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Rediscovering the Poetry of Donald Graves

 I am both proud and humbled to be invited to deliver the Annual Donald Graves Address at the Australian Literacy Educator's Association (A.L.E.A) National Conference in Darwin, in July this year. 






Rare air indeed, to follow in the footsteps of previous presenters,  Mem Fox, Ralph Fletcher and Robyn Ewing among others. I feel duly honoured by the special opportunity  afforded me.

Most importantly, it presents as a highly valued opportunity to honour the incalculable global contribution Donald Graves' research and publications made to the teaching of writing, as well as his personal impact on my teaching and writing life. My heart sings...

Donald Graves was a mild-mannered, writing revolutionary who impacted pedagogical approaches to writing, globally. I very much look forward to celebrating his incredible legacy -past, present and future. 

Diving back into the life and times of Donald Graves as part of my preparation, I have been reminded of his strong and abiding connection to Poetry. Donald loved poetry. In fact, I have in my personal library a copy of his 1996 anthology of poems, 'Baseball, Snakes and Summer Squash.'  

Donald possessed a poet’s heart. My research discovered he and his wife, Betty, frequently exchanged Billy Collins poems most evenings before their evening meal. 

He saw poetry as big thinking in a small space. He was, as W H Auden said- a person passionately in love with language.

In his 1992 book, 'Exploring Poetry,' Donald Graves wrote: 

'Poetry is not a genre ‘on a hill.’ It is for all who wish to write about what they care about, to relive scenes, recall images and savour experiences that otherwise pass fleetingly through their minds.'








So, with this in mind, I present a couple of Donald Graves' poems for your reading pleasure:


DOING DISHES 

None of the other kids

have to do dishes.

Roy says only girls do that

Dad doesn't do dishes.


Mother says that George and I

will be good husbands

because we do dishes

Maybe I shouldn't get married

not even to Elisabeth Lindberg.


Donald Graves


HANDWRITING

Loops and circles

circles and loops

march across my page

from left to right.


The class leans 

into their pages

like factory worker;

heads go up and down;

Miss Fortin patrols

the aisles to check

our posture, the position

of our arms. 


She looks at my page

of circles and loops

mixed with black smudges

and eraser holes.

She doesn't get angry;

she just lets out

a long, low sigh

like she wants to go home.


Donald Graves














It is once again Poetry Friday and this week our host is Mary Lee Hahn . Mary Lee presents a poem for pomegranates. A fruit with personality that pops! Please visit to access links to a host of poets and their varied offerings. 




Comments

  1. Congratulations on your invitation, Allan. I know you will do a wonderful job. And thanks for sharing some of Graves' poems - I am more familiar with his important work on writing, than with his poetry, so enjoyed the chance to rectify this.

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    1. Thank you Sally. I will try to live up to these expectations. Pleased to add to the picture you have of Donald Graves

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  2. I love both of these poems Allan, especially Miss. Fortin's "long low sigh" and desire to go home–so much expression there, thanks for introducing me to Donald Graves. Congrats and all the best on your presentation this summer!!!

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    1. The low sigh and the desire to go home paints a most telling picture, Michelle. Thank you for your kind wishes with regard to my upcoming presentation.

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  3. Congratulations Alan - that is an honor indeed! Thank you for sharing these poems and for introducing me to this poet. In the poems you shared, Donald Graves brings these ordinaray childhood experiences vividly to life. Thanks for sharing these today.

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    1. Thank you for your kind remarks, Elisabeth. Donald Graves helps us revisit childhood memories with clarity and childlike perspective.

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  4. Yay, Alan, you are going to rock that address! Thanks for the introduction to Donald Graves today. I love his take on poetry: "big thinking in a small space". :)

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    1. Thanks for your affirming comments Bridget regarding my upcoming address. I'm pleased you also liked Donald Graves' take on poetry. It's a cracker!

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  5. How wonderful for you to be given that honor, Alan. Congratulations! I have given away many of my 'teacher' books but still keep those by Graves. He stayed with me all the years, giving me inspiration for writing with my students. Thanks for sharing. I hope you can share your speech sometime.

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    1. It is hardly surprising that you have retained your Graves books, Linda. I doubt I would ever part with mine. They are valued treasures. His impact on both of us appears profound. The speech may appear on You Tube at some later point following the conference.

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  6. What an honor, Alan, to be asked to speak at this event! Congratulations! I love the humor in Graves poems and I would love to read more. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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    1. Thank you, Janice. I am, as they say, quite chuffed. The humour is an element also enjoyed in those poems.

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  7. Congratulations! Donald Graves was my very first teaching mentor. All of my writing instruction (and my own writing) were/are informed by his work.

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    1. Thank you, Mary Lee. We are equally fortunate to have had the profound influence of Donald's research and writing in our teaching and writing lives. How extremely blessed we have been to have been touched by such a revolutionary, forward-thinking educator who consistently advocated for the rights of the child writer we all once were.

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  8. Alan, how I loved Don. I heard him speak and attended small group workshops, many times too numerous to remember, and I got to know him a bit. He was a gift to all of us and to the students who have blossomed because of his lead. When I heard he had passed, I had not known he was failing, I burst into tears. I castigated myself for holding fast to a "rule" that I would not stand in long lines to get my books signed. (I did come up with a great option to fix this, but that's for another place.) I was standing in my 3rd grade classroom after school, and found his Explore Poetry book on the shelf. I grabbed it to hug close and then opened the cover. He had signed it, "to Janet, we meet yet again." I hugged it tighter. I read, reread, studied, read other books and kept on learning from him and his many proteges. He changed my life in rich and beautiful ways. Congratulations on being asked to give this talk. Don believed in people, loved kids, was curious, smart, driven, gentle and wise. How we need him to sprinkle his ideas over us now. I always wonder what he would say and how he would guide. I know it would be powerful and thoughtful. His legacy lives on in so many and I pray that his words will linger for future teachers and students. One of my favorite books is Write from the Start with Virginia Stuart. Do you know it? Anyhow, he is right up there with another hero and friend of mine, the incomparable Brian Cambourne. If I were in charge of teacher education there would be studies of both their work. PS these are such delightfully Don poems. He taught us to listen hard to one another, didn't he.
    Janet Clare F.

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    1. Beautiful response, Janet. Donald was a gentle giant despite his small stature. I always think of him as one of the literary luminaries in the field of literacy.

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    2. Janet, your first-hand account of your connection to Donald delivers great clarity to the man and his enduring body of work. Your recollection are most affirming for me and clearly arise from a place of great admiration. Thank you for sharing these words. I am so moved by the honesty you shared. Thank you also for your remarks regarding my upcoming address. It will most certainly come from the heart because Donald's work had such a profound impact on the direction my teaching and writing both took. He continues to influence my thinking and action around writing. I shall look for the book you mentioned by Virginia Stuart. It pleases me to learn of your admiration for the wonderful Brian Cambourne, a hero of mine as well.

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    3. Carol Varsalona: Thank you, Carol. I always wished I could spend more time with him. It was a shock when he passed. I was on my way to my first presentation for NYSEC soon after I found out. I used to hold up his books at talks I gave and said "I brought some of my friends with me today, you need to make friends with these people, too" and I'd hold up Don's books, Lucy's, Nancie's, Linda Rief's and many others as time went on. So I held up his Explore Poetry book and was glad I didn't cry right then. Honestly, he enriched everything I did as a teacher once I read his Writing: Teachers and Children at Work in the early 1980s. Imagine my complete disbelief when I spoke at NYSEC several years after the first one, and some pre-service teachers spoke to me after. They had not heard of Nancie Atwell....I don't think I asked about Don, too petrified.

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    4. Alan,
      I would love to know more about how you were selected for this honor because it is so important to keep Don's legacy alive. I am sure it will be magnificent. I hope you will report back on your words shared. Congratulations. You are in such great company! I had not heard that Betty and Don would share Billy Collins' poems. That is a wonderful tidbit! I almost decided to fly to the Portland area for his funeral, that is how much I honor him and what he did for all of us who treasure what he had to say and work to bring it to fruition in all we do. All good wishes to you.

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    5. Janet, I was chosen by the organizing committee for the ALEA National Conference. They have bestowed this honour upon me. I see it as a rare and wonderful opportunity to celebrate an educator and researcher whose profound influence on so many educators around the world continues to spread like ripples on a pond. I have been an educator, consultant, writer and poet for more than four decades, both in Australia and the US. I have tirelessly tried to shine a light on effective teaching of literacy through this time. I have always tried to be an advocate for the child learner and for reading and writing. Throughout my career, Donald's influence has been there, whispering his wise words in my ear. I shall be doing my very best to celebrate his legacy when I present in July. Hopefully the address will be available on You Tube at some point following the conference. Thank you again for your encouragement and your insights.

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  9. What good fortune to have a reason to soak in and up all the Donald Graves work you can right now. Enjoy every moment of this research. I'll bet you give a great talk and come out the other side an even stronger poet. Win and win and win!

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    1. I'm marinating Linda! -And you are right, I am enjoying the research and reliving. Thank you also for your kind remarks.

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  10. Wonderful honour, Allan. Thank-you for this little prelude, as you gather your thoughts. Handwriting resonated with me; I was smacked over the knuckles with a ruler in Yr 1 and told that my handwriting was messier than my brothers - and have hang-ups about my handwriting to this day. (I still have the strangle pencil grip by default. Though teacher-training and Qld Cursive went a long way to correcting that, when I concentrate!) As a teacher I was meticulous about teaching handwriting (in meaningful contexts) and remember a lad in my first class who was not unlike the boy in the poem. His page was initially filled with oversized, thick letters, smudges and erasures. I remember the day we whooped and shed a tear, looking back and seeing just how very far his handwriting had come! His face shone with pride - and is a joy to recall.

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    1. Thanks, Kat. The handwriting poem just had to be included, given my own tribulations associated with being left-handed and some of the misguided perceptions that were around during my primary school experiences. It is interesting, the enduring memories we have regarding what was said to us back then - some of it appallingly insensitive. Your story of a fellow writer was most illuminating, and it is a story that deserves to be told many times. By the way, I became a neat writer, just to prove my teacher wrong. It has been a lifelong mission. I'm slow, but I am neat!

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  11. Alan, it is so exciting to hear that you are giving an address on one of my literary heroes. I met Donald and his wife in New York City at one of the NCTE conferences. We rode on a little bus to the Scholastic Celebration. He is indeed a gentle soul and such an amazing speaker. Subsequent to this first meeting, my reading council asked him to keynote our March conference one year and I got to speak with him again. I was also in a NCTE conference room when a group of his literary luminary friends gave a touching in memory speech about him. I sat on the floor next to many key names in the literary world and soaked in the wisdom of Donald. There was a huge wall poster of Donald int he halls that year. May your speech glow with respect for his wise teachings. I plan on using the quote you shared at a virtual reading association workshop presentation since the topic is poetry for children to engage them during National Poetry Month. Thanks for the poems and I wish you good luck as you prepare for this momentous occasion.

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    1. Carol, like Janet, you bring such powerful recollections of Donald and his work. I shall be trying my hardest to deliver an address that truly captures the respect and admiration I have for his teachings. The trajectory of my own career owes so much to Donald's wise words and suggested actions when teaching writing. It pleases me, immensely, that the quote I shared here will be shared at your workshop.

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  12. How exciting to be asked to deliver the address in celebration of Donald Graves. Thank you for reminding me of how wonderful his poems were.

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    1. Thank you, Jone, I am excited and deeply humbled to be afforded this honour. Glad you enjoyed Donald's poems.

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  13. Congratulations on the honor! Thanks for sharing these poems, which are both fun with something deeper.

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    1. Thank you, Ruth. I agree, the poems possess something deeper. Something to ponder, regarding the events they depict.

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  14. Congratulations, Alan! It was touching to read Janet's personal recollections. I'm sure you'll do a wonderful job.
    I skipped a grade and went from 3rd to 4th in the middle of the year. My fourth grade teacher liked my handwriting very much so I tried so so hard to make it perfect. For a long time I would rewrite things at the drop of a hat to make them look better. I guess it was having kids that made me give up on having perfect handwriting!

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    1. Thank you, Tabatha. Janet's recollections were indeed quite moving. Your personal recollections regarding handwriting are most intriguing. Our efforts as children (and as adults too sometimes) to impress adults are quite telling. Those recollections remain strong in our memory and their impact persists, often way beyond childhood. Thanks for sharing this. It helps me understand my own obsession with neat, left-handed writing a little more clearly. I don't feel quite so isolated in my thinking and my actions.

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