Happy Poetry Friday, everyone. Despite the social distancing, book festival cancellations, and school closures, I’m glad we can meet online as usual to share our love of poetry.
2020 is an important year for me. Ten years ago, in February 2010, my first book was published. You can read about Mountain, Log, Salt, and Stone (CityLit Press, 2010) in Part 1 of this series.
For the next few weeks, I’m looking back at each of the six books I’ve published in the last ten years — from MLS&S and my latest middle grade novel, A Place at the Table, which comes out in May. From each one, I’ll highlight a poem.
Following that publication, I became editor of a Maryland-based art and literary journal, Little Patuxent Review. This volunteer position taught me so many things, including how to put together poems, stories, and essays so the order of pieces flow well for the reader.
During my five years on the LPR editorial staff (3 as editor in chief, 2 as poetry editor), I continued to work on book projects.
Book number three was commissioned by the Maryland State Arts Council. Christine Stewart, my then-administrator at MSAC’s Artist-in-Residence program, introduced me to another poet-in-the-schools. Virginia Crawford and I were tasked with creating a book of student poems that came out of poetry residencies.
But Ginny and I wanted to tweak that idea. We invited eight MSAC visiting poets (both of us and six others) to write up their favorite poetry workshops for the book. Each poet would have a chapter with their workshop description, plus a handful of student responses as models.
The idea was that this book, which came out in a limited print run in 2012 (CityLit Press), would be available as a free resource online. Educators could go to the MSAC website, view the PDF of the book, and replicate the workshops in their classrooms.
The book became VOICES FLY: Exercises and Poems from the Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Residence Program. I am happy to say that, after a hiatus, it’s available at the MSAC website once again.
I thought this would be a perfect time to share VOICES FLY. Many of the writing prompts in this book can easily be shared with students virtually if your school has gone online.
Today, I’m featuring the workshop for our youngest writers, created by poet and performer MiMi Zannino. This is an excerpt from Chapter 1: Word Pond, page 7-17. Response poems by children are at the end of the post.
Fill a Word Pond with Images, Then Go Fish
— MiMi Zannino
Early Elementary and Developing Writers
This lesson creates a whole class Word Poem and provides a Word Pond from which children can “fish” while writing an independent poem.
First, I ask students, “What is the difference between a word and an image?” An image creates a picture in your mind and it awakens your senses. We review the five senses, then discuss whether the word “the” is an image or the word “sunrise” is an image? Younger students are challenged rather than
overwhelmed when I use guided questions to generate poems.
1. Write your favorite season of the year: winter, spring, summer, or fall. (Spell the choices on the board or use other visual tools.)
2. Close your eyes and watch your season come to life, then write the first word or image that comes to your mind on the next line of your paper.
3. Now, close your eyes again and see an image of the last word you wrote—what picture comes to your mind?—write it on the next line.
(Repeat steps two and three about five more times, then guide students to specific images by asking the next set of questions.)
4. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite bird: visualize its colors, feathers, beak, talons. Now write the name of the bird on the next line.
5. Watch the action of the bird and write down one or more verbs or action words that describe the way the bird is moving.
6. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite sea creature. Write it.
7. Watch the action of your sea creature and write a word that describes the way it moves underwater.
8. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite body of water: pond, lake, stream, ocean. Write it.
9. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite time of day: sunrise, noon, sunset, dusk, midnight, twilight, moonlight.
10. Close your eyes and write the name of someone who is with you in the poem: grandma, uncle, cousin, pet.
(Add other “image” prompts appropriate to the grade level, ability level, and connections to curriculum.)
This writing exercise helps children track their thoughts and link one image to the next. It is also helpful for students to form a thought, write it on paper, and create a flow of ideas before they evaporate.
The Word Pond workshop can be connected to a specific part of the school curriculum, such as a science unit on butterfly life cycles. I direct students to images from the content they learned in science, which we list in their word pond: butterfly species, action verbs to describe their motion, plants that butterflies eat and on which they lay eggs, butterfly habitats, colors that
describe their wings, and other images in nature that share the colors of a butterfly.
Students can write these poems in the “voice” of the butterfly. With some groups, I focus the students’ attention on the mood butterflies conjure in our minds. Students will usually include “a calm mood” among others and can use an opening line such as, “When I want to be calm.” Other groups write their butterfly poems as a guessing game.
Younger students often need a handout that guides writing and keeps them on track. This visual aid can be used for all students, or just those who are not yet able to write independently.
Can You Guess? (couplets)
I have two antennae that point _______________.
(choose: east and west OR right and left).
I have four wings the color of ________________
I have six legs as thin as ___________________
(choose a simile).
I drink nectar from a _______________ blossom.
I _______________ and _________________
(write two action verbs) over the ______________
______________________ (write a habitat).
I whisper to the world: ____________________
(write your message to the world).
I am a _________________________ butterfly.
(Write your butterfly species).
Voice of Butterfly
I am a Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly
fluttering beautifully around sunflowers.
I bask on a rock in the afternoon.
At dusk, I close my eyes and rest.
Josias D. Bordon-Alvarez, Grade 2
Laurel Woods Elementary School, Howard County
Teacher: Maria Pisca, 2011
Voice of a Butterfly
When I want to be calm,
I become a Monarch butterfly.
I flutter my orange and black and
I dip my straw into a
I dance around a zinnia.
I lay eggs under a tulip leaf.
I bask on grass under
Za’Daiya Harrod, Grade 2
Laurel Woods Elementary School, Howard County
Teacher: April Williams, 2011
I hope you enjoyed this sample from VOICES FLY. The book is organized by age group: Workshops for younger students are in the first few chapters. Those appropriate for middle through high school are toward the end of the book.
In the “Celebrating 10 Years of Books” series: