Category Archives: Poetry

Blackout Poetry and the New York Times

I do love concrete, spine, and other sorts of shape poetry.  And so, on this final day of National Poetry Month, I enjoyed coming across  the  New York Times Blackout Poetry Generator:

Popularized in recent years by writer and artist Austin Kleon, blackout poetry encourages readers to create poems by redacting words from ordinary texts. During the last week of National Poetry Month, we will feature snippets of Times articles you can use to create and share your own short poems. 

You can see my effort here.




Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Poet Lee Bennett Hopkins Does Something Great for Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A world-renowned educator, poet, anthologist and advocate for poetry has arranged to give the Penn State University Libraries his 18,000-volume book collection and correspondence papers from his lifelong career in children’s literature. Lee Bennett Hopkins, a Guinness World Record holder as the most prolific anthologist of children’s poetry, has committed to give Penn State the collection, valued at approximately $3.25 million. The gift will provide Penn State with one of the most extensive and unique collections of children’s literature in the United States.

More about this gift and Lee’s amazing collection here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Some Slippery Poems Selected by Lemony Snicket and Illustrated by Chris Raschka

The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children. Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playground — an odd object, available to the public — and, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age.

So begins Lemony Snicket’s introduction to “All Good Slides Are Slippery,” a delightful selection of poems that he thinks may appeal to children despite not being specifically written for them.  Charmingly illustrated by Chris Raschka and annotated in Snicket’s unique way (“‘Sensible’ is a word which here means ‘full of common sense.’ Poetry usually isn’t.”), this is a lovely collection.  Whether the poets are familiar or not,  their poems, Snicket’s notes, and Raschka’s illustrations are very likely to be appreciated by a verse-loving child.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Natasha Trethewey in My Classroom

Natasha Trethewey was my school’s artist-in-residence in 2007 and so I am absolutely delighted that she has just been named the 19th US Poet Laureate. I can’t imagine a better choice. Congratulations, Natasha!

Here’s a slightly updated version of what I wrote about her work with my students that year:

On Wednesday my class had a truly magical hour with poet Natasha Trethewey who is at our school this year as a visiting artist. Aware of Natasha’s interest in history and primary source documents, I asked her if she would be interested in building on my students’ work with Sarah Margru Kinson, a child on the Amistad. She was.

And so Natasha came and, after leading the class in a close reading of several of Elizabeth Alexander’s Amistad poems from her collection American Sublime, guided them into creating a group poem of their own. After she left, the inspired children created individual Amistad poems and then presented them as collages.  Natasha returned to hear the children present the poems.

Here’s the poem we wrote together:


What I remember of home is this:

green – green mangoes, green snakes, green bananas:
brown – my mother, my father, myself, the tree
trunks, the brown earth, the color of my language,
the only language I had
to describe these things.

Often I think of
how I came to be here:

my father pawning me, waving goodbye,
his face crumpled, tightened, looking
away from me.

I felt my captor’s white, cold hand
tighten around my wrist as if
he were a solid ghost taking me away.

Now I wish to see again
the green rice fields,
my father’s brown face,
clouds in the sky —
the only white things,

to hear someone speaking my language,
someone saying



Filed under Africa, Amistad, In the Classroom, Poetry


Sylvia Vardell, an unceasing advocate for children’s poetry, and Janet Wong, a well-known children’s book writer and poet, have put together a very clever project — the  First Paperless Poetry e-Book — available this Friday, April 1. I’ve seen a draft and it is delightful! Here’s more from their press release:

Just in time for National Poetry Month, look for the first ever electronic-only poetry anthology of new poems by top poets for children (ages 0-8), PoetryTagTime, compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong and available for only 99 cents at Amazon on April 1. This collection of 30 new, unpublished poems range from the humorous to serious, about tongues, turtles and toenails, in acrostics, quatrains, and free verse written by 30 of our best children’s poets: Children’s Poet Laureates Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman; Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman; NCTE Poetry Award winners X.J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Nikki Grimes; popular poets Douglas Florian, Betsy Franco, Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle, Helen Frost, Carole Boston Weatherford, Calef Brown, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, April Halprin Wayland, Leslie Bulion, Avis Harley, Joan Bransfield Graham, David L. Harrison, Julie Larios, Ann Whitford Paul, Bobbi Katz, Paul B. Janeczko, Laura Purdie Salas, Robert Weinstock, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, and Pat Mora. And the “connections” between poems as the poets voice how their poems are interconnected adds another layer of fun and meaning. You’ll be able to share brand-new poems and poetry tips with children all month long for pennies a day!

How do you play tag with poetry? In PoetryTagTime each poet has tagged the next poet and explained how her/his poem connects with the previous one, in a chain of poets, poems, and play. PoetryTagTime encourages appreciation of children’s poetry by making it an affordable 99-cent “impulse buy” that is easy to find, easy to own, and easy to read aloud (whenever the mood strikes and an e-reader, computer, or cell phone is handy). A teacher might read a poem aloud to start each morning. A family on a road trip might read poems aloud to pass the time. Some estimates say that 10 million Kindles have already been sold; there were over 10 million Kindle ebook sales last December alone. We bet that at least a tenth of those Kindles belong to adults who spend a significant amount of time each day with children. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bring a million Kindle readers to children’s poetry?

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for a number of devices, including your Windows or Apple computer, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android-powered phone. Also, be sure to check out our web site ( and companion blog (PoetryTagTime.Blogspot) for strategies for sharing each of the 30 poems in the book, rolling out one per day throughout the month of April.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry

In the Classroom: Amistad Poetry

Central to my unit on forced immigration (part of our yearlong study of immigration) is the Amistad Affair.  After reading and discussing Veronica Chambers’ Amistad Rising picture book I have my students read my to-be-published book, Africa is My Home: The Story of Sarah Margru Kinson.  That is followed by a look at some poetry related to the event, most notably those of Elizabeth Alexander‘s.

After a wonderful time last week looking closely at several of Elizabeth’s poems the class created a found poem of their own (inspired by Elizabeth’s “Other Cargo.”). You can read it here.  Now they are working on their own poems. When they are published (on their individual blogs), I’ll be sure to let you all know.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Amistad, In the Classroom, Poetry

Pithy Poet Pinsky

The issue of “children’s verse”– a concept rejected by Maurice Sendak and William Corley– is worth pondering. It’s a marketing and retail category, and therefore an acquisition-editor’s category . . . but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it as a personal or literary category. To put it differently: niche, shmiche.

That’s one of Robert Pinsky’s responses to a comment on his Slate article, “Wild Child: The Best Poems for Kids aren’t the Soft and Saccharine Ones.” Article (including audio of Pinsky reading poems) and comments well worth reading.


Filed under Poetry

Poetry — Hmm

At the Guardian Stephen Hill considers the question, “What is the Future of Poetry?“.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney’s Sweethearts of Rhythm


With a twilit velvet musky tone

as the pawnshop door is locked,

an ancient tenor saxophone

spins off a riff of talk.

“A thousand thousand gigs ago,

when I was just second-hand,”

it says, “I spent my glory years

on the road with an all-girl band.”

So begins Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney’s outstanding collaboration,  The Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World.    Through the voices of the instruments, Nelson’s series of poems capture the story of this band as they performed throughout the United States in the 30s and 40s.  From fancy ballrooms to dusty picnics, these girl musicians were heard by a huge swath of the American population during a very challenging time period.  Nelson does a spectacular job with each separate poem slipping in historical facts about life in that time, the individual performer, the band, and the music.  Jim Crow, war and peace, pain and happiness, a myriad of fascinating details of 30s and 40s life suffuses these poems. And boy do they shine — bouncing, crooning, tootling, moaning, and blaring by way of those instrument storytellers.  Nelson respects her young audience, using big words and big ideas that swirl amidst sound, rhythm, pain, joy, and history in these captivating riffs of verse.

The poems would be fabulous enough, but add in Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations and you have a truly remarkable work of art. Pinkney’s style will be familiar, but for the first time he has added collage to his work and it brings these images to a really heightened level, bright and brash like the music, quiet and sad like aspects of the life of the band members and their loved ones during this time.  Sweet.

This book has definitely joined my pile of favorites of the year.  It will be out in a few weeks — do look out for it!


Filed under History, Poetry

A Glorious Day with Elizabeth Alexander

If the ground could speak what would the ground say?

It was while walking on the New Haven Green that poet Elizabeth Alexander began wondering about the Amistad captives who had been jailed there so many years ago.  A wondering that she eventually turned into an epic poem. A poem that helps us consider emotionally and intellectually something of that event, of its remarkable people.

Yesterday Elizabeth spent the day at my school.   And yes, it was glorious.

She began with our 4th graders — focusing on the Amistad section in America Sublime. Since the story of the Amistad (through the eyes of one of the children — Sarah Margru Kinson) has been the focus of my writing and teaching for many years, listening to Elizabeth speak about this epic poem and reading selections from it was just incredibly wonderful.  I loved the way she assumed the children could handle challenging language and ideas while also appreciating that they were children. She talked about the resilience of human beings and how she contemplated what it must have been like for the children on the journey to be in the presence of so much death — especially the death of those adults who had been caring for them. She spoke about filling the gaps in history, wondering how we will know what people were unable to tell us, and how empathy can help us.

Later she spoke to our 7th and 8th graders about the creative process, had lunch with faculty,  and ended the day at our biweekly 4th-6th grade assembly, focusing on her YA collaboration with Marilyn Nelson, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color.


A chapbook of her inaugural poem was published yesterday and I was able to get the 4th grade team copies which Elizabeth graciously signed.  She would have been wonderful for us even if she had not done the poem, but she did and somehow she represented for us yesterday all the hope we are feeling these days with the Obama presidency.  Wondrous indeed.


My lovely 4th grade colleague Lesley Younge, Elizabeth and me.

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color


Filed under Poetry