‘Something at the Window is Scratching’ To Be On Your Bookshelf

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Bed bugs! Don’t let the cuteness fool you in Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge. Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

“This stuff just comes to you, huh?”

When the dedication of a book contains a quote like this from the person it is dedicated to, it is hard not to want to read it.

This is a comment from the father of bestselling author and artist Roman Dirge. The newly released color version is his 1998 Slave Labor Graphics poetry collection, Something at the Window is Scratching, is now available from Titan Comics.

Dirge, most well known for his freakishly entertaining Lenore, The Cute Little Dead Girl and other stories like The Cat with a Really Big Head, has delivered a series of creepy and somewhat enduring poems, which are just such a blast to read out loud:

“A little horror / A scream, a cry…
That’s how you make a critter pie.
They beg. / They plead. / They try to run.
This makes cooking so much fun.”

Halfway through this book, I was dying (no pun intended, I hope) to read some of this to a classroom during the haunts and harvest season.

There is one thing I’ve discovered about Dirge’s work that readers need to keep in mind. If he seems off-putting or just over-the-top at times, remember everything he puts on paper is the literary equivalent of a playful smirk or a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

This comes through in all of these works, including the title poem that drills into the recollections of one’s own childhood bedtime fears:

“And then suddenly, as the egg of fear in me is hatching.
I realize that something at the window is scratching.”

Cover image from Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge. Image courtesy of Titan Comics.

This line may cause an involuntary spine-shiver, but you still want to read on. You gotta know, despite your best judgment, perhaps… what is out there. I am going to be very careful not to give any spoilers here, except to say first, it’s not what you think, and second, expect to go through about three distinct emotions in a really short time.

His shortest poems were my favorites, and some of these quick little ditties like “The Alien Ballerina” and “Pear Head Man and Bread Boy” are good for quick grins and giggles. The remainder of the poems maintain this blend of humor and horror filled with zombie bunnies, pirate squids, spider-haunting ghosts, and the pumpkin-loving little Eddie Poe.

Very much in the vein of other delightfully macabre poem collections like Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, this book may not be for all readers. In fact, there was a time in my youth, I might have been just a teensy, weensy bit—how can I say this?—weirded the hell out!

Once I started seeing the humor and “gotcha didn’t I?” behind these types of writings, I have actually become drawn to the weirder things in life. In the case of Something at the Window is Scratching, I just found it downright clever.

These stories would still give my five-year-old night terrors, but my 13-year-old was in on the joke. She loves Dirge’s Leonore story in the Slave Labor Graphics 2005 Haunted Mansion collection, and found all of these poems extremely funny. She was also very proud of “finding all the pigs” left throughout the book by Mr. Porkchop.

As for me, I can’t wait to add this dark little dance with Dirge to my bookshelf, next to Burton, Grimly, Gaiman, and Gorey, or anyone else who understands sometimes it takes some dark humor to lighten the spirits.

“We expect so much from people by the time thy have ‘grown up.’ so much stability and so much…adulthood,” Invader Jim creator Jhonen Vasquez writes in the book’s forward. “You put a child’s soul, symbol of purity, innocence, and hope into a grownup’s body, and you would have what Earthling society would call a lunatic.”

Thankfully, Dirge has managed to maintain that lunacy; that firm grasp on childlike celebration of the wonderfully weird, and has given readers a fantastic journey into the depths of it.

It is well worth the trip.

GeekMom received a PDF copy of the book for review purposes.

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Roman Dirge’s wonderful and weird stories will bring shivers, as well as laughter and maybe a tear or two. Image from Something at the Window is Scratching by Roman Dirge, courtesy of Titan Comics.

Dragons and Hot Sauce: Poems, Cuteness, and an Interview With the Creators

Dragons and Hot Sauce by Mike Moore and art by Andy Young. Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

In December, amongst the holiday wackiness, a crazy little poetry book was published. The crazy little poetry book, Dragons and Hot Sauce: And Other Imaginations, hails from Portland, Oregon, the home of the weird, the microbrews, and The Doubleclicks*.

The name of the book, and the art style, caught my attention immediately. Dragons? Yes, please! Cute, stylized pictures of monsters? Bring. It. On. It’s a book for kids, but actually, it’s a book for families. An introduction to geekiness, if you will.

If the name of the book isn’t enough, all of the poem topics have a geeky flare. Plus, the artwork reminds me of comics I grew up reading.

I had an opportunity to talk to geeky author Mike Moore and artist Andy Young, the duo who put this little collection of poems together. These guys are down-to-Earth, honest, and funny!

Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GeekMom: How did you two meet? (If I recall, you said you met in high school.) Did you have to reconnect or did you stay in contact for all of those years? 

Andy Young: Mike and I met in the 8th grade, when he used to live across the cul-de-sac from another friend of mine. The friend and I used to go over to Mike’s on the weekend. Eventually, Mike and I started to hang out with each other and realized we had the same sort of off-beat humor. The relationship really materialized in high school, when we had a couple classes together and then theater after school. We have stayed in contact all these long years. We were in each other’s wedding and I have visited him a few times out in Portland. I’m not the best at long distance relationships or even using my phone with any consistency, so this project has been a great way to reconnect and remember why we were so close back in high school. We are both artists at heart.

Mike Moore: I couldn’t say it better than Andy did. We’ve been friends over half our lives and have iterated through high school friends, then college roommates, a brief stint in Europe as sophisticated and debonair international travelers after college, and then groomsmen. Everyone has those few people they grew up with that you know you’ll be friends with for the rest of your lives, and Andy’s one of them for me.

GMWhere did the inspiration come from for the poems and art in your book?

AY: My inspiration, stylistically, has come from comic book artists like Winsor McCay (Nemo in Slumberland), Jeff Smith (Bone, RASL), and Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo). I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes back in the 90s, like everyone else, and I really liked the borderless concept of how Bill Watterson did his comics. I also really appreciate Jeff Smith’s drive to publish his work on his own. I am working on a graphic novel now with those same inspirations. As far as this book specifically, I have followed Mike’s lead and his great sense of vision. We talk back and forth about what looks good and what should fit within the scope of the words he’s written, but we are both really flexible and crave feedback.

MM: We started working on this right after I found out I was about to be a dad, and so I just wanted to write something that would make my daughter laugh someday. I think the very first poem (“Ribbons”) was written in about 5 minutes, while I was smarting off to my wife and trying to make her laugh while she was putting her makeup on! Laughter was the biggest inspiration to write stories about giants, and unicorns, and Bigfoot. Originally, all of the poems were going to be kind of silly or have a punchline, but then Andy suggested that we should also have some more serious/poignant stories where we actually tried to say something, which was a fantastic idea. After that, we just started trading ideas back and forth. Either I’d send him a poem or base idea and he’d come up with a drawing, or he’d send a drawing or other story idea and I’d come up with the poem. I think we both went into it with very little ego, so if one of us nixed an idea, no offense was taken; we just worked that much harder on the next one. In terms of writing, obviously Shel Silverstein was a big inspiration when we started thinking about this. I used to absolutely devour his books when I was younger. I also have been writing songs and playing in bands for about 20 years now, and my big inspirations are some of the really lyrical singer/songwriters like Josh Ritter or John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats. It always amazed me that with just a few cleverly chosen words, you could say so much—or tack on a sudden punchline.

Come Quick
Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GMAre there plans for a second volume of poems?

AY: We haven’t talked poems specifically, but the other day we were chatting online (my preferred method of work avoidance) and we talked a little bit about doing a songbook for children. Maybe something where the lyrics and music is included as well as a CD. Something Mike and I have in common is not liking to do the same thing more than once. Stretching our boundaries a little. I am not musically inclined, so this will be a great project.

MM: Yeah, right now we’re neck-deep in marketing work for Dragons and Hot Sauce, but as soon as that slows down a little, I can’t wait to start the songbook. Writing Dragons and Hot Sauce was so much fun, why stop there? Also, I may be able to fulfill a newly set life goal of having my daughter’s daycare say, “Why was your daughter walking around singing ‘STINKY SPOILED MILK’ over and over?”

GMAre you both parents?

AY: Yep! I have two girls with my wife Bridget; Audrey (5) and Nora (1). I find that has softened my work considerably. I look at this comic I did before the girls were born. It was called Gruesome: Out of this World and it was about robots taking over, the eventual destruction of the planet Earth, and a murder involving a sea monster. Now, I still do pretty odd stuff. but it’s directed at youth and holds a bit more whimsy. Funny how a couple of cute kids and a healthy dose of social responsibility will change your perspective.

MM: Yeah, I have a little ball of energy living at my house that disguises itself as an 18-month-old little girl. Depending on the time of day and amount of energy, it may disguise itself as multiple identical 18-month-old little girls all wrecking something different or terrorizing the cats. I love it (as long as I’m not trying to figure out where she hid the TV remote or my razor.)

GMDo you think your personality is more kid or adult in nature? How do you think that helps you with your writing and art?

AY: I am a child forced to deal with a frustrating adult world. If I had my way, I would be waking up in the morning with my girls and Bridge, heading out to hike or drift on a lake, have a few beers alone with my wife in the afternoon, put the girls to bed, and draw and drink beer all night. Do it again and again. It turns out I am really good with responsibility, but very uncomfortable with it. My day job is to run a non-profit. People think I steer pretty good. I just sit at my desk dreaming with Mike about drawing a new book. But all that helps with my art. I spend a lot of time with my favorite comics on the weekend all spread out on my drawing table, looking for inspiration. The project I am working on now is inspired by my two daughters, a wild girl age 5 adventuring alone. Artists can’t grow up too much, I think.

MM: Well, sitting on my desk right now are a bunch of Transformers that I’ve dubbed my Home Office Co-Workers, so I’ll say “responsible kid!” I have a job that I work very hard at and I make sure to take care of my family, but I still try to make sure not to take myself too seriously. I think that attitude helps with the writing because you can have a sense of where you’re going in terms of a project like the book or even an idea for a poem, and know what you need to do to get there, but then you can let your imagination roam and think about how to make it fun or exciting. For example, there are a million ways we could have written a poem about a rubber ducky, but only one where we get to use the word “hydrophobic.”

Image: Andy Young, used with permission.

GM: Was it a learning experience getting the book published?

AY: I was lucky enough to be introduced to a girl back in college named Jes Wigh. She moved to Belize with her now-husband and started their own business. Through that connection, we published a couple of books and are working on a third. They are children’s books aimed specifically at the Caribbean island culture children grow up in around Belize. So I have some marginal experience there, as far as working with someone who is committed to an idea and can handle the business end of things. I think that experience was very helpful. But, Mike is also a brilliant strategist. He has the mind of an engineer and works out multiple angles and problems I wouldn’t dream of. I work by the seat of my pants and just figure it’ll all be okay. That’s trouble.

MM: Definitely. It turns out it takes a lot to make some words and drawings into a coherent book that people will want to read. Who knew? We made a few missteps and we’re still learning what they are, but it’s just a lesson in what we can do differently for the next project. The biggest lesson I learned is that, according to my daughter, we made a grievous error in judgment by not including poems and drawings about either penguins or pandas. I can only hope she forgives me some day.

GM: Where can the book be purchased?

MM: Right now, the book can be found online on Amazon or Createspace. For our Portland friends, we would encourage them to go check out Wallace Books or Bella Stella, who are great local businesses that have agreed to carry it locally, and we are still working on getting it into a few other local book stores. However, any local or national bookstore should be able to order it directly. Finally, we’re always happy to just sell them directly to friends that want to contact us at “dragons and hot sauce (all one word) at gmail dot com.”

GM: Who do you think will enjoy your book the most?

AY: My wife is a 5th grade teacher and her opinion seems to be that anyone can enjoy the book as the words and pictures span across multiple reading levels in the elementary grades. That’s the beauty of being married to a professional educator. They give you the skinny on what the kids are into these days. Turns out it’s dragons and hot sauce, bearded girls, and giants that bathe in lakes. I blame cable.

MM: A younger crowd will also enjoy it. For example, my daughter will verify that it tastes delicious.

GM: What other projects are you working on?

AY: Right now, I am working on a third Caye Boy book about his adventures to the mainland as well as a children’s resource book for animals and plants in the Caribbean. A much larger, long-term project that I am working on is a graphic novel I am writing and illustrating. There are only about 19 pages done so far and I plan to have it fully completed by this time next year. You can check out its progress and other projects on my website www.campfireyoung.com.

MM: Like I mentioned above, I’ve been playing music for ages and am about to start recording a new album of some old songs, which should be a fun project!

GM: What are your hopes for the book?

AY: I really enjoy the experience from start to finish. There really isn’t any part of the process of creating artwork for a book or otherwise that I don’t enjoy. Well, maybe erasing sketch lines. My hope is that comes through in the work.

MM: You know, I worked on the book because I wanted to make something for my daughter that would make her laugh. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but I would love for that to expand past my daughter to as many other people as possible. Nothing would be cooler to me than having something that I worked on with one of my best friends be a part of bedtime or story time for my daughter or another child, or hearing that a child I never met thought it was their favorite book, or that it was part of show and tell, or recited in school as someone’s favorite poem. I’ve had one friend already send me a video of her kids reading the book, and I’ve had another friend tell me that their kid took our book to show and tell, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. So, my hope is just that the book helps to make kids, and especially my daughter, happy and excited to read it.

Dragons and Hot Sauce: And Other Imaginations is available for $9.73 on Amazon.

*Shoutout to The Doubleclicks for helping GeekMom discover Mike and Andy!

Get In the “Misty Mountains” Spirit

Image By Rebecca Angel

Next week brings the conclusion to the trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderful book, The Hobbit. I don’t care what the critics say, I’m excited to get back into one of my favorite worlds on screen. For my family, music is how we get psyched up about everything.

For The Battle of Five Armies, we are going back to the first movie. Anyone who has seen The Hobbit remembers that scene in Bilbo’s house when the dwarves start singing that low, gorgeous song. It’s called “Misty Mountains,” and my kids and I love it. My son said it takes him to faraway places in his mind. Being a bass, he recently sang it at a concert. My daughter asked to have it played on repeat as she wrote in her journal. Although you can buy the soundtrack version, other people have taken their musical gifts to this tune:

This one with violin gave me chills. The parallel fifths harmony (all sung by one person) in the beginning brings us back in time, and then the singer lets loose some impressive cluster chords that I adore. When the violin harmonizes with itself, and the singing the background—woop!

Mixed voices a cappella take a slightly different, more march-like feel to the song, and with women! For anyone who loves baritones (and I do), check out the final note the guy sings on this one. Swoon…

And just for you nerds, this woman sang the full twenty-seven verses that Tolkien wrote:

But don’t just listen to it, sing or play it yourself! Here is where you can buy and download the sheet music. Enjoy!

Poetry Geeks Suggest Poetry-Infused Movies

Poetry-infused movie suggestions. (amazon)
Poetry-infused movie suggestions. (amazon)

It’s National Poetry Month. You don’t have to stretch your movie-watching habits far to include movies that have something to do with poetry. Here’s a short, by no means comprehensive list.

Movies inspired by poems

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the Coen brothers’ version of Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Mulans story comes from the ancient Chinese poem “The Ballad of Mulan.”

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe  has been made into several movies, the most recent starring John Cusack.

Jabberwocky is a poem found in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The nonsense poem added words such as “chortle” and “galumphing” to the English language.  The nonsense movie is directed by Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam.

Much Ado About Nothing, OthelloHamlet, well, there are dozens of movies versions of Shakespeare’s poetic plays. Dozens more are based on his work, including The Lion KingShe’s the Man, and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran

Beowulf comes from the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English.

Bright Star covers a poem of the same name by John Keats, about his love for Fanny Brawne.

Braveheart is based on the the epic written by makar Blind Harry, “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace.”

Troy is based on Homer’s epic Iliad.

Horton Hears a Who! or any of the Dr. Seuss movies, are all based on the imaginatively rhyming books by Theodor Seuss Geisel.


Movies about poets

Howl looks at the 1957 obscenity trial against Allen Ginsberg and the title poem.

Total Eclipse is a dramatized account of poet Arthur Rimbaud’s affair with Paul Verlaine.

Sylvia portrays the love and despair of poet Sylvia Plath.

The Basketball Diaries is a harrowing story of athleticism, addiction, and redemption based on poet Jim Carroll’s autobiography.

Barfly is based on Charles Bukowski tumultuous life.

Before Night Falls is adapted from the memoir of poet Reinaldo Arenas.


Movies about poetry

Poetry, detailing an elderly woman’s first poem, gets a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Henry Fool is about an ex-convict who encourages a friend to become a poet.

Poetic Justice includes several poems by Maya Angelou.

Big Bad Love highlights the struggles of a poet and writer dealing with his own war memories and alcoholism.

Slam is about a young man’s dedication to spoken word poetry after his release from prison.


Lemony Snicket Chooses Poetry for Poetry Magazine

Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation has asked Lemony Snicket to choose a few poems for this month’s edition of Poetry Magazine. The results are as wonderfully odd as you might expect. The portfolio is titled: “All Good Slides are Slippery” and Snicket specifically chooses poems that were not written specifically for children. As he explains:

The poems contained in this children’s poetry portfolio are not made for children. Poetry is like a curvy slide in a playground—an odd object, available to the public—and, as I keep explaining to my local police force, everyone should be able to use it, not just those of a certain age.

What follows are 19 poems with illustrations by Chris Raschka and running commentary from Snicket, all in his unique voice. Example:

Starting to read something, such as a portfolio, is like opening a door, so I thought it would be interesting to start with two poems about doors written by two very different poets. Maram al-Massri is a Syrian woman who now lives in the city of Paris, France. Carl Sandburg is an American man who doesn’t live anywhere, due to death.

This could be an excellent resource for kids moving beyond the world of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, who may get a bit discouraged (as I was) by the way poetry is sometimes taught in schools.

Thanks to SFSignal.com for the link.

History Geek: 1930s Week

Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Swing dancing! The creation of Superman! Adagio for Strings! Radio Plays! Migrant Mother photojournalism! Heath bars! The Wizard of Oz! Monopoly!

The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for and directing a History Through the Creative Arts Camp about America during The Great Depression. Originally history was written down by conquerors who took political power. This legacy continues in history textbooks that think that war and politics are the most important parts of history to study. I disagree. I think history is the whole human experience during a time period. Of course, this makes it tough to design a children’s summer camp that only lasts five days. So I turn to passion.

Rebecca explaining something with lots of hand movements…. Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Tasting historic recipes each day. Image By Rebecca Angel

Passion makes for great teaching. I’m passionate about the creative arts, culture, and social justice. So that’s my focus on history. And when students learn why certain songs were written, when the photographs were taken, how the plays were created, they learn about the power struggles during that time and place. I run the week by having the campers sing, dance, write, eat, sew, and create their way through the time period.

A student talking about their own research. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I also asked for help. During the week of camp there were other adults bringing their expertise (geeky excitement) to the campers. Plus, the kids themselves taught each other. My daughter ran the camp newspaper, “Typewriter Talk,” with the campers taking turns being reporters for the day. Another student of mine asked if I was covering Europe during the ’30s. I wasn’t getting into the details of the start of World War II with this camp. She asked if she could do a five minute presentation each day because she thought it was really important for everyone to know this stuff. Sure!

Campers taking their parents on a tour of camp. Image By Rebecca Angel

What I wasn’t covering in active learning, I put out on display. In the space I use for camp is a huge wall for push-pins. The other counselors and I fill this wall with all the things we found out, but couldn’t squeeze into the time allotted. Scientific achievements, slang terms, maps about the Dust Bowl (then and what’s happening now!), details on the stock market, the 1936 Olympics, weird advertisements, and lots more. My daughter created a display on photojournalism. My son did one on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP—he pointed out it sounded like a sound effect). There were puzzles and written activities available during downtime where the answers could be found on The Wall. Whoever completed a sheet got a tiny harmonica (so they could sound like hobos around a campfire…) or candy created during the 1930s.

In the spirit of the '30s, I asked the kids to wear the same clothes everyday (washing was encouraged) and they worked on making outfits for Friday's party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Sewing clothes for Friday’s party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I’ve run many history camps over the years, but this was the toughest to research; so many aspects made me cry. A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression is one example of trying to get to the heart of The Great Depression. I read some of it to the campers. I focused on the positive things of sharing and kindness, but the fact that people were so grateful for so little during this time—is enough to make the tears flow. (I kept myself in check during camp.)

Family history as decorations. Image By Rebecca Angel

I’ll write a few more posts about aspects of camp I think you might enjoy: games, comics, movies, and radio plays. If anything, I encourage everyone to do one of the projects during camp: Research your own family history. The campers presented how their families got through the hard times of the 1930s, and there were some great stories. My own grandfather was a newsboy in the lower East side of NYC.

I could write so much more because everything was so cool! I hope I inspire you to get geeked about history! Here’s a video of the swing dancing each day:

Five Ways to Get Poetry Into Your Day

National Poetry Month is almost over, but you can make poetry a part of your day year-round. Here are five simple suggestions for fitting poems into your busy schedule:

1. Visit the Writer’s Almanac. Better yet, listen.

Every morning while I’m getting dressed, I play the audio version of PBS’s Writer’s Almanac. Narrated by Garrison Keillor, these brief recordings begin with a look at “this day in literary history” — brief biographical sketches of poets and writers — and then Keillor reads the day’s chosen poem.

I have come to treasure these quiet moments during which I savor the rich cadences and vivid images of these thoughtfully-selected verses. I’ve encountered many new-to-me poets in this way, and I find that their words linger in my mind throughout the day. What used to be a bustling, buzzing time of morning has become more peaceful and deeply rewarding.

2. Explore Poetry 180.

Sponsored by the Library of Congress, this excellent website features “a poem a day for American high schools.” Writes former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who selected the poems:

I want to acquaint you with a new program for making poetry an active part of the daily experience of American high school students. The program is called Poetry 180 and offers a poem for every day of the approximately 180-day school year. But there is another reason I chose that name.

A 180-degree turn implies a turning back — in this case, to poetry. The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.

Don’t feel limited to sharing these poems with teenagers; my kids range in age from 3 to 16, and we have found our twice-weekly dips into the Poetry 180 selections — including poems by Theodore Roethke, Jane Kenyon, and the wonderful Billy Collins himself — to be a thought-provoking experience for the whole family.

3. Experience Poetry Friday — any day of the week.

Every Friday, dozens of bloggers share poems and poetry-related links, and a rotating lineup of volunteers posts a roundup of that week’s entries. (You can find the schedule at Kidlitosphere Central.) Although I’m sporadic about posting my own Poetry Friday contributions, I take great delight in exploring each week’s links. It usually takes me a full week to get through them all–and then it’s time for another round! Some of my favorite Poetry Friday entries are the original poems shared by gifted writers like Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm and Susan Taylor Brown, who enchanted me with this week’s contribution: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Hummingbird.”

4. Check out the Poetry for Young People series by Sterling Publishing.

These gorgeous books have been a part of my kids’ lives since they were tiny. Each volume features the work of a single poet, such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Langston Hughes, and Lewis Carroll, or a selection of poems organized around a theme like animal poems or African-American poetry. The books are picture-book-sized, beautifully illustrated, with helpful introductory notes for many of the poems and footnotes explaining difficult words.

About once a week, I have each of my older kids pick one of the volumes from our collection and ask them to choose one poem to share with the rest of the family. I love to hear what moved my children to pick the poems they’ve chosen — why they connected with the words on the page. The deep-probing, wide-ranging conversations sparked by their choices are some of my happiest family memories. And quite often I’ll find that one of the kids has been inspired to memorize her selection.

5. Delight in Favorite Poems Old and New.

If I had to pare down my poetry collection to a single book, I’d choose this one in a heartbeat. This classic collection, edited by Helen Farris, is a nice fat tome stuffed with excellent poetry — a diverse selection ranging from comic children’s verse to lyrical masterpieces. This is the book that first introduced my kids to Nash, Lear, Tennyson, Shelley, Rossetti, and dozens of other poets.

One poem in particular has become something of a family tradition. I am never, never permitted to put this book away without reading — nay, performing — Thomas Hood’s hilarious “A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months.” It’s all the more delicious right now when we happen to have a boy aged three years and almost five months…but there hasn’t been a year yet when Hood’s verses didn’t elicit shrieks of laughter from the big sisters in this house.

Of course, our family favorites might not be yours. But that’s the beauty of diving into poetry together: You forge your own connections, your own reflections, your own rich family memories.

Celebrating National Poetry Month With The Geek Moms

We thought it would be fun to wind up National Poetry Month with some of the Geek Moms’ favorite poets and poetry.

My own memories of poetry are quite early. My mother lived in Los Angeles and my father lived in the mountains over six hours away. This was back in the 70’s, so long before books on tape or DVD. So what did my father do to entertain one bored tween and two rambunctious younguns?

Why, recite 19th and 20th century poetry to us, of course. (Can you tell his mother was a librarian?)

My father has this deep, rumbly voice that was just perfect for reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade, Hiawatha, The Highwayman, or If. He could also whip out a mean rendition of Custard the Cowardly Dragon, one of my personal favorites when I was young.

My taste in poetry has changed a lot over the years. I am now much taken with Mary Oliver and still have a fondness for T. S. Eliot, most especially this bit from Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets):

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

In fact, I think that poem helped seal my desire to be a writer–to be able to explore the paths not taken.

Here are some other geek moms and their favorite poems:

Rebecca Angel:

The only poem I have ever memorized, and unfortunately I don’t know the source (I got it from a calender). I’ve tried looking for it for years, and the best I could find was something like “Antiphon Anglicus” which basically means it was written a very long time ago. It’s my favorite because it proves even hundreds of years ago being smart was cool.

Sabrina has a thousand charms
to captivate my heart.
Her lovely eyes are Cupid’s arms
and every look a dart.
But when the beauteous idiot speaks
She cures me of my pain.
Her tongue the servile fetters breaks.
And frees her slave again.




“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty place from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare, Macbeth. (I had it memorized, but I did go double-check to make sure I had it exactly.)

Whenever I think of this in my head, I heard Christopher Plummer’s voice as I saw him play MacBeth on Broadway a loong time ago.

Sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

–Usually it’s the last line that is quoted but I love the whole thing. It may help that Edward Woodward recited it on an episode of the Equalizer. I’m a sucker for great English voices.



The only poem I have ever memorized is not suitable for GeekMom, even if it is about parents! (Warning: It is NSFW!)

Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse


When I thought about it, I realized a lot of those K-12 years stuck! I think I can still do all of “Annabel Lee,” which I performed for my 8th grade English class. I competed in the Poetry category of forensics for a long time with “Death of the Hired Man,” so I can do a chunk of that, as well as a few of the short Robert Frost poems. Oddly enough, I married into a lengthy arm of his family (my mother-in-law’s maiden name is Frost, and her brother is Robert). I still remember chunks of “Jabberwocky,” too.

Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me;


‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;


That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.


Cathe Post:

From the Pocket Book of Ogden Nash


The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

From the first book (possibly the first thing)I ever purchased with my OWN money – Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

THE BAGPIPE WHO DIDN’T SAY NO (Poem selected because I loved bagpipes growing up)



Kansas City Octopus by Calef Brown from the book Polkabats and Octopus Slacks

Kansas City Octopus
is wearing fancy slacks.
just got ’em,
fifty bucks including tax.
Red corduroy,
and boy-o-boy,
they fit like apple pie.
Multi-pocket snazzy trousers
custom made for octopi.
Fantastic plastic stretch elastic
keeps ’em nice and tight.
Kansas City Octopus
is looking good tonight!

When I first read this I thought, “that’s what the English language was born to do.” And, I now like saying that things fit like apple pie.


Kathy Ceceri:

What came to mind for me was Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier. I thought of it as a poem (I had only heard it read aloud, on “A Prairie Home Companion”) but now that I’ve looked it up, it is formatted as prose, albeit Biblical. Here’s the opening line (the entire piece is rather long):

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea,
and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat,
but not in the living room.

There’s also Soap Soup by Karla Kuskin. I still think of it when I set the table:

Put the dinner
on the table.
Then sit down
and eat it, Mabel.

And if you are able,
you may also eat
the table.


Kristen Rutherford:

Favorite! I love Lorca – whenever I read his work, I feel like I have to put my hand over my heart as a shield to protect myself!




The still waters of the air
under the bough of the echo.

The still waters of the water
under a frond of stars.

The still waters of your mouth
under a thicket of kisses.


Suzanne Lazear:
I’ve always loved this poem because it’s a reminder of how fast our kiddos grow up and that we should cherish those small moments as they come.

Song for a Fifth Child

by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth
empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
hang out the washing and butter the bread,
sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
and out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
but I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.



I have to throw a shout out to Billy Collins! A must-read for moms is “The Lanyard” – here’s a portion:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

And here’s part of one that cracks me right up – “Nightclub” – also by Collins:

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.


Patricia Volmer:

I was in 5th grade.  I was in a gifted/talented elementary school program.  We were asked to learn a poem to recite, and we chose from a variety of poems presented to us as options.  I picked this one, and worked SO HARD to learn it, it has stuck with me 27 years later!

Is it necessarily a favorite?  I’m not sure it’s a favorite, but it’s truly inspirational, and I’ve even used it (the first two stanzas) in several of my military briefings as an icebreaker when presenting something challenging.

Ahem….here goes!

Titled “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest.

Someone said it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That maybe it couldn’t but he would be the one
Who wouldn’t say so until he had tried.
So he started right in with a trace of a grin
On his face.  If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, as he did it.
Somebody scoffed “Oh you’ll never do that;
At least no one we know has done it”;
But he took of his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done, and you’ll do it




I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Pablo Neruda


Laura Grace Weldon:

This is a project after my own heart. I’m a fledgling poet (with a chapbook out of print and hopefully another coming out next year). I tend to have fierce reactions to poems—adoration or indifference with little in-between. Hard to imagine choosing a favorite when there’s so much to love about the work of so many poets: Lisel Mueller, Stephen Levine, Wendell Berry, Anne Sexton, Franz Wright, oh believe me I could drone on. Here’s one of my many favorites, one that I’ve been listening to in my head recently.



Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.


~ Joy Harjo ~


French Arthur Rimbaud, the archetypal teenage-poet and “poète maudit“. His life is, of course, fascinating (Leonardo Di Caprio even played his role in a dispensable movie). But Rimbaud is also a wonderful seeker of a new language, the explorer of new images and new musics. An amazing poet.


Alexandra Siy

A TREE WITHIN by Octavio Paz

A tree grew inside my head
A tree grew in.
Its roots are veins
its branches nerves,
thoughts its tangled foliage.
Your glance sets it on fire,
and its fruits of shade
are blood oranges
and pomegranates of flame.
Day breaks
in the body’s night.
There, within, inside my head,
the tree speaks.
Come closer—can you hear it?


Who are some of your favorites?