Mary Beth Writes


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?)

Just this afternoon I finished “A Fairy Tale About Easter Dinner”. It will land in my Substack account Saturday morning at 8AM. If you haven’t subscribed (free or for $, your choice) you can do that very easily here. (subcribe here)  If you are a subscriber, you don’t have to look for my stories, the link comes to you via your email.

Here’s a Free Bonus Offer for those who pay for the subscription (besides the fact that I love you). Send an email to me with two names you would like to see as characters in my stories and I will fit them in as minor or major characters in upcoming stories. My email is MB at MaryBethDanielson dot com.


Next week I will be writing without too many distractions other than my own personality. Sigh.

Because my story won the contest, I’ve been invited to offer something into the Mineral Point community so I’m going to lead a local 3rd grade class in “How 2 Write a Poem.”

I did this when my own kids were in 3rd grade and it was fun. However, that was decades ago and I need to remember how to do this. I thought that if I wrote it down here some of you might enjoy this also. Let’s see if this gambit works.

Have you ever watched a bee getting nectar from a flower? A fly getting juice from a pile of garbage? Poets and writers are like bees and flies and other bugs. They go around with their feelers out. They notice what’s interesting to them. They notice when something is really beautiful or extra cool or the way people or animals react to each other is kind or terrible. Not all people who notice life very well are writers, but all writers have to be people who notice the world around them.

Are you noticers? Do you see things that fascinate you? Do you sometimes stop to look at a flower, or a leaf, or dead stuff on the sidewalk, or trucks pulling something extra heavy, or grownups standing on a ladder and they don’t look safe? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” (Who knows who I just quoted?)

Who saw something interesting on the way to school this morning?

(Let them say what they saw. Cut them off at a minute or two. If possible.)

Good noticing, you guys. I’m impressed.

 Noticing is step one.

You know what Step Two is?

Noticing harder.

Like this.

What is this?

Yep. An apple.

Is there anything to say about this apple?

What color is it? Can you think of anything else that is the color red that this apple is? What shape is it? Sort of round but not exactly so is it? Does it have shoulders? Does it have a butt to sit on? Back last spring what was this apple? Yeah, a blossom. How did it grow? It took months and months so it needed time. What else? Sunshine, rain, maybe some bug spray from the orchard guy. So this apple, and all the apples you will ever eat in your whole life – are filled with sunshine, rain, and time.

Who do you think picked this apple that I bought at a grocery store? Yup, probably a tree shaking apple picker machine. But people helped the orchard grow, and organized was going on. Could this apple have made it to us without people? Were the people who worked in the orchard rich? Maybe, but probably not. Farm workers are not usually rich. Maybe some of the workers came from south of our current American border, speaking Spanish or maybe even a Mayan language.

What color is it inside? Pure white? Nope, it’s sort of a creamy white. Do you know anything else that’s this color? Flowers, bread, some of us have skin that’s this color. Look what else is in the apple. If I cut it this way, around its waist, can you see the star that is in it? Did you know apples have stars?

So now we have talked about one apple for a very long time.

Let’s see if we can write a poem about it.

I see this apple on my hand.

It is as red as our faces when we play outside.

It is jam-packed with sunshine, rain, time, and one star.

Just like us.

When I eat it I will say thank you gracias to the people who grew it and picked it for me.

Okay, now let’s write another poem.

What are some of your favorite things to look at or think about? No TV shows or computer games. Those are cool but we would need to be a lot better poets than we are to write an Ode to Fortnight. (pets, parents, playground, spring, favorite clothes, clouds, pancakes, going for a walk with someone you like, …)

You will want to think about things or places you can see with your eyes. It’s easier to start with apples than with the ways you love and don’t love your sister.

Let’s do this together again.

Let’s write a poem about Spring? There’s lots of stuff to say.

Let’s use our five senses.

What do you SEE in spring? (flowers, birds, things growing)

What do you HEAR in spring? (birds, wind, kids playing, bells on bikes, bats hitting balls)

What do you FEEL in spring? (wind on skin, sunshine on face, rain, chilly, hot, sweaty)

What do you TASTE in spring? (asparagus, rhubarb, sandwiches and snack foods and soda eaten outside)

What do you Smell in spring? (grass, farm fields, mud, gas for tractors, people grilling outside, new flowers)

Do you LIKE spring and why? (Being outside, feeling new, running around, taking coats and jackets off to play, closer to school being out for the summer)

Do you sometimes NOT like spring? Why? (It rains, loud storms, too much mud. Having to come inside when you want to stay outside. Grownups making you go outside when you want to stay inside.)

Okay, Let’s start our poem.

In Spring we wake up like rumpled bears coming out of a den.

We stand on our playground and see ………………………

We go for a walk and hear ……………………………..

Our jackets are hot on our arms so we take them off and feel ………………………………

A grownup says we should eat outside and when we do, the food tastes like fizzy wind and daffodil buns. Our hair flies into our eyes and a bee buzzes by so we say goodbye.


Did you like those two parts where we said fizzy wind and daffodil buns?

That’s the third rule for writing poems.

The first Rule was Notice. The second rule was Notice Harder. And now – the third rule is to Keep Noticing until you surprise yourself.

We talked about the apple with well chosen words. We wrote a nice poem. But what else is an apple that we don’t often think about?

Sometimes it’s a house for a worm, right? I wonder what a worm poet would say about living in an apple. I wonder if it’s like being in an RV. I don’t even know, but it could be a fun poem.

Apples roll easily. What if an apple rolled down a hill. What would it see as it bumped and whizzed along?

Or spring. We all know it’s a great new season that most of us really like.

If the sun could talk and had feelings, what would the sun say about spring? Would it like shining extra warm to the parts of earth that are angled closer to it? Would the sun be like a nice grandma or grandpa calling you to them for a hug and a candy bar?

Poems let us say what we see. And then we say it more completely. And then, if we want, we can think very hard and see the surprises of how one thing is like another thing.

And if we surprise even ourselves, then we’ve written something pretty good.




Leonard's picture

The first thing you’re telling the kids is NOT that it has to rhyme. Rhyming is a troubling thing. It isn’t even spelled right, for one thing. And it’s hard to do if you start out with the rhyme. But, sometimes, when you’re trying really hard to notice things and looking for the words that mean what you want to say, you find that the best words seem to rhyme, anyway. Like they were made to fit that way. Weird, huh?

This is awesome! . The kids are going to enjoy their lesson and you! Your enthusiasm and love for words comes thru in your writing.

I love, love this lesson! How I wish I had you for a teacher when I was in 3rd grade, or at any time, really! This is a most delightful lesson and you are going to make poets out of those lucky kids! Have a most wonderful time next week! Uninterrupted writing! What could be better?! Starting with the recognition that you are a great writer!

Oh I would have welcomed you to my classroom!!! I scheduled time for creative writing once a week. Their stories were shared and then saved all year. I hope some kids enjoy re-reading them. Poetry is challenging and you ‘nailed’ a good lesson plan!
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you, Dona! I'm sure i can do this, I've done it before - but in the early 1990's. I appreciate a teacher's opinion!

Hi, Mary Beth. Your intent to engage the children is the wonderful part of all of this! They are being recognized for their impressions, thoughts, imaginations ... and sometimes craziness. That's what teaching is. You'll be great! Have a wonderful time, and please share your reaction to the experience in a future installment of "Mary Beth Danielson Writes."
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you and I will!

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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.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


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.

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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