Balm for the Soul

In these troubled times I’ve been finding solace at the beach.

At the beach

hours ago
I stood
feet braced
in shifting sand
buffeted by the wind
marveling at collaged clouds
and feeling the growing light
like a pulse
prickling my skin
Westerly gusts
sent currents
of fine, dry sand
streaming over wet
I walked as if within
a flowing hourglass
bent into the wind,
breaking dawn
with the turbulent sea.

Now as the final sands
of this day slip by
I sit at my desk
casting back
to the beach
still feeling the push
and pull
of the wind
hearing the echo
of the churning surf
tugged outward
by moon’s invisible lure
as surely as I
am pulled toward
that tumultuous shore
time and time again

©Molly Hogan

Like so many others, I was transfixed listening to Amanda Gorman recite her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, at Wednesday’s Inauguration. I’ve listened to it again and again. With my classes. With my family. By myself. Every time I discover something new. So many have already said it, but what an amazing young woman! She gives me hope.

The day after the inauguration, the sunrise was especially stunning. I thought immediately, “Ahhhh. This must be the new dawn blooming.”

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Laura Shovan at her blog. She’s sharing information about her February Poetry Project with the theme of “Bodies.” I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this group for several years now and am looking forward to participating again. Laura is opening up the project by sharing prompts on her blog this year, too. Check it out!

Embracing the Mystery

Amidst the turmoil of last week, Ruth Ayres posted her latest writing invitation– a prompt to respond to the word “write”. In her prompt, she wrote, “This is a reminder that it’s okay to write, even when you don’t know what to think.”

As I started responding in my notebook, I quickly found myself thinking of my recent rededication to morning pages. I’ve been working hard to write three pages a day and to embrace a stream of consciousness approach to the whole exercise. Soon I found myself writing: “Write even when you don’t know where you’re going.” Then, just like that, I was remembering Mystery Drives.

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Maine

Long ago, when our children were young, we used to occasionally set out on what we called “Mystery Drives.” We’d start by piling all the kids in the car. Then, we’d decide on an order: oldest to youngest, youngest to oldest, alphabetical by name or whatever. At the end of our driveway, we’d stop and ask the first child, “Which way?” They’d make a choice, point, and off we’d go. As we came to each intersection, we’d ask the next child, and let them select. And so on and so on. We’d continue this until we were typically out in the countryside seeing rarely visited or new sites. This was well before the days of easy GPS access and our trusted lifeline was a well-worn DeLorme atlas of Maine. We also had a compass in the car, so we knew that if worse came to worse, we could always head east.

As we drove, we discovered new views, new vistas. Sometimes. But sometimes we didn’t. And that was okay, too. Regardless of what we saw, throughout the journey there was a wonderful sense of possibility. Who knew what discovery might be around the next corner? Who knew where we might end up? I think back on those days now and wish we’d done that a bit more often.

It occurs to me that writing when you don’t know where you’re going is similar to a Mystery Drive. You just keep making choices when you get to an intersection. You may end up driving over familiar ground, you may discover fascinating new vistas –intriguing ideas, untapped memories–or you may even become lost. The point is the journey and the open nature of it–Just making your way through the terrain, one turn at a time. Eventually you’ll figure out how to find your way home, you’ll have some new experiences under your belt, and perhaps you’ll be all the richer for having set out not knowing where you were headed.

January Challenge: Finding Nestlings

The New Year begins with a new challenge from Heidi Mordhorst. She suggested that we: “Write or find a nest poem: a longer poem of a dozen lines within which you find at least half a dozen nestlings, à la Irene Latham.”

If you haven’t encountered Irene’s latest book, “This Poem is a Nest”, you are probably not familiar with the concept of nestlings, a version of found poems. True to her brilliant, innovative style, Irene has written a poem and then used that poem as the source for smaller found poems, or nestlings. The only hard-and-fast rule is to use the words in the order in which they appear in the original source poem. Titles do not need to come from the poem. It’s far more challenging than it sounds, but it’s also a lot of fun!

Initially, I thought I was going to work with a poem I’d written that was inspired by Robert Frost. I ended up changing my mind and choosing a piece by Frost for my nest. This might be cheating, but I prefer to call it improvising. I chose Frost’s poem, “A Prayer in Spring.”

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

No photo description available.

Here are my nestlings (though I didn’t quite make it to the requisite half dozen):

Oh, spring!
pleasure by day
by night

And then hummingbird departs

darting meteor
off a blossom

In this second year of the pandemic…

far away
uncertain harvest
need, loss

A Sudden Haunting of Memories

ghosts swarm
make us 
stand still

A Heartfelt Plea

oh, not to think!
uncertain by day
ghosts by night

To see what other Swaggers have done with this challenge, visit their blogs:
Linda Mitchell: A Word Edgewise
Catherine Flynn: Reading to the Core
Margaret Simon: Reflections on the Teche
Heidi Mordhorst: My Juicy Little Universe

Then be sure to stop by Sylvia Vardell’s blog, Poetry for Children. She’s hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup there this week and she’s sharing a sneak peek of 2021 poetry for young people. What a resource!

Teaching Tip: Use engaging video clips to elicit lively conversation

I had previewed the recommended video segment on Sunday, and knew it would be immediately engaging for my fourth graders. The opening scene showed a frog spewing a mass of eggs. Up close and personal. Later on in the footage, two frogs are mating on a leaf. I knew it was a great clip to research how a narrator might use their voice to make it easier for a listener to learn, but let’s just say I expected a variety of responses.

True to my expectations, as soon as the video started, there was a chorus of “Ew!” and “Gross!” with a few “Wow!”s sprinkled in. Then, as the video ended, the kids erupted into conversation. Some of it was responding to our guiding question, more of it was clearly not.

Above the hubbub, one boy’s voice rose strong and clear, “Did you see that baby getting a ride on its mom?”

Oh, boy.

While thoughts flashed through my head–Is he joking or serious? Do I ignore that or explain? How much do I explain? –a female classmate matter-of-factly replied.

“That wasn’t a baby. That was the father.”

“I guess he’s just too lazy to walk on his own,” the boy replied, laughing.

Okaaay…he is clearly utterly at sea.

She looked at him for a moment, then calmly replied, “He isn’t lazy. He’s fertilizing the eggs.”

“Well,” he proclaimed to the class–and honestly I do believe there was no intended double entendre here, just complete naivete–“he’s probably just going to keep riding her down to the water.”

At this point his classmate gave up on her attempts to educate him and I simultaneously steered the class back to our guiding question, stifling my laughter masterfully.

In the end, we had a good conversation about nonfiction reading fluency, but I have to admit, it really wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the previous one.


I’m responding to two prompts today: Ruth Ayres’ SOS invitation to write in response to a word of choice and Jennifer Laffin of Teach Write‘s #DWHabit Word of the Day prompt: sneaky.

My first thought was that “sneaky” is an unpleasant little word. It makes me think of slinking, illicit activity, although admittedly of the low-grade variety– more misdeeds than felonious offenses. Then I reconsidered. Because although I mostly think of myself as an above-board citizen, I definitely have a sneaky streak when it comes to sweets. It was worse when I was young but is still very much present. In fact, one of the things I treasure most about adulthood is that no one can say that I can’t buy and/or consume as many candy bars or cookies or sweets as I’d like. Or if they do say it, I don’t have to listen. At any rate, thinking of my sweet tooth sent me straight back to childhood memories of what can only be deemed “sneaky” behavior.

My mom was an excellent baker and lucky for us, our cookie jar was always stocked with home-baked cookies. We definitely were given our fair share of cookies, but I distinctly recall many strategically-planned sneaky cookie forays.

I chose my time carefully. I always waited until Mom headed upstairs, listening for the tell-take soft sound of her steps on the stairs. Then I’d tiptoe into the kitchen, carefully glancing about.

Yes! The coast was clear!

My mother stored the cookie jar on the counter farthest from the family room and nearest the door to the hallway. (Only now do I recognize that this was not a chance placement! ) With ninja stealth, I’d cross the kitchen. Step by slow step. Reaching the counter, I’d stretch my hand out to touch the round knob on top of the jar. Then, finger by finger, I’d wrap my hand about it. Next, slow-slow-slowly steady-steady-steadily I’d lift the ceramic top of the cookie jar.

Centimeter by centimeter.

Higher and higher.

Holding my breath.

My other greedy little hand hovered nearby, twitched, eager to reach in and grab some extra cookie goodness.

To this day, I honestly don’t know how she did it. That jar lid must have made some infinitesimal sort of mom-noise–inaudible to me, but loud and clear to her maternal auditory super powers. I actually remember seriously wondering more than once if somehow she’d contrived a sort of alarm system.

And it’s funny. I can’t for the life of me remember what that cookie jar looked like or even specifically what those cookies tasted like. But I still remember the feel of that round knob in my hand with sweet victory so close and then…oh-so-clearly… mom’s voice calling down like a judgement from the second-floor heavens: “Get out of the cookie jar!”

Poem Seed Poems

About two weeks ago, I received an unexpected gift from Linda Mitchell — a delightfully crafted packet of Poem Seeds! What a treasure! (Thanks again, Linda!) I’ve played with them several times since then and here are a few of my seedling efforts.

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Irene Latham at her blog, Live Your Poem. She’s sharing her last ArtSpeak: Red poem of 2020, inspired by a charming Christmas Bird.

A Gift from Robert Frost

The Ethical ELA prompts are a gift each month. Even when my time to participate is limited, I look forward to each prompt, and spend time noodling about with them in my notebooks. They always get me thinking in new ways and sometimes lead me to surprising discoveries.

This month’s prompt from Jennifer Guyor-Jowett was “Create a poem of titles from a poet, whose words are a gift to you (much like book spine poetry). Feel free to pretty the titles up with as many of your own words as you’d like or add words sparingly. “

I have been spending some time with Robert Frost lately, so I celebrated the gifts of his words in my poem.

The Aim Was Song*

Long After
The Last Mowing,
I wander through
A Dust of Snow,
regretting attention not paid
during Blue-Butterfly Days
and to The Cow in Apple Time.

The Rose Family
has long moved on and
The Fireflies in the Garden
long ago flickered
one last time
then departed.

Did you notice?
Did you hear
The Last Word of a Bluebird
before it took flight
into Fragmentary Blue
with Love and a Question
for us all:
Why do we save
Our Singing Strength?

Look! See!
Find The Courage to Be New!
A Late Walk
is better than none.
Add your voice
to the chorus.
Let it pour forth
vulnerable and beautiful
like The Exposed Nest.
For ultimately,
The Aim Was Song.

©Molly Hogan

(*Title Poetry From Robert Frost)

Michelle Kogan, poet, artist, and activist, is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at her blog. Be sure to stop by!

Trouble in Tree Town

It all began like a typical Saturday morning. The cat woke me early by repeatedly stepping on my head, and not too long afterward, I was trying to get ready to start writing report cards. Or trying to at least think about starting them. Really, I was! But then… Wait! What was that!? Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed … Trouble in Tree Town. With a capital T (or three)! (And to think I almost missed it!) Take a look!

Egads! Santa, taking a well-deserved break on the crescent moon, is in the direct line of fire from a rogue laser! What fiendish mind hatched this dastardly plot!? Is there no end to the outrageous perversities of 2020?

But wait! What’s that I see? Why it’s the cow (Maine version), a vaunted expert in moon topography, charging to the rescue. Will Santa survive? Will the day be saved? Stay tuned…

And check your trees everyone. In all likelihood, this is not the only foul plot afoot.

December Challenge

This month I was in charge of selecting our writing group challenge, which in itself can be a challenge. I considered, rejected, pondered, fretted and finally browsed around a bit on the internet. Ultimately, I discovered a new-to-me site and this prompt:

Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.”

Mass Market Paperback Dandelion Wine Book

I liked the feel of this prompt–open to many interpretations and any forms. I also loved that I’d get to revisit a favorite book. How irresistible is that?

Hmmm….now which book to choose? I considered a number of favorites, but ultimately, I opted to revisit Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. This book is an outlier in my reading history. I bought it as a teenager and it took me at least three or four false starts and a decade or more before I finally read it. When I put it down, I announced, “This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.” I have no idea if it would resonate with me as powerfully now. Perhaps it would feel “overwrought” as some critics labeled it. Or perhaps once again I would be deeply moved by the lyrical language and the delight of immersing myself in a young boy’s small town summer adventures in 1923. I intend to reread it soon to find out.

In the meantime, here are a few gems from Dandelion Wine, not necessarily short, to give you a flavor.

“And some days, he went on, were days of hearing every trump and trill of the universe. Some days were good for tasting and some for touching. And some days were good for all the senses at once. This day now, he nodded, smelled as if a great and nameless orchard had grown up overnight beyond the hills to fill the entire visible land with its warm freshness. The air felt like rain, but there were no clouds.”
(and how sad I am that the word trump has been so irrevocably tarnished as it’s used to such great effect here…)

“Way out in the country tonight he could smell the pumpkins ripening toward the knife and the triangle eye and the singeing candle.”
(Oh, how I wish I’d written this line!)

Here’s a longer passage I love about the power of new shoes.

And finally, here’s the line I finally chose to work with: “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

Unintended Consequences

On drowsy summer days
when air thickens,
potent and heavy,
industrious bees
drone to and fro.
I halfdoze on the patio,
envision them
tiptoeing across cosmos
phlox and bee balm,
accumulating spicy floral notes
on their tiny bee feet.

As they rise
in bumbling flight,
I fancy the notes sparkle
yielding to gravity’s tug,
they tumble
a glimmer of fairy dust
released by busy bees
keen on making honey
unaware of their legacies,
buzzing vectors
nudging reproduction
into motion
and setting a sweetness of
unintended consequences
in the spiced summer air.

©Molly Hogan

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is over at A Year of Reading today. Make sure to stop by and check out the sneak peek into Irene Latham’s newest book–a middle grade dystopian verse novel. Wow!

If you’re interested in seeing how the other Swaggers interpreted the challenge I posed, check out their posts by clicking on the links:

Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche
Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise

Today I declare…

It’s funny how you can lose sight of something–like an album you listen to all the time until somehow, without noticing, you just don’t anymore. Then one day, you hear a song on the radio and think–Oh my Gosh! When did I stop listening to that?

I used to respond to the “Word of the Day” (WOTD) prompt from TeachWrite all the time. Then, in some twist of algorithm, it disappeared from my internet universe. I stumbled upon it last week and have been dabbling away ever since.

Late last week, the WOTD was “declare”. With a few weeks of “bulk up for winter” autumnal eating under my belt and the addition of some more recent Thanksgiving gluttony, here’s what came to mind:

Today I declare
(like I did yesterday
and the day before
and maybe a few more days
before that)
I will show some restraint!
Skip the sugar!
Back off the fat!
Eat more veggies!

My newest habit is
stating an intention
then ignoring it
over and over again.

I ponder next steps
as I wipe the stuffing crumbs
from my chin.

©Molly Hogan

And a follow up limerick:

A woman I know loved her stuffin’!
Five servings a day? That was nuffin’!
Eaten hot, warm or cold
even seven days old!
She just couldn’t gobble enough in!

©Molly Hogan

And though the stuffing is now sadly gone, my waistline and I cherish our fond memories.