Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 3, 2016

Poetry Camp

I doubt there’s a poet for children alive who isn’t in awe of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, the creative team behind Pomelo Books and other wonders. Pair them with the also-dazzling Nancy Johnson and Sylvia Tag of Western Washington University, and you get a new phenomenon called Poetry Camp. In a grand library on a campus with sidewalks lined with blooming lavender and holly and a view of the bay, about three dozen poets who have work included in the Poetry Friday anthologies gave and attended workshops on writing, teaching, and performing a favorite genre. We learned about publishing and promoting, and led by Julie Larios, who challenged us with structures and some surrealist strategies, drafted some new poetry.


We also enjoyed freewheeling exchanges over breakfasts or dinners, in hallways and carpools. On Friday morning, I followed poet Eric Ode under a campfire-marshmallow arbor made by friendly WWU students to a room where we had a lively discussion about the different pleasures of poetry on the page or on the platform, to borrow Donald Hall’s phrasing. Should we ask all students to read their work aloud? Are we in danger of them limiting what they might say, taking away a safe space for silent thoughts, or empowering them, asking them not to hide? There was some debate between those who love the white space between lines on paper and those who crave the feel of well-chosen words in their mouths. We clapped or finger-tapped while discussing meter and the place for scanning in the classroom, which most agreed was when a student wants to know about it — when they ask – and that rhythmically tapping the table is more important than the Latin words naming the beats. We want a bit of song, but some also praised visual art and movement as inspiration, too.

Julie Larios (I think!) reminded us that Ezra Pound says a poem needs music, image, and intellect, and a loss of one may hurt the whole. Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook added that teens may think poetry is all or primarily feeling, and they generously shared some techniques for how to encourage self-involved teens to expand their horizons, tell a story within a poem, and develop craft.


Here are some of the lovers of arcs and poetry in a longer form we generally call verse novels – though we had some discussion re that, too! Stephanie Hemphill, me, Lorie Ann Grover, Nikki Grimes, Kathi Appelt, and Holly Thompson.



I look forward to reading Nancy Bo Flood’s latest novel, Soldier Sister, Fly Home, and was happy to meet Kathi Appelt and tell her how much I admire her work in general and her newest novel in particular. Someone called Maybe a Fox sad, but I call it transcendent. Sorrow is there, but it’s part of the path to a wider world, which includes forging connections between beings who live in houses and those who live beneath trees.

While Friday was devoted to more to sharing ideas between ourselves, the public was invited to join us on Saturday, though the roles of poet, poetry-lover, and teacher often overlapped. After great workshops and lectures that included many poetic voices, camp moved toward its close with a lively and moving presentation by Jack Prelutsky, who made children giggle and warmed all our hearts – while performing poets took note of his exquisite sense of timing.

Back home now, I remain happy to have met people I knew before only online or through their work. And happy to have spent a bit of time with people I’ve met but rarely see. Here I’m with Doraine BennettApril Halprin Wayland, Robyn Hood Black, and Irene Latham.


I made my way back across the country with new friends, a heavier-with-books bag, and a list of more volumes to find and read. Who could ask for more?


  1. This sounds like such fun, Jeanine – loved the smiles on everyone’s faces!

    • Yes, went home with full hearts and aching jaws from all the smiles, but that passes! I hope your weekend was also creative. If I hadn’t been across the country, I would have tried to lure you closer — even if it was just for a quick hug near the highway! I hope you found calm and inspiration in Maine!

  2. Lovely blog post and wonderful to meet you in person, Jeannine! I was always your fan, but I hope I’m a friend now too!

    • I loved spending a bit of time with you, and am so happy to be your friend!

  3. Great post! It was fantastic to meet you at Poetry Camp. Thanks for sharing.

    • I loved meeting you, too. Hope you are still glowing.

  4. Thanks for the summary, Jeannine. Sounds like a wonderful time was had by all!

    • Children’s poets seem to be pretty universally great people. It was special to have many in one room for a while.

  5. How absolutely splendid!!

  6. Loved hearing of this adventure! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wonderful recap!!

    • And of course also fun to swoon about Poetry Friends friends like you.

  8. We were honored to host Poetry Camp, meeting new poets and creating new friends. Please come back and visit us again.

    • Thank you, Nancy. Your love for poetry was clear, and you made hosting seem effortless, though clearly there was much, much work behind that. So appreciated!

  9. While most of us were talking (and talking and talking)(and talking), I noticed you diligently taking notes (and listening). Thank goodness for that, Jeannine! All your smart listening comes through in this thoughtful and comprehensive summary. You have a gift for making history (even just “last weekend’s history”) feel right here and now!

    • I’m sure I did my share of talking, but, yes, I like to listen and reflect. I love how you bring something to every moment. One of my final memories of you is at the van, holding up bottles of water, bags of almonds, and granola bars, talking about how we sell poetry like this, too, one treat or book at a time. Thanks for all!

      • “Poetry FRIDAY! Get your Poetry F-R-I-DAY HERE!”

  10. Love reading everyone’s posts and reliving the fun of Poetry Camp. Hoping it will become a regular event. It’s nice to have something on the West coast.

    • Yes, the weekend was great. And what a beautiful coast! I only wish I could have seen a bit more of the water and mountains.

  11. Love reading your beautiful wrap up of the week. I still want to have that conversation we missed. It might entail a phone call! So wonderful to see you.

    • Yes — there is a thing with an actual cord in our home which seems rarely used for conversation these days. Just let me know! Lovely seeing you, too!

  12. Thank you so much for this recap! I’m inspired just hearing about it!

    • It was inspiring, and I’m glad some brushed off on you!

  13. Great wrap-up, Jeannine! It was a magical weekend. Thanks for your diligence in scribing some of the collective & individual bits of wisdom here!

    • So good to see you and thank you for making some of the magic. We sat down to write poems under your confident guidance, all starting with moans about being tired after a long day and travel, and let feeling energized by all the poems and kindness and art around us. You are amazing! And I think of you each time I put on my perfect earrings — so creative and thoughtful!

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