You know how it is: old campfire stories, interesting things you’re doing or seeing or hearing about—they get all mixed up in your dreams and your stories. That’s how it was for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. One night in 1816, in Switzerland, when there wasn’t anything on TV (because it wasn’t invented yet), she and her friends decided they’d each write a horror story. By combining her knowledge with the idea what if, 18-year-old Mary made up one about a monster. It’d turn out to be one of the most famous monsters ever.
These were some of the ideas that influenced Mary’s thinking:
Hmmm…I’ll bet you can guess now what story Mary wrote! In it, her character, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, gathered parts of dead people’s bodies in his laboratory. His experiment? He’d make a perfect person then bring it to LIFE with the power of lightning – and it worked! But – oh no! Dr. Frankenstein accidentally created a MONSTER! And then a lot of horrible things happened!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was first published in 1818, never got very good reviews, but never mind. In the almost two centuries since she wrote it, Mary’s monster story has sparked the imaginations of playwrights, moviemakers, cartoonists, musicians, and Halloween costume-makers again and again and again.
It kind of makes you wonder about your own ideas and memories. What if you put them together in your imagination? You could spark a story into LIFE!
Cheryl Harness is not only a nonfiction author and an illustrator, but she has also written a novel called Just for You to Know. If you would like to read an excerpt from her book, click here.
Carole Boston Weatherford
The Poet Professor
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Department has a wealth of primary source images. Many are from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) Collection, a vast pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. The collection boasts 174,000 black-and-white and 1,600 color photographs taken by government-employed photojournalists such as Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks.
I first mined this collection in the 1980s—long before it was digitized or available online. Back then, I was researching my book, Remember the Bridge: Poems of a People (2002). I sought pictures to pair with poems that I had already penned. I found the desired images as well as others that spoke to me and begged for poems.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was writing ekphrastic poetry. According to the Poetry Foundation, “An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” Romantic poet John Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is a famous example.
I have since written more ekphrastic poems—two inspired by iconic images from the FSA/OWI collection. Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America and Dorothea Lange: How the Photographer Found the Faces of the Depression tell the stories behind Parks’ 1942 “American Gothic” and Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother.” The resulting verse biographies go beyond describing the images to paint pictures of the photographers themselves.
Parks, a pioneering African American Renaissance man, documented racism in the nation’s capital by photographing Ella Watson, a government custodian who supported her family on $1,000 a year. Lange’s photo of a migrant mother and her starving children shows the misery caused by the Dust Bowl. Newspapers published these powerful photographs, exposing poverty and injustice.
Are you ready to browse the FSA/OWI collection online? Perhaps, start here. Choose one photograph that moves you. A gaze that will not let you look away. A face full of stories. A scene that draws you in. A landscape that transports you. Then, draft your poem. Write from that time and place, in the voice of the subject, the photographer, or a bystander. Read your draft aloud to yourself. Then, revise. When finished, arrange your poem and the photograph on the same page.
Carole Boston Weatherford writes hybrid genre poetry, nonfiction and biographies. BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom chronicles one of slavery’s most daring escapes.
Stephen R. Swinburne
I really like vultures. Sure, they’re ugly and they eat nasty dead things. But those are not necessarily bad characteristics.
First let’s deal with “ugly.” Vultures’ bald heads are what make them seem ugly to most people. But think about why they’re bald. Imagine thrusting your head inside the carcass of a white-tailed deer to reach the meat. A feathered head might capture bits of flesh, blood and gore and you end up with a face full bacteria and flies. Scientists believe that one reason vultures have evolved featherless heads is to aid in hygiene. A bald head stays clean and any remaining germs or bacteria are baked off by the sun. Vultures have also found that a bald head can help with temperature regulation. When it gets cold they can tuck their heads down to keep their neck covered with feathers. When it’s hot, vultures can extend their neck to expose bare skin. Their bald heads work so well that I wrote a poem about them.
It’s best to have no feathers,
When you stick your head in guts,
That way you don’t go walkin’ round,
Your noggin dripping schmutz.
Moving on to “eating nasty dead things,” the next time you see vultures eating a dead animal on the side of the road, be thankful! That carcass might be dead from rabies or contaminated with other harmful diseases. Vultures have the amazing ability to consume rotting and diseased flesh and stay healthy. It’s all in the stomach. Vultures possess very powerful stomach acids that destroy most bacteria and deadly viruses. In fact, vulture stomach acid is so strong it can dissolve metal! Except if that metal is lead shot -- many turkey vultures are killed every year by consuming shot that they encounter in dead deer. Vultures are the world’s natural “sanitation workers,” helping to stop the spread of disease.
I’m so appreciative of the work they do, I even wrote a poem about eating dead things:
I like my meat dead,
It’s best if it’s not moving.
Don’t want to see one final twitch,
I prefer it oozing
So, the next time you see a vulture circling in the noonday sky, think about the valuable and important clean up service this bird provides to us and to the environment. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that….
Steve Swinburne is a science writer, but as you can see from this Minute, he likes to write poetry too. In his book Ocean Soup, he offers verses in the voices of tide-pool animals, including the barnacle, sea urchin, sculpin, mussel, starfish, hermit crab, anemone, and lobster. For more about Steve's poetry, click here.
Steve Swinburne is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen R. "In Praise of Vultures." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ In-Praise-Of-Vultures.
A cowardly bully came out
of his cave today to
trespass on our shining city.
Out of the blue
he had the nerve
to punch out its
two front teeth.
The pain is excruciating;
Bleeding is everywhere.
The remaining stumps are
We've lost our pretty smile.
We can't bite a big apple.
It's hard to look at mutilation.
Dazed, we check for damage.
Although choking on thick air,
we are very much alive.
Our heartbeat is strong.
There is no drop in our vital signs.
Blood rushes in to replace
Slowly we discover
we can still chew
and make a fist and
Oh yes, we'll make sure
this "holy" terror
can never return
to our playground
or our friends.'
How do we shadow box
a villain who doesn't
play by the rules?
We see evidence
of our noble,
and loving spirit.
Yet hate destroys
within as well as without.
Here then is our challenge:
We must keep this wound
becoming toxic to ourselves.
We must imagine the unimaginable
to thwart evil
before it comes back for more.
We must seek justice,
not vengeance to
preserve our soul.
We must trust our leaders
who see more
than this one tormenter.
We must be brave
As good as we believe
ourselves to be,
we must become better.
Scar tissue is stronger
Text copyright © 2001 by Vicki Cobb
Reflection: I wrote this poem on September 12, 2001. I am a New Yorker. One grandson, who was 4, was starting school, a few blocks from ground zero. My husband was working in the city. It was a terrible day. I wrote this poem to try and make sense of it for my readers. Do you think it is still true today?
Here I am in 2014 on the 43rd floor terrace in lower Manhattan. The brand-new Freedom Tower, on the site of the Twin Towers lost on 9/11, soars behind me. It is 1776 feet tall.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "September 11, 2001." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/category/cobb-vicki.
When I take a big bite into a hamburger, I am taking part in a food chain. When energy moves from one living organism (hamburger) to the next (me), scientists call this path or chain the Food Chain. Every living thing needs food. Food provides energy for plants and animals to live.
Food chains begin with plants using sunlight, water and nutrients to make energy in a process called photosynthesis. There are lots of different kinds of food chains— some simple, some complex. An example of a simple food chain is when a rabbit eats grass and then a fox eats the rabbit. I think food chains are so interesting, I’ve written some poems about them.
A Shark is the Sun
Shark eats tuna,
Tuna eats mackerel,
Mackerel eats sardine,
Sardine eats zooplankton,
Zooplankton eats phytoplankton,
Phytoplankton eats sun.
So...shark eats sun.
In every food chain there are producers, consumers and decomposers. Plants make their own food so they are producers. Animals are consumers because they consume plants or animals. Decomposers have the final say as they break down and decompose plants or animals and release nutrients back to the earth. Animals can be herbivores (plant eater), carnivores (meat eater) or omnivores (plant and meat eater). What are you?
Why Can’t I Be On The Top?
I don’t like the bottom,
I want to be at the top.
I’m tired of being crushed and stomped
and chewed into slop.
Why can’t I be the tiger
with claws as sharp as shears,
With a roar as loud as thunder
To threaten trembling ears?
Who designed this food chain?
Is there a chance I can opt out?
At least I’m not a plankton
Floating all about.
I hope you are happy with your place in the food chain. If not, you might want to sing along with the Food Chain Blues.
Food Chain Blues
Mama said be careful,
It’s a risky world outside,
Dangers lurking everywhere,
Hardly a place to hide.
She said some of us get eaten,
And some of us survive.
Count yourself quite lucky,
If you make it out alive.
We’re stuck in this cruel cycle,
Nature’s red teeth and claws.
You wanna do your best,
To stay clear of someone’s jaws.
I got the food chain blues
I got the food chain blues
Someone’s gonna eat me.
I got the food chain blues!
For more of Steve's poems about creatures check out Ocean Soup. It even has its own web page here.
Steve Swinburne is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen. "Food Chain Poems." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8
Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Food-Chain-Poems.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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Remind me later