National Poetry Month – Poetry Lesson for Tweens

A Lesson on Writing Poetry
Poetry is a great way to say a lot with as few words as possible. It could be said that reading a story is like eating a long, satisfying meal, but reading poetry is like savoring a very rich dessert with a spoon. The language is dense with meaning. It is not meant to be consumed in large amounts.

Poetry is a great fit for the “quick-fix” mentality of our modern technological world where we can seek and receive information in a moment’s notice. Poetry does that, too. It is a quick and meaningful connection, as long as we can understand it:

By the way, did I mention that you can throw grammar rules out of the window when you write poetry? Hey, what could be better than that?

Let’s talk about some practical ways to enjoy poetry:

1. Read the poem more than once. Sometimes it takes a while to wade through those heady images and/or the lack of practical language and explanation.

2. Read the poem out loud. You’ll catch every syllable and you’ll keep your mind from wandering.

3. So far, poetry sounds like a bit of work, but it’s best not to try to dig out a meaning. Some poems are about very mundane moments and things that are made magical by words.

4. Pay close attention to the title. Again, keeping in mind the deliberate placement of words in poems, the title can provide a lot of information and insight.

5. Recognize the speaker (are they speaking to you or someone else), the voice and the mood (is it humorous, melancholy, philosophical, or playful). Is it a narrative poem, meaning, does it tell a story? Is it more abstract? Is it about nature? (a common theme)

6. Figurative language. These techniques are used to create rhythm, enhance a poem’s meaning, intensify a mood or feeling. There are many, but we will focus specifically on similes and metaphors.

Metaphor – a comparison between two different things, where one thing is the other.
Simile – a direct comparison between two things using the words “like” or “as.”

Take a look at some metaphors and similes to describe something we are all familiar with – the moon.


The moon is a purple-veined eye rolled back inside a socket; The moon is a white balloon tied to the bumper; The moon is an urn of carved ivory spilling lotus petals on the sea.


The moon is as white as a powder sugared wedding cookie; the moon is as thin as a blond eyelash; the moon is as shiny as a drop of iridescent glaze.

Do you get the idea? Do you have any metaphors or similes to describe the moon? The sun? How about your dog? Anything else?

I’ve included a poem of mine called “The Writing Lesson.” I used to be a writing coach and worked with fourth-grade students to help them get ready for a big writing test. One day I brought in some seashells to help the students learn about metaphors and similes, and then I wrote about the lesson myself. Look for similes and metaphors. What did you see?

The Writing Lesson
Lake County, Florida

Some of the children I teach have never held a seashell—
a collection I’ve gathered from the beaches
of the state where we live.
They marvel at pearly-throated helixes
that open quietly with the ocean,
each exoskeleton exotic in their fingertips
as ivory or amber. They fuss over the sand dollar—
fragile beneath its filigreed petals, and ask
to keep the halves of clams, cockles
and carapaces, cones of whelk— stiff-peaked
as whisked cream. They want to lick
the wild salt they smell from serrated edges,
the hollows of abraded iridescence,
but instead they’ll compose
a tide of metaphor and simile — compare
a corm of coral to a wasp nest, barnacles to bubbles,
whorled eyes to hurricanes. Coquina, delicate
as a baby’s pink toenail. One perfect
angel wing brittle as eggshell, a boy writes,
is furrowed like a golf ball, a waffle, and another
orange calico scallop, muses a girl,
is a Japanese palace fan,
the color of an autumn leaf beneath
these same trees that never lose their green.

(I’m including a couple of extra poems by some great American poets at the end of this lesson that you can use to practice identifying metaphors and similes)

Okay, are you ready to write?
Before you do, I want to go over some of the basic types of poems: lyrical poetry, where the speaker expresses a single thought or idea. Sometimes these can be almost like a tribute or like an expression of grief. Then there is the narrative poem. What do you think narrative means, like “narrator.” It means to tell a story through your poem. Then there is the dramatic poem which is written like a long, long story.

There are also form poems, several of which we’re going to write about today. They are a good place to start. They can be rhyming or non-rhyming. Whichever it is that you’re more comfortable with.

1. The first type of poem that we’re going to write is called a phrase poem. I want you to think about a season, an event, a person, or pet. Any kind of “thing” that you want to write about. You are going to attach images to that subject by only using phrases.

Here’s an example.

My Year in Fourth Grade

Great teacher
Long Division
Fun facts every morning
Writing Tests
Fun on the Playground
Classroom Jobs
Achieving Goals
Lunch with the Teacher
Crazy Science Experiments
Field Trip to St. Augustine

As you’re thinking of this subject, and it can be anything you want, let the images float into your head and write them down. Think about how this subject makes you feel. Add your senses – what do you see, hear, touch, taste, smell? You can just write your images like a list beneath your topic. You’ll be surprised at how easily this paints a picture. Also, your list doesn’t need to rhyme.

How did it go? Share your poem with someone and see what they say.

Before we write our next poem, I want to share a poem called “Why I’m not Afraid of King Cobras” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Why I am not Afraid of King Cobras
Karala, India

Forests equal fairies for a girl of eight.
What I did not equate was this was jungle,
just off the edge of coconut groves
and rubber trees, land where even my father

never ventured alone as a boy. But this
was vacation, time off from spelling tests
and fractions. All of a sudden I had grandparents
to buy me pieces of pink candy, and glass bangles

that clicked with each swing of the arm. After dinner,
I loved to gouge the rubber trees with a stick, watch the plastic
ooze from each gash. Roll the warm sap into a ball—
each bounces so high, I’d lose them in the last flicks

of sun. I had wandered further that day, deep
in groves where cinnamon and sweetleaf grew like weeds.
When I reached for a stick, I saw him there, standing
in what I learned later is the Imperial pose— eye level,

his teeny tongue tasting the air for what I smelled of:
candy and glass. The ribs of his neck spread wide
as my father’s hand, then smoothed down, and I laughed—
he was suddenly small, and naked, like he’d lost

his hat. We stood there for some time before I turned around
and went back inside to tell no one that just moments before,
a girl and a snake had made their introductions— the birds
overhead holding their breath, the pierced trees bubbling at their bark.

Could you feel this poem through your senses? How did it make you feel? If there were any words that you didn’t know, look them up. It’s a great way to boost your vocabulary!

2. The next poem we’re going to write is called the “I Don’t Understand” or the “I Wish” Poem.

Here’s an example:

I do not understand why my father talks on the phone so much.
I do not understand why I can’t play video games longer.
I do not understand why people get sick.
I do not understand why I can’t have more pizza parties.
I do not understand why people can’t get along.
I do not understand that life is so unfair sometimes.

You begin each line of the poem the same way, either all of them will say “I do not understand why…” or you can start them all with “I wish…”

This is an easy way to write a very meaningful poem. When you are finished, remember to edit your poem. Read it out loud. Look for spelling errors or omissions. Change out boring verbs for something more specific. For example, “went” might be replaced with zoomed or strolled or skate-boarded.

3. The next poem we’re going to write is called a cinquain (sinkane). This will help you remember parts of speech like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. A cinquain is an easy and effective way to write a great poem.

Here’s an example:

Fiery, red
Orbiting, Traveling, Spinning
Star in our sky

Here’s how to write a cinquain:

Line A: One vague or general one-word subject or topic
Line B: Two vivid adjectives that describe the topic
Line C: Three interesting -ing action verbs that fit the topic
Line D: A four-word phrase that captures a feeling about the topic
Line E: A very specific term that explains Line A

The point of the poem is that you’re starting with a general subject and you’re narrowing it down to something specific using parts of speech (adjective and verbs) and your imagination. Use words that are strong and specific in your poems. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun, to be creative, and to show your sense of humor.

4. The last poem we are going to write is less of a form poem. I want you to think of five symbols that represent you. Take some time to brainstorm and think about it. When you are ready, you can write and/or draw each symbol. I want you to explain for each symbol, why it represents you. Remember to use description, similes, metaphors, emotions, and senses if you can.

Again, when you are finished, read your poems out loud. Think about words that might make them more accessible to your reader through senses or feelings.

Share your poems if you would like. Listen to someone else’s.

One more thing, and it’s important!! Keep writing!!

More poems with metaphors and similes for you to find:

The Birches
…Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away…

Robert Frost

Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes


I love January.

Some may find the palette dull— sparrow and cinder, a blue gone deeper, no inkling of last month’s tinsel. Pared down, the way I like it. Even the clouds look broom-swept. There’s clarity here. And stillness. Enough of it, if we’re lucky, to journey inward, to rest, to ponder, to plan. To breathe past the simple circadian rhythm of our bodies, deep into our dreams.

I’m not much on making resolutions, but I love the thought of a blank canvas, especially this year because I received paints as a gift for Christmas. Creating art, whether in brushstrokes or words or music, is our sacred and necessary soul-print across a world gone riotous with distractions and allusions. Art explores and celebrates the connectivity of our emotions and senses, the individual universes of our own imaginations. It let us speak with one another without filters or perimeters or oxygen tanks. Ha!

So, while we are still sheened in the winking ambiance of what could be, the spooling away of all that was, let’s lift our faces beyond the fireworks’ ordinary glitter and drift at midnight: Limitless, limitless, limitless: the sky will remind us, trembling. Cheers to your journey. To all that your heart finds holy.

Upcoming Poetry Events in Lake County:

January 18th – Workshop – Lunar New Year – A Study of Asian Poetry. We’re even going to include fortune cookies in our exercises. Come and join us at the Leesburg Library from 1:00 -2:30.

January 25th – Same workshop at the Tavares Library at 2:00 PM.

February 8th – Love Poetry – Looking for readers and the theme is romance. You know you’ll want to be there at 2:00 PM at the Tavares Library.

February 14th – Workshop – Understanding and Appreciating Poetry (chocolate provided) 1:00-3:00 PM at the Leesburg Library.

Many more poetry reading opportunities coming up in March and April (an abundance for National Poetry Month.)

Also, Poetry Open Mics…….

Quarterly at WT Bland Library in Mount Dora. The next one is Sunday, March 8th at 4:00 PM.

First Thursday of every month. The next ones are January 9th and February 6th at 5:00 PM.

These are great events! Hope to see you there!







For Fall

The ripe, the golden month has come again…

                                     — Thomas Wolfe

October. Crisp evenings. Bonfires. The brilliant blaze of autumn leaves.

Here in Florida, not so much. Summer will soon be over, and hurricane and love bug season will have passed. It may still be hot here, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the same season of pumpkin spice in our lattes, store bought chrysanthemums, and on Halloween night, trick-or-treaters who will be wearing sandals instead of jackets.

Growing up in Virginia, fall was the best. Our apple and pear trees left fruit on the ground, a sharp, melancholy scent that drew bees. The days grew shorter, the light, softer. Of course, there were the shimmering valleys of the Shenandoah, but I was lucky enough to have a sugar maple right outside of my bedroom window. I could hear its leaves rustle, watch them spill over into the most riotous of reds– the brief and collective lifeblood of summer easing into the wind. 

I’ve included an autumn poem I wrote which was inspired from a news headline some years ago.

With that said, here’s to this tilt of hemisphere. To all things pungent in their skins. To the thistled over and the goosed downed and the cindered. To patterns of migration. To surfaces gone stark enough to echo. Here’s to “Fall…begging us to dance and sing and write with just the same drama and blaze.” (Shauna Niequest)

Family Lost in a Corn Maze

It wasn’t till they noticed the twitching

shadows had eclipsed their path that they began

to worry. Tromping through the split

crop in spirals that had no point

of origination, no flailing ends

from which to exit into the stubbled pasture

where they’d started, where

surely someone would be

shouting for them. Here.

We’re over here. Horizonless,

they wished for

the north star amid constellations

kerneled in silk and shuck. Stalks

so dense they could stifle a scream.

Pumpkins and straw bales,

(sometimes the same ones)

rendered into cubes and spheres

by the fading light & artfully arranged

against the random splay

of convex and converse, this quiet

nuance of peeve to panic. Moon,

the gleam of a dull-bladed sickle.

They could eat the corn if they got hungry

enough, fold the stems to the ground,

trample a plea across this kindling-dry

labyrinth stoked with straw bodies.

But when the children began to cry,

the walls tightened and hissed, admonishing:

Shhh…shh, my darlings, remember this—

that echo you hear is just a circle

opening wider; nothing’s ghosting—

just the dark gulp of soil, where your words lie

smothered whole and buried in syllables.

September’s Poetry Palette

Paint Chip Poetry—

Paint Chip Poetry 3

We had a colorful workshop yesterday at the Leesburg Library creating poetry using paint chips! Aside from being such a powerful expression visually, color itself is personal. It brings up memories, emotions, and senses that are unique to each of us. Color fleshes out what is penciled in lightly; it gives perspective and creates mood. It makes images rise and float, or become so thick and nourishing, you need a spoon.

In “Color in Poetry,” Dorothy Lasky says, “Color is special because there is no way to pin it down. It has a live wire that illuminates its frequency. Of course, a poem does that, too.”

One of my favorite poets who made such deft use of color was Anya Silver (there’s even color in her name!) Yesterday, I shared some examples of color in her poetry:

On her childhood:  “…my sister and I floated upright in the mountain’s green shadow.”

On fireflies: “To me they were traces of magic/ in the ordinary dusk, like the beauty you find in the surprised faces/ of girls, or in the gold coins that tumble from saints’ open mouths.”

On her cancer’s tragic return: “(I) wore the word survivor like pink nimbus…all the while knowing you’d catch up to me one day. I’m holding the black backed mirror to your face. Look into it.”

In our workshop, we chose the colors and the fabulous creative names of colors on the paint chips to which we were drawn, and then we processed them through our own sensory experiences, memories, and emotions. Some amazing poetry came through as well as beginnings to stories that have been waiting to be written!

Paint Chip Poetry 1

More for Fall:

There’s an open mic every third Sunday at W.T. Bland Library in Mount Dora at 4:00 P.M. Please come and join in this wonderful and varied venue of poetic expression!Joe again

Last but not least, my book of Lake County poems from Bell Ring Books is now available!

Poetry is alive and well in Lake County! Stay tuned for lots of events happening throughout the fall and beyond.



The Trees Will Remain

This is the title of my new book!

It’s a book of poetry about Lake County, about the vibrant and gritty and beautiful industry of life within these rolling green hills. It’s full of orchids and orange groves and lush heat and longing. It speaks to the underrepresented population of migrant workers whose lives parallel the residents in seasons of want and of plenty. The earth is fertile here, but it’s also rife with relics and ghosts. There’s a bomb shelter beneath the orchards, and hothouses of conjured exotics. There are coyotes and hurricanes and fruits that hang “like little taunts” at the memory of venturers who lost it all in the citrus industry. But there is also an unbroken spirit here; “I can almost touch the veins of her.” Connected beneath us all, there is the ancient aquifer, “a current braiding in the hollows.”

I’ve just signed a contract with Bell Ring Books, and I’m grateful for their passion for poetry, their absolute zeal to have it read and heard and spread wide across the horizon. Not only that, but they are creative and efficient, which means the book should be out by early fall.

As always, I’ll be posting details for future poetry events. Hope to see you there!







Lake County Writes and Writes

There’s a new writing group in town.

We’re called First Friday. Coincidentally, that’s the same name as the first writing group I ever attended. We met monthly at Rollins College in Winter Park. Speaking of firsts, I remember how the words trembled on my paper from my own hands. I also remember meeting some great people there, feeling encouraged, and getting some darn good insights on my writing.

That being said, I hope you’ll join us! And if you dare, we’ll be having our first meeting at Serendipity Cafe, a coffee house in downtown Mount Dora, on August 2, 2019, at 6:00 P.M. I’d love to hear from you beforehand to know you’re coming. When you do, bring something you’ve written and prepare to unearth, to dig a little deeper.

And…as long as I’m plugging this new writing group, I want to be sure to include another that has been meeting at the WT Bland Library in Mount Dora every third Sunday at 2:00 P.M. They’re called the Bland Writers, and I’m sure they’re anything but. As always, if you’re interested, contact the library for more information.

Yes, there’s more. Starting on September 15th, 2019, again the WT Bland Library will be hosting a monthly poetry reading which will feature a poet and an open mic to follow. This venue will run every third Sunday from 3:45-6:00. If you’re interested in leading the read, you can contact Joseph Pascale at

Did I mention the Spoken Word poetry event at the Leesburg Library? Step up to the mic. Emerge. Reverberate. Resonate. Every first Thursday at 5:30 starting again in September.

The hills of Lake County are alive with the vibrant words of writers. Come and listen. Hope to see you when you do.




There’s something about June

“Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing…For the seasons…are marked, not by calendar, but by fruits and flowers and birds.”  — Marjorie Kennan Rawlings

June, in some ways, is a new beginning. Not unlike this blog! Speaking as a teacher, it heralds in a season of rest and renewal. Early morning alarms and weekly schedules become a thing of the past…at least for a while, at least for me.

I love the winding down of June, the slowed rhythm around me. The smell of the earth after a rain. The broad lacy shadows of the oak trees in the moonlight. Jasmine scented nights that have given way to the season of magnolia, those heady, high branched blossoms that drop their petals, thin as eggshells on the ground. It’s the season of blackberries and mockingbird nests and thunderstorms and delicious novels with sand in their spines.

This poem, appropriately enough called “June,” was published in Sky Island Journal last summer. Wishing you some lush and languid June days and thanks for joining me on this journey!!


The word itself, a break point

on the skin of a peach: succulence,

a texture that still tastes green.

That musters bees. Rose & magnolia

sweetly shedding their hypnotics.

Words disappear suddenly from the

tip of your tongue. It’s the sun,

someone will tell you. Wear a hat.

But, it’s this stillness. This. Stillness,

an inward ripple going slag & sweet.

Blackberry. Whippoorwill. Sand

flanneling your heirlooms and you

don’t care. Ice, a dull chime in your

sweating glass. Fan blades tsk-tsking.

Something nectared’s on the trellis.

Even the shadows are lush. The heat,

a white static. Cicada? Leave the garden

hose on. Shutter the cumulus clouds

& dream: a woman riding next to you

in a convertible loosens the flowered

scarf knotted at her throat, and it flutters

away. The hair at the nape of her neck

is humid and baby fine. Let’s drive

to the sea, she says in a honeyed voice.

Catbird blue eggshell eyes.

Her smile, tipped open to the sun,

is a tender, unruly horizon.

–Laura Sobbott Ross