Saturday, April 30, 2011

National Poetry Month/Sharing the Seasons

Here's a wonderful book of poetry about the seasons edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by David Diaz. I was browsing the poetry section in the children's room of the library and this book was on display on top of the shelves. The cover was like a magnet and I took the book home. There are twelve poems for each season and the illustrations are vibrant celebrations. A great way to mark the movement of the year.

Friday, April 29, 2011

National Poetry Month/Poetry 180

Poetry 180 is a site developed by the Library of Congress to bring poetry to high school students with a poem for each day of the school year along with suggestions for reading aloud. Here is what Billy Collins says about the program and the poems he selected:

Welcome to Poetry 180. Poetry can and should be an important part of our daily lives. Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race. By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.

Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. I have selected the poems you will find here with high school students in mind. They are intended to be listened to, and I suggest that all members of the school community be included as readers. A great time for the readings would be following the end of daily announcements over the public address system.

Listening to poetry can encourage students and other learners to become members of the circle of readers for whom poetry is a vital source of pleasure. I hope Poetry 180 becomes an important and enriching part of the school day.

And here is one of his poems featured in Poetry 180:

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996
University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ted Hughes on Poetry

Mo of Blue Cat Heaven sent me this beautiful passage about poetry by Ted Hughes.

Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something - perhaps not much, just something - of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment, of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being - not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses - but a human being, we call it poetry."

- Ted Hughes

I love the ways we can connect today. Mo is from Australia. She found the passage at Moon River (Israel) who credits whiskey river (location unknown) as her source.

National Poetry Month/Langston Hughes

I used a green pentel brush marker to write out the beginning of Langston Hughes' poem, "In Time of Silver Rain" because Alice Walker talks about the encouraging notes Langston Hughes wrote her in green ink.

Here are three excellent picture books by or about Langston Hughes.

Alice Walker's biography of Langston Hughes for children has extra meaning because she knew him and he was encouraging to her as a young writer. His life story is beautifully told through text and illustrations.

The next two are picture books of poems. Each is an example of the highest order of illustrations in its media—watercolor and photography.

Charles R. Smith Jr. has created such a complete experience with a short poem (33 words), elegant type, and eloquent photographs. I appreciate it for the poem and for the beauty of the book design—a perfect merging of type and illustration that enhances the meaning of the words.

E. B. Lewis's The watercolors are so fluid, so rich, and so deep. To me this book feels like a poem set to music.

Hear Langston Hughes reading A Negro Speaks of Rivers.

Watch a video of images set to Langston Hughes reading April Rain from Classical Baby. Both readings are from the Poetry Foundation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Poetry Month/Buckingham Palace

I will not be setting my alarm for Friday morning to watch the royal wedding, but the constant media coverage makes me think of A. A. Milne's poem, Buckingham Palace, which I have always loved.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
"A soldier's life is terrible hard,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
"One of the sergeants looks after their socks,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
"Well, God take care of him, all the same,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They've great big parties inside the grounds.
"I wouldn't be King for a hundred pounds,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn't the King's.
"He's much too busy a-signing things,"
Says Alice.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea,"
Says Alice.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National Poetry Month/Spring's Smile

The National Poetry Month posts have led me to the bookshelves and some books I haven't looked at in a long time. This is an old book of poems titled Émaux and Camées by French poet Théophile Gautier illustrated by Henri Caruchet. It was published in 1903 by Librarie Charpentier et Fasquelle. I love the page design and illustrations and the poem, Premier Sourire du Printemps (Spring's First Smile) is so perfect for the season. My French is very rusty so this English translation from is a big help.

While up and down the earth men pant and plod,
March, laughing at the showers and days unsteady,
And whispering secret orders to the sod,
For Spring makes ready.

And slyly when the world is sleeping yet,
He smooths out collars for the Easter daisies,
And fashions golden buttercups to set
In woodland mazes.

Coif-maker fine, he worketh well his plan.
Orchard and vineyard for his touch are prouder.
From a white swan he hath a down to fan
The trees with powder.

While Nature still upon her couch doth lean,
Stealthily hies he to the garden closes,
And laces in their bodices of green
Pale buds of roses.

Composing his solfeggios in the shade,
He whistles them to blackbirds as he treadeth,
And violets in the wood, and in the glade
Snowdrops, he spreadeth.

Where for the restless stag the fountain wells,
His hidden hand glides soft amid the cresses,
And scatters lily-of-the-valley bells,
In silver dresses.

He sinks the sweet, vermilion strawberries
Deep in the grasses for thy roving fingers,
And garlands leaflets for thy forehead's ease,
When sunshine lingers.

When, labour done, he must away, turns he
On April's threshold from his fair creating,
And calleth unto Spring: "Come, Spring--for see,
The woods are waiting!"

Monday, April 25, 2011

National Poetry Month/At the Galleria Shopping Mall

In honor of the day my daughter and I spent shopping for a jacket and shoes for a presentation for the American Advertising Federation's Student Advertising Competition, here is a poem by Tony Hoagland courtesy of the Poetry Foundation:

Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress from Hollywood

to the breast size of an actress from Bollywood.
And here is my niece Lucinda,

who is nine and a true daughter of Texas,
who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde

and declares that her favorite sport is shopping.
Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,

swinging a credit card like a scythe
through the meadows of golden merchandise.

Today is the day she stops looking at faces,
and starts assessing the labels of purses;

So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty
and raised and wrung out again and again.

And let us watch.
As the gods in olden stories

turned mortals into laurel trees and crows
to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Usually we break from our usual routine and get white eggs to dye for Easter. But we are now getting wonderful farm eggs that are too delicious to pass up. Instead of dyeing I drew on the eggs with my Pentel color brushes. The eggs were placed in the Jane Brissette's ceramic creation given to me by my friend Judy. The greens are woodruff which means that May Day is near.

National Poetry Month/And bow to everything

To celebrate the season of rebirth and renewal, a poem from Emily Dickinson and a piece from the series with the flower that heralds spring in our garden—the scilla. In the poem she speaks of the "simple green" of grass. I've been thinking about green lately in regard to my photos of scilla. It's a lesson in the difference between what the eye and the camera see. When I look at the scilla under shrubs and trees, my eye sees predominately blue but the camera shows me blue in a carpet of green.


The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain –

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything –

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing –

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards, perishing –

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay –

Saturday, April 23, 2011

National Poetry Month/Diamante Poem

Diamante poems are favorites at many of the schools I go to. There are many versions but at its most basic, it is a noun/2 adjectives/3 verbs ending in ing/2 adjectives/a noun. The words are centered on the page forming a diamond. This four page accordion with yarn threaded through provides a perfect home for two diamante poems.

Fold a four page accordion (written directions with links to video and pdfs)

Homes for Poems, my ebook of books for poetry including the diamante poem available at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

National Poetry Month/Haiku Stick & Elastic Book

This simple book form is perfect for haiku. I chose to use poems by haiku master Issa rather than write my own. My book was made from recycled paper with writing on one side only, a stick, and an elastic from vegetables. The illustrations are a combination of drawing and collage. I used glue for the letters on the cover but didn't need it on the inside because the illustrations were made from adhesive backed designs left over from postage stamps and drawing.

Written Directions

In Spanish


See all the pages on flickr

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

National Poetry Month/and it's spring

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


baloonman whistles

e.e. cummings

Hear e.e. cummings reading the poem

An old calligraphic version of the poem done with a multicolor colored pencil. I remember how thrilled I was with that pencil.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Creative Inspiration

I've had a sudden spurt of creative energy. I'm out taking photos and then coming in and playing in Photoshop. Not really knowing where I'm going with it all adds a sense of adventure. It may be the spring season and the daily growth to observe outside but I also attribute it to the book The Haiku Apprentice which I wrote about it in today's Poetry Month post. When I finished the book, I had a renewed enthusiasm for my work and a reinforced sense of the importance of going out and connecting with the natural world around me. The top image started with a photo of a fat pussy willow with pollen and the bottom the red buds of a maple tree.

National Poetry Month/The Haiku Apprentice

I just read this wonderful book, The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan by Abigail Friedman for the second time and I remember why I loved it so much the first time. Abigail is a US diplomat. When she was in Japan, she took up writing poetry after a chance encounter with Traveling Man Tree (his haiku name) and joined a haiku group.

When they first met, Traveling Man Tree described why writing haiku is different from golf. Golf is his hobby, but he does haiku.

Haiku is different. For me, haiku is a question of feeling, of sensibility. I can't just work sixteen-hour days and then say to myself, "Okay, if I concentrate hard, if I work at finding just the right word, I will compose a good haiku." I need to change how I approach the world. I need to look at the flowers and the grass beside the road. I've got to try to write poetry about what I see around me. I believe that the more I approach haiku in this way and the more I understand the essence of haiku, the better my poetry will be.

The spirit of haiku described here is inspiring whether you are or want to be a writer of haiku or not. The people she meets are full of wisdom and humility and I loved being in their presence. I found much to guide me in my work as an artist. The haiku group offered a respectful environment for learning and sharing and as a teacher I found lessons there as well.

At Abigail's first haiku group meeting, the haiku master Kurado Momoko said:

My job is not to judge whether you have written well or poorly, but to help you write a haiku that is true to yourself.

We can each write haiku because we each have a soul. Every soul is equal in a haiku group, and there is room in a haiku group for every soul.

A conversation with Abigail Friedman in Water Bridge Review

Monday, April 18, 2011

Forsythia and Scilla

Last week's pussy willows have led to experiments with other flower words.

National Poetry Month/Pansies

The bowl of pansies reminded me of some poems about pansies that my friend Anne Mulvey delivered to me one year with a basket of the flowers. She was kind enough to share them again.

I have a passion
for pansies
smiling faces
always please
But when it comes
to mothers
I'd have to say
I'm much pickier
about these
Only one will do
and that
(I mean she,
dear Mother)
is you!

I am kneeling here above a pot full
of pansies, most fully unfurled. 
Eyes steer hands that uproot those gone by
sorting, pinching, moving on,
and leaving most for another day. 
There’s a slowing to untangle
tiny torsos from entwined limbs,
to release stranglehold, freeing curls.
Most stay or go without a second glance.
A few interrupt the flow. 
Drooping faces catch and yet avert
the gaze. Faces down, crowns limp
and light and pale all look the same
opening up and closing down.
Eyes and hands work together
deciding which stay and which go.
Then hands bivouac into a jungle maze
as eyes peer into orbital home seeking
un-headed bodies that hands catch and hold
so that eyes can see if heads have come
and gone or not yet come at all,
can tell which have and which have not
been a bud and more.  Split
second coming, going, changing
direction, direction is not clear.

Anne Mulvey, July 5, 2007

Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Poetry Month/Emily and I

The poems of Emily Dickinson have been a part of my art life from the beginning. I was drawn to calligraphy by both the letters and the words. I loved the tactile pleasures of pen and ink, the beauty of letter forms and the quest to write them well, and the opportunity to interact in a physical way with the writings I loved.

Emily Dickinson's poems were an inspiration from the beginning. Here are some pieces from those days with apologies for the poor quality of the images.

I returned to Emily for inspiration twenty-six years later when I was just beginning to bring lettering back into my work. I had done an installation at Outdoor Sculpture at Maudslay the previous year using lines from local poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

I felt that I had a different relationship with the texts. Instead of being interested in whole poems, I was drawn to individual lines. Part of the reason was the nature of the project and the limited space of the tyvek strips. But a big part of it was what I was looking for from the poetry—not whole poems but short bits, individual lines that reflected the joy and beauty of the park.

A lengthy conversation could follow about what computers are doing to our brains, but I will limit it to saying that I think this interest of mine in lines of poetry is connected to all the time I spend on the internet. I am a grazer online. I love the way I can meander through all kinds of subject matter picking up bits and pieces. While I may not explore as many topics in the depth I used to, I find this approach offers opportunities for synthesis that I may not have noticed before.

I'm also in a different place in my work. One of the things that drew me away from calligraphy was the need to make work that was completely my own. Jenny Hunter Groat talks about the difference between originating and interpretive artists. She uses the examples from dance—the interpretive ballerina Margot Fonteyn and the originating modern dancer Martha Graham. In the way I did calligraphy, I was an interpretive artist and I wanted to be an originating one.

I found my voice through the book arts but I never stopped lettering. I made cards and addressed envelopes for friends and family, occasionally wrote out menus and made yard sale signs. It was a part of everyday life and very casual.

When I took a photo of a pieris in early spring the year after Whittier at Maudslay and manipulated it in photoshop, I had one of those wonderful, mysterious moments when I instantly knew how to complete the piece—combine it with the line The Wondrous Nearer Drew from Emily Dickinson. I did the lettering with my favorite tool, a pentel brush fountain pen, scanned it into the computer, made it a screen, and added it to the image. Although I was using Emily's words, this did feel very much my own.

More posts about the Emily Dickinson Series

Saturday, April 16, 2011

National Poetry Month/William Carlos Williams

Here's a wonderful biography of William Carlos Williams for children. It focuses on his love of poetry and his decision to make a life of being both a poet and a doctor. Many of Williams' poems are integrated into the book.

The evocative illustrations by Melissa Sweet are a combination of watercolor, collage, and mixed media. She gives us a welcome window on her creative process in the Illustrator's Note.

The artwork for every book calls for a different interpretation. These pictures needed to convey his era and the modern art of his time that was so influential to Williams. There were a lot of false starts—nothing I did seemed powerful enough to match his poems. Then I looked to a big box of discarded books I had from a library sale. One of the books had beautiful endpapers and I did a small painting on it. Then I took a book cover, ripped it off, and painted more. The book covers became my canvas, and any ephemera I had been saving for one day became fodder for the collages.

Every project furthers an artists, but this book was a true gift.

You can view the poem The Uses of Poetry at with text flow. I love watching the words slowly appear and disappear.

Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month/Paul Marion

Today's poetry month post is a tribute to my friend Paul Marion the unofficial poet laureate of Lowell, MA. In my calligraphy years, his poems were a frequent source of content. Rather than list his many accomplishments and projects, I'll just send you to Paul's website. There you can find a link to a wonderful article about Paul in Yankee Magazine by Geoffrey Douglas in 2009, see Paul reading his poem Dylan Sings to Kerouac at the Kerouac Memorial in Lowell, and go to Loom Press which publishes books by emerging writers and artists from the New England area.

And here's a link to an earlier post of mine about Paul's book, What Is The City?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

National Poetry Month/John Greenleaf Whittier

I am thinking today of poet John Greenleaf Whittier as we mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. While I focused on his nature poetry when I did this installation at Maudslay State Park, much of his poetry was in support of the abolitionist movement.

Read Whittier's poetry at Project Gutenberg

Whittier's home in Amesbury, MA

Whittier's birthplace in Haverhill, MA

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Poetry Month/Poem by Pooh

For the spring is really springing

After a busy day of workshops, something short and sweet for today's poetry month post. And perfect for such a warm spring day.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

National Poetry Month/Poetry for Children

Poetry for Children: About finding and sharing poetry with young people is a wonderful blog with posts focusing on books of poetry for children that include a book review, a poem from the book, and ideas for accompanying activities and connections. It is created by Sylvia Vardell, Professor at Texas Woman's University, author, and co-editor of Bookbird, the journal of international children's literature.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

National Poetry Month/Sijo

Here is a sijo poem (often described as the Korean haiku), by Linda Sue Park from her book, Tap Dancing on the Floor. I love what is says about poetry. I'm trying to take some time to write out poems I like during poetry month. And to keep it easy and loose and not a big deal. So I grabbed the closest blank surface (the back side of an envelope) and a marker (Y & C Calligraphy 2.0) and wrote. I took a deep breath, decided not to let it bother me that there should have been more space between the second and third stanzas and that there are two dots over one of the i's, and took this photo to share it.

Here's a link to a previous post with information on writing sijo, a simple book project, and more information about Linda Sue Park's book.

Friday, April 08, 2011

National Poetry Month/Aprille

Of all the poetry I was required to memorize in school, this short bit from the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is only thing I still remember. I always think of it when April comes and I see the scilla blooming in the garden. I had never seen, or at least noticed, the small blue flowers until we moved into our house. The image was made by scanning in the lettering, placing it in a layer over a photo of scilla, and then making it a screen. You can hear the Middle English being read by Thomas Rau here and read a translation into contemporary English here.

And here is an old piece of calligraphy from a faded slide where I combined the words of Chaucer and Eliot on the month of April.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

National Poetry Month/Mass Poetry

Mass Poetry has a Poetry Festival scheduled for May 13-14 in Salem, MA. You can find out information about the festival at and download Common Threads: Seven Poets and a Wealth of Readers. Common Threads is a program of MassPoetry that seeks to have 10,000 people in the state read these seven poems in the month of April, National Poetry Month. All the poets have strong connections to the state but of course Common Threads is by no means limited to those of us who live in Mass.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

National Poetry Month/Bright Hill Literary Center

Today's poetry month post is a salute to Bright Hill Literary Center in Treadwell, NY. Founded by Bertha Rogers, it is a thriving literary center in upstate New York. It is the home of Bright Hill Press which published poetry books and chapbooks, a community library, and the Word and Image Gallery where I will showing the Emily Dickinson series in October. Programming includes monthly readings (Word Thursdays) and workshops for children and adults. Tomorrow's reading (April 7) is by translator and critic Philip Mosley and poet Deborah Bernhardt. Bertha is a writer and an artist and has been a long-time member of the Book Arts List. Bright Hill Press also created the The New York State Literary Web Site & New York State & NY City Online Maps in partnership with the New York State Council on the Arts.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

National Poetry Month/Color Poems

Mary O'Neill's color poems were among my favorites in The Random House Book of Poetry that I used to read to my kids. They led me to the complete collection on her book, Hailstones and Halibut Bones, which in turn inspired me to make an accordion book of color poems.

The first was made with torn colored tissue. The second book was made after my conversion to recycled materials. I used a piece of copy paper with writing on one side folded in half with the writing on the inside for the pages and cereal boxes for the covers. The colored papers came from the collage box. When I was in conversation with a museum about using recycled materials for a family workshop, they questioned if the books would be of an appropriate quality for their audience. I made this sample to show that they would indeed be charming and beautiful.

Red is a ruby
Set in a ring.
Red is the color
That makes my heart sing.

Green are the leaves
Sprouting in the spring,
Green is the color
Of a luna moth's wing.

Orange is a pumpkin,
Orange is a cat,
Sleeping in the sun
On an orange mat.

Purple is a grape,
One of a bunch,
Purple is the jelly
In the sandwich
I ate for lunch.

Monday, April 04, 2011

National Poetry Month/Getting Started

April is National Poetry Month in the US. I'll be making a poetry related post each day. Celebrate the month by reading poems, writing your own, making books, and rejoicing in the wonderful gift that is poetry.

Feel free to copy and share the above image (credit is always appreciated). It's also available as a pdf.

For today, there is a link to a past post—a Sticker Poem made with recycled materials and an annotated list of poetry anthologies for children.
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