You will love this article!

Butterfly garden art

I’ve never read anything that articulates poetry’s value as beautifully as  this article by children’s author Joyce Sidman.

I bought Sidman’s book Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature to give as a gift. It’s lovely, a work of wise, playful, reverent poetry. I recommend it for those young in years and those young at heart!

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Haiku Published

Happy first day of the last month of 2012! I hope your Decembers are all off to a great start.

As I mentioned previously, one of my little haiku found a home in this month’s issue of The Heron’s Nest. You can find the piece, nestled in with several more breathtaking haiku, here. I am so appreciative of the editors, especially one who provided some much needed mentorship.


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A Feast of Words for Thanksgiving

Before you ring the bell to call everyone to the table for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, have them pose for a group photo AND scribble some words for a group poem.

Around here—in the USA, that is—folks are gearing up for Thanksgiving.

Let me pause for a moment to welcome my international followers! Thanks for being here! I love having fellow bards scattered around the world, and I value your perspectives. You may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but you can apply the concepts behind this and other holiday posts to any gathering. Specific holidays might be unique to each culture, but celebration is universal.

Holiday gatherings provide a perfect opportunity for us bards to add to our collections of  insights, perspectives, and voices. This year, consider delegating some of the “work” of writing by inviting everyone present to contribute. Yeah, you heard me. Make ’em write!

Here is one way to create a group poem at your Thanksgiving (or other) gatherings without pressuring people or putting anyone on the spot. I can think of a great number of family members who won’t want to have anything to do with an activity like this. That’s fine! I can also think of plenty who will have a lot of fun with it, adults and kids. You can always encourage participation by having contributors draw for prizes. Just keep it light and fun!

Poem Board

Place a bulletin board, poster, or display board in a central location. Leave out markers or scraps of paper, pencils, and thumbtacks. (If you have little ones milling about, make sure to keep any pointy or stain-inflicting items out of arms’ reach.) Include written instructions and examples to guide others to share their words. Explain in the instructions that you plan to compile the contributions to create a group-authored poem. See the list of possible instructions below under “Themes for your many-voiced poem.”

What you can do with end product

You can include this poem in your journal or scrapbook; share it on a website or in a  newsletter; send or email individual copies to those who helped author it; or frame and “unveil” it at your next gathering. If you make this activity part of a large event like a family reunion, you could even auction off the framed piece (if it’s display-worthy!) at next year’s reunion.

Consider your group

To deflect potential mayhem of mischievous revelers at your gathering, you might think about including special instructions or warnings, things like:

  • “No profanity or potty humor!”
  • “Nothing that might embarrass or hurt others.”
  • “Don’t expect cheeky stuff to make it into the final compilation.”
  • “Don’t be a wet blanket! No grumpy stuff allowed.”
  • “Refrain from TMI (too much information).”

I am originally a high school teacher by profession, so I always think of situations that invite tomfoolery. If you have individuals attending who are known chaos catalysts, you should probably make a box instead of a board. The box method is also useful if you want the more reserved attendees to join in. Here’s how:

  • Wrap a closed shoe box in festive wrapping paper or butcher paper.
  • Decorate further if you like. You can make this a project for the kids by leaving out stickers, crayons, etc.
  • Cut a slot in the top just big enough for the slips of paper to fit through.

Thanksgiving option:

  • Have people drop their completed cards into a cornucopia.

Themes for your many-voiced poem

  • Colors of thanks– describe a colorful image that portrays something for which you are grateful.
    • Example: “Dark of winter, the baby’s head golden with lamplight.”
  • Sounds and scents of thanks – describe a sound and/or scent that reminds you of something for which you are thankful.
  • Family portrait – describe an image or a relate a moment from the year that shows what makes this family/group/community great.
  • A year of moments – List one of your happiest, proudest, or sweetest moments of the year. Next, describe an object that you associate with that moment. Make sure to include color, texture, or other appeals to the senses.
  • Our favorite places – Write down your favorite place to be and give three details to describe it. List an emotion that you associate with this place or explain what makes it so special to you.
  • Look at all we’ve built– Help make a tribute to all that we’ve built and created as a group this year. Name something that you or someone close to you has made this year. It doesn’t have to be physical; memories shared, goals met, and relationships strengthened are important creations, too! Now give details about the creation.
    • Examples: If you list a new baby as your creation, details might be, “Has Mom’s dimples and brother’s spunk.” Details for a new business enterprise might be, “Freshly pressed business cards, the texture of her name in raised blue ink.”
  • Mystery poem – Come up with your own line to a poem about anything that you think will make our hearts cheerful. The finished product will be a mishmash of worded wonder!

What to do with all these scraps

The words you end up with will be the raw stuff of one or more poems that you can compile as you see fit. Look for a thread to tie it all together or choose a format that will unify the many parts. You need not use every word. Feel free to add words or change verb tense/sentence structure. Only, do try to keep as much of the contributors’ original text as possible.

Basically, try to stay true to the author’s voice and message, but make alterations and edits as needed to fuse together the pieces into a coherent whole.

Think of each scrap of paper or written phrase as a shard of colored glass which you will use to make a splendid mosaic window. It will capture an image of your group at this unique point in time. It will throw a lovely, mottled light on the world.

Exercise in gratitude

What am I thankful for this season? Why, words, of course! Words form the visage of relationships. They conjoin our bodies and spirits! And if you don’t believe in a spiritual dimension, you will still agree that words are special for their ability to connect us to one another. And connecting with another is, in and of itself, a form of transcendence. I am so thankful for the words that join us, soothe us, ignite us, and strengthen us.

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Watch for the December issue of Heron’s Nest

After multiple rounds of submissions and much honing of my haiku-writing skills with the help of a kind editor, I can finally look forward to reading  my own haiku in the December issue of The Heron’s Nest!

I just posted about writing little…to me this three-line poem is a reminder of how challenging it can be to effectively whittle a piece down to its simplest, least cluttered form.  I always want to say so much more!!! But the haiku form imposes restrictions that force me to speak between my written lines.

So…check out the Nest this December to find my little word hatchling!

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Write Little

The playful breeze with quiet voice says much.

“Write little – embrace the minute on the way to the universal.” – Adele Kenny

“I have made this [letter] longer only because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (17th century)

Writing little—but well—is no little task

It takes time to shave off extraneous words and throw-away phrases that meander onto the page.

It takes discernment to distill truth from the muck of everyday life.

It takes alertness to read the subtle language of truth in the mundane.

It takes gratitude to find use in the boring.

It takes humility to listen for small sounds amid the din.

It takes patience to wait for a message to emerge from the details you’ve gathered.

It takes practice to portray emotions with a drop of water instead of an ocean.

It takes heart to connect the little pieces of the world into a grand mosaic.


A Sample Little Poem

A ten-year-old I know wrote this piece, and I think it is delightful for several reasons, which I will explain below.

Please note: I have published the piece exactly as submitted, with no edits. The writer might choose to add punctuation after “meadow” and “I said” to create a smoother rhythm, but I thought for our purposes we’d explore the piece just as he wrote it. He might choose to forego the punctuation to maintain a free and easy feel that corresponds with the subject matter, the free and easy wind frolicking over a field.

Without further ado…



by B. Early

The wind brushed across my face in

the open meadow I said “What a

great day!”

And the wind



What I love about this little piece

For one thing, its detail and personification work to convey a physical and emotional connection between the speaker and the world.

Its form, more expansive in the first two lines and succinct in the last three, pulls the broad setting of a windy field close and immediate to the speaker, who shares this intimate communication with the wind.

The “agreed” is placed perfectly on the final line, by itself. Upon first reading of this poem, I didn’t expect the wind to have a voice. I didn’t really expect the detail of the wind brushing across the speaker’s face to be central to the message. I assumed (incorrectly) that it was a common detail just included to portray a pretty day. But the last line transforms the wind from a passive, generic detail into an exuberant, playful character, joyful in its admiration of the natural world of which it is part and engaging the human speaker in the experience.

Most importantly, this piece has a particular quality that the best poems always have: a certain clever tone that converses with the world, that portrays a connected human-nature experience.

I am very fond of this poem, especially coming from a ten-year-old. It makes me humble and elicits simple joy from my heart.

And what grandiose writing can do better than that?


Write something little that is also universal.

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Write often of the gifts others have given you. You will stop seeing walls and bars. You will notice more readily that the window you look through is open and the air outside is breezy-clear.

Recently a friend and a stranger gave me similar gifts, precious to my heart.

The stranger, an editor of a poetry journal, offered (out of the blue) to send feedback on a set of poems I submitted. This is a rare move for a busy editor. I eagerly took him up on the offer…then braced myself for the difficult experience of having my work held up to the garish light of constructive criticism. This generous editor took the time to respond to each poem, all the while weaving instruction into his commentary. He reminded me kindly that “we are all students.”

The gift of constructive criticism unwrapped

I took so much away from this experience! I saw places where I had been too cryptic, places where I had settled for word choices that did not express what I hoped to express, lines with awkward rhythm, phrases that didn’t balance metaphor with literal meaning elegantly enough. I learned that, after all this time, I still need to practice the art of whittling down a piece to its essence. I began to see where my poems feel too laborious, instead of limpid and effortless. That last one is still a mystery to me – the way the best writers (or athletes or musicians or public speakers) make crisp, painstaking excellence look so effortless, like anyone could do it.

Now, the editor did not say the above things outright, but between his words I read all the ways in which my craft still needs to be honed. Without an inkling of obligation or any possibility of personal benefit, this stranger donated his time and knowledge so that I can improve the creative facet of my life. This is a true gift – given freely, on no particular occasion, without expectation of recompense, out of pure kindness. Note that it was not the easiest gift to receive, as it challenged me and called me out on areas for improvement. But I think that makes it all the more meaningful.

(Ok, for the record, I do NOT think that this translates into saying we should all go around offering free criticism to our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances as our perfect gift to the flawed world! Feedback from an experienced artist to a novice is one thing. Randomly telling people how they should do things without solicitation of advice is another thing entirely – and it sometimes constitutes downright meddling!)

The priceless gift of a friend’s insight

Back to the topic of insights that are genuinely helpful! The friend who responded to my request to workshop one of my poems gave me a gift as powerful and appreciated as the editor’s. This friend took time out of her busy life to offer splendid, insightful feedback on a piece that had really been throwing me for a loop. It’s one of those poems I’d looked at over such a long period of time that I couldn’t tell anymore whether it was here or there. She offered specific, heartfelt, tactful expressions of her own personal experience with the various phrases and with the piece as a whole. It was exactly what I needed to move forward with this and other pieces, and no one could have offered commentary that I appreciated or respected more.

How these real gifts benefited me

As you can tell from my sparse blog posting habits, I’m stretched thin on time. I don’t have a place in my current schedule to belong to a writer’s workshop. These two people gave me insight right when I needed it to help me make some real creative progress.

Why the gifts you’ve been given deserve your attention

In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam explores social capital, the cultural resource that blossoms in cultures where people help other people just because. Putnam argues that social capital lubricates the gears of society so that it works more smoothly for the benefit of all its members. Putnam also argues that this vital resource is waning in America, or at least it was at the time the book was published in the year 2000.

I have a feeling social media has altered the state of social capital in our world. We are better equipped to communicate with one another, get our messages out, and help one another. At least in that aspect, social capital is improving, though the long-term cultural effects of social media and technology-assisted communication remain to be seen. My point in bringing up social capital is that it is an all-around helpful thing – for ourselves, for others, for society in general – to foster the habit of supporting one another and giving gifts without expecting anything in return.

Poetry Prompt: Real Gifts

Let’s take some time out until next post to write about real gifts that we have been given.

  • For our purposes, the gifts must be those that help us improve our lives. They might be physical objects, but will more likely be intangible things – skills, insights, wisdom, comfort, support.
  • Try to write about a friend, family member, stranger, or community that give you gifts you might not have realized they even gave you. See the ways people have improved your life – ways on which you might not have focused before.
  • Describe the person through their gifts (their actions, their words), without directly stating that they gave you something.
  • Show the ways their gifts improved your life without directly stating what you learned or how you are better. Use small details to paint a big picture.

Another topic completely: What me and words have been up to lately

I consider the opportunity to work with words for living a great gift also. Another friend has given me this gift recently, and I’d like to tell you a little about her project. You might benefit from the content she’s giving away, too!

While “away” from the blog, I had the pleasure of editing a book for Food with Kid Appeal blogger and author Jenna Pepper. I’ve found it extremely rewarding to work as a wordsmith on a topic that is close to my heart – nutrition for the family – for an author with such a great message – the message that real food DOES have kid appeal!

This job highlighted for me of the unique power of language to help others. In this case, it’s helping parents to make healthy food relevant and appealing to kids. If you want to check out this e-book, including its 20 convenient kid-AND-adult-friendly recipes, you can get a copy at no cost for a limited time by signing up to receive Jenna’s newsletter here. It’s getting such good reader reviews that she’s going to start selling it before too long, but you can nab it now without laying down a cent of your hard-earned money. You’ll even find one of my recipes in the book! Let me know if you make it!

Until next time

Thanks to all of you who stop by or follow Hearth Bard through posts prolific and sparse. Next time I’ll be sharing a piece written by a smart kid who has a thing or two to teach me about writing poems.

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Archival Addiction

Folks, I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. The exciting news is that I’ve taken on some new editing work. Writing for pay has eclipsed my creative endeavors! But the the coals of the Hearth are still warm and waiting to be stoked again when the time is right.

In the meantime, I would like to reblog this post from my sister-in-law Jackie, who you will see is a fantastic woman of many talents. Her witty, heartfelt meditation on creative archival of family life taps into the pith of Hearth Bard’s message.

And when it seems most practical for me to put aside the blog entirely to focus on pressing family and work needs, this reminds me of the hidden, precious value of celebrating life and loved ones through our art.

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Something published

A poem of mine appeared in the June 29 issue of Literary Mama. Thanks to the editors for giving the piece a home!

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Have Another Look


It’s about relationship.

Can you find that in your writing?

Does your poem meet the world

like a child meeting his first bunny?

Creation Needs Deliberation

Something has dawned on me as I write more, a lesson I thought I knew. This lesson is more central to the disciplines of reading and writing than I realized. It is also harder to follow than I used to think because it requires patience and, at times, a certain courage.

The lesson is this: reading and writing means having another look. At life. At what we just read. At what we just wrote. Having another look is what sets writing apart from speaking. In conversation, we can’t edit. In writing – if it is to be good writing – we must.

Insight Isn’t Instantaneous

One of the most important ingredients for a well written piece? In most cases, time. A writer’s creation needs a certain amount of autonomy. It needs personal space. Given that space, it will mature over time. Actually, the writer matures and returns to view the piece with new perspective after having put it away for a while. Inconsistencies, awkward wording, indulgent phrases, and ineffective generalities all become clearer when a poem has had a chance to breathe.

Failure to have another look explains why browbeaten students often turn in less-than-A-quality written work. For several completely understandable reasons, they write in as few sittings as possible and submit with minimal edits. They often do not have the time – or take the time, whichever the case may be – to let a piece of writing sit, to return to it later with less immediacy, having forgotten why they used this phrasing here, that image there.

Why We Hesitate to Evaluate

Students have an excuse. They are coerced into writing. Their hearts are often not in it. But when we don’t take another look – a real, honest look – at something we’ve written for ourselves, the reason might be more complex…and perhaps even problematic from a creative and personal standpoint. It might be that we have trouble assessing our own creation.

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, which prevents us from making confident choices or taking artistic chances. Other times we fix errors or fill in blanks in our minds but not on the page. We forget that others can’t read our work as we read it, can’t see into our heads. This leads to cryptic writing. And there are also times when taking another look at what we’ve written would help to make our messages more insightful, universal, and honest.

What to Look For

Remember, creativity seeks to relate truths about human experience. And human experience is all about relationship. If our writing doesn’t honor our relationships with ourselves, others, and the world around us – doesn’t respect the other in that relationship (even if the other is some part of us) – then it won’t communicate, compel, or connect as a powerful piece of writing should.

I write about this not because I’ve figured it all out but because I need the reminder myself. Feel free to share your suggestions for weaknesses we can spot in our poems when we have the patience and courage to look.

Exercise: Have Another Look

Go back through some of the poetry you’ve written and “look again,” asking the following questions:

  • What was I trying to say in this passage?
    • Is this the best way I can say it?
    • Is my point clear?
  • Is the image or language as gripping as possible?
    • Did I take the easy route and use vague language?
      • Could it be that I don’t really understand what I want to say?
      • Have I thought it through, explored down to the “nut” of the idea?
      • What is my real point and why does it matter to me or anyone else?
      • How can I make my words less general, more specific and concrete?
    • Is this a cliché?
      • Did I use an obvious, overused image or phrase here?
      • What word, image, or analogy would be more unexpected but still relate the experience I hope to convey?
  • Do I really need this part?
    • Does this line add to the whole piece?
    • Or is it just there because I like the way it sounds?
    • If a phrase doesn’t add anything to my poem, then it detracts from it – can I accept this?
    • Can I just take the line(s) out? I can always save the cut passage for use in another piece.
  • Does the passage lend itself to misinterpretation? Could easily be misread to mean something completely different? Could it be clearer?
  • What aspect of human experience does my poem express?
    • How can I make the moment feel real and significant to others?
    • How do my words relate to someone else’s experience, not just my own?
    • What will others find in my poems that will help, entertain, or move them?
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Find Your Voices

If Shoes Could Talk
There is so much voice in this soundless, faceless image…Even a mute voice can find ways to bellow.
Photo by Lesley Clinton

Do you remember voices more clearly than faces?

When it comes to memories of my friends and loved ones, I do.

Guffaws, giggles, grumbles, and groans freckle my childhood memories. Snippets of past conversations mark the plot developments of my personal history.

A person’s voice reveals so much about him or her. Sometimes, when a poem doesn’t work, the missing element is authentic voice.

Perhaps you haven’t used dialogue at all, but a particular poem would benefit from it. Maybe the dialogue you have used feels fabricated, generic, or stilted. Maybe your poem doesn’t need dialogue, but the speaker needs to be developed and textured a bit. (The speaker is the imagined voice that “says” the poem’s words. The poet and speaker can be very different…or almost identical.)

Ultimately, you have to assess whether your readers can hear the voices in a poem. And are those voices authentic? Do they feel real in the gut? Do they spark a sense of recognition in the reader?

An effective writer is like a super-stenographer, able to capture more than words: the spaces between words, layers of words, and words left unsaid. And a good writer makes this look effortless and natural.

Where can I get mine?

Cadences you can use in your poems flit past you all the time. All you need do is listen…and perhaps carry around a notepad to collect them.

Listen to the ways people express themselves. Hear them even when they do not speak. If you can train yourself to notice and value details of human communication, you can hone your artistry. To portray people in your poems powerfully, you will want to find ways to suggest their phrasing, gestures, and vocal tones with your written words.

Exercise: A Study of Voice

Are you ready to try your hand at creating authentic voices? Summer travels and family gatherings offer great opportunities for you to spend some time quietly appreciating nuances of differing speech patterns and manners of expression.

Note as many specifics as you can, and listen for the less obvious details. Whenever you notice any of the following, make notes for use in future poems:

  • the unique—or clichéd—phrases and analogies people use
    •  keep a list of analogies and favorite phrases
  • the way a person’s voice rises and falls with various emotions
    • try to describe this – use adjectives, adverbs, similes, and metaphor
  • how someone insinuates opinions without directly stating those opinions
    •  through tone of voice? particular words chosen? silence?
  • how people talk when they get excited
    • try writing a paragraph in the voice of an excited:
      • child
      • teenager
      • adult speaking to acquaintances
      • adult speaking to a close friend or family member
      • someone boisterous
      • someone emotionally guarded or reticent
  • colloquialisms (local sayings) and accents
    • different pronunciations create color and texture of sound
    • accents and sayings also hint at cultural, regional, or socioeconomic values, such as beauty, authority or strength, storytelling ability, practicality, deliberation and wisdom, or education
    • it can be difficult to portray non-standard accents without taking attention away from the poem itself. can you find ways to portray an accent without altering word spellings or being to obvious about it?
  • the speed or slowness with which people speak
    • can you portray this in writing without the writing feeling awkward or forced?
  • styles of laughter
    • use descriptive nouns, verbs, and analogies to portray people’s laughs
  • nonverbal intonations and communications
    • log in your notes various sounds, snorts, facial expressions, body language, and gestures
    • try to include notes about what you think these sounds might mean or simply how people get in the habit of making them
      • sounds picked up from a show or movie
      • inherited or learned sounds of habit
      • sounds attached to funny incidents or inside jokes
  • vocal resonance or softness
    • …and every shade of sound in between
  • word choices
    • concrete or abstract?
    • straightforward or interpretive?
    • terse or grandiose?

Prompt: Character Sketch in Voice

Use your notes to write a poem that captures the essence of a person using only the person’s own words, gestures, and sounds. Some suggestions:

  • Focus entirely on the character so that your poem becomes a sort of still life portrait in sound.
    • For example, if you describe light filtering in through the kitchen café curtains, let it shed light on the character’s facial expression or metaphorically link it to the sounds of her words.
    • Don’t include any outside details that are not somehow linked to voice.
  • Use entirely dialogue or a combination of description and dialogue.
  • Consider recreating one side of a conversation, whether telephone, Skype, or in-person.
  • Use as much sound texture as you can to indirectly explore this person’s character and wants.
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