Writing about place: Carl Sandburg


In honor of poet Carl Sandburg’s birthday earlier in January, here’s a Carl Sandburg-inspired prompt.

First, hop on over to Poetry Foundation and read this poem. Sandburg spent some time in Chicago throughout his life, so this poem is a kind of love-hate letter to the city. Mostly love. And a bit of terror. But love.

Your task? Write a poem about Winona, or another city you know well, in the same vein. You could start a few lines with “They tell me you are…” You could experiment with different personifications of Winona, as Sandburg does with Chicago, giving us a vivid image of a half-naked wrestler laughing as he stands over an opponent.





Field trip and other news


Just a friendly reminder to Teen Voices participants: Grab some poems and come on down to Blooming Grounds tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:30 p.m. for a poetry workshop. Then at 7 p.m., we’ll walk to Mid West Music Store to check out their monthly slam event. Listeners and readers welcome!

Also, short notice: if you’re looking for something interesting to do Tuesday night, check out Haki Madhubiti, who is speaking at 7 p.m. in Kryzsko Commons at WSU.

For more info, see winonastatenews.com/8056/wsu-hosts-haki-madhubuti/.

Internet Poem Sources

Here are three great places to look for poems. It’s important for writers to have other writers that they admire, learn from, aspire towards…

Poetry FoundationPoetry.org is the website for the Poetry Foundation, an outgrowth of Poetry, the oldest poetry journal in the U.S. The Poetry Foundation received a huge financial legacy about 10 years ago, earmarked to promote and nourish American poetry and poets, and they are doing a great job doing just that. Browse  Poems & Poets for specific poems, or just look around and see what you can find.

poetry180-bannerPoetry 180 is a project developed by Billy Collins, one of the 3 or 4 most well-known poets in the country. When he was U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03) he created a poem-a-day internet source, which is now archived by the Library of Congress. These are poems selected with teen readers in mind. They are not categorized; you just have to browse through the list and see what looks good. You can also check out Collins’ advice for How to Read a Poem Out Loud.


PoemHunter.com offers lots of categories and a large searchable database of good poetry. The site has more of a social network orientation, with Top 500 rating, trending topics, and so forth. Girl poems, kiss poems, death poems, New Year’s poems…. Have fun!

Poetry slam Jan. 6

Hey all, just a quick invite to a poetry slam tonight, January 6, at 7 p.m. at Blooming Grounds Coffeehouse.

Whether you read a poem or not, these events are a great time to hear some poems, get ideas, and meet awesome people.



Winter Holiday Poems

BookTree1-550x550  Here’s a winter holiday poetry potluck that Ken found in the e-newsletter from the Academy of American Poets–follow the links to their site and browse around while you’re there!

How could poetry enliven your holidays? Read it out loud on a long car trip. Quote from an old favorite in a handmade card. Gather a few little kids and read about the Grinch. And keep writing! More prompts soon…

Academy of American Poets Newsletter
December 16, 2015

A Season for Giving Poetry

’Tis the season for giving, whether it’s presents, thanks, or well wishes. As winter begins and the year winds down to a close, we give you this poem roundup—as well as wishes for happy holidays and a joyous new year.
In drear nighted December” by John Keats
Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore
Winter Twilight” by Anne Porter
Why Is the Color of Snow?” by Brenda Shaughnessy
Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele
The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens
Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand
When the Year Grows Old” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Suggested reading: Sandburg, Patchen, and the Surrealists

One of the many things we discussed at our lively session last night was posting some reading suggestions on our blog, and Ken has just contributed the first installment. I was pleased that he brought up Patchen,  who was also one of my favorites back when I was in high school and first exploring the edges of poetic reality. Enjoy! (I put his attachments down below the text of the Babylonian Baboons.) –Scott


Good morning!

I’m sure you’ll all agree it was a very stimulating session yesterday. I’m going to refer you to some material that relates to what Zach read to us. His Ragboy and Spoonmender reminded me a lot of two books by Carl Sandburg—Rootabaga Stories and More Rootabaga StoriesIf you go to the following:www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU2PJiYPv-c you’ll hear Sandburg reading a story titled “How the Three Wild Babylonian Baboons Went Away in the Rain Eating Bread and Butter.” The story is meant to be a children’s story but there’s enough of an element of absurdity to appeal to adults. I used to read this story and others from these collections to my sandburgyounger son when he was little and he always seemed to be amused, though he wasn’t always sure what the stories were about. Ragboy and Spoonmender goes beyond Sandburg’s stories in their sophistication—and they are meant to be read as poems whereas Sandburg’s are meant to be read as stories. Sandburg had a wonderfully droll way of reading, which adds to the stories. When I reads them to my son, I always read them in Sandburgian style. If you go to Carl Sandburg youtube you will find other examples of Sandburg reading these stories. I’ve attached some more information about Sandburg. I’ll type out the text to Wild Babylonian Baboons when I have a little more time, so you can see how it looks on the page. On a related note, part of reading aloud is incorporating reading styles from other people. Maybe you will borrow something from Sandburg. Cheap copies of the two books I mentioned are available through Amazon or at the library. Read More

Some ‘you bring out the __ in me’ poems

Back in October, our assignment was to write a poem exploring our identity, using a framework Ed Bok Lee gave us. For a refresher, you can click here.

Scott, Ken, and I worked on the prompt too, of course, and we wanted to share those drafts with you here. I think each of us found something unexpected in the process, and we hope you will too. -Marcia


You bring out the funky black-eyed peas in me
with bacon and a splash of vinegar
The fried chicken on Sunday after church
as only my father could cook it
The fried okra dusted with cornmeal
the grits, the sweet corn and sweet potatoes
Oh, Vardaman, the sweet potato
capital of the world!
You bring out my father’s garden in me
that grew leafy and strong and plump and ripe
him standing among his peach trees
pruned perfectly
singing in his deep bass
You bring out Aunt Grace’s lemon ice box pie in me
watermelon dripping down my chin
home-made ice cream
churned in that wooden bucket
And then church again and the women
singing high and a cappella
The sweetness of honeysuckle
outside my bedroom window as I said my prayers
and my mother read to me
And then the fireflies. And the whippoorwills
all through the night




You bring out the crew-cut white kid in me,
the crew sox & blue bumper tennis shoes in me–
with my just-enough-to-comb-on-top raked quickly back with a shot of Vitalis,
my neck scrubbed nails trimmed teeth brushed,
my Madras sport shirt tucked into clean Lee jeans and out the door,
out of the gray haze of cigarette smoke cooling bacon grease re-warmed coffee mildewed basement
shower into the clear light of day,
drawn forward by the beacon of Sister Elizabeth B. Kenny Elementary School,
that bright hygienic castle, built from bricks & blocks as numerous and clean and interlocking
as all those rules that I understood, all those words I could spell and define, all those numbers on which I
could operate skillfully,
all those pieces of a game set up for me to win without much sweat or pain,
without much thought of those who were not, would never be winning.

School, you bring out the crew-cut white kid in me.

You bring out the crew-cut white kid in me,
the screen door slamming & the “What’s for dinner, Mom?” in me–
hoping meatloaf, with a carmelized ketchup crust,
or chicken pan-fried in Crisco, warm grease wicking into paper towels on the counter, potatoes chuckling
in their murky Revereware & ready for mashing,
even stovetop Creamettes and Cheese Whiz on an off-night, looking like bright orange Elmer’s glue
but not too bad with a hot dog and sweet pickles on the flowered Melmac plate,
hoping for any of those, and not their opposite:
breakfast dishes sunk in the sink, Mom sunk in bed lights off Dad home late
with takeout chow mein to coax us all into feeling normal again, without needing to talk about
any of it all over again.

Dinner, you bring out the crew-cut white kid in me.




You bring out the idea woman in me
the maroon quilt with faded pastel flowers, ripped from years of use in me
the lackadaisical hiker in me
the sort of runner in me
the scent of my mom’s hair goop on Sunday mornings in me
Dad’s dusty newspapers in stacks all over the house in me
the rich apology
for spilling the zucchini bread dough in me.

For you
I would make my mother’s stone buhr bread
but it would never last long enough in our freezer
so I make cookies instead.
You bring out the daughter in me
the baker of food my family loved
the pleaser of palates in me
the descendant of coal miners and Greek immigrants in me
the middle child in me
the connectedness in me

With you I walk in the valleys of maples
in October, sharing the fiery leaves, and with you
I keep going on the path I started.
You bring out the looking for God in me
The faithful doubter in me
the liberal Christian in me
The conservative hymn-lover in me
The classical music and poet’s almanac in me
The French horn and trombone and marimba in me
Strong voice, alto or soprano or something

Sweet husband. My forbidden lover.
You bring out the glutton in me.
The taster of every beer in me.
The complicit chuckler on smelly couches in me
The part-time cusser in me
The lover of dogs,
Outdoorswoman in me.
When we read the paper in the mornings
and talk about the most recent bloodshed or debt
you bring out the justice in me.
The blank pages in me
and the full ones.
The mourning sister in me
The liberated noisemaker in me

Love, we’ve missed each other all week,
talking in phrases and hugs.
Waiting for each other to get home or dreading the leaving.

Let me love you the way
only an idea woman can.