Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing from the Outside in – day 7 of 7:

Writing from the Outside in – day 7 of 7:

Here we go – day 7 of 7 – made it through the weeklong Writing From the Outside in Challenge given to me by my partner in rhyme – sara holbrook.

Accept the challenge
Writing from the outside in
Haiku ends the week.

There you have it – seven days labor seven new poems all written from the Outside In.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writing from the Outside in – day 6 of 7:

Writing from the Outside in – day 6 of 7:

Here we are – day six of seven. And it’s starting to feel like Autumn is taking hold. Switched to flannel sheets on the bed. Flannel sheets with a monkey print. It is monkey sheet weather folks. This is a bittersweet situation – I love the monkey sheets – but I could use a bit more summer.

The sweater in the attic
inside a plastic tub
has never seen
the July sun or an August beach.

It blinks its eyes
like a mole popping from the ground
in September
when the lid gets peeled back.

It toasts the Autumn sun
with apple cider
and marches off
to a clambake.

©michael salinger

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writing From the Outside In: Day 5 of 7

Writing From the Outside In: Day 5 of 7

My office at home shares a wall with the laundry room. So I hear all the noises coming out of there.

So here I just report on what I hear – no moralizing – no confessions – no inner feelings – a simple study of what is there.
I trust my reader to come up with a metaphoric reason - or not.
Since it’s intended audience is grade school – probably not – and guess what – that’s okay.

Laundry Day

Snaps, buttons
zippers and buckles
pennies, dimes and quarters
sometimes even little rocks
forgot in a pocket,
bounce and scrape and slide
inside the dryer
when it’s run,
making  a crazy rhythm
to go with the humming
washer’s sudsy song.

© michael salinger

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing From the Outside In - Day four of seven.

Okay – here is day four of the Writing from the Outside In seven-day challenge that Sara Holbrook assigned me. I know technically I missed a day there – but it was Sara’s birthday and we were a bit busy and I blame it on her. But here we go back on track.

Last night riding home from a birthday dinner with Sara and a dear couple friend of ours it was raining and I noticed the street and car’s lights reflected in the blacktop in front of us as we drove along. That was the inspiration for this little snapshot poem.

Mirror Mirror

The world turns upside down
when it rains at night,
street lamps,
the moon,
car’s headlights,
are reflected in the streets
like a blacktop mirror.
The image is a little blurry
and backwards from the original
One must realize
that things may look different
through someone else’s

 © michael salinger

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Writing From the Outside In - Day Three of Seven.

Writing from the outside in – day three.

Today as I was riding my bicycle in a rural area not too far from my house I happened upon a duck crossing sign – which I took as a sign to write about ducks crossing the road.

So here again – we take an image from the outside and use it as the impetus of a poem. I try to get inside the head of the person who might put up a duck crossing sign – to empathize with someone I haven’t even met.

This is one of the values we can talk about when we write from the outside in – empathy – putting ourselves in another’s shoes. (And, we don’t have to get preachy about it!)

Caution – Duck Crossing

is where the ducks cross
when they need to get
from one side to the other.
Sometimes one duck
sometimes two
sometimes half a dozen dinky ducks
following their mother.

is where the ducks cross
we’ve even put up a sign
so that you know
you must be careful
when driving here
you must be cautious
you must go slow.

is where the ducks cross
we want none injured.
Drive carefully on this hill.
Please don’t bump
one of our darling ducks,
or we’ll be forced to send you
a duck doctor’s bill.

© michael salinger

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Writing from the Outside In (day two)

Day two of the seven day Writing from the Outside In challenge.

Taking inspiration from things that are outside of my self is the charge for this little challenge that Sara Holbrook has given me – and accepted herself. It goes to illustrate our idea that writing doesn’t always have to be (and in the real world, usually isn’t) from the inside.

That is one of the themes that might be echoed in this piece that was inspired by the sound of trains outside just before I was falling asleep.  Sometimes I hear them and sometimes I don’t, it all depends on which way the wind is blowing – which in itself might be a metaphor.

Here ya go – Poem Two:

Wind from the Northwest.

When the wind blows right
on a clear and cool
end of summer night,
the trains that are really
miles away
sound like they are
just outside my window.
The whistle blast,
and the wheels clack,
ride through the air
as if their track
ran straight and smooth
just outside my window.
Then the sound seems to fade
as it follows the train
to wherever it is going
and I fall asleep
in my warm bed knowing
that the world continues on
just outside my window.

© michael salinger

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing From the Outside In

Okay – I have accepted a challenge from my partner in rhyme Sara Holbrook and I am going to attempt to write a poem a day for seven days for younger folks. we both know that others have managed to do this for a month and even a year – (or if you’re Jane Yolen) decades – but, we figure baby steps for now and see where it gets us.

What Sara and I are doing is working on writing from the outside in. There has been so much talk (and books written) about writing from the inside out. Well, I think there is enough self-reflection in our world today – the me, me, me, it’s all about me ethos isn’t exactly conducive to creating the best neighbors. Plus, when we are talking about an elementary aged kid – how much experience has he or she got to write about?

We find that we write from outside stimulus more like reporters than diarists – and that is how we are approaching this experiment.

So my first entry comes from riding my bicycle past some roadkill – a possum to be exact. And if we are talking the American Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) you’d be hard pressed to find an uglier animal – in fact the only thing uglier than a live possum is a dead one with its pointy little face all screwed up in its death grin.

So I give you my poem – 

When a Possum Grins

When a possum grins,
shows his thorny teeth,
though he’s trying to be friendly
and means no harm,
he still appears pretty scary.
It’s not his fault.
It’s just how he looks.
He was born scraggly and hairy
with warped whiskers,
twisted ears,
and a tail that’s long, bald and pointy.
It’s no big wonder
he makes us flinch and shudder.
Who could love
such an ugly thing
the possum’s mother?

©Michael Salinger

Monday, August 4, 2014

100% Guaranteed Back to School Idea.

Okay here we go – back to another school year. Here’s an exercise Sara and I think makes a great ice breaker with a new herd of students – the percentage poem. (You can find this and 19 other lessons in our newest book High Impact Writing Clinics from Corwin.)

The percentage poem is Sara and my answer to the acrostic – you know, that piece where we take the letters of a word or a name and use them to build an acronym. Well, when we do this with kids’ names we find almost everyone has an A or E or O in their names and thus they become Awesome – Excellent or Outstanding. Not a whole lot of creativity or deeper thinking going on there is there?

So here’s how a percentage poem works. All you have to do is come up with a list of attributes that can be used to describe the subject of the percentage poem and then assign appropriate percentages to those attributes. That’s all there is to it. Remember nobody (no matter what football coaches will say) can add up to more than 100%.

So here goes – here is one for myself:

I am

12% cyclist
20% dad
18% poet
and I am 13% teacher
5% zombie fan
6% jazz
7% cook
14% husband
and 5% spicy food eater
Can’t you see?
it all adds up
100% me!

Combining a little math with some weighing data and you get a real snippet of insight into the subject. Of course you may ask your students to expand on their descriptions of their attributes or require that a certain amount of attributes be used (to avoid that 100% Mine Craft player).

These percentage poems could also be used as character analysis of historical or literary figures or even events. By gathering the attributes and then determining the amount of 100% that each deserves our students define the significance of these attributes as they pertain to their subject. Was the fact that Rosa parks was a seamstress deserve more less percentage points than her act of protest being non-violent? A little deeper thought than AWESOME – don’t you think? Plus it’ll give you insight into your new students personalities.

We suggest that you write a percentage poem for yourself and present it to your class at the beginning of the year as a form of introduction and then invite them to write their own. Better yet, list the attributes you would use for yourself on the board and then write your piece in front of them changing numbers as you work modeling the process of weighting evidence and revision.

Give it a shot – we guarantee it’ll be 100% fun and relevant.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Your government in action


Here is the testimony I gave in support of Ohio Senate Bill 84 which would create the position of Ohio Poet Laureate. I spoke with four other folks: John Burroughs, Steve Abbot, Mark Hersman and Anna Soter.


To Chairman Burke, Ranking Member Smith and members of State Government Oversight and Reform Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present sponsor testimony on Senate Bill 84. Good Afternoon Senators. My name is Michael Salinger; I am a literacy consultant, educator, engineer, father and a poet. I have spent the last decade working with students, teachers and administrators across Ohio and the world incorporating poetry into the curriculum as not only a finished art product, but as a tool to aid in pupil’s understanding and educator’s assessment of lessons.

Poetry is precise and concise language; it is the poet’s job to distill experience into an instant. As former U.S. Poet laureate, and Ohio native Rita Dove has said, “If we're going to solve the problems of the world, we have to learn how to talk to one another. Poetry is the language at its essence. It's the bones and the skeleton of the language. It teaches you, if nothing else, how to choose your words.”

Through the reading, writing and listening to of poetry we can learn how to choose our words wisely, how to convey meaning and emotion as well as empathy for the voices of others. The refined nature of poetry invites the reader to slow down and pay attention to nuance, to think deeply about the words being read. Poetry invites contemplation. A writer of poetry takes time to craft their thoughts in order to record their experience so that others may interpret it. In short, poetry hones one’s communication skills to a sharp point.

Ohio has been the home to many, along with Ms. Dove, who have chosen their words wisely, Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Daniel Thompson, James Wright, Kenneth Koch, Mary Oliver, D.A. Levy, Marilyn Nelson and former U.S. children’s poet laureate Jay Patrick Lewis to name just a handful. We Buckeyes have always had important things to say.

It is in this spirit of appreciation for insightful communication that I contend it is right and just that Ohio join the 45 other states who recognize a poet laureate. In doing so we will show the citizenry of our state the esteem we hold for civil and meaningful discourse. We will show our appreciation for deeper thinking and set a good example for our students.

It is often a poet laureate’s charge to take on a project, to provide poems for important events within their state, to raise the public’s awareness to the genre. Nationally these projects have included Billy Collin’s Poetry 180, which supplied poems for every school day to be read and discussed by classrooms and Kay Ryan’s Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, which highlighted the work of students in community colleges across the nation.

This is where I believe our Ohio poet laureate will leave a positive and lasting mark within the state, in the projects they initiate reminding folks, especially our youth, of the importance of precision in language and careful listening.

I hope this esteemed body sees fit to support and pass Senate Bill 84 to officially recognize what many in our great state already believe, poetry matters.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Three Wheeling Through Dhaka

The rickshaw drivers were just laughing at me. “I’ll give you 500 taka for your bell” I was saying to varying degrees of understanding to the skinny men perched on their bicycle seats.

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Dhaka, Bangladesh has some of the worse traffic I have ever experienced. The roads are dusty and moon cratered with potholes and oftentimes a street that one would assume was designed for two opposing lanes of traffic would instead be host to four or five. The busses all look as if they have been rolled sideways down a proverbial steep embankment then righted to their wheels and sent back onto the roadway. For the most part, traffic in Dhaka is a hot steaming mess.


Thus, one of the most efficient and economical ways to get around the city is via the bicycle rickshaw. These three-wheeled contraptions can barely fit two people sitting in the passenger section and are piloted up front by impossibly lean men (I never saw a female rickshaw operator – I’m not saying that they don’t exist, but I never saw one). Men whose BMI would be approaching negative numbers. 

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Now while the rickshaw more or less comfortably sat a single passenger, one could squeeze in for an intimate ride with a companion and many did, it is not uncommon in fact, to see three young men piled into the back of one of these things as well – all being pedaled along by a single sinewy pilot standing on the pedals, pumping them up and down as if he were climbing a ladder.


The rickshaws themselves are rolling pieces of art painted and decorated in garish colors, some festooned with flags and fringe, many though are mere faded reminders of past glory, their paint peeled, hues muted, gold fringe now a dust incrusted gray. The bells on their handlebars, about the size of half an orange, minus all but a few flakes of chrome the rest being the same dirty brown one would achieve by mixing soil into a drinking glass of water.

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The ringing of these bells punctuates the streets of Dhaka. And it was while I was lying in bed one evening listening to them cricket calling into the night that I decided I needed one as a souvenir of my visit.


For the most part the rickshaws only operate on the smaller side streets; they are not permitted on the major thoroughfares of the city. They may not even cross some of these bigger roads so they will cue up at these intersections hoping to solicit customers. This is where I first went bell shopping – amongst the couple dozen rickshaws hanging out at one of the crossings.

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Most drivers do not own the rickshaws that they pedal around town; they rent them from an owner for about 200 taka a day (one hundred taka equals about twelve US dollars). Now, the amount pone pays for a ride with these guys isn’t really written down anywhere and the prices vary not only by time and distance but by whom the passenger is. A local will always pay less than an out of towner, something like fifty to hundred taka for a twenty minute ride while I would be expected to pay at least the hundred and most likely two. But it’s all relative; I mean we are talking the difference between one and two dollars. 


I had done a bit of research and I learned that a new bell would run around 300 taka. I didn’t want a new one, I wanted and old used one, a bell that had some miles on it, a bell that had stories to tell. So I offered what I thought would be an exorbitant amount of money for one, 500 taka. At first the guys thought that I meant I wanted them to ring the hell out of their bells while they gave me a ride to wherever I was going. Pushed on their levers, each trying to show me that they had the best sounding bell. Eventually I got my mission understood though, and this simply assured all involved of my insanity.

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The drivers thought this was the funniest thing they had heard all day. Number one, the rickshaws most likely were not heirs, they had no right to sell pieces from it and secondly, the bells were an essential piece of equipment for the “safe” operation of the vehicle. I might as well be walking up to people in the states idling at a stoplight and offering them a couple thousand dollars for their steering wheels.  I returned to my room bell-less.


The next day I had a better idea. 


I perused the bells on the rickshaws parked near the entrance and found one with an exquisite pedigree, patina perfect, a couple flakes of chrome still clinging to its melodic dome. I then enlisted the help of the hotel’s two doormen who between them spoke just enough English that I was able to include them as accomplices in my plot. I promised to give the driver 300 taka for a new bell, but he had to drive me to the shop where he was going to buy it, install it on this rickshaw, give me his old bell and drive me back.


I climbed into the rickshaw and we were off.

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We slid down back alleys, through narrow streets just barely wide enough for us to navigate. We passed kids playing cricket and rickshaw bone yards, a row of burn out automobiles neighborhoods constructed of corrugated metal, goats, chickens, and machine shops for about twenty five minutes until finally we pulled up to a little shop with tires hanging outside of it. I gave my driver 300 taka and he bought TWO new bells. We borrowed a screwdriver from the shop and he took off the old one, gave it to me and installed his twin ringer dingers and we were headed back.


The new bells rang piercingly clear and at double volume while my new friend employed them with great abandon. I think he was feeling a bit invincible because I am pretty sure we took a few more risky moves than on the way out. The sonic umbrella of our duel bells protected us from automobile, busses and livestock the whole way back while we pushed our luck, taking chances that one without such fine ringers would never dream of attempting.

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On the way through security, at the airport as I was headed back to the States my bell showed up on the x-ray and the officer asked to see what it was. I pulled it out and gave it a ring. He smiled and I smiled back. It was seeing me safely home.