2012 KidLit Progressive Poem stops HERE today

Welcome to day 5 of the first (I think) experiment in collective verse, the 2012 KidLit Progressive Poem! This fun idea was the brainchild of the talented Irene Latham

Irene got us started on the first day and each day the poem moves to a new blog where you can read the next line. It will be such fun to see the twists and turns this poem takes along the way. You can read the schedule for the progressive poem in the sidebar on the right.

Here is the poem, thus far, with my new line #5.

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell

A hanky, here, now dry your tears

Next up is Mary Lee at A Year of Reading.

My next installment of KICK THE POETRY CAN’TS will be up a little later today.

Thursday, April 5, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012|Tags: , |25 Comments

Coming soon! Kick the Poetry Can'ts

Much to the joy of poets and poetry lovers everywhere, national poetry month begins April 1st. For the last few years I’ve been writing a poem a day for National Poetry month. One year it was haiku about my native garden. The next it was poems about the father I never knew.  And last year it was about some of the things I learned about myself during a month of play. I love the pressure of coming up with a new poem every day, much like the pressure of the recent March Poetry madness, though this time I’m not in competition with anyone.  When I was pondering a topic for this year I was thinking about how I am often asked how I go about teaching poetry to incarcerated teens. I decided to spend the 30 days in April sharing the various ways I teach poetry, with exercises that I will do and post and invite readers to play along.

So you’ll still get a poem a day from me. But you’ll also get the chance to write a poem a day yourself and get support along the way. Teachers and parents who homeschool their children will learn some fun ways to include poetry into your classroom.

I hope you’ll all join in the fun. See you back here on Sunday where you KICK THE POETRY CAN’TS.


Thursday, March 29, 2012|Categories: National Poetry Month 2012|Tags: , , |2 Comments

Building a Poetry Shelf (room?)

It is poetry Friday, just barely, a little left in the night. I’ve been thinking of poetry today even if I didn’t get a post up.

I want to add to my poetry collection. I have many shelves (seven so far) of poetry. I was going to say more for children than adults but I don’t think that’s true. It’s probably 50/50. I’m not interested in adding any classic poets. We have a lot of those and they are not one I turn to again and again. I’m looking for contemporary poets. The trouble is that some poets are prolific and it is hard to decide which books of theirs to buy first.

So here’s your chance – tell me about your favorite books by contemporary adult poets. I have read some of Mary Oliver and Billy Collins but which books of theirs are your favorites? Who else should I seek out?

Friday, August 14, 2009|Categories: Books|Tags: , |22 Comments

Getting Past the Fear

Before I had Cassie, I had Chelsie. The two dogs could not have been more different. Chelsie was afraid of everything, thunder and lighting, firecrackers, gunshot, most people (especially men) and sneezes. Yes, if you sneezed she would leave the room. Cassie is not afraid as much as she is cautious. But I would say she is cautiously optimistic because she is always willing to try new things. She might make a lot of racket about it, bark like crazy when she is unsure of herself, but she always tries.

For example, water. When we first got Cassie it was summer and I was out in the yard a lot. I noticed when I would water the plants she would stay far, far away. I’m guessing she got squirted with the hose as punishment or something before we got her.  So I got her a wading pool, put it out back, filled it with water, and tossed in a few toys. Then I ignored the water and her.

She ignored it too.

After a few days she was interested enough in the toys to stand by the edge and wait for them to float over so she could get them out. I pretended like I hadn’t noticed but later I put the toys back in the water. This went on for a few weeks until one day the toy she really, really wanted was in the center of the pool and no matter how long she waited, it wasn’t drifting over to the edge. So she put one foot in the water, stretched her neck out as far as possible, snatched that toy, and ran away.

I went in the house before I started to laugh.

It became her personal mission to get anything that went in the pool, back out of the pool. Toys, sticks, leaves and bugs. Anything that floated on the surface was fair game.

But there was one toy, one she really liked, that didn’t float. It sunk. Right down to the bottom of the pool under about 10 inches of water. She got really good at using her paw under water to move it to the edge and then up the side of the pool and back out again. Obviously the goal for her was not to get her pretty little face wet.

I had different goals. I wanted to see if she would decide to put her face in the water on her own. So I grabbed more toys that wouldn’t float and filled the pool with them. It took a lot of effort for her to work them over to the edge with her paw and it wasn’t quite as much fun on the 5th and 6th toy as it was on the first. By now she was quite comfortable just standing in the water so that’s what she did, stood in the pool, over her toy, and stared at me.

I stared back. I could almost see the little wheels turning in her brain. How badly did she really want that toy? What would happen to her if she put her head under the water? What would her human expect from her if she did this very scary thing?

I decided to ignore her. This was her battle, not mine. I went in the house and peered out from between the slatt of the shutters. After much internal deliberation Cassie shoved her nose under water, grabbed that toy, and jumped out of the pool. Her proud tail waving high like a flag annoucing her brave accomplishment.

What did I do? I went back outside and put all the toys back in the pool. And now diving for toys (and bugs) is one of Cassie’s most favorite things to do.

I think the key for Cassie was lots of exposure and no pressure. The same thing we need to do with our writing. When you want to write in an area you haven’t written in before you need to immerse yourself in it. If you want to write picture books you read 100, 200 of them before you even start. If you are switching to mysteries you read lots and lots of mysteries. And then you just dive in. You try. You pause. You try again. You put one foot in the water, then the other and before you know it, you are diving under and writing your first mystery from start to finish.

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. There are so many wonderful events happening out there in the blogosphere and I was struggling with how I was going to participate. I’ve decided to challenge myself to write a poem a day, a haiku, inspired by my California Native Plant garden. I have long been a fan of haiku though much of what I have written of it was back in high school. I know the basic structure, 5-7-5 and the basic theme, nature. I like the idea that they are short but often many layered. I think haiku could be a wonderful way to introduce more people to native gardening.

This challenge is huge for me on several layers. I am fearful of anything new or looking silly while doing it. I am not a native plant expert so I will have to research oftentimes before I can write. And most of all because doing it, finding a way to combine poetry with my native garden, matters to me a great deal.

I changed my mind from my original post and I will be posting my daily haiku.

Shouldn’t I try to be as brave in my writing as Cassie was about water?

I think so.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009|Categories: Of Dogs and Writing|Tags: , , , |16 Comments

Looking for poems about . . .

I’m looking for hopeful poems. Poems about people making changes in their life. Poems about following dreams. They need to be easily accessible/understandable to marginal students. And not super long.I’m going through all the books on my shelves but figured some of you out there might have some favorites.


Thursday, January 15, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |10 Comments

Looking for poetry recommendations

I will be doing a long (10 sessions) poetry workshop in a few weeks. I’m looking for poetry recommendations, either a book or a single poem even. Here’s the catch – the audience is a group of 10 incarcerated boys (men?) aged 16-18.  I want to start each session with reading some different poems then I’ll get them writing.

While I have a lot of poetry books on my shelves I wonder if anyone has any favorites they think would work well with this age group and in this situation?

So far in my stack I have:

You Hear Me? By Betsy Franco

The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur

Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems from WritersCorps by Bill Aguado

What Have You Lost? by Naomi Shihab Nye

Saturday, January 3, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: , |15 Comments

If it's Thursday . . .

If it’s Thursday it must be time for poems of 15 Words or less with Laura Salas. I love this exercise! You should try, even if you don’t consider yourself a poet (I don’t call myself one.) It’s a great way to stretch your writing wings.

Hop on over to Laura’s blog for this week’s picture.

I promise an update later today.

Thursday, April 17, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: |4 Comments

It's a real book and remember that blurb I mentioned???

Today is my book’s secret birthday! That special day when authors receive their very first copy of their new book. I knew what it was as soon as I saw the envelope. I could feel the hard cover inside the padding as soon as I picked it up. I carried it around the house and debated where to sit when I opened it and, for a moment, whether to wait until my husband got home late tonight from his week long business trip. No. There would be no waiting. It had been a rough week. (I haven’t even told y’all the story of my broken glass all over the kitchen.) So I plopped down on the couch and pulled the tab on the back of the envelope. I pulled hard. Too hard. Gobs of gray glitter came flying out. Wait. No, it wasn’t glitter. It was just the packing material from the envelope. Sigh.

It was shrinkwrapped. Whew! No gray gunk to stick to the cover. I’ve never had a book come to me shrinkwrapped before. I stroked the plastic front and back before using my fingernail along the top edge to slice through the plastic and slip it out the book. I held it up to my nose and sniffed. Chelsie (my dog) thought I had food so she demanded to sniff it too. I flipped the pages. Sniffed some more. Showed the insides to Chelsie then pulled it away before she started to drool on it.

It’s a book. A real book. It’s not my first book but it feels so different. It’s a NOVEL, not a picture book, not an easy reader, not an educational anything. It’s a verse novel. It’s poetry. Omigosh…it POETRY. (That still sort of freaks me out.)

It’s beautiful. I have seen all the elements that went into the book, the design, the font, the cover, the flap copy and the author info but this, seeing it in its altogether, well it is just the sweetest thing. (Cue up some U2, will you please?)

And when I turned it over there was that blurb, that wonderfully almost unbelievable blurb from a poet whom I admire tremendously. (Someone remind me later to post about how my editor actually first told me about the blurb.)

Yes, Lee Bennett Hopkins blurbed my book!!! Now you know my blurb-secret I’ve been keeping.

In case the image doesn’t come through, here’s the text of the blurb that my editor said I could now share.

“Brown creates a poignant work dealing with a topic rare in children’s literature. In spare, poetic prose, the pain and angst of a young girl whose bipolar mother leaves, never to return, is detailed. The heart of the story is the growing relationship between Rachel and her father – a rock with soft spots – and how they must learn to live, love, cope – go on with their lives – together. Readers will hug this book. I did.”

Let me tell you, Lee writing a blurb really rocked (pun intended) my world!

Official pub date is September 1st!  You have called your local independent bookstore and asked them to order you a copy, haven’t you? No? Well go ahead and do that right now. I can wait. I’ll just be flipping through the pages, rereading my book, while you’re gone.

PS to someone, I can’t remember whose blog it was (sorry) who asked for a jacket photo of poet who was smiling. This is me raising my hand. I’m smiling in the pic on the jacket flap for Hugging the Rock.

Friday, June 30, 2006|Categories: Susan's Books|Tags: , , , |58 Comments

Evolution of a poem from Hugging the Rock

For this week’s Poetry Friday I thought it might be interesting to go back to the first poem in HUGGING THE ROCK and see if I could trace it from idea to finished poem. So here you have it from raw idea to what you can read on the first page when the book comes out. I didn’t journal much as I wrote this book so there aren’t a ton of notes.  Some, but not a lot.

Summer of 2002
What’s the point of this book? Mom leaves. Okay. So what. Big frigging deal if Mom is such a creep to start with. She can’t be a total creep. Who wants read a book about a kid who misses a rotten Mom? I need to go back to basics. Start with the day that is different.

(This first bit – below – was originally written in the margins of an agenda for a meeting I was attending. The words wrapped around the border of the typed part of the agenda. I would have turned it over to write on the blank back but then it would have been too obvious that I wasn’t paying full attention. The writing is big and loopy, the kind I used back in high school, which means I was definitely “in the zone.” I was still thinking prose novel at this point, not verse.)

Don’t go. When my mom decided to run away from home she packed up her car with all the little things that mattered most and when she was done there was no room left for Travis her dog or my dad or me.

November 2002
From an email to a friend.
Prepare to be whined at. I have no idea what I am doing with this book and why I am crazy enough to want to write about divorce because mine still hurts too damn much. Don’t worry, I AM happy NOW but when I think about writing this story it means dealing with all that old crap all over again and I don’t know if I can handle that and all the other junk that is going on in my life too. My body hurts too much. I am physical pain and then I come up with the frigging brilliant (insert sarcasm here) idea to go back to the worst emotional pain in my life? I must be  crazy. I need drugs. That’s it. Medicate me and then maybe I can handle it.

From email to a different friend.
I just wanted to say thank you. A few months ago you recommended that I try working in poems for the short bursts of time I have for my own creativity. I wanted to tell you that it is working pretty well. I wish I had more time but I can see progress and that’s what counts. I have tried to write this MG novel 5/6 times before without much luck. So I’m trying it in free verse. I can rough one out (or at least the idea of it) during downtime at work. In bed, just before going to sleep, I’ll work on it a little more by hand in my notebook and then the next time I have computer time, I type it in and revise a bit more. The story is slowly unfolding, I’m getting something new down on paper, and it all feels good. So many thanks for the nudge at a time I needed it.



When Mama decided to run away from home
she packed up her car
with all the things that mattered most to her.

Her guitar (of course)
and cookbooks (good riddance)
all her CDs
her clothes
her shoes
and Grandma’s music box..

Just before she left
she threw in some dishes
and a plant from the front porch.
She put a bunch of plastic grocery bags
with who knows what in it
on the floor in the front seat.

When she finally started the car
there was no room left for anything else
and dad and I were leftovers in the driveway.

Okay, it’s got a hint of a voice and idea but nothing really reaches out and grabs me except for the feeling of being leftover. The title doesn’t work. Not yet. There might be too much information and I’m not sure at this point what I am going to do with it.




When Mama decided to run away from home
she packed up her car
with all the things that mattered most to her.

By the time she was done
there was no room left for anything else.
No room left for dad.
And no room left for me.

I was hoping for impact with this shorter version. No such luck. Alas, there isn’t enough specific detail to make you care enough to read anything else. And where the heck is the voice? And crud, does this character even have a name and if she does, do I need it here, at the beginning of the book? How long will a reader read without a name? 

Email to a friend in February 2004.
This book still scares the hell out of me.

Reply from friend.
Good. Keep writing. The more you hurt the stronger the connection with the reading. Let yourself cry. You’re safe now.



When Mama decides to run away from home
she packs up her car
with all the things that matter most
to her.

Her guitar
and some books
all her CDs
her clothes
her shoes
the quilt from the bed she shares with Dad
and Grandma’s music box
that sits on the fireplace mantle.

At the last minute
she throws in some dishes
and a potted red geranium that keeps guard on the front porch.
She jams plastic grocery bags filled with odds and ends
into the small spaces left in-between things
and ties a couple of suitcases onto the roof.

By the time she is done
there is no room left for anything else.
No room left for Dad.
And no room left for me.

Better. It is more specific and the ending leaves a specific image in the reader’s mind which is what I wanted. 

For the next year and a half, as I went through the various revisions for myself, my critique group, my old agent, my new agent and editor, this poem didn’t change very much. A word here, a line break there. What follows here is the final version (I think – there might have been an odd change that I can’t find in my emails) that will appear in the book (September 2006, Tricycle Press).


November 18 2005

No Room

When my mom decides to run away from home
she packs up her car
with all the things that matter most
to her.

Her guitar
and some books
all her CDs
her clothes
her shoes
Grandma’s music box from the fireplace mantle
and the quilt from the bed she shares with Dad.

She jams plastic grocery bags filled with soap and shampoo
into the small spaces left in between things
and ties a couple of suitcases to the roof.
At the last minute
she throws in a few dishes
some towels
and a potted red geranium that guards the front porch.

Dad tells her not to pack stuff too high
so she can still see out the back window
but she ignores him
and shoves her pillow
between her guitar case and the portable TV.

By the time she’s done
there’s no room left for anything else.
No room left for Dad.

And no room left for me.



Thursday, June 8, 2006|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |24 Comments

A Single Haiku

In honor of poetry Friday, a haiku that sums up my writing progress on MTLB.

Poetry lets me
stand naked wearing only
emotional threads

And fun stuff, the wonderful reading advocate Esme Codell of Planet Esme now has a blog! For those of us here at LJ, I’ve syndicated it at:planetesme so you can read her on your friends list.

More writing updates tonight.

Slight update – changed the last word of the haiku from clothes to threads (it was early and I had only drank a cup of coffee before posting!)

Also, I just checked on Amazon and the link to Hugging the Rock is up with the art! Yeah! Go ahead and pre-order now. You know you want to. 🙂

Really, I promise writing updates after work.

Friday, June 2, 2006|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , , |10 Comments

Searching for the Boy

In honor of poetry Friday, my update for the new book project MTLB.

Searching for the boy
I find him
not running
not hiding
but standing
for someone who is
not him
for someone who is
like him
for someone who
doesn’t know
to stand up for himself.

Not recognizing
their very sameness
he fights
for what
doesn’t want
to be.

Friday, May 12, 2006|Categories: Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |10 Comments