Acrostic Name Poems for My Students

The Color Scheme of Rainbows

Rainbows show primary colors
Observed by average eyes
But it takes a keen spark of
Insight to catch the colors in between
Naturally, Robin's eyes never miss a scheme.

From 2006 to 2011 (possibly 2012) I volunteered as a creative writing facilitator with the non-profit organization Write Around Portland, in Portland, OR. It’s a wonderful organization that is still running today. It is an outreach program dedicated to bringing the power of writing to underprivileged and/or under-recognized communities (I’m over-simplifying and I recommend visiting their website). They partner with other organizations to provide participant focused creative writing workshops. The workshops run for 10 weeks and are two hours per-week.

Mount Hood, Portland, OR

Sophia Sings

Sanguine in every gesture
Off to the next adventure
Picking time like crisp fall apples
Her place is where she stands,
In the middle of the road or mountaintop, she sings
Arias of her young life, and her golden future.

In 2010, we partnered with an elementary/middle school and I led 5 middle school age girls in poetry and creative writing workshops. It has been 12 years since that workshop. I don’t remember the name of the school, nor do I remember the faces of the girls. By now all of them would be in their mid-20’s. Crazy to think about that. I do remember them though. I remember the pizza dinner that we had together after the workshop had ended. I remember Justin Bieber was having a concert in Portland, and the girls were all talking about it except one (possibly two were not interested in the Biebs). One of the girls, Robin I think, said, “I don’t like Justin Bieber.” I nodded my head, “Yeah,” I said, “I’m not a fan.” Then she said, “My dad took me to see OK Go. They’re my favorite.” That night after I said good-bye to the girls, who I would never see again, I went home and looked up OK Go.

Catch Life Like a Butterfly

So much time to grow
Another day passed
Many let these moments go
Allowing the seasons to fade
Never capturing the beauty
That life is offering, but not Samantha,
Her hands are like a butterfly catcher holding
A world, the whole world, in the cradle of her palms.

I wrote a post about the workshop back in 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

The thing I learned about middle school age is that when it comes to writing they love poetry. It’s like something happens as we get older and the poet is taught right out of us, but at 11, 12, and 13 we are still poets. And damn fine ones too. I’m not a teacher, I’m a facilitator, but if I am teaching them something, it is to believe in themselves. My goal is that each and every one of them leaves believing that they are writers.

Accidental Vagabond

I can’t remember exactly how many workshops I lead during the time I volunteered with Write Around Portland, but I do remember certain moments from the workshops. I remember a flicker of faces, moments, little events, and sometimes I remember their poems and writings. Generally though, I don’t remember their names. However, back in 2010 I wrote an acrostic name poem for each student, and I recently found them.

As a gift to them I put all of their poems into little packets and then using their names I wrote each one of them a poem. There are three things that I have done in all the poems. 1) the first letter in each sentence spells out their name, 2) I have at least one “big” word that they will have to look up if they want to know what it means 3) all the poems are about writing, about them being writers. I think my biggest criticism from the kids will be: “It isn’t realistic, how can a tree dance? or It doesn’t make sense.” I look forward to my critics.

A New Story is Like a Freshly Planted Tree

Fresh from the dark warm soil,
After the sun's rays, a young
Tree, a sapling, grows towards the stars.
Under the clouds it dances with the breeze to
Make friends with the birds and the sky, she is an
Aerialist somersaulting on the great horizon.

So, out of all those workshops, all those years ago I have five names, blurred young faces, a sweet memory at a pizzeria, and a band I still enjoy to listen to (and who have great music videos). I wonder if the girls still have their poems. I hope they are still writing.

A Blessing for Mary’s Writing

May letters, like the brightest marigolds,
Arrange themselves like fragrant language,
Replete with stories, tales and poetry:
Your poetry, your words, your tales, your voice.

Lines, Stanzas, and Sound, Focusing on the Craft of (re)Writing Poetry

In this draft of the working poem “A Slip of Pink Paper” (working title too) there are 13 stanzas.

3 Lines

Stanza 1, 10 and stanza 12.

6 Lines

Stanza 3, 5, and 7.

7 Lines

Stanza 4, 8, and 9.

Random Lines

Stanza 2 has four lines. Stanza 6 has nine lines. Stanza 10 has one line, stanza 13 has two lines.

Now that I have broken down the stanzas and the lines the big question is why? Not why did I count all the stanzas and lines, but why did I choose these line breaks? Right now the honest answer would be “a feeling“. I felt like that was where the breaks were for no rhyme or reason. No pun intended. And, if I’m being really honest with the work, there is no rhyme or reason to the stanzas or the line breaks, and that’s a problem. That is just one problem with the poem.

My Conundrum

Ideas come easy for me. I can pour out the words on a page like pouring a drink into a glass. I know for some people this is a real struggle. In fact, there are tons of sources out there with prompts set up to help writers, poets, or screenwriters to generate an idea. People need prompts to get them going, but fortunately I don’t need that. I don’t need an idea generator however, I do need help when it comes to everything else. I can splash paint onto a canvas, but what am I actually saying? I can also be as delusional as I want and tell myself it is amazing, a Work of Art ,and I can bust out as many writings as I can, post them up on instagram, publish my own book, dust the chalk off my hands, and call it a day. In one way it is kind of nice to be able to tell yourself you are naturally good at something, and ignore all “the haters” and the critics, or the silence. Yet, I don’t think it is about the outside voices. I think it is about your inner voice. My inner voice knows I am lazy when I just post some writing and call it a poem. I know I did not put in the work. I should be grateful for the idea because poets and writers work their asses off to craft a poem out of an idea they struggled to find. I am grateful, but it is disrespectful to the craft to not do the work. It’s like when you hike a mountain and reach the peak and see all the people who took the gondola lift. They smile and breath easy in their fancy clothes and non hiking shoes, taking pictures of the view that you worked so hard to see. This is okay of course sometimes you just want to take the gondola, but you shouldn’t pretend that you did the work, and you should understand that you missed some amazing beautiful things on the way up, and you may have learned something on the hike to make the next hike better and more beautiful. It’s cliché, I know, but the real reward is in the discoveries you make through the work. The reward is when you solved the problem, and the next time, you know more of what you are doing.

Yet, what if you don’t know what you’re doing? To keep with my current metaphor, what if you don’t know how to hike, or you’re out of shape? What if you don’t know what to pack, which way you’re going, how long it will take, which direction are you going, which path, to take? The conundrum comes after the words are on the page. Now what? How do I make it better?

I’m Not Going to Tell You What to Do

I’m not telling you what to do, but I can tell you what I am doing. I’m reading poems. I’ve heard from poetry classes in the past, and current things I’ve read that if you want to be a good poet, or improve your poetry, you need to read poetry. In the past I read a lot of poetry especially during my time as a literature student, oh so many years ago, but then I stopped. I needed to find a job. Writing wasn’t giving me money, and I didn’t think it would give me money; and money makes the world go round; and keeps food on the table; and the wolves from the door; and all the other idioms. Writing wasn’t going to do any of that for me. So, I stopped trying. I stopped trying to get better, but I didn’t stop writing completely. I did stop reading poetry though, and Netflix and Youtube became a greater part of my life. I think escapism is okay if you need a break, but if you’re unhappy because you aren’t doing what you dream, all escapism does is stop you from ever reaching your dreams. Netflix and other movie and show platforms can be a wonderful distraction from life and living, and so can Youtube, but Youtube can also be a great educational platform if used wisely. There is a lot you can find about writing poetry on Youtube, some good some bad, but you can find something. I happen to like Poetry Show and one one of the posts was a video called the Golden Rule. What is the golden rule of poetry? Read poetry. My own intuition verified via Youtube.

Reading Poems

I don’t have a lot of poetry books with me at the moment, but I do have a few. As I work on ” A Slip of Pink Paper” I’m reading Mary Oliver’s, Dog Songs. I bought the book for my husband because he loves dogs, and I happen to love Mary Oliver. She is a master of poetry and therefore a great poet to read. As I read beyond the enjoyment of the words, I am looking for her choices in line breaks and stanzas. I want to look for how she uses sounds from the words and language she chooses.

What I Have Done So Far

I’ve crossed a lot out. Don’t read, just look.

(1)Shoved deep into the bench seat
of an old Ford truck 
we found a kitten.

(2) The bench seat, like a black sofa,
leaned against the chicken coop.
We used to play house 
and pretend outside was our living room.

(3) It was dead, of course,
the kitten,
you can't stuff a body,
no matter how small,
between the stiff cushions 
of a Ford bench seat.

(4) Other animals had been found, recently
Cats, kittens, chickens, a mouse.
They said it was a coyote
or a fox
but how can an animal
stuff a kitten into an
abandoned black bench seat?

(5) There was that day when...
A porcupine attacked the dog.
The dog howled in screams
as men pulled her from the truck.
It wasn't a porcupine that killed the kitten.
This needed human hands.

(6) We ran home
to tell our mothers.
We climbed over split rail fences,
through dead and dying orchards.
across old rail tracks that once
transported swine, beef and grain,
but now the trains were ghosts
and the rails vanished into the

(7) We reached the farm house,
the white peeling paint revealing rot.
We'd lived there, but not long, two families without 
fathers, and many kids. Sometimes men
would visit. Some fathers. Some not. 
They'd bring beer.

(8) We were out of breath from running.
We heaved and pressed our palms against our knees.
Ma! we called. Ma! It's dead. 
A kitten! we called.
It was empty.
There were no mothers.
No fathers. no adults.

(9) Stapled to the door
A pink paper. Animal Abuse it said.
The animals were all gone.
The dog with the porcupine quills.
The cat missing kittens.
The puppies. The chickens.
All gone.

(10) A dust kicked up around our tired feet.
The pink paper waved in the breeze 
the tape held it to the door.

(11) A car was approaching from the distance.

(12) They would take us next
put us in foster homes
send us to strangers.

(13) Soon we forgot all
about the kitten.

I focused on the sound of the words. For example: I pulled out words that ended in “d” began with “d”. Died, down, found, abandoned. Peeling, revealing, pull, small, adult. Consonants and vowels. What did these collections of sounds do. What does shock sound like? How about surprise? Fear? Discovery? Swimming? Laughing?Then I took out all of the words and started over with the same idea, but told in a new way.

The Work in Progress

In its current form the poem is now ten stanzas, but the structure is still in the works. I’m happier with the language, but I have yet to find the shape. This is what I have so far:

Dust swirled about our bare feet 
as we kicked heels against
 the abandoned ford bench seat.

The chicken coop, empty of chicks, 
and large enough to be a playhouse was our living room, 
the dying orchard our t.v.

Through dry trees and sun-cured leaves
Beyond a battered split rail fence
We could see the once white house.

The line breaks and the stanzas are merely place markers at this point, but already I like the language better. I will change the title, once again, as I have removed all references to the pink slip.

One Last Note

It takes a lot of time and thought. It takes some pacing, some frustration, some thinking its going nowhere, but I’ll keep working, and one day it will tell me what it is really trying to say, and then hopefully you can hear it too.

Joyce Johnson: Let’s Dance to A Female Beat

When I first created this blog I had also created a couple of pages that I devoted to literary time periods that inspire and influence me. In particularly I wanted to highlight people from those periods that are often neglected in the tombs of praise. I had been feeling for quiet some time that I wanted to elaborate on those people whose names I wrote on those pages: Good Poetry- The Beat Women and The Harlem Renaissance. This blog is ultimately about poetry and poets, and my own play with poetry, but since I’m focusing on movements, I will also dedicate some time to non-poets too. 

I decided to create a series of essays or articles on each of the people listed on the pages elaborating on their lives as writers or artists. I also want to follow with a second essay on why that writer was important to me personally. I’m starting my series off with Joyce Johnson a writer from the second generation of Beat Writers. I hope you’ll enjoy the exploration with me. 



Joyce Johnson is probably best known for her 1983 memoir, Minor Characters, in which she writes about her brief, but significant, two year relationship with writer and poet Jack Kerouac, during 1957 and 1958.

In 2012 she published a third book with Kerouac as the subject; The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, this time a biography. The focus of this biography is on his life experiences, upbringing, and the detailed practices and habits that lead to his writing style that created, not the man Kerouac, but Kerouac the writer. Although, she has written three books on Kerouac: one a memoir, one a collection of letters they wrote to each other, and one a biography, Jack Kerouac is not the sum of all her writing.

Young Joyce Glassman, as was her name before her marriage to Jim Johnson, was with Jack Kerouac on the evening of 1957 when together they read the New York times review of On the Road. The review that was to change Jack’s life forever. This moment was a turning point in the world of literature and defining moment for a generation without a name. The point that took a normal guy who had been palling around with his quirky friends writing and “experiencing life” all hoping for that great work, but never knowing or realizing that he and they would be rocketed into a fame or infamy, depending on how you view it. But, more than his lover and more than the “woman who was with him on the night he became famous”, Joyce should be remembered as what she was, and that is a writer of the Beat Generation. She is from the second generation of beat writers and artists. If there are  beat enthusiasts and purists who only view her as a chronicler of the Beats and their time, that is fine because it is still a valuable contribution to a time period; if not essential. Only having one perspective does not allow us the richness or a history of a time. Yet, Johnson was more than just a chronicler of the men of the beat era. She gives us a view into the world of women (mainly white women) during the 1950’s. Women who did not want to follow in the footsteps of their mothers, women who wanted to be more than the confines of their gender, confines that were created by the society in which they were raised.

When I was at college in the early 1950s, we didn’t have much liking for the period we were in.

Joyce wrote in her 1994 forward of the 1994 edition of her book Minor Characters.

In the late 1950s, young women-not very many at first—once again left their homes rather violently. They too came from nice families, and their parents could never understand why the daughters they had raised so carefully suddenly chose precarious lives. A girl was expected to stay under her parents’ roof until she married, even if she worked a year or so as a secretary, got a little taste of the world that way, but not too much. Experience, adventure— these were not for young women…  Those of us who flew out the door had no usable models for what we were doing. We did not want to be our mothers or our spinster schoolteachers or the hardboiled career women depicted on screen…  If you want to understand Beat women, call us transitional— a bridge to the next generation…

Before Joyce ever met Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsburg she was already living a “Beat” life. Raised in New York city, at the age of eight her parents moved to Manhattan on West 116th street. Their apartment was around the corner from where William and Joan Vollmer Burroughs had lived, and where years before they had hosted many gatherings and parties for the young Kerouac, Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, Lucien Carr and other friends both males and females. You can portend it was some kismet coming together a serendipitous connection of place or you can call it New York city, but unbeknownst to little Joyce and her parents she would know some of these apartment dwellers for better and for worse. It wasn’t some romantic influence of their neighborly association that influenced Joyce Glassman. Joyce was too young to know the Burroughs, and most likely they were not passing on the street as Joyce would only have been eleven years old at the time. It was Joyce’s own curiosities and drives that would compel her to defy her parents and sneak down to Washington square to watch the street artists and musicians. It was her own distaste with the conformities of identity put upon her as a girl. It was Joyce who decided to have an affair with one of her professors, it was Joyce who took a risk by having sex and ended up getting pregnant, and it was Joyce who decided to have an abortion. It was Joyce’s decision to drop out of school, to live on her own, and to find her own path. And, it was Joyce who wanted to be a writer, and who decided in 1955 to write a book called Come and Join the Dance; all of this was before ever being introduced to anyone that was called a Beat. There were no beats at the time, only restless people who did not want to conform to their society, and who wanted to feel free to live and experience life as they wanted- not icons, but normal people with a passion that many humans experience.

Joyce began writing Come and Join the Dance in 1955 while she was working as an editor at various agencies in New York. It was her dear friend Elise Cowen who she met at Bernard College that introduced her to Allen Ginsburg. It was Allen that thought Joyce would be a good match for Jack, who was returning from a hiatus in Florida, and it was Allen who set up the blind date which became the one of the main the subjects in Joyce’s memoir, Minor Characters. If you read Minor Characters and only focus on the relationship of Jack and Joyce than you’d be missing the essence of the book and playing into the ironic title. Jack Kerouac doesn’t enter the text until a quarter through the book. He is mentioned as an entity as a being that we the readers will anticipate, but his actual arrival is not until a hundred and twenty-eight pages in. The truly compelling character in the story, prior to Jack and Joyce’s first date, and after, is Elise Cowen. It is Elise who is in the shadows in the background unintentionally directing all of the interactions of these people who will become icons and muses, majors and minors in the world of literature and art; the projections of fantasies of later generations who wished they could have been there too. Like Joan Vollmer before her, Elise’s obsessional love toward a man who did not and could not want her, she was the string that tied them all together.

One can easily claim that Jack Kerouac did not intend nor want to be famous. It is also easy to claim that Joyce Johnson and other women from the time period are only riding on the coattails of that unwanted fame, but to do that is to ignore the quality of the actual writing. Joyce Johnson’s contribution is fundamental to the generation as are the other women from that time period. They give us different perspectives on what was happening, and it is only the current generations’ identities that place the labels and the judgments. Minor Characters was initially read and became popular because people were interested in knowing more about Jack Kerouac, but it did not win the 1983 National Book Critics Award or the 1987 O. Henry Award because of Jack Kerouac, It was Joyce Johnson’s who won the awards because of the writing, because it is an interesting and well written memoir. She wrote the book not Kerouac. She wrote before this book was published, and she continued to write after it was published. She did not emulate Kerouac’s writing or the writing of the other men from that time period she wrote in her own voice, and on her own terms.

To be “beat” to be beatific was to be free. A group of individuals who did not want to buy into the new consumerism and cliche that was postwar America; people who wanted something else something not provided by the illusion of the American dream. Joyce Johnson had that individualism innately within her and she was willing to risk the same (if not more) consequences as men that would come with attempting to live her own life the way she wanted- freely and without conformity. As Amiri Baraka said:

The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked.*

This desire would not end with the beat generation, as evident that it continues on today as it has in earlier societies and time periods. We all stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, and one gender, sexuality or race should not be the judicial bases of the quality of a work art or literature, those categories should only be viewed as another perspective. The quality stands on it’s own regardless of who or what brought it to us.

The women and people of color who contributed to the beat generation may be considered the Minor Characters to the great generational play written by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William Burroughs, but as Gregory Corso said:

“Three writers does not a generation make”.*

Joyce Johnson was a Beat Writer from the Beat Generation and what she brought to the era and the generation is a perspective of dimension in a world that was already dynamic, and that is beatific.

Joyce Johnson’s work:


Come and Join the Dance, 1962
Minor Characters, 1983
In the Night Cafe, 1987
What Lisa New: The Truth and Lies of the Steinberg Case, 1989
Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 2000
Missing Men, 2004
The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac


The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse
Blues People: Negro Music in White America By LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)
Revolution for the Hell of It by Abbie Hoffman
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic

*What is Beat?

Patti Smith’s Woolgathering

I just finished reading Woolgathering by Patti Smith. A tiny little pocket book more poetry than prose, and all truth. It’s a beautiful journey through bits of her childhood. She gently guides us into her childhood mind, and into her childhood world, and it is a lovely journey that I highly recommend.

I always imagined I would write a book, if only a small one, that would carry one away, into a realm that could not be measured nor even remembered.

I imagined a lot of things. That I would shine. That I’d be good. I’d dwell bareheaded on a summit turning a wheel that would turn the earth and undetected, amongst the clouds, I would have some influence; be of some avail.

-Patti Smith, Woolgathering

Don’t you want to write a little book? Don’t you want to be good? Go out and be amongst the clouds and help turn our precious earth. Go Shine.

Enjoy some words of advice from Patti.