Marilyn’s blog

Who Knew Haiku…

… is so darn hard to craft?

I mean, a three line poem, taught in elementary schools everywhere – how hard is that? If you can count to seven, you can pump out reams of them, right?

Not so fast.

This week I’ve been reading and practicing haiku. After finishing this little gem of a book, filled with examples of extraordinary haiku and also examples of things that look like haiku but aren’t, I can confidently say that most of my attempts at haiku are… Well, if I was a southern lady talking about them I would have to say, “Bless their dear hearts”.

Por ejemplo, I wrote this little beauty a few years ago to a prompt which pictured an embroidered bird.

Beautiful flyer
Caged in bold-colored stitches
Yearns for sharp scissors

As you can see, I can certainly count to five, seven, and five. I have a surprising last line which, maybe, gives the reader pause to think more deeply about that bird. The idea of a bird caged in stitches and yearning for freedom – good, good. It’s a little something of a poem. But I don’t think it’s a haiku, at least not a good one.

Forget counting syllables. Have I created clear images? (Maybe) Have I created two clear images in conversation with each other? (No) Have I edited out every unnecessary modifier? (Oh, please. I see a modifier in every line.) I could go on. And on. So I try again.

toddlers at the playground
in identical attire
goslings scurry

This is a little closer. I have two images, one is clearly speaking of the natural world. I have suggested a season, goslings. I have a pivot line in the middle – “in identical attire” could refer to the toddlers or, humorously, the goslings. I have left room for the reader to piece the two images together and give them meaning. There’s something here. Is it good? Could it be published? Probably no and no.

With so many moving parts in such a short form, haiku is HARD. Yet, “haiku” is “taught” broadly and “known” universally. I wonder if its artistry and complexity are lost on most readers. It’s as if, in the western world, we’ve come to think a fine work of oil painting comes out of a paint-by-number box rather than the countless years of practice and failure it took for Renoir to create one piece.

I’m not knocking teachers of the world who use haiku in their classrooms. What could ever be wrong with introducing ways to use and play with words or learning about art and culture? Absolutely nothing. Please, continue. I hope teachers and word lovers everywhere will continue reading and writing haiku. I also hope they will use this deceptively difficult form as a way to go deeper into the power of words, the power of simplicity, and the importance of a single moment. Dive in to haiku, real haiku, and leave the craft store version for the beginners. May they enjoy it.

I Promised Fluffy Chicks and Joy


This cutie turned 23! this week. (Girl, not chick.)

But before we get to “joy”, let’s talk about “poets”.  I’m guessing most people have an image of a person cradling a moleskin journal and a quill, resting on a grassy river bank or under weeping willow branches, jotting down profound bits of language. Or maybe “poet” conjures up a black-bereted, gotee-bearded person with a bongo drum on a stage in a dank basement club. Whatever. In any case, I don’t think the consensus is that “poets” are fierce. That “poets” are relentless. That “poets” are, above all else, BRAVE.

For me, the essence of poetry is digging deeply into personal experiences and emotions, the good, bad, and ugly of them, and putting them on a page. There is no poem unless there is vulnerability on the part of the poet. Then, that openness goes into the world to be read, judged, and often, rejected. Which, not gonna lie, really sucks.

And still, poets write. We poets are either the bravest kind of people or the craziest or some kind of both. So I will share with you one of my rejects, a poem for kids that went into the world, and was sent back to me with a “this is nice, but not what we’re looking for”. It still gives me joy (JOY!) and I hope it gives you some, too.

Chicken Scores a Ten!

If I could choose the perfect pet,
I’d choose a laying hen.
Of all the pets that I could get,
a chicken scores a ten.

She’d scratch and squawk and work the hay
to build a comfy seat.
And in it, daily, she would lay
a treat for me to eat.

I’d take her eggs and save them up
until I had enough,
break out my spoons and pans and cups,
crack, then stir and fluff.

I’d bake the world’s most giant cake –
heave and ho and labor –
then split it so each friend could take
a layer for their neighbor

who’d taste my cake and sprout a smile
then pass it on again.
JOY! would spread a million miles
because I chose a hen.

Now I’m off to write some more poems because that’s what poets do.

The Progressive Poem is Here!

It’s the final week of April but poetry month is still going strong. For my addition to this progressive poem, I leaned into spring and Earth day and…poetry, of course! I have modified a lovely line from the poem “When I Was a Bird” by Katherine Mansfield. I came across this beauty in the anthology, Shades of Green”, Poems chosen by Anne Harvey and Illustrated by John Lawrence (Greenwillow Books). This anthology was a gift from my mother to my daughter many years ago and, like all well-chosen gifts, it keeps on giving. Enjoy!

Where they were going, there were no maps.

   Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today.

Take the adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!

   We have to go back. I forgot something.

But it’s spring, and the world is puddle-wonderful,

so we’ll whistle and dance and set off on our way.

Come with me, and you’ll be in a land of pure imagination.

Wherever you go, take your hopes, pack your dreams, and never forget –

 it is on our journeys that discoveries are made.

And then it was time for singing.

Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain, paint with all the colors of the wind, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky?

Suddenly, they stopped and realized they weren’t the only ones singing.

Listen, a chattering of monkeys! Let’s smell the dawn 
and taste the moonlight, we’ll watch it all spread out before us.

The moon is slicing through the sky. We whisper to the tree, 
tap on the trunk, imagine it feeling our sound.

Clouds of blue-winged swallows, rain from up the mountains,

Green growing all around, and the cool splash of the fountain.

If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden,

a bright, secret, quiet place, and rather sad; 
 and they stepped out into the middle of it.

Their minds’ libraries and lightning bugs led them on.

The darkwood sings, the elderhist blooms, the sky lightens; listen and you will find your way home.

The night sky would soon be painted, stars gleaming overhead, a beautiful wild curtain closing on the day.

Mud and dusk, nettles and sky – time to cycle home in the dark. 

There are no wrong roads to anywhere

lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.

Standing at the fence of the cottage, 
    I hear the new note in the voices of the birds.

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the message of my heart upward.

I make up a song that goes on singing all by itself

Next up is Joann!

Source List:

1. The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories, by Emily Winfield Martin

2. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
3. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
4. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
5. inspired by “[in Just-]” by E. E. Cummings
6. “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
7. Maybe by Kobi Yamada
8. Sarah, Plain, and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
9. inspired by Disney songs “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
10. The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor
11. adapted from Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman
12. adapted from The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron
13. adapted from On the Same Day in March by Marilyn Singer
14. adapted from a line in Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
15. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
16. Prince Caspian by CS Lewis
17. The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
18. Kate DiCamillo’s The Beatryce Prophecy
19. The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith
20. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
21. ThePhantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
22. Dance Me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen
23. adapted from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

24. A quote from Terry Tempest Williams in Birdology by Sy Montgomery
25. adapted from “When I Was a Bird” by Katherine Mansfield

Thinking About Mars on Earth Day (or am I?)

April is so chuck-a-bluck full of significant days, the ones with the fine print in the calendar blocks. Yesterday was John Muir’s birthday and today is Earth Day. That is an environmentalist’s version of a double-header! As much as I would like to write some lovely poem extolling the beauty of the natural world, today, I’m worried. Actually, every day I’m worried. I think many of us are. So, I’ve written a little warning to our nearest planetary neighbor.

Dear Mars,

I’m writing to you from a tiny patch
of solid land on planet
I realize you probably have your own name
for my planet –
“My Blue Twin” or
“That Bloke Always Blocking My View of the Sun” or
“The Unfortunate Watery One”.
For the sake of our discussion
let’s call my home planet
I wanted to let you know
in case you haven’t already figured it out
we’ve been watching you for a
We ruminate on your moods
track your movements
calculate how and how long
it will take
to get to you.
Until recently
it was all fairly innocuous stuff.
We trained telescopes on you
searched for water
collected rocks
no biggie – just getting to know
our celestial neighbor.
With sadness
I’m writing to warn you –
those days are over.
You may have noticed
a ticking sensation
roving your backside
something crawling
up your spine
some pesky bug burrowing
under your skin –
yeah, that’s us.
Well, not me.
Not even a human
but a machine we built
and launched
and landed on you.
Oh, I’m sure you think it’s nothing
to worry about
no more harmful than a baby’s hand
exploring the planes, curves, and divots
of its mother’s face.
People on this planet
have big plans for you.
Before you know it, they’ll land
drill rigs
They will blast your formations
like they’re some mountain top in West Virginia
drill through you like convicts
looking for a way out
and if they find anything of
well, I guess you may as well be
a Native American meeting Europeans.
I know this must be hard to hear
but I thought you should know the truth.
If I were you
I’d be a little less accommodating
a little more
because, believe me,
these aliens do not come in peace.

Yours in caution,
A Human of a Slowly Dying Planet

For the record – I don’t want to live on Mars. I don’t want humans to live on Mars (well, maybe we can ship a select few in that direction). I want us, here on Earth, to love the planet we’ve been given and to marvel at it like a baby marveling at its mother face. Let’s try that today. And tomorrow. And the day after.

Happy Earth Day!

So Much Pride

There’s lots of talk these days about “the trans”, as if they are some abstract concept out there, some weird peculiarity of human society, something strange, mysterious, devious, blah, blah, blah. I’m here to say, sometimes people are born in meat suits that don’t match their souls. I know plenty of them. (You do, too.)

Why am I thinking about the trans community on a beautiful Good Friday morning? Not to go all Christian theologian on you, but here is my answer in a poem:

The Announcement

Came today with a full color photo

“I have graduated!”

I scan the face of this unfamiliar name

the nose ring and pierced brows

the chopped brown hair

and black, so much black clothing

I dredge memories of a young girl

on stage in a lion’s mane

escorting Dorothy down a paper path

a huntsman begging Snow White

to run, run for her life

flee the witch queen and all her wickedness

I see a girl pretending to be a boy-

a boy pretending to be a girl

now a person casting off a costume

that never quite fit

claiming the stage

fearless in the spotlight

I stand and applaud

Yes, my dear,

you have graduated, indeed.

Isn’t it interesting that this appeared in my universe on the day billions of people around the globe remember the imprisonment, torture, and slaughter of an innocent human? A human compelled to preach love and community, to practice radical inclusivity? I’m just saying…

What a world we could have with a little more love and community and a lot less screaming about the “other” who is our neighbor, whether we recognize them or not.

A is for an Abundance of Poetry!

I fell in love with poetry when I could still sit on my mother’s lap. To me, it is irresistible. I think I’ve wanted to be a poet ever since. As early as second grade I was trying to flex my rhyming skills. (Actual poem I wrote for Mother’s Day.)

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Candy is sweet

And you’re neat!

And of wonder of wonders, I was published,(PUBLISHED!) in the local paper in fourth grade.

Profound, I know. Of course, to follow up on this writing success, I stopped writing poetry completely. High school and beyond was a poetry desert. Which could have been the whimpered end to my poetry career.

But, a few years ago, this old dog decided to learn some new tricks. I took classes, attended webinars even before we were all Zoom-dependent, and read and read and read. I found a welcoming community of writers who were willing to read my clunky, ham-handed drafts, encourage me to keep going, and offer up their own work as master class for me.

Paraphrasing Stephen King, if you have sent your writing into the world and received money for it, if your writing has paid a bill, you are a professional. Finally, finally, I sit here today, a professional poet, completely hooked (obsessed).

This is the first National Poetry Month that I comfortably claim “poet” in my bio. Now that I am in the community of poets, honestly, April is… a little overwhelming. Every poet I know is cranking out daily poems, participating in daily readings, visiting schools virtually and in person, etc., etc. It’s a lot.

It’s too much for me. If there’s one thing I have learned about my writing process, it’s that I am a S…L…O…W writer. I need time to let thoughts percolate, to dig in and figure out what I really want to say, to face the deep emotions. So here’s my plan.

I will write what I can for the love of writing. I will visit many blogs and poet’s websites. I will participate in a progressive poem. I will share one spoken poem with kids across the world. And I will read, read, read. Come join me.

Find the progressive poem here

1 April 1 Irene at Live Your Poem
2 Donna Smith at Mainly Write
3 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
4 Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading
5 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
6 Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone
7 Kim Johnson at Common Threads
8 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
9 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
10 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
11 Janet Fagel at Reflections on the Teche
12 Jone at Jone Rush MacCulloch
13 Karin Fisher-Golton at Still in Awe
14 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
15 Carol Labuzzetta @ The Apples in my Orchard
16 Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
17 Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken Town
18 Patricia at Reverie
19 Christie at Wondering and Wandering
20 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
21 Kevin at Dog Trax
22 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
23 Leigh Anne at A Day in the Life
24 Marcie Atkins
25 Marilyn Garcia
26 JoAnn Early Macken
27 Janice at Salt City Verse
28 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
29 Karen Eastlund at Karen’s Got a Blog
30 Michelle Kogan Painting, Illustration, & Writing

Watch poetry readings here

Happy April!

Accidental Homeschooling

I think we can all agree, it’s been a tough two years. Those of us who have lived through our first pandemic have had to learn ways to keep it all together while we’ve been stuck inside, isolated. Some of us have had to jump into homeschooling, ready or not.

I hear you. I feel you. As a retired homeschooling parent, what’s so sad for me is that if you and your kids were plopped together doing “school at home”, you think you know what homeschooling is. You don’t. And you might think there is no way in blazes you will EVER do that again. I’m sorry.

The best homeschooling is about exploration. It is about seeing opportunities to learn as you go about your life. Yes, there are math books and maps and karate classes, but there’s also this.

The National Mall filled with families and kites.

I went D.C. to see cherry blossoms and found homeschooling. This is homeschooling. Seriously. Look at all the learning – geometry, aerodynamics, velocity, tension, artistry, atmospheric pressure, etc. All topics and concepts you could fill a curriculum with in ways that would make the most hardcore skeptic shut their pie hole. And that doesn’t even touch on all the discussions you could have about the history, architecture, and significance of the Mall, the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. in general. I see small motor skills, large motor skills, physical fitness. This sight even inspired me to write a tiny little poem:

Red octopus

Caught on a line

Still swims

You get the idea.

God forbid our lives get upended again anytime soon. But, if you are lucky enough to still have kids at home and you feel the need to doing something “productive” with them … maybe go fly a kite. Or find something beautiful in your own backyard. Like cherry blossoms.

Butts, Poop and Other Challenges for Mentors

For several years, I have been a volunteer reading mentor with A-OK Mentoring and Tutoring in Howard County, Maryland. Before that I worked with Partners in Reading in Harford County, and before that, and before that, etc. Let’s just say I have worked on reading skills with LOTS of kids besides my own.

Many of these kids, identified as “behind” (no pun intended) grade level in reading are also English language learners. Turns out there’s a relationship between the language spoken and read at home and a child’s ability to read, write, and comprehend English thrown their way at school. Who would have guessed?

From my observations of these kids, boys and girls of varying ages and cultures, kids think butts are funny. Kids think underwear is funny. Diapers? Toilets? Poop? Funny. Funny. Funny. Even when they can’t read the words or know the English words for said hilarity, it’s still funny. Which can be a challenge for mentors.

How do you explain “wedgie” or “urinal” if you don’t know which words of your explanation will be understood? I mean, you’re not going to demonstrate, right? And, my goodness, there are a zillion English words for poop – poo, doo, doo-doo, crap, guano, feces, etc. and I haven’t even touched diarrhea! (Ewww!)

These are real examples of words I have had to explain to kids. The moment when my carefully chosen words have bridged the gap of comprehension, when the meaning and context dawn on them and they realize I am explaining what I am explaining, might be more funny to me than butts are to them. And a good laugh between the two of us is one of the best parts of mentoring.

I humbly suggest, if you are in the business of reading to kids, you need to get real comfortable talking about body parts and body functions and, maybe, learn to laugh about it all. Like a kid.

It’s Time to Talk About Time

Every February for the last five years, I have participated in an online poetry- writing challenge run by my friend, Laura Shovan. Through the challenge, a group of poets is given a broad theme for the month, 28 of us volunteer to contribute a prompt associated with the theme, and everyone writes and posts very first drafty poems to that prompt. You can learn about it and follow along at Laura’s blog,

This year our theme was time. How timely. Here is one of my drafty poems where I recollect the frustration and visceral disconnect of being placed in a location on the globe where I could not use clues from the natural world to indicate the time of day.

Deutschland (I Would Go Back Again, Oh Yes, I Would!)

It’s one thing to up stakes
across town – quite another
to hop an ocean
take a sharp left and settle
many degrees north
leaving your only known latitude
in the basement
old clocks are unreliable
in this geospace
sun rises too early and too late
dragon shadows hunt at noon
dinner is in the dark this week
in canopy shade the next
a year into exile
you give up on the useless
time clues and you
see the optometrist
get transition lenses
for your third eye
to relieve that straining
of searching for light
in all the wrong times
in all the wrong places
you clock out
of the calendar
surrender to whatever is

Imagine my shock, dismay, ANGER at waking up, still jet-lagged from springing forward into daylight savings time, to read the Senate has passed a bill to make daylight savings time the permanent time.

I have SO. MANY. THOUGHTS. Out of respect for your time, I’ll be brief.

The senators who passed this bill by unanimous consent seem to think what will make all our lives so much better is to just have a few more hours of daylight. They want to give us regular folks the opportunity to sit in the sun, play golf, shop and visit restaurants in the evening rather then leaving work in the dark and settling in at home. My, my. They came so close to having a clue.

Put aside the fact that changing the time on the clock doesn’t change the Earth’s tilted axis, that seasons happen, that there is a finite amount of time the sun shines on a point of the globe regardless of some clock contraption, that no one’s going out for golf when the temperature is 30 degrees, etc., etc. Let’s assume these fine legislators want us all to have more time in the sun for our own sake and not for the sake of business profits. Let’s assume they genuinely care about our well-being and they understand there are myriad documented physical, social, and mental health problems associated with changing the damn clocks twice a year.

Allow me to suggest there are other, more impactful pieces of legislation to address these issues. Off the top of my head – How about a 30-hour work week? (Just like that I found, TWO extra hours of daylight without tampering with time.) How about flexible work schedules? How about adjusted hours for K-12 schools? How about increased funding for health care, including mental health, and all manner of sleep disorders? How about increasing green spaces so everyone can easily and safely access sunlight throughout the year? I could go on.

Let’s not forget we tried this experiment already. The last time we tried to have “more daylight all year round” we learned that having children waiting for school buses in the dark of night was… not a great look.

I hope the House will slow this roll. I do think the clock changing nonsense needs to go. I would love to see thoughtful debate, informed by science, guide our collective decision on what to do about time. This time.

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