Friday, October 21, 2016

Cover Reveal: The Best of TLD, 2014-2015

Tada!  Isn't it gorgeous?

Next month I look forward to celebrating the publication of this beauty, which contains 75 poems by 55 DMC poets. But today I'd like to focus on Michelle Kogan, who designed such a charming cottage garden cover.


Michelle Kogan is a painter, instructor, illustrator, and writer creating colorful figure, flora and fauna paintings, and children’s illustrations. The paintings often include urban settings and have a sensitivity to endangered species and the environment. She is an instructor at the Evanston Art Center, where she teaches figure drawing and painting, 2-D drawing classes, and plein air watercolor. She also offers plein air workshops at nature venues in the Chicago area, including the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Michelle is no stranger to the Ditty of the Month Club. She contributes regularly to DMC challenges with poetry, and sometimes with art, as well.  Her poem "Toady" will be included in The Best of Today's Little Ditty, 2014-2015. Michelle first came to Today's Little Ditty with the deeper wisdom challenge in January 2015. She wooed me with watercolor (an illustrated tanka) a couple of months after that. Inspired to visit her Etsy shop where she sells archival prints, paintings, greeting cards, journals and sketchbooks, I became irrevocably smitten.

I've asked Michelle if she wouldn't mind answering a few questions so that you, too, can get to know her and her artistry.

Tell us about your artistic background. Were you walking around with a sketchbook as a child?

I’ve always been creating art.  I grew up with art around me. My mother is an artist and has always encouraged my art pursuits. As a young child, I was curious about everything, and sometimes I would take things apart to figure out how they worked. I had so many ideas and questions, my mom often asked me where they all came from. By high school I packed in as much art as I could and was drawing constantly in all sizes of sketchbooks. I had a hankering to find out more about art and artists, and began visiting Chicago museums and galleries with friends and on my own. The question of what do I want to be never entered my mind—I knew from the time I was a teenager I had to be an artist. My passion became my career when I studied art in college. Beginning at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and finishing with my MFA in painting from Northern Illinois University.

What turns you on, artistically speaking?

Drawing–painting and playing with color takes me to another realm. I’ve always been keen on nature, critters, flora, and our human relationship with them. I was a big reader as a child, and a storyteller early on, too. When I recognized these core interests, critters, flora, concerns for our environment, and story, my art took on its own visual voice.

Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive, endangered species — © Michelle Kogan

You often combine painting with poetry. What, for you, is the relationship between the two? Which comes first—the art or the words? 

My art and poetry are inspired by each other, along with nature, and walks I take. If you went on a walk with me, we’d walk for a while and then something would catch my eye and I’d want to stop and sketch or write . . . and sometimes both. Way back, maybe ten years ago, I revisited writing children’s stories. Then I thought, why aren’t I writing poetry? I was always fond of it. I began with haiku, writing them constantly, but that wasn’t enough.  I sought more genres and blogs that featured poetry, and now I’m challenged with balancing the writing with art because I’m writing all the time.

Gourdian Finch and Gourds, endangered species

an autumn breath waits,
beneath airy earth tones, and
begs you to linger . . . 

© 2016 Michelle Kogan

Michelle Kogan, painting en plein air

As a teacher, what is the main thing you would like students to take away from your classes?

I want students to catch the art bug—to be so drawn and inspired by art and art-making that they can’t get enough of creating it and taking it in.

Tell us where we can see more of your work.

There are a handful of places you can view my art:  Studio b. gallery, in Three Oaks, MI, the book City Creatures, Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness, and online at my website, my blog, my Etsy Shop, and on Facebook and Instagram (mkogancreate).

Thanks so much, Michelle. It's an honor to have your art on the cover of The Best of Today's Little Ditty, 2014-2015.

Kenn Nesbitt's DMC challenge this month is to write poems for our mothers. This week's daily ditties included work by Keri Collins Lewis, B.J. Lee, Mindy Gars Dolandis, and yours truly. Make your mom proud and post yours on our October padlet, then come back next week for our end-of-month celebration!

Another great place to find poetry challenges is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Thanks to Tricia Stohr-Hunt for hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

DMC: "Baby Hats" by Mindy Gars Dolandis


Mom is four score and seven years worn
Seen her children’s children’s children born
Her body is agile, her eyes eagle sharp
She sits and knits daily, small gifts from the heart
Tiny, brimmed pink and blue hats to be worn
By a bevy of babies who’ve just been born
Second hand moves, arthritic hands stitch
Once a month she drops off her donations
Baby hats for the next generation

© 2016 Mindy Gars Dolandis. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

DMC: "Mother, Mine" by B. J. Lee


Mother, mine,
gone from me too soon. 
It’s hard to catch a glimpse of you
in my mind’s eye—
your face blurring, 
then disappearing with the years. 

My brothers tell me,
“You laugh just like Mom.”
Relatives whisper,
“Who does she dress like?”
and, “If she isn’t the spittin’ image…”
as they elbow each other 
in shadowed corners.

On the telephone I always get,
“You sound just like your mother.”
Do people honestly think
it doesn’t bother me to hear that?
The trouble is, they aren’t thinking.

When I sobbingly question my father
about his now sidelong glances,
he admits, “I find it difficult 
to look you full in the face.”  

I run for my room.

Everyone else, 
sees her in me.

Maybe it’s the only way
I have of truly seeing her.  

© 2010 B.J. Lee. All rights reserved.  

Note from B.J.:  This poem is a remembrance of the time period just after my mother's untimely passing when I was seventeen.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

DMC: "Silent Guidance" by Keri Collins Lewis


For all you didn’t say – thanks.

The stiletto heels I bought for too much money
and the blisters they left behind.

The dangerous-looking boy who turned out to be
less Mr. Right and more Mr. What Was I Thinking?

The nights my friends and I stayed up
far too late laughing far too loudly.

The strange diets.
The stranger mood swings.

College applications.
Job applications.

For all the times I know you wanted to say,
No. Wait. What are you thinking?
but didn’t – thanks.

Your loving silence helped me find my own way.

© 2016 Keri Collins Lewis. All rights reserved.

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Monday, October 17, 2016

DMC: "Mother's Heart" by M. H. Barnes


At the kitchen               table, the color
of sunshine and the       centerpiece of  my
childhood, Mother sat doodling our names in
a steno book, over and over, a puffy cloud of
squiggles on the page, tossed this way and
that.  You could read her possession of
us in every direction, and we were
safe on that page, cast in ink,
belonging to her forever.  
In an idle moment, I
think about my
mother and

© 2014 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I originally posted "Mother's Heart" on March 6, 2014. I also wrote poems for my mother for Mother's Day 2013 and Mother's Day 2014. I suspect for some of you, though, this challenge is not so easy. Relationships can be complicated and emotionally taxing. While writing poetry can be cathartic, sometimes what we write is just for ourselves. If you write a poem for your mother but decide not to share, let me know at TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll enter you in this month's drawing regardless. If I were to make one suggestion for those feeling overwhelmed by the scope of this challenge, it would be to focus on one memory, one vignette, be it doodling at the kitchen table or watering plants. Think small.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more details.

Post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. All contributions will be included in a wrap-up celebration on Friday, October 28th, and one lucky participant will win an autographed copy of Kenn's delightful new anthology, forthcoming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 1, 2016:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Carrie Clickard: Making Good Use of Made-Up Words

Hear that siren? 

That's because Carrie Clickard just pulled up for another visit to Today's Little Ditty.

Today's Rhyme Crime Investigation comes in response to a reader's request for rhyming poetry mentor texts that use made-up words or words with unusual spelling.

While Carrie's posts always leave me with a smile on my face, this one includes so much fun verse, I suggest you get ready for a full-scale smile muscle workout!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Runcible spoons and slithy toves –  
Making good use of made-up words

During our last Rhyme Crime Investigation, Scanning the Seuss Man, I touched on the subject of invented words. Seuss uses them widely to great effect. Not just Seuss—many of our beloved children's poets, past and present, have played with creating their own words with delightful results. So the question arises, how do poets know when made up words are the smart choice for a poem and when they’re only a crutch?

Now for those of you who have followed previous Rhyme Crime Investigations, you might already have a handle on some of the wrong reasons to use an invented word.  If the only reason you’re creating a word is because no other rhyme works for a particular couplet, you’re on thin ice. The word you create could be brilliant, but it’s more likely to be a noticeable “fake word” that will stand out to both editors and readers—and not in a good way.

Likewise, if you’re altering a word’s shape or pronunciation to fix your meter or to correct a problem with syllable stress, you’ll finish your poem faster but you won’t be fooling anybody.  It can be painfully obvious to see when writers have taken the easy route. You’re better off putting in the hard work of rewriting to eliminate those “weasel” words.

So, you might be wondering, is it best to avoid  using nonsense words altogether? Not at all. The world of poetry would be poorer without them. Some of my own best reading moments were stumbling over gems like the “runcible” spoon in Lear’s "The Owl and the Pussycat" and the marvelous made-up vocabulary of Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky."  But what makes the difference between these poems and the quick fix failures, is that the poets used invented language intentionally, with thought and logic, to make their work stronger or funnier.

So how exactly do they do that?

ONE: The Grand Conceit

Let’s start with what I’m calling The Grand Conceit, the big idea, where an author creates words as part of the core concept of a poem or book. In this case new words are not simply whimsical vocabulary tacked on for a laugh. The invented words form the backbone of the entire work. Take Jack Prelutsky's Scranimals (Greenwillow Books, 2002). The title itself is a clue to where Jack’s going: Scrambled + Animals = Scranimals. The book is a romp through a world filled with chimerical plant-animal hybrids. Prelutsky scrambles not just their names, but the creatures themselves. From Porcupineapples to Toucanemones, you'll be hard pressed to pick a favorite. There’s the elegant Rhinocerose: 
Oh, beautiful RHINOCEROSE,
So captivating, head to toes,
So aromatic, toes to head,
Enchantress of the flower bed …
– Excerpt from "Oh beautiful RHINOCEROSE" © 2002 by Jack Prelutsky
and the lowly but adorable Potatoad: "On a bump beside a road/Sits a lowly POTATOAD..."  or maybe the Pandaffodil or … maybe you should pick up a copy and see for yourself.

In On Beyond Zebra, again we find that the author’s invented words are the stars of the story. Dr. Seuss creates not just new words but new letters: “My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”  This idea, the grand conceit of a whole new alphabet brings us "FLOOB" the first letter of  Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs, and the letter "YUZZ" is used for Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz.

Both cases show us invented vocabulary as a uniquely surprising and effective way of stimulating young readers’ imaginations and tickling their funny bones.  But is a big concept the only good way to include made-up words? Definitely not. Let’s look at a few smaller but still savvy ways to use invented vocabulary.

TWO: The Pithy Punchline

The best humorous poems often end with a pitch-perfect, witty last line. There’s something about the timing and rhythm of those last few words that catches us off guard and anchors the poem in our memory. Those endings can be a great place to use an invented word, where the word is an afterthought but the key to the laughter. Take this short poem by J. Patrick Lewis:

Cries a sheep to a ship on the Amazon
(A clipper sheep ship that her lamb is on)
"Remember, dear Willy,
the nights will be chilly,
so keep your white woolly pajamazon!"
            © 1999 by J. Patrick Lewis, from The Bookworm’s Feast
            Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

Lewis could have used the standard English words "pajamas on" and still had a perfectly acceptable ending line. So he clearly didn’t make up a word to solve a rhyme problem. Instead, by playing off the opening line’s “Amazon” with a created portmanteau word, Lewis elevates the poem from cute to brilliant.

In another witty word tweak, Lewis gives us a whirlwind of fun with his “Her-i-cane.”
There was a curly her-i-cane,
Her name was Lorelei,
And all she ever wanted was
       To fly, fly, fly.

She wasn't like the other girls,
For Lori never grew
Into a proper her-i-cane
       That flew, flew, flew.
– Excerpt from "Her-i-cane" © 1999 by J. Patrick Lewis, The Bookworm’s Feast
The magic of this made-up word has nothing to do with rhyming at all. It's personification done in a charming, memorable way.  Again, Lewis could have used the ordinary word hurricane and the poem would have “worked.” But by tweaking the vocabulary just a little left of normal, Lewis gave the poem a whole new level of whimsy and fun.

THREE: Who are you calling funny looking?  
Playing with the way words look.

Sometimes the funny isn’t about how a word sounds, but how it looks.  Doubling up on the A’s makes Douglas Florian’s "The Aardvarks" a giggle-producing kid favorite:

Aardvarks aare odd.
Aardvarks aare staark.
Aardvarks look better
By faar in the daark.
            © 2000 by Douglas Florian, from mammalabilia  
            Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.

In "The Lynx," another charming poem in his mammalabilia collection (Harcourt, 2000), Florian gets the laughs by spelling “stynx” to match lynx. Again, Florian had no need to make up a word so the poem would rhyme, instead he added to each poem’s surprise and wit by respelling words that worked in the first place – the same way Lewis played with Amazon and pajamazon.

FOUR: Do do do it again! 
Words that get funnier every time you say them.

Many of the examples above deal with invented words used just once for a pithy, syncopated “ba-doom-ching” laugh.  But funny can come in bigger doses too. Consider J. Patrick Lewis’s "A Hippopotamusn’t" that gets sillier and sillier as the poem goes on:

A hippopotamusn't sit
  On lawn chairs, stools, and rockers.
A hippopotamusn't yawn
  Directly under tightrope walkers.
A hippopotamusn't roll
  In gutters used by bowlers.
A hippopotamusn't fail
  To floss his hippopotamolars.
– Excerpt from the title poem of A Hippopotamusn't © 1990 by J. Patrick Lewis
Every time the hippopotamusn’t is mentioned, something new and outrageous delights the young readers.  The same way each new line of "The Bear" by Douglas Florian brings another chuckle:

Come Septem-bear
I sleep, I slum-bear,
Till winter lum-bears
Into spring.
More than that's
 © 2000 by Douglas Florian, from mammalabilia  
 Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.
Both of these authors get their timing and the laughs, just right.  In each case the tweaked or invented words are intentionally planned, wisely used and never just to “make the rhyme work.”

FIVE: Ticklish tongue twisters
The delight of getting words wrong.

Sometimes an author purposefully misuses or misspells a word, and delight of readers of all ages.  We can all relate to the bungled words in Laura Richard’s tongue twisting "Eletelphony."
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.)
– Excerpt from "Eletelephony" by Laura E. Richards, read the rest HERE.

There are so many more excellent examples, I could keep adding from now till November. (Though I think Michelle might protest.)  What’s clear in each and every example is that the poet used invented words to elevate, entertain and strengthen their work, never in an attempt to fix a tricky couplet. They weren’t just throwing in the word “tweeple” to rhyme with people or matching purple with “burple.” Which, now that I come to think of it, could work if your poem was about drinking grape juice or swallowing grape bubble gum.  Maybe I need to write that poem. Or maybe you do. (grin)

Either way, on that note I will leave you with this bit of wit and inspiration about made up words from Kenn Nesbitt. See you next time on Rhyme Crime Investigations.

Today I Decided to Make Up a Word  

Today I decided to make up a word,
like flonk, or scrandana, or hankly, or smurred.
My word will be useful and sound really cool;
a word like chindango, or fraskle, or spewl.

My friends and my teachers will all be impressed
to learn that I’ve made up a word like extrest,
or crondic, or crambly, or squantion, or squank.
Whenever they use it, it’s me that they’ll thank.

They’ll call me a genius and give me a prize,
repeating my word, be it shimble, or glize,
or frustice, or frongry, or frastamazoo,
or pandaverandamalandamaloo.

You’ll see it on TV shows one of these days.
They’ll use it in movies. They’ll put it in plays.
They’ll shout it from rooftops! The headlines will read,
“This Kid Has Invented the Word that We Need!”

I’ll make up my word, and I’ll share it with you,
and you can tell people from here to Peru;
the old ones, the young ones, and those in between…
as soon as I figure out what it should mean.
             © 2009 by Kenn Nesbitt,  from My Hippo Has the Hiccups 
             Used by permission of the author, who controls all rights.
             Listen to the poem read aloud at

Thanks, Carrie! 

Make sure to check out Carrie's previous Rhyme Crime posts on Today's Little Ditty:

Carrie L. Clickard is an internationally published author and poet.  Her first picture book, VICTRICIA MALICIA, debuted in 2012 from Flashlight Press. Forthcoming books include MAGIC FOR SALE (Holiday House, 2017), DUMPLING DREAMS (Simon and Schuster 2017) and THOMAS JEFFERSON & THE MAMMOTH HUNT (Simon and Schuster, 2018). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals including Spider, Muse, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Havok, Myriad Lands, Clubhouse, Spellbound, Penumbra, Haiku of the Dead, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Inchoate Echoes, and The Brisling Tide.  

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more information, then post your poem on our October 2016 padlet. While I haven't featured any reader contributions yet, I did post two lines from author John Irving this week. Stay tuned for more.

Irene Latham is welcoming poets and poetry lovers to Poetry Friday roundup with a fun assortment of scarecrows! If you were a scarecrow, what would you wish for? Find out what Irene's scarecrow has to say at Live Your Poem.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Line Tuesday: John Irving

"Holding mummy's hand" by Franck Michel

When Jack Burns needed to hold his mother's hand,
his fingers could see in the dark.

– John Irving 
from Until I Find You

Kenn Nesbitt has challenged us to write poems for our mothers this month. Click HERE for more information, then post your poem on our October 2016 padlet.