Julia Donaldson: Smile at the Camera!

Take a sip of milk and nibble on a cookie. Today we’re sharing a poem from Julia Donaldson’s Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum (Macmillan, 2004).

Are you ready? Look up at the camera and say “cheese!”

Art from CMM by Nick Sharratt.
by Julia Donaldson

Everyone's smiling, grinning, beaming,
Even Clare Biggs who was really scheming
How she was going to get revenge
On her ex-best friend, Selina Penge
(front row, third left, with hair in wisps)
For stealing her salt and vinegar crisps.

And Martin Layton-Smith is beaming,
Though he was almost certainly dreaming
Of warlock warriors in dripping caves
Sending mindless orcs to their gruesome graves.
(Next to him, Christopher Jordan's dream
Has something to do with a football team.)

And Ann-Marie Struthers is sort of beaming,
Though a minute ago her eyes were streaming
Because she'd been put in the second back row
And separated from Jennifer Snow.
And Jennifer Snow is beaming too,
Though Miss Bell wouldn't let her go to the loo.

And Miss Bell, yes even Miss Bell is beaming,
Though only just now we'd heard her screaming
At the boy beside her, Robert Black,
Who kept on peeling his eyelids back
And making a silly hooting noise
(Though he said that was one of the other boys).

Eve Rice is doing her best at beaming.
Yes, Eve is reasonably cheerful-seeming,
Though I think she was jealous because Ruth Chubb
Had -- at last! -- let me into their special club.
(In order to join the club, said Ruth,
You had to have lost at least one tooth.)

And look, that's me, and my teeth are gleaming
Around my new gap; yes, I'm really beaming.

~ copyright © 2004 Julia Donaldson (Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, published by Macmillan).


~ from Class Picture Day by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon (2011).

Class pictures are a lot of fun. As the poem describes, there are interesting stories behind those seemingly innocent smiles.

It’s actually kind of miraculous to see a school photo where everyone is behaving themselves. Sometimes there’s a kid who makes a face right as the camera clicks, another who decides to call out something at the last minute – hence an open mouth – or another who blinks. Those who photograph children have to be extra patient; being able to bring out the best in one’s subjects is a true talent.

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love is in the air

Just for you: A perfect evocation of love in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. ♥️

“Les Amoureux” by Marc Chagall (1928).
by William Jay Smith

Now touch the air softly, step gently, one, two …
I’ll love you ’til roses are robin’s egg blue;
I’ll love you ’til gravel is eaten for bread,
And lemons are orange, and lavender’s red.

Now touch the air softly, swing gently the broom.
I’ll love you ’til windows are all of a room;
And the table is laid, And the table is bare,
And the ceiling reposes on bottomless air.

I’ll love you ’til heaven rips the stars from his coat,
And the moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat;
And Orion steps down like a river below,
And earth is ablaze, and oceans aglow.

So touch the air softly, and swing the broom high.
We will dust the grey mountains, and sweep the blue sky:
And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plough,
As however is ever, and ever is now.

~ from The Girl in Glass: Love Poems (Books & Co., 2002)


“Lovers with Daisies,” by Marc Chagall (1949-59).

I was totally enchanted by every word of this lyrical gem, which is alternately titled “A Pavane for the Nursery.” Something about, ‘step gently, one, two’ struck me as an ingenuous invitation to delight.

This poem has been set to music by several composers, is a popular choral piece, and is often sung or recited at weddings.

A former U.S. Poet Laureate, William Jay Smith once said, “Great poetry must have its own distinctive music; it must resound with the music of the human psyche,” and this poem certainly bears that out.

Smith favored traditional poetic styles to free verse, hence his use of a rhymed metrical-stanzaic structure here. His pronouncements are charming as well as disarming despite the formal style. Who can resist “the moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat,” or “we will dust the grey mountains and sweep the blue sky”?

“La Promenade,” by Marc Chagall (1918).

Brooms are symbols of good luck, as they can be used to “sweep away” evil spirits or bad fortune. According to an old Welsh custom, newlyweds should enter their new home by stepping over a broom so luck will follow them. Similarly, if a bride and groom jump over a broom during their marriage ceremony, good luck and fortune will flourish in their union.

Upon reading this poem, I thought immediately of Marc Chagall. After all, he’s considered “the ultimate painter of love.” He masterfully captured the euphoria of love with his levitating lovers, who blissfully float on air, defying gravity, soaring beyond earthly realms as one. 

“Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower,” by Marc Chagall (1938-39).

His wife Bella was not only the love of his life, but the muse who inspired his best work. He said, “Is it not true that painting and color are inspired by love? In art, as in life, all is possible when conceived in love.”

I thought Chagall’s flying lovers a good match for Smith’s poem, for it is the life-sustaining purity of air that blesses those united in love, enfolding them in their own universe.

“Birthday” by Marc Chagall (1924).

After listening to several renditions of this poem put to music, I decided my favorite is by Minnesota folk musician Peter Mayer. His crisp, warm, fluid acoustic treatment is perfection.



The lovely and talented Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend and watch out for cupid’s arrows next week. 🙂

Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Chatting with Andrea Potos about Her Joy Becomes

“The hurt you embrace becomes joy.” ~ Rumi

I’m happy to welcome Wisconsin poet Andrea Potos back today to answer a few questions about her latest book, Her Joy Becomes (Fernwood Press, 2022).

Just as Keats once wrote, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” Andrea writes, “nothing of beauty is ever wasted.” 

Embracing beauty and choosing joy, even in the face of loss and despair, are prevailing themes. Safe to say, each fully realized lyrical gem in this collection is a thing of beauty. Andrea’s prologue:


As you begin, look just slant,
the same way one should not look directly
into the sun's gaze.
Graze with your consciousness,
keeping your hands nimble, your reach a fluency
of light as words begin to sift
and fall and settle where they
know they belong.

A thread of female kinship and connection is woven throughout the book, whether familial (grandmother, mother, daughter), or literary (Dickinson, Alcott, Brontës, Dorothy Wordsworth). Loved ones deeply missed as well as writers who came before inhabit introspective “rooms of thought,” informing Andrea’s poetic sensibility, igniting her imagination. 

As a sentient witness of life’s ordinary miracles, she finds magic in an iridescent soap bubble and revels in freshly washed laundry flapping on the line (“releasing their music of fabric to the air”). She experiences unexpected epiphanies as peonies bloom and a lone cardinal sings of her late mother’s loving divinity.

Intimate and accessible, these poems quietly resonate. Are you turning into your mother? Remember the thrill of new patent leather Mary Janes or the heyday of Laura Ashley dresses? Like prayer, attentiveness, and humility, taking joy is a practice worth cultivating. Moreover, poetry heals, gently guiding us on the path towards wholeness.

Here’s the lovely opening poem:

Andrea’s daughter Lexi

Another early morning
in front of the bathroom mirror --
my daughter making faces
at herself while I pull
back her long brown hair,
gathering the breadth and shine
in my hands, brushing
and smoothing before weaving
the braid she will wear
to school for the day.
Afterward, stray strands
nestle in the brush, and because
nothing of beauty is ever wasted,
I pull them out,
stand on the porch and let them fly.


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dream job: poet or engineer?

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, London.
by Wendy Cope

'Why isn't there an Engineers' Corner in Westminster Abbey? In Britain we've always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint . . . How many schoolchildren dream of becoming great engineers?' ~ Advertisement placed in The Times by the Engineering Council

We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints --
That's why so many poets end up rich,
While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?

Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
Has got it made. It's always been the way,
For everybody knows that we need poems
And everybody reads them every day.

Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering --
You're sure to need another job as well;
You'll have to plan your projects in the evenings
Instead of going out. It must be hell.

While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimlers,
You'll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
With no hope of a status in the Abbey,
With no hope, even, of a modest bust.

No wonder small boys dream of writing couplets
And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train.
There's far too much encouragement of poets --
That's why this country's going down the drain.

~ from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Faber & Faber, 1986)

Poets’ Corner (South Transept), Westminster Abbey, London.


I always enjoy Wendy Cope’s wit and humor, but when she discusses engineers and poets, it really hits home. 

Talk about satire and irony. I’ve been married to an engineer for over 40 years and he’s never frequented “cheerless garrets,” nor has he had to “burn the midnight oil to earn a crust.” These scenarios are more in line with my own experience. 🙂

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“Hedonist’s List of Desert Island Essentials” by Vivien Steels

“Hawaii Retreat with Palm Trees, Sunset” via Beyond Dream Art.

It’s always fun to play with the “stranded on a desert island” trope: what item, other than food and water, would you take/most like to have with you?

Before the age of laptops and smart phones, people cited favorite books, or maybe a diary or radio. It’s quite a challenge to figure out exactly what physical possession you just couldn’t live without.

But what if the opposite were true: that you could be on that island with anything your heart desires (no limit with regard to quantity or practicality)? Say the word, and it’s yours.

British poet and artist Vivien Steels has come up with quite a provocative scenario.


“Hot Chocolate” by Brett Humphries (oil on board, 2020).
by Vivien Steels

Blue iceberg from Arctic shores
melting into cool, mountain streams.
Chocolate Emporium effusing cocoa --
door always open, shelves always filled.
Cooking pot permanently flame-hot
to bubble water within its depths for
Chinese Jasmine-scented tea,
fragrance rising in coils of steam.
Tent, the size of small bungalow,
with bathroom 'en suite' included.
Bombay Curry House,
waiters and cooks ever-ready
to conjure spiced masterpieces
served on white plates.
Library, walls resplendent with books,
superb poetry section --
no overdue charges.
Softest duvet fattened with duck down,
hammock fittings to lasso two palm trees
under indigo sky christened with stars.

~ This poem first appeared in 21st Century Poetry (October 2001).
“Significance” by Elena Tuncer (oil on canvas).


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