Friday, January 31, 2014

Remembering Pete Seeger

-Pete Seeger

Renée LaTulippe visited Limerick Alley earlier this week with a lively ditty about an indignant Mr. Potato Head.  It was tons of fun, so thought I might follow up today with a poem of my own that features a favorite children's toy.  Well... that didn't happen. excuse is that I've been focused on completing my January manuscript for 12x12.  Have you heard about Julie Hedlund's challenge to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months?  This is only my first year, but already I'm discovering it to be a fabulous source of support and motivation; and with three different membership levels, it really does provide something for everyone.  Click on the banner for membership and registration information. 

So no, I did not write a poem for today's post.  Instead I am featuring legendary folk singer and songwriter, Pete Seeger (1919-2014).

Pete Seeger Appreciation Page

Regarding the power of music to change the world:
"Words are good, and words help us become the leading species on earth to the point where we are now ready to wipe ourselves off the earth. But I think that all the arts are needed, and sports too, and cooking, food, and all these different ways of communication. Smiles, looking into eyes directly, all these different means of communication are needed to save this world. But certainly a great melody . . ."
 -Pete Seeger (from a 2006 Beliefnet interview)

When I heard that Pete Seeger died this past Monday, my feelings of loss were quickly overcome by feelings of gratitude-- that he was able to enjoy so many years and impact so many lives in a positive way is a gift beyond measure.

"I feel that my whole life is a contribution" 
                              -Pete Seeger

I thought about my own memories of seeing him at The Great Hudson River Revival in the mid-1980s.  The festival was founded in 1966 by Toshi Seeger and her husband, Pete, to clean up the polluted river and raise funds to build the sloop Clearwater, now recognized as America's Environmental Flagship.  A floating classroom that conducts science-based environmental education, Clearwater is also a world-renowned example of grassroots achievement.

"The world will be solved by millions of small things." 
                               -Pete Seeger 

The festival was not far from where I lived and, back then, not nearly the 15,000+ fan event it has become-- now the country's largest annual environmental celebration and the longest-running festival of its kind.  I remember it as a far more intimate gathering on a beautiful sunny day, in the shade of happy trees that longed to be hugged-- let's call it a post-hippy lovefest.  I also remember Pete.  I remember his soft eyes (a father and grandfather figure to so many), his unbridled optimism, and his rugged determination... and his banjo.  I remember his beloved banjo.

Pete Seeger Quotes, Huffington Post
-Pete Seeger

Most people can probably sing along to Pete Seeger's most popular hits, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" and "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)."  Here is one of my favorites, followed by a recording of Pete singing it.

Oh, Had I A Golden Thread

Oh, had I a golden thread
And needle so fine
I’ve weave a magic strand
Of rainbow design
Of rainbow design.

In it I’d weave the bravery
Of women giving birth,
In it I would weave the innocence
Of children over all the earth,
Children of all earth.

Far over the waters
I’d reach my magic band
Through foreign cities,
To every single land,
To every land.

Show my brothers and sisters
My rainbow design,
Bind up this sorry world
With hand and heart and mind,
Hand and heart and mind.

Far over the waters
I’d reach my magic band
To every human being
So they would understand,
So they’d understand.

Words and music by Pete Seeger (1958)
(c) 1959 by Stormking Music Inc.

This is how I remember Pete Seeger...

And this is how Arlo Guthrie (on his Facebook Page) remembers Pete Seeger...
Pete Seeger: 
I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep - Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That's the great thing about thoughts and prayers- You can go or be anywhere.

I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I'd grown up that way - loving the Seegers - Pete & Toshi and all their family.

I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I'd been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound trite or plain stupid. "They'll say something appropriate in the news," we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.

"Arlo" he said, sounding just like the man I've known all of my life, "I guess I'll see ya later." I've always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. "Pete," I said. "I guess we will."

I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.

"Well, of course he passed away!" I'm telling everyone this morning. "But that doesn't mean he's gone."

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Limerick Alley: Renée LaTulippe

                                                                         Photo: Mike Licht

Well, hello there!  

And welcome to the new (albeit temporary) face of Limerick Alley.  Are you feeling lucky?  By all accounts you should, because Renée LaTulippe is here today and she's brought a wee ditty that's nothing if not grand!

Those of us who frequent Poetry Friday already know what a treasure Renée is.  I can't say enough about her devotion to her craft and her generous support of the children's poetry community.  Renée's website and blog, No Water River, should be on everybody's list of go-to sites for children's poetry.  There, she offers extensive resources and an unrivaled poetry video library.  Her current video series, "Spotlight on NCTE Poets," features video interviews with Lee Bennett Hopkins to help preserve his personal memories of each of the outstanding NCTE award-winning poets since 1977.  Talk about a pot of gold!  You can find her latest episode, highlighting the life's work of Eve Merriam, here.

As I've gotten to know Renée over the past several months, we've discovered that we have more than a little in common-- our connection with theater, our love of performing poetry (have you checked out her 5 Tips for Poetry Performance that I mentioned last Friday?), our ambitious to-do lists and tendency toward perfectionism, our soprano singing voices, our dust allergies, and even our taste in international husbands.  Oh, and yes, to be sure, our love of silly rhyme.  So without further ado, let's talk potatoes, shall we?

                    POTATO HEAD’S LAMENT 

                    My features are carefully placed
                    to suit my impeccable taste—
                    until a young niece
                    is seized by caprice
                    and I am thus rudely defaced.
                    © 2014 Renée M. LaTulippe.  All rights reserved.
What the...?
You've left me speechless!

Guess we'll have to keep our eyes on you, 
Ms. Renée LaTulippe!

Seriously, though, thank you, Renée, for bringing your spudtastic sense of humor to Limerick Alley!

This spud's for you.

If you would like to join in the fun and have a limerick featured here in the future, please contact me at Michelle (at) MichelleHBarnes (dot) com, or by commenting below.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I slam. Therefore I am.

Poets Konstantyn Kuzminsky and Hedwig Gorski, originator of the term "performance poetry."

Continuing on from last week's post, which featured videos of Canadian poet and performer, Shane Koyczan, today I'm delving deeper into the world of spoken word poetry.  Performance poetry and the rising popularity of poetry slams have intrigued me for some time, but I've finally figured out what I'd like to do with that interest.  I'd like to start a performance poetry club at my daughter's school.  I haven't yet approached the teachers or administrators about it, but it's the kind of school that tends to be open to such things.  And from there who knows where it might lead?

One reason I'm enthusiastic about the idea is because it takes me full circle, back to my college days when I was known to mix things up a bit, artistically speaking.  Back then we called it "avant-garde" or "experimental" theater, or sometimes "performance art."  For me, it was what came naturally.  Need a vocally choreographed version of John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud"?  Sure.  How about a contemporary Garden of Eden dance performance combined with the first scene of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi? You bet.  Or maybe you fancy a cutting edge version of the German Expressionist play Murderer the Women's Hope, by Oskar Kokoschka?  Heck, yeah.

I was such a sweet girl back then...     but I digress.

The other reason performance poetry is a natural fit for me is because of my more recent experience as a Girl Scout troop leader.  (I know, could this post get more random?  Stay with me....)  I became a Girl Scout leader because I wanted to help girls build self-esteem, self-confidence, and find their own unique voices.  Though my troop dissipated after three years, the girls moving on to different middle schools and other interests, my desire to help young people find value in who they are and what they have to say has not strayed.  For me, the delicious mixture of performance, poetry, and self-expression seems an appropriate next step.

And, boy, do young people have some incredible things to say!

Here is Lily Myers at CUPSI (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational) 2013, with "Shrinking Woman":

And here is Ethan Metzger in the first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam (May 2013), with "Brainwashing":

How hard can it be to become a spoken word artist anyway?  According to Gayle Danley, it's merely a five step process of transformation.  There's a wonderful motivational TED Talk about spoken word poetry by Sarah Kay, performance poet and founder of Project VOICE, an organization that uses spoken word poetry as a literacy and empowerment tool.  And, if still in doubt, I can always turn to these five practical tips for poetry performance from one of my favorite Poetry Friday contributors, Renée LaTulippe.  (By the way, Renée will be my special guest in Limerick Alley this coming Tuesday, so stay tuned!)

But what have I missed?  What I'd really like to know from you-- teachers, poets, and word lovers, all-- do you have any advice as I prepare to embark upon this new adventure?

For a poetic adventure of your own, look no further than the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted today by Tara at A Teaching Life.  Inspiration abounds!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Musing: MLK, Jr. Day


Faith is taking the first step 
even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

To This Day: Poetry in Action from Shane Koyczan

"If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror."
-Shane Koyczan, "To This Day"

For some time now I had been planning to share "To This Day," Shane Koyczan's poetic testament to the bullied and beautiful.  Given that the video went viral a year ago, it came as a complete surprise when, last Friday, I learned from Mary Ann Scheuer at Great Kid Books that this moving spoken word poem has been turned into an app-- a Cybil-nominated app no less!  (Alas, my life is so sheltered without an iPad or smartphone.)

If any single contemporary poet could inspire me to spread my wings, this Canadian writer and performer might be the one.  If I let myself, I could spend hours on You Tube, watching videos of his work over and over again because each time there is something new and remarkable to discover.  But maybe that's not true of everyone.  Should I postpone my own coverage of "To This Day" since Mary Ann already did such a fabulous job last week?  After some hemming and hawing, I concluded that because Mary Ann only linked to the app, not the video (and moreso, because I can't help myself), it wouldn't hurt to have two Shane Koyczan weeks in a row.  Just call me Fangirl.

Shane Koyczan says of "To This Day": 
My experiences with violence in schools still echo throughout my life but standing to face the problem has helped me in immeasurable ways.
I wrote “To This Day”, a spoken word poem, to further explore the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual.
Schools and families are in desperate need of proper tools to confront this problem. We can give them a starting point… A message that will have a far reaching and long lasting effect in confronting bullying.
Yes, this a video about the harmful effects of bullying, but the message we are left with is positive and empowering.  It's about overcoming our histories, testing our boundaries, and exploring the freedom of possibility.  It is about learning how to fly.  It is also an example of what can happen when a caring community of 86 animators and motion artists come together to donate their time and talents to a singular cause.   I think you will agree, The result is seamless, powerful, moving, and inspirational.

For those of you whose appetites have only been whetted, here's a link to his TED talk where you can hear the back story.  And another spoken word poem titled "Remember How We Forgot" in a live performance that also features his compatriot, violinist and rising singer/songwriter Hannah Epperson:

Ultimately, my ambition is his ambition: to "burn like an ember capable of of starting fires, like each moment inspires the next."

Though my history and choices have carved my own path, the goal is the same:

Look directly into every mirror
Realize our reflection is the first sentence to a story
And our story starts:
"We were here."
                       - Shane Koyczan, "Remember How We Forgot"

And from here, you may want to find your way over to Keri Recommends, where inspiration is also at hand.  Today birthday girl Keri is celebrating more than just the Poetry Friday roundup!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just call me Little Miss Sunshine

There's nothing like a wagon load of sunshine as a pick-me-up, especially in winter.  This past week my allowance of Vitamin D came in the form of Sunshine Awards from two blogging friends, Margaret at Reflections on the Teche and Keri at Keri Recommends.  My warmest thanks to both of these fabulous, sun-toting writers!

This is how it works:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger(s).
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers who inspire you.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Eleven Facts:
  1. I am an INFJ and an Aquarius. 
  2. I enjoy snacking on dark chocolate covered edamame.
  3. I was named after the Beatles song.  The intention was to call me Mickey, but thanks to long hair and nails at birth, I narrowly escaped that fate.
  4. A record producer once told me I would be the next Tracy Chapman and suggested I change my name to Cindy Timberwolf.
  5. In my next life, I would like to be a dancer or a bird... or both. (I'll pass on the timber wolf-- Cindy or otherwise.)
  6. I once got my foot stuck in the back wheel of a moving bicycle and my family called me "Gross Foot."  (I would have preferred Mickey.)
  7. I have been fortunate to have lived in some beautiful places.  I especially miss the big sky of New Mexico and the eastern coastline of Australia.
  8. I have a talent for making wonderful friends, both in person and online, wherever I call home. 
  9. Each time I move, I have an irrational fear that I will be forgotten.  This is likely due to a favorite 5th grade teacher who didn't recognize me when I returned to visit the following year.
  10. Prior to creative parenting and creative writing, I worked my way up from Department Secretary to Human Resources Manager at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  11. For many, many years I sang "Lullaby and Goodnight" to my children at bedtime.  Not once did I make it all the way through without yawning.  Still can't, but I hope you made it through my list of random facts without yawning!

Eleven Answers:
          (I've taken some questions from Margaret's list and some from Keri's)

1. What is your favorite movie of all time?  The Secret of Roan Inish

2. When did you first begin to believe you were a writer?  After being discouraged in high school, I only began to believe I was a writer when I got my first greeting card copy acceptance in November of 2004.  Unless songwriting counts... then it was when I was about 20 or so.

3. Who was your favorite author when you were growing up?  Dr. Seuss

4. Do you collect anything?  Suns and unpacked moving boxes

5. What book have you read lately that influenced you and how?  Views from a Window Seat, by Jeannine Atkins.  This is why.

6. What is a poem you know by heart and can recite?  In my childhood bedroom, there was a plaque that hung above my bed.  I read it every night and remember it to this day.

A Child's Prayer
(author unknown)

Dear God, 
I thank You for Your care
You've been right with me everywhere
At school, at play, You're by my side
My special Friend, my loving Guide
And when the sun has said goodbye
And little lights shine in the sky
You're still with me, not far above
Right in my heart, for You are Love.

7.  A popular children's book you feel guilty about NOT reading?  A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle.  I know, I know... I'll be reading it next!

8. Next place you hope to visit?  Prague

9. Unusual skill you possess?  I'm a self-taught cups percussionist for "The Cup Song"... but please don't ask me to sing at the same time.

10. Something you loathe?  Downhill skiing.  The one and only time I went, I left a trail of blue dye from the seat of my new jeans all the way down the mountain.

11. Something you love?  Music, morning walks, and my muse when it comes out to play.

Eleven Bloggers:

Note: I realize that several of you have been nominated over and over, and I don't actually expect you to participate.  Just wanted to thank you for the inspiration, and for leaving the light on.

And the Sunshine Awards go to...

Robyn Hood Black: Life on the Deckle Edge
Mary Lee Hahn: A Year of Reading
Renee LaTulippe: No Water River
Liana Mahoney: Commas Have Wings
Diane Mayr: Random Noodling
Sarah Monsma: Sarah Monsma, Writer and Editer
Jama Rattigan: Jama's Alphabet Soup
Laura Purdie Salas: Writing the World for Kids
Laura Shovan: Author Amok
Liz Steinglass: Elizabeth Steinglass, Poet
Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference

Eleven Questions:
  1. Choose three words to describe yourself.
  2. Choose three words others might use to describe you.
  3. What is your secret snack or guilty pleasure?
  4. Other than your immediate family, who is/was your role model?
  5. Favorite music?
  6. Favorite book or author as a child?
  7. What are you reading now?
  8. Share an embarrassing childhood memory.
  9. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  10. What is one of your favorite things about where you live?
  11. What was the best advice ever given to you?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Five for Friday: Defining Flight

Owl Flying against a Moonlit Sky, Caspar David Friedrich

"Flying" is my One Little Word for 2014.  

I didn't choose it, though.  It chose me.  From the moment it escaped from my fingers and flew onto the computer screen last week, Flying made itself at home, nesting prominently in my thoughts.

This week I've been exploring what, to me, the act of flying means.  On a practical level, it means loading up my schedule with goals and challenges like Shannon Abercrombie's Start the Year Off Write and Julie Hedlund's 12x12 to keep me motivated and writing.  I'm also pleased to have been accepted into the Poets' Garage this month, and am quite excited about the heights that could take me to as well.

All of these challenges require hard work, however, and I'm fairly certain that I've loaded up on more than I can handle in a calm, rational way.  But who said flying was easy?  My theory is that birds just make it look that way.

Sandhill cranes flying into the sunset at Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Today's little ditty is a suite of five definitions of "flight" from a poetic standpoint, or, as I like to call it, my bird's eye view.


Let go
Tidal flow



To there 
© 2014 Michelle Heidenrich Barnes. All rights reserved.

I bet you can come up with your own interpretation of flight.  If you feel like it, I invite you to do so and share it with me in the comments.  At this point, I'm not sure where my One Little Word will take me this year, but I think I'm on the right track.

Heaven knows I'm by no means perfect, but I am perfectly me.  If it takes me some time to earn my wings, all I have to do is trust the socks on my capable feet.

Notes to Self affirmation socks
With thanks to Santa and the notes to self elves

Now may I suggest you take your feet walking over to Mainely Write?  Unless, of course, you're able to fly there.  Thank you, Donna, for hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Friday, January 3, 2014

Secret Superpowers

“While we try to teach our children all about life,
  our children teach us what life is all about.”
         - Angela Schwindt

The Flying Dream, Richard Wilkinson

2014.  This is the year I intend to fly.  

Care to join me?

To prepare for takeoff, I'd like to share the poem I received from the talented Tabatha Yeatts during last month's Winter Poem Swap.  It was the first time I participated in one of Tabatha's poem swaps and now I'm hooked!

Besides Tabatha's inspiring poem (unveiled shortly), she sent me several goodies, including Horror Refrigerator Word Magnets, "perfect for leaving a final message before that thing standing behind you swallows you whole...."  But, well, that's a post, and a limerick, for another day.

Today's little ditty is meaningful to me on a deeper level.  It's symbolic of why I choose to write for children, because of their inherent powers to inspire and live life in the moment, to enjoy each day with unequaled exuberance, and to absorb and reflect the world's goodness like sunlight.
         Secret Superpowers

          Drawing places no one’s ever seen –
                Turning a bed into a trampoline –
          Not getting sick no matter how much I spin –
                Finding the only mud puddle to step in –
          Imagining stories about people I see –
                Thrilling my dog at the sight of me –
          Sensing when I am near ice cream –
                Sleeping upright once I’ve run out of steam –
          Catching a leaf before it hits the ground –
                Creeping up behind you without making a sound…

            © 2013 Tabatha Yeatts.  All rights reserved.

So here's my gift to you: a magic toolbox. . .

Today I urge you to collect and fill your toolbox with your own secret superpowers.  May you use them with wild abandon each day of 2014... and beyond.

At I Think in Poems, Betsy is also sharing poetry magic.  Please join her for today's Poetry Friday roundup.

And another opportunity to help you take flight in 2014:

Join me and other picture book, middle grade, and young adult writers this month who are embracing Shannon Abercrombie's challenge to Start The Year Off Write.  For each of 21 days, established authors will present unique writing exercises to inspire, motivate, hone your skills, and help you soar in the new year.  You may even win a prize!  Do check it out!