Slice of Life: “Poetica Friends”


It’s been quite a challenge to re-enter the real world after spending four glorious days at the Highlights Foundation last week. I had to pinch myself more than once to make sure I was really there, learning about “The Craft and Heart of Writing Poetry for Children” from Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard. I’ve loved the work of these two wise and witty poets for years, so being at this workshop was a real thrill.


My time at Highlights was made even more special because I got to spend time with fellow Slicer Linda Baie. (Read her thoughts about the workshop here.) Poetry Friday pals Robyn Hood Black, Buffy Silverman, Linda Kulp Trout, and Charles Waters were also there, and it was wonderful to meet so many other talented and passionate poets from around the world.

We were immersed in poetry day and night. Everyone shared their own original poetry as well as poems by favorite poets, including several classics by Georgia & Rebecca. Lee Bennett Hopkins visited with us via Skype, sharing his insights and preferences about poetry. “I want children to read poetry that shows them the beauty of the world,” he explained.

WordSong editor extraordinaire, Rebecca Davis, joined us to answer our questions about publishing poetry and to give us a sneak peak at Georgia’s collection of animal poems for two (or more) voices, that will be published in a few years. We were also treated to a preview of  Rebecca’s (Dotlich, edited by Davis) new book with Jane Yolen, Grumbles From the Town. (More about this on Friday.)

And, of course, we wrote poetry. Rebecca and Georgia led us through a variety of exercises each day. My favorite was “The Art of Observational Poetry.” During this exercise, we carefully examined a small stone, first listing our scientific observations about color, shape, texture, and so on. Then we turned those observations into something more poetic. As Georgia explained, “looking carefully and translating your observations into language is the work of a poet.”  Suddenly, my small stone was an asteroid, cratered and misshapen, tumbling through the universe, until the hand of a child plucks it out of its orbit and clutches it close.

It’s not a poem yet, but it has possibilities. Thanks to my new “poetica friends,” I am inspired to “follow the thread” of these words and find the door into their poem.


Thank you to StaceyDanaBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lisa for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: An Egret’s Day


I’ve had birds on my mind this week because of an idea I hatched at the Highlights Foundation last week. One of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s many wise pieces of advice was to research your topic. So I’ve been reading about birds, listening to birds, and watching for them whenever I’m outside. In fact, I almost drove off the road on Monday because of this bird:


I’m pretty sure this is a vulture, which are quite common where I live, but I have never seen one poised like this. After I pulled over to take this picture, I sat and watched this display. The bird stayed poised on this branch for at least five more minutes. Unfortunately, I had an appointment, so I couldn’t watch any longer.

Rebecca also suggested reading poems about the topic you’re writing about, so I’ve been reading as many bird poems as I can find. One of my favorite collections is Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple’s gorgeous book, An Egret’s Day (WordSong, 2010). Yolen’s poetry follows egrets through their day and is accompanied by factual paragraphs about the poem’s topic. Stunning photographs by Jason Stemple, Yolen’s son, accompanies each poem, and gives readers a chance to observe these graceful birds up close.


Here’s a poem from this beautiful book:

“Egret in Flight”
by Jane Yolen

She’s an arrow
From a bow.
We watch in wonder
From below.

neck is folded.
All that we can do?
Behold it.

Read the rest of the poem here (It’s about 1/3 of the way down the page).


I hope you have a chance to behold a beautiful bird or two today. There is always beautiful poetry to behold on Poetry Friday, so be sure to head over to Renee LaTulippe’s blog, No Water River, for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: A Spring Poetry Retreat


Last week I was fortunate enough to spend four days at the Highlights Foundation in northeastern Pennsylvania to study the craft of poetry with celebrated poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. To say that this was an incredible experience is an understatement. To be immersed in poetry for four days, and to learn from a master poet, as well as from my fellow students, was an incredible gift. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Rebecca is the author of many poetry collections, including In the Spin of Things (WordSong, 2010), and, with Jane Yolen, Grumbles in the Forest (WordSong, 2013). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), Falling Down the Page (Roaring Brook Press, 2009), and My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Rebecca’s graciousness and warmth put us all at ease, and she shared dozens of poems, both her own and by other children’s poets, as she taught us about the craft of poetry.

Stressing the importance of looking at objects in a new way, Rebecca sent us outside to collect anything that struck our fancy. She encouraged us to look at our object from different angles, with a magnifying glass, to think about its color and texture, in order to find those “precise details” that help make poetry powerful.

We learned about the power of revision when Rebecca Davis, a senior editor at Boyds Mills Press and WordSong, joined us on Saturday afternoon. She and Rebecca took turns reading drafts and revised versions of poems from an upcoming collection. Some of the revisions were subtle; some were significant, but all of the revisions improved the poems. Ms. Davis reiterated the message Rebecca had been stressing throughout our time at Highlights: “Work at your craft.” Nothing can replace the time you put in to drafting and revising, then revising again to “make your work as tight as possible.”

Another highlight of this Poetry Retreat was a Skype visit with poet Janet Wong, who co-edits the Poetry Friday Anthologies with Sylvia Vardell. Janet talked about her path to becoming a poet, as well as steps we could take to improve our chances of being published. Janet also emphasized the importance of writing daily. She encouraged us to “write a poem a day; it’s a sit up for your brain.”

It was easy to be inspired at the Highlights Foundation in the seclusion of the Pennsylvania countryside, but it was also impossible not to bring that inspiration home with me. One of the last pieces of advice Rebecca gave us on Sunday morning was to “let your imagination feed you.” Thank you, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Janet Wong, Rebecca Davis, Kent Brown, and everyone at the Highlights Foundation for feeding my imagination and my soul!


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.