Sticks and Stones: Memoirs About the Writing Life

Are you wishing you could write poetry but think it’s too hard? That you have to be “real poet” or “sophisticated”?? Read Erica Goss’s post about why reading poetry by kids is a great way to inspire your own efforts. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated or obtuse or opaque or all twisted up strange to be poetry.

Erica Goss


Write Like a Kid

I have the two latest California Poets in the Schools anthologies on my desk: If the Sky Was My Heart (2014) and Sing to the Heart of the Forest (2013). The more I read them, the more I understand why I read them, and why I, and everyone who reads and writes poetry, need these poems. In his excellent introduction to Sing to the Heart of the Forest, Steve Kowit explains:

“Unlike many journals and anthologies of contemporary American poetry that relish ambiguity and opacity, this anthology of young people’s poetry is deliciously readable, the poets managing to be surprising and creative in their language without diluting their humanity and ability to communicate what they wish to tell us.”

The insights in children’s poetry often startle us. A third-grader writes, “Green is the mighty bite of a snake” and a first-grader, “The world is blooming…

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Photos from Cupertino Library Anniversary Celebration

I posted an album of these photos on Facebook, but for those of you who don’t “do” Facebook, here’s the best of the bunch. It was a great afternoon and I’m thankful to have been invited by the Cupertino Library Foundation and Library Commission.

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I decorated my booth with poems written by me and by winners of the Silicon Valley Reads contest (March 2014). I had magnetic poetry for folks to play with and my trusty golden poet laureate cup.

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I had some very special guests. Meeting the Cat in the Hat has always been a life long dream! Batman and I discussed poetry about bats. Former Cupertino Poet Laureate, David Denny, chatted up Darth Vader, who commented, that, although the Empire was not much of a poetical place, “I’ll have to think up some Imperial Haiku.”

I also had many community members drop by, play with the magnetic poetry, and create the own poems. Here is a sampling.

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I’m not sure why some of the poem photos are coming out sideways, but I guess that’s okay with poetry.  I also provided a game of “Exsquisite Corpse” and many people wrote lines. You can see the Imperial Storm Trooper above adding his. I’m working them all into a single poem, and will get that up here one of these days.


It was a great day for the library and for poetry. I’m grateful (as always) to my supporters from the Library Foundation, the Library Commission and from the community. This time, especially to Bev Lenihan, Gayathri Kanth, and Adrian Kolb.



One final shout out to my neighbor, Barbara Pollek, for making my fantastic Poet Laureate apron. It was the perfect gear for the day.

Last Poem-A-Day Prompt #43

It’s been a good year, and a long haul, and I’m tired. I didn’t think I could be tired of poetry, but I’m tired of this project. So long, it’s been good to know you….

I began on October 10, 2013. First on Facebook, then here. The Tumblr part of the project was much harder to keep up with. But, for all the trials, it’s been a very interesting experiment and I’ve written some poems I’m proud of. I hope now, that I’m not focusing so much on new work, I’ll be able to get some of the raw poems tuned up into poems that might get published.

If you’re interested, I wrote about the PAD (and about my writing process in general) on a post on my other blog, “A Twirly Life” last week, as part of a Virtual Blog Tour.

For the final prompt in the project, I offer you some resources. These are books and websites that I’ve used over the years to get me writing and help keep me writing. I hope that they might serve you.

Books I Like

National Society Websites

  • The American Academy of Poets (
  • The Poetry Foundation (
  • The Poetry Society of America (


  • The Poetry Society (UK) (

For High School Students

  • Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest (
  • The National English Honor Society for High Schools (
  • Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools (

For Younger Kids

Don’t worry, I’ll still post on Facebook and keep up with current events and the upcoming 2015 Cupertino International Poetry Festival here, but no more prompts weekly (or not even weekly!).

(I’m not sure what to make of 43 prompts — in a whole year there should be 52, if they were really weekly. Once I get to the number crunching, it will be clear what happened. 43 is not such a bad number.)

Prompt #42 Poets, Food, Limes, Love and Death

Food makes regular appearances in poetry: appetites, hunger, desire, love, family, togetherness, physical senses, the body, color, flavor and scent. It’s not surprising that poets, who famously attend to the textures of the world, would use food metaphors and write whole poems in honor of the senses that we savor.

Some of the most famous poems to food include the following:

  • Pablo Neruda’s odes — including these two, among my favorites — “Ode to A Large Tuna in the Market” and “Ode to the Orange.” (If you want a real treat, check out this amazing food and poetry blog, Eat This Poem, for recipes and poetry. What did I tell you about this relationships between eating and poets?) (Neruda is so beloved, his poetry is everywhere. Check out this blog where “Ode to the Onion” is translated into many languages!)
  • Gary Soto’s “Oranges” which from this link can be printed onto handouts to use in a classroom!
  • Giggle Poetry has a whole page of silly food poems, ready to tickle kids.
  • Food poetry is often nostalgic, as in Amy Gerstler’s “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup.
  • The Academy of American Poets has a great list of books with food and poems.
  • Even the important and creepy Emily Dickinson uses food imagery. “Fame is a Fickle Food” is a scary poem and should be a lesson to us all!
  • And what about Kay Ryan’s “Lime Light” which is a modern (and slightly less creepy, more compassionate version of ED’s poem)??

I think you get the idea.

Perhaps my favorite use of food in poetry is, however, not silly, or even in a poem about food. When Donald Hall‘s wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, died, he wrote an astonishing book called Without. The poem at the center of this bleak, grim, grief-struck book — which marks the turn towards poems that begin to think about the possibility of healing — is a poem called, “Without.” Fortunately, you can click through and read it for yourself. The reason I thought of it for this post, is because the last word in the poem is “garlic” — a word that hangs at the end of the last stanza — a potent, flavorful, sharp universal food at the end of a poem that can’t possibly end. How can a husband ever finish a poem that describes all the things he is forever without, now that his wife has died? There are other food words in the poem, many sensual and intellectual images, but to end with garlic seems so wrong, so painful, so impossible. It’s a remarkable poem and I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I have never forgotten it, or how strange and perfect that one food image resonates with the universal experiences of love and great loss.

So, your challenge, today, this week, is to write a food poem! I had the delightful experience today of reading at Erica Goss‘s Poetry Kitchen, a new series she is hosting at the Los Gatos Library. I read several food poems that I’ve written. I’ll write a new one, too, if you will.

(Onion illustration source here.)

Cupertino Library Teen Poetry Contest Winners

Click through here to the Santa Clara County Library website to read the poetry contest winners’ winning poems. There were winners from each library, and they are lovely poems.

Congratulations to the Cupertino winners (and of course, to all the winners!).

Neelufar Raja, Monta Vista High School (Grade 9) “The Music of Yosemite”

Serena Liu, Kennedy Middle School (Grade 6) “”Wandering Heart”




Postcard Poetry Project

There’s a group on Facebook doing this, and since I’m not clever enough to share that Facebook Group Event, I’m putting the information here.
Every few years, we poets who love sending and receiving snail mail engage in an enormous pen pal event called the Postcard Poem Project. Last time, in 2012, we swapped poetry and postcards between over 250 poets from 16 countries on four continents. This time, we’re hoping for all seven continents. Here’s how it works:

Poets who wish to participate have until Friday, September 19th, 2014 to email their address to the website. On that weekend, they will receive two randomly-picked mailing addresses; they could be from the other side of the world, or just down the street. Poets will buy (or make) two postcards, write a short poem on the back of each (preferably about the pictures on the front of each postcard), and send them to their mailing addresses before the end of September. Easy, right? Come October or November, you will hopefully receive two poems in your mailbox from two complete strangers… poems written just for you!

You probably have questions. We have answers. But first: Are you in, or out? If you’re in, here’s what you have to do:

Send an email to that includes your full mailing address, the way you would write it on a postcard yourself. It should look something like this:

Your Name
Your Street Address
The Rest Of Your Address
Your Country

(People often leave out either their name or their country. Please don’t leave out your name or your country. Also, WE DID NOT KEEP ADDRESSES FROM THE LAST ROUND, so please send your address in even if you have before!)

You will receive a reply email with all the details and an FAQ section. In the meantime, help make this project grander by passing this event on to any poets you know! Spread the word, and help spread good words in the mailboxes of the world!


A Request for Youth Poetry About Ferguson

In this New York Times article, read about a request (internationally!) for youth to write and share poetry in response to what happened in Ferguson, when unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by police, and the protests and violence that followed.

This project is produced by the Off/Page Project, which combines the analytical lens of The Center for Investigative Reporting with the groundbreaking storytelling of the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks. Living at the intersection of youth voice and civic engagement, the Off/Page Project provides a multimedia platform for young people to investigate the issues and stories that would otherwise be silenced.



Prompt #35 (Only a teeny bit late) : Kenneth Koch on Beauty

Inspired by a great article (by Heather Altfeld at the North American Review) on the challenges of teaching poetry and teaching beauty, I came here to re-post said article and realized I’d forgotten to post poetry prompt #35 this past Sunday (July 20). Sigh.

To atone for the errors of my ways, I’m giving you a chance to read a really great (and quite long) poem by Kenneth Koch, a giant of American poetry during the 1950s, and a devoted and important teacher who taught teachers of poetry how to teach poetry. I was introduced to Koch’s best-known book on the subject, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, during my training to be a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. It’s a great little book. You can read mine anytime you want. (Altfeld’s article talks about Koch and his methods.)


The method Koch taught is about imitation: pick a great poem and get kids to imitate its essential qualities. “Rose, Where Did You Get That Red” is the name of a poem written by a child who was imitating William Blake’s “The Tyger” — a poem which essentially asks a creature of God how and where it acquired its power and beauty. (The image featured with this blog is Blake’s poem and illustration.) You can read an excerpt of Koch’s book here.

Your task today is to read Kenneth Koch’s poem “On Beauty by Kenneth Koch” and then imitate it. Just write for a while about what beauty means to you. Be as free-wheeling and long-winded as you like. Be colorful and descriptive and don’t hold back. Call it a poem and call it a day. Or, if you’re inspired, share your efforts with us!

Here’s the last stanza of Koch’s poem, and I think the sentiment is fine.


Prompt (Late) #34 : Dragons!

I wrote this prompt late, and I’m posting it even later. But I didn’t want to waste the work I’d done, so here you go.

My daughter is in love with dragons. She’s working up a fellowship proposal about them, so in the spirit of solidarity, I looked up some dragon poems.

Many people are in love with dragons, and not surprisingly, there is a lot of great dragon poetry — some ancient, some Chinese, some Nordic, much American. Lots of dragon poems are for kids, but not all.

Here is a sampling. Read about dragons and then think about why you might be scared, fascinated, ignorant, or in awe. Then write a dragon poem yourself. What’s in the dark with a flaming breath? Who will bring you good luck or death?


From The Poetry Foundation:




Poetry Cafe at Miller Middle School

Yesterday I had the delightful experience of attending the Poetry Cafe at Miller Middle School. Seventh-grade Language Arts teacher Kari Emerson has been holding the Poetry Cafe for the past 14 years; creating with her students a replica of a 1950s Beat-era cafe in her classroom. With posters, table cloths, fresh flowers, special lighting (including totally awesome lava lamps) and a stage, Room 2 is transformed. With student MCs, food servers and a band wearing black berets, the mood is authentic. Even the finger snapping to show appreciation for a poem is consistent with the hipster mood. (If you think you know what hipster means, think again…)

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These kids all recited poems: some read their own work, others read Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Charles Mackay, Langston Hughes, Amy Lowell, William Blake. They read from folded pieces of paper, books, their iPhones and notes scribbled on their hands. A few parents read poems. Another teacher recited Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” I stood up to the “stage” and recited Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday.” There were poems by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein. After every reading, fingers snapped and the bongos rumbled. There was a wide range of work, from playful and silly to lyrics and ballads of real depth. A couple of lines resonated with me; Frost’s “I am the master of my soul” and Angelou’s quote “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Ms. Emerson closed with a moving tribute to Maya Angelou. And through it all we enjoyed cookies, tea, juice and a great vibe.

Ms. Emerson and her students are to be commended for taking poetry into their lives in such a lovely and rigorous way. I was proud to be among their number yesterday. Cupertino, you have no idea what is in your midst, these young poets and poet appreciators are a force to be reckoned with.