A poem per week

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I received a note from ANGELA KNIGHT, librarian at David Harrison Elementary School and a good friend of mine. She told me that from the first of the year she has been reading one of my poems to the student body each week. I didn’t know that and was delighted by her news.

We started with Somebody Catch My Homework,” she told me, “and will move to The Mouse Was Out At Recess.  My goal is to have 25 poems read by the end of May, and if we multiply that by the number of students…that would be over 8,000 poetry exposures since January 1st.” 

I plan to talk to Angela soon to ask if she knows of other schools in the district with similar programs of reading a poem each week to their student bodies. Not my poems, although that would be great fun. Just a poem selected from the vast resources of work published by poems around the world, past and present. Wouldn’t that be nice? Son Jeff urged me to pursue the idea as a new project. He may be right. I’ll let you know what I learn. Meanwhile, you can tell me if you know about programs like this in your areas.

Me and Sally

Hi everyone,

We’re more than halfway through National Poetry Month so I thought I’d pull something from the files that I haven’t used lately. Here’s one that was funny when it came out in THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS in 2003. It was funny to teachers and to those students who understood the joke with grammar. It’s not funny anymore. Too many students sit with blank faces, failing to understand the humor. I haven’t read it in a class for quite a while.

Have It Your Own Way
Poem for Two Voices

(Isabelle)						(Teacher)

Me and Sally are pals!
						Sally and I are pals.
I didn’t know you knew her!
						I don’t.
Then why did you say,
“Me and Sally are pals?”
						Sally and I are pals.
You said it again!
You said,
“Me and Sally are pals!”
						Sally and I are pals!
Have it your own way.
You and her are pals.
But I don’t believe it,
And Sally won’t neither!

(c) 2003 David L. Harrison

Over these past nineteen years, Sally has become a staple in conversations around our house. When one of us doubts something, we are prone to say, "I don't believe it and Sally won't neither." Or, "I'll need to check with Sally about that." As the rules of using our language become more and more relaxed and entirely ignored, "me and Sally" can talk anyway we want to. Who cares? Who's to know?  

Wheeling and dealing

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I got the information I needed from my bank to have Indian rupees transferred to my bank as U.S. dollars for a poem of mine being published in a workbook for 5th grade students by Macmillan of India. Not much money is involved but it’s fun to know that the poem, called “The Secret,” will have a new reading audience in another land. If you have a copy of THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS, it’s on page 25. The first two stanzas:
I’ll tell you a secret
That no one knows but me

Except for Lee
Who’d never rat —
We both know that —
So you can see
The secret’s safe with Lee.

As I was clicking the invoice off to India, an incoming e-mail arrived from Nelson, a major Canadian educational company, seeking to renew permission to use a poem of mine in its publications. We spent the rest of the afternoon negotiating back and forth. The name of the poem is “Keepers.” When I read it, I remembered it but don’t recall where it was published. Boyds Mills Press signed the first permission forms in 2010.

Days like that keep you nimble.

A day of mixed emotions

Hi everyone,
Yesterday I attended the final meeting of Reading Roundup, a group that has raised tens of thousands of books for Springfield Public School Libraries over the past eighteen years. We used the last of our funds to support as many librarian requests as we could, said our goodbyes, and that was it. For me it’s the end of thirty-five years of volunteering that has involved a multitude of causes, most of which have been literacy related. The only board I’m still on is the Highlights Foundation.

On a brighter front, Macmillan in India sent me a permission request for a poem of mine called “The Secret.” I was embarrassed that I couldn’t recall writing a poem with that name. I remembered one called “The Purchase of Small Secrets” (from the book of the same name, BMP, 1998) and a story called “The Little Boy’s Secret” (from The Book of Giant Stories, American Heritage Press/McGraw Hill, 1972), but drew a blank of the one requested. I had to ask for the source or first lines. Turns out the poem they like appeared in The Mouse was Out at Recess (BMP, 2003). Last time I was reprinted in India (different publisher), I was paid in rupees so I suppose I’m in for something like that again. Anyway, the poem will appear in a textbook for English readers with a first print run of 10,000 copies.

And the kids said, “Really?”

Hi everyone,

This morning I hope to finish the poem I’ve been working on for ten days or so. I haven’t spent much time on it most days but enough to make it seem like it has taken a long time. At the festival one child asked how long it takes me to have a book published. The longest for me was THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS, my second book of poems about school, which came out in 2003.

The first book about school, SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, was released in 1993 and sold well. It went into a third printing during its initial year. I decided to do a second school collection and eventually sent my manuscript to my editor, Bernice (Bee) Cullinan. She liked it and was proceeding with it. Before it got too far I reread the manuscript and contacted Bee to tell her I didn’t want to publish the book yet. She seemed surprised but was gracious about it.

I got busy on other projects and it took me some time to get back to work on the second set, but I eventually discarded some of the original poems, revised others, and added a few new ones. Bee liked the second effort and put it back in line to be illustrated. Before that happened, I revisited what I’d sent her and found several pieces that I didn’t like and wondered how I could have thought they were good enough. I contacted Bee. She agreed to let me have another chance to make whatever improvements I thought necessary.

By the time I finally sent the third version of THE MOUSE WAS OUT AT RECESS to Bee and it became a book, nine years had passed. I had written seventy-four poems and kept twenty-five of them for the book. All the others were discarded along the way.

P.S. The book was nowhere near as successful as SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK. Maybe I should have tried harder.