Posted in Life, Poetry, Reading, Teaching, Writing

News, Updates, and a Little Havoc

Hello! Happy Summer!

It’s the end of July, which means…

1) Going outside in Austin in the afternoon = recreating the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

2) The start of the new school year is close enough that it can no longer be ignored, so I’m desperately trying to finish all the books I’ve started this summer.

3) It’s time for some summer updates.

*

New Publications!

product_thumbnailThis summer, my work appeared in two new publications. You can read my humorous poem “Conquest or Coincidence” in this year’s issue of Best Austin Poetry, available at Lulu for only $1.75 + shipping. My poem, which is about the time my very fat childhood cat caught a mouse, is in good company with several poems from the talented and entertaining Diana Conces and many other gifted Texas poets.

IMG_20190710_094437535Also, I’m happy to report that my creepy flash fiction story “Window,” which was published at Havok in May, was selected for their season one anthology, Rebirth. Print and Kindle versions are both available on Amazon. The forty-eight very short stories in the collection range from scary and suspenseful to hilarious and thought-provoking. I recommend “The Devil Went Down to Costco” by Stephanie Scissom to make you laugh, “Words” by Katherine Vinson to make you think, and “If These Walls Could Talk” by J.L. Knight to give you shivers.

New Shopping Opportunities!

isla_280x280.25948040_fd2syi7nThis summer, I updated the Shop page of my blog, added new items to my Etsy store, and created a Teachers Pay Teachers page. Check them out and see if there’s something there with your name on it. (Psst! Want a super-secret coupon? From now until September 1, use the code JULYBLOG at my Etsy shop to get 15% off your purchase!)

New Cat!

Back in the fall, we quickly went from being a four-pet family to a two-pet family when my two cats, Gink and Toby, passed away within three weeks of each other. Toby was eighteen and Gink, who had been my familiar since he was a kitten, was almost twenty years old. Suffice to say, their passing left a deep chasm in my heart and my home. We still have our dog, Uno, and our other twenty-year-old cat, Gabby, and I love them both SO much, but I missed my boys. So, in May, hubby and I adopted an eighteen-year-old cat with a thyroid condition.

Everyone, meet Sneakers.

 

Somehow, this sweet, handsome, friendly, charismatic little guy spent TWELVE YEARS in a shelter in Pennsylvania. I still don’t understand how he went so long without finding his forever home, but I’m so glad his journey led him to us. (You can read more about his adoption story in this interview with Austin Pets Alive.)

Sneakers is more like a big kitten than a senior cat. He talks in his sleep and snores and plays with toys and gets the zoomies around 11pm. He eats like a pig (both in volume and manners) and tries to stick his paws in whatever we’re eating as well, whether it’s cereal or salad. He follows Gabby around the house singing to her (unfortunately, she is deaf and therefore immune to his siren call) and plays bongos on the dog’s ribs when he walks by too close. Sneakers is such a character, and we’re so happy to be his family.

Also, I’d just like to say that I never intended to adopt an older cat. All the elderly cats we’ve had in the past have been homegrown. In fact, I’d been hoping to get a kitten in the next year or so. But after adopting Sneakers, I have to say… old cats are awesome. Consider giving one a chance. Check out the available senior kitties at Austin Pets Alive or visit your city’s local shelter.

***

Well, that’s what’s new with me this summer. Writing, reading, weird trinkets, cats… the usual, really. What’s new with you?

 

Posted in Poetry, Reading

Making the Most of a Mess: 5 Book Title Found Poems

If there is a book lover out there who can pack a single box of books without opening, smelling, reading, or contemplating at least one, I haven’t met them yet. Then again, there are a lot of book lovers out there I haven’t met because we all spend so much time alone reading books. Did you know that secretly I’ve considered creating a meet-up for readers where we all meet at a comfy coffee shop, spend ten minutes introducing ourselves and telling each other what we’re reading, and then just read– silently– for the next hour? I have actually considered this multiple times. But I haven’t done it because of two very specific fears.

Very Specific Fear #1: Some bored extrovert will read the ad, grab a random book, and come to the meeting, but instead of reading, they will insist on talking to us the whole time. *shudder*

Very Specific Fear #2: That person will be me.

But, as usual, I digress.

I, personally, cannot pack a box of books without opening, smelling, reading, and contemplating several, if not all, of them. That can make packing up my classroom at the end of the year a fun but slow process. This year when I boxed up my large classroom library for summer, I made even more of a mess than usual. I had four piles going: books to be packed, books to be taken home to read over the summer (I will never read all of the books I brought home), books to give away, and books to be used in book title found poems before being placed in one of the other piles.

I made these giant, messy mountains of books (and knocked them over more than once) just before STAAR testing. During STAAR testing, I stared at the books longingly, and did a little rearranging in my head. Then, after STAAR testing, while my exhausted students watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that they’d read earlier in the year as a teleplay, I happily stacked, unstacked, and restacked my books until they were in the right poetic order. Then I packed them up for summer.

Then I came home and made more poems out of the books there.

Here they are:

IMG_20190513_144124059

I have lived a thousand years.
Ask me no questions–
I can’t keep my own secrets.
My thirteenth winter
life, the universe and everything
found things hidden,
knots in my yo-yo string.
When the sea turned to silver,
the girl I used to be
ungifted my own true name–
just my luck.
That was then, this is now.
Come with me
through the woods
where the red fern grows.
I will always write back.

*

IMG_20190513_142046833

When the outsiders runaway
it looks like this–
all the broken pieces
falling into place.
Listen, slowly:
Trouble don’t last.
Breathe.

*

IMG_20190413_232030689
Ack! The book THE GIRL FROM THE WELL was supposed to be in this stack after FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS, but it was left out on accident. Oops.

Once Upon a River

Seven little Australians,
children of blood and bone,
linger
five feet apart.
Imaginary girls shout,
voices in the air
negotiating with the dead.
Things fall apart,
the madwoman upstairs
falling over sideways,
the girl from the well
mapping the bones
in the lake of the woods.

*

IMG_20190414_000653036

The Night Diary

Within these walls
the sky is everywhere.

Love is a mix tape;
I was told there’d be cake.

Deep dark fears
linger
sailing alone around the room.

I touch the future.
I know why the caged bird sings.
I’m nobody! Who are you?

*

IMG_20190529_120302777

Prom Dates From Hell (a poem in two voices)

Dear Evan Hansen,
I am not a serial killer.

………………………………………………. How did you get this number?

Even cowgirls get the blues.
Time you let me in.

………………………………………………. I feel a little jumpy around you.

Let’s pretend this never happened.

………………………………………………. As you wish.

Good night, sleep tight.
There is no long distance now
from you to me.

*

Posted in Poetry, Teaching

Vision+Voice 2019 / Why Poetry Matters

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice reception this year.

Teaching all day + Writing Club + grading + trying to perfect that PowerPoint for Monday, and suddenly it was 6:30PM, and I was still in my classroom, and the Vision+Voice reception was starting across town in half an hour. For a quarter of a second, I considered not going. Then I dropped everything and jumped in the car.

Traffic was not in my favor as I made my way from south Austin to the ACC Highland campus. Once, my uninformed GPS even routed me through a construction zone. (Hello, men in hard hats! Sorry! Don’t mind me!) By the time I arrived at the community college, my shoulders were stiff, and I was calculating what time I might finally be home. 9:00PM? 9:30? 10:00? I felt the weight of my day bearing down on me as I walked across the parking lot.

Then I stepped inside, and all my stress lifted away. I couldn’t believe I considered missing this event for even a quarter of a second.

IMG_20190426_193043632

Vision+Voice is everything I love in one place. It’s students, dressed up and looking happy and nervous at the same time. It’s families, beaming and hugging and taking pictures. It’s teachers, nodding and saying how proud they are. It’s music, art, and good food. And it’s poetry.

The program was launched by Austin Community College in 2013. It’s an annual contest for students in Austin to submit poetry on any topic, in any language. ACC Creative Writing students and published poets judge the poems. One winner and a number of honorable mentions are selected from every grade level. The poems are published in a beautiful anthology, and the poets are invited to record a video reading their poems at KLRU. In addition, the first place poems are paired with a piece of art created by an ACC student and made into posters to be displayed in homes, schools, and libraries across the city.

This year, my school was honored to have three young poets recognized for their poems: Harper J (sixth grade honorable mention), Noah L (seventh grade winner), and Hadley S (seventh grade honorable mention). Hadley wrote a tritina poem called “Shooting Stars” during our class’s poetry unit. Noah wrote “Cactus Poem” (about cacti who need a break from posing for pictures all the time) based on another student’s creative writing prompt during our school’s Writing Club. And Harper, who also recently joined the Writing Club, wrote a poem called “Love Letter” which reads the same forward and backward. So cool.

I walked in to the beautifully decorated atrium where the reception was being held. I met my students’ families and congratulated the poets. I got some food, sat down, listened to speeches, watched videos of young poets reading their words, and didn’t stop smiling for the next two hours.

Seeing these young writers, ages 5 to 18, stand in front of a camera with their poems in their hands, sharing their creativity with the world brought tears to my eyes. They were articulate and vulnerable and proud and passionate and confident and true and beautiful. They give me hope for our future.

A few of my favorite lines and moments…

The second grade winner, Maple W, wrote a song called “I am still me.” It begins, “I am a monster in my tomb/ singing with the tune,” and it ends, “be nice to me,/ because I am still me.”

The beginning of fifth grader Beatrix L’s poem “The Sapling” gave me shivers:

“The spirit inside the tree
Is full of unrest.
She thinks I have come
To take away her host.”

Sixth grader Didion C’s poem “Coral” addressed environmental concerns, saying, “Fate may be inevitable/ But we can help.”

The last lines of these poets’ poems all stayed with me:

“You must ask questions of all sizes.” – Nicole P, 7th grade
“I am alive” – Andrea H, 9th grade (She was my student two years ago!)
“These streets could belong to me.” – Amy S, 12th grade

I can’t help it. I get chills when I hear these lines.

Brad Richard, the keynote speaker at the reception, gave a speech titled “Why Poetry Matters.” His words were true and inspiring and thoughtful, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were also unnecessary. I challenge anyone to listen to children read poems about life, love, nature, the earth, freedom, home, truth, and monsters without understanding—immediately and inherently—why poetry matters to our world.

I almost didn’t make it to the Vision+Voice Reception this year, but I’m SO GLAD I DID.

* * *

Note: The poems mentioned in this post are only a few of the incredible pieces of writing in this year’s anthology. And there were so many more poems that weren’t recognized with awards, but which are also beautiful and thought-provoking. All of the poems entered this year can be found on the Vision+Voice website. I recommend getting a cup of coffee and spending an hour or so immersing yourself in them. Start with “My Home” by my student Rayaan H about his beloved Pakistan. It put a lump in my throat when he read it in front of my class earlier this year.

Links to All Poems Mentioned in This Post:

Haiku