Hilltown Families


Let this national observation month be a catalyst for learning. Families can start with fun projects at home, like Blackout Poetry and Book Spine Poetry. Explore the work of famous poets, including William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Safia Elhillo. For recommended titles, check out our posts, Six Novels Written in Verse and Books for Young Bards, and check out our archived column, One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love.

Western Massachusetts has been home to many poets and writers who were inspired by this region’s remarkable landscape. April is National Poetry Month. As nature begins to come to life in blossoms and buds, National Poetry Month is the perfect catalyst for exploring the outdoor spaces and places that inspired great writers of the past and present through some of the many local trails found in the region.

In Barbara Cooney’s book Miss Rumphius, the woman lovingly know as the Lupine Lady spreads beauty throughout her community by keeping a pocketful of seeds to distribute – so as to share the joy of nature’s treasures. During National Poetry Month, families can apply the Lupine Lady’s philosophy of life to the written word by participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day. Celebrated annually as part of National Poetry Month, Poem in Your Pocket Day encourages people to share writing and connect with others by spreading poems throughout their communities. Celebrated by literally carrying poems in pockets or by sharing words through more creative means, the event presents a unique opportunity to share important writing and to connect with others through the thoughts and feelings that great writing can provoke.

Poet and Cummington native, William Cullen Bryant, was very much influenced by the landscape of the Western Massachusetts Hilltowns of his youth. In fact, Bryant’s “A Winter Piece” is a reflection on this time of year. The poem is a meditation on this season, and one to read on a quiet winter’s day or perhaps before a winter walk in the woods. Here we share a link to the poem, inviting you to read the poem and then visit the very location that inspired this great poet.

Did you know that poetry may actually predate the written word? Today, in a world full of written prose, this can be hard to imagine. In a time of strictly oral communication, however, poetic forms had not only aesthetic but highly practical purposes. Due to the often rhythmic and rhyming nature of poems, poetry can be easier to remember than prose, and poetry can be used as a mnemonic device. Metered (rhythmic) and rhyming phrases were once recited, or sung, in order to remember and convey oral history, genealogy, and even law! Do you or someone you know like to write poetry? Why not participate in the Greenfield Public Library’s 26th Annual Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest, open to all Franklin County teen and adult poets.

February is National African American History Month in the United States. It is a time to honor the work, achievements, and contributions of African Americans. Literature, art, and community-based resources share stories and help us to remember the struggle for civil rights and the importance of equality, civic action, social justice and solidarity. Looking through the lens of poetry, Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde are two African American poets who illustrate the power of voice and words.

Poetry of William Cullen Bryant “The Planting of the Apple-Tree” Did you know that William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century poet (and Schoolhouse Poet like John Greenleaf Whittier) planted over 800 apple trees on his farm property? While the orchard is no longer active, you can still visit the poet’s homestead in Cummington, MA. A property of The Trustees, The William Cullen Bryant Homestead is open for house tours and other activities… Read More

Explore local poets’ homes and writing places from the past, such as the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA.

Celebrated annually as part of National Poetry Month, Poem in Your Pocket Day encourages people to share writing and connect with others by spreading poems throughout their communities. Celebrated by literally carrying poems in pockets or by sharing words through more creative means, the event presents a unique opportunity to share important writing and to connect with others through the thoughts and feelings that great writing can provoke.

In anticipation of April’s celebration of National Poetry Month, young poets can share their work through community art workshops and poetry contests! Offering young writers a space in which to share their voices, these upcoming events and contests provide unique opportunities to explore creativity.

Thursday in national Poem in Your Pocket Day. We love what this community in Virginia organized that celebrates poetry, supported collaborations & volunteerism, and encouraged community engagement & literacy development. Check out this video and be inspired to share poetry in your community!

As fall darkens and begins to give way to winter, our hibernation instincts begin to kick in, inspiring us to hunker down and spend more time inside. While it’s sad to give up the long, bright days, there’s no reason not to make the best of the darkness! Families can spend November writing, by participating in either 30 Poems in November or National Novel Writing Month – two writing projects that challenge participants to create a large amount of new work throughout the month.

Emily Dickinson, born and raised in Amherst, MA, is one of western Massachusetts many notable poets and writers. The Emily Dickinson Museum, comprising of the Dickinson Homestead and The Evergreens, welcomes families, children and writers into Emily’s life as lived in the Pioneer Valley in the 1800’s.

One of the best times to visit the Homestead and to check out the community-based educational opportunities this local resources offers, is during the museum’s upcoming annual Garden Days. There will be many opportunities to for community engagement, including volunteering, workshops, family gardening activities, and times to reflect and feel the inspiration of the Pioneer Valley as Emily did over 150 years ago!

The 2014 American Chemical Society’s Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest invites students in grades K-12 to write and illustrate poems about water. The official theme, “Wonders of Water,” encourages students of all ages to ponder the role that water plays in their daily lives, in the natural world around them, and in the chemical and physical properties of everything on earth…

Natalie Merchant’s double album “Leave Your Sleep” arrived in 2010 to rave reviews, transforming a selection of classic children’s poetry into a collection of original songs. In 2012, the picture book of the same title was published with richly imagined watercolors by illustrator Barbara McClintock. Now, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, will showcase the art from the book in the upcoming exhibition “Leave Your Sleep: Natalie Merchant and Barbara McClintock,” beginning November 26, 2013 and running through May 4, 2014…

In “One Clover & a Bee,” Amy shares two poems to read and recite with your kids while crunch through autumn leaves or during indoor transitions…

This month in “One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love,” Amy’s pick for July is a poem by Emily Dickinson…

Take a Poem to the Beach To kick off the summer, here’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Cummings is known for his inventiveness—his play with language and form. That playfulness is usually most obvious in the capitalization (or lack of) and punctuation (seemingly random) in his poems, and kids love to see a grown-up breaking those rules. ——— maggie and milly and molly and may by E. E. Cummings maggie and milly… Read More

Big Ideas (in the Ordinary) I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way. The poem I’ve chosen for… Read More

Springtime In Your Eye I know, you thought it would never get here. Even though for many weeks the thermometer refused to creep up, and many of us (me!) were walking around hunched into jackets we had come to hate, Spring calmly went about its business: the vernal witch-hazel unfurled its yellow tatters in the March wind, maples were open for sap business, red-wing blackbirds buzzed in the marshes, and finally—in what… Read More

Behind All Our Questions: Yet Another Reason Poems Are Good For Us I don’t know about you, but I don’t always know what I’m feeling. Or I have a general idea, but I’m not sure I understand it, or know what to do about it, or if there is anything to do about it. I think for our kids, especially as they grow older, this is a fairly constant condition:  they’re trying… Read More

In honor of Black History Month I want to share an extraordinary book about an extraordinary human being: Carver, a life in poems (Front Street, 2001) is an intimate portrait of the botanist, inventor, scientist, artist, musician, and teacher, known as George Washington Carver. Written by acclaimed poet, Marilyn Nelson, the book takes us through Carver’s life in a series of narrative poems told from the voices of the people who knew… Read More

Phtheezles May Even Ensue This month I offer up a poem by A.A. Milne, of Pooh fame, that’s about being sick (or pretending to be), which a lot us can probably relate to right now. It’s also terrifically fun to say out loud. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are especially prone to what I call “repetition and variation” finding a word or a sound that feels good to say,… Read More

Other Bells We Would Ring: A Poem for Parents As I write this the rain is bucketing down out of a sky so gray it feels as if even the weather is conspiring to press home the weight of darkness that this month has ushered in. So much grief is around us, and the idea of bringing forth light seems a fool’s task. Yet the wheel is turning, and I don’t know… Read More

I’m Grateful for…The Bed Book If you’re familiar with Sylvia Plath’s work you might be surprised to see a poem of hers here. But in addition to her darkly brilliant work she also wrote a book for her children, The Bed Book, that’s bright and whimsical. This book, which also has wonderful illustrations, is out of print, but used copies are still available. I encourage you to seek it out and read… Read More

Amy Dryansky shares two not-so-spooky poems for Halloween in her column, “One Clover & A Bee” Poems for Families to Learn & Love.” Many of the poems she looked at when deciding which ones to feature explored that space where spooky crosses over to scary, but these two found that sweet spot where we might get goose bumps, , but know we can always turn the lights on…

The Sound of One Leaf Falling Some poems are clearly meant to be read aloud: sound is the engine that moves them off the page and into our consciousness. Other poems rely more on image, making pictures that resonate in our mind’s eye. Some poems try to do both, using structural elements like line breaks, punctuation and white space to guide the reader through the poem, encouraging us to move slowly, linger… Read More

Whisper and Shout Whisper and Shout: Poems to Memorize, edited by Patricia Vecchione, was given to my daughter on her 10th birthday. It’s a book that she’s dog-eared and written in freely, habits I generally discourage. In this case, however, I have to admit it’s wonderful to look back at what she’s written about the poems over the years—the notes and tiny drawings in different colored inks are a special document of… Read More

Sing a Song of Popcorn When I polled my kids for their all-time favorite book of poems from when they were little they singled out Sing A Song Of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book Of Poems. I can totally see why: not only does it have a great mix of poetry styles, subjects and forms, it also features wonderful illustrations by several artists, including Caldecott medalists Maurice Sendak!, Arnold Lobel, and Leo and… Read More

A Poem to (Possibly) Sleep On Sleep figures large in the life of a parent. For some of us it’s a tantalizing mirage, always just out of reach—it was for me, anyway. My daughter had colic for her first six months in the world, and cried for hours on end while my partner and I walked and rocked and massaged and drove her up and down the highway. It didn’t really help,… Read More

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