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 #23: My Heart is an Unspoken Thunderstorm

My inspiration for “My Heart is an Unspoken Thunderstorm” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Stefani Boutelier, who is an Associate Professor of Education at Aquinas College in Michigan. @stefboutelier 

Stefani’s prompt was to use metaphor dice to spark at poem.  I used this online metaphor dice roll and came up with this choice:

I concentrated on the rhythms of my heart and thought about the sounds of my heart and the sounds of a thunderstorm. This is where my mind took me.  I found this prompt idea very imaginative.  It got me out of the hum-drum and made me take risks.  I think I will use the metaphor dice roll more often now as a tool to constructing and deconstructing my ideas.

April Poem #21: April Remembers

There is something bittersweet about April. Maybe it is because it is my birthday month that I feel this way. My birthday comes at the beginning of the month, and then towards the end of the month, I feel a deep longing. I don’t want April to depart. I want to keep its spring-freshness and cleansing showers. Then I remember that May is coming and with it, the respite of summer. And May means flowers, and that makes all the difference!

My inspiration for “April Remembers” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Leilya Pitre, who teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University and coordinates the English Education Program. Leilya invited participants to go for a walk to our place of comfort and write a poem about our experiences. She used “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost as inspiration. These Frost lines stood out to me:

 By picking the faded blue

Of the last remaining aster flower

     To carry again to you.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022
April Remembers

The flower does not forget
How to blossom.
One green moment
Small and slow.

The moon remembers
To rise above the mountain.
A long, lone breath
Spinning in the silence.

April unfolds to May,
My hand opens to yours,
Your hand embraces mine.
Together we walk towards
Interminable spring.

April Poem #20: Something’s Burning

My inspiration for “Something’s Burning” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Tammy Breitwiester, who is a literacy coach in Wisconsin. She suggested to take inspiration from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Burning the Old Year. After reading the poem, what stuck most in my head were the lines:

So much of any year is flammable,

lists of vegetables, partial poems.

I skimmed an old journal looking for some inspiration, and I found a partial poem, which I revived and reconstructed. It was buried deep down inside me. I thought it might be time it give it some oxygen and let it burn.

Something’s Burning

You were the adult.
I loved you so much
With a complete trusting heart.
You were my hero, 
My poet-father.

For years, I searched for the answers:
How could you hurt someone 
Who is part of you?
Did you hate yourself that much?
Do you understand the pain
You caused me?

Then, I burnt away all my feelings
Leaving them red, raw, blistering.
I burnt the whole of me away
Until there was just bone,
Hard white bone.

In a strange way,
You made me strong.
And out of the ashes
I rose like smoke
And filled the air. 

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


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:
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:
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

April Poem #15: Being Present to Poetry

Today, I was tasked to write poem number 15.  It could be an acrostic about a day of the week, or I could write about something in which I have absolutely have no interest.  Really?  Those are my choices?  When I’ve taught poetry to children, acrostics, are my fallback, my dependable old idea that children adore.  But I want to write a grown-up, serious poem.  Can acrostics be serious?  How much depth can a poem have with its subject scrawled down its left side like a banner? And the other idea?  Write a poem about something I have no interest in? Why would I do that?  Who cares?  Whatever!

These poetry prompts have really gotten me to thinking – thinking early in the morning ,and they stay with me all day long.  I am getting a mental workout, and it feels so good.  I cannot thank Ethical ELA or National Writing Poetry Month enough for their inspiration each and every day in April. 

These exercise have taught me persistence.  Every morning, I show up.  I read.  I think.  I write.  I have opened myself up to possibility.  Where once there was a blank page, there now is purpose, creation. 

I recently heard a sermon in which the preacher talked about God being an artist, a sculptor, a grand creator.  I really never thought of God as an artist making everything from scratch. He was the first maker, and Earth was his grand makerspace, an amazing canvas on which to create.  I love the image this idea creates in my mind.

Today, I played with these two poetry prompts.  I arranged words,  painted images, and brushed them gently across my paper. 

April Poem #14 – Ready to Dance

I didn’t know I was going to write about shoes today when I woke up this morning.  I didn’t know that thinking about a pair of unforgettable shoes would trigger such vivid memories.  I surprised myself as the memories of my favorite shoes came flooding in.  The ones that stuck out in my mind the most were brilliant aqua suede boots.  They were my alter-ego and I cherished them.  When I finally parted with them, I put them in the dress-up corner at the Nursery School where I taught.  I loved seeing them be re-purposed by little ones who would clomp around in them playing firefighters.  Now, that would be something to see – firefighters in aqua suede, high-heeled boots! Sometimes, writing surprises us.  What a nice surprise!

My inspiration for “Ready to Dance” comes from Sarah J. Donovan’s site, Verse-Love, Ethical ELA. Today’s prompt is by Andy Schoenborn, an award-winning author and high school English teacher in Michigan at Clare Public Schools. He suggested that we write in prose about a pair of unforgettable shoes, and then play with the structure and form as a poem tumbles down the page. I also received inspiration from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. NaPoWriMo. Today, they suggested writing a poem describing an opening scene from your life.

Ready to Dance

            From the beginning, I was attracted to bright, shiny shoes.  I might have been influenced by Dorothy and her sparkling ruby slippers.  Scratch that!  I was definitely in awe of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Imagine clicking your heels and being able to return home again. Just like that! Those ruby shoes set me off on a life searching for magic, discovery, and possibility. I am always vigilant, always seeking surprise. Shoes were a ways to transport myself into a new life: the glossy cowboy boots, the soft pink ballet slippers, the black Converse high tops. They were magic keys to new kingdoms, new ways to express myself, new adventures.  I kept them for years after I outgrew them know that someday I would return.

            The pair that I’ll never forget were aqua suede, high-heeled lace-up ankle boots.  They had sharp pointy toes and black lacquered heels.  I found them in a small shop in New York City.  They were fancy and bold, not me at all. I fell in love with them immediately. This was in the 80’s when Flashdance was a box office hit. I saw those boots and I knew I had to own them.  Then I put on black leggings, a long loose sweatshirt, and those blue boots, I became another person, a confident person, a person comfortable in her body ready to move, ready to take on the world, ready to dance.