We have student W.O.M. poems!

Hi everyone,

With thanks to teacher/poet Ken Slesarik, who teaches at Esperanza Music Academy in Phoenix, we have four poems posted by Esperanza students this month. Click on “Young Poets W.O.M. Poems” and check out the efforts of two fifth graders, Daniela and Emma, and two fourth graders, Landen and Trace. Way to go kids!
Ken Slesarik Photo
I met Ken in 2011 when he was one of eight poets in my first Highlights Foundation workshop near Honesdale, Pennsylvania. We were all taken by Ken’s adroit juxtaposition of words, unexpected rhymes, and wry humor. He’s not only a master teacher and accomplished children’s poet, he also does school visits when his time permits. Meanwhile he’s inspiring Esperanzo students to reach higher and learn the satisfaction of expressing themselves through poetry. It’s a lucky student who has Mr. Slesarik for a teacher.

At a time when so many good teachers everywhere are struggling to find the moments to post their student’s work, Ken remains one of the few who somehow make it happen, and for that I’m grateful. Please read the poems by these young poets and give them the encouragement they deserve.

Thanks, Ken!


Where will tomorrow’s poets come from?

Hi everyone,

When I began posting a word each month, in October 2009, we received many student poems submitted by teachers. Every month we met new, enthusiastic young people who took pride in having their classroom writing selected by their teacher and posted on Word of the Month.

In the beginning, we voted at the end of the month to choose the Poet of the Month. A group of wonderful poets pitched in to help judge: Charles Ghigna, Pat Lewis, Jane Yolen, Rebecca Dotlich, Sara Holbrook, Bobbi Katz, and Laura Purdie Salas. When some teachers pointed out that the act of choosing winners meant that everyone else became losers, I discontinued the practice. Almost without exception, adult readers have been supportive of student poets. Teachers have told us that such warm comments have meant a lot. In one high school class, the teacher said that many of her kids struggled to learn and to be published on Word of the Month made them feel ten feet tall.

Then it all stopped. Teachers became scheduled so tightly that they could no longer afford the time it takes to choose student poems and post them. Good teachers who love poetry and love teaching poetry threw in the towel. Now and then we still see some student poems but gone are the days when each month we could count on seeing the efforts of dozens of young people from across the country.

I’m uncertain about what this small sample signals. IF students are still being taught to write poetry in the classroom, I don’t worry as much. IF they aren’t writing poetry at all, I worry a great deal. Last week I had coffee with a public school superintendent who spoke of the need to nurture students’ creative efforts. We agreed that this is a key issue that needs attention. In a time when some areas have given up teaching art and music and have shut down school libraries, we need to ask where the next generations of creative young people will come from. These days great emphasis is placed on digging out information and writing nonfiction. Goodness knows we need that skill. But I wonder if a steady diet of nonfiction is enough to stimulate a love for all writing, enough to help young students feel the joy of writing a really good story, enough to develop the habit of looking around, observing, and writing a poem.

Word of the Month for November

Hi everyone,

I don’t have my computer today and won’t be able to remove October poems and comments just yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started with new poems for November.

Remember what it is? BREW. Brew and Spree tied when we had a ballot so I announced then that we’d go with Brew this month. Whose idea was that? You, Matt?

My thanks again to everyone who played a role in making October so much fun. It was a fine celebration! I hope those who joined us for the first time or for the first time in a while will continue to play with us in November. I must say that the word — brew — is fairly foaming over with potential!


1,500 posts

Hi everyone,

The stats on my blog inform me that today marks the 1,500th time I’ve posted something. I know that some of you have been at it longer but this sounds like quite a few to me. Thanks to everyone who has joined me along the way and enriched the experience with your wisdom and support.

As we begin the last five days of October, I hope to see other poets join us in celebrating the 5th anniversary of Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. It has been a good month and I’ve enjoyed hearing from you, some for the first time and others who haven’t been around in a while. Here’s the roster of contributing poets so far. Let me know if I’ve overlooked you, and please keep them coming.

Jane Yolen
Kelly Kusterman
Jeanne Poland
Jessica Jensen
Cory Corrado
Julie Krantz
Linda Baie
Joy Acey
Linda Boyden
Mary Nida Smith
Karen Eastlund
Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
J. Patrick Lewis
Ken Slesarik
Patricia Cooley
Deborah Holt Williams
Michelle Kogan
Bridget Magee
Kenn Nesbitt
Buffy Silverman
Leone Anderson

Ana, 4th grade, Montverde Academy, Montverde, Florida, with thanks to teacher Kelly Kusterman
Emma, 4th grade, Esperanza Music Academy, Phoenix, Arizona, with thanks to teacher Ken Slesarik
Kristene, 4th grade, Esperanza Music Academy, phoenix, Arizona, with thanks to teacher Ken Slesarik

Living and Dying with Grace

BULLETIN: Kenn Nesbitt, Our U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, has joined the celebration this month of our 5th anniversary of Word of the Month Poetry Challenge. Not once but twice! With thanks to Kenn, I hope everyone will scroll to the bottom of the adult poems for excellent examples of Kenn’s winning humor!

REMINDER: We are also blessed this month with the first student poems we’ve seen in a very long time. Please read them and let the students know how much we enjoy their work and appreciate them and their teachers!

Hi everyone,

Let me tell you about a new book. It’s called LIVING AND DYING WITH GRACE: A CAREGIVER’S JOURNAL. and is written by Susan Carmichael. I met Susan when she attended my first poetry workshop in 2011. The Barn wasn’t built yet so we met in the farmhouse that once was home to the founders of Highlights.Poetry Workshop at Honesdale, 2011 024 The picture is of Susan (left) and Heidi Mordhorst having an animated chat. Eight poets attended that workshop and we named ourselves SWAP 8+1. Swap had to do “with us swapping poems, energy, problems and success, plus all the help we give each other.”

True to our name, the members of SWAP 8+1 have remained faithful with correspondence. We have shared sadness, job and address changes, and warming success. Quite a bit of publishing news has been shared and I continue to be impressed by the determination of these poets to find outlets for their work. I’ll report on everyone’s adventures in a blog this week.

But for now, back to Susan and her new book. This one is not poetry. It’s about Horace, her father-in-law, who was a fine man and her good friend. Toward the end of his life Susan was deeply involved in caring for Horace and learning from him, in the process, the grace of dying with humor, kindness, and consideration.

I began reading this book as a favor and ended it with appreciation, not to mention the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I recommend Susan’s book for anyone who is caring for, has cared for, or might find themselves caring for a beloved family member. Susan, thank you for writing this.

If you want a copy of your own, http://www.livinganddyingwithgrace.com is the only place Susan is selling it. She says, “if a group would like several copies, e-mail her at susan@livinganddyingwithgrace.com and she will gladly fill the request.