Appearances @ the 11th Bookworm International Literary Festival


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F2FC2B22-2E65-49CE-98BB-7381E44B9693-13489-00000DAE938BD214_tmpSo I know this may be far away for some of you, but if you’re in the Beijing area this coming weekend, March 17-18, I’ll be participating on two panels at the Beijing Bookworm Bookstore for their 11th Bookworm International Literary Festival. Click on the image above to get details about the Poetry in Education event! Click on the image below to get more information on my reading and discussion of Crafting the Creative Abroad panel! I hope to see you there!


Writing, Teaching, & Self Care: 2018 & Beyond


I recently came across this brief article, “Buy a cat, stay up late, don’t drink: top 10 writers’ tips on writing” in The Guardian, and I thought it was especially appropriate for teachers who also want to make writing lives of their own.

However, I do have one additional piece of advice which is especially important for educators who want to make writing lives: in order to make a writing life, give to yourself first.

What this means is that although we, as educators, have the natural inclination to give so much of ourselves to our students and their parents, to our lessons, to our grading, to our after school activities, etc., we often neglect the necessary work of self-care that is absolutely essential for a writing life.  This past fall, I was guilty of this. I gave up writing and exercising and replaced those activities with school work, sacrificing myself to meet with students, to respond to emails, to grade in the morning, and to generally allow myself to be consumed by my service. I became lethargic, enervated, and less than happy for months on end. And I kept giving this way, thinking that I needed to give more and more and more to my work as a teacher. However, I felt that I couldn’t ever give enough and that even though I was working so hard, there was always more to give. I became trapped in a cycle of giving so much to others that I had nothing left to give to myself. Why and how did this happen after over fifteen years in the classroom? Shouldn’t I have known better? How did I lose my way?

At my school, I am fortunate to have many, many students who want to excel. They work hard, and the vast majority genuinely care about their learning and/or their grades. They want to write better and to improve upon their abilities, and as an educator who cares, I want to be there for them to help facilitate their learning and to help them to achieve their dreams. This is my natural tendency, and the habit of many other educators with whom I work. However, some of us are givers who are terrible at giving to ourselves. I’m one of them, and I suspect that I’m not alone.

Enter December and its holiday break, which gave me time for reflection. What I learned is that prioritizing my writing and my exercising does not have to be in conflict with my grading, my lesson-planning, or my meeting with my high achieving students/their parents. Instead, in order to be at my best, I need to “give to myself” first with writing and exercising. Building a healthy and writer-ly life as an educator means that I must make the time for those kinds of work every day. I cannot shortchange myself by not “paying myself” at all. This has required me to adjust how I go about “paying myself.” Here’s my new standard schedule:

  1. I used to exercise in the morning, but recently I’ve discovered that this just won’t work for me anymore. I need more sleep than I used to. Now in the mornings when the house is quiet, when the cats snuggle up next to me, when I can have my cup of coffee, when I have my pen and journal in hand, and when I can think in silence before my family wakes, this is my writing time. Also, I used to immediately check social media in the morning. Now, after deleting those apps from my phone, I make a conscious effort to delay checking in online until I’ve had my writing time. Pen and paper. No computer unless I’m at a revision stage. No WiFi. No phone.
  2. Then it’s off to school work. Even though school is not yet in session for us, this time is still filled with comments and grading.
  3. I tend to crash around late afternoon, so when I’m at my energy low later in the day? Exercise! This shift is necessary for me; however, what it means is that I may have to say “no” to some after contract hours activities in order to take care of my physical well-being. That’s okay.
  4. At home with my family, I get little done in the evenings aside from occasional assessing of student work. I answer emails within twenty-four hours, so I cannot guarantee students will be able to reach me after I leave for the day. When I’m at home, I’m husband and dad first and foremost.

December holiday break can be a rejuvenating time. For me, I realized that writing, teaching, exercising, and spending time with my family are all restorative “must-do” activities for me. All of those things nurture my spirit and help me be better all around as an artist, as a professional educator, as a father and a husband, and as a friend and a colleague. If I’m spending time giving to myself by prioritizing my writing and my exercising, I’m happier, more focused, more energetic, and more able to engage in additional school work, if necessary. I’m also eager to give more, and I feel better about doing so.

So if, like me, you’re an educator who’s feeling bogged down by how much you give, give to yourself first. Engage in what nourishes you, and you’ll be in a better position to positively impact everyone around you. Before you know it, your writing will reflect this, too.

All best in writing, fitness, meditation, reflection, and self-care in 2018 and beyond,


A New Year’s Gratitude for the Light that a Literary Press and Its Founder Brought to Me


The older I get, the more I appreciate those who have nurtured my writing life. Enter Bertha Rogers, poet, artist, teacher, and founder of Bright Hill Press; she’s a literary friend I’ve known for over twenty years, a friend who recently retired from running the upstate New York arts organization she founded in 1992. While I was one of the first two Bright Hill Press interns back in 1995 (whether or not I was the first is debatable), after I graduated and left upstate New York, I lost touch with Bertha and Bright Hill.

Years went by: I married and became a dad, earned an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins, published individual poems online and in print, presented at the West Chester University’s Poetry Conference, taught high school and college-level English, and overall carved out a little literary life for myself. However, it wasn’t until I submitted a manuscript to Bright Hill Press’ Annual At Hand Chapbook Contest that I reconnected with Bertha and Bright Hill Press. In November 2013, I was standing in my living room when Bertha called and told me the good news: through the blind-judging process, my manuscript had co-won Bright Hill Press’ national chapbook competition!

The following months involved a collaboration with Bertha that I will always cherish, the result of which was The Cards We’ve Drawn, published in July 2014. It was and is especially meaningful to have had my first chapbook published by Bright Hill Press nearly twenty years after my initial internship there. The exposure Bertha allowed me to have as a college sophomore showed me how one person who believes passionately in the arts can make a difference. In 2015, this also led me to consult Bertha about ideas for a collaborator on a book of limericks and art. The result? She connected me to the Catskill-area artist Walter Gurbo, which led to our collaboration on Bugs Us All, published in 2016 by Entasis Press.

Before this year ends, I want to encourage you to support Bright Hill Press. Check out their website, buy a chapbook from their extensive lists of amazing authors, or purchase a copy of their brand new anthology, Like Light: 25 Years of Poetry and Prose by Bright Hill Poets & Writers. In its pages you’ll find new work by the poets and writers published by Bright Hill (myself included). Help celebrate not only a quarter century of Bertha Rogers and Bright Hill Press bringing the light of poetry to the Catskills but also to those far beyond those mountains. You’ll feel good about supporting their programs; trust me as a former intern, a Bright Hill author, and a teacher in Shanghai, China whose seen the impact Bright Hill Press and Literary Center of the Catskills has had and can have with your continued support.

If you’re not yet convinced, please visit their website to learn more about Bright Hill Press and Literary Center’s programs and history.

Al the best to you and yours in 2018,


Then and Now: What Matters to Me in Teaching Students About Poetry


Years ago as a teacher, I loved that my students thought of me as some kind of poetry guru. I used to stand behind my lectern and throw questions at them about poems. When they didn’t “get it,” it wasn’t for my lack of passion or my pedagogical know-how. It was that they needed me to lead them, to model for them how to make meaning the way I did. As a result, I cared about students being able to recall how I led them through individual poems in class. I cared that they, too, if called upon by some personal conviction, should want to go on to toil away and write poems. And if, sometime far into the future, they happened to credit me with being the one who led them to Poetry, I would “humbly” accept their gratitude.

However, I often became frustrated with them and their lack of an ability to see what I saw. I showed them this frustration. They wanted to please me, so they worked harder, soaking up more of me and more of my own reading of poems. They became less like students and more like little Slaby disciples who learned a little about Poetry. Notice how many “I”s I’ve used? A decade ago teaching my students about Poetry was much more about me than it was about my students’ learning.

However, after fifteen years in the classroom, I’m happy to write that today:

  • I care deeply and passionately that all of my students understand what poems are.
  • I care that they develop their abilities to notice what is there on the page.
  • I care that my students can consistently notice the language levels in any poem they encounter, and that they can make ideas about these levels’ relationships with one another.

Overall, I am a better teacher because I care about my students being able to say confidently and competently for themselves, “I notice” Poetry for what it is!

This is why I’ve spent years refining the “I Notice” method/pedagogy so that it works in the classroom and can be shared among educators who also care about helping students become more confident and competent readers of poems.

Here’s what it does:

  • It provides a method of immersing oneself in language.
  • It helps readers practice “noticing” on their own.
  • As a result, it helps readers experience Poetry itself.

So please check it out, and try it for yourself. After doing so, if you’re going to give credit to anyone, give credit to yourself for slowing down, for immersing yourself in language, and for experiencing Poetry. You deserve it!

Why Poetry


I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time.

Those of you who know my professional interests, know that I have wanted to help transform the way students learn how to read poems; this has led me to a career that focuses on high school English/Language Arts pedagogy and curricula. For years I’ve been refining and revisiting my own pedagogical practice in helping students experience poems. However, I’ve long hoped that an acclaimed poet and educator would say with clarity and resolve that many of the ways students are taught to engage with poetry are problematic and that we need to revisit those in order to help others know what poems are and how to engage with them. Enter Matthew Zapruder’s Why Poetry, a long overdue exploration of how we engage with poems, how we disengage because of poor teaching about poems, and how we can all not only to re-engage but reinvigorate the ways we experience poetry.

Why Poetry is a book that is especially helpful for educators. Zapruder acknowledges, “It’s a hard problem teachers have, to get students to accept a poem’s elusive potentialities for mystery and order and anarchy.” In Why Poetry, not only does Zapruder offer insights into how to create a culture of exploration that allows for such engagement to occur, but he also affirms the reasons why readers often feel intimidated about reading poems, sharing his own understandings and misunderstandings. He does this while reassuring us that it’s perfectly okay to not know what poems mean, but to sit with their questions, to let poems “not mean but be.” It is through immersing oneself in the language within poems that we can access the wondrous questions and connections that poems reveal.

Why Poetry belongs in the hands of every English educator. It opens a door into how anyone can experience poems, and it asserts that we can move beyond some of our traditional approaches in the teaching of reading poems. Buy Why Poetry, read it, discuss it, and debate it with your colleagues. Reflecting on it, you’ll reflect on your own poem-reading habits and practices, and hopefully, if you’re a teacher, you’ll consider making some changes to how you help your students read poems. If enough teachers do this, we’ll be able to effect real change in helping students of all ages develop a lifelong love for reading poems.


Let’s Work Together to Nurture Poetry Readers

IMG_1695On July 10, the New York Times published an article by Matthew Zapruder entitled, “Understanding Poetry is More Straightforward Than You Think” (, which led Johannes Göransson to respond to some of Zapruder’s claims, mainly to the idea that poems need to be “straightforward.” While some have indicated that Göransson’s response may be based on a misunderstanding (which I believe it is), he makes some good points about the power of “strange” poems.

However, the real problem in this exchange is that it needs to be refocused. Göransson writes (

“It is true, as Zapruder notes, that often in school students are taught that poems are merely messages to interpret, to find a “meaning,” and that this reduces our enjoyment of poetry. This is a good insight. However, Zapruder’s solution to the issue is not to open poetry up to different approaches, but instead to limit what poetry is to a very narrow definition: It’s the “literal,” a reductive idea of ‘everyday language.’”

And Zapruder responds (

“Really what I was talking about was the initial encounter with a poem, how vital it is, when reading or writing, to be almost (but not quite!) sacred in relation to the words that appear on the page, and that this attitude of attention is the first step toward all the exciting, troubling, contradictory, gorgeous mysteries of poetry.”

The “different approaches” in Göransson’s critique and the “attitude of attention” in Zapruder’s response are essentially the same thing. Those of us invested in poetry want to help students develop their abilities to notice/pay attention to what makes poetry, well, poetry. There are a myriad of ways to make this happen. However, professors and poets and teachers shouldn’t be practicing them in isolation.

What is sorely needed is a focused and collaborative effort by poets and academics and educators at all levels to not simply engage students with poetry but to teach them what the genre is, what it can do (basically, anything any other genre can do), and how to approach it so they can see it for themselves. It’s true that poems can be riddles, but they don’t have to be. Poems can be stories, but they don’t have to be. Poems can be wildly obscure, or they can be very straightforward. Poetry is big enough for all of these and more. Paraphrasing Lewis Turco in The Book of Forms, poetry can do anything all of the other genres can do. The difference between poetry and the other genres is that the medium of ultimate concern for poetry is the language itself in all of its nuanced aspects. What needs our collaborative intellectual effort is figuring out how all of us can better help people experience the language itself in all of its beautiful unfolding.

How can we engage all stakeholders in a constructive dialogue about what each of us can do or what each one of us is already doing to help more and more people experience the joys of poetry? Maybe we could all start by sharing our best pedagogical practices in the teaching of reading/experiencing poems. I’ll go first. My “I notice” method is one approach ( It’s not the only one. However, it has worked well for me, and others have adopted it and/or adapted it. To Göransson and Zapruder and anyone else who cares about helping others notice the beauty of poetry — what has worked for you? Let’s discuss so maybe we can help others, too.

Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language

Final Notice Animation-1For some time, I’ve been spreading the word about my Academy of American Poets unit plan on “Noticing Poetry”, which is really more than a unit plan; it’s a shift in pedagogy and methodology, an approach that helps both teachers and students focus on what’s most important in reading poetry — practicing noticing language in all its nuances. That noticing, often slow and thoughtful, is at the core of experiencing poetry.

Reading a poem is a mindful noticing of language. As teachers, we need to make sure we are modeling this. If we, as mindful readers of poems, model how to be present and aware of the language and the way it unfolds, line by line, beginning to end of the poem, students will notice. If we are not comfortable engaging in such reading, our students will most likely not become such readers themselves.

So how does one be mindful when reading a poem? I like to tell my students that they should first approach a poem with an awareness that it may be doing many things simultaneously, and no two poems will have the same combination of language levels. This makes reading poems a challenge, since, to paraphrase Lewis Turco, poems can do everything any other genre can do. We can only control how we engage with the page; we can only get better at noticing what is there. Since all poems are comprised of language, this is our common ground, our starting point for reading any poem.

For more on my method, I hope you’ll check out my unit plan and pedagogy at The Academy of American Poets and my post on “A Letter to Students Before We Start to Read Poems.”