Getting Comfortable With Poetry: Fun With Words

Let’s be honest. Poetry can be intimidating. Most of us might appreciate listening to a good poem or reading a poetry anthology, but how many of us feel comfortable enough to call our own words ‘poetry’? If the idea of writing poetry makes you balk, shiver or want to cry, stick with me. Together, we’ll get you writing some poetry. Will it be good enough for that local poetry slam? Who cares?! Will it represent you and your thoughts, feelings and observations? Absolutely!

I am by no means an accomplished poet. I’m not even a good poet. Most of my poetry lives inside birthday cards given to family and friends. Here is a fine example:

Roses are red.

Daffodils are yellow.

Happy Birthday to you.

You’re a very fine fellow.

Seriously. That’s the kind of poetry I usually write. That doesn’t stop me from loving the idea of poetry, the potential of my words if I don’t criticize, if I just write. My words can illuminate and share my inner feelings. They can cast a light on my joy, contentment, pain and heartache. My words can paint a picture in the mind of what I see, touch, hear and smell. My words can bring to life my experiences, help others understand what it’s like to be me. My words are powerful, and so are yours.

When I taught my daughter to write poetry, I started by reading some of my favorite poetry books. I almost always start anything with a book. One of the books that we read together was Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder is a fantastic poetry anthology featuring poems about poets.

Watch the video below to hear my thoughts on this book and listen to me recite (probably badly) my favorite poem in the collection:

After getting our start reading poetry, my daughter and I felt ready to try our hand at writing our own poems. I asked M to try mixing her usual words and phrases with what I call ‘poetic language’. These are words that are descriptive, beautiful, colorful. They are words that use language to paint a picture, just as surely as a brush can. Here’s a bit of what she came up with (click to enlarge):

M did really well with poetry. I hesitated. I’ll be honest, I’m still not all that comfortable with poetry, but our attempts, our poetic experiments, really took off when we read Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate. This book is fantastic and so unique. I’ve honestly never read anything like it.

Jabberwalking covers a lot of ground, including autobiographical prose. The main premise, however, is that we can all write. We can all be poets. Herrera suggests having a Jabber journal. This is a handy notebook that you carry with you as you walk, jotting down what you see, hear and feel. You can write however you wish, single words, descriptions, or sketches.

“Your burbles are going to become a Seismic & Crazy Epic Poem!” he writes.

Herrera tells us not to worry about where we’re walking or what we’re looking for. “{T}he Poem, the burble, does not want to know were it’s going or even what it is saying.” And don’t worry about legibility or misspellings. You won’t be able to read everything you wrote. That’s okay! When you get home, decipher what you can. Play around with your words and pictures. You can move things around, like Ramon did in The Word Collector. You can add new words. This is how poetry happens. Have fun with it!

“Give your burbles SHAPE (simply move the words around into fun groups)”

“A Jabberwalking poem […] loves to […] BE FREE”

Obviously, I’m messing with Herrera’s words here. I’m cutting things and paraphrasing. There is no real way to replicate what he’s written, so you just need to read it for yourself. The style and content are totally worth the read (read it aloud, I’d suggest). Everything, from the illustrations to the typography, influences the feel of the book. I think you’ll be inspired to try Jabber journaling and poetry writing for yourself. M keeps a Jabber journal in her backpack and one at home, though she hasn’t been using them as much lately. Time to read the book again, I think!

In the video below, you’ll hear my brief thoughts on Jabberwalking, then go on a Jabberwalk with us. Be prepared…it was windy…and we are not professionals!

Gently Guided Activities

Poetry Activity #1 Check out a few poetry books from the library. Try the two I’ve suggested, or choose whatever strikes your fancy. Read the poems, preferably aloud. Take note of the kinds of words that jump out at you. Jot down words or passages that you particularly like or that inspire you. Could you make a poem by using a series of words that you collect from different poems or books? Write a list of your favorite words from a few different books. Rearrange these words until they sound interesting to you.

Poetry Activity #2 Inspired by the poem I shared from Out of Wonder in the first video, try to write a poem about a normal moment in your day. Observe first and take notes. What do you see, hear and smell when you’re brushing your teeth? What about when you’re eating lunch, out for a walk, waiting for the bus or watching tv? Tell us about it through your words. Write it into a poem. Not happy with what you’ve got? Try moving the words around. Does it sound better or worse? Keep trying.

Poetry Activity #3 Start your own Jabber journal. A small notebook that is easy to carry with you would be best. Start walking and writing. Do this alone, with a friend, or with your child. Don’t worry or think too much. Just write down what stands out, what you notice. Learning to be observant is hugely beneficial as we learn to harness our creativity. The words that you write can be turned into poetry or saved for inspiration. It’s up to you. As Juan Felipe Herrera reminds us in Jabberwalking, it doesn’t matter if you can read every word, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spelled everything correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have words or pictures. Just get your observations down, get them down quickly, before you have time to question your own thought process.

How confident are you with poetry? Share a poem in the comments or on my Bonnythings Creative Facebook page. If you try the activities, I’d love to hear how they go!

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to the creativity-themed picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. I discussed The Dot and Ish, looking at how they relate to creative confidence and providing a few activities based on those books.

Today, I’m finishing up my look at this series. I’ll be talking about two more in this collection, Sky Color and The Word Collector.

Check out the video below to see my take on these beautiful books:

First, we’ll take a look at Sky Color. You guys, this is my favorite of all of the books in Peter Reynolds’ collection. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be the gorgeous and inspiring illustrations, it could be the theme of looking beyond the ordinary. Whatever the reason, I love this book and I hope that you will, too.

FullSizeRender+%2856%29.jpg

This one is about Marisol, a confident little artist. She’s so confident, she actually shares her artwork with those around her, supporting what she believes in and spreading happiness. She even encourages her friends to do the same, to get in touch with their own creativity.

Marisol is so excited to work on a mural with her classmates. She enthusiastically volunteers to paint the sky, only to realize that there is no blue paint. What’s a girl to do? How can she paint the sky without blue?

In the end, Marisol realizes that blue is not the only sky color. There are so many ways to paint the sky. She breaks out of the box, looking at things from a new perspective. This is something that we all need to do, from time to time. Even the most creative among us need to look through a new lens, think beyond the ordinary or expected way of doing things. Marisol shows us how to break free from convention and trust ourselves to create.

FullSizeRender+%2859%29.jpg

I absolutely love The Word Collector because it takes a step away from art as a creative medium and focuses on words. It takes a look at how we use them, how we can create with them, and how to harness their power. In The Word Collector, we follow a little boy named Jerome. Unlike his peers, who collect things like stamps or comic books, Jerome collects words. He finds them in books, in conversation, everywhere he looks. He collects them in notebooks and boxes and carefully organizes them. He loves his words.

Everything changes when Jerome is carrying his word collection and he trips. His words go flying, landing completely out of order. This could be a disaster, but it reveals something amazing! Jerome realizes he can put his words together. He can use them to make sentences, poetry, stories. He sees the power of his words when directed toward others. His love of words grows once he realizes their versatility. One day, he climbs to the top of a hill and lets his words go. He shares them with the world, which makes him happier than he can imagine.

Words are powerful things. They can express our innermost thoughts. They can describe our feelings and experiences. They can help others to understand our point of view. Words can hurt. Words can heal. They are a powerful way to express yourself. Stringing them together, whether to tell a story, speak a truth, describe beauty or pull on the heart strings, gives us creative power. Our words are meant to be shared. It’s important for children to know that we are interested in their words. Start a conversation. Ask questions. Find out what words inspire them. Listen.


This week, I have a number of Gently Guided Activities for Sky Color and just a few for The Word Collector. If words are more your thing, don’t despair! I have more word-based activities coming up in future posts. Those activities will connect right back to the themes touched upon in The Word Collector.

Sky Color Activity #1 When I brought my activities to the co-working space, this one was the most popular. Can you make the sky without the color blue? I have put together a template that you can print out. Color the sky any way you want. Crayons, colored pencils, paint … but don’t use blue! Think about the many ways you can color a sky without blue. Will you choose something realistic, like a sunset or a cloudy day? Or, will you use your imagination, coming up with something we’ve never seen?

FullSizeRender+%2858%29.jpg

Sky Color Activity #2 At the beginning of the book, Marisol uses her creativity to make others happy. She shares her work, knowing the power it can have. Try making a card or writing a poem to brighten someone’s day. Think about what images or words might make someone happy.

Sky Color Activity #3 Draw a picture that deliberately changes an important color. What about making the sun blue? Or the grass pink? Does changing the color change how the picture makes you feel?

IMG_2220+%282%29.jpg

Sky Color Activity #4 It’s not all about art. Write a poem about the sky. Take several days to jot down ideas as the sky changes over different times of the day and different weather conditions. What colors do you see? How do you feel? Are there shapes in the clouds? What does the sky make you think about? Write down whole sentences or just a few words at time. After you’ve been at it for a few days, take your favorite lines or words and string them together to create a poem.

20160821-IMG_6311.jpg

Sky Color Activity #5 Let’s give collaborative art a try. This would work well for groups as small as two and as large as you’ve got. Get a big piece or a roll of paper. Sketch a design and create a mural. Everyone gets to draw and color part of it. How do your individual styles go together? How do their differences add to the overall look? Need ideas? Perhaps a jungle or savanna scene with lots of animals. You could go under the sea or up into space. Pick a theme and let everyone come up with something to add.

The Word Collector Activity #1 Jerome creates poetry by stringing together his words. Get a notebook to jot down words that you like, interesting words that you hear, words to describe your feelings or your observations of the world around you. Try stringing some words together, even if they don’t make sense. Don’t like what you’ve got? Try moving them around. Put the end at the beginning and the beginning at the end. Keep moving and changing the words until you’re satisfied.

FullSizeRender+%2862%29.jpg

The Word Collector Activity #2 Create a list of some of your favorite words. Draw them. Some will be harder than others. Is it a feeling? You can still draw it. What color does it make you think of? Smooth lines or jagged? If your word is abstract, your drawing might be, too! Remember the lessons from last week and try to be satisfied with -ish.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. If you try any of the activities, I’d love to hear about it. Head on over to the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page to post pictures of your creations!

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 1

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love to read. I always have a stack of books waiting on the table next to the couch. And another stack on my bedside table. I get excited to dive into a story or learn something new from a great piece of non-fiction. I spend way too much time at the library (I even volunteer there). Books, literature and art are my creative comfort zone. I’ll be trying to stretch out of that comfort zone, just as you probably will, but you’ll have to bear with me at the beginning. I’m going to start with a lot of activities that center on books. It’s what I know best. It’s my creative instinct.

This week and next, I’m going to highlight the work of Peter H. Reynolds, and I’m so excited! He has a series of absolutely amazing picture books that center around creative confidence. Many of his characters have lost their creative confidence, for one reason or another. They must seek out that confidence and work to grow it. Peter Reynolds’ books are beautifully illustrated. You may find the artistry alone enough to inspire you, but make sure that you stay for the story!

FullSizeRender+%2845%29.jpg

Some of you are likely already familiar with the books, particularly if you have children. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. They are amazing books to inspire kids, but I think they may be even more important for adults, with messages we all need to hear. Think you’ve lost your creativity? Think you never had any in the first place? Take a journey with Marisol, Vashti, Ramon and Jerome. You may change your mind. It’s never too late to learn from the experiences of the characters in these books.

I’m going to feature four of Peter Reynolds’ books over the course of two posts. Today, let’s take a look at The Dot and Ish.

In the following video, I’ll introduce you to the concepts and characters that fill the pages of these two beautiful books on finding and taking ownership of your creativity. Brevity is not a strength of mine (something else to work on)! If you have a few minutes, watch the video below:

 The Dot is a story about a girl who believes she cannot draw and refuses to complete her art project. Vashti is a great representation of the many kids and adults who feel they are incapable of expressing themselves through art. The teacher asks Vashti to make a mark, so she does. The turning point for Vashti is her acknowledgment that she does indeed have something to say, even if that something is a small dot. After signing the artwork, taking ownership of it, and seeing it framed and validated by her teacher, Vashti realizes that she has done something special and she challenges herself to do it better. She creates dot after dot, eventually filling a gallery with them, just like a bonafide artist.

The takeaway here, for me, is the importance of validation. Going back to my post on ensuring a safe emotional space for creativity, creative confidence grows when effort is acknowledged and celebrated. If a child thinks no one is paying attention, that no one cares about what they have to say or what they can create, they will stop wanting to create at all. Everyone needs to feel heard, needs someone to lift them up, to kickstart their confidence by validating their effort.

FullSizeRender+%2853%29.jpg

 Now, let’s take a look at another book in Peter Reynolds’ collection, Ish. Perhaps, you feel like your art, your writing, your photography, your…whatever, isn’t good enough. If so, it may be time to consider what standard you’re trying to live up to. Ish will make you think about what happens when we abandon the quest for perfection. What if we appreciate what we can do, rather than always looking at what we lack?

Ish is the story of a boy name Ramon. Ramon is a big fan of drawing and he thinks he’s quite good at it, until is confidence is completely knocked down by a few simple words from his brother. As we’ve already noted, confidence is very fragile. Ramon tries and tries to make his drawings look perfect and he’s about to give up on art altogether, when he realizes he has a fan in his little sister. She’s been taking his art, the pieces he’s rejected, thrown on the floor, and she’s been hanging them in her room. It is in this moment, when once again we see a character validated, that he realizes perfection isn’t the goal. His own interpretation of an object, a person, a feeling, is enough. Ish is enough. And in that feeling of ‘good enough’, he finds his freedom.

I love this story. It shows how easily creative confidence can be torn away, but it also shows the flip-side. It shows that confidence can be built back up. It can be built by one person showing an interest. It can be built by simply changing the bar. What if our own style, our own interpretation is just as good as someone else’s? What if that perfection we’re always striving for is actually preventing us from hearing our own voice?

ish-2.jpg

 Now it’s time for our Gently Guided Activities. I’ve got a few for today. Let’s start with The Dot.

The Dot Activity #1: I’m going to start with a fairly simple activity to go along with The Dot, and it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. Draw a dot. Paint a dot. Get a dot down on the page any way that you want. Now, look at your dot and ask yourself if you can do it better. How? Would bigger be better? More colorful? Should you use your hands? A pencil? What if you didn’t use a dot at all? Maybe dots aren’t your thing. Maybe your dot is actually a square. Or a triangle. Whatever simple shape you choose, make a few of them. Sign them. This is a beginning. Own it.

The Dot Activity #2: Let’s try turning a dot, a line, a squiggle, a series of shapes into something more. This was one of my favorite activities to do with my daughter when she was younger. She’d mark up a page with wavy lines and then find the picture in the lines. She’d add to it, make it something more than a squiggle. It’s like finding shapes in the clouds. Below is an example. Can you see the random lines that became the painting? Can you see what was added later, to bring it alive?

FullSizeRender+%2851%29.jpg

The Dot Activity # 3: Check out a book about art from the library or do a quick internet search to find artists who used shapes in their artwork. The work of Wassily Kandinsky is a great example. Check out the pointillism movement and look at how Georges Seurat created entire scenes from small dots. Look at the way that an artist may start with something as simple as a dot and end up with something so much more. Try out one of these styles for yourself.

Ish Activity #1: Get a notebook or a sketchbook for your child. Better yet, get one for yourself, too! If you don’t have a notebook, staple together a small stack of plain paper. Let’s call this your Ish journal. Learn to draw, doodle or write like Ramon. Pick objects around your house or neighborhood and draw. Don’t strive for perfection. Sign each drawing and give it a name. Did you draw a cup? Name your art ‘Cup-ish’. Feel like writing a poem or a short story? Go for it. Just let it be -ish. Don’t over-think what you’re doing. Consider decorating the cover of your journal with a nice -ish drawing. Add color. Don’t add color. Use paint. Whatever you want, go for it!

I took an Ish activity to a local co-working spot and had a blast watching the adults in the room draw. It’s amazing how much harder it is for adults to accept -ish.

 Ish Activity #2: A big part of both stories is the validation of the young artist. Hang up some art or writing. Frame it and hang it on the wall. Use clothespins to hang art from a string. Use a magnetic surface or cork board. You can even create a portable gallery out of a cardboard box. We used this box that I had turned into a puppet theatre when my daughter was small. She turned the backside into her own gallery. We could fold it up and put it away when we needed the space or leave it out so that she could proudly display her latest creations.

FullSizeRender+%2844%29.jpg

I hope you have fun exploring the creative concepts of these books. Take ownership. Validate. Let perfection go. As Miss Frizzle would say, ‘Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!’

Interested in a few of my mistakes? Watch the video below for some outtakes. Video-making is new for me! There’s always room to grow.