a writer's journey as a reader

Get Your Poems and Pockets Ready…

Get your poems and pocket ready. April 24th is National Poem in Your Pocket Day!


On Poem in Your Pocket Day, people throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it with others throughout the day.

You can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

Poems from pockets are unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores.

Create your own Poem in Your Pocket Day event using ideas below or share your creative ideas with us by emailing


Last year I downloaded the poems selected especially for PYPD and printed them out on colored paper and rolled them up and handed them out to students from a special canister.  They unrolled them and smiled and shared them. Yes, some ended up on the floor, but mostly my freshmen and AP seniors thought it pretty cool to have their own poem to carry around for the day.  I enjoyed watching them excitedly ask one another, “Which one did you get?”

So–you’ve got the website link, now get on it!  Get those poems ready for those pockets!



Poet Appreciation #6: Eliza Lee Follen

While it’s grand to dig away at meaning, symbolism, and theme, it can refreshing to simply enjoy a poem for its bouncy rhythm and rhyme and wit.  This is the case for Eliza Lee Follen’s “Lines on Nonsense.”

Edward Lear renders an appropriate complement for today’s poem.

Lines on Nonsense

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
I love it from my heart;
The only earthly pleasure
That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,
And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
And vanish from our sight.

Eliza Lee Follen (1787-1860), was ten in a family of thirteen children. Born into an affluent Boston family she became a poet, children’s author, editor, and abolitionist. Her children’s verse offerings posed light and nonsensical images in contrast to the more serious ones of her time. She and her husband, Charles Follen had one son.

Poet Appreciation: #5 Guest Poet

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Three guess on today’s most appropriate poem:

  • Nope, not Shakespeare–although it is Sonnet 43, it’s not his.
  • Nada–Dickinson has dashes, but not so much mush
  • Yup, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And I know it’s almost cliché to have her famous Sonnet 43 as today’s poem (yes, though February was a couple of months ago, the 14th can still be a factor in choice), her love story is soooo romantic that it bears repeating–especially if you don’t know it.

ONCE upon a time, long ago, a young girl by the name of Elizabeth Barrett grew up with a very possessive and controlling father who had strange ideas about his children going off and getting married–like in “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” Even though the young Elizabeth was pretty much imprisoned in her house by her father (shades of princess needing a prince) she became a famous poet.

One day a dashing younger man by the name of Robert Browning read one of Miss Barrett’s books of poetry and wrote her a letter. She wrote back. He wrote back. Well, before you know it they became pen pals with a serious romance brewing.

Big, bad, Dad Barrett would not let Elizabeth and Robert marry, at least he did not give his consent. So, of course Robert, a prince of a fellow, rescues the lovely princess of poetry, and they elope off to Italy. And yes, they DID live happily ever after. Big, bad, Dad Barrett never forgave them, but the Brownings remained blissfully happy in their famous marriage of pen and passion.

Now, that’s a great literary romance tale. So let’s celebrate with some good old Peanuts:

Poet Appreciation: #4 George Santayana

Quick–what teacher did Conrad Aiken, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens have in common? *Jeopardy muzak plays softly* If you answered George Santayana you either are a verse warrior or you clued in on the post title.

Santayana, a Spanish-born American, was a philosopher, essayist, novelist, teacher, and poet. Receiving his PhD from Harvard he joined the faculty in 1889. In 1912 he moved to Europe and must have liked it because he never returned to the states. Santayana, thought to be an important influences of critical realism, became part of what is known as the Classical American Philosophy. He died in 1952.

 There may be chaos still around the world
by George Santayana
There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.
Unless I am way off base, I think this is the complex version of Bobby McFerrin’s hit ditty “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” I hear in this poem how the world can be swirling and whirling about us, yet we can cocoon within ourselves and remain blissfully at peace.  I prefer the happy llama mode: humming along in life.

Last Call for YA Writer Hopefuls…


Tomorrow is the deadline for the Writer’s Digest 15th Free Lucky Agent Contest.

Free definitely caught my attention.  The fact that the contest is focusing on Young Adult helped motivate me to enter.  Who could resist the prize:

Three  winners  will be awarded the following:

1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of their work, by the agent judge

2) A free one-year subscription to

The critique will be given by agent  Andrea Somberg, a literary agent who represents various fiction and non-fiction projects including those aimed at young adult and middle grade audiences.

I selected one of my YA manuscripts, spent some time polishing it, and submitted it.  It’s not too late! If you are a YA writer  go to this link for my details.

  Hoping to have good news about my submission.


Now–back to poetry and National Poetry Month.

Poet Appreciation #3: Robert Penn Warren

Better known as a novelist, and perhaps as a scholar, Robert Penn Warren did provide some formidable poetry to ponder. You might be more familiar with his All the King’s Men, which garnered him the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, then his Pulitzer Prize collection Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978. In all, he was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, two being for poetry.  His southern background influenced his writing, particularly leaning towards the agrarian appreciation of the land. Receiving accolades and honors throughout his career, Warren left a rich legacy of both prose and poetry.

Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren

Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Robert Penn Warren

I shall build me a house shall build me a house where the larkspur blooms
In a narrow glade in an alder wood,

Where the sunset shadows make violet glooms,
And a whip-poor-will calls in eerie mood.

I shall lie on a bed of river sedge,
And listen to the glassy dark,
With a guttered light on my window ledge,
While an owl stares in at me white and stark.
I shall burn my house with the rising dawn,
And leave but the ashes and smoke behind,
And again give the glade to the owl and the fawn,
When the grey wood smoke drifts away with the wind.

Like Cather’s poetry about the prairie, Warren provides a strong connection to nature. His diction is amazing the way it influences the imagery: “violet glooms,” “guttered light,” “glassy dark”. I don’t even notice the rhyme, it’s so fluid. Whether they poem is taken for its metaphorical meaning or literal, it doesn’t matter to me–I simply want to savor it, rather than analyze it. Good writing is like a good sunset in that words aren’t always sufficient to explain why the beauty is so moving.

Poetry Workshop: The Villanelle

The villanelle is one of those poem forms that when rendered well looks so effortless it’s surprising to learn how difficult they really are to write.


What is a villanelle?

This is a rather strenuous poem in that it contains nineteen lines, which amounts to five stanzas of three lines and one stanza of four lines containing four lines with two rhymes and two refrains.

Now if that isn’t complicated enough, keep this in mind: the first, and then the third lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, with stanza 5 ending in a couplet.  Oh, yes–the villanelle is usually written in a tetrameter, which is four feet or perhaps a pentameter, constituting of five feet

It’s best to see how a villanelle is wired together. If curious, or willing to try a villanelle with the example by Edward Arlington Robinson found at WikiHow

If you’re thinking, “Well, bosh and bother, I think I’ll pass on the villanelle,” I will leave you some well-known villanelles to contemplate.  Look for those repeating lines.  Like I mentioned earlier, a well-rendered villanelle won’t even appear to be trying so hard.  These poets make it seem rather effortless, don’t they?

Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”  is one of the most famous villanelles. To demonstrate how the villanelle works the repetition is boldface and italics. A deeper discussion can be found at this link

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Another villanelle example:

When I saw you last, Rose,
You were only so high;—
How fast the time goes!

Like a bud ere it blows,
You just peeped at the sky,
When I saw you last, Rose!

Now your petals unclose,
Now your May-time is nigh;—
How fast the time goes!

And a life,—how it grows!
You were scarcely so shy
When I saw you last, Rose!

In your bosom it shows
There’s a guest on the sly;
How fast the time goes!

Is it Cupid? Who knows!
Yet you used not to sigh,
When I saw you last, Rose;—
How fast the time goes!

                            –Austin Dobson

You probably found those repeating lines all on your own, didn’t you?

Here’s a more contemporary villanelle.  Do check out more of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. She’s amazing.

One Art
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
 so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster

If you haven’t filled up on villanelles yet, I suggest clicking here and reading on a rather nice collection.

Thanks for stopping in for the workshop.  I do hope you will give the villanelle a try, and even if you don’t, I hope you’ve gain an appreciation for a fascinating poem form.



Poet Appreciation #2: Edwin Arlington Robinson

English: Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson

Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I vaguely recall reading one or two of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poetry as I dug through my AP selections. Needless to say, he is not a poet that I am familiar with; however, this gem dropped in my box as a my daily poem offering and it immediately reverberated within me: don’t we all wonder about that abandoned house?

Robinson took his poetry seriously, despite being unable to make a living from it, he persevered. Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize he still remains relatively unknown, at least I can’t place him in the category of tip-of-the-tongue knowns, like Frost, Dickinson, and Whitman.  Have you heard of him or am I showing my poetry illiteracy once again?

The House on the Hill
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,      
The House is shut and still,    
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray      
The winds blow bleak and shrill:    
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day      
To speak them good or ill:    
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray      
Around that sunken sill?    
They are all gone away.

And our poor fancy-play      
For them is wasted skill:    
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay      
In the House on the Hill:    
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

For a broader perspective of the poem follow this link

I personally am always curious about abandoned houses, or those that seem empty. Yet, there  isn’t a true emptiness, is there as long as houses remain standing, so do the memories. I like how Robinson intimates that though there may be memories, without the people inhabiting the house, there can be no conversations. An empty house is a voiceless house and a house without words is indeed empty.

English: abandoned house

abandoned house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Brief Interruption to Our Scheduled Poetry Programming

One of my goals for Spring Break is to knuckle down and really get productive on my own writing.  I have been more reader than writer of late and I need to reverse that status. However, here it is Friday and school starts again Monday. Never fear, I still have great hopes of revising and sending out more manuscripts. I have to remind myself to keep working, even though that little voice  in the background keeps sniveling: “But I’m on vacation!”

Fortunately I found some needed motivation in Writing Like Crazy’s post for the day.

Writer’s Digest, who always has the best writer’s advice, also runs fabulous contests.  Currently offered is their 15th Free Lucky Agent Contest.

Three  winners  will be awarded the following:

1) A critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of their work, by the agent judge

2) A free one-year subscription to

The focus of this particular agent contest is Young Adult.  The agent is Andrea Somberg, a literary agent with close to fifteen years experience, and represents various fiction and non-fiction projects including those aimed at young adult and middle grade audiences.

I plan to spend the next couple of days fine-tuning my YA manuscripts and submitting them before the deadline which is  Wednesday, April 9th. For more details on the contest go to this link

Poetry Workshop: Getting in Shape with Concrete Poetry


First the grammar lesson, and then the poetry workshop lesson.


A common noun is a noun referring to a person, place, or thing in a general sense. There are many types of nouns: common, proper, possessive, singular, abstract and concrete.

Concrete Nouns

A concrete noun names animate and inanimate things  that can be perceived through the five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, or smell. Examples are: cats, doors, waffles, teachers. A concrete noun is the opposite of an abstract noun such as concepts like: love, liberty, courage.


With the basic noun lesson understood, let’s move on to the Poetry Workshop: Concrete Poetry.

Concrete Poetry: aka Shape Poetry aka Visual Poetry

Poetry in which the overall effect is influenced through visual means by forming or arranging the words in a pattern that reflects the subject or meaning.

The concrete aspect comes from basing the poem on tangible nouns, ones in which employ the senses, as opposed to abstract nouns.  For instance, I can write about how cats see us, but are often invisible as they hide in plain view or I can emphasize the cat aspect by shaping the words around this concrete noun:


Sometimes the poem and its shape is humorous:



And sometimes it is more art than actual words:




Other times there is a message within the message that turns out to be abstract after all:


concrete poem by jennifer Phillips

For the most part, concrete poetry is a visual blending of text and shape.  It’s an interactive expression, a melding and mixing of art, thought, feeling. Get into poetry by getting into shape.

Explore more with forming!



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