Arts Integration in Action


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School’s out, and the United Arts Council Arts Integration Institute (Now that’s a mouthful!) is in full swing. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year, when elementary school teachers from all over Wake County, North Carolina converge to draw, print, paint, dance, write, sing, play and act out the curriculum in a week of hands-on workshops and lesson planning. We created the Arts Integration Institute way back in the dark ages of 2006 – when we used to write our poems on stone tablets with chisels – and it’s been going strong ever since.

IMG_0667Over the years, our teachers have learned to make their own shadow puppets to bring fables, myths and fairy tales to life. They’ve danced the water cycle, the rock cycle, pressure systems and punctuation. They’ve acted out civil rights, become immigrants to America in 1901, and written letters overseas from the home front in World War II. They’ve ventured on treasure hunts into the world of Multiple Intelligences and made colorful three-dimensional maps of their brains. They’ve built bugs from plastic bottles, created Claymation ecosystems, and extracted poetry from scientific concepts. They’ve written their own blues and released the composers trapped inside themselves—even those who didn’t believe they could carry a tune in a bucket. They’ve explored Cuba, Ghana and Zimbabwe through music, and Appalachia through photography and poetry. They’ve written and performed a 1920s musical in the North Carolina Museum of History in a mere three hours and used their X-ray vision to conjure poetry and paintings from satellite maps of their favorite places.

525798_10151215435082388_2003705076_nAnd everything they’ve done, they’ve brought back to their classrooms to make magic of the curriculum, to get their students excited about learning, and to remind themselves of why they became teachers in the first place.

Can you tell I love this week?

This is the week when I get to extend my love for poetry into all the arts, to be both Piedmont Laureate and Pied Piper.

It’s a treat for me to make sure these teachers are well-fed (okay, we make sure they’re spectacularly well-fed, with a steady stream of tasty treats from mid-morning snacks to a feast at lunch to mid-afternoon snacks) in body and – as you can see from the types of adventures I’ve listed above – in their minds and spirits. And it’s a treat for all of us who create this institute each year to make sure that all these teachers are treated as the professionals, the artists, the musicians, the dancers, the actors, the writers and the all-around creative geniuses they are.

This year, teachers researched nocturnal animals and recreated them in drawings and prints, delved into Westward Expansion by creating characters and scripts (and performing them) using photographs from the time, became literate in art through sketching and poetry, danced about weather and rocks, found rhythm in their hands and feet and melody in the voices and the oh so delightfully named boomwhackers, and wrote lesson plans that will – when these teachers return to school this fall – entice their students into a delightful land of learning they’ll want to inhabit for the rest of their lives.

What’s Your Writing Routine?


“What’s your writing routine?” If you’re a writer, you’re going to get this question or one of its derivatives: “Do you write every day?” “When?” “How much?” “For how long?”

I wish I could describe myself as the kind of person who gets up at 4:30 every morning and writes for two hours. Well, maybe 5:00. As far as I’m concerned, 4:30 is not an hour of the morning. It belongs to the night before. The truth is I’m a sporadic writer, an episodic writer, a make-a-new-resolution-every-few-months writer. I’ve only had two routines that have ever worked for me.

The first is to sit down with my calendar at the beginning of a year – which for me is August or September, since most of my other work is based on the school calendar – and block out a week every month just for writing. I actually put it on the calendar as if it’s work or a social engagement. For that week, I park my car around the corner, turn off the phone and the Internet, drink endless cups of Earl Grey tea and write, sometimes at my desk, sometimes on the couch, wrapped in a throw. When I’m describing this to other people, I often tell them “I have a writing month every week,” as if that were possible in this particular time-space continuum. Wishful thinking.

During my writing weeks, I write ten poems or ten pages of whatever novel I’m working on, each day. My poet friends get a very peculiar expression on their faces when I say phrases like “ten poems a day,” so I hasten to assure them that most of them are truly awful, mere exercises that warm me up and get me ready to write a decent poem or two. I have to sneak up on poetry, pretending that I’m not trying to write anything worthwhile, until something I like suddenly appears amidst the dreck. This means writing a lot of very bad poems. With fiction, it’s different. As soon I’ve tapped into the voice of my narrator, I’m usually good to go.


If I’m writing poetry, I sit crossways on the couch and write very messy early drafts by hand with a fine point (0.7 mm) Uni-ball Vision Rollerball pen on a white legal pad, with lots of crossings-out and arrows to move lines to different places. Journal entries go into a notebook or bound book – in unpacking my books and other office materials from storage, I recently discovered that I have over twenty-five notebooks awaiting me, all clean and fresh, so maybe I should stop buying them for a while. A few years ago, I broke my attachment to writing fiction by hand, and started composing my novels on my computer, either at my desk or in the living room. I’m a fairly fast typist, so I can keep up with my thoughts, but I tend to take a “two words forward, one word back to correct a typo” approach.

I have to be very careful not to break my commitment to myself in any way during my writing weeks. If you’re a workaholic, as I am, it only takes one sniff of work to lure you to some dark alley where you’ll find yourself hooked on responsibilities again – a meeting attended, a workshop taught, even an email answered – and there goes that writing week. I wrote a note to myself several years ago, which I post when I’m fearful of sacrificing my writing for other work. It reads: “No phone, no electronics, no other people before 1:30 pm.” I recommend writing something like that for yourself. Feel free to adjust the time and admonitions as needed.

The other writing routine that sometimes works for me is to write fifteen minutes a day, every day. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be smart. It doesn’t have to connect with what you wrote yesterday or what you’re going to write tomorrow. Just fifteen minutes sometime before bedtime. If you miss a day, you don’t have to write thirty minutes tomorrow. Just start again with fifteen minutes. I invented this process when I finished my MFA, a time when many people stop writing for a while to recover from all those words. I wanted to keep myself going, so I started with the fifteen minutes a day plan – and wrote my first novel that way.

So now it’s your turn. When do you write? How much? By hand or the computer?

Share your own writing routine with the rest of us in your comments, and come join me at the next Piedmont Laureate event:

Flirting with Your Reader: A Workshop for All Writers
South Regional Durham Public Library – Meeting Room

June 15, 2017
7:00-8:30 pm

Find out more about this and other events at


From My Shelves to Yours

My poor books. For the past year and a half – due to the confluence of an invasive raccoon, the life-changing of tidying up, an almost pathological inability to choose a paint color, and practically perpetual inertia – they’ve been held captive in cardboard boxes in undisclosed locations all over my house.

But now they’re free, and proudly arranged in bookcases according to organizing principles only I can understand. (I’ll give you a hint. I have several different categories of favorites, each with its own shelf.) I’ve finally sacrificed my passion for visual organization for the traditional alphabetization approach, and arranged all my fiction – hardback and paperback together – rather than separating them out (though I admit my trash reading has its own bookcase). And all those books of poetry by my friends and heroes, they have their shelf – under the watchful eye of the books on how to write poetry, why you need to write poetry, and what it all means, on the shelf above.

I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see all these old friends again, finally released from their captivity. Or how delightful it is to say, “I’d like to look that up,” and be able to go directly to the shelf to find that poem or quote or story.

IMG_4937Now that all my books have come home to roost again, and are happily nesting with their families, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

First of all, who can do without The Practice of Poetry, a marvelous collection of exercises edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell? This book includes such gems as Rita Dove’s “Your Mother’s Kitchen,” Garret Hongo’s “Not ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’” and Linnea Johnson’s “Personal Universe Deck.” Whether you’re a beginning writer or a published poet looking to widen your spectrum of subjects and techniques, this one is worth a try.


Along the same lines, I love Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizion and our own Dorianne Laux, which takes the reader-writer on a guided tour of a gorgeous continent of poetry, with stops in the contiguous countries of subject, craft and the writer’s life, and exercises all along the way.

Because I have such a girl-poet crush on Kim Addonizio, I also have her Ordinary Genius, which, I warn you, may make you dig more deeply into yourself than you’d originally planned.




A little-known book you might like is Susan Wooldridge’s poemcrazy, which I bought shortly after meeting her through the California Poets in the Schools program. I thought she was charming, and found her book to be equally charming, with quirky approaches to writing poems, like “collecting words and creating a wordpool” and “skin spinoff.” If you’re just starting out as a poet, or utterly stuck, I recommend her book.



IMG_4942Lest you think I only like the girls, I recommend Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Most of the time when I’m not writing or teaching poetry, I’m building cabinets, replacing toilets, finishing floors or sweating copper. So you can see how a home repair book about poetry might appeal to me.

If you’re like me, and enjoy playing with form, a highly useful and accessible book is Ron Padgett’s Handbook of Poetic Forms, from the terrific Teachers & Writers Collaborative, which gives you dozens of forms in alphabetical order, with easy instructions and examples.

IMG_4934If you write poetry with kids, as a teacher or as a parent, or if you’re a kid yourself, you’ve got to have the classic, Kenneth Koch’s Wishes, Lies and Dreams. Add to that Beyond Words, by my Lesley University colleague Elizabeth McKim and her friend Judith W. Steinbergh. Another book to add to that collection is Michael A. Carey’s Starting from Scratch, which was my guidebook all those years ago when I started out as a writer-in-the schools. It’s out of print, so it’s a little tricky to find, but worth buying if you can uncover a used copy.

Speaking of writing with kids, I hope you’ll bring yours to Margaret Lane Gallery this Friday night for our Word Bowl and Art & Poetry Treasure Hunt evening. If you don’t have kids, bring a friend, a colleague or just your sense of adventure.

Hillsborough Last Friday Poetry Flyer.jpgStay tuned for more book recommendations in another blog post. I’ve got a whole collection of collections—and really readable prose that talks about the importance of poetry—that I can’t wait to share with you.

Your Favorite Piedmont Poems


Who are your favorite poets of the Piedmont? Perhaps one of the great poets who has gone before us, like the charming and brilliant Sam Ragan – newspaperman, raconteur, and host to writers who came to Weymouth to pursue their craft. Or our own shining star, Maya Angelou. Or Helen Smith Bevington, champion of light verse. Perhaps you resonate to the poems of North Carolina Poet Laureates past and present, such as Fred Chappell and Shelby Stephenson. Or you constantly reread the poetry of our first Piedmont Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green. Maybe you love one of our astonishing teachers, such as Gerald Barrax or Betty Adcock, Michael Chitwood or Alan Shapiro, Michael McFee or Dorianne Laux, James Seay or James Applewhite. Your favorite Piedmont poet could be a friend, acquaintance or stranger who has impressed you at a reading, or a relative whose lyric words astonish you and make you see the world differently. Perhaps, your favorite poet of the Piedmont is yourself.


Photo from

The list I’ve offered is only a beginning. As Doris Betts once said, “You can’t throw a stone in the Triangle without hitting a writer.” I’m guessing there may be even more poets in our area now than there were when she first made that statement. There’s no way my brief list can even begin to cover all the poets I love here, much less the ones I haven’t even met yet, which is why I need your help.

about_amfavpoems.jpgIn 1997, Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States, created the Favorite Poem Project, in which he asked Americans to share the poems they loved most, and to give a brief explanation of why they’d chosen their poems.

This is our version of the Favorite Poem Project, for those of us who live in the heart of North Carolina, and for those who live beyond, but know the richness of our poetry. What better time in history to look for inspiration, for words that can carry us through and inspire us to be the people we want to be?

We want to hear about this poet whose work wakes you up in the morning, lets you sleep at night, eases you through the rough times and manages to capture that thing you’ve always felt but never known how to say.

And in particular, we want to know your favorite poem from these poets, so we can create an online catalogue of great poems to share throughout the Piedmont. What makes this your favorite Piedmont poem? Why do you want to share it with the world?

You can share your poem any way you like—write a comment on this blog post, or on Facebook at or email me at piedmontlaureate2017 at I’ll collect your poems and let you know later in the year about the different ways we’ll get to share them with our community. The more poems, we get, the richer and more comprehensive our collection will be. Just send me a link to the poem and your thoughts on why this poem matters. If the poem isn’t online, send the entire poem, and we’ll make sure it’s available to the world.

I look forward to hearing from you – revisiting poems that I’ve loved over the years and discovering new ones and sharing them with readers of poetry everywhere.





Do-it-Yourself Art Poetry Kit

C-My_1_XYAEqOVOArt by Damian Stamer

UPDATE: Check out First Friday at United Arts and enjoy three for the price of one (absolutely free)! Come to United Arts Council at 410 Glenwood Ave., Suite 170, Raleigh on Friday, May 5th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm for an Art and Poetry Treasure Hunt, Word Bowl Poetry and open mic – and see Sheila Hall’s artwork while you’re there!

It’s almost May, and I’m looking forward to seeing those of you who live in the Triangle for our next two Art and Poetry Treasure Hunts at First Friday in Raleigh on May 5th and Last Friday in Hillsborough on May 26th. We had a great time in Carrboro last month, and I’m hoping a bunch of you will come out to write and read great poems about great art.

To make it even easier on you (and so all of you can try it out, even if you can’t make it to one of the art walks), I’m about to reveal the secret instructions for writing ekphrastic poems (poems about art) in this very blog. Are you ready? Here we go…

Art & Poetry Treasure Hunt Secret Instructions
Choose one of the ideas below to write a poem about art.

  • Imagine two works of art get married. Write a love poem from one to the other.*
  • Enter a painting and write about what you see and what’s happening all around you. Or write about what’s happening just off the edge of the canvas.*
  • Eavesdrop on what people are saying in a gallery and weave their conversations into a poem.*
  • Find a painting that’s noisy, smelly, or delicious, and write a poem about it.*
  • Write a poem about a tiny detail in a painting, like it’s a secret only you know.*
  • Think of a piece of art as a city, and write a poem like a tour describing the sites.*
  • Create one line, or one stanza, about each work of art you see, to make one poem.*
  • Imagine that the artwork is an animal. What is its habitat? What does it eat? How does it protect itself? How does it sleep?**
  • Write a dialogue between yourself and the artist. Ask the artist all the questions you’d like to ask, and make up the artist’s answers.**
  • Write a poem from the piece of art to the artist, or the other way around.**
  • Write in the voice of a person or object shown in the work of art.***
  • Imagine what was happening while the artist was creating the piece.***
  • Write a dialogue between characters in a work of art.***
  • Imagine a story behind what you see depicted in the piece.***
  • Choose your own way of writing about a piece of art that interests you.

*Gary Duehr, “Thirteen Ways of Writing Poetry in a Museum”
** Mimi Herman, Piedmont Laureate

Now that I’ve revealed the secret instructions, it’s your turn.

Grab a pencil, pen or computer, find the nearest piece of art, and write your own ekphrastic poem. You can do this from the comfort of your own home, using that old Escher poster left over from your college days, your great-aunt Edna’s photograph of Venice or your favorite art from your favorite artist—via that modern miracle, the Internet. You pick the art, choose the prompt you want to use from the oh-so-secret instructions above and dash off a quick poem. Invite your kids, your parents, your friends and your great-aunt Edna to write some poems, too. These poems can be serious or goofy—or anywhere in between.

Then share your poems—as many as you like—in one of these four ways:

  1. Come to First Friday reading at the United Arts Council in Raleigh on May 5th or the Last Friday reading at Margaret Lane Gallery in Hillsborough on May 26th (click the links for details) and share your poem with us, using your most fabulous poet’s voice.
  2. Post your poem in a comment in response to this blog entry.
  3. Tweet your poem (if it’s brief enough) here: @PiedLaureate
  4. Post your poem on the Piedmont Laureate Facebook page here:

Once you’ve experimented with ekphrastic poetry in the privacy of your own home, you may feel emboldened to venture further abroad. If so, you can visit these galleries in Raleigh any time between now and 8:00 pm on Friday, May 5th or these galleries in Hillsborough all month up to 8:00 pm on Friday, May 26th, and use the artwork you find there as inspiration to write more poems. Then scurry over to the reading to share your brilliance with an appreciative audience.

I can’t wait to see and hear what you write!

Art and Poetry Treasure Hunts: Write Your Own Ekphrastic Poems

Happy National Poetry Month! Here’s wishing you a month of inspiration and a year of writing, reading and listening to poetry.

For a chance to write your own poems and read them at an open mic event, join us on one of the Friday Night Art Walks for an Art & Poetry Treasure Hunt this April or May. We’ll eavesdrop on what other people are saying in galleries, write love letters from one piece of art to another and take journeys inside of paintings and photographs to discover what it’s like to live inside a piece of art.

Here are the details:

Art & Poetry Treasure Hunts

Dates and Locations
Friday, April 14, 2017 — The ArtsCenter, 300 G East Main Street, Carrboro, NC 27510
Friday, May 5, 2017 — United Arts Council, 410 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 170
Raleigh, NC 27603
Friday, May 26 — Margaret Lane Gallery, 121 W. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, NC 27278

6:00 to 7:30 pm — Art & Poetry Treasure Hunt
Drop by the galleries above during this time to pick up your treasure map, notepad and pen, and the secret directions to create your poems.

8:00 to 9:00 pm — Open Mic Reading
Return to the gallery to read some of the poems you’ve created in your gallery wanderings.

*   *   *

Ekphrasis. It sounds like something that calls for a heavy dose of antibiotics, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s just a fancy Greek word for poetry about art, though it may well become contagious this April and May on the Friday night art walks in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, Raleigh and Hillsborough.

As you might imagine, poets have been writing about art for a good long time. It started with Homer painting a word picture of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad. Later, Plato went on to describe the “bedness” of a bed in The Republic, and Socrates had a chat with Phaedrus about writing and painting:

“You know, Phaedrus, that is the strange thing about writing, which makes it truly correspond to painting.
The painter’s products stand before us as though they were alive,
but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence.
It is the same with written words; they seem to talk
to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything
about what they say, from a desire to be instructed,
they go on telling you just the same thing forever.

Plato, Phaedrus 275d


Long before the Internet, before we could even create reproductions of art in books and on posters, ekphrastic poems offered art lovers a virtual museum, where they could “see” art from the comfort of their own armchairs. In the Italian Renaissance, Ekphrasis became popular again, and in 1819, John Keats wrote one of the most famous ekphrastic poems in history, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which you can find here, at The Poetry Foundation website.

In more recent times, W. H. Auden described Bruegel’s painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus in this ekphrastic poem:

Musee des Beaux Art
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


In 1960, William Carlos Williams had his own take on the same painting:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

William Carlos Williams

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field

the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning


You can discover links to more ekphrastic poems here and here.

I hope you’ll join us for one or all of the Art and Poetry Treasure Hunts, where you’ll be inspired by local art to write your own ekphrastic poems. Whether you’ve been writing poems all your life, or your poetry career came to an abrupt halt at “Roses are red,” we’d love to have you. Bring your family. All ages are welcome.