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Poems Are Teachers: Interview & Giveaway

 

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Leave a comment on the bottom of this post for a chance to win Poems Are Teachers and Read! Read! Read!, both of which are written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.

I hated poetry as a kid. Looking back, I think it’s because I thought all poems had to rhyme. In fact, I didn’t enjoy poetry until I took African-American Literature as a college junior. My professor, Michele Simms-Burton, shared Langston Hughes’s poetry with our class. After reading his work, my attitude towards poetry was forever changed. (This is proof that a great teacher and fabulous poetry can be life-changing.)

I didn’t read much poetry again until I began teaching elementary school in 2004. I remembered back to Professor Simms-Burton’s class and aimed to find poets and poems all of my students could connect with. I made sure my students knew poetry was a genre I had struggled with as a reader and writer when I was their age. I consumed books about poetry by Georgia Heard, wrote my own poems, and bought as many books of poetry for my classroom’s library as my salary allowed.

I was delighted to learn about Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s new professional resource for teachers, Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann, 2017). As I began reading, I made notes in the margins, wrote pages I wanted to return to again on the inside back cover, and underlined pertinent parts in different colored ink. I cringed upon finishing the book since I marred Amy’s beautiful writing with my markings. (If you’re unfamiliar with Amy’s writing, Katherine Bomer, who wrote the foreword, explains Amy’s writing by comparing it to a Dove Chocolate: “elegant and unassuming, but oh, so rich. Her language illuminates and delights.” Hence the reason why I regret not taking notes about her text in a separate notebook!) However, the notes I took will guide me as I help teachers use this book with their students.

Before you pick up a copy of this important book, here’s a Q&A I did with Amy about Poems Are Teachers. I hope it helps you understand the essence of this book and how it can be a valuable resource for you when teaching writing to your students.

Stacey:  There are many books about the teaching of poetry. Your book is grounded in the idea of writing workshop, contains practical lessons teachers can use the very next day, as well as mentor texts written by published poets and student poets. What else do you think makes Poems Are Teachers unique?

Amy: I think that this balance is what makes it unique.  I call Poems Are Teachers 1/3 poetry anthology, 1/3 teaching ideas, and 1/3 celebration of student writing.  It’s like a three-legged stool!

Stacey: Several years ago, poetry was overlooked on the Common Core’s writing standards. The CCSS emphasize three types of writing: argumentative, informative, and narrative writing. Since poetry doesn’t fall into these three categories, I appreciate the way you’ve used poetry to address the modes of writing (i.e., opinion, narrative, and informational pieces). That being said, how do you foresee teachers using your book if they work in a school that doesn’t value writing poetry (i.e., because they aren’t tested on their state’s test)? 

Amy: My hope is that Poems Are Teachers will help teachers in such schools and districts, will help them argue how poetry’s value extends beyond the land of poems.  It’s a sad day when we have to say this, but one reason I wrote this book was to bring the light of poetry back into some dark corners where it has been banished. Poetry-valuing teachers in such schools can point to this text as a resource for strengthening all writing craft by studying short poems.  The arts are important for us as humans and for us as a society.  However, it also happens that the study of poetry does help writers across genre lines, so if a teacher needs it to be, this book can serve as proof that poetry is important.

Stacey: I loved your entire book, but had a special appreciation for chapter six, “Writers Select Titles” since I have always had trouble crafting strong titles. Share some of the ways you believe poetry can help writers create titles in other genres of writing.

Amy: By studying the titles of poems (a lifted line, a repeated word, a mysterious clue), writers can imagine title possibilities for all kinds of texts.  We can also study informational book titles to get ideas for poem titles or short story titles to find ideas for article titles.  I love how craft is craft and we can carry it in a little red suitcase from genre to genre.

Stacey: I noticed you used templates or sentence starters to help kids write in just a handful of the “try it” sections (pgs. 142, 206, 219) in the book. To me, this shows deep respect for children in that you’re trusting they don’t need templates to write poetry. Would you explain how you envision teachers can use other templates or sentence starters, in general, as scaffolds that are meant to be taken away as students become more adept at writing poetry?

Amy: I do not generally follow templates when writing, but sometimes others’ words can help me get going or stretch my usual pattern.  This is where I believe deeply in notebook-keeping as a way for writers to play with words and phrases, to experiment with lifting lines from others’ work and from their own notebook pages, writing off them and seeing where words bring them.  My blog, Sharing Our Notebooks, is all about highlighting notebook play.  As writing teachers, we must be deeply committed to helping children ride the roads of writing without training wheels and templates.

Stacey: In chapter one, you listed at least three books for every lesson to help writers find ideas for poems. Seeing as classroom teachers’ budgets are limited, what are your five must-have poetry books to have on-hand for grades 2-5 and 6-8?

Amy:  Oooh, I am not good at such lists at all.  However, I would recommend checking out books by winners of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children as well as the winners of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Awards.  Don’t miss KNOCK AT A STAR by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy or Bernice Cullinan’s books A JAR OF TINY STARS and ANOTHER JAR OF TINY STARS. I also recommend reading works by our present Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle. as well as books by past Young People’s Poet Laureates.

For all children, I recommend sharing books that do not rhyme as well as books that do rhyme and books that address serious and beautiful topics as well as humorous books.  Visit my friends at their blogs and me (at The Poem Farm) on any Poetry Friday, and you’ll learn about all kinds of great poetry books new and old.

Stacey: What are three big things you’d like teachers to take away from Poems Are Teachers?

Amy:

  • Poetry is not scary, nor is it not about filling in a form.
  • Poets use the same literary techniques as other writers, simply in fewer lines.
  • Children and adults are drawn to beauty and truth and wonder, and writing poems is a way to explore our humanity. Our students deserve this, and our world needs it.

Stacey: What are you working on next?

Amy: I am still excited about my new READ! READ! READ! illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke (WordSong), and I look forward to two books this spring: DREAMING OF YOU (Boyds Mills Press), a lullaby bedtime book illustrated by Aaron DeWitt and WITH MY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT MAKING THINGS (Clarion), a poetry collection illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson.  And I’m scribbling away in my notebook working on a couple of story picture books and poems poems poems.

Stacey: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you want me to include in this post? 

Amy: Thank you so much, Stacey, for hosting me here at Two Writing Teachers.  It’s an honor to visit your home online! I am happy to offer a copy of READ! READ! READ! as well!

Stacey: Thank you, Amy! It was a pleasuring hosting you!

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann) and READ! READ! READ! (WordSong). Thanks to Heinemann Publishers for donating a copy Poems Are Teachers and to Amy, herself, for donating a signed copy of Read! Read! Read! One reader will receive a copy of both books. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.)
  • For a chance to win these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Thursday, November 2nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced at the bottom of this post no later than Monday, November 6th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Heinemann and Amy will ship the books to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – AMYLV BOOKS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment.

Linda Mitchell’s name was selected using a random number generator. She’ll receive copies of both books. Here’s what Linda had to say:

I think I’ve had as much fun reading the comments as the blog post! Look at all the people who would like support in bringing poetry to young people! There IS hope. Thank you Amy V. for such a solid three-legged stool for us to stand upon and thank you Two Writing Teachers for your very generous interview and giveaway. This book is already a rock star to me!

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

108 thoughts on “Poems Are Teachers: Interview & Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. I teach creative writing at my high school, at my local technical institute and with Sage Hill, an organization for writers in Canada. I’m always looking for new ways to have my students connect with poetry! It’s a genre that’s really coming into its own season (again) in our culture!

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  2. I have always loved to utilize poetry to teach reading and writing. I use poetry writing, especially at the beginning of the year, to get to know my students on a personal level in order to build a relationship between myself and them. I would love to use these resources to garner additional ideas as to how to use poetry to help students gain not only literacy skills but to also encourage social and emotional growth within my students as well.

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  3. I didn’t like poetry in school. After spending 8 years as a co-director for local site of the NWP, I may start writing a memoir or short story, but then often that piece will become a poem. I love to teach poems to my students and hope I can influence them to keep trying to write their own poetry. Would love to have this book.

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  4. I love teaching, reading, writing poetry! Such a shame it would be overlooked because it’s not a tested genre. Amy’s website is such a great resource for teachers.

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  5. This sounds like the book I’d decided needed to be written!! Poetry was taught in public schools until the late 1950’s – it accounted for more than. 75% of the literature children were exposed to. Can’t wait to read this!

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  6. This book sounds fascinating! I’m always looking for ways to infuse more poetry into my lessons. I love the idea of templates as training wheels. Can’t wait to check this out!

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  7. I have enjoyed the poems on Amy’s website for a long time. In addition to exposing students to poems we must also be sure our libraries have a wide variety of poetry books. Students may not always respond to the same poets we do.

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  8. I believe poetry is a delicate waltz between a writer and words. The writer has the rhythm in his head as the words lead the way on the page. I want my students to experience rich language and its message through great poetry. I love learning new was to do just that.

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  9. I think I’ve had as much fun reading the comments as the blog post! Look at all the people who would like support in bringing poetry to young people! There IS hope. Thank you Amy V. for such a solid three-legged stool for us to stand upon and thank you Two Writing Teachers for your very generous interview and giveaway. This book is already a rock star to me!

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  10. I just ordered this book for my school library but would love my personal signed copy. Poetry deserves a place in the curriculum as it allows the poets to play with words. So looking forward to sharing the book with my colleagues.

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  11. Teaching poetry in the classroom is the single greatest hurdle my fellow teachers have at my school. We have undergone a huge push for this and the use of this text book is going to greatly help I hope.

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  12. I couldn’t think of a day without poetry. I just spent forty-five minutes before school with my Wonder Writers. Poetry is often the genre of choice for them. I can’t wait to read the book.

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  13. I learned to love poetry when I had to teach it to first and second graders. Now in fifth grade I find my students really are hesitant to dive into it. After a few days, they love reading and then writing I. Poetic form. I can’t wait to read Amy’s new book!

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  14. I try to incorporate poetry into many parts of our day as I think there is so much value in reading and writing it. I can’t wait to get this book!

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  15. Like you Stacey, I hated and I mean HATED poetry. I didn’t have any problem with the rhyming, I just didn’t understand it until 12th grade in Mrs. Schultz’s class. We read Ozymandias and it was from that point on, that the world of poetry became accessible to me. I have always loved teaching poetry in my years as a primary grade teacher. Couldn’t wait to get to third and really dig in…well, the NYS Modules became our interpretation of the Common Core and as you said, no poetry. I found Amy’s blog from my experiences her at Two Writing Teachers and sneak in a poem a week. She literally has poems that relate to EVERYTHING we teach. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book and thank you so much for all the work you do…to keep poetry alive!

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    • I always loved teaching a unit on poetry and getting students excited about the genre. I feel integrating poetry or any literature into content areas is important. Sounds like a great book.

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  16. Like you Stacey, I hated and I mean HATED poetry. I didn’t have any problem with the rhyming, I just didn’t understand it until 12th grade in Mrs. Schultz’s class. We read Ozymandias and it was from that point on, that the world of poetry became accessible to me. I have always loved teaching poetry in my years as a primary grade teacher. Couldn’t wait to get to third and really dig in…well, the NYS Modules became our interpretation of the Common Core and as you said, no poetry. I found Amy’s blog from my experiences her at Two Writing Teachers and sneak in a poem a week. She literally has poems that relate to EVERYTHING we teach. I cannot wait to get my hands on this book and thank you so much for all the work you do…to keep poetry alive!

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  17. Thank you for honoring poetry and showcasing a book that shows it is a genre not to be ignored! I have been reading about Amy a lot on Twitter recently — can’t wait to read more of her poems and other texts!

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  18. Recently picked up a copy of Read! Read! Read!. Can’t wait to get my hands on Poems Are Teachers. My students and I love Amy’s website The Poem Farm.

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  19. I can’t wait to read these new resources. I always teach a poetry unit because poetry opens the door to writing for so many of my reluctant writers.

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  20. I’m intrigued by the idea of poetry being a way to support writing in the “common core genres” of narrative, informational, and opinion writing, and not as something completely separate. This will change the way that I read my next poem! I also love the idea of poems as teachers . . . that we can learn from texts and other things in our environment, and not just from the human beings that we call “teachers.” I can’t wait to read the book, as well as check out Amy’s blog on writer’s notebooks!

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  21. Sounds like a great book! Thinking to spring and the poetry unit I hope to help with for a group of 3rd graders. I am excited to see this book and add it to my teaching texts. Thanks for sharing. Add me to the giveaway list.

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  22. I had a 4th grade teacher encourage my interest in poetry, and it has been a passion ever since. I fell in love with Amy’s poemfarm sute last year. Poetry has power and I hope more teachers will consider making real poetry writing part of a regular routine!

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  23. Love the 3 pronged approach Amy took to developing her new book. What a perfect balance. Also resonated with Amy’s thoughts on the importance of keeping a notebook to record words, phrases, thoughts that can hold meaning for future poems and writing.

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  24. I always think I “don’t have time” to teach poetry. However, when I MAKE the time, I find the connections effortless and the reinforcement so valuable! It also helps teach writing style, which is no small feat! Thanks for an engaging conversation, ladies!! Would love a copy of the book!

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  25. I have a goal of integrating more poetry into my 8th grade classes and I’m always looking for new inspiration and new poems. I’m intrigued by the idea of using poems to connect writing/workshop! I have go do look up more about this book!

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  26. This is the first I’m hearing about this book, and it sounds excellent! In my first years as a teacher, I didn’t teach much poetry because it intimidated me. Now I’ve grown to love teaching poems. I hope to check this out soon!

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  27. What an inspiring and affirming post! Poetry brings light to our lives as readers and as writers. It is always valuable to hear how fellow writers and poets think about their craft. Thank you for the post. Thank you Amy for the inspiration. Many thanks for sponsoring the giveaway. Brava!

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  28. This book is a gem, Amy, your interview, her poems and poetry are all treasure. I hope this book will light the poetry fire in many hearts: teachers, parents, students and writers alike.

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  29. I have always loved using poetry in the classroom. It would be great to receive a copy of the book, Poems are Teachers to help enhance my instruction. Thank you.

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  30. Love this post! My second grade teachers are just starting the poetry unit from UoS that they have never taught. This could be a great resource for them!

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  31. OMG… I too, did not enjoy poetry/disliked poetry as a child, as a college student, even as an adult reader. I too, struggled with rhyming until a colleague shared “Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech, who uses verse to create a story/chapter book. This book changed me as a teacher, and as a reader. I now LOVE poetry, especially free verse, and love sharing my passion for poetry with students/teachers year round! kburris@orinda.k12.ca.us

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  32. Just yesterday I downloaded this book’s sample from Heinemann and was immediately swept into Amy’s poetic thoughts. This book reminds me of poetry’s importance in our literary world and teaches me ways to incorporate poems into our year. I’ve struggled since the Units of Study don’t have a specific poetry component for third grade to find times and ways to build in this genre. Amy’s book guides the way. Fingers crossed that my name is chosen…if not, it will be another fabulous Heinemann purchase!

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  33. I have always added poetry to both my Readers’ and Writers’ workshop. I look forward to this book, as it will help other teachers see how to imbed poetry into their genre work, and how it doesn’t have to be formulaic!

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  34. As an instructional coach, I would love to be able to share this resource with other teachers in my district who are looking for ways to get kids excited about poetry, as opposed to seeing it as something we have to tie ” to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it”.

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  35. I am so excited to read this book! I love writing and I love teaching writing, but poetry was always the unit I dreaded. I wasn’t comfortable with writing poetry, which made it harder for me to confer with students about their own writing. I have also come to realize that poetry shouldn’t be limited to one unit during the year, that student understanding of what it means to write poetry would be so much stronger if this was woven in throughout the year. I also agree that the craft of writing should cross genres, so I am excited to read how learning about poetry will help with other areas of writing.

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  36. Giving kids the opportunity to discover poetry as readers and writers is one of my biggest goals. So glad that there is a new resource by such a well respected writer/educator for us to use in our classrooms. I love Amy’s list of takeaways from her book and I’m excited to explore her ideas for suggested titles.

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  37. I love teaching my students about poetry throughout the grade levels. In the primary grades I tend to choose the rhyming poems to help with language, blends, rhymes, sounds….In the upper grades I love introducing poems through songs that students are familiar with. Thank you for the opportunity to win your books!

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  38. Sessions with Amy at All Write & NCTE are precious memories for me. Her blog is a gift filled with her wisdom. And now this new book to extend our learning w/ Amy! Thanks, Stacy for a great interview. I love how you filled the book w/ plans for future use!

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  39. I am a Supervisor of C&I and some of my teachers are just starting to pilot Writers Workshop. I love the idea of using poems as anchor texts, especially shorter ones, so students can be introduced to a variety of poems. I would love to pass this book on to one of my teachers if I win!

    Thanks!!

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  40. Have not seen this book yet, but will definitely check it out! Poetry is so much fun when approached the right way, and this sounds like it has some wonderful ideas to do just that!

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  41. I loved this interview and am excited to read this book! As a writer, I enjoy poetry. As a teacher, I struggle to engage my students because they think poems have to rhyme. I do what I can and try to include song lyrics but I’m hoping this book will help me even more.

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  42. Such an important post and book! I look forward to purchasing it and further sharing with teachers that #poetrymatters! When teachers give themselves permission to give students the time to experiment with words and language through poetry, the pay off in writing workshop for the long run is powerful. Thank you for this focus!

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  43. Poetry is such a struggle for so many teachers because they don’t have the knowledge base to teach it. Love that there are so many resources to share and read. Poetry is my soul filler.

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  44. I am so excited to get my hands on this book. I teach middle school and my kids are loving the study of picture books to help us improve writing; I hadn’t really thought about using poetry for the same purpose but, after reading this post, I’m energized with the idea!

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  45. Every year I research ways to teach and incorporate poetry into the classroom. This book would be a wonderful addition to my research and am looking forward to reading it.

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  46. Poetry is something I’ve both enjoyed…and not searched out. I’d love to read Amy’s take on it to get reconnected. Love that she says poetry is, “not about filling in a form.” Thank goodness! It had become (disguised as) that in some places.

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    • I’m a third grade teacher, too. I’m finding that the loveliest poetry moments come when the lessons are tucked in here and there and integrated. . .but the danger is, too many days can go by without a poem. I’d love to find tips for integrating poems often.

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  47. I was so excited to read your post this morning about the importance and relevance of poetry within the writer’s workshop. As a child, I loved to read and recite some of my favorite poems. Each time it took me back to a memory or moment in time. It hadn’t occurred to me until just now how poems can spark an idea for young writers to use as mentor texts. You can bet that when I get to school today I will be scouring through my library in search of many wonderful poetry books to fill a “must read” basket for my third graders to enjoy. I look forward to reading Poems Are Teachers and Read, Read, Read. Thank you for the inspiration to revisit and recite some wonderful poems.

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  48. I had to relearn to love poetry. College lit classes ruined poetry for me. I’m not a big pattern person so poetry form-ish works for me.

    Love this . . . “Poetry is not scary, nor is it not about filling in a form.”

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  49. I also hate being asked for a list of “must have” texts, but I will be adding hers for poetry to my Amazon shopping cart soon. I’m looking forward to reading Poems Are Teachers and Read Read Read! Thanks for highlighting new resources, Stacey. And thank you, Amy, for writing them!

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  50. The three takeaways stated by Amy are fantastic, particularly, “Poets use the same literary techniques as other writers, simply in fewer lines.” This idea is one that will resonate and potentially stick with many teachers as well as students. Thank you!
    tgrasso@lexingtonma.org

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  51. This post is filled with teaching gems! My favorite line is “I love how craft is craft and we can carry it in a little red suitcase from genre to genre.” I have a strong visual of this poetry “toolkit” now!

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  52. What a great interview, Stacey! Amy’s new book sounds fabulous, and makes me think about Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write, as writing poetry is such a JOY for so many of our students.

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  53. I take away something different from every interview with Amy about Poems Are Teachers, and I get more and more excited about reading her book. I really can’t wait to dive into it! The chapter about titles will be a must read for me, too, Staci, and I’m off to check out the books that she recommended. Thanks!

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  54. This sounds like a wonderful resource for teaching poetry and writing in general! My children really love reading and listening to poems this year and they have been excited to do some poetry writing, too!

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  55. I had the honor of shaking hands with Amy Tuesday! She came to my school to present. What a ball of energy. 🙂 I would love to read her new book Poems are Teachers.

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