Families & Flower Pots at Emily Dickinson Museum Garden Days

Garden Days at Emily Dickinson Museum welcomes families to explore and connect with the story and legacy of poet Emily Dickinson and her family

Next week, garden-loving families can get some historic dirt underneath their fingernails at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. The museum’s annual Garden Days will be held this year from June 8th through 11th, and brings with them ample opportunities to learn, grow, and honor Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening – all while helping to maintain the museum’s beautiful and historic grounds.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst

To kick off Garden Days, the Emily Dickinson Museum will hold Family Day on Saturday, June 8th from 1-4pm. Gardeners and plant enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are welcome at the museum, and there will be a plethora of gardening activities that anyone can easily participate in. Additionally, Family Day will include a special kid-friendly garden tour at 1:30pm, as well as a historic garden tour (better for older students) at 2:30pm, which will be lead by Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener.

After learning about the gardens and helping out with some projects around the museum’s grounds, families can take Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening home with them – supplies will be available for beginning your very own herbarium, which Emily herself did as a child. Read the rest of this entry »

Support Language Art & Community Engagement Through Poetry

Poem in Your Pocket Day
Supporting Language Art & Community Engagement

Thursday, April 24th, 2014, is national Poem in Your Pocket Day, a day when people select poems to share with others they encounter throughout their day. We love what the community in Charlottesville, VA, organized for this national day that celebrates poetry while supporting literacy. This great community building event was a collaboration between their library, schools and senior center.  It encouraged community engagement in various locations throughout their town, including their library, town common, hospital, and local businesses.  It also encourages literacy development and a love of language.

Wouldn’t it be great if communities, groups or individuals in Western MA did something similar? Tell us if you do! It could be as simple as a youth group doing something similar to this VA community on a much smaller scale, passing out poetry to passersby in Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, Amherst or Springfield. Or you could become guerrilla poets, posting poems on community bulletin boards in your town. Share your ideas and be inspired!

Check out archived column, “One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love” for more encouragement that supports a love for poetry in our children and ourselves.

Get Kids Excited About Poetry with Book Spine & Blackout Poetry

Book Spine & Blackout Poetry

What’s your favorite animal?
Lucy hares and itchy bears?
The runaway bunny?
Edward the emu?
Little polar bear and the husky pup?
Beware! These Animals are Poison!

If you’ve ever gazed at a bookshelf and seen sentences, then the Forbes Library’s Book Spine Poetry Contest is for you! Book spine poetry, a form of “writing” that involves stacking books so that the titles on their spines create a poem, is an art form accessible to readers of all ages and sizes. In order to participate, families need only to snap a photo of their poem as pictured here and upload it to the library’s Facebook page. While there’s no rush to write (or stack!), the contest ends on April 30th – so be sure to start soon! Prizes will be awarded to the best poem for adults, best poem for teens, and a handful of other categories as well.

Though being limited to only the possibilities granted by book spines might feel restrictive at first, book spine poetry actually offers lots of space for creativity and original ideas. The huge number of books at Forbes (or in any local library) offer thousands and thousands of titles to turn into lines in a poem. Families can experiment with different styles of poetry, too – perhaps a haiku, end rhyme, or alliterative verse might be possible to create using some of your favorite titles. Read the rest of this entry »

Science Meets Poetry: Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest

Science Meets Poetry with Wonders of Water Illustrated Poem Contest

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest. Entries to the contest are due by April 14th, 2014.

Beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein once wrote, “… let it rain on my skin, it can’t get in – I’m waterproof!” These words – from the poem “Dancin’ In the Rain” – are silly yet somehow scientific, and encourage us to think about what happens when our skin gets wet. There are an infinite number of other water-related thoughts that kids might have, and thanks to an upcoming poetry contest, big thinkers will have a place to share writing that they’ve done about water-related phenomena.

The 2014 American Chemical Society’s Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest invites students in grades K-12 to write and illustrate poems about water. The official theme, “Wonders of Water,” encourages students of all ages to ponder the role that water plays in their daily lives, in the natural world around them, and in the chemical and physical properties of everything on earth. With a maximum length of 40 words, poems should be concise yet also creative and original – even with a small number of words, students will find plenty of space to make their voice come through. Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Autumn

Fall Changes—Poems for Outside & In

Fall is a great time for poetry. The season is bursting with vivid sights, sounds and smells. It’s wonderful to be outside, taking in the warm autumn colors that surround us and that late-day, slanting light that makes everything look like it’s dipped in honey.

The next time you’re enjoying the out-of-doors, bring this poem by Lilian Moore along. It’s an easy one for little kids to remember, and is fun for saying aloud and making into a game, because the poem breaks down the experience of crunching through dry leaves so     that     we     can     feel     every step.

Try saying it with your child as you walk, using the line breaks as a guide to where you should slow down and speed up.

New Sounds

by Lilian Moore

New sounds to
walk on
today,

dry
leaves
talking
in hoarse
whispers
under bare trees.

Indoors, many of us are also making transitions, starting school or other new routines, taking stock of the year ahead. When it’s time to pull out the sweaters and long pants, there might be some surprises…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Belle of Amherst

The Bee of Amherst

Emily Dickinson is one of our best-known poets, and many of us can probably conjure up a few of her most quoted lines. But while we know she’s important, I’m willing to bet that most of us also find her poems somewhat difficult. They’re so compact, so very personal, full of references that are difficult to grasp from our modern perspective.

As a result, when we’re first introduced to her work, sometimes the poems that are selected—because they seem more accessible—are also kind of…greeting card sweet (Please, no hate mail!). This is a shame, because when we take the time to read more of Dickinson’s work, we find an incredibly inventive, smart and passionate poet. She can even be quite funny. Hey, I named this column after her—so you know I’m a fan.

Therefore, on behalf of the Belle of Amherst, I offer a poem of hers that I think is a winner for families on all counts: it’s very accessible, but not at the expense of smart. It’s fun to say out loud, and not as twisty in its rhythms as some of her work. It is sweet, but not syrupy—more like refreshing, ice-cold, home-made lemonade on a hot summer day…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Story of Summer with E. E. Cummings

Take a Poem to the Beach

To kick off the summer, here’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Cummings is known for his inventiveness—his play with language and form. That playfulness is usually most obvious in the capitalization (or lack of) and punctuation (seemingly random) in his poems, and kids love to see a grown-up breaking those rules.

———

maggie and milly and molly and may
by E. E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

[From "The Complete Poems: 1904-1962" by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage.]

———

In this poem the sense of play is also present in the parenthetical asides; they create an extra intimacy—I feel like the poet is speaking just to me, letting me into his confidence. Sort of like when you watch an episode of The Office (or a Shakespeare play), and the actors break out of character and speak directly to the camera/audience…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: A Writing Challenge for Families

Big Ideas (in the Ordinary)

This month I invite you to take all of those lost imaginative ideas and share them by writing with your child! In fact, you could try a writing game where you just put a bunch of ordinary stuff from your house on a table, then challenge each other to write a poem that has all the stuff on the table in it… and, if you like, feel free to post your family’s writing here in the comments. I would love to see what you come up with!

I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way.

The poem I’ve chosen for this month’s column, “Today,” by Frank O’Hara, is a great antidote to this kind of inhibition. O’Hara was immersed in the New York art scene, and his poems reflect the exciting changes that were happening in the visual arts of the 1950’s. They’re colorful, irreverent, noisy, seemingly casual but secretly well-crafted.

But what I appreciate most about this poem (and others by O’Hara) is that it shows us that anything can be in art, and art can be about anything. Just by writing about it, by putting the ordinary stuff of our lives into a poem it becomes changed and celebrated. It becomes interesting.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: A Poem for Spring

Springtime In Your Eye

I know, you thought it would never get here.

Even though for many weeks the thermometer refused to creep up, and many of us (me!) were walking around hunched into jackets we had come to hate, Spring calmly went about its business: the vernal witch-hazel unfurled its yellow tatters in the March wind, maples were open for sap business, red-wing blackbirds buzzed in the marshes, and finally—in what has to be my favorite part of the season—the Spring peepers shook off their long, cold slumber and announced themselves. Hello, peepers! Hello Spring!

To celebrate, here’s a small poem that’s easy for even younger kids to learn. It speaks to that waiting we were all doing, and that moment when the wheel finally turns and all of a sudden, Spring is standing on our doorstep, acting like we were the ones dragging our feet. Plus, it has a good amount of silliness at the end that feels just righting for blowing away those cold March winds.

And Suddenly Spring
by Margaret Hillert

The winds of March were sleeping.
I hardly felt a thing.
The trees were standing quietly.
It didn’t seem like spring.
Then suddenly the winds awoke
They raced across the sky.
They bumped right into April,
Splashing springtime in my eye.

This is a great one for saying out loud. Say it while you’re kids are on the swings, making sure you catch them or they jump at that last line, or make it into a hand-clapping game—with all the rhymes and its regular beats, it’s a natural.

I found this poem in a collection called, The Sky Is Full of Song. It’s a little book of seasonal poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins with lovely woodcut illustrations by Dirk Zimmer. Poets included range from Lucille Clifton to Richard Brautigan, and it’s a good way to introduce kids ages 4-8 or so to a wide range of poets and styles. Sadly, it’s now out of print, but used copies are available. If you can find one, snatch it up!

Happy Spring!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) H. Michael Miley]

One Clover & A Bee: Making a Fist

Behind All Our Questions: Yet Another Reason Poems Are Good For Us

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always know what I’m feeling. Or I have a general idea, but I’m not sure I understand it, or know what to do about it, or if there is anything to do about it.

I think for our kids, especially as they grow older, this is a fairly constant condition:  they’re trying to figure stuff out, and sometimes that stuff is pretty intense or complicated. And it doesn’t always help to have someone asking you what’s wrong because you don’t know what’s wrong and even if you do, you’re not sure you can put it into words or tell anyone.

Enter poetry.

Poetry doesn’t—shouldn’t, in my opinion—lecture, but it does have a way of reflecting the world back to us that reveals its/our deeper truth—whether that truth is beauty, joy, ugliness, grief or a confusing combination of all of the above!

I think the key to that mirror trick has to do with imagery: powerful poetry has a specificity about its imagery that goes right to the heart of things. It’s not easy to explain why an image can transport us this way, but somehow it does, and when that happens, when we can see and feel something so clearly, we feel seen as well. And understood, and hopefully, comforted.

So, this month I offer a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye for the older set. The Borges quote is a little heavy (and you should feel free to omit it), but I would say that most kids 11 and up can totally handle this poem, and that it will mean more and more to them as they get older.  Shihab Nye has written and edited many poetry books for children, and I love how she never underestimates their emotional intelligence.

I think this is a great poem to talk about with your child, a way to get at some of those big questions and strong feelings that can be so hard to untangle. Notice the key images here: those palm trees, the split melon, and finally, that small hand, clenching and unclenching.

Making a Fist
BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
    We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist” from Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Randen Pederson]

Poetry by A.A. Milne for Sick Kids & Their Grown-ups!

Phtheezles May Even Ensue

This month I offer up a poem by A.A. Milne, of Pooh fame, that’s about being sick (or pretending to be), which a lot us can probably relate to right now. It’s also terrifically fun to say out loud.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine are especially prone to what I call “repetition and variation” finding a word or a sound that feels good to say, and then repeating that word, and endless variations of that word, until I think my head will explode.

But this kind of word play is exactly what kids need to develop their cognitive and creative chops, so I try to wait until the riff—because that’s what it is, right?—has run its course before I request, oh-so-politely, that we enjoy a little silence, too.

It’s a long poem, and may have to be learned in parts, but I bet your kids will be pretty good at getting it down. And if somebody in your house is stuck in bed with the flu, maybe reading this to them will provide a little distraction: “Sneezles” by A.A. Milne Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: A Poem for Parents

Other Bells We Would Ring: A Poem for Parents

As I write this the rain is bucketing down out of a sky so gray it feels as if even the weather is conspiring to press home the weight of darkness that this month has ushered in.

So much grief is around us, and the idea of bringing forth light seems a fool’s task. Yet the wheel is turning, and I don’t know about you, but as we move toward ringing in the New Year, everything feels tenuous and precious. I want badly to remember my best, compassionate self, to move toward kindness, and yes, real change.

With this in mind, I decided that this month’s poem should be for parents. The poem I chose does look squarely into the face of darkness, but it also calls forth possibility, a different “bell.”

When you read the poem, I hope you’ll feel free to replace the word “Father” with anything right for you. I think the poem invites us to do that, to imagine whatever we think of when we call on the unknown. For Patchen, writing on the eve of World War II, it’s the idea of “Father,” for us it can be whatever rings true.

At the New Year
By Kenneth Patchen

In the shape of this night, in the still fall
of snow, Father

In all that is cold and tiny, these little birds
and children

In everything that moves tonight, the trolleys
and the lovers, Father

In the great hush of country, in the ugly noise
of our cities

In this deep throw of stars, in those trenches
where the dead are, Father

In all the wide land waiting, and in the liners
out on the black water

In all that has been said bravely, in all that is
mean anywhere in the world, Father

In all that is good and lovely, in every house
where sham and hatred are

In the name of those who wait, in the sound
of angry voices, Father

Before the bells ring, before this little point in time
has rushed us on

Before this clean moment has gone, before this night
turns to face tomorrow, Father

There is this high singing in the air
Forever this sorrowful human face in eternity’s window
And there are other bells that we would ring, Father
Other bells that we would ring.

From Collected Poems, 1939.

I am imagining what that would sound like right now, all of us bringing forth a different kind of music. I wish peace to you and yours in 2013.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) David Boocock]

One Clover & A Bee: The Right Bed in a Universe of Beds

I’m Grateful for…The Bed Book

If you’re familiar with Sylvia Plath’s work you might be surprised to see a poem of hers here. But in addition to her darkly brilliant work she also wrote a book for her children, The Bed Book, that’s bright and whimsical.

This book, which also has wonderful illustrations, is out of print, but used copies are still available. I encourage you to seek it out and read the entire poem, especially if you’re already a Plath fan; it’s heartening to imagine the lighter moments she had as a writer and a mother.

This is most definitely a poem to say out loud. Plath is a master of alliteration and verbal acrobatics, and this poem is no exception. My favorite bit is the twisty second stanza. I read it with my son this morning and he gave it a big thumbs up.

from The Bed Book
by Sylvia Plath

Most Beds are Beds
For sleeping or resting,
But the best Beds are much
More interesting!

Not just a white little
Tucked-in-tight little
Nighty-night little
Turn-out-the light little
Bed –

Instead
A Bed for Fishing,
A Bed for Cats,
A Bed for a Troupe of
Acrobats.

The right sort of Bed
(If you see what I mean)
Is a Bed that might
Be a Submarine

Nosing through water
Clear and green,
Silver and glittery
As a sardine.

Or a Jet-Propelled Bed
For visiting Mars
With mosquito nets
For the shooting stars…

The next time you’re tucking your little ones into bed, read this poem. Better yet, get the book, and make your way through the entire universe of beds together, night by night.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) anjakb]

One Clover & A Bee: Poetry for Halloween

Tricks & Treats: Two Not-So-Spooky Poems

Many of the poems I looked at for this month’s column explore that space where spooky crosses over to scary. Some of the poems I read really were too scary to say with kids, but some found that sweet spot where we might get goose bumps, but know we can always turn the lights on. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Halloween is a time when we like to be scared…a little, and some of us more than others. In the light of day when we’re putting on our costumes and makeup, it’s easy to see that you are you and I am me. But when the sun goes down, the wind picks up and strange grinning faces light the streets, it can be tough to remember that it’s all just pretend, and some parents may find their children suddenly attaching like barnacles to their arms or legs, a little less enamored of Halloween’s spooky surprises.

Many of the poems I looked at for this month’s column explore that space where spooky crosses over to scary. Some of the poems I read really were too scary to say with kids, but some found that sweet spot where we might get goose bumps, but know we can always turn the lights on.

I decided to offer you two poems on a similar theme, neither of them terribly creepy, but one is definitely more benign than the other—you get to choose how much scary your family can take!

Keep in mind as you read these: both poems follow the convention of capitalizing the first word of each line, even though it’s not a new sentence. Not many poets do this anymore, but it used to be the standard.

You can ignore the capitalized letters, BUT they do create a kind of emphasis, both in music and meaning—you’ll see this especially when you get to the more tricky line breaks, such as his/Wry, and everyone/Dies in this first poem, “Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern,” by David McCord. Read it aloud a few times and you’ll get what I mean:

Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern
by David McCord

Mr. Macklin takes his knife
And carves the yellow pumpkin face:
Three holes bring eyes and nose to life,
The mouth has thirteen teeth in place.
Then Mr. Macklin just for fun
Transfers the corn-cob pipe from his
Wry mouth to Jack’s, and everyone
Dies laughing! O what fun it is
Till Mr. Macklin draws the shade
And lights the candle in Jack’s skull.
Then all the inside dark is made
As spooky and as horrorful
As Halloween, and creepy crawl
The shadows on the tool-house floor,
With Jack’s face dancing on the wall.
O Mr. Macklin! where’s the door?

If the first one doesn’t fit for you, this second poem, by Carl Sandburg, strikes a lovely balance. I encourage you to seek out more of Sandburg’s work; he fell out of fashion for a while, but is being “rediscovered” these days. Sandburg’s a poet with a strong social conscience who cared deeply about the lives of working people. He also wrote some wonderful children’s books, including Rootabaga Stories. Here’s his gentle take on the Halloween experience (from the pumpkin’s point-of-view):

Theme in Yellow
by Carl Sandburg

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

Hope your Halloween is all treats. No fooling.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

One Clover & A Bee: Poetry that Engages the Senses

The Sound of One Leaf Falling

Some poems are clearly meant to be read aloud: sound is the engine that moves them off the page and into our consciousness. Other poems rely more on image, making pictures that resonate in our mind’s eye.

Some poems try to do both, using structural elements like line breaks, punctuation and white space to guide the reader through the poem, encouraging us to move slowly, linger on an image or sound, or speed up, rush through a phrase with held breath.

This Leaf, by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers is one those poems that wants to engage the reader/listener on all levels. It’s a poem about seeing, hearing and feeling, and although it’s short and written in simple language, the way those words are laid out on the page make a big impact on how we read and say the poem.

This Leaf

by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

This leaf
once
touched
the
sky.
Now it is
dry
crumbs
under my feet.
I
must be
a
Giant.

For young readers, seeing a poem on the page that makes use of these tricks can be exciting, but also confusing—how am I supposed to read this? Why doesn’t it look a regular sentence that everybody tells me I need to learn how to read and write?

You can have fun with your kids learning how to say this poem together. Read it through once, silently, pretend the line breaks are yellow traffic lights–make sure you pause when the lines stops! Why? because the writer wants you to rest a while in that image or sound. Stay in that idea.

Then move on.

When you get to a period, it’s a red light. Take a full breath and feel your heart beat. Something is about to shift, get ready!

Then move on.

When you come to the very end of the poem, stay a while longer, take in what you’ve seen and felt, then read it again! Each time you do, the rhythm will feel more natural, the pauses less awkward, and your understanding of the poem will deepen.

I love how the short lines force me to slow down; it echoes the intense focus that young children have, and that we adults can lose as we hurry through one experience to the next. It’s like what the painter Georgia O’Keeffe said about her work:

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.”

The world of this poem—this leaf, not just any leaf—spoken through the consciousness of a child, is at once very large and very small, awe-inducing and conquerable.

Excuse me, while I touch the sky.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Dave Heuts]

One Clover & A Bee: Whisper and Shout

Whisper and Shout

Whisper and Shout: Poems to Memorize, edited by Patricia Vecchione, was given to my daughter on her 10th birthday. It’s a book that she’s dog-eared and written in freely, habits I generally discourage. In this case, however, I have to admit it’s wonderful to look back at what she’s written about the poems over the years—the notes and tiny drawings in different colored inks are a special document of her growth and experience.

Published by the Cricket magazine folks, the book contains a variety of poems—classics by authors like Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, as well as fun nonsense rhymes and limericks—but overall, the collection is geared more for the 8-12 set. There are some serious poems here about the nature of being a human on our planet, and about heartbreak and loss. These may go over the heads of younger kids but are perfect as they start to become more aware of their feelings and need a way to sort them out.

In my opinion, one of the best things about poetry is that it speaks in many different languages—it can tell a story, make music, paint a picture and shine a light on thoughts and ideas that we might otherwise miss…or misconstrue. Depending on where you are in your life, what and how a poem speaks to you may change over and over again. Sometimes, too, you open a book and find a poem that’s exactly what you need in that moment, even when you didn’t know you needed it. I love that.

As Vecchione says in her intro:”When you find a special poem, you want to have it forever. It may speak to you about something you’ve never thought of before… If you read a poem about a grandmother, it may get you thinking about your grandma who lives hundreds of miles away. Saying the poem isn’t the same as being with her, but it will make her feel closer.”

So, even though my daughter was totally on board with suggesting this book for families, we had a little disagreement about which poem to feature for this week’s column. In the end, I’m going with her choice, a poem that spoke to her at 10 and remains important to her at 14. The poem is called” “Where Have You Gone,” by Mari Evans:

Where Have You Gone

Where have you gone

with your confident
walk with
your crooked smile

why did you leave
me
when you took your
laughter
and departed
are you aware that
with you
went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?

where have you gone
with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart
in another . . .

I particularly admire how the structure of this poem works to draw us in: the short, staccato lines and the extra white space underscore the halting thoughts of the speaker as they try to puzzle out why the person they care for has left them. It’s almost as if we are following the speaker’s footsteps as they trace the path of their loss, and because we don’t know the “true” story behind the poem we bring our own experience to fill in the blanks. This allows us to understand it at a deeper level, and by the time we get to the final ellipses we get that the “why” of the poem may never be answered.

To be honest, this poem speaks pretty clearly to me, too. When I read it, I feel as if I’m looking through a window at my younger self. It helps me remember how being young is sometimes just as frustrating and complicated and mystifying as being an adult.

Say this one aloud, look through that window—see anyone you know?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

One Clover & A Bee: My Kids’ Favorite Book of Poetry

Sing a Song of Popcorn

When I polled my kids for their all-time favorite book of poems from when they were little they singled out Sing A Song Of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book Of Poems.

I can totally see why: not only does it have a great mix of poetry styles, subjects and forms, it also features wonderful illustrations by several artists, including Caldecott medalists Maurice Sendak!, Arnold Lobel, and Leo and Diane Dillon.

The poems range from silly to seasonal to spooky, from haikus to nonsense rhymes; it would be hard not to find something to like. What’s really remarkable, however, is that my kids also agree about their favorite poem in the book. The winner, hands down, is “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear, who also wrote “The Owl and the Pussycat.” The poem’s illustrated by Sendak, a perfect pairing.

It’s a longish story poem about completely silly children who are totally committed to doing a completely foolish thing, and end up not only having a fabulous time but return home safely and are greeted as heroes.

“The Jumblies” has six sections; this is the first:

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, “You’ll all be drowned!”
They called aloud, “Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!”
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

As you can hear, the poem has great music, and even though my family hasn’t memorized the whole poem, we know those last four lines by heart. They’re extremely satisfying to say, especially when one or more of us seem determined to launch into a potentially ridiculous scheme. We also love saying “the hills of the Chankly Bore” for no reason whatsoever. Read the poem, you’ll see what I mean. It’s just fun to say.

I can’t help thinking “The Jumblies” is really about being an artist, but maybe I just want it to be.  In any case, it certainly celebrates rule breakers, and I imagine that from a child’s perspective, it’s delicious to read a poem about a bunch of kids who ignore the dire warnings of the adults in their lives and do exactly as they please.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Poems to Sleep On

A Poem to (Possibly) Sleep On

Sleep figures large in the life of a parent. For some of us it’s a tantalizing mirage, always just out of reach—it was for me, anyway. My daughter had colic for her first six months in the world, and cried for hours on end while my partner and I walked and rocked and massaged and drove her up and down the highway. It didn’t really help, but it gave us something to do while we were in despair. It’s terrible to feel as though you can’t comfort your child.

My son didn’t seem to need sleep at all for the first three years of his life.  A few hours a night was just fine with him. We saw a lot of sunrises during that time. I think. I don’t really remember.

So my partner and I spent many hours trying to soothe our children to sleep, and it happens that I like to sing but my partner is a little shy about his voice (though I think it’s lovely). Sometimes folks like him (and you?) need another way to connect with their babies and kids that feels intimate and musical. Yes, you guessed it: the music of poetry is the answer!

Next bedtime, find yourself a book light, clip it on to a book of poems, flip through until you find something that looks interesting, and start reading aloud. The more you read poems aloud, the more they’ll feel part of your natural language and the better they will sound to you, and to your kids.

If you already have poems/poets you love, by all means start with those. But if not, I have a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke to start you off (don’t forget last week’s poem by Christina Rossetti—now you have two!) and in my next column, I’ll have lots more collections/poets to suggest.

I can’t guarantee sleep, but at the very least you’ll discover poems you love, your children will begin to ingest the rhythms of poetry, and before long you’ll have poems you can say by heart—the seeds of your family’s poetry play list.

In the mean time, if you like this one, you may want to get your hands on one of Rilke’s books—these are poems born for reading aloud—there’s much to enjoy, even—or especially— in the dark of night.

BTW, as always, feel free to substitute she for he and vice-versa in your reading—make it work for you!

TUCK A CHILD

Tuck a child in his bed,
close this letter of life
that will arrive tonight.
We will read it together,
its contents will be spoken
out loud in the dark.

What it contains will end
by creating changes;
we will stop, we will go,
the whole room will capsize
in this sleeping one.

[By Rainer Maria Rilke translated by A. Poulin, Jr. from The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke published by Graywolf Press (1968)]

Until next time: sweet dreams.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Amanda Tipton]

One Clover & A Bee: Poems For Families To Learn And Love

Is Poetry On Your Playlist?

Way back when, before the abundance of printed and pixilated words we enjoy, people told stories. They told their stories over and over again, because, let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do on a long, cold night. And in order to make their stories easy to remember, they used lots of rhyming and had a simple meter: three or four beats to a line.

Many of us think of poetry with a capital P—meaning, Poetry lives in a castle high on a hill surrounded by a deep moat and a drawbridge. Beautiful from a distance, probably beautiful inside, but a little scary and, unless you know the owners, pretty inaccessible.

Or we think of poetry as a kind of moral or educational hygiene, like flossing—we know we should do it, but fun? Not so much.

I won’t lie to you, poetry can be beautiful, and poetry is definitely good for you, but it doesn’t have to be high-flown, and it should be way more fun that flossing.

After all, poetry is verse and verse is song and song is…music! Way back when, before the abundance of printed and pixilated words we enjoy, people told stories. They told their stories over and over again, because, let’s face it, there wasn’t much else to do on a long, cold night. And in order to make their stories easy to remember, they used lots of rhyming and had a simple meter: three or four beats to a line.

Think of the verses you know from your childhood: those “nursery” rhymes that stick in your head with their Jacks and Marys in their corners quite contrary. There’s a reason we can still say those words—it’s because the rhythms the words make are like our breath and our heartbeat—they’re an extension of our bodies, our living and breathing.

Kids have the music of poetry in their bodies already and it’s always brimming over, especially when they’re just beginning to speak:  they love the sound of words, the feel of them in their mouth, all the weird things they can do with spit bubbles.

They naturally gravitate toward rhyming and, have you noticed??? Repetition! Even at 10 my son will still latch on to a scrap of song or some phrase he’s made and say the same handful of words over and over and over, until I think I’m going to scream but he’s blissfully oblivious, just making those sounds with his breath and body (There’s a little of the brain, too, but not the thinking part—we’ll talk more about that another time.).

Now, I’m definitely not saying all poems should rhyme, but if you want to learn poems to say aloud with your family, it does help to start with some that have strong music to them. Kids also love call and response; they want YOU to play, too.

So for this first column I offer up a simple, but truly satisfying poem that my daughter discovered in 3rd grade, and still appreciates, even at the age of 13. It’s a poem by Christina Rossetti, called “What Are Heavy?”  (Don’t you just love that title?).

What Are Heavy?

What are heavy? sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? today and tomorrow:
What are frail: Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? the ocean and truth.

If you really want to hear this poem, make sure you read it out loud. Several times. And if you decide to add this poem to your family’s playlist, you can say the questions, and your child/children can say the answers, or vice-versa, it’s all good. BTW, it’s OK if the kids don’t get the “heavy” meaning in the poems they learn; good poems get deeper over time. For now, it’s enough to enjoy the saying.

It so happens that this poem is included in a really fine anthology edited by two women of the Hilltowns: Susan Todd and Carol Purinton. It’s called Morning Song: Poems for New Parents, and it’s got a wide range of poems about conception, pregnancy, birth and parenting, from Sappho to Patti Smith. You can get the book or they also have a CD. Someone might like to get it for their Mom. Hey, Mother’s Day is coming! Just sayin’.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Éamonn O'Brien-Strain]

Keeping Family History Alive for an Only Child

Family History

With an only child, keeping family history alive is so important. Daisy is the heir apparent to all our collective memories, so I try to take as many photos, write as many stories and letters, and tape as much video as I can. My father’s parents died shortly after I finished college, but my mother’s parents lived on into their 80s and 90s. I had grand ideas of taping my Grandpa Sidney as he talked about his life growing up in Brooklyn, or my Grandma Fudgie recalling her peripatetic childhood — her parents were both actors in the Yiddish theater. I never got around to doing it, and before I knew it my grandfather was struggling with dementia and my grandmother was battling ovarian cancer and the effects of lifelong diabetes. When my grandparents died, so did their memories and stories. I won’t make the same mistake with my own parents. I plan to interview them, and write down their stories and memories before they too become lost to the wind.

I took some of my family history, a story that has been handed down along my mother’s side, and blended it with a bit of fiction to create this tale for Daisy: Read the rest of this entry »

A Banana in a Bunch

The Power of One: Experiment of a Large Family
BY HF Contributing Writer, Dana Pilson

Ophelia the only, says she’s lonely
She wants a playmate at home.
She has toys galore, often asks for more,
But still complains she’s alone.

Would a dog or a cat, be the answer to that?
Would a pet enliven her room?
But dogs bring on wheezes, cats give us sneezes
How to cure such sadness and gloom?

Parties and playdates, visits with playmates
Nothing satisfies our lonely child.
Then we hop on a plane, goin’ up to Maine
To visit with friends for a while.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rusty Teapot

In the Tree House

I empty the rusty teapot
of blue water, mud and leaves,
retrieve pink tea cups
from the sand box, play food
strewn through the woods.
I put cups back on their hooks,
arrange ham beside pepper,
cabbage and egg.
I would live here forever

but as I sweep
sand from the burners
on the painted toy stove,
sand my six year-old calls fire—
why can’t you just leave it?
I remember this house is hers,
and I have to give it back, leave
a little fire on the stove,
the sink, fire even on the floor.

By HF Contributing Writer, Amy Dryansky

Read the rest of this entry »

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