Mary Downing Hahn tomorrow, our September Hall of Fame Poets, and the Word of the Month for October

REMINDER: There are 3 days, 6 hours left to bid on the auction!

Congratulations to our September Hall of Fame Poets! Euleta Usrey is our poet of the month for the adult division and Courtney Clawson is our poet in the young poet division. Clustered behind Euleta were Steven Withrow, V.L. Gregory, and Gay Fawcett. In the young poet race, Maria Ciminillo was only 9 votes behind Courtney, 159 to 168. What a contest! My sincere congratulations and gratitude to everyone who enriched our lives this month by writing poems and sharing them with us.

And now for the first word of a brand new year of poetry. The word of the month for October? CHANGE. I’m eager to see what you do with it.

Here we are at Thursday again when it’s my pleasure to announce my new Featured Guest. This is one of my favorite blog activities. Tomorrow you’ll meet Mary Downing Hahn, and you’re going to enjoy the experience. As you know, I always ask my guests to provide a bio in their own words to give you an early glimpse into their lives and their voices. For additional information about Mary, visit her site at

I was born in Washington, DC and have spent my whole life in Maryland, within 30 miles of my birthplace. Not that I haven’t traveled — it’s just that I’ve never had an official address outside my home state.When I was a kid, I loved reading, drawing, and getting into mischief, not necessarily in that order. I was lucky to grow up on a street with five like minded girls — the Guilford Road Gang we called ourselves. We spent our summers exploring woods and creeks, climbing trees, spying on suspected criminals (the result of an overdose of Nancy Drew mysteries) and spending as much time as possible out of sight of our parents. As long as we were home for dinner, no one cared. College Park was a small town then — what could possibly happen to us?

With the exception of reading and drawing, my school career was distinctly lackluster. I daydreamed, read library books in my lap, doodled on my homework, never mastered long division or learned my multiplication tables, and was in general unmotivated. Because of my math problem, I thought of myself as stupid.

Junior high and high school were not much better. If I read my diary correctly, I spent my teens yearning for a boyfriend, going to football and basketball games (in hope of meeting a boy), hanging out with my friends, getting out of class whenever I could, buying rock and roll records with my babysitting money, going to the swimming pool (in hope of meeting a boy),and complaining about my parents. Not a word about current events. Although I never mentioned them in my diary, I remember thinking the McCarthy hearings were incredibly boring.

After I graduated, I entered the University of Maryland, a half hour’s walk from my home in College Park. At first, it seemed like grade thirteen, but by my sophomore year, I realized I had a brain after all. I majored in Fine Art and minored in English, spending most of my college years doing what I loved best — drawing and painting, reading and writing. By the time I received my B.A., I was torn between a desire to paint and a desire to write. I did both for many years, mainly for my own entertainment. I also spent a disastrous year teaching junior high school art, returned to UMD to earn a Master’s in English, worked briefly for the telephone company, a department store, and the Navy Federal Credit Union, the sorts of jobs people with liberal arts degrees are offered.

After marriage, children, and divorce, I returned once more to UMD and began working toward a PHD in English. It was the 70’s, and there I was with the baby boomers. There were no teaching jobs for any of us.

I ended up taking a job as an associate librarian in the public library’s children’s department. I planned to write my dissertation and look for a teaching position later, but I wrote a children’s book instead. Hard work, yes, but definitely more fun than spending years researching an obscure English poet.

So here I am. all these years later, still reading and writing, drawing and painting and loving every minute of it — well, almost every minute.Thanks, Mary. See you tomorrow.

Guest Reader with Silindile Ntuli

BULLETIN: With 7 hours of voting time left, Euleta Usrey remains in the lead among adult poets and Maria Ciminillo is still fending off a hard charge by Courtney Clawson among young poets.

REMINDER: Today is your last chance to help select our September Hall of Fame poets! As of this morning, Euleta Usrey is leading previous winners Steven Withrow and V.L. Gregory. In the young poets group, Maria Ciminillo has taken the lead over Courtney Clawson in a hot race. Tonight at 10:00 EST the polls close. This is the final month of our first full year so let your opinion count.

Greetings everyone,

Before turning the stage over to Silindile Ntuli, my Guest Reader for today, I want to tell you about an opportuntiy.

As a fund raiser for Plum Creek Childrens Literacy Festival, held each year in Seward, Nebraska on the campus of Concordia University, I’m auctioning off a chance to be featured on my blog. The link gives you all the information. I hope you’ll read it and consider making a bid. I set the floor at $50 and at this point the high bid is $56. There are four days remaining so I certainly hope to see the bidding go much higher! Each year the festival attracts about 9,000 boys and girls. It takes a lot of money and energy to put together something like that. My hat is off to the fine people who make it all happen.

Now, without further ado, here is my guest for today. Last week Silindile was nice enough to share with me a poem she wrote when her beloved nephew was born. I was taken by the poem and asked Silindile to allow me to share it with you. She agreed and also wrote about the circumstances that prompted the poem. Here’s Silindile.

With a shaking voice, trembling hands, fear and tears in her eyes my sister told me she was pregnant, as an unmarried woman of a strict father she was terrified, also terrified of my aunt who was like the dragon of the family.

Immediately I felt happy, told her I’m here and will take the heat with her.. Those months were hard, family was furious until December 22, 2002 when Sibahle was born, the most beautiful boy ever and he melted every heart.. I sat in my usual corner and wrote a poem, I knew he was an angel with no halo.

That year with him was like the first family year, we wondered what kind of life we had before him and boy did he live up to my angel predictions. All through the next year I couldn’t wait to get home, to play this silly game where I’d hold him while he tried to blow out the lightbulb, I’d pull the string and make him think he did it, every night.

He’s very smart, he asks lots and lots of questions daily sometimes its too much, he’s sweet and fear every little thing that crawls, including an ant, everything my friends. He inspires me to keep fighting, sometimes I think he’s my main source of strength closely followed by mom, he says grown up things that make the world clear, I remember how he sits with me on hard days, not playing outside with the other kids. He goes to a christian school and when I say maybe I have a headache he amazes, while people bring me water and headache powders my little boy says “I’ll pray for you”, with his head bowed he does.

To thank God for such a wonderful blessing and to thank my dear boy I wrote the following poem, hope by end of this year he’ll be fluent enough to read it and understand.

Full Circle
by Silindile Ntuli

The woman proudly displayed it,
As if she could tell the future
Little did she know her nine months of pride,
Were going to be years of pure beauty.
The woman carried him with pride,
I know this because of the results.
You ask me to bet on it,
I say just take a look at him.
Because he was carried proudly
By a woman on a mission.

For nine long months,
Days and nights combined,
The hero grew strongly.
For each breath she took,
I know he kicked with joy,
Anticipating the day he blessed
This world with his presence.
Counting hours till he kicked
Right into this lost world.
No worries,
For he will be one of its few great things.

Today it’s the big day,
A hero is born in our among us.
Call them all,
Those close and those unknown.
Come see beauty the way
Only God intended.
But he is just a child, you say.
True, but he will grow into a man,
Real to the core.

Call the singers,
Pull out the drums
And let the dancers move.
Form a circle,
Join your hands
And don’t forget your best clothes.
Light a fire,
Bring the gifts,
Sing the night away.
Give him a hero’s welcome,
Make sure it’ll be remembered
Long after the stones wash away.

Years have come and gone,
The world has changed with each day.

Thank you David for featuring it, you are a selfless soul and you've made me a more serious writer, I hope to keep learning from you and from your other blog friends. Thank you.

WRITERS AT WORK – Obstacles to Writing (Part 1)

REMINDER: Have you voted yet for this month’s Hall of Fame Poets? You have until tomorrow night, Wednesday, September 29 to cast your ballot! As of last night Euleta Usrey leads the adult poets and Courtney Clawson is five votes ahead of Maria Ciminillo among the young poets. A good race is shaping up!

Greetings from WRITERS AT WORK, the ongoing chat between Sandy Asher and David Harrison about, well, writers at work. Rules are simple. We select a question that is often posed and take turns (two each) responding to it. Our initial subject was about the care and feeding of ideas.

Thanks to Sandy Asher’s son Ben Asher, we now have a special spot created just for WRITERS AT WORK on the America Writes for Kids website. Here’s the link.

Go to the top bar and you’ll see Writers at Work. Beside it you’ll find the site’s blog, which features a growing number of my Featured Guests. How is that for adding extra value to these postings? Thanks to Sandy for proposing these great ideas and to Ben for making them happen.

Today we turn to our second subject. It’s about obstacles to writing, things that writers often have to jump over, sneak around, or tunnel under to reach that goal-on-high: finding time to write. In other words, “What kind of obstacles—external, interpersonal, internal—get in your way and how do you deal with them?” To save words, we’re calling this segment, “Dealing with Obstacles to Writing.” It’s my turn to lead off. Here we go.

September 28, 2010
Topic 2: Obstacles to Writing
Response 1: David

First, the external issues. Oops. Excuse me. Someone’s at the door. Okay, sorry. I’m back. Great. The phone. The phone is ringing. “The phone is ringing! Can’t somebody get the phone?” Sorry. The thing is, writers don’t have real jobs. Ask anybody. “Will someone get that phone!” Every thought we think comes at peril of instant annihilation by barking dogs, TV commercials, or the UPS guy. It’s nobody’s fault, really. Writing something well is the goal, but writing something at all is the best many of us can muster on any given day.

If the creative part of your mind is as sensitive to interruptions as mine, you know there is little room in there for your dog needing out or your neighbor firing up his lawnmower in the middle of a paragraph. Jean Kerr (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies) set up writing headquarters in her car to get some privacy to work. Another author, I don’t remember who, built a pulley-rigged platform in his living room and literally rose above the distractions below. A friend of mine went to even greater extremes to protect herself from external obstacles. I don’t know if she’ll tell you about it, but it makes a great story.

I used to stay up late to write after my family went to bed. When the kids were older, and so was I, I switched to getting up early to beat the crowd. Whatever you have to do to write is up to you to work out. Just realize that few writers ever have the luxury of an obstacle free environment. Somehow we all need to figure out how to answer the phone and still finish the same sentence we started.

How about those interpersonal obstacles? Families are probably the writer’s main obstacles. After all, families live together, share time and space, play together, depend on one another. When one of us – that would be the writer – keeps sliding down the hall toward the computer like gollum sniffing for his precious, the scene is set. Feelings can be hurt on both sides. Chores that should get done don’t. Evenings that ought to be planned aren’t. Writing does take its toll. For that matter, so does painting, composing, sculpting, or any other endeavor that requires extended periods of concentration, quiet, and isolation.

Too bad we can’t have it all. The world loves beauty created by those who have the gift to make beauty by human hands. It’s the process that ticks off so many people. It’s not the principal of the thing. It’s the TIME it takes. Think compromise. Think establishing “safe zones” for your writing. Good luck on this one!

Sandy I’ll save the third section until my second round. So, over to you.

WHAT ARE THE PROS UP TO? with Sandy Asher

REMINDER: Have you voted yet for this month’s Hall of Fame Poets? You have until this Wednesday night, September 29 to cast your ballot!

Hi Everyone,

It’s Monday and time to bring back another visit and update on WHAT ARE THE PROS UP TO? You’ve been hearing from Sandy Asher lately as she and I trade weeks chatting about writing on my Tuesday segment, WRITERS AT WORK. So today I asked Sandy to bring us all up to date on what she has been up to lately. To see Sandy’s original appearance on my blog, go to this link.

Hi, Sandy. What’s up with you these days?

Hi, David. The big news about my work is TELL YOUR STORY: THE PLAYS AND PLAYWRITING OF SANDRA FENICHEL ASHER, which is “about my work” but not entirely by me. It’s a collection of six of my published plays for young audiences, with commentary by editors Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, Ph.D., and John D. Newman, Ph.D. The collection made its debut in August at the Dramatic Publishing Company booth at the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) conference in San Francisco. Very thrilling, humbling, and kind of overwhelming, really. I’m used to writing about, not being written about!

Here at home, I’m currently working on a stage adaptation of my picture book HERE COMES GOSLING! This is a really interesting project, my first attempt at something called “full immersion theatre for the very young.” A couple of years ago, my daughter, granddaughter, and I attended a London production of a play called “How Long Is A Piece of String?” It was put on by a company called Oily Cart (see many fascinating clips by doing an “Oily Cart” search on YouTube), which specializes in this kind of theatre. During the course of a magical hour, my granddaughter and the rest of the children, ages 3 – 6, were up and about, each tending to a yarn “baby,” trotting along a “rope-y road” with the actors, rowing a ship on a stormy sea, bathing their babies in a shower of bubbles aglow in colored lights, singing a lullaby — and much, much more.

The idea is to involve the children in the story by engaging their senses as much as possible. The production enchanted all three of our attending generations, and I was determined to try something like it when I got home. HERE COMES GOSLING! seemed perfect for the basic story, and directors at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and Pollyanna Theatre Company in Austin, TX, have agreed to help me develop the script. I’ve done a couple of drafts and will be going up to Michigan in November to “test drive” some of my ideas with Head Start classes. Performances are scheduled for March at EMU and May in Austin.

But here’s the tricky part: The EMU production will be “full immersion,” with small audiences of children up and involved with the actors all the way. The Pollyanna production needs to be a traditional proscenium stage version, with the actors on stage and the kids in their seats. So I’m writing the play two ways at once! I may even be working with two different composers, one for a more musical version at EMU, the other for mainly incidental, background music for Pollyanna.

What a challenge! And what fun! Along with that, I’m juggling a couple of other plays-in-various-stages-of-progress — one for adults and one for teens — and also continuing my work with Youtheatre at the Fulton on our group-devised script about immigration, “For We Were Strangers in the Land.” That received a workshop production at the Fulton Theatre here in Lancaster this past summer. We revise and rehearse during monthly meetings through the school year and the six-week summer intensive, and then put on a full-out production at the Fulton next July.

And that’s what’s new here in Lancaster, PA. Thanks for asking, David.