Friday, March 25, 2011

Thank You Shirley Ritter--a thank you poem for Poetry Friday

Hello and happy Poetry Friday!  And thanks to Frankie and Mary Lee of A Year of Reading for hosting today's Poetry Friday!  And look for today's Writing Workout at the end of this post.

I have to interrupt our regularly scheduled program to tell you about the most astonishing gift I've ever received for a school visit.

I taught writing workhops and did assemblies at Aurelia Pennekamp Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, CA for two days in February. It's a warm, wonderful school that cares deeply about the arts and about literature in particular.

Pennekamp's amazingness begins with the fact that it was named for its first school nurse.  How sensational is that? Pennekamp (affectionately called PK) is topped with an excellent principal, Mr. Dale Keldrauk, a caring and superb faculty and staff, and a fabulous library media specialist, Barbara Siegemund-Broka (also a highly regarded book editor).

Pennekamp has much to be proud of, including their library media center and their signature annual Authors' Week, which has gotten national attention (note where the apostrophe is to denote that every student can also be an author...note also that it holds an Authors' WEEK, not just a day.)

Authors' Week, usually held near Valentine's Day, is organized and funded by PK's hugely supportive PTA.  The week includes a children's book author, 5th grade screen writing workshops taught by a real live Hollywood screen writer Karol Ann Hoeffner
and Mystery Readers.  (Mystery Readers are parents and family members who come to classes and read stories in costume.  Sometimes even their own kids don't recognize them!)

I presented two assemblies for the whole school and six writing workshops for the 4th and 5th graders. The teachers and students were enthusiastic, responsive and alive with original questions and creative poetry.

The Chair of this year's Authors' Week organized all the assemblies and workshops and rallied a student crew to design and put up signs advertising Authors' Week all over school..and so much more.  This Wonder Woman is Shirley Ritter (her professional name) aka Shirley Hatton (her mom name).
Superwoman Shirley Hatton (aka Shirley Ritter) and me
photo by Tammy Hughes
Shirley's a redheaded actor and multi-talented artist who freely admits that she's had to learn to restrain herself...creativity SPILLS out of her pores. Years ago, when she painted the library walls, people thought a professional artist had painted them--Shirley's a pro in everything she does.

And she's does everything.  
 She has a beautiful voice and regularly sings in musicals.  She performs, produces and directs in regional theater throughout Southern California. One of her hobbies is to make glorious fabric dolls...the kind you see in art museums.

In the last hour of my last writing workshop at PK, Shirley handed me a large bag.  In it was PK's author thank you gift. Shirley made me a doll.

I've been to over 400 schools.  I've gotten some incredible thank you gifts--including a handmade quilt which included student-made squares of scenes from my books.  But this? This is hands-down the most magnificent gift a school has ever given me.

Shirley painted my book covers on the doll's gown.  Her wings are paint brushes. Her hair is made of strips of paper printed with the words of my poems. A line from my book, "My heart is coming is for a landing." is painted on her chest.  One of her arms has a tattoo that says "Poet."

I was absolutely floored.  I still am.
Here is my poem of thanks.  And below are photos of this doll.

by April Halprin Wayland

Surely, my dear you had lines to learn,
books on color to return,
and when do you ever have time to burn?

So when did you shape this beautiful soul
a graceful sentry on poem patrol?

When, Shirley, when?

With library murals to plan and paint
a play to produce (without restraint),
a garden book to buy online,
rallying kids to put up signs,
a sweater to sew a button on
a song to sing if called upon?

Surely, dear Shirley with dishes to dry
you didn't have time to fluorescent dye?

Between driving Emma to honor band
and browsing stores for second-hand
props to use in future shows
and a college girl to help with prose...
when Shirely when was this magic doll born?
In the still of the night to a chorus of horns?

With rehearsals to make,
littered leaves to rake,
with actors to hire,
your red hair on fire,
with  masks to design for each Greek myth,
and husband...just to spend time with...

when, Shirley, when?

But you made her,
this girl of light waves and words
so we could see the song of birds

and surely you knew that this work of art
completely infused with the color chart
would build a bridge to my deepest heart.

Didn't you know that this handmade thing
with her luscious skirt fully billowing
would be all of the gift I would ever need?

Surely, dear Shirley.
My book covers on her gown...
Her wings...

Her tattoo...
poem (c) April Halprin Wayland.  Doll by Shirley Ritter 2011.

Writing Workout:
write your own thank you poem

And yes, your poem can be shorter!  
At workshop at the Illinois Reading Council's Annual Conference last week, we encouraged those who attended our workshops to write a thank you to:
  • someone who changed their life (perhaps the person who inspired you to become a teacher or a writer?), 
  • or to someone who is no longer alive, 
  • or write the thank you note you wish you would have gotten 
  • or write it to your classroom or your substitute teacher
  • Or none of the above!  
Take a half hour and sink down deep--think about why you have chosen to write a thank you poem to this person.  Go with your feelings. Don't edit this draft.

When you're ready, put on your editor hat and find a simple structure. You might repeat one line as I have, or start and end with the same line (this is called an envelope poem).  

When it's ready, pop it in the mail!

Where is Poetry Friday today?


Marjorie said...

Wow - stunning! And I reckon you've given her a gift to treasure in return!

Tabatha said...

That is a beautiful doll! I'm sure she will treasure your poem as well.

Mary Lee said...

Wow! Amazing Author Week, amazing doll, and your poem is the perfect thanks for both!

jama said...

What a gorgeous doll -- and your poem is the perfect thank you. Thanks for sharing!

Author Amok said...

The poem is such a beautiful way to honor your new friend. LOVE the doll.

Pen and Ink said...

The doll is a perfect thing. Breathtaking in the real sense of the word and your words "So when did you shape this beautiful soul
a graceful sentry on poem patrol?"
perfectly describe it.
OH I want to go to this school and play too. I want to meet Shirley! And you too!

Carol said...

The doll really is amazing! Wow, wow, wow. And I love the idea of writing thank you poems. Going to try that with my kids after spring break!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Marjorie, Tabatha, Mary Lee, Jama, Author Amok(aka Laura), Pen and Ink and Carol,

The doll and Shirley are both amazing. I'm still blown away! I wish all of you could meet them both!

Kerry Aradhya said...

Wow. I love hearing stories of generosity...and stories that touch the heart. What a wonderful gift from Shirley, and what a wonderful poem, surely...

rhondahayter said...

Wow and wow again!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

That is really fabulous! What an inspiration to us all. Thanks for sharing! I love your poem of thanks.

catherinemjohnson said...

Amazing work of art and nice poem too.

Toby Speed said...

What a beautiful doll! Thanks for sharing the photos and your expressive poem of thanks.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Toby--and thank you, Catherine, Andromeda,Rhonda and Kerry for your happy comments.

Interesting...I don't think any of my posts have ever gotten this many comments except if there was a book give-away. Why do you suppose this post has touched so many? I guess what I really want to know is how do I write more like this?

Is it that it was so personal? Or the doll was so fabulous?


Lee Wind said...

What a fantastic thank you gift, and I loved hearing about your author visit! Thanks for sharing, and now, I'll have to think of my own thank you poem...

April Halprin Wayland said...

Namaste back to you, Lee. And isn't it wonderful that there are so many people to thank in our lives?