Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Coats Are for Winter

I have been visiting my family in Pittsburgh since November 19th. I worked while I was here from ModCloth's Pittsburgh office, which was fun and fortunate because I could spend extra time with my family and friends without losing work days. I fly home to San Francisco tonight and hit the ground running tomorrow with teaching and writing.

During my visit I stayed in my parents house, the house I grew up in. My old bedroom is now the guest room; Sal and I slept there all week until he left on Saturday and since I've slept alone. I forgot how cold my room can get at night, especially without Sal there, who is part furnace. On Sunday night we missed the chance to talk and I dreamt of him. He emailed me saying he fell asleep after work and dreamt of picking me up at the airport and calling me all night.

The typical question that everyone asks you when you get married is, "How's married life?" Which is then quickly followed by, "When are you going to start a family?" Since Sal and I are not married, the question I got asked the most during my visit was, "How do you like California?" I'm not sure why I started answering the question this way but I told people about all the things I didn't like: how I feel neurotic around Californians, I missed autumn, people pee on the street at night, I can't get used to the slow pace or how expensive everything is. This was an honest response. I'd then quickly follow up with how I love my work and learning the city is fun and there is always delicious food and avocados everywhere! But I made it clear that it was and still is a big adjustment for me. Sal expressed concern about my responses and I told him I just wanted to be honest with people and not just say that I love California because you are supposed to love it. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. The jury's still out.

A few people asked me whether California felt like home.


But after I thought it about, Pittsburgh didn't feel like home anymore either, especially after Sal left. It's definitely more "me" here. People here drink beer, put fries on the their salads, don't care whether their food is "grass-fed" and they don't wear winter coats when it's 55 degrees outside because 55 degrees is not cold. But it's not home anymore. It occurred to me that I am, for the first time ever, without a home.

I don't know how I feel about it. Many people experience this feeling much younger, but I called Pittsburgh my home for 30 years and five days and now I live in California. As corny as it sounds, Sal feels like home. Saying goodbye on Saturday was hard because I thought about all the times we said goodbye while we were long-distance. But now I say goodbye to so many people and while those goodbyes are the same kind of difficult, they are still hard. Especially when you come from a tight-knit clan like me.

Maybe people become my home? Maybe I carry it with me? Maybe I have many homes? Or perhaps I decide what home means and I consciously build it in San Francisco? I don't have any answers yet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Literary Roundup! Belated Edition

Hello there, friend. How are you? I have some great lit news to share, but first, some personal updates.

I've been home in Pittsburgh in my parents' home, the house I grew up in, staying in my old bedroom. I've been here since the 19th and it has been a fantastic visit. Sal was here until yesterday, but had to head home for work tomorrow. We had a whopping 21 people for Thanksgiving and my 13-year-old nephew is now 5'10" which is just bizarre. I've spent time with family and friends and my heart is filled with some East Coast love. Gratitude: I haz it. Lots.

I've also been able to work from Pittsburgh since ModCloth has a Pittsburgh office. I've been working on the anthologies for my Poetry Inside Out residencies and reading Weave submissions. Now that I've made progress on all of that, I took some time to read blogs, check my G+ literary circles, and sort through emails. Here's a list of shiny (and one not-so-shiny), recent, and some not-so-recent, literary nuggets that caught my attention.

First up - journals you might want to submit to! (ending with a preposition is OK!) qarrtsiluni, Radioactive Moat, and my poet-friend Mary Stone Dockery (also a Weave 07 contributor!) is guest editing The Medulla Review.

Interesting reads: Ursula K. Le Guin weighs in on the 99% with a fantastical story. Teresa Petro poems about machinery and arts and crafts.

Writing tools for poets and prose writers alike! Check out 14 Punctuation Marks That You Never Knew Existed (I'm a fan of the exclamation comma). I really want these in a poem of mine. I love punctuation so much. Also, if you need a good starting place for a character in your next flash piece or person poem, check out this handy list of archetypes. I also like using Wikipedia for this.

Such sad news about the death of Ruth Stone. An amazing, committed, poetic spirit has left us. ‎"Women who love to write poetry are the hagfish of the world. We eat everything. We eat the language. We eat experience. We eat other people’s poems." --Ruth Stone 1915-2011

I thought about listing some AWP news about panels and off-site readings, but I've decided to devote an entire post to that topic. If you read my blog and you are on a panel and/or reading at AWP, let me know. I'd like to prioritize those events if I can! And I'd like to create some kind of awesome flowchart of prioritization about AWP.

Read this fantastic article from Sampsonia Way Magazine. Burmese children share their thoughts on why freedom of speech is important.

I leave you with an adorable picture of Sal and Domino taking a nap. It makes me happy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Deep Sea Poetry Diving: An Interview with Poet-Teacher Karen Benke

Karen Benke
A few weeks ago I woke up extra early on a Friday morning, hopped in Sal's blue Thunderbird and drove north of San Francisco to Tamalpais Valley School. I was on my way to observe Karen Benke, poet and teacher for California Poets in the Schools (CPITS) and other organizations for seventeen years. Earning her M.A. from the University of San Francisco, where she studied with Jane Hirshfield, Karen's poetry is widely published in journals and anthologies and she has received grants from the  Marin Arts Council, as well as other residencies and fellowships. She is also the author of the chapbook Sister (Conflux Press, 2004) and RIP THE PAGE! Adventures in Creative Writing (Shambhala / Roost Books, 2010), a creative writing exercise workbook aimed at young children, but fun and energizing for poets of all ages. I was very excited to learn from someone with so much experience on both sides of the poet-teacher hyphen.

After meeting Karen in the front office, I immediately took to her calm, causal, yet no-nonsense demeanor. I later learned this balancing of seriousness and peaceful passion overflows into her poetry teaching space. She was wearing jeans and a cozy blue cardigan and greeted almost every teacher we saw in the hallway as we headed to make copies. It was clear she felt at home here and it's no wonder: she has been teaching this 5th grade class for over five years, ever since her son began kindergarten. All the students called her Karen, a sign that her role was distinct from the classroom teacher, Robin Anderson, who also joined in the poetry writing. As Karen prepared to start, I went to the back of the classroom to take notes.

The class was immediately quiet and attentive - it was clear they were all enthusiastic and took their poetry writing seriously. The lesson was loosely based on using a repeating phrase or word in a poem. Poems were read aloud twice, once by student volunteers and then Karen, some written by famous poets, others by poets their age. She asked questions in a serious-yet-enthusiastic loud whisper, joyfully recording observations the students made regarding which lines "felt the best in your mouth" and "what images really jump out at you, even if you aren't sure why." The room was quickly filling with a gleeful energy.

Karen's "word tickets" fueled student poems.
Next, Karen pulled out a dark velvet bag with a yellow drawstring and the students erupted in excited chit-chat. Karen explained that the bag was filled with "word tickets" which are raffle tickets with words and phrases cut and taped on from magazines, posters, fliers, junk mail, catalogues - anything with words that caught her eye. Karen handed each student a heaping pile of tickets and were to begin using them in their poem however they chose. At first they were wound up by the word tickets and began to talk. Instead of clapping or shouting, Karen rang a Tibetan meditation bowl, which produced immediate quiet, and she explained they would create a gradual silence. It was ok to talk at first, she said, but they were to whisper when it rang a second time so they could start to "go underwater," and to be completely silent on the third ring, to "dive deep" and find their poem.

But they never needed the third chime. Within five minutes, the room was blanketed with a cozy, palpable hush that lasted until the students got up to read their poems out loud. They sorted and organized and made word rows and even full sentences using their word tickets. They discarded phrases they didn't like into the middle of their tables so that others could use them. Some stared at their tickets for a while or stared at the wall or out the window, while others immediately began to write. The only thing you could hear for the next fifteen minutes was pencils scratching paper.

It sounded like ocean waves.

I learned so much from observing Karen's poetry class, I wanted to share these thoughts and observations more fully and in a way that included Karen. So, I interviewed her about writing,  "poeming," lesson preparation, protecting your quiet time, and her next book project focused on teaching (gasp!) teens and tweens. I hope you enjoy her responses as much as I did.

~ ~ ~

Laura Davis: What is your most powerful writing memory from childhood?

Karen Benke: Probably the memory from when I was seven or eight and left notes I wrote in secret for people to find—friends, my parents, cousin, sister, grandparents. My father worked for Pacific Bell and had installed telephones in every room. Not only in our house, but in the homes of our relatives. Even in the bathrooms! In our house and my grandparents house, there was always a little notepad and pen near the bathroom phone. I used to sneak away from the dinner table and go write notes there. In the bathroom! Then I’d fold them up and tuck them under pillows, stuff them into coat pockets. Just a few words like “hi” and “I’m writing this in the bathroom” and “you must know I love you…” Looking back, my note-making was an early form of poetry for me. It thrilled me to no end when my grandmother or aunt would tell me how much finding that little note meant to them.

LD: When did you first start to call yourself a poet? Was this easy for you?

KB: In college, during my sophomore year as an English and Creative Writing major, I took a poetry class from a poet named Gary Thompson. One of the requirements he typed right in the middle of his syllabus was “to be a working poet.” That’s the first time I considered myself a poet. It wasn’t until graduate school, though, during a trip to New Mexico to study with Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones) did I get the assignment to say out loud, “I am a writer.” Saying “I’m a poet,” is still hard. I attach the hyphen and word “teacher,” making sure to mention CPITS. It feels easier to have my gang of poet pals psychically with me, in my answer about what I do. Though all the word “poet” means is “maker,” so in this regard we’re all poets.

LD: You’ve been teaching poetry in the public schools for seventeen years. How do you see your role as a poet-teacher in the classroom and how does that role differ and/or intersect with the classroom teacher?

KB: My role as a poet-teacher is to stir things up on the inside and make imaginative writing fun for both the students and for myself. It’s an added bonus when I can encourage the classroom teacher to write (and even share) a poem, too. This really makes a HUGE difference in the way kids relate to poem-making, the importance and ease with which they slide right in and engage. If their teacher is willing to risk and sit down and feel his or her way in [to poem-making], it MUST be important. Basically, my role is to get the kids to write what they most need and want to say, in a way that brings out their greatest joy. During [those] 60 minutes we get to share that magic space together.

LD: Since observing your poetry class with CPITS, I keep thinking about how quiet your students became and how engaged they were with language and writing. The creative energy in the room was palpable. What steps do you take in your lessons to prepare your students for, what you called, this journey “deep under water” to find their poem?

KB: I work that delicate balance of being a working poet and steeping myself in finding poems that reach my heart and imagination. I try to cultivate that space I need to enter when I write, for [my students]. Sometimes I imagine myself as a student in 3rd or 4th grade and dream up a creative writing experiment that I wish I could have done with a visiting poet way back in elementary school. This helps. When I’m teaching too much, though—and talking too much—I tend to lose touch with the magic of “poeming,” as one second grader recently called it. My teacher, Jane Hirshfield, once shared with me that it’s important to have the right amount of alone-staring-off-writing-time. She didn’t put it like this, but I knew what she meant. She went on to say that she knew when the balance tipped because whatever it was people liked and saw in her poems and teaching wouldn’t be there. This has stayed with me and has served me well. I also meditate and practice yoga, when I’m not teaching ad writing, which cultivates a wider calm / silence / abiding to draw from when I hold the space of a classroom. This practice has helped me to not get as frazzled or “leak energy” as I used to when I first started teaching. That quiet place I create is also what I seek.

LD: Ever have a poetry lesson that fell flat? What do you take away from those classes?

KB: Oh, sure. But I try not to take it personally. So many factors besides just me are present during a writing workshop—the personality or mood of the class, the classroom teacher, the time of day. That said, I think it’s important to be able to change horses mid-stanza. Or somehow take the pulse and energetic read of the room and go in a completely different direction. Yes, even scrap that lesson plan you stayed up way too late the night before carefully creating. I carry my bag of magic word tickets with me, and sometimes what’s needed is to ditch the lesson plan, empty the bag in the middle of the carpet, and let the kids crawl around and move around the colorful tickets with their favorite words, until they’ve found the images they need for their poems.

LD: You’re book, RIP THE PAGE! Adventures in Creative Writing (Shambhala / Roost Books, 2010), reaches a wide-range of audiences: classroom teachers and college professors, poets and writers who need a creative jumpstart, really any person looking for inspiration! Did you set out to write a book with this many audiences? Does this speak to the inherent playfulness of language and the writing process?

KB: I set out to write RIP THE PAGE! (RTP) for 2nd-5th graders, the age group I’m most comfortable being a poetry guide for. I even had the word “Kids” in the sub-title until my smart and savvy editor at Shambhala—and the marketing folks at Random House—suggested I take it out—so RTP! Could be a “cross-over book.” My book’s in its second printing, so I guess it worked. I also have heard from a lot of adults who tell me they always wanted to write creatively, but were scared. They say my book makes it fun for them. This makes me so happy.

LD: Where does the title come from? How do you feel when you think about people ripping out your books pages?

KB: My agent helped me find the title. In my book proposal, I’d initially called it “Skipping Stones,” but she thought this was too quiet and that it would get lost out there. So we started playing around with the word “page” and talked about how the book’s really about playing with words and being willing to get messy. Then the word “Rip” was mentioned and we ran with it. I tell the kids I meet at book fairs and in classrooms that my book’s not finished until they write in it and rip out a few pages. One little girl recently said to her dad, “Hey, where’s my rip it up book?” I like thinking of it as a collaboration, in a way.

LD: Do you have a favorite writing experiment from RTP! that you could share with us?

KB: I don’t have a favorite, but I did combine two during a RTP! workshop at Book Passage last weekend.  The 8-10 year-olds really seemed to like it and wrote for a long time. First we combined favorite touch-sound-taste words (pgs. 64-65—slippery whisper, icy roar, spongy whimper, etc). They had fun calling them out as I raced to write them up on the white board in a purple marker. Then we read the poem from “Seek the Hiding” (pg. 173) and talked about their favorite letter—either vowel or consonant—and what would happen to words if a certain letter (theirs!) went missing. Where would they look to find it? What lengths would they go to in order to get it back? They were asked to look underneath, behind, in back of things from nature, sounds, tastes, using as many or few examples from the list in purple...

LD: As a teacher and a poet, how do these roles intersect in terms of the creative process? How do your poems find you? How do your writing experiments find you? Do you find them? Describe your processes a bit.

KB: My roles as teacher and poet are often at odds, competing for my time and attention. One is more outgoing, the other more shy…wishing she could just stay home in her pajamas and write with the cat nearby. But many of my poems find me when I’m out in the world, writing with kids. So off I go. The writing experiments come from the kids and my dreaming-doodling mind, as my poet-teacher mentor, Linda Wolfe, called it. I get a lot of inspiration from other poet-teachers. Prartho Sereno, a close friend and amazingly gifted poet and teacher, has been very encouraging and generous. I watch how she takes risks with her lesson plans and experiments, and it helps me take flight, too. The annual CPITS conference is a great place to hone the process of creating your own unique lesson plans. Often, I’ve borrowed from someone else’s ides, taught it a few times, taking what works for students and turning up the volume—and removing what doesn’t resonate for me and my style. I’ll add some of my own favorite sample poems from published poets and from student-poets (kids love reading poems from their peers). And, after working out the kinks of the intro and the hook to draw them in…a new lesson plan is born.

LD: What poetry projects are you currently working on?

KB: I’m currently working on putting the bow on the package of my first full-length manuscript, WATCH. It contains poems from my chapbook, SISTER, plus many poems I’ve been quietly working on since 2004, between teaching and writing RTP. I also just finished a picture book—a secret late night passion—called In the KINGDOM of WHAT DISAPPEARS. It’s currently with my agent and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this baby. The picture book market is so very tough to break into.

LD: You’ve got another book coming out about teaching poetry writing to tweens and teens. What are the most important characteristics a poet-teacher should consider when teaching this particular age group?

KB: LEAP WRITE IN! (r-i-s-k required) is due out from Shambhala/Roost Books in 2013. The tween/teen age group I target in this book (10-13 yrs.) is a tricky bunch. You can’t be too nice or too friendly when you first step foot in a 7th grade classroom. (One friend agrees, adding, “they’ll eat you alive!”) They aren’t going to outwardly cheer and adore you like the 2nd and 3rd grade crowd. Tween and teens can be oh so cool and awkward, shy, and scared. They want to show you who they are, but they aren’t even sure. They keep changing their minds, moods, personalities. A combustible combo. I make it a point to meditate a little longer before heading off for middle school. I make sure I truly love the sample poems I’m bringing in and the writing experiment. (The word ticket bag is never forgotten.) They can catch a whiff of a faker a mile out, so you have to be real with them. You have to be real no matter what the age. I started meditating with a group of 6th graders last year. I call it “pre-writing.” And guess what? They love it.

~ ~ ~

To purchase a copy of Karen Benke's book RIP THE PAGE! please visit the press website or your favorite independent bookseller.

For more information about Karen's poetry workshops for kids, please visit her website,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back from Whatever THAT Was

Forgive me, dear blog readers. I was in a strange place earlier today because, as it turns out, I'm not super good at resting. Or at least resting without simultaneously making myself feel bad for resting. Despite the fact that my body needs more rest. I can't promise I won't delve back into LauraCrazyPantsLand again here in Dear Outer Space, but I can promise to follow up those kinds of moody, teen-angst posts with something cool and fun.

Speaking of cool and fun, check out this video of ModCloth co-founders, Susan and Eric Koger, wherein you can see me sitting on the far end of a couch during the Fashion Writers' product name brainstorm meeting. You'll recognize me because I seem to have a really itchy nose because I'm scratching it for my entire 3 second appearance (which starts around minute 1:19). Also, it's a cool video about the company.

Broken Noise Filter

When I think about all the words there are out there, words that were crafted with exceptional thought, passion, and authenticity, it makes me feel so grateful that anyone takes the time to read a few of my poems or these few blog updates. So thank you.

I'm struggling with my noise filter. The world is especially noisy these days and my head is the kind of head that is easily distracted by noises. When I am writing at ModCloth, I bring headphones and play white noise, because it's actually anti-noise. Hushing, underwater, bubble-creating, focus-enabling anti-noise.

I have always struggled with noise distraction. My sensory filters are less efficient than other people's. It is my daily struggle to find a quiet cocoon of space and time to connect with myself. Today I'm at home because I've been struggling with some kind of pre-illness that doesn't ever seem to manifest into actual illness. So I'm stuck in the weird place where I'm exhausted, but can't sleep, thinking constantly, but can't focus on work. This blog post is the first productive thing I've done all day. Napping was a failure. Laid there for an hour. Annoying bird outside and annoying thoughts in my brain. Just couldn't catch the cloudy hem of sleep...

I almost can't go on right now. Someone is hammering outside. My right shoulder is aching because who knows why. I realized recently that my body is stick or in some kind of achy state of pain pretty much all the time. Also, someone is using a tool that makes a buzzing noise. Guesses include a buzz saw, shop vac, other kind of drill or perhaps a power washer. Time for the white noise.

Sigh. I literally get goosebumps when the deep whooshing starts.

I tried catching up on blog reading today. I started going through my "feminist" label and I had to just mark them all "read." I couldn't do it. I get sucked into the sad noise of our world. It's important to stay informed, but it's also just as important to protect yourself, if you have the luxury of/ability to turn it off.

A friend of mine reached out to me this week with some struggles. Work is making him super depressed, he feels antisocial, unmotivated, uninspired. I felt so much compassion and I wrote a really long email back where I'm pretty sure I said something like, "Life is really fucking hard always, so figure out what makes you feel good for a brief moment in between in order to cope with it." While not untrue, perhaps the worst advice ever given to someone who needed a pick-me-up.

Feeling so behind on my poetry, behind what or who I don't know. Everyone must be more productive and committed than me (duh). It's been a while since I've written a good solid poem. I haven't edited an old poem in weeks. I am far from my goal of 100 submissions this year too. It's all noise though. The noise in my head. The hammer and buzz saw. My achy shoulder/neck/hand/knee/ankle.

I think that's the most frustrating noise for me right now: the competitive noise of the writing world, the feeling like I have to keep up with writers who clearly have no issues with noise filtering like I do. To sit idly by thinking to myself, "How you produce anything worthwhile with all this NOISE going on?" Maybe they are more practiced. But these thoughts are also the noise, the part of me that makes comparison noise. The other noises will always be there, but this one, I make myself. It's useless. I should just write a poem. But the thought turns my stomach and exhausts me. I have so many other tasks, noisy tasks whispering to me, "...silly Laura, you don't have time to write a poem right now..."

Where's my off switch?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Delicate Dancing: Reflections on Teaching Poetry to Children

In the category of "spending time reflecting on how lucky I am, despite continued levels of high stress" I've been pondering my classes and thus falling more in love with teaching poetry.

It began when I went to Tam Valley Elementary to observe veteran poet-teacher Karen Benke teach a lesson on poetry writing for California Poets in the Schools. I had the opportunity step back and watch her drape this magical poetic enchantment over the classroom with her general demeanor, metaphorical explanations of writing, and the infusion of poetry into every moment of her hour of class time. Her teaching was an elegant dance, the kind of gentle balancing that comes with years of practice and reflection, and a deep understanding of her students' developmental needs and abilities. I am interviewing Karen about her teaching and depth of experience for the blog and I can't wait to share it with you.

Since I'm super fond of lists these days, I'm sharing what has happened and what I've learned so far over the first six weeks of teaching poetry translation to fourth and fifth grade students in San Francisco.

1. As a poetry teacher, your role is different than the regular classroom teacher. 

After teaching gifted education for two years, I gained solid teaching experience. I developed a persona of "loving authority" with my students, but there was definitely more authority upfront. I have a loud voice, and that was an important factor in controlling my newest classes here in San Francisco. However, after a few weeks, I was have trouble figuring out why my students were still so concerned with the rules of each assignment, rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to express themselves. I realized that I had somehow drained the fun from my classes because a few problem students were forcing me to be more strict than the poetry teacher should. That's where this teaching role differs from the regular classroom, because while the classroom teacher sees them daily, all day, and has time to set expectations, I do not. My persona needed to reflect that while these students were in school, this class was different. In poetry class, we do a different kind of writing. Yes, we revise like they do in their regular classroom, but the tools are different. Also, I can use those very tools to set the tone. Karen is great with this by using explanations like, "Now we have to go deep underwater and be silent to really find our poems" or "Sometimes we find poems behind our knees!" Children understand this kind of thinking, because it is how they think, if you can manage to tap into it.

2. Structure and discipline are essential to creating a safe space for poetic expression.

The tone you want to strike in your classroom must still include structure. This informs each decision you make: seating arrangements, group work, scaffolding, and the rules you give your students when the write original poems. It takes a lot of support to let students "write anything." They want rules. This includes rules about expected behavior. I teach two classes twice a week, fourth and fifth. The older students took this class last year and came to me somewhat disillusioned. While I had a standard for "three strikes and you're out" for misbehavior, I wasn't following through with it. It was growing worse each week with my fifth graders, so finally, after some students were rudely yelling while I began the lesson, I told them they'd lost their "three strikes" privileged and were down to one. If they misbehaved today, they were out. Within five minutes I sent two students back to class and after another five minutes, I sent two more. The remaining kids knew I meant business and the rest of the class went smoothly, for the most part. The big change came the next day when the kids I removed were on their best behavior and I had so many chances to give them positive feedback. They wrote some of their best poems.

3. When they have questions about what to write about, say, "Yes" as much as possible. Except when you have to say, "No."

This is related to point two, except it specifically as it applies to the writing prompt or exercise. In school, kids are trained to expect rules. This is what school is for, essentially, especially at a young age. For the most part, kids will learn how to do things on their own. Teaching requires about 90% classroom management and 10% subject matter knowledge. Therefore, they get really used to following the rules and being scolded when they don't. When I give them assignments, especially at first, the students shower me with "can I write about this? can I write about that? what do I do next? is this right?" and so at first I said yes to just about anything. Then some students wrote about the same thing every week. Or they got super hooked on the fact that I let them use the word 'hell' in their poems, as long as it was the opposite of 'heaven' and not a curse. The boys wrote endlessly about violence. The girls wrote about rainbows and flowers. Much like discipline, they needed more structure in their assignments, just enough to get them to a place where they felt safe. I have now banned violence from poems and also any curse words and bathroom humor. It was too distracting. Also, I made assignments that tapped into universal emotions like anger and loneliness, which pushed them to find new words to describe these feelings. Eventually they got the hang of it and I could say yes more often. But it takes time.

4. Praise should be given in thoughtful abundance.

I generally avoided praise in my last teaching job, because kids will become praise junkies. However, I only see my kids twice a week now and when a child comes up to me with something original they have written and they want me to read it, just the effort of sharing deserves to be rewarded. Maybe they don't have opportunities to hear a teacher say, "Wow! I love this image!" or "This line is so original!" I know they don't because teachers are busy and overworked and have way too much to squeeze into the three or four solid hours of daily instruction time. Also remember this: when you are 10, there isn't a wrong way to write a poem. Seriously. Yes, some kids will pick it up faster than others, but in general, there is something praiseworthy in every poem. Even praise for their hard work and creative use of language gives them a positive feeling that makes them want to write more and more, which should be the goal of the writing classroom. The more they write, the better writers they become. Of course, balancing praise with thoughtful feedback is key. Including revision in your curriculum will assist with this and encouraging the use of literary devices (that you've taught them already) will only give you more chances to praise and offer feedback. Again, a delicate dance.

5. Though it may take time, eventually the magic of writing poetry transforms your students.

The Artistic Director of Poetry Inside Out, John Simon, told me that somewhere between class number five and eight (of a sixteen lesson residency) everything shifts. It happened sooner with my fourth grade students than my fifth, which I expect to happen next week. I'd struggle through my lesson with fifth grade and then my fourth graders came in saying things like, "Yay it's time for poetry class!" or "Miss Davis, I love writing poem so much!" They write poems for you and make you adorable gifts like origami flowers. In short, they're hooked. And this just feeds the delicate dance of structure, discipline, praise and persona. They want to be there, so the behave. They want to feel good about their writing and they take it seriously. They love learning new ways to express themselves. I can't begin to tell you how incredible it is to watch a room of children thoughtfully revising their writing, asking their neighbor for advice about which word sounds better, asking you if it's ok to write another poem, coming up to you with ideas about what they want to write about. If you can manage to navigate your way through those first weeks and get to this stage, well, pat yourself on the back, because it's a hard road. But also, take a moment to recognize how essential opportunities for creative expression are for children and how poetry has an ability to transform a group of loud, video-game obsessed kids, into the thoughtful, creative voices of our future.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What you got going lit world? Giddy-Up Roundup!

First a Laura update: I have been getting some more sleep these days, thanks to our amazing mosquito net! (I know you were so worried about my sleeping habits...) Though I have been restless the past few nights with some thoughts tumbling around in my mind-grapes. Money and budgeting had me spazzing out big time on Saturday, especially since all of my student loans got kicked out of the post-graduation grace period. I worked that out though, but it took a lot out of me.

I replenished my strength with some shopping at what shall now be known as The Most Awesome of All Goodwill Thrift Stores Ever! In a mere ninety minutes I left with 14 new items for only $62, including three or four vintage pieces. I really needed some new clothing because apparently it never becomes winter here in San Francisco, it's just perpetually spring-fall. Those seasons don't last long in Pittsburgh, so I needed to boost my mid-season wardrobe to only-season status. Plus I still have what I'm calling Thesis Pounds to lose. Until then, I finally have some skirts and tops and sweaters that fit me. I can't wait to go back.

Worn Journal has a new issue on the way: Lucky 13, which seems to have been stolen by Cat Woman or something. Let's see, what else? Oh yes, new issue of Moon Milk Review is up this week! I'm also excited to share that the accepted two of my poems, in particular a poem that is very personal and feels right at home amongst the other fiere MMR poems about the female experience. Why yes, I did just call my own poem fierce, because it is. I'll prove it. The last stanza: "Strike a match. / Torch it." Boom.

Weave has the issue 07 contributor list posted and it's going to be our BIGGEST issue yet. So many awesome pages, including our contest winners, a review of the anthology Beauty Is A Verb, incredible artwork and a high number of historical people poems, paintings and stories. Oh yes, and a makeover story. I love seeing all these pieces together in one place!

ModCloth has a great interview with Ada Limón from a while back. Good stuff in there. Also, more recently, they posted a picture of me as Smurfette. That's my brother, Rick with me. Good stuff!

My dear dear friend, poet D. Gilson, is so dear. He is also a freakin' badass poet. His chapbook won Seven Kitchen's Robin Becker Prize and has an interview from a few weeks back up at Joe's Jacket wherein he discusses the intersection of queerness and poetry, among other things. Also, he's super fun to follow on Twitter!

Finally, fiction writer and Weave editor Bridgette Shade has some excellent life advice. I suggest you read it to avoid absentmindedly wandering into any black holes.