{waiting wednesdays: book birthday countdown…!}

HAPPY DECEMBER!

It’s hard to believe that in just one month, Henri Weldon will be out in the world! This is a book that I feel so good about… that I sat down and read it cover to cover last weekend in one sitting. (No joke; you can do that with your own books sometimes because it takes a while for them to come to publication, and you can actually kind of forget what they’re about. It’s a little weird to laugh at your own jokes, though… which I did. Anyway.) If you’d like a sneak peak copy of the book, stay tuned Wednesdays this month for a giveaway. I’ll be giving away an ARC each week, and we’ll also be talking about middle grade math, sisters, frenemies and school survival strategies. It’ll be fun!

Genuinely nice things people are saying about Figure It Out, Henri Weldon:

“Skillfully realized, this is an affirming and inspiring tale for readers who are only ever told what they can’t accomplish. Uplifting and amusing, this book will leave readers with valuable lessons.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An involving middle-grade narrative with a very likable protagonist.” – Booklist

“…a complex character who is not singularly defined by her personal challenges. In this hopeful, well-paced volume, Davis (Partly Cloudy) centers accommodation, community, and understanding.” – Publishers’ Weekly

“Davis successfully drives home the importance of finding one’s own path and accepting the journeys of others.” – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

{pf: the poetry peeps rise}

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of August! Here’s the scoop: Get on your flippy poodle skirts, your tough leather jackets and penny loafers; we’re going to The Bop. A form created by poet Afaa Michael Weaver at a Cave Canem summer retreat, this is a poem with three stanzas, each followed by a single repeated line as a refrain. The first six lines presents an issue, the second eight line stanza discusses it, and the third six lines resolves it, and/or discusses the failure of resolution. Are you in? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering with the rest of us on August 26th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.


The truth is, I never really give acrostics much weight as a poetic form – even phrase acrostics. It’s possible it’s because they’re so often used as elementary school art projects, where every kid finds a positive word to go with each letter of their name. Though I do like them, and the Poetry Peeps and I have messed around with them before, they’ve never really taken off as a form I’ve mastered. They’re simple, but… sometimes a little too regimented for how I’m feeling.

When Tricia selected a poem for us to take a line from for our poems, I think we all thought, “Okay, taking a line from a poem we already know? This’ll be easy.”

Yeah, that just shows what our past selves knew. No. No, this was not easy. In fact, using an utterly iconic poem like “Still I Rise” was immensely, fiendishly challenging. Additionally, a few of us found it difficult to separate the poet’s intention from our own poem – especially a well-known poet who lived during our lifetimes. This is Ms. Maya, y’all. This poem has spoken to generations of people with clarity and joy – we surely weren’t going to mess with that.

…well, obviously, we did, though I will say the good thing was that we read the poem repeatedly. I made it hard on myself by pulling the second-to-worst line in the whole thing to work with (the first worst is about having diamonds between my thighs; I’ll happily leave that one to someone else). A random line would work best, I thought, so I closed my eyes and picked…”You may kill me with your hatefulness.” …Great.

I did try to write from that line. I got halfway through and it was getting both long and depressing, and the internal rhyme felt forced. I tried a double acrostic, but those work best with really short subjects – which wasn’t what I was working with. I had to go away and come back several times and fiddle, fiddle, fiddle with word choices and order. I don’t often write a poem I’m happy with in a single sitting, but usually I can at least manage an entire draft. Not this time!

Finally I gave up, which was honestly the wisest choice. I don’t think I can write a good poem about hatefulness yet – not the way I tried to approach it. (ETA -*And here is where I forgot it was supposed to be a PHRASE acrostic…. oops.) Frankly, I’m sick to death of people’s hatefulness and could do without all that for a bit, so I switched to the important and meaningful part of the poem to me – “But still, like air, I’ll rise. Get on with your trifling hatefulness anyway. I’m over it – literally.

One of the ways I worked on creating rhyme within the confines of an acrostic was to record myself (ugh) reading it over, and over, and over. Here’s the last recording I made – it’s a really helpful (if dorky sounding) tool in the poetic arsenal.

I still don’t like the title – it really isn’t much of one – but I’m thrilled I finished with something meaningful, grounding, and largely coherent. I’ll take it.


I’m excited to see what Liz has come up with, if Sara joined the girl gang, and what Laura wrote at the lake. I’m looking forward to finding out what Tricia dreamed up, which one of the probably forty-three that Mary Lee wrote she ended up choosing. Here’s Michelle K’s beautifully upbeat take, and here, Carol V. shares another classic acrostic. Thanks so much everyone for playing along! More Poetry Peeps will be added as the weekend progresses, so check back later for the full round-up.

Meanwhile, Poetry Friday is hosted over at Marcie Atkins’ blog. Thanks, Marci!


Even if you don’t feel like you’re rising above like air this week, don’t forget the poem also suggests that you can rise like dust. Dust or grit is central to the oyster’s pearl, to the clouds that make the rain, and to the fragile impermanence of a snowflake’s beauty. Even the smallest of us has impact and purpose. Here’s to finding yours. Happy Weekend.

{pinned post: new book cover! coming 1/23}

The HarperCollins Children’s Books winter catalog goes live next weekend, so ahead of the rush, I get to show off my next cover! Brittany Jackson is the artist, and Kathy Lam is the designer, and I feel like together they’ve created a cover that’s just — *chef’s kiss* — perfect.

I think I like best the sense of uncertainty in Henri’s eyes. So much of what she wants – to conquer math, to make friends, to get her sister to see her as something other than a total nuisance – seems out of reach. What does it take to make things happen like you want them to? Like everyone else, she’s got to figure it out…

I can’t wait for you to enjoy this book.

{npm22: 30 ~ wash}

To end the month, I just had to include an Icelandic proverb not directly translated in English – hopefully one of the more comprehensible ones. (The Icelanders have a saying about “the raisin at the end of the hotdog” which is like the gold at the end of the rainbow and roughly translates to something like being happy for finding “a cherry on top,” or an extra bit of goodness. I. Have. QUESTIONS. And as a side note, have you heard of the Swedish banana-chicken thing…? I’m getting a feeling this is a Scandinavian cultural taste which I’m happy to watch them enjoy. ) This is the quintessential Icelandic slogan, we’re told, and it’s “Þetta reddast.” It isn’t so much a …proverb as an attitude, not so much a slogan as a way of life. I read it described as “positive fatalism” once. You might have no idea how things are going to work out – you might not know what to do. But, you can’t get too down, because “Þetta reddast!” It’ll work out. Or, the closest English proverb/phrase I can think of:

“It’ll all come out in the wash.”*


Float
Deep breath:
They say “hope floats.”
So blow – breath, soap, and dreams –
Make some airborne optimism
Bubble


(*According to Phrases.org: Henry Festing Jones, who collaborated with the novelist Samuel Butler, once quoted Butler as saying in 1876: ‘As my cousin’s laundress says, ‘It will all come right in the wash.'” From The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

{npm22: 29~ bloom!}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

You’re invited to our challenge in the month of May! After such a big month for National Poetry Month, we’re taking it easy for now. Our simple task is to write a poem with the theme of string, thread, rope, or chain. Any poetic form, rhymed or unrhymed, but we’re including one of those four items. Plotting? Good! You’ve got a month to string your line(s), then share your offering on May 27th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!


This month the Poetry Peeps wrote poems in imitation of Taylor Mali. For Laura, that meant this poem – short(ish) and sweet. Tricia explored her ideas here. Sara’s meta poem ON the poet is here, Cousin Mary Lee enfolded climate greening into her poem, Liz’s project, plus a bonus poem is here, and Andi’s popped in here. More Poetry Peeps may pop in with more words and thoughts as the weekend continues, so stay tuned. I may be very slow doing the roundup (as in finishing it next week), since I’m away from my usual haunts (and time zones) so bear with me.


I started out with the best of intentions to flatter poet Taylor Mali by imitating “Totally Like Whatever, You Know?” Alas, the longer I spent with it, the less I found flattering to say. Published in 2002, soon after the 1998 “Ebonics” conversation the talk show circuit, this poem is reflective of the social critics of that time, which is to say it hasn’t aged well. Mali’s mocking contempt echoes still of American society’s knee-jerk tendencies to mock and belittle the young, especially young girls, for the way that they speak, act, the media they consume, the bands they love, and the clothes they wear. When devaluing fully 51.1% of the population becomes automatic, misogyny persists, and follows girls into adulthood. More importantly, it leaves a mark. And men aren’t the only people who belittle and begrudge the young; it’s an American past time, which is why this poem so needled me.

I remember running into my 8th grade English teacher as a college student. She quizzed me on my activities and my GPA, and then, as I was proudly telling her my news, she interrupted. Reaching forward, she fiddled with my collar, smoothing it. “You know,” she said in a low, confiding voice like she was revealing a secret, “You’d sound so much smarter if you didn’t say ‘um, okay’ quite so often.” Well, that was me told that I wasn’t up to her level! Rather than enjoying my weekend home, I spent the rest of the time listening to myself, wincing at each “um” and “okay” and wondering desperately how people ever learned to change their speech.

I look back on that incident and seethe.*

My NPM project this year was sticky-note proverb poems. They are proverb-based and SHORT, but Taylor Mali doesn’t lend himself to short, so today I’ve creating two poems, first, the freestyle, unrhymed imitation (not my favorite style; feel free to suggest revisions in the comments), using the words of consent and consensus which are so often dismissed, and second, a sticky-note sized distillation. Additionally, today’s poem calls for a new proverb, one I’ve just made up. It is:

“Wisdom celebrates variation; not every difference suggests flaws.”

um, okay

Okay, but have you noticed
how it is somehow A-okay fine
for them to get right in your face
straighten up your collar and say
“right, if you would just -” and
okay, you knew you weren’t up to par –
yeah, you couldn’t pass as perfect
or more than okay, but who is?

Okay, so, have you noticed
the ground between us
is like potholes and mountains,
it’s that uneven, which is like,
fine, whatever
but what makes them think
the place they’re standing is
always the high ground, right?

Okay, but had you noticed
how they steal your words when they
crush your voice, grind words into pulp,
when they smother your spark
had you noticed why? they silence you –
like you’re just a piece of work
right, but if they would just,
back off, you could work out
making the pieces
whole, right?

Okay, so you had noticed
that consensus creates strength, that two heads
are better than one? so, okay you seek approval –
yeah, sometimes you ask permission –
So? you don’t know if you’re allowed
to take up space, to speak
aloud, so you rehearse
your sounds, right?
and you check your strengths
’til you know them
by heart.

Okay, so had you noticed
your flex, your stretch, how strong
you’ve grown? they did not, which is like,
fine, whatever –
you’ve blown past their
okay


bloom
okay
so, it’s your space
send roots into the earth
shout “I’ve arrived! make here the place
you grow


Want more poetry? Poetry Friday is hosted today at Jone’s place.. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

*I taught school, too. I recognize that for some, the job is changing the world through their students. But, I’d really rather leave the world unchanged than be remembered for the kind of casual cruelty that implies someone sounds/is stupid.

{npm22: 28 ~ the heat}

One of the Poetry Princess the other day mentioned how she likes that I sometimes write about things I don’t like. I kind of laughed – there are a LOT of things I don’t like, and honestly, I need to write poems about them so no one else has to hear my rants. Today I’m writing about an American proverb I don’t particularly enjoy. It was yet another of those often repeated during my childhood. It’s one which seems to imply incompetence needing to step aside for those who are better equipped to carry things out. It’s just… irritating.

And this one’s not just home grown, its origin is the American political arena, and is credited to the celebrated “plain speaker” Harry S. (did you know the middle initial doesn’t stand for anything?) Truman as far back as 1942 when he was a senator, and evolved into the phrase we know today during his presidency in 1949. It’s a bit of a snarky one:

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
– Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States


downfall
“Stand back –
Let the experts
Show you how it’s done, kids.”
(Pride has arrived. Now we await
the fall.)

In a world plagued with experts, I’m happy to get out of the kitchen and let somebody else’s goose cook. Happy Almost Weekend.

{npm22: 27 ~paving}

I kind of like the agrarian proverbs – ones that tell you when to make hay, or what to think when it’s a red sky in the morning. Those are… kind of easy, you know no one will ever figure out who wrote them, so provenance isn’t at issue, and you can make them mean whatever you want, since you’re not a farmer. This proverb is a bit more direct – though the provenance is equally murky.

Myriad names have been tied to this proverb, though surprisingly, the first printing in English is in an English Bible translations in Ecclesiastes, which states, “The way of sinners is made plain with stones, but at the end thereof is the pit of hell.” (Although why I’m surprised at the Bible in a proverb about hell, I don’t know…) Being “made plain with stones” is an accurate description of trail-marking, or cobblestones. A reference in 1791 leaves out the road altogether, until A Hand-book of Proverbs, published it in 1855, puts it all together with:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


non verbis
listen —
outcomes matter.
living’s cause-and-effect
outweighs all your best intentions.
deeds count.

{npm22: 26~ bald rocks}

Is moss a good thing, or a bad thing? I’ve never figured that out. We do know it grows slowest of most plantlife, thus the meaning of today’s proverb is that a person who is never still never gathers the detritus of stillness — the things we have to pack up when we move.

I have a friend who is on her seventeenth move in her adult life this month — seventeen states, I believe — and she has a little less “moss” than the average person, perhaps, but she has stuff. Books, bed, couch. At one point in my life, I was able to pack everything I owned into a 4’x 2′ steamer trunk. Is my life better now that I cannot?

Are bald rocks that bad? Surely a question for the ages.

The first appearance of this proverb in print was in 1508, in Adagia, the annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, compiled during the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. Its first appearance in English was some years later in 1546, in A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, by John Heywood:

“The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse.”


irony
Children
Are not allowed
Too far from home to roam;
Now a woman grown, I tend to
Stay home.

{npm22: 25~ a start}

Today’s proverb is both ancient and Chinese, and though it might be cliché’s first assumption, it’s not written by Confucius. Surprise, there are hundreds more sages and creators of proverbs from this ancient culture! Today’s proverb is from the Tao Te Ching. Though this book isn’t found on B&N’s website in its entirety, it exists in various copies and dialects and is a widely studied, widely argued over classical Chinese text. The Tao Te Ching is usually credited to Lao Tzu, though others argue it was written by someone else, and is probably something from between the 4th and 6th century BC. It’s ancient. So, we have a genuine Chinese proverb, though the wording isn’t the same as we use now. Originally it said, “A journey of a thousand li (a traditional Chinese unit of measure, approx. 0.3 mile/0.5 km.) starts beneath one’s feet.” No one knows how or when, but as the quotation came West (probably because no one could figure out what a li was), the phrase turned into:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


Go
Packing
Empty suitcases
Filled up with memories
Of “Once Upon A Time, Boldly.”
Ready?

Nope, I’m not actually ready… but I’m going anyway.

PS – yes, I know I can’t really draw an airplane.