The power of posting student poetry

Hi everyone,

Nearly ten years ago, when this blog was new and teachers had more time to post poems written by their students, we routinely received students’ work. Classroom culture has changed now. It’s a rare month when a single student poem is posted. It’s a change that I regret.

Two student poets stand out in my memory. Ironically, neither went through the suggested route to get their poems on my blog. Both girls got there on their own, with parental help and support. Rachel Heinrichs and Taylor McGowan were in 4th grade when their early poetry appeared. In those days we held monthly balloting to select the “Children’s Poet of the Month,” and sometimes voting was spirited. One month the contest came down to Rachel and Taylor and votes poured in from several countries. At the time it was the busiest day my blog had experienced.

Not long after that event, I gave a keynote at SCBWI in New Jersey. Rachel begged her mom Michele to drive several hours to the conference so she could meet me. I introduced her to a crowded room of writers and illustrators and they gave her a resounding round of applause. The following year Michele again drove many hours to bring Rachel and young sister Sarah to my poetry workshop in Pennsylvania so we could share lunch together. And word has it that they just might make it again this year. I would love that!

As for my other poet, Taylor, I received a note from her yesterday that I appreciated so much I want to share a little of it.

“I’m sixteen years old now, and will be entering my junior year in high school…my interest in songwriting and efforts to write a musical recently reminded me of where I got my real start in poetry – your blog. To this day, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity that your monthly poetry contest afforded me. It gave me a chance to put my work out there, and kept me motivated even when writer’s block proved to be a hindrance. I have such fond memories of participating in the W.O.M. challenge…I have been writing for all the years since. I have participated in NaNoWriMo, drafted (or at least partially drafted) multiple novels, written award-winning “modern myths” for a youth academic convention multiple years in a row, composed songs (both music and lyrics), and also performed well on written assessments at school. I believe I owe some of that success to you and your contest; without it, I would not have been nearly so brave in my later endeavors.”

As we all know, writing is something we learn by doing. My blog didn’t teach Taylor to become the successful student writer she has become. She did that on her own. But we all begin somewhere, and I’m thrilled that Taylor believes her career began here. I’m deeply grateful to her for telling me and hope I don’t embarrass her by sharing some of her letter. I do it because we never know when, how, or where a young mind will become challenged and energized, turned on to a path of personal importance. And THAT’S why I regret that we so rarely see student poems posted here anymore.

Writers at Work: Making On-line Writing Challenges Work for You, Part 4

Hi everyone,

Thank you for joining me today as Writers at Work continues with this month’s subject of making on-line writing challenges work for you.
David publicity photo
Making On-line Writing Challenges Work for You
Part 4
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hi again, Sandy Asher. I’m astounded by the number of challenges you seem to handle without breaking stride! On occasion you have mentioned that you think I possess a lot of energy. But REALLY! You make me feel like taking a nap after reading about all the projects you’ve been working on. You also are the personification of a writer at work. As you so succinctly put it, “A writer writes.”

Some of us may accept writing challenges and/or propose them because writers sense a constant need to test our mettle, stay fit, compare our work, get it out there. Some highly successful writers, such as you, also provide a service as role models for writers who may be a rung or two down but actively engaged in improving their craft.

Jane Yolen, for example, occasionally jumps on my poetry challenges with one or several poems. It invariably causes a burst of energy that attracts other poets to join in. Others have lent their talents as well: J. Patrick Lewis, Joyce Sidman, Laura Purdie Salas, Sara Holbrook . . . the list is much longer. One visitor was Gregory Maguire, author of WICKED: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST.

As I mentioned earlier, not as many student writers have been represented on the Word of the Month challenge as I’d like, but we’ve had quite a few. Two in particular who stand out in my memory are Rachel Heinrichs and Taylor McGowan. They were both 4th graders when they first began posting their poems. In those days we held a vote-off at the end of every month to determine the Poet of the Month in each category. The girls mustered so many backers for their cause, some from other countries, that my total count of visits for the day – something over 1,600 – remained a record until early this year. It has been a privilege to keep track of Rachel and Taylor as they have grown, developed additional interests, and are now preparing to enter 8th grade this fall — an unexpected bonus for issuing a challenge that young people can also take on.

In another case a teacher began sending poems written by her high school kids. These were students with various learning issues and much of their work was not of the highest quality, but they loved the idea that they could write poems that would be published on my blog and they were proud of the encouraging comments they received from other visitors there. Their teacher wrote me a note. “When I introduced poetry, my students were interested. At first, they tried to act cool and aloof, but I knew them… When I showed them poetry, they were a little interested. When I taught them to read poetry, they were more interested. When I told them to write poetry, they thought I was crazy. When they wrote poetry, they came alive. Were the poems good? No, not technically. But they poured their hearts into them and they loved seeing their names on your blog. And that is when their reading scores went up.”

Sandy, I can see that my challenges may be different from those that come with specific rules and guidelines. You have had success accepting the challenges but making them work to your advantage by adapting them to your own needs. In my case, Word of the Month Poetry Challenge merely tosses out a word for anyone to accept or not. Some months most of the poems come from regular contributors but along the way new names are always joining in the fun. There is no long-term commitment involved so people come and go depending on whim, time, and energy. Some of the first devotees of Word of the Month continue to post their poems while others have dropped out somewhere along the line.

From a challenger’s point of view, I take pleasure in watching a community of writers come together around a central issue such as writing a poem inspired by one word or writing something that is theme related or, well, writing anything at all. What invariably happens is that the sense of community serves like an extended family to welcome in newcomers and develop ties with everyone involved. People get to know one another. They exchange bits of personal history, express their concerns about an unruly line or a rhyme. Sometimes they even ask for advice although an unspoken guideline is never to offer unless asked.

So what do I make of these challenges? I think they serve an important purpose and you’ve already stated it: Writers write. No one ever said that writing is simple, fast, or easy. It takes work. It requires patience. It demands passion. Whatever it takes to keep us exercising our writing muscles can’t be a bad thing. I don’t take credit for the marked improvement I’ve observed in the writing of many who routinely post their work on my blog where I can see it, but I believe that those who write on a regular basis are going to get better. That’s how it works.

And now – drum roll please – Sandy and I are delighted to announce our special guest for next week’s concluding essay on this subject of “Making On-line Writing Challenges Work for You.” Our mutual friend Kristi Holl has agreed to join us on the 5th Tuesday so be sure you are here on July 30 to learn what she has to share. Until then here’s a way to get better acquainted with Kristi and her wonderful work. .

Thanks, Sandy! It has been good fun as always.

Kristi, the floor is now yours.


New poem by a young poet

Hi everyone,

Please click on W.O.M. Young Poets to see the poem posted by Emma Daugherty. She and Taylor McGowan specialize in narrative poems in several stanzas. I hope to see other poems by our young poets after school starts again but this summer we’ve had the pleasure of reading the work of both of these talented girls.

This month is off to a good start. Lots of good LINE poems coming in. Thanks and keep them coming! I’ll finish mine before long.


Good news from Taylor McGowan

Hi everyone,

On my May 21 post I collected my thoughts about the just completed poetry workshop at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. One of the highlights for me was when my 6th grade friend Rachel Heinrichs came with her mother Michele and sister Sarah to pay a visit during the workshop. They drove more than three hours each way from West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I became acquainted with Rachel when she was in fourth grade and began posting her poems on my blog. Way back on April 21, 2010, Rachel and another gifted young writer, Taylor McGowan, became involved in a contest for best poem posted that month which produced a record number of voters. My blog was visited 1,830 times that day (which remains the all-time record) and attracted voters in seven countries.

Both girls continued to write and post their work. Taylor won the first time but Rachel came right back and soon became a Word of the Month Poet. By the next year Taylor was seriously into riding horses so she had less time to write. Rachel, too, became more involved in school activities so neither young poet was able to post as often as they did as 4th graders. But they have kept in touch and they have not forgotten their passion for writing.

That’s why I’m writing this post today. Yesterday I heard from a very excited Taylor who wanted to tell me about her wonderful news. I’m very proud to share the news with you. Last year Taylor learned of the Star Writers award. Teachers on the language arts and writing workshop board hand pick five representatives from each middle school grade to compete, writing short stories using prompts in a one hour time period. Taylor was selected for the competition. And she won!

And what about this year? Here’s Taylor in her own words. “This year I was also selected. And, at the last school assembly, they announced the winner – I won again! I’m trying for a four year streak. I’m thrilled.”

Taylor, we’re thrilled too. One of the best things about a blog like this is that a lot of adults have a chance to see the work of developing young writers like you, Rachel, and others who have shared their poems with us. Congratulations on your high honor! I hope we’ll have the pleasure of seeing something new from you this summer.

For those who are new to this site since April, 21, 2010, here’s Taylor’s winning poem when she was in fourth grade.


Cool water bubbles in a spring,
The pool is visited by Nature’s King.

The cougar with his soft tan fur,
Compliments it with a rumbling purr.

The water is so cool and sweet,
So it is where the small birds meet.

Cardinals and blue jays sing their delight,
The water aids them in trouble or plight.

Thirst is quenched, lives are saved,
The water is what the newcomers craved.

Traveling moose stop and drink,
As well as small children with cheeks that are pink

The spring was a miracle for all of the creatures,
A wonder, with all the life saving features.

Its cool water helped the dying and sick,
The moon reflected on it like a flame upon a candle wick.

Does with their fawns come for a drink,
As they taste it their hearts don’t sink.

In fact, they soar, they leap, they fly,
When their run is over they heave a sigh.

The spring had nourished their already warm
But not just that. It helped the other parts.

— Taylor McGowan, 4th grade

Our July Hall of Fame Poet and the August Word of the Month

Voting was close for the July Hall of Fame Poet. Steven Withrow, V. L. Gregory, and Silindile Ntuli finished in a tie. However, both Steven and Virginia are previous winners and cannot win again during this twelve month period. Therefore it is my pleasure to announce that Silindile is our July Hall of Fame Poet.

A special thank you to our one and only July young poet, Taylor McGowan, for her good poem. Several people have commented on how much they enjoyed that. We’re always glad to see your work, Taylor.

Congratulations to you, Silindile, and my thanks to everyone who contributed a nice, itchy poem during July. It was a month of many chuckles.

For August I decided to change the subject entirely. Our August word is LOVE. What can you do with that? I look forward to seeing what your creative minds conjure up!

August marks the 11th month for Word of the Month. September will complete the first year. Starting in October, all previoius Monthly Hall of Fame Poets will once again be eligible to win. Starting with October, I’ll announe a new system for selecting the monthly winners.

Also in October, we’ll post the winning poems for each of the first twelve months so everone can vote on our first Hall of Fame Poet of the Year. That should be exciting! We’ll have two ballot boxes up, one for the adults and one for the young poets.

Thanks for the ideas about how to celebrate my first blog anniversary on August 9. Please keep them coming. I leave town Sunday for five days but will do my best ot stay in touch.