Interested in a Highlights poetry workshop?

BULLETIN: I’m glad to tell you that you are about to meet another outstanding guest on my blog this Friday. JonArno Lawson is coming and he will post a great essay on NONSENSE. Don’t miss learning about JonArno on Thursday when I post his bio and reading his remarks on Friday.

It’s a soggy week in southwest Missouri. I’m sitting here with thunder in my ears and lightning skipping around the early morning sky.I’ve agreed to give a three day workshop on poetry in Honesdale, Pennsylvania on June 2-5, 2011. This is part of the Highlights Foundation series of workshops and is held at the farmhouse where the founders of Highlights for Children once lived. I’ve stayed there before, taken walks in the nearby woods, and looked across the road to Boyds Mill, which was the inspiration for the book division’s name. It’s a perfect location to recharge yourself and find your muse.

I haven’t posted anything on the Highlights site yet but I will soon. I’m told that one person has already signed up so I guess you can do that now though the event is more than a year away. These groups are always kept small. I think there’s room for ten or twelve people. I’ll tell you more in the next week or two as I get organized for June 2011. First I need to finish getting organized for June 2010.


I can’t believe how quickly the date is approaching for the New Jersey regional SCBWI conference. My role for that one is to give a three-hour poetry workshop plus a keynote talk on Friday, June 4 and a repeat talk on Saturday the 5th.

Over the weekend I received a packet of manuscripts to critique for several writers who have made plans to attend the conference and I look forward to meeting with you in Princeton. I’m almost finished with my keynote talk and have a good idea about the workshop. If anyone has questinos or comments about what you want me to include in either presentation, send them to me.David

Nile Stanley today

Yesterday I introduced Dr. Nile Stanley as my guest for today. One of the most interesting aspects of Nile’s presence is the digi-poem that gives us a chance to see the good poet at work. Technology is grand when you know how to harness it!

Now I am pleased to yield the page to Nile. If you have comments or questions for him, please leave them in the comment section below this page. Thanks, Nile.


Nile StanleyDigital poetry is a form of electronic literature I am really enjoying exploring. Digital poetry contain some mixture of computer-based images, text, recorded audio narration, video clips, and music.

Words Baby Brother Blues Climbing the Poet-Tree

Click on the links to see my poems on YouTube:

Baby Brother Blues
Climbing the Poet-Tree

Digitize Poetry with Movie Maker

So how does one evoke the electronic muse and get started composing digital poetry? Windows Movie Maker software is easy to use and comes already installed on many PCs. You can use the Google Image search engine to find free, non-copyrighted pictures that support your student’s electronic remaking of poetry classics by their favorite authors, or record performances of students’ original poetry with a digital video camera. Download the videos to Movie Maker, use a microphone to do voice-over narration where necessary, and add music (either free downloads or original songs if you’re musically inclined). Final E-poem projects can be published on DVD, BlackBerry, I-Pod, YouTube or Teacher Tube. You can view several examples of digital poetry on my YouTube channel, NileCrocodilePoet

What Are the Benefits of Digital Poetry?
There are many types of digital poetry that address multiple literacies. Here are some specific benefits:

Personal expression. Students harness the power of poetry to define their identities, share their ideas and ideals, entertain, inform and influence larger audiences .By adding the digital component to poetry, students acquire even more tools to magnify their voices and extend them to the global stage.

Literary connection. Many children’s book authors have digitized their poetry. E-books and animated poems are appealing to kids—many of these are children who grew up with a computer mouse in hand.

Media literacy. To do digital poetry well, students learn the skills needed for success in the 21st century: how to use the computer, software, the Internet, a digital camera, a scanner, microphones, and more.

What do you think of digital poetry? Do you prefer pixels to print? Can we have it both ways? Do you have an e-poem to share?

Again, my thanks to Nile. The floor is open.


Nile Stanley tomorrow

BULLETIN: I’m an early bird for a change. My spring poem just went up on the W.O.M. page.

Happy April Fools Day! If anyone has a poem on the subject to share, please post it under comments below this page. We can always use a good grin.

Today it’s my pleasure to share the bio that Nile Stanley sent. He has kept it briefer than it would be if he began listing his many activities and accomplishments, but check out his sites and you’ll learn much more. Tomorrow you’ll read (and hear) from Nile himself and that will be a treat.

Affectionately known as “Nile Crocodile, the Reading Reptile,” Dr. Nile Stanley  is a reading specialist, performance poet, storyteller, musician, researcher, and professor of education at the University of North Florida. Nile is the author  of the books, Creating Readers with Poetry (2004), and Performance Literacy: Reading and Writing with Storytelling (2009).

Our sympathy is extended to residents of Rhode Island who have been devastated by flooding. Steven Withrow has had his share of woes although not as severely as many others. We hope things begin to improve soon.


J. Patrick Lewis today

REMINDER: Don’t forget to vote. The ballot boxes were posted on March 25. Every vote is appreciated by our great roster of March poets. Show them your support.

Today is J. Patrick Lewis day and I’m glad he’s my guest. Pat has given permission to reprint a recent article about poetry. I know you’re going to enjoy this. Pat, thanks.

Can Children’s Poetry Matter?
by J. Patrick Lewis

In 1991 the American poet Dana Gioia’s famously provocative article, “Can Poetry Matter?” argued that poetry had lost its way. Its practitioners, molded by graduate creative writing programs, were now penning verses for an elite clan of mutual admirers in a subculture of the Word.

Sixty years earlier, W.H. Auden had put it this way: “[W]riting gets shut up in a circle of clever people writing about themselves for themselves.”

However it was that poetry became an island unto itself, children’s poetry is in a different quandary. Its strongest critics describe it not as insular but as irrelevant, puerile, or both. Even Mr. Gioia suggested that, along with light verse, the genre inhabited a “critically disreputable demimonde.”

He has a point: Far too much published verse is embarrassingly vapid, an affront to trees spawned by the notion that writing for kids is “so easy anybody can do it.” But doggerel disease has not infected a score or more of fine poets whose work for children is being published today.

In the latter nineteenth century, the inestimable Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll had much of the field to themselves. A century later, in the early 1980s, a highly placed editor told me, the door to publishing children’s verse is closed. And locked. A half dozen worthies, she said, have saturated the market. New applications are not being accepted. Find another career.

Rank silliness? Well, quality, it turns out, is a remarkable locksmith. But the truth is that today—thirty years on—many well-published children’s poets are discovering closed doors, a renewed hostility to the genre. If the publishing industry is struggling in a fractured economy, the K-8 poetry business, verse novels excepted, has been a leading indicator of decline.

It’s not for want of trying. A veritable army of hopefuls—poets and poetasters alike—shoot manuscripts like tracer bullets at beleaguered editors, many of whom have already received pink slips. And the more unsolicited manuscripts submitted, the greater the resistance to reading them.

Nothing’s official yet, but the death of The Book has long been foretold in newspapers (also gravely ill), on the internet (breathing fire), and for all I know, subliminally, on buses and billboards. Little wonder perhaps in an age of roaring e-technology, publishing industry woes, and empty wallets.

But instead of more damning with taint phrase, how about a bit of unPollyanish piping down the valleys wild for this especially vulnerable genre and the books that carry it to kids?

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.”

The poetry unit is normally
a pinch of Frost and Emily,
a tickle of Jack Prelutsky, Shel
and … “Goodness, there’s the bell.”

Even otherwise gifted teachers are often the victims of university college classes in which poetry instruction was tantamount to performing lobotomies on stanzas that raised their tremulous heads.

This is not to ignore or disparage the impassioned poetry aficionados among keepers of the young. Indeed let’s award a teaching Newbery to every mentor who makes verse a daily experience in subjects that gallop across the curriculum and beyond.
But let’s be honest. No matter how zealous, they are drowned out by the hallelujah chorus for nonfiction, picture books, middle grade fiction and YA novels.

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described—and vilified—by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried.

Installing poetry on standardized tests is both oxymoronic and inimical to wonder. The late British poet Adrian Mitchell admirably prefaced most of his collections with a caveat: “None of [my] work … is to be used in connection with any examination whatsoever. Reduce the size of classes in [public] schools to twelve and I might reconsider.”

Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light; prose, bent out of shape; the idiom of djinns; the sound of silence…amplified. Poetry predates books, predates the alphabet, and once we graduated from humming, it was the first vehicle to bring music to our ears. What are nursery rhymes if not the irresistible echoes of the siren songs of ancient whimsy?

Few if any adults are capable of convincing a ten-year old that poetry can be as much fun as volleyball or video games. Nor should we try. Entertainments are not a zero-sum game. Why should my increasing love of soccer diminish by an equal amount my affection for verse? Both can intensify our feelings for the world and an appreciation of our places in it.

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.
Go to the source: Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

The answer to the question posed in the title of this piece may not be immediately obvious but consider this: decades hence some erstwhile youth, faced like so many of us with incalculable stress or sorrow, might just be able to pull from that inconspicuous hideaway, the heart, a few remembered and redeeming lines of verse.
Perhaps that is when children’s poetry can matter most.

(Reprinted from Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts with permission from the author.)

If you have thoughts, questions, or comments about Pat’s article, please post them under comments.

A houseful of ideas

For several months now we’ve been challenging ourselves to write poems that spring from one word. I’ve been impressed again and again by the number and variety of poems you have posted. We’ve enjoyed the work of poets in numerous states in this country as well as in India, South Africa, Philippines, and U.K. There may be other areas represented that I haven’t identified so let me know if I’ve overlooked someone.

Yesterday Kathy Temean chose another of my published poems to feature as the Poem of the Week. As I’ve mentioned, I never know which poem Kathy will pick so I look forward to seeing her selections. Yesterday’s choice came from The Alligator in the Closet, a collection I wrote to demonstrate the power of observation for the writer. To start the book I walked around my house making notes of things I saw, heard, or remembered. At some point my imagination clicked in as if joining the fun and I found my list including things that didn’t exist, such as the mouse in the pantry.

All is fair in writing poetry so I didn’t throw out the idea of a mouse in the pantry simply on the grounds that we have no stair, no pantry there, and certainly no mouse. An observation is an observation whether fact or fiction. I rather enjoyed imagining a cudly little creature bedded down in a box of facial tissue and the artist enjoyed the idea of illustrating it. As far as I know, kids like the poem too. So it would have been a shame to discard the notion becasuse I didn’t actually see the mouse.

I’m telling you this because you may feel moved to try a similar exercise on your own. Move from room to room and record your observations, sensations, hopes, and memories. Before you know it you will have a list long enough to keep you writing for weeks if not months.

Have fun!