Category Archives: National Poetry Month

61 Days: A Reflection on Writing

Why commit to writing and posting for 61 days in a row? Trust me, I asked myself that question many times during the past two months. During March’s Slice of Life Challenge, once I began the challenge, it was the writing community that kept me accountable. There is something about hundreds of people writing and sharing and commenting that keeps the urgency up. And since so many are writing every day, reading their posts also creates topic possibilities and keeps the momentum moving.

Writing and posting a poem a day, especially without that dedicated writing community, is a bit more challenging. But I know me, without telling myself I will write AND POST a poem each day I simply would get lazy and not write each day. So why did I want to write a poem each day? Because I wanted my students to write a poem each day–and I know that if I am writing along with them, not only do I have more credibility, but I am also looking for ways to support them and their writing when those doldrums inevitably sneak in.

So after writing for 61 consecutive days (62 if you count today), here are some things I have learned and/or am thinking about:

  • Writing every day breeds more writing. When I am committed to daily writing, I write more and more often. I am in a constant search for topics, for inspiration, for meaning making.
  • I find myself coming up with strategies to keep myself writing. I take photographs, I pick up objects, I collect words, I listen to what others are saying. I’ve learned to put words on a page, even when i’m not sure where they are going.
  • I can post even when I don’t love my writing that day. This is especially true with poetry writing where I spend a of time judging myself. I tell my students that the most important part about writing is to get started, we can always make our writing better. So that commitment to write and post the poem each day means that I have to get all the way through a draft and get something that I deem post-able.
  • It’s okay to write short. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I pull out a Haiku (17 syllables) or a 6-word story. Even if it’s short, I’m still writing (and posting).
  • Revision is important. I keep looking for ways to help my students understand the possibilities for revision–like signs along the hiking trail–pointing to techniques to try, reminding them of things that other writers do, giving them access to the power of revision.
  • Writing more gets me reading more and my reading changes when I am writing. I find myself looking behind the stories and poems to examine how the writer is putting their words together. I look for more variety in my reading, searching for writers who are doing fresh and interesting things and who represent viewpoints different from my own. And I find myself sharing what I am learning from my reading with my students, pointing out sentences, ideas, and strategies that I notice as I read.

And as April turns to May, for the last several years I find myself facing the same dilemma, do I continue my daily writing and posting? Will I write daily if I don’t post? I don’t know the answers to those questions for this year. What I do know is that over the previous two years when I didn’t commit to the daily writing and posting, my writing decreased (I still always write with my students) and my posting became infrequent. I’d love to be the person who can commit to posting 2 posts a week, writing daily with that goal in mind. Maybe this is the year.

Poetry Teller: NPM #30

Earlier this week I read a post by a virtual friend, NomadWarMachine, who described her path to transforming the origami fortune teller of our youth into what she called a line of thought-une teller. I immediately knew that this would be a great activity to modify for my students as a culmination of our month of poetry writing.

My idea is to have my students mine their month of poetry, pulling colors, words, and poetic phrases to construct a poetry teller. Once constructed, I see it as a game where partners play the poetry teller to collect a set of words and phrases that they will then use to compose a version of a found poem that includes their words and those of their partner.

I experimented with my own poetry teller, playing this game with myself. I collected two phrases, two colors, and four nouns from my poetry. Then I worked to arrange and rearrange them into a new poem.

You can see my prototype poetry teller and resulting poem below.

I look forward to trying this out with students next week, I hope they find this to be a fun and generative way to look back at their own poems, collect some language from their peers, and have a meaningful activity to remix the two as they create new poetic compositions.

Here is my poetry teller composition:

The Blues

More ancient than a dinosaur

Resilient as a dandelion

Blues ring out

Notes the color of robin’s eggs

Circling me in melodies

With rhythms as ferocious and regal

As the queen of the urban forest

Sounds as soft as butter

Wrapping me in the

Yellow of wildflowers

Tiny suns

The center of the solar system

Matching the pounding of my heart

The beat of my breath

Essential as air

®Douillard

Free Range: NPM #29

Back in March I wrote a slice of life about a new structure I had noticed behind a fence and hedge in my neighborhood. Today I noticed something new, which also became the subject for poem #29 (one day to go!).

Free Range

It started with license plates

  • Montana
  • Massachusetts
  • Hawaii
  • Utah
  • California

peeking up beyond the hedge

hinting at more inside

strung with lights

creating a romantic evening glow

What is behind the fence

beyond the hedge

beneath the license plates?

a playhouse for neighborhood children

a workshop for ambitious hobbyists

an escape for harried parents?

A clue emerged

pointing to the truth

or at least to the cardinal directions

Atop the vane

the rooster crows

and when I looked down

it was announced

“Slow down”

“Free Range”

The chickens have

moved into

the neighborhood

®Douillard

Poetry is Sunshine: NPM #28

Today we studied Francisco X Alarcon’s poem: Words are Bird as our mentor text. My students noticed that way words were described as birds, something that was new for them to think about. It took a bit of work and experimentation for the kids to find their own metaphors. Some that they came up with included: hand sanitizer is a warrior, trees are magical, and words are gum in your hair. I was a bit skeptical about that last one–and expressed that while I wouldn’t rule it out, it seemed like a difficult one to write for a word lover like me (and this student happens to be a word lover). While I don’t have the text in front of me to share with you all, let me tell you that she did manage it…in some interesting ways!

I may have taken the easy way out, writing my poem about poetry. Here’s the draft I wrote with my students today:

Poetry is Sunshine

Poetry is sunshine

that brightens each day

shining its light

on words

emotions

new ways to think

about the world.

Some poems reach deep

burning a little

touching on something

tender and sore.

Sometimes poetry

warms us from the outside in

when we’re struggling

to warm ourselves from the inside out.

Poetry blazes

even when we don’t see it.

Covered by clouds

it waits,

until we’re ready

finally burning its way through

the thick marine layer.

It’s the center

of our solar system

the gravitational pull of words

that express

our humanity.

®Douillard

After the Rain: NPM #27

We continued our work with color and poetry today using Marilyn Singer’s poem Watercolors as our mentor text. Students loved the way she described black in such detail. I offered paint chips again today–some kids used them, some went in other directions.

My paint chips were the yellow tones of chamomile tea and the green of cabbage patch. Students had just been out in the garden when they came in to write. You can see that influence in my poem for today.

After the Rain

When the gray clears and the sun peeks out

soothing and warm like chamomile tea,

children cheer!

The outdoors beckons, green and lush

cabbage patch

and pea soup

snails slide along the gravelly path

unaware of the

stomp and squish

of colorful sneakers.

She spies the slow slider,

plucks it by the

spiral curl

and gently moves it to the safety

of ice plant.

Rescued!

After the rain.

®Douillard

Paint Chip Poetry: NPM #26

Today I pulled out the paint chips poetry box and spread paint chips all over the counter (face down). Students picked out 3, wrote the descriptive color words at the top of their notebooks and got ready to write! There were a few challenging words (thistle, cumulonimbus, potpourri) and when one third grader pulled pinot noir I suggested he go ahead and trade that word in. The words push students in interesting directions, although most end up not really featuring color.

Today’s rain kept us indoors–and listening seemed to be locked outside the classroom. Maybe that was another reason for the direction my own poem wanted to go. I pulled the colors/words: smoke signal, graphite, and potpourri And here is where my brain took me:

Learning to Listen

Somedays communicating

feels like sending

graphite-colored

smoke signals

that disperse in the breeze

of talk

Listening is under-evolved

ears hearing only the echo

of self-talk,

lost in the potpourri

of loud, colorful words

Today I’m building a fire

that we must tend together

you read my smoke signals,

I read yours

as we strengthen our listening ears

tuning in

to the subtle graphite sounds

listening like owls

like wolves

like we care what is said.

®Douillard

Like the Back of my Hand: NPM #25

I know the path

like the back of my hand

worn, familiar

yet infinite

Gray traces objects

in pencil

shaded in silver

smudged with dampness

Sunset brings out

the silhouettes matted

against every hue of orange

details darkened

by end-of-day light

Sunshine draws in marker

bright, brilliant, bold

contrasts

spinning on the color wheel

One foot in front of the othe

tracing the veins

the wrinkles

each knuckle and nail

as I walk

this familiar

and new-each-day

path

®Douillard

Balloon Dichotomy: NPM #24

It’s not unusual to find old balloons when we walk on the beach. What was once bright and shiny, filled with Helium and lifted aloft in celebration becomes a beach hazard. Danger for sea creatures and birds, eventually becoming micro plastics that endanger us all. And while we find these damaged symbols of festivity along the shore, I always wonder where their journey began. Do they escape from backyards? Bob out of car windows? Escape from the small hands that delight in these bouncing beauties?

My poem today tries to capture that dichotomy in words…along with the photo of the mylar balloon we found onshore today.

Balloon Dichotomy

Bouncing, floating

a bright smile against the blue sky

celebrate

a breath of air

becomes lighter than air

drifting upward, dancing with the breeze.

Until

it takes flight, escaping bonds

dropping lower and lower

caught by the sea

washed out

washed up

plucked from the shore

and deposited

as trash

®Douillard

Seeing Stars: NPM #23

I never need an excuse to walk on the beach, but if I did need one, low tide is the best of all reasons! Though gloomy and gray today, the tide was nice and low, giving a wide expanse for walking and exposing the intertidal zone–more commonly known as tide pools.

Most of the time when I peer into the tide pools I see sea anemones, mussels, and crabs, some sea grass and algae and not much else. We often talk about how rare it is to see a sea star–even though they are native to our area. Today as we walked near the tide pools, my husband noticed a woman putting what looked like sea star into a shallow pool. We headed in that direction.

Sure enough, there it was. A quite large–the size of my hand or maybe bigger–sea star was sitting in the pool. As we stopped and looked we could see the tiny tube feet moving, propelling the star–it was alive! So many questions–where did she find the star? Was it in one of these shallow pools? Was she rescuing it, returning it to the watery pool? Or did she pull it from a pool and was now returning it?

As we left, the tide was on the way up. I’m sure the sea star will find its way back to the place where it lives, somewhere where I seldom see them. I’m glad I got a close look today…so it could provide fodder for today’s poem.

Seeing Stars

Stars in the inky sky

wink, tiny night lights

creating pictures

like dot-to-dots

Under the sea

stars undulate

moving on tiny tubes

unexpected treasure

®Douillard