Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday 2/24/17

In the middle school library where I work, we LOVE A BOOK for Black History Month. Pink conversation hearts are gently taped to the book spines by Black authors and illustrators or are about Black History or have Black characters.

Inside the heart are two simple questions. What book did you read? How did you like it? All of the hearts are gathered for a drawing on February 28th. The winner gets a trip to our prize box!  Our goal is to combine the energy of Valentine’s Day with Black History.

I loved-on Black History books right along with students. I read and reviewed One Last Word a couple of weeks ago and have been using that book and many others in lessons with seventh and eighth graders. I just smiled one day when a student came in and said, “I just love Black books!”

One book, in particular, has had me in its sites for a while now. I’ve checked it out and back in a few times….never quite getting to it. But, I know that book has wanted me to read it. I haven't avoided it because of the serious and difficult content…it has that. Emmett Till was middle school age student lynched in 1955.  It’s not because it’s not my style…its poetry. It’s because

I have
lived in fear of

As I’ve worked to learn and grow as a reader and writer of poetry I have put off reading and attempting to write sonnets. It’s really my fear of tackling and understanding Shakespeare that does it. I’ve never really cracked the code for falling in love with the Bard. I know, its embarrassing!

This year, for Black History month I  finally read, A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson and illustrated by Phillipe Lardy (Houghton Mifflin 2005). This book was a Printz honor book in 2006.

A Wreath for Emmett Till is everything I thought it would be….cruel, sad, torturous but… the deceptively simple sonnet chain, a beautiful, tender mentor text.

Nelson allows me to get into sonnets without worrying about ye olde English. She includes all sorts of symbols and nods to cultural milestones. And, she explains them at the back of the book. She is such a good teacher.

I can’t believe I’ve put off reading this book. Shame on me. To hear Marilyn Nelson speak about writing the book and introducing the true horror story in a 5:30 minute NPR clip, click here.

Nelson took on the monumental task of telling the story of the lynching and public funeral of Emmett Till to teenagers. And, she does it masterfully. There can be terrible things in beautiful words. We can deal with the terrible things with the right words. Nelson brings young people closer to dealing with Emmett Till’s murder as history but also as issues of injustice and race.

If you haven’t tackled the sonnet….or a subject as horrific as lynching as a poetry reader or writer I encourage you to check out A wreath for Emmett Till. This is not a flippant comment or recommendation. I cannot imagine a reader not learning, growing and pledging to be an agent for justice after reading it.

Someday, I may share the sonnet I started after finishing A Wreath for Emmett Till. It's not ready yet. But, I'm not afraid to count syllables, meter, and rhyme. 
Nelson helped me a lot with that.
I would LOVE recs for other books of sonnets...watcha got?

Please join Poetry Friday friends at Karen Edmisten's blog with a shockingly clever title. She's a love for hosting this week. Thank you, Karen!

15 Words or Less

Click here to see Laura P. Salas' 15 word warm up. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Slice of Life

Last Thursday was "A Day Without Immigrants". I could see, at the school where I work, that some attention was paid to this movement in response to the President's rhetoric and plans to limit immigration to my country.

This is what I saw in my world....

A teenager from the Middle East politely asking for a dictionary in his native language. They knew how to say please, thank you, yes and no, in English, perfectly.

Another teenager said, My Dad came to this country so we could have a better life, I'll be in school every day I can.

A group of pre-teens ran....yes, they were running....into the library to the far wall where shelves of books in their native language are. It's always a race for Diary of a Wimpy Kid no matter what language it's printed in.

Every Slice of my Life encounters immigrants...., For those students that showed up to continue your learning of what American means, bless you with a hug and a high-five. You are already living the dream.

books in the library where I teach

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday

Some days, searching my poetry roots leads to dozens of cousins....join us for Poetry Friday, hosted this week at Check it Out Thank you, Jone!

This week, I've been fascinated by the work and words and photos of Mary McLeod Bethune. Her words below pair well with the art of Larry Zox in his, Diamond Cut.
Quote enhanced by Diamond Cut." Art Object Page. US National Gallery of Art, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Bethune was known for many activities and interests: Christian Living, Education, Racial Dignity, and Leadership for starters. She also endured criticism for her commitment to vocational training for young people, especially women, of color over classic academics. 

Her hope, faith and extraordinarily loving will is nothing less than poetic. I am drawn to learning more.

I like to focus my lens.

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune


A woman born to

Slavery's sure survivors 

grew to lead...persist 

God on Mary's side
Mary leaned in constant prayer
between them souls thrived


Barriers to Black
barriers to skirt were not
Mary's barriers 

In 1904
one dollar and fifty cents--
her school, their future

Then, look for words that paint a story. This paragraph accompanied the commemorative US postage stamp issued in 1985.

Search for poetry in prose. Even though Bethune isn't known as a poet.....these words of her last will and testament read as a prayer poem. Click on the caption to see the entire document. It is beautiful.

Now that I've gotten to know Mary Jane McLeod Bethune a little bit.....I'm off to write some poems about her legacy. I'm going hunting for forms that will help me do that. Join me? What do you suggest?

15 Words or Less 2/16/17

Photo: Laura Salas 15 words or less challenge

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Poetry Friday

My OLW for 2017 is LOOK

Recently, a blog entry by Rebecca Newland, former LOC Teacher in Residence popped into my in-box. I love seeing LOC e-mails...and especially Ms. Newland's. I met her at a conference and was impressed by her power of story-telling backed up with primary source documents from her playground, The Library of Congress.

The Teacher's Corner post was titled,


After reading Newland's post, I jumped onto the LOC search engine with my OLW.

The photograph of this young man looking into a frame of President Lincoln and his family has a copyright of 1898.

I played around with some of the exercises suggested by Ms. Newland and came up with several poems from prompts and challenges over the past few weeks of Poetry Friday.  Thus far, I have poems for this image in these forms: haiku (always start with's like using a lens to see better), golden shovel, decima, reverso and free verse. I'm not sure how much more I will look at this image. But, I have a feeling it isn't done with me yet...and that's OK.

Focus the lens:


Family portrait
your kin held in this oval
mine in a fish net

When you ended it
Slavery – did you picture
me looking at you?

When he ended it
Bullet – to your head did you
count me family?

4. Chin resting on fists
a new generation looks
for family trees    

I may share more of the poems from my time with this image from time to time. For now, I'm enjoying some alone time with this photograph and the words that flow from looking at it.  

Thank you to Katie at The Logonaughts for hosting Poetry Friday today.