? I even recognized some of the faces in the assembly.  Taller bodies, bigger feet, but the same smiles.  Michael and I were here 2 years ago and were pleased as papayas to be back in this special learning place. 

Pictured here is the reading space a middle school classroom, complete with pillows and plenty of books and space in which to stretch the mind and the legs.

In Theresa Marriott's 3/4 grade classroom, we tried our hands at personification and then performed close surgery on our drafts to pare them into more precise poetry.  During our second visit with her classroom we wrote definition poems about electricity where I learned that a circuit has to be closed and cannot be polka dots.

This year there are both a K-1 and 1-2 splits at PRIS.  We were lucky enough to spend two full hours with each class -- two full hours with beginning writers is an incredible opportunity for us as we are generally limited to one 30 or 40 minute writing session with this age group at a school.  Sometimes all we get is a drive-by where we share a few poems and then are hustled off.  But being a small school has some definite advantages, with class sizes of about 10, we had time to get serious about writing and get a little goofy afterwards.

In each class we introduced writing lessons from our book High Impact Writing Clinics that had originally been conceived for students in grades four and up.  But as this is a writing school, the kids were quick to engage as we first co-constructed poems, creating our own mentor text, and then wrote independently.  We wrote about feeling weird (why not?) and talked about how important a conclusion is in our writing.


eyes rolling
arms slapping  
body shaking
skin purpling
brain bubbling
feet wiggling
ears flapping

The best part is
I’m drooling on my desk

Weird 2

Eyes blinking
Mouth talking
Feet stomping
Arms shaking
Head wiggling
Body spinning
Knees skipping
Ears shaking
Lips growling

The best part is making a silly face.

After this writing adventure, we brainstormed what it means to be a good citizen, first co-constructing the bare bones of a poem using a refrain and then going back to add in vibrant details before taking our clip boards and writing on our own.

Special thanks to Principal Seamus Marriott for the invitation, the opportunities, and the yummy meals.

Surabaya International School

An umbrella, hats, a bug zapper and plenty of warm smiles – what else does a poet need in Indonesia?  Our (too short) visit to Surabaya International School was a blast. What a welcome!  They gave us all that we needed to feel at home and more. After a couple of assemblies, we were happy to join writers putting words on paper.  Michael and I split up to visit all grade levels.

Third Graders in Liene Leiskaine's class were just starting a unit on money and trade so we collaborated in small groups to write questioning poems based on a lesson in High Impact Writing Clinics.  What is money for?  Who invented it?  What will money be in the future. Are coins better than paper? At the end of class we shared our poems aloud. A true test of a successful visit (as far as I'm concerned) is if the kids are writing after we leave.  Guess what?  I received an email the next day from Liene with the following questioning poem that her student had written that night.  

By: Subin Park

Why is the earth a sphere, not a square?
How do we compare?
Who gets to create the nature and how?
Isn't it cute when a paw meets a paw?
Why is an ocean deep?
Why don't we see green sheep?
Why is the nature so green?
Why is the nature so adventures for me?

How cool is that?  Thank you Subin for extending the lesson and making me imagine paw meeting paw. And why indeed don't we see green sheep?????

Another primary class gave me a send off that made me cry.

In the upper grades we talked about how poems can be starter seeds for longer essays stories and essays.  We wrote "bump in the road" poems, which are really story poems about triumph.

And many many thanks to librarian Leslie Baker and her kindly and professional assistant (whose name I have no chance of spelling correctly) for the hours of work put into making the visit happen.  We move on leaving poems and friends behind.  Thank you, thank you, thank you my friends!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

EARCOS ELC 2014 Storytelling Handouts

 Hi folks,

Here is a link to the handouts from our sessions.

Thanks for tuning in!

StoryTelling Handouts

Monday, October 06, 2014

Heads Up Publications and By Definition: Poems of Feelings

Why are you doing that?
No one else does it that way.
What’s the matter with you?

Creative people don’t like to be told what to do. We can be annoying. Distracted. Non-compliant. Misfits, who at our worst clog systems and at our best make up new and better systems.

So what is the choice? Creatives can either rebel and go places where no one else has been or fall in line and be unhappy.  Not that going your own way is a guarantee of happiness. Hardly.  It pretty much assures that you will be justifying your actions for the rest of your days, but the alternative is emotional and intellectual suicide.

Creatives don’t fit well in schools. At all. Schools put students in boxes based on how well kids can fill in boxes.  Creatives don’t like boxes unless they welded them together themselves, designed them in Photoshop, or turned a refrigerator box into a pyramid with a razor blade and duct tape and renamed it “box with a point.”

The successful creative kid learns to multitask early on. Hold her breath and make a quick pass at what is required before letting the mind go out to play. The less successful creative kid gets parked with the Welcome Back Kotteresque meatheads, a room that is harder to escape than a prison lockdown. Sitting for 12 years among The-Most-Likely-to-be-Incarcerated can be hard on a person’s sense of productive worth.

Go Back While There’s Still Time:

When I quit my job as a vice president of an ad agency to be a poet, turned in the paperwork for the company car, trashed my rolodex, and went out into the cold (it was actually a sunny, Indian summer September day), I remember the panic on the face of a co-worker, “You did what? Go back, there’s still time. Tell [the boss] you changed your mind. He’ll take you back. He’ll take you back.”

Part of me knew he was right. I was a single mom with a mortgage, two kids poised on the edge of the diving board ready to take the plunge into college and two dogs in need of kibble. But I just couldn’t hold my breath any longer. It was 1990, the last decade of the 20th century. I was running out of time, and I needed to breathe.

I started out self-published because education isn’t the only place that wants to put people into boxes. Publishers were looking for the next Shel Silverstein in the early nineties when I came along with my “I Hate My Body” poems for middle readers and there was no category for adolescent poetry in those days. Zero.

With the support of classroom teachers, I sold 43,000 books, and then at least one publisher was willing to talk. Boyds Mills Press. Grateful, I knew I should be compliant.  Only that’s not my nature and I had sacrificed a whole lot of security to be able to breathe. I quickly developed a reputation for being difficult to edit (I wore out three editors on the first book).  BMP and I have had a 25 year relationship and I continue to be forever grateful that they were willing to take a chance on me.

By Definition: Poems of Feelings (BMP) came out in 2004. In my mind, the art and the poetry in this book were a mismatch from the start.  I was writing for middle readers, the artist was drawing for primary kids.  Bad fit.  Last year, the book went of out print and the rights returned to me. 

I decided to repurpose the poems into a power point presentation for classroom use. 

Why are you doing that?
No one else does it that way.
What’s the matter with you?

Research based response:

Michael Salinger (my partner-in-rhyme) and I have been so jazzed about projecting poetry in classrooms, with everyone’s head up and ready for discussion.  No one is hunched over text, pretending to be reading, doodling, drooling or any of the things I used to do when asked to read in class. Projected text, particularly when it is combined with a fetching image, gets kids’ attention just long enough to engage. 

If you are looking for research to support this, this is the research:  We tried it about 600 times.  Projected poetry engages better than printed text. Try it, you’ll see.

So is born our idea of Heads UP publications.  These are not books that are conceived to be cradled in the arms and consumed alone. These are books designed to be projected and shared in a classroom situation, with a teacher leading the discussion.  We may even include a discussion starter question or two.

The next question we had to confront was, how do we best market a Heads UP publication?

Trade or Professional?

Teacher professional books are research based with the text divided between a few new ideas and citation after citation after citation of old ideas hand selected old ideas to support the new ideas. It’s a tedious process to write these books (been there) and (I fear) the audience for them has been dwindling, distracted by the PD offerings from YouTube, TedTalks and Twitter. Our product is what is called "classroom ready," or not research based. Teacher professional publishers are not equipped to market a product like ours (so we hear). Besides, poetry is a tough sell.

Trade books are books kids check out of the library. Trade publishers are still coming to grips with ebooks and have no conveyance method to sell books designed for projection.  They are busy trying to reformat texts so that that they are as close as possible to books with covers that can be held in the hands. Trade publishers are not equipped to market a product like ours (so we hear). They are too busy conceiving of increasingly obscurely themed poetry books (40 poems on tiddly winks? Anyone? Anyone?). Besides, poetry is a tough sell.

Every Poem is a Mini lesson:

Still, teachers are always looking for poetry and new ideas.  Every poem is a mini lesson.  Want a quick lesson on point of view, descriptive or figurative language? Poems are at your service.

“When heading off to a conference, I always dare to dream that I will be heading home somehow made new,” began a teacher in a recent email. And then she kindly added that our presentation of using words and images in the classroom had done just that for her.  Michael and I consider ourselves to be teaching artists, we spend a great number of days in the classroom each year, but don’t have to do the grades or the staff meetings.  It’s a good gig, we realize that. And we want to efficiently and economically give back to the people we most love to support. . . entrepreneurial and mostly financially strapped teachers. 

This had led us to the site: Teacher Pay Teachers to host our products.  We are in the process of converting some of our projectable lessons and Head UP publications to this site.  You can find us here: link.
Here are our first three offerings: All $6 or under (cheap).