Monthly Archives: January 2016

2016 Found Object Poem Project: Week 1 Prompts

Hello, friends!

Think of today as the pre-game stretch. We are getting our fingers warmed up for 29 days of writing in response to found objects and posting that writing the same day, as a community.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read this post to find out more about my annual daily writing project. Over a dozen authors gather every February to write in response to a daily prompt. In the past, we have written a month of Pantone poems and a month of responses to sound clips. This year’s theme is FOUND OBJECTS. Several friends have sent in images of objects that we will be using as our daily inspiration.

So … how does a person participate?

Leave your writing in the blog comments (feel free to post a poem or response in the comments of any project-related post). Be sure to note which day/prompt your poem or prose short goes with so I can post it on the correct day. Send in your writing ANY TIME — early, late. As long as I receive it by February 29, it will be posted along with the object of the day.

Perfect attendance is not a requirement of this project. Write and share your work as often as you like, even if it’s only once. The goal is to practice and share, not to polish, and certainly not to aim for perfection.

I know you want to see the Week 1 prompts, but be sure to read my pep talk at the bottom of this post.

Reminder: I will not be posting any information about the objects at this time. This year, we are emphasizing using all five senses in our imagery, whether we write poems or prose in response to the objects.

100 year old wooden mailing box RHB

DAY 1 PROMPT Contributed by Robyn Hood Black (February 1)

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DAY 2 PROMPT Contributed by Mary Lee Hahn (February 2)

2013-06-13 15.12.25

DAY 3 PROMPT Contributed by Laura Shovan (February 3)

20160107_115950

DAY 4 PROMPT Contributed by Charles Waters (February 4)

Tomato Moon

DAY 5 PROMPT Contributed by Matt Forrest Esenwine (February 5)

2013-07-16 09.33.36 (1)

DAY 6 PROMPT Contributed by Laura Shovan (February 6)

20140416_120403

DAY 7 PROMPT Contributed by Jone MacCulloch (February 7)

PEP TALK TIME!

Thanks for sticking with your coach instead of diving onto writing field with your prompts, everyone. Here are two examples of FOUND OBJECT writing to help you get your head in the game.

First up is an old poem of mine, written in response to found objects: a group of children’s winter coats slung over a playground fence. Enjoy these two readings. I’ll see you on Monday!

In Early Spring
by Laura Shovan

When color still arrests the eye,
a row of children’s winter coats
slung over the playground fence.

Bright as tulips, pairs of empty arms hang down.
They reach for earth, asking.

Each hood bows — a line of prayer.
But the children?
scattered like the milkweed to come,

nowhere.

From Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone

And Poetry Friday regular Jessica Bigi sent me a story to inspire you. She writes, “Sadly, I do not have a pic to go with this, but it was inspired by a little child’s dragon hat that I saw at a yard sale.”

The Boy with the Dragon Hat
by Jessica Bigi

On a small farm on the outskirts of a Chinese village, lived a boy named Soso. Soso lived with his grandmother and would often help her gather eggs from the chickens. He helped her sell them on market day. Sometimes, Soso’s grandmother would pay him 50 yuan for helping. Though that might not seem like a lot of money, to Soso it was. He knew his grandmother did not have much money and when she gave him some he always put it in a jar until he saved up enough to buy himself something that he might like to have from the market. He would often take a break from selling eggs and walk around to see what the other villagers were selling. Some sold jars of honey, some sold vegetables, some sold bright pieces of cloth.

Then there was the dragon lady. She was one of the oldest, wisest women in the village. She sold dragons. And for every dragon she sold she told a story of wisdom to go with it. Soso loved stopping by her stand. The dragons were too expensive for him but he loved to hear the stories.

“Soso, you are a boy of great courage,” she would often tell him. “Someday you will save enough yuan to buy a dragon from me and then I will have a story for you.” Soso could hardly wait for that day so he kept saving his yuan from selling eggs.

One day, when he went to her stand he could hardly believe his eyes. “That’s it,” he said. “That is the dragon for me.” It was a hat that looked like a dragon’s head. “Dragon lady” he said, “how much is that hat?”

“Oh” she said, “Soso, that is a very special hat to be worn by a very special person. You must have courage to wear that hat. You must be strong and wise, for it is a knight’s hat.”

“I am all of those things. Dragon lady,” Soso said, “I have 10 yuan saved. Would that be enough to buy that hat?”

“Soso” she said, “first, you must do something kind for someone else. I will save the hat for you until you do so.”

As Soso walked back to the egg stand, he saw his grandmother looking at a sand sculpture at the trinket stand. She did not see him but he watched as she walked away. He thought about what the dragon lady said, walked over to the trinket stand, and said, “Miss, that lady that was just here was my grandmother. I was wondering what it was that she was looking at.”

She pointed to a sculpture of a sand castle. “This is it, son,” she said. “She told me she wished she owned a castle like this so she wouldn’t have to work so hard.”

“How much is this castle?” Soso asked. “I have 10 yuan. Would that be enough for the castle? I was saving it for myself but I would like for my grandmother to have her castle.”

“I’ll give it to you for 5 yuan,” she said. Soso was so happy that he didn’t notice that the dragon lady had seen what he had done. He went back to his egg stand.

The next day was his day that he didn’t have to go to the market and got to go play with his friends. His grandmother went to the market that day herself and Soso stayed home. On that day, the dragon lady walked over to their stand and said to Soso’s grandmother, “You have a wise grandson.”

Grandmother said, “Thank you, I am very proud of him and he is a good worker.”

Dragon lady said, “I want you to give him this hat. It is a knight’s hat and your grandson is worthy of a knight’s hat.”

“Oh, that is so kind of you,” Grandmother said. “Please, take a dozen of my eggs for your kindness.” That day, Soso’s grandmother went to look at the sand castle but noticed that it was gone from the table. Walking away, she thought about what the dragon lady said about Soso. She thought, “If only I could make our lives easier. I will wait until the weekend to give him his hat,” she said.

The next day, Soso and his grandmother were back at the market. Soso could hardly wait. He went to see the hat at the dragon lady’s stand but it wasn’t there. “I had to sell it to a knight,” she said. “Don’t be sad,” she said. “Someday I will have a story for you.”

Soso walked back to his egg cart. “Tomorrow will be Saturday. I will give grandmother her castle tomorrow.” Saturday morning, Soso and his grandmother gathered eggs from the chickens. While gathering eggs, they both told each other that they had a surprise for each other. Soso said, “Grandmother, I want you to know that you’ve given me the perfect life. I bought this for you, Grandmother.”

“Thank you, Soso,” said grandmother. As she opened it, tears streamed down her face. “It’s my castle” she said.

Soso said, “No, it’s our castle. Our home is our castle and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” For a moment Soso forgot about the dragon lady’s hat.

As grandmother wiped tears from her eyes, she said, “I have something for you also, Soso.” As she handed him the gift, she said “Only a knight can wear this, Soso.”

To Soso, that sounded familiar but he couldn’t remember why. He opened it. “It’s my hat! My dragon hat!” he said.

“The dragon lady gave this to me to give to you. My Soso, my knight, you are the boy with the dragon hat.”

The next week when Soso and his grandmother went to the market, Soso ran to where the dragon lady’s stand was but her stand wasn’t there. Soso looked for her all over the market but never saw the dragon lady again. He remembered her stories and he loved to wear the hat she had given to him. On the walk home that evening he held his grandmother’s hand and told her that he loved her. She smiled and said “My Soso, I love you also.”

Poetry Friday: Moving Day

PF tag

This week’s host is Catherine at Reading to the Core.

Happy Poetry Friday, friends.

After nearly eight years blogging as Author Amok, I am moving to my new website! As of February 1, I will be blogging and participating in Poetry Friday right here at www.laurashovan.com.

There are a few housekeeping items to share before I close up shop at the old digs.

First, the annual daily writing prompt project is on for 2016.

This year’s theme is FOUND OBJECTS. I invite you to join this community project. The focus is on writing every day (or as often as you can) and sharing the results with our fellow poets and authors — an opportunity to focus on drafting and to turn off our inner-editors for one month. We always have a great time with this project and there are prizes for contributors.

100 year old wooden mailing box RHB

This year, we are focusing on writing about FOUND OBJECTS using multi-sensory imagery.

You’ll find more information about the project at this post. And here is a sneak preview of our first writing prompt, contributed by Robyn Hood Black.

 

If you’d like to contribute a poem, please leave it in the comments of this post. Be sure to specify that this is your DAY 1 found object poem.

Second, an update on my book launch. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY will be published on April 12. I’m excited to have a book birthday during National Poetry Month. The Poetry Friday community has been so supportive of this project.

In the weeks leading up to NPM, I’ll be introducing the Emerson E.S. fifth graders at the new blog. I came across this poem today, which was cut from the novel. Newt Mathews is an amphibian-loving, rule-following student who shares in his poems how Asperger’s Syndrome affects his writing. Mr. White is his aide.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

You can spot Abigail Halpin’s wonderful illustration of Newt at the bottom right. He’s dressed in his favorite frog T-shirt.

Sound Poem
By Newt Mathews

Buzz! Beep!
Goodbye sleep.
Time to get out of bed.

Honk! Zoom!
Rumble! Vroom!
Time for the bus to come.

Rush. Zing!
The late bell rings.
Time to take my seat.

Scritch, scratch.
Quiet at last.
Mr. White helps me write a poem.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]

The Tower, symbolic or real, is the theme of this speculative fiction anthology. Read more about it at Goodreads.

Another update: I am giving away two copies of the spec fiction anthology HIDES THE DARK TOWER at my author Facebook page.  I was honored when editors Kelly Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist asked me to write a poem to open the anthology. Stop by to enter into the drawing.

Last, I thought it would be fun to reprint something from my very first blog post, from August of 2008. I was just back from a creativity workshop with master storyteller Odds Bodkin.

This Week’s Writing Exercise (Appropriate for All Ages and Levels)

Don’t Write! Imagine

We often ask students, and ourselves, to be imaginative when writing. But imagination without boundaries can be uncomfortable. After all, our imaginations produce nightmares. Here is one of Odds’ best recommendations from the storytelling workshop: when you’re asking someone to use his/her imagination, start with a familiar setting to warm-up those mental muscles. So, put away the notebook and pencil while you try this exercise in sensory imagination (adapted from Odds Bodkin’s workshop). You can take notes later. 

Sit quietly, close your eyes and imagine that you are in your bedroom. Your bare feet are standing on a low marble pedestal. Turn slowly – 360 degrees – and take in every detail of the room. Not just the pictures on the walls and the colors of the bed spread, but also any smells, and the temperature of the air. You notice a light coming from under the bed. Filled with curiosity, you step off the pedestal. You move the bed aside with one hand – it’s as light as an empty box and glides across the floor. There, where you expected to see carpet or planks of wood, is a window. What a strange place for a window! How can sunlight be shining through a window in your floor? You kneel down beside the window and see… this is the tricky part, writers. Without composing a story, let your imagination see, feel, hear, taste and smell whatever is beyond that window. Let us know what’s out there.

Thank you all! Blogging at Author Amok has been an adventure. It’s been wonderful to have so many traveling companions.

Tiger Laughs When You Push

Since my middle grade novel sold in 2014, I’ve gotten to know many of my fellow debut authors. Within that group is a small cadre of poets who also write fiction for children. Some of us have had long careers publishing in literary journals and teaching creative writing before we made the cross-over to a big-press contract with a middle grade or YA novel.

One of these poets is Ruth Lehrer. Ruth’s fiction and poetry is widely published in the world of small presses. Her young adult novel, BEING FISHKILL, debuts from Candlewick in 2017. You can read about it here.

Today, I’d like to focus on Ruth’s poetry. She’s celebrating the new year with the publication of her first chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, from Headmistress Press.

Let’s take a look at a poem first, then Ruth will join us to talk about it. In my last post, we were looking at how to create tension between the characters in a poem. The small space of a poem doesn’t give the poet much room for backstory, so tension must be communicate through small, often symbolic, details. Pay attention to all of the layers that Ruth creates between the two people in her poem, “Détente.”

Détente
By Ruth Lehrer

A military man
forty years
in the people’s liberation
army, now he grows
a garden in a westchester suburb.
Fight the chemo and
the foreign food
he speaks only chinese
and I only english.
We meet in gestural middle
to discuss his eggplants
qie zi — my one chinese word.
Tempting fate
he plants my two
new england garlics
and the next year
he has eight.

I asked Ruth to give us a little bit of background on this poem.

“This poem came from a memory of an actual interaction I had with a member of my extended family. Memories, though, are always your interpretation of the event or image. A poem is an interpretation of that interpretation. Sometimes a narrative transforms into something less transparent than the original story. Sometimes not. Sometimes a simple image becomes a narrative. The reader also is an interpreter, creating a logic to hold the poet’s words together. Which of course, may be similar to the writer’s interpretation … or not.”

Small size 45k

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry have been published in journals such as JubilatDecomP, and Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, published by Headmistress Press. Her novel, BEING FISHKILL, will be published in 2017. She can be found at ruthlehrer.com 

Find out more about TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH at Goodreads.

Blizzard Poem

Early this morning, a bright white flashed at the windows and thunder shook the house. I knew this blizzard would be a significant one for me. It is the first storm where keeping everyone indoors does not include my son. He is six hours away, a freshman in college.

“An Absolute Vista” is an older poem of mine about a winter storm (judging from my son’s age in the poem, it must have been 2002 or 2003). A few weeks ago, I was visiting Marriott’s Ridge High School, working with students in my role as HoCoPoLitSo’s Writer-in-Residence. The high schoolers had been reading a packet of poems, ones I have written and a few that I’ve edited. I asked them which poems they wanted to discuss. A young man at a back table raised his hand and asked for this poem. There were two English classes attending the session, and we had an in-depth discussion about the characters in this poem: who is acting, who is observing and reporting, and what does this say about their relationships? We talked about elements in the poem that create a sense of tension between the mother/speaker, the son, and the father.

There’s a strange detachment that happens when I enter into a conversation about one of my own poems, especially an older one. That detachment helps me. I’m no longer the expert on the poem. Along with the students, I am a reader. Their insights often help me recall details in the writing process that I’d forgotten, or to see elements of the poem I wasn’t fully aware of.

A little history on this poem: It was written in response to William Stafford’s “With Kit, Age 7, At the Beach,” and takes its title from a line in that poem. What do you notice when you read the poems side by side?

An Absolute Vista
By Laura Shovan

Our six year old climbed a snow bank at the back door
to walk and meet his father.
The snow was deep.
White erased everything – fences, sandbox.
Ground was something to imagine.

Why would he go?
His weight was too sleight
to puncture the icy crust with his boots.
Our son floated on the surface, a dark form
crawling away from the house.

Midway he stopped.
No one near but the wind, racing.

My husband left off sweeping pear branches,
strode deeply toward our child,
and lifted him off that shifting surface.
One body, they turned for home,
each step sinking to the good, solid ground.

from Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone

2013 January C 026

A January storm, 2013. Today, “the white erased everything.”

With Kit, Age 7, At the Beach
By William Stafford

We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.

Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.

Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Laura’s Bookshelf: THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z

Hey, everyone. I’m migrating my occasional series, “Laura’s Bookshelf,” from Author Amok to the new digs. If you’ve missed a past episode, you’ll find a full list of what’s been on my bookshelf at the end of this post.

One of the best parts about being a debut novelist has been connecting with other middle grade and YA authors in the class of 2016.

Over the holiday break, I read THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z by Natalie Blitt. This French (and baseball) infused summer romance had me ignoring the cold, dreary weather. Instead, I dreamed about walking on the sunny, cobbled streets of old Montreal. Preferably with a cute boyfriend by my side. (Hey — I’m allowed. My cute HS boyfriend is now my cute husband of nearly 25 years).

distance from a to z

Find it on Amazon.

Abby is spending the summer on a college campus, where she is taking an intensive French course, designed to bring her from awkward to fluent in the language of love. Being a Francophile is how Abby has defined and identified herself, a way of separating herself from her family’s overbearing obsession with baseball. There’s only one other high schooler in her class, and he’s super cute, but those baseball t-shirts he’s always wearing are kind of worrying to Abby.

What follows is an adorable “will they or won’t they get together” story. With a lot of coffee. And one of my favorite BFF’s ever, Abby’s summer roommate, Alice.

This contemporary YA launched on January 12. Congratulations on your debut, Natalie! Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

This full-length novel by debut author Natalie Blitt is a pitch-perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins and Miranda Kenneally that proves the age-old adage: opposites attract.

Seventeen-year old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.

That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to exclusively wear baseball caps and jerseys.

But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between the distance between who she is and who he is, is worth the risk.

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z is appropriate for older middle school and up. (There is some very mild underage drinking).

Who will like it?

  • Teens who enjoy fun romance novels.
  • Budding Francophiles.
  • Readers who share Abby’s need to form an identity for herself.

What will readers learn about?

  • What it’s like to be immersed in a foreign language program.
  • How to help a friend who is socially anxious and/or has sensory processing issues (I love you, Alice!)
  • The importance of honesty in a new romance.

Those who are new to the Bookshelf, I always pair a poem with the books I feature. And I found THE PERFECT poem for Abby and Zeke. If you read May Swenson’s “Analysis of Baseball” as a metaphor for relationships, the push and pull are exactly what’s happening in this story of Summer Lovin’.

Analysis of Baseball
by May Swenson

It’s about                    Ball fits
the ball,                      mitt, but
the bat,                       not all
and the mitt.             the time.
Ball hits                      Sometimes
bat, or it                     ball gets hit
hits mitt.                    (pow) when bat
Bat doesn’t                meets it,
hit ball,                       and sails
bat meets it.              to a place
Ball bounces             where mitt
off bat, flies               has to quit
air, or thuds              in disgrace.
ground (dud)            That’s about
or it                             the bases
fits mitt.                     loaded,
                                     about 40,000
Bat waits                    fans exploded.
for ball
to mate.                     It’s about
Ball hates                  the ball,
to take bat’s              the bat,
bait. Ball                    the mitt,
flirts, bat’s                 the bases
late, don’t                   and the fans.
keep the date.           It’s done
Ball goes in                on a diamond,
(thwack) to mitt,      and for fun.
and goes out              It’s about
(thwack) back           home, and it’s
to mitt.                       about run.

Save Our School

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This “Save Our School” button is actually a promotional postcard for my book. Can you imagine Ms. Hill’s class wearing buttons like these to protest the closing of Emerson Elementary?

It was one of those serendipitous moments.

My friend, poet and educator J.C. Elkin. was asking about my debut children’s novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

“So, what’s it about?”

This, fellow writers, is a question that strikes fear into the hearts of many novelists. As soon as these words fall from someone’s lips (especially if that someone is an editor, agent, or book blogger), you have exactly 2-3 sentences to explain the book that you have spent the last X amount of years working on. In a nutshell.

I’d been working my 2-3 sentences, what’s known as “the elevator pitch.” I was prepared.

“Jane,” I said. “It’s about a group of fifth grade poets whose school is being closed and they stage a protest to save it.”

Here comes the serendipity part.

Jane didn’t reply with, “That sounds interesting.” Or “Great topic!” Or even, “And it’s a novel in verse?” Instead, she said. “That happened to me.”

What? Schools — both public and parochial — being shut down is a huge issue in my home state of Maryland right now. [You can read about parents protesting the closing of North Carroll HS at the WBAL website.] Communities are, understandably, invested in their schools. When a Board of Education slates a school for closing, it has a negative impact on the students, families, and the surrounding community.

But that’s happening now. Jane was talking about many years ago, when she was in high school.

“What’s more,” she continued. “We won. We saved our school. And it’s still around today.”

I’ll let Jane, who is a past contributor to my Author Amok blog, tell us the details.

Saving Saint A’s
by Jane C. Elkin

In the winter of 1974, my school nearly closed and I found myself fundraising for a place I thought I hated. It was freshman year at a parochial school I’ll call Saint A’s, which my mother forced me to attend after student-teaching a year at the public school my brothers attended. She transferred me in July when it was too late to say goodbye to my junior high friends, the best friends I’d ever had at the school where I’d been happiest.

Saint A’s was wrong for me on every level. It drew scholars from a thirty-five mile radius in a town I’d never been to. I was a so-so student, gifted with words and inept with numbers. Saint A’s had the worst music program in the state, officially, based on a state-wide competition. I was a talented singer, and the public school music program was the best in the state. Then again, they also had a slew of social problems my mother had seen first-hand: drugs, violence, bomb threats . . . She had seen girls cat-fighting over the fathers of their babies and seen my eldest brother beaten to a bloody pulp by a gang in the woods where he ran cross-country. She saw only a den of iniquity and a naïve girl she needed to shelter. Academics had little to do with her decision, though my second brother, the smart one in the family, was allowed to transfer with me.

Of course, Saint A’s had problems, too. Over its thirteen year history, it had developed a reputation for academic excellence amid mismanagement. Students wore any of four different uniforms dating back to the school’s inception, and the place was drowning in debt because the nuns who founded the school were now outnumbered by lay teachers. The football team, however, after two years without a win, had just won the state championship, and the once glorious debate team was rising from the ashes of dormancy. Nevertheless, when the administrators called a meeting to inform us of the financial crisis, they had already made up their minds to close.

The meeting was held in the gym on a school night, standing-room-only amid a crescendo of nervous chatter. The new principal, a stout nun, sat on the stage as rigid as a deposed monarch on a folding throne. Her diminutive administrator, an affable little priest who’d bungled the budget from day-one, was hunched by her side, the Board lined up at a distance.

After a brief prayer, they cut to the chase. Unfortunately and unavoidably, that year’s graduating class would be the last. Everyone froze in stunned silence. Then a look of dismay washed over their faces, infecting me. After only five months, I suddenly didn’t want to leave. I should have been ecstatic; I was finally going to get what I wanted. But leaving Saint A’s would mean leaving new friends, the speech team, the band’s baton squad, honors classes where I was excelling, and even the tiny chorus where I discovered I liked small ensembles better than large ones.

So there we were, four hundred students trying to wrap our heads around this new reality, and you could hear the hum of the lights.

Then the questions began. How did this happen? How much do we owe? A junior, raising his fist in defiance, yelled Hell no, we won’t go, and I joined in the anti-war chant, marveling at how original he was. The accountant appealed for order and someone from the bleachers called out, “How much do we need to tide us over? Maybe we could raise the money. ”

Instant silence. Why not? A car wash, a raffle, a spaghetti dinner? The usual ideas were tossed around and rejected like underinflated volleyballs. Then some rich kid suggested, “What if each family gave a dollar a day?” A mighty groan went up from the blue collar sector. Three hundred sixty-five dollars was about a year’s tuition in 1974. Today it is over twelve thousand.

Another guy jumped up on the bleachers, patting the air to hush us. “What if we had a pledge drive? We could call it the 365 Club!”

The segue from idea to action was immediate. Desks were dragged in, and within minutes the gymnasium was divided into communities with committees formed and names, phone numbers and addresses recorded. The accountant targeted a figure, and a Saturday was set for the student body to go door-to-door with coffee cans. Our sales pitch: no donation too small but a dollar a day would be great.

A plywood thermometer was posted on the lawn, and we reached our immediate goal by spring. Only one student received a pledge of $365 from a stranger, but it was a real eye-opener to see who gave and who didn’t. My 7th grade English teacher, who lived in a beautiful seaside cottage, didn’t believe in supporting private education –not even a dollar’s worth –but a shabbily dressed maid from the nearby resort emptied her pockets for me.

Smaller fundraisers followed, but our grassroots organization was the magic bandage. Three years later, with the school’s music program officially defunct, I won the state championship for debate and was accepted to a prestigious liberal arts college.

I often ponder how my life would have been different if Saint A’s had closed. I would have gone on to study music, but I wouldn’t have developed academically. I definitely would not have met my debate partner, who caused me to meet my husband, and that meant I wouldn’t have lived in Europe where I became bilingual and continued to hone my vocal skills, which ultimately led to a career teaching language and music.

I went on to sing professionally for thirteen years at, ironically, the country’s largest Catholic church –the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. There, I sang televised soli, made seven recordings, travel to Rome twice, and even sang for the Pope in a private vespers service.

Forty-two years after the 365 Club, twenty-one years of teaching later, thirty-three years of marriage later, two children and two grandchildren later, I can’t complain.

janeJ.C. Elkin is an optimist, linguist and singer whose writings draw heavily on spirituality, feminism, and childhood. Her work teaching English as a Second Language inspired her chapbook World Class (Apprentice House, 2014). Other poetry and prose appear in such journals as Kestrel, Kansas City Voices, Delmarva Review, and Angle. 

“Random Conversations” File, No. 1

Sometimes, when I’m having an extrovert day, I strike up conversations with random people.

“How do you do that,” my fellow introverts might ask? My background in journalism helps. When I was freelancing for the Baltimore Sun, I learned on the job how to ask questions that encourage people to talk about themselves. (The answer, introverts, is deflection. I know you are skilled at this. Ask the questions that will get the other person to talk, so you can continue to listen and not have to talk about yourself.)

My husband claims that these oddball, amazing conversations only happen to me. Readers, you be the judge. Yesterday, I had my own “Humans of New York” moment in Boston.

I was traveling home from the get in a cab from the ALA Midwinter Conference hotel to Logan airport. It was raining. I’d had trouble with the shuttle bus when I arrived, so I took a cab.

Me to cabby: How are you?

Him: I’m old, fat, Republican, and cranky. How are you?

Ok, introverts. This is the moment of truth. In this second, I know that the way I answer will determine if I’m going to crash out in the back seat after a long day of schmoozing, or whether I’m going to chat with this character for the entire ride.

I decide to bite the lure.

Me: I’m middle aged, Democratic, tired, and happy.

The cabby and I proceed to talk football. He respectfully does not bring up the Ravens or the Patriots, but fills me in on a weekend of crazy Wild Card games. As we pull up to the Departures…

Me: Thank you for the football update. I’ve been talking about books all weekend.

Cabby: I love books. I’m a writer.

That perks me up. I’m a writer too, after all. We exchange: my book postcard for his pamphlet.

Cabby: I’m being published for the first time this month, in an anthology.

We squee as much as an old, fat, cranky, Republican and a happy, tired Democrat can over his first publication, a political essay. I give him a $5 tip on a fare under $15, because now I love this guy.

Here is the kicker: I get to the airport and take out his pamphlet. You guys, my lovely, Republican cabby wrote an essay that uses Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” to make an eloquent argument against a ban on abortion. What an extraordinary person. Well met, Mr. W. Birdwood. Here are a few lines from his pamphlet:

“It might be thought incongruous for so grand and solemn a thing … to be the spawn of a high school graduate who has been mostly homeless for 35 years, but wise people always respect the self-educated and know the spiritual freedom gained by the ascetic. 

“For 41 years, I have driven taxis in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco. A broad and deep conversation has been conducted with the American People, who are found to be a people intent on being worthy of the sovereignty their nation’s charter invests in them.”

Let that sink in, “The American People, who are found to be a people intent on being worthy of the sovereignty their nation’s charter invests in them.” What a mind!

I’ll post some pictures of the pamphlet later today.

Thank you, W. Birdwood. As Ray Bradbury said, “They were all, when their souls grew warm, poets.” The end.

Announcing: 2016 Found Object Poem Project

Hey, Writerly Friends. February is almost here. You know what that means. It’s time for our annual daily writing workout!51HTeL6-L9L

For the past three years — in order to practice writing and give something back to others during my birthday month — my blog has hosted a big poetry project.

In 2013, I wrote every day in response to vintage postcards. (Find the list of postcard poems here.)

In 2014, over a dozen poets joined me for the project. We all wrote in response to Pantone paint colors. (Find the list of Pantone poems here.)

2015’s project was writing in response to sounds. Fourteen writers participated and we wrote 177 original poems. (Find the list of sound poems here.)

baby in the woods

“Doll.” Found in a tree stump at Squam Lake, NH.

Since our past projects have focused on visual and auditory prompts, let’s go multi-sensory this year. Our 2015 theme is FOUND OBJECTS. For the next several weeks, please send in photographs of found objects to use as our writing prompts. We’ll need 29 of them — it’s leap year.

Every Friday throughout February, I will post a week’s worth of found objects. No context will be shared until the poems are posted. You are invited to write in response to the object (see suggested writing prompts below).

I’ll post our poems and other written responses every day in February, or at least several times a week. Whoever shares the most poems this month will win a prize!

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PROJECT NEWBIES: The point of this exercise is to practice the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s just for one month. I post the responses as they are sent in so that we can focus on generating ideas, rather than on polishing for publication.

I’ll post more instructions at the end of January. For now, send in those found objects!

How do you respond in writing to a found object?

As a poet and editor, I often see poems that begin with a visual image. Let’s stretch and use our five senses as a point of entry this time. What does the object look, smell, sound, feel, and taste like to you? Try using a non-visual image in your poem’s first line.

Here are some other ideas:

  • What is the object’s backstory?
  • Build a setting: Where might this object be found?
  • Write a persona poem in the voice of the object.

Prose writers, you are welcome to join us. Use the found objects to create a 100-250 word writing sprint. Are you working on a novel? How would your protagonist react to finding this object?

2014-05-23 21.08.37 (1)

Is it me, or were the Cracker Jack prizes better when we were kids?