We have a young poet among us

Hi everyone,

I’m happy to announce that we have a student poet posted for the Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. Please go to Young Poet W.O.M. Poems to meet Justin Farlee, a 3rd grade student at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte Upper Elementary School in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and enjoy his poem. His home school teacher, Joan Upell, posted Justin’s poem and I’m grateful to her. Although we have a grand old tradition of introducing young poets on this site, Justin is the first to appear here in a long time. I believe that last student poets were posted by Ken Slesarik, our friend in Phoenix, Arizona. Joan has also posted previous student poems from her 8th grade ELA students.

I’m reminded of two girls who posted their poems eleven years ago in April, 2009, Rachel Ryan Heinrichs and Taylor McGowan. They are young women now and I still hear from them when they can snatch a few minutes from their busy lives. Taylor’s last note, a few months ago, relates how excited she is to be a student at Emerson College, where she won a $20,000 merit scholarship. She told me, “I will never, ever forget it (the first poem she posted here) —or the other poems I wrote for your W.O.M contests. I may not recall the precise words of the poems themselves, but I will always remember the process: the thrill of putting pen to paper, then fingers to keyboard; the excitement of posting; the joy of seeing people’s reactions to my work.” Taylor is majoring in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and hopes to become an editor of YA books.

I’ve been hoping to see some student poems posted now that we have millions of children working from home these days and teachers everywhere working hard to keep them involved and learning. Let’s hope that Joan Upell’s example will encourage others to follow by sharing poems by their kids for us all to enjoy and offer our encouragement. You never know when a few words of support will help change a young life.

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.

Six years later . . .

Hi everyone,

Some of you may remember Rachel Heinrichs. Not long after I started Word of the Month Poetry Challenge, she began posting her poems. At about the same time another girl, Taylor McGowan, began to post hers. They were ten years old and loved to write. One month we held a vote for Young Poet of the Month and the girls drew votes from seven countries. At that time it was the most visits I’d ever had to my blog.
Ryan Heinrichs
Six years later. I haven’t heard from Taylor for a long time but Rachel and I have kept in touch. Her mother Michele drove her to New Jersey so we could meet when I was speaking there and also brought her to one of my poetry workshops at Honesdale for lunch.

Today Rachel has found her core as Ryan. I call him Agent R and we both acknowledge the distinction. Ryan is sixteen now (can this be??), making good grades, taking online courses, and looking at colleges that can offer a dual major in education and Spanish. And Ryan still writes! He just shared this poem with me and I asked permission to share it with you. Ryan’s teachers are impressed and so am I.

I admire Michele Heinrichs for always being there for both of her daughters. And I love Rachel, now Ryan for sharing his journey with me.

This poem was a class project. Ryan is going through a poetry unit in English class. “I had to read a poem, and then use the first two lines of it to write my own poem. The requirements were to use those two lines to begin and end my poem. Here’s what I came up with.”

Sadness Is Not A Disease
by Ryan Heinrichs

When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some music about
How sadness is not a disease
It is not something you can say,
“I have sadness,”
Because people will shake their head
And simply turn away.

When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some stories about
The children who tried to tell
But got a pat on the shoulder
And the sentence,
“It’s a part of life.”
What a strong verbal knife.

When I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna write me some questions about
Why it’s okay for someone
To be depressed
Or anxious
Or angry
Without reason
But if someone’s sad without reason
It’s treason

Against the people
With a “real” diagnosis?

When I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna tell me some people about
What the real disease is
Because it isn’t depression
Or anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s
Nor schizophrenia.
The real disease here
Is how people without a label are treated
Almost as if to say,
“Your feelings are invalid
Until a doctor rubberstamps your forehead.”
And that is the only disease here.
It is ignorance.

So when I get to be a composer,
I’m gonna write me some music about
How sadness isn’t a disease
It may destroy lives
And friendships
And hopes and dreams
But not with me,
No, not with me.
Because I have overcome
What it really is.

Sadness is an everlasting, unavoidable,

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