Growing the poet-tree

Anticipating autumn’s arrival, our library’s first poet-in-residence, Dara-Lyn Shrager, recently taught some eager families about poetic forms in a weekend workshop. The purpose was to learn, have fun, and prepare for an art installation for which original poems are written by community members and hung on colorful paper leaves to form a “poet-tree.” The poet-tree, located next to the Welcome Desk on the first floor, reverses nature’s fall seasonal progression, starting off bare and filling with leaves throughout November. We’d love to see the branches bursting with poems and invite you to add your own contribution. Pick up a paper leaf at either the Welcome or Youth Services Desk and unleash the poet within. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Remember, this is meant to be fun and voluntary, not a school or work assignment.
  • Any kind of poem is welcome. (And, anyone can write a poem!)
  • Be creative! Add pictures or illustrations to your poem-on-a-leaf. Use both sides of the leaf for two poems or a poem and a drawing. (Hint: practice first to save leaves!)
  • Return your leaf back to either the Youth Services or Welcome Desk. We add leaves on the poet-tree weekly.

From our family workshop, here are some poetic forms you can try out:

  • In Acrostic poems, the first letters of each line are aligned vertically to form a word. The word often is the subject of the poem.

Elegantly and efficiently shaped
Good to eat
Great fun to find at Easter

  • An elegy is a poem of mourning; this is often the poet mourning one person, but the definition also includes Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” which mourns all the occupants of that churchyard, and looks into the future to mourn the poet’s own death. In Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Lament, a mother attempts consolation and offers advice to her mourning family on their father’s death.


Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 – 1950. Originally published in Second April (J. J. Little and Ives Co., 1921), this poem is in the public domain.

  • Epistle (pronounced e-PISS-ul) is a poetic form that dates back to ancient Rome and to the Bible. It is a poem written in the form of a letter. The term epistle comes from the Latin word epistola, which means letter. Epistle was used to express love, philosophy, religion and morality. In To Helen About Her Hair the title forms the “letter” part of the poem.

To Helen About Her Hair

Your hair is long and wonderful;
It is dark, with golden
Lights in the length of it.

Long, lovely, liquid, glorious
Is your hair, and lustrous,
Scented with summertime.

Beware when you are combing it,
In the nights and mornings,
Shaking its splendor out.

I bid you comb it carefully,
For my soul is caught there,
Wound in the web of it.

Robinson Jeffers, 1887 – 1962, this poem is in the public domain.

  • Haiku is a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world. As a rule, each haiku must have a kigo (a word connoting a season). The kigo is a reflection of the Japanese people’s sensitivity to the changing seasons, love of nature and respect for form. Did you know that the California State Library houses the American Haiku Archives ? Lots of haiku ideas from this collection are also found on Pinterest.
  • Poetic Fragment is simply part of a poem. The modernist poets reinvented the fragment as an acutely self-conscious mode of writing that breaks the flow of time, leaving gaps and tears, lacunae. See the Twitter Gmorning and Gnight poems from @Lin_Manuel Miranda. Get a few samples of distilled inspiration if you don’t follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter.
  • Quatrains are short rhyming poems made up of four lines. The rhyming pattern can be AABB or ABAB. You can string 2 or more quatrains together to create longer poems. Want to learn more? The Poetry Foundation explains it all, with links to examples.

Still need inspiration? Opportunities are everywhere once you start to think in “poetry.” Look around at the autumn scenes in town. Capture your feelings about whatever occupies your thoughts in a moment with some descriptive words. React to a news story. Write an epistle. Play with letters and objects for an acrostic. Daily inspiration waits when you join the Poem A Day digital collection and receive a new poem each day (with classic poems on weekends) from the Academy of American Poets. If you like to listen, you can find daily audio versions on the website or use playlists for these daily poetry readings.

Help us fill the poet-tree!

(Photos courtesy of the author.)

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