Thursday, August 16, 2007


so i'm clearing out the "empty" room of all my mess of papers and poems, trying to get organized for another year of teaching and thinking about children's writing. and i'm startled by these little gems of light i'm finding! i think these were written at columbus elementary school in chicago, il, in the ukrainian village, an amazing little school tucked into the corner of leavitt and augusta. we had read a poem by joy harjo and i asked them to take on an authoritative voice, to call on others to remember what might be forgotten in the everyday. we also talked about belonging and used this prompt as a warm up -- "...blank...belongs to...and...belongs to ...blank..." pushing for them to think about relationships, connections, audacious or otherwise. the light belongs to the window, and the window belongs to the light. that sort of thing. i love re-finding these poems in my apartment. they make me smile. enjoy.


Remember when you discovered that there is a world inside your body.
Remember when you discovered that you live on the brightest planet.
Remember when you discovered that your dog always dreams about bones.
Remember when you discovered that books are smarter than you.
Remember when you discovered that everything that grows has feelings
just like you.

Pavlo D.


Remember the moon is you and you are the moon
Remember you are the star and the star is you
Remember you are the sea and the sea is you
Remember love is in your heart and the heart is you
Remember you are me and I am you
Remember love is in our heart and our heart is in you

anonymous 3rd grader

Friday, June 01, 2007


check out this poem by 3rd grade student omari from visitation catholic school -- it's pretty intense. he wrote it during a workshop on "chants." totally unprompted, it just poured out of him (we were all writing about nature, he was writing this). omari...he's a beautiful, strange, round stuttering child, and i have a feeling he'll be writing poems his whole life. it's an amazing privilege to run into our future's poets. big love to all of you. xoxo, a


You are full of mistakes.
You are full of mistakes.

No, I definitely am not.
You are full of mistakes.

Did you spill your mother's coffee?
You are full of mistakes.

You ain't perfect, I tell by your looks.
You spit vomit on your history books.
You are full of mistakes.

Why do you think your hair's in a bunch?
You are full of mistakes.

Gee, you're a tough cookie, see, you crunch.
You are full of mistakes.

I don't gotta do whatever you say.
You are full of mistakes.

Well, don't say it tomorrow! Say it today!
You are full of mistakes.

I hate you, I wish you are dead.
You are full of mistakes.

I'm going to tie you up with needle and thread.
You are full of mistakes.

And how exactly are you gonna do that?
You are full of mistakes.

I'll ask my mom, we'll see about that.
You are full of mistakes.

Oh, yeah, right, ya think you can try
to even make me slightly die?

Quit talkin' trash. You've got a rash.
You've caused ants by the Stikko's you smashed. -- (stikko's are chocolate swirl cookies).
You are full of mistakes.

Well, I ain't perfect and neither are you.
As a matter of fact, I hate you too.

You are full of mistakes.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Words, by Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.

That's all it took -- a single reading in a fourth grade classroom, to inspire this poem by Tanaili, 10 years old, Columbus Elementary School, Chicago, IL:


When I had feelings, my words crushed me.
Then came the war!

When my words were mad, I tried to forget

When my words were scorpions, I ran away
from them.

When my thoughts felt sad, my words became

When my words threatened me, I threw them
out my window.

My words hurt me on the inside. Words screaming
in my head. Will the war ever end?

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Yesterday, I led a poetry workshop with 3rd graders at Columbus Elementary School. We were imaginng ourselves as animals, objects, and ideas in nature. Nicole read a poem about being a butterfly that flies so high into the air that she ends up in outerspace. She can't breathe and starts to fall down, down, down. The stars reach out and grab her, saving her from a terrible death.

Meanwhile, Hector is quietly falling apart over the loss of his grandfather. Hector is crying at his desk, mourning, holding his head down by his chest. He asks if he can write a poem about his grandfather and draws a coffin with his grandfather's body inside. He can't stop crying. Hector is a short, stout boy with a crew cut. He's wearing a white shirt and jeans. His eyes are red and swollen. I try to console him but he can't stop crying. We try to talk about it and suddenly Nastacia, a chubby girl wearing a hot pink sweater with gold flecks, cries out, "HECTOR! Your grandfater is an ANGEL looking down on your from heaven! Don't worry, Hector, don't cry, he's right HERE!" she says, pointing emphatically to his shoulder. She insists that Hector's grandfather in an angel and he's in the room with us right now. Hector stops sniffling. His neighbor Vincent agrees with Nastacia. He says, "she's right, your granfather is an ANGEL!" Hector nods softly and picks up a pencil. He draws haunting, stretchy hearts that seem to float out of the coffin. He seems to calm down a bit, and wants to read his poem out loud.

This is the clearest expression of what my friend and artist Rachel McIntire calls "the value of emotional exchange" among children. They didn't need me. They had each other. Hector, Nastacia, and Vincent worked through their own ideas about poetry and spirituality and handled it with grace and calm. I watched them in awe. I wondered why adults so often forget these basic gestures of consoling -- perhaps it's that we lose our certainty that angels indeed live and move among us. I'm not so sure about angels myself but in this moment, I was relieved to know that Hector's grandfather WAS there to ease his pain, and also so grateful for Nastacia's absolute certainty that everything was going to be alright.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Amazing poems by amazing young poets from Greeley Elementary School @ Irving Park and Sheridan. This work emerges from our after school writer's workshop on Tuesdays and Thursdays!


My soul is wandering through space

Flying through stars, wondering

Everything in the world, trying

To figure out questions that are

Never answered. Finding friends

And love that surround it,

Trying to know more and more

About the outer world. Thinking

What to do next and who to meet

Next. Asking, asking questions

That no one ever questioned. Wearing

Necklaces made out of moon rocks

With a dress of shiny stars. Making

Everywhere it goes shiny and

So smooth flying through with

All its poisoned self esteem.

Wandering what to tell me next

To give me some advice, to give

Me some warm advice.

Beatriz F.


For you, and only for you, I live, I breathe, I dream.

Only for you do I have a word to say.

You are the only way that joy may I redeem.

Even when I am happy, or so it may seem,

I am crying deep inside, and your smile fills me, I’ll stay,

for you and only for you, do I live, I breathe, I dream.

When I look into your tiny eyes as they gleam

All fear, worry, seem to have flown away.

You are the only way that joy may I redeem.

And when you’re crying, my mind echoes each scream,

While my heart is a hollow cave, you fill me in a way.

For you, and only for you, I live, I breathe, I dream.

In time, life reminds me it’s not like whipped cream,

but as dark and as dreary as dirt, where you’re my gold today.

You are the only way that joy may I redeem.

Your feet and hands, so tiny, smile honest, like a dream.

Eyes like a pond of lightness, a small content light amidst the gray,

For you and only for you, I live, I breathe, I dream.

You are the only way that joy may I redeem.

Emilia Anna B.


I am in a dark room – no noise

except my voice

my voice

Braces the silence

and the only thing here

Is this paper and pen

that has pink ink

I could not see

though it is too dark that maybe

in this room I could see

all my memories

But only if I close

my eyes

I could feel and smell

the people

It’s like

there was magic in every corner

of this


Brenda R.


What happens when a dream dies?

Do people stop walking by?

Do the trees say good night?

Do people start to fight?

Does the earth start to die?

May it be that nature catches the flu?

What happens when a dream dies?

Do my eyes stop to blink and

start to rain?

Instead of falling water

Do my tears become blood?

Or will the world

be full of flood?

Jessenia G.


Creatures of Death

Flag of the Cave

Lakes of Treasure

The little boy

cries for freedom.

Why in a cave?

He shouts.

He wants mercy.

His parents died

in a war with evil.

He saw a light

But then the

monster came

to life.

As he ran away

He saw a sword

shining like


He grabbed it

and then suddenly

He felt brave.

As he charged

He aimed to the
Monster’s stomach.

As it was fleeing

He saw his parents

Behind the monster.

They tested him

in courage and


Isaias G.


She woke up.

The sky was mixed

in 5 different colors.

She put on her robe

And walked outside,

Breathing in the sweet smell

of the sky that warms

Her inside.

And just like that

She was dressed

In the finest clothes.

And her soul rose to God.

Brianna Lelan B.


Hope: the softest clouds moving

Back and forth in the air. Shoot up! Come

Down. Birds chirping tweet! Tweet! Singing

A little tune. Crunch! Oops, stepped on a

Cookie. A doe nesting its baby and that’s

Called hope! A butterfly nesting and sipping

The sweetest nectar. Cats on the prowl

Hunting for food: Hope.

Amee L.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

LOVE LISTENS -- Sherman Week Four

So, Valentines Day. Just me, Jioni, and Antione again today. Halfway through the workshop, Jioni announced that his favorite word is "yesterday." He apparently calls Antione "tomorrow," so by default, they call me "today." For Valentine's Day, I decided that we would write love poems and eat pink cupcakes. First, they wrote their own poems and then we made a group poem imagining love as a person that walk in the room. What do we notice? What is up with Love?


Love walks in the room
wearing a a whole dress
made of flowers.
Love has a cool walk,
like it's sick: left foot
then right foot, then
left foot, then right.

Love dances like it
"walks it out."

Inside Love's pockets
you'll find 200 dollars
all sweet things
suckers and candy
you can even find
tomorrow or yesterday
in there.

Love listens for babies crying
tearing paper, splashing water
chairs sliding off the desk
and onto the floor, clocks ticking.

Love listens for crying people
Love listens to make wrong things
turn right. It spells wrong "r.i.g.h.t."

Love lives in heaven
in the sky
within us

in a black, green, and red house
with white walls, and purple chairs
and blue carpeting everywhere.

Love's house is full of furniture.
It is made of red brick hearts.

We know Love's biggest secret
But we can't tell you.

Jione and Antione

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

WHEN I WAS BORN -- Sherman Week Two


On my first day at Sherman, I was introduced to Antione, the only child to sign up for after school poetry workshops. On his little red notebook he wrote, Antione and looked at me, waiting for direction. With one student I had to think twice about how to spend the next hour and a half. I'm used to huge groups of children where there's barely enough time to read a single poem let alone hear everyone's voice. But here I was with Antione in the upstairs classroom on the 3rd floor, sitting at a little cluster of tables. I usually hate doing the "I am" kind of thing, but I decided to try it with Antione, hoping I'd get a chance to see where he took this and also use it as a chance to talk about imaginative thinking, metaphor joy, and the use of alliteration and sensory details. So that's what I asked of him -- to finish the idea of I am any way he wanted -- the only catch was to speak absolutely from the heart. I also coached him to created a chain of ideas linked by becoming the one thing mentioned in the line that came before it. He nodded earnestly. And here's what he wrote:

I am a heart beating
like a drum, I am the
rain falling from the sky,
I am the sky filled
with clouds, I am the
clouds floating over
my head, I am a head
filled with thoughts, I am
thoughts that come out
and be a part of my life,
I am a blue book falling
onto a purple carpet,
I am the purple carpet
lying on the brown and white
ground. I am the ground
being stepped on by adults
and kids, I am a child walking
through a field of green grass,
I am the green grass
shivering in the
wind. I am a roaring
rocket blasting off
into the atmosphere.
I am a piece of paper
flowing through the


Thursday, February 08, 2007


On Wednesday afternoons, I drive to 51st and Morgan to hang out with two amazing 4th grade boys, Jioni and Antoine. We write together for an hour and a half on a little red carpet by the windows. By four the sunlight streaks our faces in strips of gold. Yesterday afternoon, I asked them to make a list of impossible things. I got this idea from writing mentor David Schein. What's an impossible thing? Jioni says, "something that's UN-believable." We made this list and then we each chose our favorite two and wrote them on little pieces of paper. Next, each of us chose a mystery impossibility and had to speak on that idea for two minutes each. We had to pretend that this thing was actually a possibility and that we had experienced it. We talked about what it felt like, what we smelled, saw, heard, and experienced. Then we each had to write a poem just about that single idea. Here are their poems:

I climb a ladder
all the way
to heaven
and I heard
babies crying and
God was cooking
cookies and I smelled
soap, God was cleaning,
and God was
having a party and
a mom was melting
chocolate on her

-- Jioni

I smelled lots of flowers
When I was a bird
I heard other birds singing
When I was a bird
I felt the love
from my parents
When I was a bird
The bird flies
in the school and
sees this crazy party
When I was a bird.

-- Antoinne

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


What does it mean to "come of age"? What are the rituals, fears, and questions we have to mark the changes we experience in life? And what does it mean to come of age during one of the worst global health crises -- AIDS? At Crown Academy, I'm working with Mathematics teacher extraordinairre, Luke Albrecht, to develop a ten week unit that explores these ideas with 7th and 8th graders. We're using THEMBI'S AIDS DIARY ( to explore the stories behind the statistics. We're exploring the metaphors and functions of algebra to help us more deeply understand the significance of AIDS and HIV. Our first day was all about conversations related to "growing up." Students held silent conversations by writing to each other on large sheets of paper in groups. They asked each other questions and started to dig for the big ideas behind "coming of age."


It's true, Time is everything. Forget God. My teaching artist friend Leah and I have discovered that all things lead back to time, and everything we think about is hinged on our understandings of time, or our lack of understanding. So we developed an entire unit of study based on how people across disciplines describe and experience time. From Einstein to Dylan Thomas, Ben Franklin to Roethke, students explored the poetics of time and found ways to express how time is experienced in their own lives.