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JoAnn's Blog

Back to—Eeek!


I’ve always found back-to-school ads annoying. I don’t need reminders of all the things I should have done more of over the summer—camping, hiking, canoeing, swimming, and everything else outside. I’ll miss the long, leisurely—wait. Who am I kidding? For me, as for most writers I know, summer is as hectic as the school year. It’s just less structured.

This summer, like the past several summers, I’ve spent large chunks of time observing, photographing, and writing about monarch butterflies. I’ve gathered monarch eggs, protected them in a mosquito net tent in our backyard, and watched them hatch, grow through all their caterpillar stages, form chrysalises, pop out as butterflies, and fly away. I’ve propagated milkweed plants, given them away, and planted them in various sunny spots. It’s all research. And the monarchs need all the help they can get!

I’ve also crossed some significant tasks off my to-do list, volunteered for a couple of causes I believe in, and helped my handy husband with projects around the house. Now I face the regular schedule that teaching requires, along with the deadlines, planning, and focus on other people’s work.

And so I make the inevitable transition, slowly, plodding, dragging my feet until the moment when I can look ahead with enthusiasm. Classes begin next week. My syllabuses are ready and sent off to my students. It’s almost time!

Here’s a poem I wrote with that transition in mind. The Fib is a counted-syllable form in which the number of syllables in each line corresponds to the Fibonacci sequence: 1-1-2-3-5-8.

              
              Chrysalis

              I’m
              green,
              fluid,
              transforming.
              Forgive me. I’ll be
              ready to fly any day now.



Birthday Sale!
Instead of focusing on back-to-school reminders, I’m celebrating my birthday, starting now. (We do everything Early, as my family likes to say.) Write a Poem Step by Step is on sale (20% off! Only $6.39!) through October 9 if you order it from this site. Enjoy!

Poetry Friday
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at I Think in Poems.
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Turning Points


I’m back—and happy to report that all is well. After an amazing six months, during which our son was diagnosed with leukemia, treated with three grueling rounds of chemotherapy, and (thank Goodness!) declared cancer free, I’m thrilled to be back at my desk.

Yesterday, I forced myself to keep my Butt in Chair until I finished yet another revision of a nonfiction poetry collection. Although it was crucial to the process, that step—compiling research and verifying facts—felt a bit like drudgery. I’m glad I made myself stay put. Part of what enabled me to keep moving forward was that I expect to have more fun playing with language during the next step.

This morning, I heard my first cicada of the summer, which inspired this poem:

              Turning Point

              Cicada buzz signals
              the halfway point of summer.
              Quick, I tell myself,
              don’t miss this chance
              to picnic
              garden
              camp
              canoe
              and swim.

              Absorb the heat,
              each sparrow chirp,
              and every rosebud’s scent.

              Stock up on sandy footprints,
              sunlight on bare skin,
              that fresh tomato flavor.

              Set aside provisions,
              enough to tide us over
              till next spring.



I didn’t recognize the connections between these events until I entered the title of the poem (and now the post), which fits just about everything I’m going through right now.

Wow.

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Check It Out.

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Meteor Showers, Poetry Link, and Poetry Friday

Lake Superior in daylight


Last summer during a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, my husband and I made our way to the shore of Lake Superior to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Late at night, in the dark, we had the whole beach to ourselves. In about an hour, we counted 51 meteors!

Last night, when we heard about the Geminid meteor shower, we took a quick trip to a park north of Milwaukee to escape the city lights. We didn't stay nearly as long--it is December, after all--but we saw enough to make the effort worthwhile. Here is a draft 0f a poem I wrote this morning.

              
Meteor Shower

              Stars lit our way
              down the steep, winding path
              through tall, naked trees
              to the wide-open beach.

              Wrapped up in blankets,
              we waited, laughing.
              Waves crashed on shore,
              and bright streaks of light
              flew between stars.
              Oooh! Ah! We counted aloud.

              Sand in our hair,
              we climbed back up, quiet,
              turning around
              for one last look
              through tall, naked trees
              on the steep, winding path.
              Stars lit our way.


Poetry Link: Your Daily Poem, where you'll find "poetry that is touching, funny, provocative, inspiring, and surprising." I'm enjoying finding a poem in my Inbox every day.

Book Giveaway: Don't forget to visit TeachingAuthors.com to enter the Book Giveaway!

Poetry Friday: Today's Roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup. Enjoy!

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Weird Weather Poem, Bookmarkable Links, and Poetry Friday


Missing Hue

When grass is all done growing,
and it’s not yet time for snowing,
there’s a neither/almost season in between
when leaves turn brown and wrinkly,
and they twirl to Earth all crinkly.
Every fall, I wonder what became of green.



I wrote this poem last year at the end of August. This year in Wisconsin, only one day away from December (and the start of winter parking regulations), fall is really hanging on. In about a week, Milwaukee could break its record for the longest stretch of days (279) without a measurable snowfall. And the forecast shows temperatures well above freezing for most of the week ahead. The last time it snowed here was March 4th.

I’m a hibernator by nature, so I wouldn’t mind a warmer winter—except that I suspect our local weird weather is part of a dangerous global pattern. Given a choice, I’d sleep away winter or spend it reading and writing. But the dog drags me out for a walk, and once I’m outside, wrapped in layers of SmartWool, Cuddl Duds, and fleece, I know I’ll be fine. I wish I could say the same for our planet.

Bookmarkable Links
I don’t remember who pointed me to this wonderful resource, but it’s definitely worth exploring. "The Poetry of Joyce Sidman: A Guide for Educators" includes tips for using her books as jumping-off points for discussions and student (or your own) writing, including poems in many exciting forms. Joyce recently won the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Visit her web site to find even more poem starters and a pep talk, which we all need once in a while. Thank you, Joyce!

This week, Laura Purdie Salas's 15 Words or Less Poems are inspired by a painting. I tried one. You should, too!

Jama Kim Rattigan has a final feast of peanut butter poems at Jama's Alphabet Soup. What a tasty treat!

Book Giveaway
Next Friday, December 7, I'll be back at TeachingAuthors.com for a Book Giveaway. (Yippee!) Visit me there for a chance to win an autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step.

Poetry Friday
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Poem Farm.

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A Winner, a Poem, and That Light at the End of the Tunnel

I’m nearing the end of a freelance project on top of my most demanding teaching semester ever: two classes at Mount Mary College and two classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Continuing Education. I love my students, who keep delighting me with their brilliant and creative approaches to poems and stories. Another thing that helps me keep going is to write a little bit every day—and every bit counts, including Morning Pages, Laura Purdie Salas’s 15 Words or Less Poems, and even blog posts.

On Friday, using a Random Number Generator, I picked the winner of the Book Giveaway. Congratulations to Deborah Holt Williams, who will receive an autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step. I started a blog post announcement, including a haiku about the status of my workspace as the end of the semester approaches. I hoped to take part in Poetry Friday, but I got stuck on the poem, so I went out and mailed the book (I hope you enjoy it, Deborah!) and attended to a list of errands.

On Saturday, after a walk along the river, I approached the poem again, along with the freelance project, the last of my student work for one class (hooray!), and just before bedtime, a picture book critique.

Now it’s Sunday, too late for Poetry Friday, and I’m reminded again of that lesson about letting a draft evolve on its own schedule. Today, finally, the poem says something more like what I meant to express.


              To-do lists collect
              like snowdrifts, teeter, topple,
              fan across the floor.



I could use a snow shovel (or maybe a plow!) on my workspace, but I’ll get to that, too, one of these days. The semester ends in less than three weeks!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to a break for Thanksgiving. I’ll gather with most of my family. I’ll try my hand at a Thanku poem with my friends at TeachingAuthors.com. You should, too!

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Write a Poem Step by Step Poetry Tip, Poem, and Book Giveaway!

Today's post (my first on this blog!) includes an excerpt from my new book Write a Poem Step by Step. Book Giveaway details are below.

Write About Something You Care About



My first tip about choosing an idea applies to almost any kind of writing: Write about something you care about. How can you put your heart into a subject that doesn’t move you? If you try to write about something you don’t care about, you might have to force yourself to find something to say. You might struggle to write anything interesting at all. Your poem could suffer. It might even be boring. So write about something you feel strongly about.

That doesn’t necessarily mean something you like! Something that makes you feel an emotion, whether happy or sad, curious or angry, silly or serious, can make a good topic for a poem. Anything can be a subject if you are open to it: your shoes, the chair you’re sitting on, what you ate for breakfast—as long as you care about it.

Chloe’s poem shows how much piano music means to her and why. 

The Piano

The piano reminds me of my grandma
When she played the beautiful sounds

The piano smells like an old library
When you step in and smell the old, dusty books

The piano makes me feel like I’m flying
Through white, fluffy clouds in the sky

The piano sounds like twinkling stars
The beautiful sounds are no louder than a soft MEOW from my cat

Chloe Strait, Grade 5



Put your whole heart into your poem. Go ahead and reveal your emotions. The effort will show in your writing.

Write a Poem Step by Step is available now from Lulu, amazon, Barnes&Noble, and local bookstores. See the links on the right to order.

Book Giveaway details: Post a comment here to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step and tell me how you would use the book. Be sure to include your email address so I can notify you if you win and ask for your mailing address. Comments do not appear immediately.

I'll choose a winner at random one week from today from all entries posted by midnight Thursday, November 15. Good luck!

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