Friday, December 7, 2012

Guest Post, Book Giveaway, and Poetry Friday!

I used to be a regular contributor here at TeachingAuthors, but now I am a guest. In my last post, I explained my difficult decision to step away from the blog because of an overwhelming workload. Now my busiest teaching semester ever is coming to a close, and I have a new book to celebrate. Hooray! 

Write a Poem Step by Step: A Simple, Logical Plan You Can Follow to Write Your Own Poems evolved from the poetry workshops I’ve been presenting in schools for the past fifteen years or so. Poems written by students in my workshops illustrate each step in the process. I’m delighted that the TeachingAuthors have invited me back to tell you about it and to give away an autographed copy.

I used to be a regular contributor here at TeachingAuthors, but now I am a guest. As soon as I wrote that sentence, I remembered one of my earliest inspirations for helping students write poetry. Anyone familiar with Kenneth Koch’s classic Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry will probably recognize the form of the “I Used to Be/But Now I’m” poem that he used as a structure for student poems. When I started working with elementary school students, I pored over that book and his Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? Teaching Great Poetry to Children. What I took away from Wishes, Lies, and Dreams is underlined in my tattered copy: “Children have a natural talent for writing poetry and anyone who teaches them should know that. Teaching really is not the right word for what takes place: it is more like permitting the children to discover something they already have.”

A Celebration of Bees: Helping Children to Write Poetry by Barbara Juster Esbensen was an even bigger influence on my developing teaching/helping techniques. I took her words to heart: “If any one word can stand for the essence of creating a climate, an atmosphere that allows the creative impulse to grow and flourish, I think it would be the word accepting. Every child needs to feel that you respect and accept what he or she is trying to do.”  I also latched onto her practice of asking questions to draw out children’s own ideas.

For the Good of the Earth and Sun: Teaching Poetry by Georgia Heard convinced me of another important aspect of my approach. “Poems come from something deeply felt; it’s essential for student poets to be able to choose their own topics according to what’s important to them.”

With those concepts in mind, I’ve developed and fine-tuned my own approach to working with student poets over the years. What I wanted from the start was a method students could follow all the way through the process of writing a poem. I didn't want to give them a form to fill in; I wanted them to find their own way, step by step. That process is at the core of Write a Poem Step by Step.

The results in workshops have been amazing: students do have original ideas, extensive vocabularies, and creative ways of expressing themselves. Here’s an example from a long-ago series of visits with one class for which I received the Barbara Juster Esbensen 2000 Poetry Teaching Award:

My Imagination

My mind plays tricks on me
in the dark.
An invisible man
in my closet
is wearing my jacket and shoes.

Miguel Rowell-Ortiz, Grade 3

Write a Poem Step by Step is available now from Lulu, amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores. You can read more about it on my web site. Enter the Book Giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy!

Book Giveaway!

For a chance to win an autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step: A Simple, Logical Plan You Can Follow to Write Your Own Poems, tell us about a book that influenced your own teaching or writing.

To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog.  If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

You may enter the contest one of two ways:  1) by posting a comment below OR 2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us your first and last name AND tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs). If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way:  youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.

This contest is open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11 p.m. (CST) Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. I'll announce the winner on Wednesday, Dec. 19. Good luck!

It's Poetry Friday! Today's Roundup is at READ, WRITE, HOWL.


Carmela Martino said...

Congrats on the publication of your book, JA! And thanks so much for sharing Miguel's powerful poem.

Wild About Words said...

JoAnn, I found your post inspiring, especially because I hope to include poetry in my next novel. I will have to get the books you recommended. Your new book looks terrific! I'd love to share it with young writers. The book that influenced my writing was STORY by Robert McKee -- really helped with story structure and character arcs. Best wishes with your lovely new book!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Congratulations on the new book!

Sounds so rich, and I'd love to add it to my resource shelf. One of my favorites on that shelf now is Georgia Heard's AWAKENING THE HEART.

Love the student poem you shared above.

April Pulley Sayre said...

I've already had the pleasure of reading Write a Poem: Step by Step and it's a terrific guide. Hooray, JoAnn!

Marjorie said...

You sound a truly inspiring "teacher" - I love that you say "Teaching really is not the right word for what takes place: it is more like permitting the children to discover something they already have." Only this evening when my two came home from school we were having a conversation about their art lessons. Older Brother said that his teacher had said he (the T) could hit him (OB) because his art was so bad. I know he (T) was only joking about the hitting but I was appalled about the squashing of what is in essence a form of creative self-expression. Whether art or poetry, there are tools for honing your craft but I decry the way creativity and imagination end up being boxed or levelled against a set of targets.

Anonymous said...

This book sounds GREAT JoAnn! I'd love to have a copy to use with my son. The focus on writing in his school is on autobiographical/true stories and they don't do much fiction writing or poetry at all. I'd love to do some more with him at home.

I follow this blog via RSS in Google reader. Does that count? Whenever I subscribe to a blog via RSS, I never know if the blog owner can "see" me as a subscriber.

Thanks for this post.
Carrie Finison

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thank you, Marti! Yes, isn't that poem amazing?

Donna (Wild About Words), I'll have to check out STORY--another friend has also recommended it. I'll be eager to read your next novel!

Robyn Hood Black, isn't Georgia Heard's work a terrific resource? I also love her Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems.

April, thank you! Your help with the last draft was invaluable!

Marjorie, ouch! No one should have to endure that kind of criticism of their creative work. I hope he took it as a joke!

Storypatch, I'm hearing too many parents say their children's schools are replacing fiction and poetry with nonfiction. We need them all! And yes, I believe you are an official follower.

Margaret Simon said...

I also have dog-eared copies of Kenneth Koch's books. Georgia Heard as well. I'd love to add your book to my collection. I agree that the teacher doesn't have to teach poetry, but she has to allow the space for it. I am so disappointed that it is left out of the new CCSS. I believe In, at the very least, poetry once a week, and that is what my students get. Thanks for keeping poetry alive.

Irene Latham said...

I am so grateful to you for compiling your teaching wisdom in this volume! I am always looking for new resources for poetry workshops during school visits, and this sounds so accessible. Congratulations on the publication! irene at irenelatham dot com. I follow on Google. Happy day to you!

Joyce Ray said...

JoAnn, Koch and Heard are wonderfully inspiring. I also love poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. It's wonderful that you have added your book to these resources. Good to see you here again.

Nora Lester Murad, Palestine said...

I am nora [at] noralestermurad [dot] com and I follow by email.

Poetry is so intimidating, but it seems a wonderful gateway to good literary writing. Sounds like a great book for demystifying the process!

April Halprin Wayland said...

I own this book and it's terrific! Yay, JoAnn!

Becky Fyfe said...

"The Artist's Way" was required reading for a class of mine in college and it was wonderful at helping me embrace my creativity.

Rebecca (at) Fyfe (dot) net

Unknown said...

This sounds like a wonderful book - poetry sometimes can feel intimidating for students and I agree with Margaret, that even if the CCSS doesn't have poetry in them, students still need exposure to poems!!

Anonymous said...

What a great resource this book is - and what a great example you shared from young Miguel!

I follow TA via email!

Cathy Mealey
cathy54321 [at] hotmail [dot] com

Carl Scott said...

What a wonderful resource for students and non-students alike. So many people struggle with expression in all forms of writing. This guide to writing poetry would be very useful indeed. Thanks for offering a copy please enter my name (Carl Scott) for the chance to win.
I follow this blog by email: carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

jan godown annino said...

These posts are all gifts of sharing.
And this new book about allowing young minds to experience the wings of poetry sounds like a winner.
In addition to poem crazy, which I shared last year with my poetry critique group,
I am grateful for several titles.
One I'd like to be bold & mention is
This choreographer & dancer of great stature provides us a lively guide that I try to reread every year.
When she talks about collecting her posse, it makes sense for children's literature folks to especially note that this group of her advisors included Maurice Sendak. Her tips lift me up.
Thank you for writing your new book & for this informative post that has prompted all these tips.

Linda said...

JoAnn, I have both of Koch's books and have used them for years as well as all of Georgia Heard's and Paul Janezcko's wonderful books. Another book I still refer back to is Lee Bennett Hopkins' Pass the Poetry, Please. I believe there is even a more recent edition than I one I have. Your book would make an excellent addition to my teaching resource collection!

skanny17 said...

I own practically all the books listed here by you and others. I am very excited to read your book; congratulations for what looks like a wonderful addition to the poetry-writing collection. One of a number of books that influenced my teaching of writing was Write from the Start by Donald Graves and Virginia Stuart. (An oldied but a goodie.) After that all of Nancie Atwell's work and Lucy Calkins's early works such as The Art of Teaching Writing and Living Between the Lines were very helpful. Georgia Heard's books also were a big influence. Naming the World: A year of poems and lessons by Atwell is very helpful for teachers. I believe in putting poetry at the heart of the literacy classroom. Not just a unit in April. And that works!! Thank you for this post and information. janet fagal jfagal [at] gmail [dot] com

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Wow--what a wonderful list of resources we're compiling here! I'm adding several new (to me) titles to my To Read list.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the reading for my graduate thesis seminar students--what a thrill to hear them read their work to an enthusiastic audience! After I turn in grades for my two Mount Mary College classes, I'll be free to return to my own writing, including a poetry collection in progress. I'll be sure to gather and explore as many of these titles as I can. Thank you for all the suggestions!

jan godown annino said...

I intended to include my email to the above comment that mentions The Creative Habit book - so here it is
Jan Godown Annino
JGAoffice [at] gmail [dot] com

best of everything to the TA folks

Sandy Brehl said...

Good to see you back here, JoAnn, even briefly. I've already purchased two copies of your new book, one for keeping and one for lending, and it is terrific! You could ignore this note and let someone else win it, or include me and I'll give it away to a teacher I know will use it.
FYI to other readers- I've watched (and learned from) JoAnn as she uses these strategies with kids, and the results are truly incredible. The products are excellent quality, but the processes are quickly learned, practiced,and internalized so kids retrieve and use them on their own.

laurasalas said...

What a lovely post, JoAnn. I have and love every single one of the books you mentioned (including yours!). Hearing Barbara Juster Esbensen speak shortly before she died was pivotal in turning me toward children's poetry--or any poetry at all. Don't enter me in the contest, but thank you for this post. Reminds me I need to re-read all of these wonderful books!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Sandy, thank you for your note of confidence--it means a lot, especially coming from you!

Laura, thank you! I'd love to hear more about Barbara Juster Esbensen someday--lucky you to have heard her speak!

For anyone looking for more about Barbara Juster Esbensen and her approach to helping children write poetry, see "OBSERVATIONS from A Celebration of Bees" at

Here's a quote that fits right in with the recent discussion about the Common Core State Standards: "An emphasis on strong verbs and lively, unexpected adjectives carries over into disciplines other than the language arts, of course. Social studies or science reports, for instance, will come to life if the student has had ongoing experience using language in effective ways."

Ramona said...

Thanks for sharing all these great poetry resources that inspired you. They're all on my shelf. I would love to add an autographed copy of Write a Poem Step by Step to that shelf.

Ramona said...

I forgot to include this info with my comment.
I follow you through Google Reader.
Ramona Behnke
bookwoman98 [at] gmail [dot] com