Friday, December 21, 2012

La Natividad: An Immigrant Story

Mary & Joseph
When Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus fled to Egypt shortly after his birth, they became refugees--a fact little remembered unless the refugee or immigrant experience strikes close to your heart. This year, a bilingual Spanish/English retelling of the nativity in Minneapolis celebrated the immigrant story with singing, parading down the streets, and, of course, puppets--courtesy of the Heart of the Beast Theater. I couldn't possibly describe it as well as La Natividad's author, Minneapolis pastor and poet friend Patrick Cabello Hansel; check out his description in his blog.

(picture from

Merry Christmas to All!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Powerful Ideas in Teaching

It's here! It's here! Waiting in my mailbox a day earlier than I expected. I was able to pick the photo for the cover, and I love how it came out. The publisher offers a beautiful web page with table of contents information and reviews. You can purchase it there or through Amazon (at the same price). Amazon has already sold some copies (I don't know how many they started out with).
This is the third book I've written (after a poetry manuscript and a novel) but the first one to come out in print. It was a pleasure to draw upon one of the things I love--being in the classroom--and my insightful co-author Dr. Mickey Kolis was great to work with. He's the perfect combination of energetic, focused, and down-to-earth.

Here's what teachers are saying so far:

Powerful Ideas in Teaching has real life examples, thought provoking student profiles, and practical advice for the classroom. There are stories and advice here from which every reflective teacher can benefit—insight into our students, our methods, and ourselves, with ideas to create the positive learning environment for which every teacher is looking. Bridget Dick, fifth grade teacher, Webster Middle School, Webster, Massachusetts

No matter where you are in your teaching career, this book offers up something for everyone. The ideas presented here range from those that will have an immediate impact on your classroom, to those that will influence your entire outlook on your profession. [Powerful Ideas in Teaching guides you through the process that will help you reflect upon your philosophical views and envision the type of learning that you want to take place in your classroom. There are practical examples of effective strategies that are applicable in all classrooms.] This book should be required reading for all teachers.
Stephen Johnson, Science Teacher, Sterling High School, Sterling, IL, 2005 & 2011 Dr. James Garnett Effective Teacher Award (SHS Teacher of the Year)

Powerful Ideas has 19 clear ideas that uplift the art of teaching while standing strong in the belief that teachers teach people and the best teaching comes when we teach who we are. I left this book encouraged and challenged to be the best I can be for the students I teach and reminded of the many ways to succeed in helping students reach beyond their highest potential
Jason Collins, 8th grade Language Arts, Menomonie Middle School, Menomonie, Wisconsin

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a happy stumble-upon

In a house set a little back from Main Street, with a big garden out front and a mural on top, just across from the neon-painted Vintage Thrift store, sits Many Ways of Peace. I'd heard about it from a few people, but I'd lived in town for a year before I wheeled the stroller in to say hello and see just what this place was about. Boy am I glad I did. My heart thrills when I find people who *get* the connection between making art (in my case, writing poetry) and social justice. Mary Jo and Debbie, who run the place, remind me of the power of hospitality by offering tea or coffee and a few moments to sit and talk. It's amazing how far that goes toward making a person feel, well, wonderful. They opened up their space for me to teach a Poets of Peace class this past month, and we've just scheduled another 5-week class for Tuesdays, 10 - 11:30 AM, beginning January 22nd. If you're in the area, please mark your calendars!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

bringing lost literature to life

Natalie Merchant's new album features songs based on children's poems from the turn of the last century. In this lovely video, she sings several, including e e cummings' "Maggie Millie Molly and May." I particularly like the opening song  (including its theatricality)

These poems have me thinking about how poetry for children has changed in the last hundred years. I love Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but I have a hard time imagining that the full ballad-complete-with-chorus style of poem could be published today. I think people would read it, presented in the right way. Beautifully illustrated, for example.

The only contemporary example I can think of is Nancy Willard's imaginative poem-made-book The Tale I Told Sasha. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, although the poem is fair at best. Partly is the way it is broken up into pages, but it loses its narrative arc as we wander into dreamland, leaving the reader confused.

I'll have to keep my eyes out for other examples.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

beautiful day

Today we lit the candle of peace on the Advent wreath. It has been a peaceful day of family and music. My husband and I read the narration and sang in the beautiful Cantata performed at our church. I read the passages about the birth of the long-awaited baby while holding my baby in my arms--she was hardly content being held by someone else when she could hear my voice over the mic! She cuddled in against me for the service, clutching (appropriately) her little lamb.

Afterward, began learning Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring on the violin.

I am grateful for today.

Friday, December 7, 2012

saving the world

The Midwest and elsewhere is recovering from a drought, wells throughout the country are popping up to frack for natural gas (pouring water into the ground and rendering it undrinkable afterward) and we read daily in the news about the grim outlook of our water supply. I'm to the point where I try not to listen, feeling like there isn't anything I can do to change our outlook, other than to be as responsible as possible in my own actions and purchases.

And so, what a joy to learn that a young guy from South Africa has invented a way to take a water-free bath. Among South African users, they figure that each time someone uses this lotion, it saves 80 gallons of water (if you can afford to take a bath) or 2 hours of time hauling that water from a far-off river. And if you can wash your face, you can save yourself from a disease which causes blindness. Not sure how it will catch on in water-guzzling America, but still. Stories like this give me hope that we can invent ways to keep this planet going.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Poetry in Motion

Minneapolis poet Todd Boss and animator Angella Kassube have created a wonderful series of poetry in motion. Each month comes a new poem, read aloud, with music and video to match. I particularly love the music in this month's poem by James Longenbach. Enjoy!


Monday, December 3, 2012

rant away, oh agents

Two blogs of literary agents that came up in a recent discussion among friends.

In Pubrants, "a very nice literary agent indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry."
slushpilehell is, well, less polite, but darn funny. When it comes to queries, sometimes being able to string together coherent sentences is half the battle.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Momentous Day

Thursday, November 29th is the birthday of Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, and Louisa May Alcott. How lovely to think that three amazing writers share the same day. I was particularly encouraged to read this write-up about L'Engle in The Writer's Almanac; her Wrinkle in Time series I adore and have reread several times:

A Wrinkle in Time

It's the birthday of novelist Madeleine L'Engle (books by this author), born in New York City (1918). She worked for a while as an actress, and she was performing in the play The Cherry Orchard when she met her husband, the actor Hugh Franklin. She published a novel, The Small Rain (1945), and decided to give up acting and focus on writing and raising her kids. But while she was in her 30s, her career as a writer was going so badly that she considered giving up.

Then she read a book that made her change her mind. She said, "I read a book of Einstein's, in which he said that anyone who's not lost in rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe is as good as a burnt-out candle." She was so fascinated by Einstein's thinking that she kept reading about theoretical physics, and ended up writing a science fiction novel for young adults based on those ideas. L'Engle's three children loved the book, but it was rejected by 26 publishers; many thought it was too hard for children, and others thought that a science fiction novel shouldn't have a female as a main character. So L'Engle gave up on the book.

That year, her mother visited for Christmas, and L'Engle hosted a tea party for her mother's old friends. One of those friends was in a writing group with John Farrar of the publishing house Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux. They didn't publish young adult fiction, but the woman insisted that L'Engle meet Farrar and at least show him the manuscript. He published L'Engle's novel, A Wrinkle in Time (1963). It won the Newbery Medal; during her acceptance speech, she said: "I can't possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice. And it was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant." A Wrinkle in Time has sold more than 10 million copies.

Her other books include A Circle of Quiet (1972), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and A Ring of Endless Light (1980).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Sound and Fury remember, during a fit of frustration in a poetry course in college, thinking that I wanted to do an experiment: I'd show individuals the same poem as ask for their responses. Half of them, I would tell that it was an original work by a student. I'd tell the other half that it was a well known work by a very famous poet. I'd still like to see that experiment--I'd bet money that the people who were told the poem was already "good" would respond far more favorably.

I felt the same stir of doubt and irritation when I began Faulkner's famous work The Sound and the Fury and found myself wading through the (nearly) audio-only world that is Benjy's point of view. The temporal shifts I could handle (and rather enjoyed) once I got the hang of them, but not knowing who anyone was or what was going on for pages took some getting used to. And did I mention Benjy's chapter lasts for 70ish pages? And that Quentin's voice echoes Benjy's enough, semantically, that I distrust the author?

I'm enjoying puzzling through the book, and I won't make any (more) judgments until I finish, but here's the thing. If the book had been a self-published ebook by an unknown author, rather than the famous work of a nobel-prize winning American Great, I wouldn't have read more than two pages before closing the book and moving on. As it is, I trust that Faulkner is leading me somewhere worthwhile. Still, found this comic strip amusing.

Monday, November 26, 2012

living punctuation
The turkey is just about eaten. Our Thanksgiving guests left just this morning after a week-long visit. The house is back in order (thanks to the help of said guests). Now I find myself feeling, well, ho-hum. A bit sad, a bit now-what?

It's the let-down day. 

My Mom is the one who pointed this out. Sentences don't make sense without commas and periods telling us when to pause. Paragraphs can only go on so long and still keep our attention.

Why shouldn't our lives have punctuation, too? We had visitors, bustle, good food, things to look forward to. And there are good things to come, as well. Advent starts on Sunday, and everyone's eyes (if they have not already) will adjust Christmas-ward (if you celebrate). But not yet.

So today marks the end of the paragraph. A bit of rest, a bit of reshuffling. Whatever I get done today is bonus. Tomorrow we'll start anew.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Recently, I've had several people ask me what my favorite books are. It's not a question I can answer, but I can list the best books I've read in the last two years. These books make my list because
  • The writing was beautiful
  • The story made me want to keep reading, and stuck with my afterward
  • Reading them made me want to write
The best adult-audience books I've read are
  1. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht
  2.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer Ann Barrows
  3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

  1. The Name of the Wind and sequel by Patrick Rothfuss

For Young Adults:
  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  2. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  4. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughan
Middle Grade:
  1. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Friday, November 16, 2012


Yesterday I gave a poetry reading, then taught a poetry writing class--both in the space of 4 hours, located half an hour apart. A bit on-the-go, but what a wonderful day! My groups for both were far smaller than I would have originally liked, but what they lack in number they made up for in enthusiasm. Small and mighty.

I must confess, before I go to a reading or lecture I do pray for a large group of people. But--far more valuable--I pray "let it be the right group of people." In my experience so far, that has always been the case. I'd rather have people come who are truly touched by my work, who stay afterward to converse, who get excited about poetry or perhaps their own creative projects (and I'm certainly happy when they buy my chapbook, too!)--than people who will simply be bodies in seats.

It's been a season for me of enthusiastic rejections: editors who take the time to write me individually to say they liked my work, even though they're not going to publish it. I had one editor tell me that a story of mine made the short-list, that it was "totally publishable," but it just didn't fit with the overall collection that emerged. I've compiled literary magazines before--I certainly understand that. And I truly do appreciate their comments. But--it would be nice to open up my inbox and read, "I really liked your work AND I'd like to publish it." I keep hoping, every day.

Just when I was starting to get particularly frustrated, I talked with a friend I'd known since high school. I was looking for poems on the theme of giving thanks, and she said "what about the one you wrote for me in high school?" I'd forgotten about it, but as she read it to me, I remembered crafting every line. We both nearly cried at the end. She reads it regularly. "I suppose it doesn't have anything to do with giving thanks," she said when she finished. "But it makes me grateful."

That set me straight. It's easy to forget how things take on a life of their own. This poem, read in a magazine, that act of kindness...we don't get to know how others we respond. Goodness knows there are stories I remember years after having read them, but I've never let the author know that.

I do keep hoping and praying for more readers, and I'm sure I always will. But I am so grateful for the ones I have, for the way people take a poem and make it their own. Art is a joy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Here's one of the poems I'll be reading tomorrow at LOLA. I used to keep a copy of it on my desk at work.

i thank You God for most this amazing
by e e cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review of Scarlet

The first thing you notice about Scarlet is the language. Ms. Gaughen has invented her own rough-streets dialect for Will Scarlet that gets in your head and promises to stay there all day. The language slows the reader down just enough, inviting us to settle ourselves into her version of the Robin Hood story. And the key character here is Will Scarlet, though here the "Will" part is just for show, and the nickname "Scar" is both literally and figuratively applicable. Scarlet is  a girl, taken in by Robin Hood two years prior to the start of the story, when he caught her trying to steal from him in London. She's the little band of four's best thief. She's one of the guys, more brass in her language than any of them, just to prove that she can take care of herself. But Guy of Gisbourne is coming to town, and he knows a secret from her past that could threaten everything she has worked so hard to forget.

I love the Robin Hood story in nearly all of its forms. Ms. Gaughen's imagination of it is familiar yet original enough to help us fall in love with the characters yet again.  Rough-around-the-edges charmer Little John feels like someone I could know, and Rob is, as always, the kind of guy every girl has a crush on. Scar's got demons of her own that we discover slowly, and of course there's the action and romantic tension that keeps us turning pages.

Yes, there is a bit of characters running surprisingly long distances through the woods while injured, fueled by perhaps limited amounts of food. It was my one complaint in the story; then again, action movies often suffer from the same. So you chalk it up to adrenaline/suspend your disbelief, and just settle into this wonderful story, which just begs a sequel...

Friday, November 9, 2012

a lovely little stumble-upon

In preparing for my reading next week, I was happy to stumble across this lovely collection of "Poetry for a Grateful Living." Check out

Thursday, November 8, 2012

upcoming reading at LOLA

If you're reading this in the northwoods area, please join me at my poetry reading next Thursday. LOLA has a fantastic reading space lined with beautiful original artwork made throughout the area.



Emily K. Bright, Poet

“Giving Thanks”
An afternoon of original poetry and old favorites.
Thursday, November 15
4:30 – 5:30 P.M.

LOLA Center for the Arts
4262 County Road B
Downtown Land O’ Lakes
Light refreshment will be served.
For more information call, 715.547.3950

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I won't quit my day job

Pepper #2 (out of three plants). Several times larger than the last. Did I mention that it's from a green bell pepper plant? And bitter? I tried. I took enormous pleasure in watching them grow. But the aphids won in the end, and I have no lady bugs living in my house to counter them. So, now the plant is in the compost pile. (I suppose that means the aphids lost....poor aphids. It's snowing today.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You know you live in Northern Wisconsin when

"If I had free Packer tickets [for a weekend during hunting season], I wouldn't use them. That's how much I love hunting."

Yup, you can't get much more North-Wisconsonian than that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mommy loves me, and I love her too

So many YA novels feature protagonists who are rather cut off from others. They might have one best friend (two, max) with whom they share everything. Often they are alone, with their best friend having recently moved away. These characters speak to that common feeling of isolation and longing for connection that everyone feels.

And, let's face it, it's easier to write a smaller cast of characters.

That's something that strikes me about John Green's Paper Towns, although you also see it somewhat in An Abundance of Katherines: the characters have a whole group of friends. Quentin in Paper Towns has his two best buds, but there's a group beyond that, and Margo has her group. I like that. I like that Q is pretty well grounded and solid in his friends. (He even makes a joke about it--both his parents are psychologists, "which means I am very well adjusted.")

The tendency among writers is so often to put their students into troubled home lives. No parental support, they reason, means that no parents are making decisions for their teens--the teens are the driving force in the action. They have to be in YA. (Confession: my main character lives in an orphanage, so I am not above my own accusations, though in my defense the seed for my story was the location.) I went to a YA-writers conference in which nearly every group, when brainstorming the familial structure for a fictional character, decided that the mom was dead. Seriously?

It's nice to read books in which the main character has a stable family. Parents get along with each other and their kids, they just leave their kids enough space to have adventures on their own. Thanks, John Green.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

paper towns

They say Nabokov wrote down ideas for stories on little cards: an interesting character, a conflict, an image that struck his attention--whatever. And then when he wanted to write, he sat down and dealt himself a story.

I always find it interesting to imagine what the seed of a book or poem must have been. Of course, there's no way to know what came first, and what the writer stumbled into later. But I imagine that John Green's cards, dealt out for Paper Towns, could look like this:

  • a runaway girl
  • paper towns (fictional towns that mapmakers invented as copyright traps--if the town showed up on someone else's map, they'd know it was copied.)
  • Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"
  • classic high school experiences: prom, graduation, and a road trip