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.


My dad’s 80th birthday was earlier this month, on November 3rd. My youngest sister, who lives near my dad and stepmother in Ohio, was able to spend some time with them. The rest of us had been planning for well over a year to drive in from Maine, New York and South Carolina. Unfortunately, we realized months ago that this was no longer going to be an option. We shifted our plans, collaborated and did our best to make the day special for my dad from across the miles. It felt like a pale imitation of a celebration.

I know that having to recalibrate a birthday celebration isn’t a huge hardship in the scheme of all-things-Covid, but still, it made me sad. Lingering sad. I had so looked forward to seeing my sisters and celebrating with my dad.

On the Occasion of My Father’s 80th Birthday

We couldn’t be there
to celebrate eight decades
to gather in candlelight
to circle in and sing.

To celebrate eight decades,
we’d planned to reunite but
to circle in and sing
became unwise, if not forbidden.

We’d planned to reunite but,
grieving, we cancelled journeys that
became unwise, if not forbidden.
We created a long distance celebration.

Grieving, we cancelled journeys that
promised hugs, love and laughter,
We created a long distance celebration.
Love rimed with loss.

Promised hugs, love and laughter
deferred by disease.
Love rimed with loss.
We couldn’t be there.

©Molly Hogan

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol at Carol’s Corner.

Deer: Differing Perspectives

Two deer ambled across the road in the dim morning light. I eased off the gas, slowing as another scrambled up the bank and across. In an instant, they had entered the line of trees and disappeared. Here then gone.

Looking both ways carefully, wary of stragglers, I slowly sped up and resumed my commute to school. Smiling now. Thankful for the moment.

Good luck, I thought, mentally sending the deer wishes for safe passage across country roads and through this year’s hunting season. God speed!

Driving along, I replayed the moment in my mind. The graceful movements, overlarge ears and tawny pelts. The swish of white tails. Seeing deer always brings me such joy.

Maybe I’ll write a haiku.

I entertained myself with phrases and syllable counts until I pulled into the school parking lot. Then, as I entered the classroom, the deer faded from mind amidst the reality of towering stacks and endless to-do lists.

About two hours later, my students arrived. L. approached me with a huge grin on his face.

“Mrs. Hogan! Guess what I did!?” he asked, his excitement palpable.

I set down my clipboard to give him my full attention. “What?” I asked.

“I ate a deer heart last night!” he crowed.

Insert a long pause here.

“Um. Oh.” I stammered. Another long pause. He looked at me expectantly.

Finally, I spoke. “Why?” (Yes, not my finest response, but I was flummoxed and genuinely horrified. And also, really, Why??? As a vegetarian, I don’t appreciate meat eating, but heart eating seems like another level entirely–even more invasive and primitive. Yeah, I know that may not really make sense…)

“Huh?” he looked back at me, clearly uncertain how to answer. His smile faltered.

I regrouped and tried to manage my expression.

“Well, how did you cook it?” Ew!

“Oh, I think my dad just threw it in the oven,” he responded.

“Was it good?” I asked, really wishing I weren’t having this conversation.

“Yeah! It was delicious!” he replied, smile firmly entrenched again. He then bounded off to start his day.

I picked up my clipboard and shook my head.

I wish I’d taken the time to write that haiku.