I did it—30 poems in 30 days!


Day 30

I’ve done it! I made it through NaPoWriMo with success! I now have 30 poems  on subjects that range from holey socks to the grandeur of Yosemite’s Vernal Falls. But what would be the most fitting poem on which to end this solid streak of verse?

quill in hand

The NaPoWriMo Challenge

Poetry month has come to an end

For thirty days I have composed

Many a rhyme over that time

But now it must draw to a close

I have been faithful to my daily post

And cranked out a poem without fail

Even when I thought my muse had run dry

Or when my words felt rather stale

Resources drained, there are no rhymes left

My meter is no longer here

For better or worse, I’ll write no more verse

Until Poetry Month of next year…

30 poems…day 29

Day 29

black bean chili

Black Bean Chili Rag

I’m gonna make a batch of black bean chili

Double the ingredients and make a big pot

Gotta get the beans to soaking on the night before

And don’t spare the cayenne, ’cause I like my chili hot!

I’m gonna make a batch of black bean chili

Sauté an onion in olive oil and spice

Basil and oregano, cumin and some salt

Mix ’em all together, and it’s gonna be nice!

I’m gonna make a batch of black bean chili

Throw in lots of garlic and squeeze a big ole lime

Chop a red bell pepper and toss it in the skillet

Even while we’re cooking it, we’ll have a good time!

I’m gonna make a batch of black bean chili

Mince those roasted chilies and grate some cheddar cheese

Whisk a little sour cream and warm up fresh tortillas

And serve it in a bowl just as big as you please!

30 poems…day 28


Day 28: They’re just letters…

The name of the church where my choral group is performing—the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley—puzzled me. It would seem like a reasonable name except that the church is in Kensington, not Berkeley. I mentioned this oddity to my friend, Ruby, who said the name used to be the First Unitarian Church, but as long as she’d known it, it had been in Kensington. I was curious, so I looked up the church’s history on their website. Indeed it was originally on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley back in 1891, but moved to Kensington fifty years ago. So why didn’t they change the name to First Unitarian Church of Kensington? Ruby suspected that the initials of that name made it problematic.

Think about it.  It would certainly make it more difficult to refer to it in the shorthand way that organizations do. The url address would be embarrassing at the very least. The current one, uucb.org, is blessedly innocuous.

Apparently the congregation voted to change the name in 1996, but it was not because they wanted to include the name of the city where they are located. They dropped the “First” and added “Universalist,” signifying a merger of sorts.

Anyway, the whole issue of initials got me thinking…

The Berkeley Fire Department Blues

When I said that I worked for the fire department

You responded, “BFD?”*

Well, maybe it’s not a big deal to you,

But it certainly is to me!

*For the uninitiated, BFD is short slang for “Big Fucking Deal.” My apologies to readers who might be offended by a reference to such vulgar language, but you can’t really tell the joke without it.


30 poems…day 27


Day 27

This was supposed to go out yesterday, but I hadn’t quite finished it for reasons you’ll read about…

This is one of those weeks when I realize I’m probably in too many organizations.

Last Saturday, my choral group, the Berkeley Broadway Singers (BBS) performed for a retirement home in Oakland. And I wrote a poem because I took up the NaPoWriMo challenge of writing a poem every day in the month of April.

Last Sunday, as president of the Berkeley branch of CWC (California Writers Club), I ran the afternoon meeting, then performed again with BBS that evening at New Bridge, a rehabilitation center, and wrote a poem.

Tuesday was World Book Night (WBN), so I was out giving away copies of Looking for Alaska, trying to spread the love of reading. And I wrote a poem.

Wednesday night was dress rehearsal for BBS’s upcoming concerts. And I wrote a poem.

Thursday morning I was a writer coach for WCC (Writer Coach Connection). And I wrote a poem.

Friday, as my club’s newsletter editor, I laid out Write Angles until around midnight. And I wrote a poem.

This morning I went to the earlier Weight Watcher meeting so I could take part in the neighborhood’s annual emergency drill that starts in five minutes. This afternoon is my monthly writers’ critique group that meets at the Oakland Museum café. And tonight is the first of BBS’s two major concerts of the year at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Berkeley in Kensington. (I know, it makes no sense—it’s the church of Berkeley, but it’s not actually in Berkeley. More on that later.) And when I come back from the drill, I’ll write a poem.

Tomorrow is the afternoon BBS concert, which will finish out the season. So in the morning, after walking the dogs, I’ll write a poem.

So many letters, but who has time to write?

I love to sing the harmony—so I’m in BBS

I love to read, so I do WBN

I love to teach, so I’m a coach for WCC

And Weight Watchers will get me thin again

Because I love to write, I’m involved in many groups

Once a month I meet to swap critiques and share

Every third Sunday I lead meetings for the club

And I go to kid lit workshops here and there

I lay out Write Angles and write at least one piece

I plan and lead the meetings for the board

I read contest entries for the 5th grade story prize

And calm the troops when I sense some discord

For us to be a part of Litquake, it is up to me

To write our club’s proposal for a spot

Thank goodness I’m no longer taking charge of all the meals

At Squibby’s* conference, where I work a lot

You know, it just occurred to me as I recounted now

That I joined these groups because I love to write

But after all the meetings, workshops, and committee work

I’m tired and just want to say goodnight

When is there the time to revise my chapter book?

When will I compose a poem or song?

When do I submit my novel and keep up my blog?

Something tells me I’ve got something wrong…

*Squibby is the affectionate nickname for SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a name I couldn’t possibly fit into a poem, let alone rhyme!


30 poems…day 26


fat jeans

Day 26

I have what some might call a strange ritual twice a year. Every fall and spring I swap out the bulk of my wardrobe to fit the upcoming season. I realize that living in the Bay Area means that I don’t experience the same range of temperatures that, say, people in Baltimore do. Or most other places actually. But I have limited space in the wardrobe my husband and I share. (Granted, I get two-thirds of it, but it’s still not large enough to hang all my clothes.) So I have several under-the-bed storage containers to hide away summery dresses during the winter and heavy sweaters in the summer.

Then I have that box with those other clothes. If you’ve ever been someone whose weight has traversed many hills and valleys throughout life, then you know what clothes I’m referring to. It’s those articles of clothing that you keep in a hope chest, hoping that one day you’ll be able to wear them again. Maybe it’s that expensive suit that never quite fit because you bought it thinking that it would inspire you to lose weight. Or it could be a vintage dress you bought at a trendy store in L.A. that you wore to a friend’s wedding once, but then outgrew it. Well, I had three pairs of jeans that I held onto hoping that I’d squeeze myself back into them before I died. Last time I did my seasonal clothes swap, I tried them on—or I should say that I tried to try them on—but I couldn’t get them past my hips, let alone zip them up.

But recently my fat jeans (dubbed thus for obvious reasons) have felt pretty loose, and I was beginning to think that someone might think I’d adopted that baggy pants style so inexplicably popular among teenage boys. (Didn’t President Obama partially get elected because he promised to do something about that?) So I gingerly opened the box of not-as-fat jeans (you really couldn’t call them skinny jeans), and crossed my fingers. I’m not going to lie—they’re snug. But I didn’t break the zipper getting them on. And in my book, that’s cause for celebration. Although cake and ice cream might sort of defeat the purpose…

This poem is dedicated to my fat jeans.


Ode to my fat jeans

I owe you many thanks, fat jeans, for these last few years

You have shown great fortitude, a beacon among peers

For you’ve been more than generous in covering my ass

You have gone on camping trips and lived through bouts of gas

You’ve acted as my armor with nary a complaint

You’ve been my wardrobe’s workhorse, but haute couture you ain’t

You have worked so long and hard, for which I give you praise

But you’re no longer needed—you’re past your glory days

I appreciate your service, but it’s time to go

Because if I held onto you, that gives me room to grow

I hope this isn’t mean to say—I don’t want to offend

But this goodbye is permanent—farewell, my denim friend

30 poems…day 25


Day 25

On Thursday mornings I go to Martin Luther King Middle School to volunteer in a program called Writer Coach Connection (WCC).  WCC has recruited enough volunteers so that every 8th grader in Berkeley public schools gets a writer coach to work with throughout the school year. I work with three students one week and three different ones on alternating weeks. I get to see my six 8th graders for about 25 minutes apiece to work with them on whatever writing assignment they have that week.

In the spring, the big writing project is their iSearch, which is an eight-week long research paper on a topic of their choice. This includes not only the research, but involves conducting interviews, compiling a bibliography, keeping regular journal entries on their progress, writing a cohesive paper tying together what they’ve learned, and making a presentation to the class.

This morning was particularly fun because students got to write a creative story that illustrates some of what they’ve learned through their research. (Usually we’re helping with persuasive essays or something more structured.)

One of the stories had me laughing out loud—it was written with such wit and sophisticated humor. Another one actually got me teary. One girl amazed me with how much specific information she was able to embed into her story. I was so impressed with them all. So this poem is dedicated to the 8th graders whom I coach.

I got the iSearch blues

What is this? I have to do a research project?

You’re kidding, right? I mean I’m just thirteen!

It’s hard enough to concentrate on math and history

An eight-week project is a tad obscene

Research is for grown-ups—it’s way too hard for me

I ‘m just a kid, you know—I have my rights!

Already I spend every day working hard in school

Now you want to take up all my nights?

Okay, at least I get to pick the topic that I want

I admit that part is really kind of cool

But going to the library and taking lots of notes

Are not my favorite parts of middle school

I’ve always liked the movies—could I direct a film?

I could study lots of scenes and clips

Maybe I could interview someone in the biz

And pick up lots of good directing tips

I think I’ve got my topic. Now it’s time to plan.

I found this killer website full of stuff

Like how you  pick a camera angle and you set the scene

(And that working with live animals is tough)

I’ll borrow Grandpa’s camera and I’ll write the script myself

I’ll build the set with help from Mom and Dad

My friends can act it out…You know, this iSearch thing is fun

I changed my mind—it’s really not so bad

30 poems…day 24


Day 24

We are in the home stretch of NoPoWriMo. Only seven more poems to complete my challenge. I figure if I were not writing a poem a day, I would probably be posting about my upcoming concert. So I decided to do so in rhyme.


Tonight is dress rehearsal, one more practice time to sing

We should know the words, the notes, the rhythm—everything!

Here is just a taste of our performance if you come

I won’t give you all the lyrics, but I’ll give you some…

We’ll start with an overture, curtains, and some lights

This is it for BBS—this is our night of nights

We will laugh the day away and sing some tra la las

While we whisk you back in time to the land of Oz

We won’t see if stars are out or if the moon is high

In fact we won’t see much of anything up in the sky

It only takes a moment, then it disappears from view

Because it seems to be that we have only eyes for you

That lonely Yellow Bird in the cinnamon tree

Can fly to Bali Ha’i, so he’s luckier than me

We’ll Look to the Rainbow, over hill and over stream

And we’ll follow the fellow who follows the dream

Sunrise and Sunset will swiftly fly the years

We hope that our renditions will be music to your ears

You’ll really hear the rhythm of the clickety clack

when we Choo Choo Ch’boogie you down to the track

And even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious


Duos and ensembles also have a lot to sing

Such as Two Lost Souls, and It Might as Well Be Spring

How Deep Is Your Love and Marry the Man Today,

A song of Friendship and Our Love Is Here to Stay

We’ll go Under the Boardwalk and out to the ocean

To ask Madame Ruth for a special Love Potion

And you all are sure to feel like Kings of the Road

When we sing a Brand New Day, ’cause we’re in gospel mode

Well, that’s it—our program put in somewhat awkward verse

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my poem—it could have been much worse

But if you come to hear us sing, you’ll have a real good time

Because the chorus sings much better than I write in rhyme!

For more info on the Berkeley Broadway http://www.berkeleybroadwaysingers.org

30 poems…day 23

30 poems…day 23

Day 23

WBNhome darker

It’s World Book Night! I’m excited to be participating for the second year in a row. In case you haven’t heard of it, World Book Night is a group dedicated to spreading a love of literature by reaching out to people who don’t read regularly. Once a year on Shakespeare’s birthday we hand out free books—not old discarded paperbacks or remaindered copies that bookstores are trying to get rid of, but brand new, award-winning titles, such as the book I gave out last year by Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

This year I’m handing out John Green’s Looking for Alaska, a wonderful YA (young adult) book. I’ll be one of 25,000 volunteers who are venturing out into 6000 cities in America today to search for people who don’t yet know how great reading can be.

For more info on World Book Night, go to www.worldbooknight.org.

And without further ado, here’s today’s poem.

30 Titles…One Night

Thirty different titles handed out in just one night

All across America—it should be quite a sight

In 6000 cities we’ll be giving books away.

I chose John Green’s book that won a prize from ALA

Looking for Alaska has got humor and some heart

Girl with a Pearl Earring has a cover that is art

Scary possibilities are in The Handmaid’s Tale

If laughter’s what you’re looking for, Bossypants can’t fail

Some books, such as Look Again, have titles that are short

Then there’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

If you read in Spanish, there are two books just for you

La Casa en Mango Street and El Alquimista too

Many of them I have read, but many I have not

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that I enjoyed a lot

Mudbound, Glaciers, Moneyball, and Montana Sky

All are gifts—no cash needed—they are not to buy

Come out just for one night and abandon your TV

We will give you Willa Cather’s classic book for free

Devil in a Blue Dress fits the bill if you love noir

There’s a book that you will love, no matter who you are!

Novels, essays, humor, sci-fi, and some fantasy

Stories good for young and old and even poetry

Volunteers will give out books to share with everyone

What’s the message? We just want to say that reading’s fun!

30 poems…day 22

Day 22

E.L Konigsburg

Because I’m on a  children’s book enthusiast’s listserv, I get lots of information about events in the kid-lit world. Yesterday I received this:

From: Sharon Levin [mail to:sharonlevin2@mindspring.com]

> Sent: Saturday, April 20, 2013 1:38 PM

> Subject: Sad News: E.L. Konigsburg

She passed away yesterday.  My heart is very sad today.

Mrs. Konigsburg will always have a very, very special place in my heart. She can be credited (or blamed) for turning me into an author groupie.

Soooo, years ago (almost 41 to be precise) I was reading “About the B’Nai Bagels” right before we were going to Jacksonville, Florida to visit my grandmother. My father picked up my book and said, “Look, this author lives in Jacksonville, you should give him a call when you visit Grandma.”(Looking at my old copy of BB I realize it does say she on the book flap, but guess we didn’t look THAT closely. Anyway, we got to Jacksonville and one day I went into my grandmother’s bedroom, closed the door (I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing, just felt kind of embarrassed) and called.  A woman answered the phone and I asked if this was the home of E.L. Konigsburg and she said “yes.”  I asked if I could please speak to E.L. Konigsburg and she said “speaking.” I told her what a big fan I was and that I wanted to call her while we were visiting my grandmother.  She invited my mother and me over to visit!!!  I was in seventh heaven!!

We got to go to her house, sit in her living room and chat.  I remember looking up and seeing two large oil portraits on the wall and I said, “That’s Claudia and Jamie!”  Sure enough, they were paintings she had done of two of her children, the two who served as the models for the drawings in “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” She had just published “A Proud Taste of Scarlet and Miniver” and told us a bit about it (I had never heard of Eleanor of Acquitaine – so it was fascinating AND educational) 🙂 It was a wonderful, delightful afternoon and I still remember her warmth and openness to two complete strangers.

My mother, who had happily taken me to meet my heroine that day, only lived another three years, until I was 13 years old.

Years later (about 5 years ago) I called her again to interview her for a children’s lit course I was taking.  She remembered me and even remembered who some of my ‘mother’s people’ were (this is the south after all) 🙂

SO, I felt as if we had come in a bit of a circle when on March 20th, Mrs. Konigsburg (cannot think of her as Elaine, there’s that Southern influence again) came and spoke at the annual Otter Dinner put on by the Northern California Children’s Booksellers’ Association.  At that dinner, I introduced her to MY 10-year-old daughter (who had just finished reading “About the B’Nai Bagels) who is named Elise after my much-loved mother, Elsie (who would have completely understood our rearranging the letters of her name and not actually saddling a child born in 1994 with the name Elsie) Mrs. Konigsburg was just as warm and gracious as I remembered her and introducing her to Elise brought tears to my eyes.  It is a moment that Elise and I will both remember (and I’m sure Grandma Elsie was there somewhere as well) for a very, very long time.Mixed-up Files


In honor of E.L. Konigsburg—and of children’s authors everywhere—here is my poetry offering for the day:

Some Books

Some books you remember just until you read the next

They are entertaining or they have creative text

Then there are those special books that lay their claim to you

They stick with you because they have a unique point of view

They resonate and speak to you even as you age

Connecting you to literature each time you turn the page

Maybe it’s the message that makes you love a story

Or it might be that you revel in the hero’s glory

Perhaps it is the heroine whose strength you so admire

Or it is a fascination with the dragon’s fire

Could it be the setting takes you where you want to go

Or gives you insight to a world you don’t already know?

It may be that you are drawn to ancient history

Or that it is your lifelong dream to solve a mystery

There are books for all of us to read and take to heart

Why not pick one up right now? It’s not too late to start.

30 poems…day 21


Day 21

Thank you, Kristen Caven, for letting me know that today is John Muir’s birthday.


An Ode to John Muir

Born this day in Dunbar, Scotland, 1838

The patron saint of wilderness—John Muir

So this day in April is one to celebrate

Nature’s great protector, to be sure

Founder of Sierra Club and conservationist

We are lucky that he emigrated

America is beautiful partly due to him

His contributions can’t be overstated

He envisioned parks for all and taught us preservation

Writing essays on ecology

He is why we’re able to go hiking on vacation

For he could see the forest and the tree

Thank you, Mr. Muir, for your persuasion and  foresight

We’re indebted to your way of thought

Thank you for your leadership, which was the guiding light

To help preserve the only Earth we’ve got