Mary Beth Writes


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

This morning I worried I didn’t have enough material to keep kids going 1 ½ hours, so I added two ideas. One was so much fun that if you have kids or you like word games, well, have at it.

The class I taught was a combo of the school’s three third grades plus there were four (I think) adults in the classroom with me.

We dove into the Three Rules of Writing. 1. Notice the world around you. 2. Notice harder 3. Keep noticing until you surprise yourself.

We wrote a poem together about spring. In Spring we see, hear, smell, feel on our skin, and taste. The kids were very energetic and interested and most of their answers were exactly what you’d expect kids to say, though there was the kid who answered “moss” to everything.

It’s exhilarating and exhausting to stand right there, with all those kids right in front of you. Some never raise their hands. Some waggle their hands so energetically their tummies show. There was a boy wearing a handsome sweater who was clearly thinking a lot about fish and fishing. I sort of wanted to connect him to my son, who also spends a lot of time thinking about fish and fishing.

All of this took about 50 minutes. Glad I added two extra poem activities.

Generally poetry has feet aka the beat, the rhythm, the foot-tapping way it reads. The kids stood up and I read three short poems and the kids stomped out the beat with their feet. More interesting than my HS English teacher explaining iambic, that’s for sure.

The last thing we did was the winner. I gave them rhymable syllables and then they named the rhyming words one could make. They were good at this. Sounds such as idge, age, ost, ome. For each root word they would give me 5-10 words and then they would make rhyming poems using as many of the words as possible.

Hands waving. Kids excited when they could string together two and three and five words in goofy sentences. “Sage is in a rage in a cage because her wage is not what she engaged.” (Something like that; I’m trying to remember how lines unfolded.) “A ghost sat on a post at the coast hoping the host would give him the most.” “The house was made of chrome but lined with foam.” “She was far from home, in Rome, reading a tome of poems.”

And then the class was over. One girl gave me a poem she had written. Another girl stayed after the other kids ran out (to recess, I think). Her teacher brought her over to me.
“She has something she would like to tell you.”

The child smiled and quietly said, “My name is Mary.”

I grinned noisily, “No way! I have four friends named Mary in my old town; we get together for coffee every once in a while. If you come, too, we will buy your coffee!”

She smiled a big smile.

Then I thought to ask, “What’s your middle name?”


“Ahhh! Mine, too!”

It was a great day. I don’t know how much they learned other than, I hope, words can wake you up and help you know who you are and what you love (moss and fish) and where in the wide, wide world you live. Words are fun. 

Plus, here in this town is a lovely child who has my name and thinks that’s rather fine. So do I.





Leonard's picture

Well, it sounds like you managed to surprised yourself, so I guess it was a pretty good writing day
Mary Beth's picture

Yes, you got that right!

I truly salute you! You looked great in that classroom!
Mary Beth's picture

A girl in a classroom is my best look...

I know you won't boast So I'll give you a toast: You've the best mind around That ever I've found. :) (The kids were lucky to experience your enthusiasm and gift of writing. As I like to remind you, You Rock!)
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you so much! And I forgot to credit how well you kept up making those lists on the white board of all the things the kids said! I do not know how you teachers even drag yourselves to your cars at the ends of your days! Thanks for welcoming and supporting me so beautifully...

I loved reading this. If I were still teaching, I'd invite you to my school and recommend you to my colleagues. I always loved doing poetry with age.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks! And I would come even if it meant driving to Maine or flying to Denmark...

As one of the Marys, I salute you for being so creative with this gaggle of third graders AND for creating a Mary auxiliary. I think you had a fine day!
Mary Beth's picture

Laughing. Thanks.

When teaching I always loved April…poetry month. We all discovered so much about words, our world, ourselves. I teared up a bit reading about your great day with third graders. It has now been almost 20 years since I taught third graders. And I know to treasure the memories because I certainly don’t have the energy they require and deserve. How lucky the kids are you shared your gifts.
Mary Beth's picture

Oh thank you so much for writing! It was really fun to do and I am so glad I don't need to do it every day. Goodness, the stamina it would require!

I'm glad you had such a good time and met Mary Elizabeth.
Mary Beth's picture


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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

Sorrow. Scarf. Story.


Last Sunday 25-year-old Air Force serviceman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire and then died in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. He said he was protesting "what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers." He declared he "will no longer be complicit in genocide."

I don’t even know where to go with this commemoration but this young person seems, to me, familiar and precious so I would like to say something.

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