Chatting with Andrea Potos about Arrows of Light

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” ~ John Keats (Endymion, 1818)

Andrea at the Promega Employee Art Fair (Madison, Wisconsin, 2018)


The first poem in Andrea Potos’s chapbook Arrows of Light begins like this:

The lake is a blue scarf ironed
by stillness, locust leaves burnt
yellow, everywhere, softness
in September air.

Her exquisite metaphor took my breath away as I envisioned the tranquil autumn scene. Potos next quotes Keats:

The first thing that strikes me on hearing
a misfortune having befalled another is:
Well it cannot be helped — he will have
the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit

Miles away, Andrea’s mother is undergoing cancer radiation treatment. The doctor “will aim one perfect arrow of light in the errant spot that would claim her if it had its way . . . ”


This poignant opening poem, “Morning of My 56th Birthday,” sets the stage for 25 other luminous and poignant ruminations about beauty, light, loss and grief. With her mother’s decline, each precious moment is amplified, bringing intense clarity and love.

Even as Andrea grieves, she celebrates life. Light and dark, joy and sorrow, flip sides of the same coin. She juxtaposes these two elements with extended metaphors of blue and gold: the blues of lake, sea, twilight, flowers, sadness; the golds of autumn, sunlight, Van Gogh, and radiant childhood memories.

“Grief, he told her, is the exhale of love (the ache of breathing) . . . “

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2018 National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events Roundup

Happy April and Happy National Poetry Month!

It’s time once again to read, write, share, and simply indulge your love for poetry in every way.

Need some ideas? Visit for the full scoop on how you can participate, including 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month, Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 26, 2018), Poem-a-Day, and especially for students and teachers, the Dear Poet Project. Check the state-by-state listings to find poetry-related events near you.

Now, here’s a list of what some kidlit bloggers are doing. If you’re also celebrating Poetry Month with a special project or blog event, or know of anyone else who is, please leave a comment here or email me: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, so I can add the information to this Roundup. Thanks, and have a beautiful, inspiring, uplifting, productive, and memorable April!



🌺 Hooray, it’s Progressive Poem time again! Irene Latham at Live Your Poem has recruited 30 poets for her seventh(!) annual Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem. This is a wonderful community writing project where a poem travels daily from blog to blog, with each host adding a new line. Elizabeth Steinglass will kick things off with the first line of this year’s children’s poem on April 1. Here’s the full schedule of participating bloggers:



2 Jane at Raincity Librarian
4 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
Jan at bookseedstudio
6 Irene at Live Your Poem
7 Linda at TeacherDance
Janet F. at Live Your Poem
11 Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales
12 Carol at Beyond LiteracyLink
13 Linda at A Word Edgewise
15 Donna at Mainely Write
16 Sarah at Sarah Grace Tuttle
18 Christie at Wondering and Wandering
19 Michelle at Michelle Kogan
20 Linda at Write Time
21 April at Teaching Authors
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
28 Kat at Kat’s Whiskers
30 Doraine at Dori Reads


🌼 Irene Latham at Live Your Poem will also be featuring ARTSPEAK!: Harlem Renaissance. This year’s poem-a-day project was inspired by Nikki Grimes’s ONE LAST WORD. Irene will be writing ekphrastic poems in response to some of the paintings created by Harlem Renaissance artists.


🌷 Renee LaTulippe will be hosting Community Collections at No Water River:

This year I asked 31 poets and verse novelists to contribute a poem and a poetry prompt. The idea is to encourage readers to write their own poems (or prose passages) in response to the daily prompts; and then add those responses to the appropriate blog post. By the end of April, then, we’ll have 31 themed poetry collections written by readers.  

Check out the complete calendar of guest poets. Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle will kick things off today, March 30!


🦖 Over at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme, Matt Forrest Esenwine will be hosting another month-long Poetry Cubed contest.  Entrants must use the three images he’s provided as inspiration for an original poem. Any poetic form is fine, rhyming or not — the only requirement is that all three images must be referenced in the poem. The prize this year will be a signed copy of the new picture book he’s co-authored with Deborah Bruss, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur.

Matt will also feature interviews with Don’t Ask a Dinosaur illustrator Louie Chin, and poet Amy Losak regarding H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A-Z, which contains poems written by her late mother Sydell Rosenberg.


🌼 From Michelle H. Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty:

In celebration of Today’s Little Ditty’s 5th birthday, we’ve invited dinosaurs to the party! Featuring Deborah Bruss and Matt Forrest Esenwine, authors of Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, and a party game ditty challenge that’s bound to make you roar with laughter. The festivities begin on Friday, April 6th.


💐 Jone MacCulloch will be sharing student poetry daily at Check It Out. She hopes to feature students reciting their poetry on Fridays.

She’s also once again doing her annual Poetry Postcard Project, where Silver Star ES students send out illustrated poetry postcards to anyone requesting them. Sign up HERE if you’d like to receive one. This is a wonderful project — ten years running so far — I always enjoy receiving my postcard each April.


📷 At her personal blog DeoWriter, Jone MacCulloch will be sharing haiku and haiga inspired by her own photographs.


🤓 A “Poetry is for Everyone” Twitter Chat will be held on April 9th, 8 pm EST (#NYEDChat combines with #WonderChat). @Wonderopolis #poet friends, @Irene Latham, @Laura Purdie Salas, and @Charles Waters will be guest moderators with Carol Varsalona moderating for #NYEDChat and John MacLeod for Wonderopolis.



🎨 Diane Mayr at Random Noodling will be writing ekphrastic poems in April. She’s challenging herself to write a cherita every day based on paintings by female artists. *A cherita is a three-stanza poem that tells a story. The first stanza has one line that sets the scene, the second stanza has two lines, the third has three lines. Diane welcomes suggestions of “long dead female artists” or links to any of their public domain works which she could use as inspiration for her cheritas (leave a comment at her blog or email her).


🌺 JoAnn Early Macken will be posting a poem or poetry writing tip every day during April — and she’ll also be giving away a copy of her book Write a Poem Step by Step (Earlybird Press, 2012) each day!


🎨 Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche will also be writing ekphrastic poems for Poetry Month. She says, “I love art.  Art often gives me an entry point into a poem that I may not have written otherwise.  I find art digs deep into my soul.”


☀ Over at The Poem Farm, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s NPM Project is “1 Subject 30 Ways”:

This year at The Poem Farm, I will be writing a new poem every day about the constellation Orion. Every day I will highlight a different poetic technique, a technique used by poets and by writers of other genres as well. After all, the techniques of poets are the techniques of all writers. I will be using my Fall 2017 Heinemann book, POEMS ARE TEACHERS, to lead me as I write all April long.


🌼 At Beyond Literacy Link, Carol Varsalona will be unveiling her winter gallery of artistic expressions, “Winter Wonderland.” She will also be writing digital poems with a springtime theme, and will extend an invitation for her Spring Gallery, “Sense-sational Spring” later in the month.


🍅 Donna Smith at Mainely Write will be continuing her challenge to write a poem for each letter of the alphabet based on a Maine vanity license plate she’s found and taken a photo of since last April. She will attempt to write these poems using poetic forms beginning with their corresponding letters. These are a lot of fun as it’s interesting to see the vanity plates she’s collected and how she creates poems inspired by them. 🙂


Look for “30 Days, 30 Students, 30 Quotes, 30 Poems” at A Reading Year by Mary Lee Hahn. She will be writing personalized golden shovel poems based on quotes submitted by her 5th grade students, a.k.a. “The 2017-2018 5th Grade Hahn Squad.” She asked them to each share a quote they loved, and she will use them as her striking lines for the poems. Quite a challenge!


🌻 For a dose of daily inspiration, head over to Poetry for Children, where Sylvia Vardell will be posting her favorite quotes about poetry paired with powerful images (without commentary). Here’s a sample:


🌺 Linda Baie at TeacherDance will be doing a poem-a-day challenge:

My goal for Poetry Month: A haiku diary that may include other forms related to haiku, like haibun, haiga. monoku or renga. I have enjoyed studying about and writing in these forms in past Aprils and alongside other’s who’ve given a challenge in this form. And, I look forward to seeing what parts of this month I will choose to collect in a diary. I will also be connecting with others, writing for their challenges, too, along with other kinds of blog posts. 


🌿 At Michelle Kogan’s blog, look for original poems paired with gorgeous art on flora and fauna, sometimes outside, when Nature permits, sometimes outside when she doesn’t.


“If you truly want to know someone you should walk a mile in their shoes.”

👠 Mrs. Daley’s second grade class is doing a poetry challenge this month based on the above quote, called Take a Walk in Our Shoes. Each day during April, they will write and post a poem based on a different picture of shoes. These will sometimes be class poems, partner poems, small group poems, or individual poems. They invite readers to write their own shoe poems in the blog comments. This challenge was inspired by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Irene Latham and other poet mentors. Check in daily at Teaching Tales and Lit Love for all the fun.


🌺 Jena Benton will be sharing a poem and a picture from a picture book each day during April at her blog Of Tea and Mermaids. She will source picture books old and new for this project.


Over at My Juicy Little Universe, Heidi Mordhorst and her second grade class are writing a class poem during the month of April. Each day, one student will add 2 words to the poem. They will have had two turns each by the time the month is over — and, of course, a cool finished poem!





🍩 Here at Alphabet Soup, we’ll continue to serve up tasty poems and reviews of new poetry books with a couple of giveaways on Fridays during April. 🙂


🍪 Finally, don’t forget to check in with April’s Poetry Friday hosts to see what other bloggers are sharing in the kidlitosphere each week:

6    Amy at The Poem Farm
27  Irene at Live Your Poem

I’ll continue to update this Roundup throughout April, so do check back! For your convenience, a link to this Roundup can be found in the sidebar of this blog.

Wishing you a thoroughly nourishing, inspiring, productive, interesting, and enlightening Poetry Month!

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[review + giveaway] With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Whether you like to draw, paint, write, sculpt, bake or carve, there’s nothing as magical, empowering, or satisfying as creating “something new that never was before.”

With My Hands: Poems About Making Things, written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Clarion Books, 2018), celebrates the joy of turning an idea into something real and tangible with your very own hands.

The 26 mostly rhyming poems cover everything from soap carving, knot-tying and origami, to making birdhouses, pinatas, toy parachutes, tie-dye shirts, leaf pictures and collages. The opening poem reveals the unique power and province of the maker (love the thumbprint art!):


I am making
something new
with my hands
my head
my heart.

That’s what makers do.

A maker starts with
an empty space
and stuff.

A maker
through mistakes.
A maker
must be tough.

A maker is
a tinkerer.
A maker will

A maker creates
something new

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Faith Shearin’s “A Few Things I Ate” (+ a recipe!)

Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).

This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.

In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.

Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.

I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!


Tailleuses de soupe by François Barraud (1933)


by Faith Shearin

There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.

~ posted by permission of the author, © Poetry East: No. 90 (Food), Spring 2017.


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[poem + recipe] “yaya’s sweets” by andrea potos

At this very moment, I’m sipping tea from a favorite mug, nibbling on baklava, and reading a fine book of poems: Yaya’s Cloth by Andrea Potos (Iris Press, 2007).

I’m loving Andrea’s family stories and the celebration of her Greek heritage. I appreciate the nod to domesticity and strong women — matriarchs who passed on their skills and knowledge to each succeeding generation.


Yaya with her Greek Easter bread.


Andrea had a very special relationship with her grandmother (Yaya). As I read Andrea’s lyrical depictions of their time together, I can picture them baking, chatting, and laughing in floured aprons, bonding over loaves of bread and batches of cookies. It is easy to feel the love.


Yaya in her kitchen with a Greek dessert called galaktoboureko (semolina custard in filo).


Today, I’m honored to feature a poem from Yaya’s Cloth that I’m sure will whet your appetite for more. Andrea has graciously shared a bit of backstory as well as Yaya’s recipe for baklava. And special thanks to her for the wonderful personal photos. Yum!


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