April Poem #29: This Poem is Not…

My inspiration for “This Poem is Not…” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt comes from Glenda Funk, who is a retired English teacher and published poet. Glenda challenged us to think about all the things poetry can do and does. In these possibilities there is always hope.

I took an old poem that was sitting there in a pile minding its own business, doing nothing.  I grabbed it, shook it up, and turned it into something new.  My advice is never throw out anything you’ve written.  You never know what it could turn into.  It could be in its chrysalis stage waiting to fly free.  This past month of writing a poem every day has taught me to take risks, to play with possibility, and to be unafraid with the outcome.  Playing with poetry was just what I needed.  It was necessary.

#StandWithUkraine. ©Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #28: When I’m by Myself

My inspiration for “When I’m by Myself” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt comes from Jessica Wiley, is an Alternative Learning Environment Teacher/Special Education Teacher in Morrilton, Arkansas at Southern Christian Children’s Home. Jessica asked us to think about what we do to transform ourselves.  She took inspiration from Eloise Greenfield’s poem – here.

I enjoy the childlike qualities of poetry.  Playing with rhythm and rhyme often spark the imagination.  With this poem, I did have to ponder deep questions, I could just play with the language and imagery.  It was fun to do, and poetry most definitely should be fun.  Once I wrote the first stanza, I felt it wasn’t quite complete, so I decided to reverse it and make a second stanza.  When I’m by myself, I write poetry and make myself happy.

April Poem #27: Forgiveness

My inspiration for “Forgiveness” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA. Shaun Ingalls, a high school English teacher pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Design, suggested a prompt inspired by the poem, “Drift,” by Alicia Mountain.  Shaun asked us to relook at something from a new perspective, try to re-encounter something we had experienced.

There are so many things in my life I want to re-encounter. There are so many mistakes I’ve made, so much time I’ve wasted on trivial things.  I spent years and years busy worrying, often forgetting that things are in God’s hands. I learned to be present, to find pleasure and beauty in small things, and to appreciate and recognize the people who love me. 

It was hard to choose just one thing to re-encounter. However, this memory of my Grandpa Antonio is so vivid to me.  It was about forty years ago, but it feels like yesterday. I wish I could go back and change every little thing.

Forgiveness

As I turn to leave, you stop me.
A minute, you say –
Opening the refrigerator door,
Taking coins from the butter dish,
Pressing silver dollars in my hand.
For you, you say –
Fold my fingers around the cold coins,
I kiss you on the cheek and leave.

I return an hour later,
Call out your name,
You’re not listening,
Your raspy breath comes as a warning,
I do not enter the room
Where you are lying.
I know what is happening,
But cannot face it.
I pace around and around
Minutes like hours fall away
Until my father, your son, arrives
To rescue you.

“Didn’t you notice your grandfather?
Call 911,” he says.
I stand frozen before the phone,
He pushes me out of the way.
Moments later, the ambulance comes,
Takes you away silently,
Red lights flashing – too late.

At your funeral
I tuck a poem – rough words
An apology
Into the pocket of your suit.
You’re wearing a gray suit,
Starched white shirt, a dark tie.
Had I ever seen you in a suit before?
I look down on your weatherworn face
For some sign of forgiveness.

Three days later, I’m in the den reading,
Suddenly, I look up –
Glimpse your blue bathrobe
Trailing around the corner,
I rise and follow to see you 
Standing at the stove making tea,
Your eyes meet mine and you smile,
I turn away and look again,
But you are already gone.

April Poem #26: Woven Words

My inspiration for “Woven Words” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Dr. Amy Vetter is an associate professor in English education in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. For today’s prompt, Dr. Vetter suggested that we scour novels and other texts to construct found poetry.  This is one of my favorite ways to invent poetry.  It takes some of the pressure off and allows me to play with words.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a found poem in response to the Verse-Love annotation prompt – here. Many years ago, I came upon teaching annotation through the Annotated Charlotte’s Web. Today, I took an old, worn copy of Charlotte’s Web and found this poem lying within. Thank you, E.B. White, Wilbur, and Charlotte!

April Poem #25: Everything has a Purpose

My inspiration for “Everything has a Purpose” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Linda Mitchell, a Middle School librarian, and her cat, Ira Gershwin.  The prompt had nothing to do with music, but I do love that name for a cat.  Maybe he purrs in harmony.  Linda’s prompt involved writing a poem using the scientific method for inspiration: make an observation, ask a question, form a hypothesis, make a prediction, test a prediction, use the results to form another hypothesis.  Easy-peasy, right?  Well, no.  This prompt took some thinking and some reading of sample poems.

I have been facing mortality lately.  It actually is slapping me in the face, but I refuse to succumb to pessimism and negativity. I spend my of my day, earnestly pondering my purpose.  I know my purpose has to do with children and writing. That might be purpose enough, but is it?  Is it really? I feel very mortal lately, and I want to organize my days with purpose and delight. Purpose may be easier for me to imitate by doing lots of things on my “To Do” list.  But is checking off boxes the way to a meaningful life?  The more I think about it, the more I know cultivating delight should be my life’s work.  So here I go playing with letting go and holding on.

Everything has a Purpose

Everything has a purpose.
What is my purpose here?
If only I work hard enough,
I will find my purpose.
If I follow all the rules,
Write the poem,
Hold the hand,
Paint the picture,
Teach the lesson,
Snap the photo,
Make the dinner,
Fold the laundry,
Read the book,
Listen and listen and listen,
I will find my purpose.
I will be so busy
That I can’t help
But find my purpose.


Consider the data.
What have I learned?
All this busy striving
Did not bring purpose.
Purpose lies deep within,
Something in the distance,
Something curious and resolute –
Between dreaming and waking.


Hold on tight
And let it slip
Through your fingers.
You will find it
Out there one day,
For sure, for certain.
This is absolutely true.

April Poem #24: My Garden of Eden

My inspiration for “My Garden of Eden” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Jessica Shernburn, a high school English teach who lives in Chicago, Illinois.  Jessica suggested that we look at text annotations for inspiration.  Could there be beauty and poetry in annotations?

I fell in love with annotation when I taught Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I poured over its book of annotations – like secrets held only for me.  I loved sharing tidbits I had learned with my students, and they began seeing annotation as a treasure hunt. Annotation is, indeed, the key to reading deeply and mindfully.

I am currently reading, French Dirt by Richard Goodman and I have been marveling at his turn of phrase, the words he chooses to describe his year as a gardener in France – how he wrangles and wrestles the earth to create something beautiful.  I have re-arranged some of his words that I had underlined, wanting to hold them in my mind and heart.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #19: How to be a Sand Dollar

During my recent March Spring Break, I journeyed to South Carolina. On that visit, I made the acquaintance of a purse of sand dollars. I had never seen them as living creatures enjoying a day in the ocean surf. I was totally mesmerized by them, and I wrote about the experience here.

That was such a wondrous day. Their Christian symbolism captured my attention, and I found myself often returning to the moment I happened upon them at the beach. I knew they weren’t done with me, and I was not done with them. What amazing creatures!

When I turned to Verse-Love, Ethical ELA today, I found the perfect prompt for a poem about sand dollars. Sheri Vasinda, who teaches literacy education at Oklahoma State University, suggested a prompt inspired by Barry Lane. It is from his book, Reviser’s Toolbox. That book was like a Bible to me when I taught 3rd grade. I’m not sure how this prompt escaped my attention until now. Barry suggests writing a “How to be” poem. This topic caught my imagination. I had to think for quite a while. Then I remembered the sand dollars, and I was on that beach in South Carolina once again!

Books By Barry Lane

  • 51 Wacky We-Search Reports
  • After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision
  • But How Do You Teach Writing?
  • Discovering the Writer Within
  • Reviser’s Toolbox
  • The Healing Pen
  • Why We Must Run with Scissors
  • Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery

April Poem #18: Poetry is a Way

My inspiration for “Poetry is a Way” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Maureen Young Ingram, who suggested we use Lucile Clifton as a poet-mentor and write a short poem about a difficult subject from the first person point of view using a lower-case “i.”  Maureen includes a link to a short video of Lucille Clifton talking about what poetry is. I was familiar with Ms. Clifton’s poetry for children but had never read her poetry for adults or heard her speak about poetry making.  I was inspired by her definition of poetry and wrote “Poetry is a Way” to discover my own definition of poetry and how I am evolving as a poet living in this unique time on Earth.

I have been writing poetry since I was a child, and I am a firm believer that poetry is a great catalyst for self-discovery.  It is my go-to emotional support object.  I rely on poetry to gain insight and to solve problems.  Poetry has never failed me.  It is a steadfast friend.  When I state that “poetry is a way,” I mean that it is a way of life to be consistently practiced – always moving and improving oneself and increasing one’s knowledge.

Poetry is a Way
(For Lucille Clifton)

i am a poet
i don’t have all the answers.
Lucille was right:
Poetry is a way
Of living in the world,
Of expressing
Something difficult.
i don’t have all the answers
i am a poet
With so many questions.
It’s not what i know,
It’s what i wonder…
Will there be another pandemic?
Who taught frogs know how to sing?
Will the people of Ukraine remain free?
What is the name of those blue flowers
that wildly bloom along the highway?
Will there ever be a cure for cancer,
A remedy for old age?
i am a poet
i don’t have all the answers
i am full of wonder
i am seeking peace
In this one world.


Children’s Books by Lucille Clifton

All of us Come Across the Water

Amifika

Dear Creator: A Week of Poems for Young People and Their Teachers

Don’t You Remember?

Everett Anderson’s 1-2-3

Everett Anderson’s Christmas Coming

Everett Anderson’s Friend

Everett Anderson’s Goodbye

My Friend Jacob

One of the Problems of Everett Anderson

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson

The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring

The Lucky Stone

The Palm of my Heart

The Times They Used to Be

April Poem #17: What Might Have Been & What Will be

What might have been? So many possibilities. So many things to imagine -both good and bad. I’m grateful I am still here, still witnessing the blessings of this world. I want to take them all in with arms opened wide, with no fear and no regrets, or at least minimal fear and just a little regret. I’m okay with that.

My inspiration for “What Might Have Been” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Gayle Sands, who suggested to think about life choices and write about an “if only…” in your life. There is one “if only” that I never talk about or almost never talk about anymore.  However, a couple of weeks ago, my cousin Tina was telling me about the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert who talked about not having children at a recent workshop.  Elizabeth said that she names her “children” and talk to them regularly.  I thought this was such a healthy way to address maternal feeling.  All women are not mothers, but most women are nurturers and it’s this nurturing, I find, that I miss. It isn’t a miserable loss, just a life loss, like others, and I can now address it, express it, and feel satisfied.

The inspiration for “Master Builder” comes from the series, Hidden Villages with Penelope Keith British actress, Penelope Keith roams the countryside chronicling rural villages all over England.  In Season 2, Episode 1, she explores Devon and Cornwall.  Her story about the work of Rowena Cade took me by complete surprise.  Rowena almost single-handedly built a stone amphitheater high above the Cornish coast called Minack Theater.  She made the cement with sand from the beach and carved intricate Celtic and decorative patterns into the wet cement. Rowena started the project when she was thirty-eight years old and continued to build-by-hand into her eighties.  There is a wonderful photo of her sitting inside a wheelbarrow reading a book – here.   Her strength, creativity, and determination are evident. She is a role-model for me as I barrel straight down into old age.  I vow to go boldly!

What Might Have Been

I had a list of names,
For years and years,
Male and female,
Bright, cheerful names,
Names that meant something,
Names that would suit their 
Own unique personalities:
Jonas
Geoffrey
Phillip
Jeremy
Cassandra
Olivia
Annabella
Names with lots of vowels
That rolled off your tongue,
Pretty names for never-to-come
Bundles of joy.
Oh, how I would like to sit
And imagine the perfect name
For my perfect child.

Undoubtedly, my perfect
Well-behaved, brilliant child
Would grow-up happy,
Celebrate spectacular birthdays,
And cinema-worthy holidays.
They would be honest, loyal,
Heroic, and trustworthy:
Penelope
Samara
Clarissa
Delphine
Alexander
Aiden
Owen
Benjamin
An army of sweet children
To protect me in my later years
Valiant and brave,
Kind and caring,
Magnificent sons and daughters
I created and fostered,
That I labored over and loved.

The lists slipped away
Like brittle leaves
And broken petals,
Just names to be whispered
Every so often,
To remember 
What might have been.


April Poem #16: Wood Songs

I live at the edge of a woods and often hike the fields, hills, and woodlands of my surrounding countryside.  One would think I live in a rural, bucolic place but I live in bustling New Jersey, not know for its pastoral qualities even though it’s called  “The Garden State.” It seems a sort of joke, but New Jersey has varied beauty from its Atlantic coastline to its western hills and farmland. Most of my inspiration comes from this terrain that I know so well.  And even though I know the woods, the hills, the coastline, the land often surprises me.  There is always a gift to uncover.  The woodland is where I find solitude, where my thoughts keep cadence with my footsteps, where I can go to unpuzzle the world and find peace.

My inspiration for “Every Bend” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Cara Fortey, who suggested to write in a modern Tanka-style as modeled by poet and UCLA professor, Harryette Mullen.

I also received inspiration  for “The Only Proof” from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Their 16th writing prompt was inspired by the curtal sonnet – “Pied Beauty” by  Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I did not write in the curtal sonnet form, but I endeavored to create the same tone in my poem as in Hopkins’.  The ever-changing nature of the woods is something that comforts, astounds, and leads me towards acceptance.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022