Missouri Reader on poetry

Hi everyone,

There is more to this issue of Missouri Reader but a large section of it is dedicated to poetry. My thanks again to Sam Bommarito and Glenda Nugent for all their work to create this special issue of the Missouri IRA journal.

To see the entire issue, click on this link. https://joom.ag/o1ta To turn pages, hit the arrows at either margin. To increase font size, roll the top of your mouse forward or backward. To move around the page, move your mouse where you want to be. In the poetry section you’ll find beautiful articles by Mary Jo Fresch, Tim Rasinski, Eric Litwin, Melissa Cheesman Smith, William Kerns, Betty Porter Walls, and Molly Ness. My article also highlights our friend Susan Hutchens, April Halpin Wayland, and Missouri poets Constance Levy and Peggy Archer. Together it’s a joyful tour of how poetry enriches the learning experience of students and it provides numerous ways for teachers to make it all happen.

I hope you will give this issue a read and share it with as many people as you can. It is highly unusual to dedicate so much of an entire journal to the subject of poetry. Sam and Glenda have done their part so now I’d like to see the link shared as widely as possible. I haven’t asked if the editors would allow articles from this issue to be reprinted in other reading journal across the country, but I feel confident they would be happy to discuss that possibility as well as other ways of getting out the word!

Looking for Missouri poets

Hi everyone,

I need your help. I’m still searching for Missouri based children’s poets who have had at least one collection of their original poetry published by a traditional trade publisher. I want to include them in the poetry article I’m working on that will appear sometime in the winter.

So far I have Constance Levy, Peggy Archer, and Amy E. Sklansky, all from St. Louis area, plus myself in Springfield. Surely there is someone else. Kansas City? Four is a small number. If anyone knows of a poet I’ve overlooked, please let me know. I will appreciate it very much!

Tracking Missouri children’s poets

Hi everyone,

A few days ago Marcus Cafagna and I began planning for a poetry reading event to be held in Springfield (tentatively) on Friday evening, September 8. Marcus is inviting two of his star MSU student poets and the three will read from their original work.

Taken at spring 2018 photo day. February 6-7, 2018. Kevin White/Missouri State University


As I have before when Marcus and I join forces, I’ll read some poems of my own. Marcus asked if I had any other children’s poets in mind to invite onto the program. In the Springfield area I couldn’t come up with anyone I know who has had at least one book of his/her own poetry published by a trade publisher.

I don’t pretend to know all the children’s writers in the state but the only other poet I know who fits the criterion is Constance (Connie) Levy, a wonderful poet and old friend in St. Louis.

I contacted Connie and put the question to her. She doesn’t know of anyone either and believes we are the only two established children’s poets in Missouri.

There are, of course, other talented poets. Cheryl Harness lives in Independence. Jody Jensen Shaffer lives in Liberty. There must be others scattered around the state. But as far as Connie and I know, poetry is not their focus and their publications of children’s poems have appeared in anthologies and magazines such as Highlights. There may also be poets who have paid to have their work published through one of the vanity presses.

All this has fanned an interest on my part to learn if there are indeed other living poets in our fair state with one or more books of their own poems issued by a trade publisher. I’d love to be wrong about this so please correct me if you know about someone I don’t. At a time when more elementary school teachers and librarians are learning how to put poetry to work in the classroom, this is not a good time to be running low on Missouri poets!

On break

IMAG2042

Hi everyone,

I saw this gull and immediately thought of Constance Levy’s wonderful poem, “Seagull Tricks.” I contacted her to ask for permission to post the poem and I’m delighted that she agreed. It’s from A CRACK IN THE CLOUDS. Thanks, Connie

Seagull Tricks

You may think
he’s not thinking
about your sandwich
because he is looking
the other way.

You may think
he’s not scheming
because he is dreaming
and stands like an innocent
statue in gray.

And the place where he lands,
which is three feet away
seems a safe enough spot.
Well, I warn you, it’s not.

You will soon be
“un-sandwiched”
As I was today!

Constance Levy

When words surprise

Hi everyone,

Do you ever surprise yourself by how quickly and easily you dashed off that last poem? Sometimes I do. And it worries me. Taken on average, poems don’t roll off our assembly lines without blemish. We may focus on meter at the expense of metaphor, narrative that still begs for similes and telling idioms, convenience over struggling for assonance and internal rhymes.

Best thing to do when those “easy” ones come along is put them aside for a while and return with a critical review. At this stage I’m searching for a fresh way to say it, a surprise for the reader, a more unique voice. I want my muse to earn a 20% tip.

I just took a few books down from the shelf to see if I could find examples of what I mean. It didn’t take long. For example, here’s Douglas Florian, (INSECTLOPEDIA, Voyager Books, 1998) in his poem, “The Caterpillar.” About the caterpillar he writes:

“She eats eight leaves at least/To fill her,/Which leaves her like a/Fatterpillar.”

Douglas is a master at juxtaposing unexpected sounds, fabricating words that make perfect sense, and just plain having fun playing with words, as in the double use of “leaves.”

In Valerie Worth’s delightful book, ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND 14 MORE (A Sunburst Book, 1994), she charms the reader in the poem, “sun,” by describing the burning sun in her opening stanza but then presenting it in a different light:

But it will still/Lie down/In warm yellow squares/On the floor
Like a flat/Quilt, where/The cat can curl/And purr.

Isn’t that a marvelous image? Here’s another Worth-y example. In “tractor,” she compares an old tractor poised in the shed doorway to a grasshopper. Tricky? Sure, but she pulls it off with flair.

But with high/Hind wheels/Held so still
We know/It is only waiting,/Ready to leap –
Like a heavy/Brown/Grasshopper.

Next I opened N. M. Bodecker’s, SNOWMAN SNIFFLES AND OTHER VERSE (Atheneum, 1983) and immediately fell in love again with his title poem in which he describes how a melting snowman’s drippy nose leaves snowdrops as a reminder that he existed.

until you wake/and find one day/the cold, old man/has run away,
and winter’s winds/that blow and pass/left drifts of snowdrops/in the grass,
reminding us:/where such things grow/a snowman sniffed/not long ago.

In “possum,” we learn:

The possum’s tail/is called/prehensile,
and is/her usefullest/utensil.

Clever rhyming, not to mention arranging syllables to remain true to the meter while also maintaining perfect, puckish sense.

Constance Levy is another favorite poet of mine. In A CRACK IN THE CLOUDS (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1998) she concludes a trick of the wily seagull (“Seagull Tricks”) like this:

You will soon be/“un-sandwiched”/as I was today.

“Spring Watch” opens with this marvelous simile.

As tight as misers/grip their gold,/that’s the way/these leaf buds hold.

Barbara Juster Esbensen describes “First Day of School” in her book, COLD STARS AND FIREFLIES (HarperCollins, 1982). Note: I’m deleting parts of the poem to focus on her great descriptions and personifications.

No more barefoot/days . . .
/Inside the school-shoes/my toes are stiff/and afraid of the dark.

The sidewalk is bright/With sun . . .
/We can’t feel its rough/skin/through our soles now
/and it really doesn’t know us/anymore.

As is frequently the case I quote from poetry because poems are short and examples of excellence are easy to spot. But poetry doesn’t hold the franchise on good writing. Nor does good writing belong to people who have attained some sort of legal age that entitles them to a permit to use imaginative language. Ruth Culham shared this poem written by a second grade student.

Ruleless Playground

Poetry
is a ruleless playground
no adults saying
do this
do that!
poetry
is a ruleless playground
you can do…

anything you want.

A journal provides a place to collect examples of our language beautifully expressed. Kids in school are often told to “steal’ words and expressions they like. It’s good advice for us too. If you don’t already have the habit, I recommend it.