Let the poems pour

Hi everyone,

So far this month’s word challenge, RAIN, has inspired a good range of very readable poems by Susan Bickel, Jeanne Poland, Linda Boyden, Mary Nida Smith, Bryn Strudwick, Cory Corrado, Jane Yolen, Susan Hutchens, Jesse Anna Bornemann, and Cheryl Harness. Am I missing anyone? When you post your poems under the box for Adult W.O.M. Poems, I can find them easily when I go searching for the month’s poets. When you post them under comments on a day when you’re ready, I’m likely to miss them when I’m summing up. It’s always your call as to when and where you place them, of course. I’m happy either way.

You have five days remaining in which to create rain-based poems to share with the rest of us. So far this month our number of participants is down a bit so spread the word to all laggards, sluggards, dawdlers, loafers, idlers, slouchers, indolents, and faineants with good intentions to hie themselves to their nearest pen and cozy up to their muses. One new poem each day would be lovely and two would be even grander.

Oh, the picture? That’s my friend Cory Corrado. We met in 2011 at my Highlights poetry workshop. She’s one of my favorite people and that’s one of my favorite pictures. My muse went crazy with all that wonderful material to ponder!

Thoughts from Lake Wobegone

Hi everyone,

During Garrison Keillor’s Saturday night performance at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, he gave the news from Lake Wobegone, one of his long running standards, and awarded the audience with one laugh after another. He went on for at least fifteen minutes without a hesitation and without a script or cue cards.

A key to his hilarious (apparent) ramblings is that he’ll start a story, wander off on what seems like a rabbit trail, and suddenly come back to tie in the older story to the newest one. I won’t remember them all but during the course of his news report he spun tales that involved (1) Babe Ruth who came through at the end of his career playing on a traveling exhibition team and hit a homer so hard and far it cleared the park and landed in a cornfield and town kids searched for it forever but no one ever discovered it; (2) his first girlfriend when he was 13 and she was 14 with whom he had a one-time fling; (3)a statue on the public square that suffered damage during a tornado that blew a bean pod into its left ear and the plant took root and started growing there; (4) a man who flew 41 missions during the Vietnam war but upon coming home fell on hard times and into hard ways, eventually became the town drunk and wandered over to the next community and took up with a woman who had an artificial leg, no hair, and an eye that popped out, which caused his wife to leave him, whereupon he took up serious drinking, lost his house to the bank, and moved to the woods where he drank and lived as a hermit; (5) his Scout master taking him and other boys to the woods in January and left them to camp out and “toughen up” in a tent in 30 degrees below zero weather and during the night he needed to go to the bathroom but came from a family that valued modesty so he walked so far from the tent that he lost his way. There was much more but you get the idea.

My guess is that when Keillor sits down to create one of his shaggy dog reports, he might start by making a list of half a dozen or so totally unrelated and equally implausible situations. In this case a partial list might be:
1. Babe Ruth coming to Lake Wobegone and hitting a homerun so hard that the ball was never recovered.
2. A “wrestling” match with his girlfriend that turned friendlier than he’d expected.
3. A statue with a bean sprout coming out of its ear.
4. A war hero who becomes the town drunk and falls for an equally unfortunate woman in the next town.
5. A wacky scout master who leaves boys stranded in the woods in a tent in the dead of a bitter January.

Now imagine tying every one of those improbable yarns together in some way by the end of your report. That’s the genius of Garrison Keillor. He may or may not tell the story the same way every time but he knows where he is, where he is going, and how he is going to get there. It’s a brilliant form of entertainment.

It is also a tempting writing prompt! I think I’ll try this sometime — start with a list of off-the-wall posits and see if I’m clever enough to bring them together. Not to try to be like Keillor. I don’t think anyone can do that or should. But as Ruth Culham says in her book, WRITING THIEF, we learn from masters and so we get better.

All I know is that I had a fine time at the Starlight Saturday night.

On behalf of my toes . . .

Hi everyone,

. . . thanks for all the fun yesterday. Both here and on Facebook a number of clever people joined in. I must say my feet felt feted. Thanks to Bryn Strudwick, Jane Yolen, Renee LaTulippe, Veda Jones, Jane Healy, Janie Lazo, Pat Hermes, Buffy Silverman, Gregory Pincus, Jeff Harrison, Teresa Robeson, Linda Boyden, Mary Nida Smith, Don Barrett, Susan Patterson Hutchens, and Sarah Towle for adding your poems, puns, and encouragement. Sorry if I’ve left out anyone.

Such exercises are more than fun. They remind us that wordsmiths can start with the smallest spark of an idea and expand it in wide variety of ways. You all demonstrated that talent once again. I didn’t get much else done yesterday but I have no regrets about keeping company with such a host of talented people.

Onward and upward!


Writing exercise

Hi everyone,

One of the books I’m working on involves modeling samples of writing for students in grades 3-5. This week I took a couple of the one-page examples and rewrote them for grades K-2. In the spirit of “know thy audience,” try this with something you’ve written.

What happens is that our mind automatically becomes aware of how certain words, phrases, and concepts that work for a 5th grader need to be simplified, explained in the text, or dropped altogether for a kindergarten student. You may find that the new version has more words in it because of the need to explain, and that may take you over your word limit. Then you must go back through, looking for ways to trim without giving up anything that spoils the message.

I think this is a good exercise for writers of any age, including elementary and middle school students. A 5th grader might be reluctant to revise his work under normal circumstances but willingly accept the challenge of rewriting what he’s done, pretending it’s now for someone in 1st grade.
Christmas, 2011 017
On a very happy note, our son Jeff and daughter-in-law Jennifer arrive for the holidays on Sunday evening. Can’t wait to hug them and have them with us again!

Magic bags

Hi everyone,

My good friend Susan Hutchens has been subbing this week in a third grade class in Colorado. Yesterday she sent me a note to say that she had just read my book MISS GRUBB, SUPER SUB to her kids. I got out the book and ran across one of the activities that Miss Grubb dreams up for her charges. She hands them empty paper bags, takes them to the playground, and instructs them to fill their bags with what they see, hear, smell, and feel. She starts by placing fluffy clouds and happy birdsong into her bag.

When Susan told me about the great kids in her third grade class, I suggested that today she give them all bags to fill when they go to their playground. I’m eager to hear what the students collect. They promised to let me know!

My suggestion to you and the kids you know is to fill your own bags today on the playgrounds of your life. It’s an exercise that reminds me that we are surrounded by splendid things, many of which are worthy of a poem and all of which can make the day a little brighter.