Friday, March 06, 2015

The Poetry Seven Attempt Sestinas

This month my poetry sisters and I are working on writing Sestinas. It's a very difficult form to get the knack for, partly because the end words are extremely restricted. Each of the six-line stanzas use the same words in a spiral repetition. The best sestinas, IMO, tell a story. My favorite one is this by Elizabeth Bishop. Kelly has a wonderful explanation with tips on how to write one here.

For our sestinas we chose twelve words in common, each of us picking the six we wanted to use. We then got down to business with only a little moaning and complaining about the struggle to wrangle those six words into something making sense and beauty. I pulled up a memory of a fishing trip from my childhood and twisted it into shape with the end words "here, wind, turn, break, wave, up". My poem has gone through many revisions, and I'm not sure it's done yet. Here it is:


Good fishing here.
From the canoe our lines wound
across the creek, turning
slowly under the water, breaking
the line of waves.
Gradually the breeze picked up.

Drifting downstream, you never think of up.
How it’s a long fight back. Hearing
the gentle slap of larger waves,
we still didn’t notice the wind
until a bird broke
the silence and the day turned.

Years later and still stung, we will turn,
look at each other and wonder, what was up?
What was it that broke?
If only we could have heard
then the warning in the rising wind
or seen the trout slip away under the waves.

We thought we knew those waves.
We knew how fish calmly turn
away from the hook, but not how the cool wind
easily tosses the line up
clear into the trees. Here
we were, tangled in line that wouldn’t break.

To get that tackle we had to break
a hornet’’s nest and beat their wave
of fury. This bend in the creek here
they thought to own, to turn
into a paper castle up
in trees rocked by wind.

Hornets are at home in wind.
One cast is all it took to break
the peace. One hook tossed up;
flicked quickly over the waves
where hornets, trout, and children turn
thinking it’s always their own HERE.

Now one fights the wind, and we all ride the wave.
We wait for the break when everything turns.
Every morning we look up and we are all still here.

  -Andromeda Jazmon

Please visit the blogs of my Poetry Sisters to read their sestinas:

Next month we are working writing the form Raccontino, which I have never done before. I've never been fond of rhymed couplets, so...  should be interesting. For today you can hop right over to Robyn Campbell's blog, where she is hosting Friday Poetry!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Small Child's Book of Verses

found this lovely old gem on my shelf today. Here are a few pages in honor of Valentine's Day:

Is t that delightful?  Now be sure to visit Merely Day by Day today for the Friday Poetry Roundup!

Friday, February 06, 2015

Trying my hand at a villanelle

At the start of the year my online group of poetry sisters decided to challenge ourselves with writing and posting poems all year with a different form for each month. January was triolets, and February has been all about Villanelles. I have to confess I have really struggled with this one! I had a story I wanted to tell about my young son and his first taste of hot peppers, but try as I might I could not wrestle that story into the strict form of a villanelle.

Wikipedia explains the structure this way: "A villanelle (also known as villanesque) is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines."

I really love the bounce and swing of the repeating lines. But boy, howdy this was a struggle! I did some free writing, made lists of verbs and rhyming end words, wrote some free verse, and wrote many drafts. I took advice from Kelly on how to use a table first made by Trisha in a Google doc, with the rhyme scheme and repeats laid out down the left hand margin. I listened to Tanita when she reminded me to develop a strong couplet in the first stanza to carry the repeats and build tension. Eventually I gave up trying to tell the whole story of how we came to grow hot peppers on the windowsill, and just tried to focus on the seed. After weeks of wrestling with it, I told myself if it was still a stinker by Thursday night I wouldn't post it at all. But low and behold, I refused to give up!

I scribbled a lot in my writing journal, and then put the draft up on a Google doc my poetry sisters and I were sharing. Reading and discussing their drafts and hearing their comments on mine was the fun part! With their encouragement and suggestions I did a lot of editing, rearranging, walking away, coming back, scowling and sighing. What I ended up with I will share here, but I consider it still a draft. There are still some bits that snag on my tongue. I will keep working on it, but for now here it is:


A seed discarded is not lost;
the smallest flame contains the spark.
For every blooming there’s a cost.

These faded buds their zest exhaust,
so sunlight fades into the dark.
A seed discarded is not lost.

Hot pepper’s fire is quickly tossed
(those pretty pods pulled on a lark),
for every blooming there’s a cost.

Hanging fruit turns ripe by frost;
or drops to dirt to leave its mark.
A seed discarded is not lost.

The sweet of fruit - to some mere dross;
young flowers knew it as an ark.
For every blooming there’s a cost          

and in time’s sand a line gets crossed;
I tell you, listen and remark -
A seed discarded is not lost;
For every blooming there’s a cost.

 -Andromeda Jazmon

Please visit my Poetry Sisters' blogs and read their lovely villanelles:
Tanita S. Davis, Tricia Stohr-Hunt , Laura Purdie Salas Liz Garton Scanlon, Kelly R. Fineman, and Sara Lewis Holmes

And don't forget to visit the Friday Poetry Round up hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass.

Thursday, January 01, 2015


Happy New Year! 

2015 is off to a great start already. Here is my brand new Poetry Journal for 2015.

I need this journal because... It's time for the Poetry Seven to swing into action once again! This year we have set ourselves up to meet a huge challenge. We are going to work on a different poetry form every month, and post original poems on the last Friday of each month. I am excited and terrified at the same time. It's going to be a year of creative challenge for sure!

For January we all have been working on Triolets.  Wikipedia says this: "A triolet (/ˈtraɪ.əlɨt/ or US /ˌtriː.əˈleɪ/) is a stanza poem of eight lines. Its rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB and often all lines are in iambic tetrameter: the first, fourth and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines, thereby making the initial and final couplets identical as well." Here is one of mine:

Joe's Fire

Joe, my BIL, was a firefighter for over 30 years. He is struggling with a degenerative neurological disorder something like ALS, called Multiple Systems Atrophy. He can no longer do most of the things he had most loved to do.

For all the fires you sent to ash
and all the hearts your heart kept warm;
For all the jokes your smile will flash.
For all the fires. You send to ash
your pain; it shatters with a crash,
still brave despite the coming storm.
Like all the fires you sent to ash,
keep all the hearts your heart keeps warm.

- Andromeda Jazmon 

Be sure to check out the Triolets of all the Poetry Sisters at their blogs:
Tanita , Sara, Laura, Liz , Kelly, and Trisha. We have worked together in several poetic forms before, when we challenged each other to write a PantoumRenku, a crown sonnet , villanelles, and rondeau redoubles. I am looking forward to a really fantastic, fruitful year with these Poetry Princesses!

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Trisha at Miss Rumphius. Ring in the New Year with some fabulous poetry!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Angel Island; Gateway to Gold Mountain

by Russel Freedman. Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Clarion Books, 2014. (Library copy). This nonfiction text for young people covers the west coast immigration center Angel Island in San Fransisco Bay. Between 1910 and 1940 more than half a million people from 80 countries passed through this station. After being examined medically and interrogated, they often waited weeks or months in shoddy wooden dormitories behind barbed wire. If they could not prove they were US citizens or members of carefully regimented groups deemed worthy to enter, including diplomats, merchants, students and teachers, they were sent back to their home countries disappointed and disgraced.

When park ranger Alexander Weiss first visited Angel Island in 1970 he found a long abandoned dormitory about to be demolished. With his flashlight he noticed strange markings on the walls. As he looked closer he discovered he found Chinese calligraphy carved into the walls and covered by a layer of chipped paint.

I looked around and shined my flashlight up and I could see that the entire walls were covered with calligraphy, and that was what blew me away", he remembered. "People had carved the stuff on eery square inch of wall space, not just in this one room but all over."
 Weiss told authorities about the carvings but was brushed aside. He couldn't forget about it and brought friends and colleagues to see them. Gradually more and more people got interested. The Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State College became interested and got the Asian American community involved in activism to save the historic landmark. It is open for visitors now, so anyone can go see the poems carved into the walls.

The book goes into the history of Chinese immigration and the discrimination and oppression they endured. Scattered throughout the book are original photographs of the people and places described, with many individual family stories portrayed. It is touching and illuminating to see this poignant side of our American history.

Also included are many of the original poems that are carved into the walls at Angel Island facilities, translated into English. Here is my favorite one:

Four days before the Festival of Reunion, I embarked on the steamship for America.
Time was like an arrow shooting through a cool autumn.
Counting on my fingers, several months have passed, leaving me still at the beginning of the road.
I have yet to be interrogated.
My heart is anxious, and weary.

The text explains -

"Another Chinese immigrants,Tet Yee, who spent six months at Angel Island, copied down ninety-six poems. "The people who wrote the poems did not know what would become of them on Angel Island," Tet Yee explained, "or if they would ever get off the island and make it to San Francisco. The poems were their only means of expressing their inner feelings."

Most of the Chinese immigrants were young men in their teens and twenties. I can see this book being an important part of a class study of immigration and the history of the western development of America in grades 4 - 6 cross-curriculum for Language Arts and Social Studies. With so much in the news these days about unaccompanied minors coming into the States from Central America, this is very relevant for today's youth.


Kirkus Review

Publishers Weekly

 KidsReads Review

CommonsenseMedia Review

Russell Freedman biography at Scholastic Teachers

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Cathy at Merely Day by Day.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three by Zetta Elliott

The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott. Illustrations by Paul Melecky. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. Kamara suffers from the mean words of a boy at school until her Gramma comforts her and shows her the ancient mirror kept in a back bedroom of her old house. Kamara willingly cleans Gramma's mirror and discovers a magical storytelling window into her own family history. Generations of brave, heroic women have found the courage and determination to survive and overcome kidnapping, slavery,  oppression, discrimination and segregation. They fight for freedom, create communities, promote a renaissance of art, music and literature, contribute to building the American economy, support the war effort, struggle for Civil Rights, pursue education, and insist on dignity and freedom. Kamara is amazed and invigorated in the discovery of her history and her inheritance. Through the passing on of her family's stories, saved and treasured in the magic mirror, Kamara finds a way to value her own beauty and inherent worth. This is a delightful story perfect for middle grade readers eager to learn about history, culture, and the social power of discovering one's own strength through the network of family.

The Boy in the Bubble by Zetta Elliot. Illustrated by Nguyen Le Vu. Rosetta Press, 21014. Review copy. A Once Upon a Time story of friendship, loneliness, bravery, kindness and beauty. An unusual girl lives under a rock and wakes each morning to go out and discover beauty. A mysterious boy in a large, glistening bubble floats down out of the sky and starts up a conversation. The two explore the valley together as the boy asks the girl to describe how things feel, how they taste, how they smell. Of course, inevitably they have an argument followed by a sulky, sad separation. Then the boy comes back and heals the break. He finally has the courage to ask her to help him pop out of his lonesome bubble so they can travel and make music together. A very sweet story for young lovers of fairy tales.

The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun by Zetta Elliott. Illustrated by Bek Millhouse. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. This one is a little more sad, and set in current history. Zoe and her daddy play a game each day, pretending that she swallowed the sun before he goes to work. He would tickle her until she laughed and let the sun back out to shine out from behind the clouds. "You're my sunshine and I love you," Daddy would always say." Then one day while daddy is at work in NYC the grownups at home start acting weird. Mama and Nana are listening to the news and the phone and crying SweetJesusSweetJesusSweetJesus. No one tells her what is wrong, they just tell her to go play. She thinks maybe she swallowed the sun for real. Her neighborhood is full of flags but no one is celebrating, and it is cloudy all the time. Daddy doesn't come home. At last her Mama pulls her into her lap and tells her the truth - about the terrible day thousands of people lost their lives, and Daddy was one of those people. They mourn together, and try to put the sun back in the sky. Mama says it is going to take a while, but everything will be alright. The story ends with comforting hugs between mother and child, and a hopeful note. A difficult subject but one that children need to bring us through and move us forward. Elliot shares on her blog her memories of hearing the news on 9/11, of the towers falling and the planes crashing. She stopped writing her dissertation and started reading stories for children. In the weeks that followed she wrote this story.

These three short early chapter books are perfect for primary and middle grade children, offering elements of fantasy and history with compelling characters and vivid descriptions of place and setting. Readers are quickly drawn into the story, the pacing is quick and the resolutions satisfying. Diverse characters are embraced in warm families as they work on building friendships and dealing with familiar challenges.

I nominated The Boy in the Bubble for a Cybils award in the Short Chapter Books category. The other two are still awaiting someone to nominate them!

Tomorrow, Oct. 15 2014 is the last day that Cybils nominations are open for the season. Have you checked to see if your favorites are on the lists? There are seven categories of the very best children's books published in the U.S. in 2014. This is your chance to make your nominations!! Round one judges (I am one!!) will select the top five to seven books in each category by Dec. 1, and then the Final judging selects just one winner in each, to be announced in February. Go check it out!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Josephine; The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

by Patricia Hruby Powell, pictures by Christian Robinson. Chronicle books, 2014. Review copy. This adorable 8" x 10" full color hardback book is a treasure trove of inspiration and information on the glorious life of Josephine Baker. Baker was born in a hard scrabble life in East St. Louis in 1906. Growing up with poverty, discrimination, race riots, and a family that loved ragtime music and dancing away your troubles, Josephine learned to triumph with pizzazz. Nothing kept her down and she never took No for an answer. She ended up owning the stage from New York to New Orleans to Paris, France. She won hearts with her wild style and flashing joy. She learned to fly and became a stunt pilot. During WWII she joined the Red Cross and worked as a spy for the resistance.  She was awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d/Honneur. After the war she remarried and adopted 12 children from different countries and races, bringing them up in their own religions. She called her family her "Rainbow Tribe". Due to her generosity and extravagance she ran out of money, in spite of continuing to travel and perform for adoring crowds. She was struggling financially at the end of her life, but still performing at Carnegie Hall right before she died.

Powell and Robinson have done extensive research to support telling and showing this amazing story of a heroic, trailblazing American wonder woman. Children and adults alike will delight in the free verse celebration of her speaking out for justice, her charm and her creative bursts of dance and comedy in the face of seething segregation. Powell and Robinson have selected particularly interesting and stimulating aspects of Josephine's life, such as her passion to dance and her delight in flamboyant costume. She had a pet leopard while living in Paris, for example, and took "Chiquita" for walks in a diamond collar. The illustrations are bold and dramatic, with simple figures expressing intense expressions of Josephine's joie de vive.

See a trailer for the book and read exerpts at the publisher Chronicle Book's page. Read an interview with author Patricia Hruby Powell at Michelle Markel's blog The Cat and the Fiddle. Powell blogs "What Would Josephine Do?" at the Nerdy Book Club blog. And check out Jule's post at Seven Impossible Things for more artwork from Robinson, including some exploritory cover designs.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Trisha at Miss Rumphius. Take a moment to enjoy some delights!


Don't forget to go over the the Cybils blog this week and nominate your favorite new children's books (books published between Oct. 16, 2013 through Oct. 15, 2014). Nominations are only open until Oct. 15!!! There are seven categories of books. I nominated Josephine for the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction category. There are still some excellent books that haven't been nominated yet!! Check out the lists here. Semifinalists will be announced in January, and the winner in each category is announced in February. Previous winners are listed at the Cybils blog.