Kids Say the Darndest Things, including Found Poetry

Found poetry is magic. It is when commonplace words and text reveal themselves as poetry. A classic example is this piece by William Carlos Williams:

This is just to say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

**Note: I think this was just written in the style of found poetry, as if it were written on a note in the kitchen. But you get the idea. (Aside: This poem annoys my students like no other. They cannot accept it as a poem and it is hilarious to see them so angry about poetry!)

This street art counts:

So does this passive aggressive Facebook post by a relative, posted after a family event…

That I turned into this:

Some family pictures
are very confusing.
Those who don’t
like each other
pose and smile,
hugging.

When I searched for other examples of “found poetry,” I was overwhelmed by teaching resources that somehow confused found poetry with blackout poetry. Allow me to differentiate:

Found poetry: Text/language that wasn’t meant to be poetic (i.e., speech, a Tweet, an advertisement, etc.) reveals poetic elements. My favorite is when the original message hasn’t been changed, just formatted into the broken lines of poetry. The Wikipedia page for found poetry has a few speeches that were converted into poetry.

Blackout poetry: Drawing on a printed page of prose to reveal poetry within the page. This requires deletion of words and manipulation of the original message. The best blackout poetry somehow highlights a thematic idea that aligns with the original text. For example:

Blackout poetry is often used in grade school poetry lessons because kids feel it is easier to “create” poetry if all one has to do is find it on the page. Plus, engaging in visual arts gives them a chance to see the art in poetry.

Both require finding poetry, and are therefore magical in their own way. To me, the beauty of poetry is in putting words—beautiful ones, simple ones, ones that you never would have imagined—to the complexity of human experience. I love that poetry is—as Ralph Fletcher describes it—a “fresh” way of looking at our boring world, that thus forces us to perceive our reality with new eyes. Both found and blackout poetry do that. I prefer found poetry because the words and message are kept in their original form, just reformatted to highlight their beauty.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the real reason I decided to muse on found poetry today…

My two-year-old says the cutest things. She’s finally at the point where she can say complete sentences, even some compound ones. She also loves demanding that I pick her up and run through the house, as if I were a horse. Quite exhausting, might I add.

The other day, she climbed on me, commanded me to run, and pointed out the path I should take through the house.

The front room was dark. The blinds were closed, and it was a cloudy day.

“Oh no, it’s dark in there,” she said. But she insisted. “We run through the dark!”

I loved her determination and courage in that moment. To me, that’s poetry. A wild child riding her mom and demanding that we both run through that which scares us.

And so I had to create this:

we run through the dark digital chalkboard art by swapna gardner nerdladydraws

May you run through whatever darkness you face today… and possibly find some poetry along the way.

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Goal Setting: Lauren Graham’s Kitchen Timer Strategy

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my most recent book recommendation: Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can. If you’re a fan of Graham, Gilmore Girls, or Parenthood, you have got to read this book. And I suggest on audiobook, because Lauren Graham is such a delightful voice to listen to.

When it comes to celebrity books, I usually expect some sort of ghostwriter to be involved. And maybe there was one, or an amazing editor of some sort, who worked behind the scenes in Graham’s book. But she really seemed like she wrote this one herself.

Why? Because, in addition to mentioning how smart she was, she had this amazing chapter about making time for writing.

It has completely changed the way I look at making time for my passions and hobbies.

Graham called it “Kitchen Timer Writing.” One block of time completely devoted to your craft. And as long as you keep yourself away from distractions (THE INTERNET!) and keep your appointment with yourself, you’ve succeeded. You’ve passed. You can go on to Day 2, and 3, and so on until your passion becomes a habit, and your habit becomes a way of life.

The book’s been out for two years, so naturally, there are plenty of blogs and articles about this life-changing chapter from her book. If you’re curious and can’t buy the book or find it at your library, I suggest you check out this blog (which copy/pasted the strategy, but not the whole chapter) or this article (which boils down the big ideas).

For me, these were the big takeaways:

  1. Make an appointment with yourself to devote to your craft.

  2. Keep your appointment. When you sit down for that block of time, you are to put away all distractions and only work on your craft. What really got me was that it is OK to just sit and think, or to sit and be stuck. As long as you give yourself that time to just sit and be with your craft. And if you’re stuck, you may as well work on your writing journal — write and practice until you get your groove back and you can get back to your project. For those of you who are joining me for the 10 Minute Challenge, but you’re working on other skills besides writing: if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, use this time to learn. Watch/read the masters. Do drills. Do something that is devoted to your craft, even if it is not actively working on your project.

  3. Celebrate the keeping of the appointment.

  4. If you missed your appointment or couldn’t stick to the entire period of time, don’t punish yourself by making yourself do more the next day. Start fresh. Either try again the next day, or adjust the commitment. Maybe you can’t do an hour–but you can do 30 minutes. Or maybe just ten. Do what you can, as long as you’re doing and moving forward.

  5. Repeat: Honor the appointment. Celebrate your accomplishments. Adjust if necessary.

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This has completely changed the way that I look at goal setting. Instead of punishing myself or “owing” myself hours, I am allowed to forgive myself, adjust, and move on. Instead of forcing myself to meet a daily word count or post artwork everyday, I am allowed to practice my craft by learning, meditating, and experimenting.

It has been so very freeing.

By focusing on celebrating my accomplishment and adjusting when I fail to meet my goal, I am encouraged to keep going despite failure. I develop grit and confidence when it comes to pursuing my goals.  

When it came to lettering, I realized that I sort of naturally fell into Graham’s strategy… because it was purely a hobby for me when I started. My appointment with myself always fell around 8pm, when my daughter fell asleep and when I needed a mental break from a long day of being an adult. After a year and a half of practice, 8pm is now drilled into my brain as time to practice lettering.

Now, I’m trying out writing. Fiction writing. Again. But I’ve got a better gameplan this time. I’m going to forgive myself and I’m going to keep my appointment. I’m not going to punish myself with word counts. I’m just going to keep my appointment.

Now, my new time to watch is 11:30. It’s when my husband has gone to bed, and about an hour before my daughter wakes up and wants me to cuddle her back to sleep. That’s my new magic hour.

What goals are you working on? Have you tried making an appointment with yourself? Leave a comment with your goals!

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September Highlights

Greetings, nerds!

I’ve been listening to a lot of Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger Podcast lately. She’s got a personable voice and five minutes of it are more engaging than the other business/creative podcasts I’ve tried. (Also, if you know any business/creative podcasts that are actually fun to listen to, could you comment with a suggestion? I’m looking for more, but everything I’ve tried has bored me on my commute.) She’s inspired me to take on a new goal for this venture of mine: expanding beyond Instagram, because that algorithm cannot be trusted.

She’s all about mailing lists and email newsletters as a more trustworthy way of reaching one’s audience. Honestly, I don’t have the time to figure that out right now or to add it to all my other practices. So I’m going to focus on using my blog as another way of reaching people and spreading the nerdiness.

At the end of each month, I’d like to give you a few highlights: my favorite projects from the month, features of some cool pieces that I’ve seen from others during those hours I spend scrolling on Instagram, and an update on my reading life. You can always see me gushing about all of these on my Instagram feed and stories, but it’s so easy to lose it all in the algorithm. This is a more dependable way of keeping you up to date.

If you signed up for email updates — YAY, YOU! Thanks for being awesome! If you haven’t, the link is in the right column –>

And remember, you can always find me on Instagram @nerdladydraws. Let me know if you found me through this blog and we can be friends, like, NOW!

Enough blabbing! Here are September Highlights:

My Favorite Projects

#1: Acrylic Boards

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I added custom acrylic board lettering to my Etsy shop this month! I love the clear, glossy look that gives these handlettered pieces a level of sophistication.

#2 Nursery Decor

 

Two of my friends asked me to create canvas pieces for their kids. It started with a quote and vague ideas, and we worked together to make these beauties happen! I love collaborating to make pieces that I never could have dreamed of on my own!

#3 Library Art

 

My school librarian and I teamed up to decorate the library. She provided the words and chalkboards, and I lettered them. Can’t wait to do more pieces this year!


Featured Pieces by Fellow Insta-Artists

I love sharing work by fellow creatives. The images should have hyperlinks straight to these artists’ profiles. Check them out!

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My Reading Life

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I’ve gotten into a habit of reading 3 things at once: a physical book for in-class reading, an e-book for when I’m sitting in the dark and putting my daughter to sleep, and an audiobook for my commute. It’s made reading feel more like consuming my favorite TV shows, in a good way. It takes longer to finish a book, and I tend to finish all of them at the same time, giving me a bit of a literary hangover in which I binge on podcasts and Netflix until I’m ready to dive back into books.

This month, I’m in progress… I’ve been reading The Silkworm and The Astonishing Color of After as e-books, and Fahrenheit 451 as a physical book. I finished Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt as an audiobook (LOVED hearing him read it himself — it made the story that much more meaningful) and started The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Angela’s Ashes was Book #21 of the year! I think I’ll actually make it to 25 books for the first time since before my child was born!


Well, that’s it for now, friends! Let me know how your nerdy adventures are going by sharing your favorite podcasts, favorite artist accounts, or your most recent reads in the comments! I’m always on the lookout for new stories and art to consume. Until next time, stay nerdy, my friends!

On Banned Books

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It’s Banned Books Week! What are you reading?

This is my eighth year of teaching English at the high school level, and I am just now reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time! I know. What is wrong with me?!

I’m absolutely amazed by this book. Bradbury’s perception into how the modern world views the act of reading and the “threat” of books is mindblowing. And, it’s justifying my experience as an English teacher.

I’ve fought to teach books every year of my career. Kids say they “just don’t read.” School administration questions teachers on the relevance of teaching the classics, and make teachers jump through hoops to add new books to the curriculum. Curriculum writers and colleagues argue that there’s no time to read with all the other things we have to cover.

But one thing is undeniable: books have power. Emerging readers put them away because within books lie words and phrases so profound that readers must grapple with them to understand them. Administrators are wary because books make readers question their world, challenging them to reflect on another’s perspective and think for themselves. Peers know that the only way to consume them is through time, and time is expensive.

But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to challenge kids to read and to challenge book lists. It’s worth it to create readers and thinkers. It’s worth it to foster a world that reads, thinks through what it reads, talks about what it reads, and ultimately acts on what it reads.

This week, join the resistance. Read banned books. Fight banned book lists. Get your kids to read, and pick up a book yourself. It’s worth it.

Comment below with your favorite banned book! My favorite is Harry Potter, because duh. But Fahrenheit is really climbing the charts here…

5 Instagram Accounts to Improve Your Handlettering Game

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I realize I sound a little snooty when I say I’m a “self-taught artist.” But the truth is, I’m cheap. I’ve seen plenty of lettering workshops in my area and online, and I’ve heard plenty of artists saying, “Invest in yourself! Take a class!” But. I don’t have the time or money for that. What I do have time for, however, is mining through Instagram during my spare time. It’s where I learned the basics of handlettering and calligraphy, and where I continue to learn and hone my style. Here are my favorite accounts to learn from:

#1: Andrea Fowler (@calligraphynerd)

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On Tuesdays, Andrea hosts “Tuesday Tip Time.” She shares short Instagram videos that address common beginner mistakes, like writing too fast or not taking breaks. Her video on the “wedge of space” between strokes completely changed my style of lettering! In addition to great tips, she’s a diehard Potterhead and caffeine addict, so her posts are always relatable and entertaining. Search #tuesdaytiptime or #calligraphynerdttt to go straight to her tips.

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#2: Lise (@inkandlise)

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Lise is the definition of versatility in handlettering. She has so many different styles, and she records herself writing. I am a visual-kinesthetic learner, and I have learned so much from just watching videos, then trying it myself. @inkandlise is the perfect place to start. She’s strong, she’s empowering, AND she even started an alphabet series tagged #inkandlisealphabets. It’s so easy to get stuck in the basic modern calligraphy style — Lise shows all the potential that handlettering has!

 

 

#3: Letter Archive (@letterarchive)

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What an amazing resource for lettering artists! This isn’t merely an account; it’s the collective work of hundreds of artists. If you search #letterarchive_[insert desired letter], you will find hundreds of different styles of writing that letter. I have gone here when my style doesn’t fit the composition that I’m doing, and I need ideas. The account itself features the best of the best, but I like looking through the hashtags for each letter to find what I’m looking for.

 

 

#4: Stefan Kunz (@stefankunz)… and a few others

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I’m attracted to typography and composition. When I started handlettering, I didn’t understand how artists like Stefan Kunz, Alyssa Robinson (@arobinsonart), Stephanie Baxter (@stephsayshello), and Dan Lee (@dandrawnwords) figured out how to make different sizes and fonts of letters fit together into one cohesive piece. But Stefan Kunz is gracious enough to show the secret behind the magic: grids. He has a few composition grids that he’s shared for free through his own account and through @goodtype, and you can buy sets of composition grids through his website. When I want to play with composition, I like to scroll through his, Alyssa’s, Stephanie’s, and Dan’s feeds to get in the zone.

 

 

#5: Lauren Hom (@homsweethom)

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Lauren is my inspiration for finding my own style as a lettering artist and social media content creator. Her account is a must for artists who are hoping to start their own business. In January, she launched #homwork, a weekly handlettering challenge designed to foster originality and freshness in the lettering community. She offers real advice on how to find your own voice and style instead of being just another picture of the same ol’ inspirational quotes on Instagram. I’ve only gone through her free coaching tools—her email newsletter, her Instagram stories, and her features on other lettering accounts like @goodtype—but she does also offer workshops. Hers is the only one I would consider paying for… and if I still feel like I’m serious in a year or so, I may actually cough up the money for her “Passion to Paid” online workshop.

 

I dream of the day when I’ll have enough expendable income to spend on an art class. But until then, I’ll keep digging through Instagram videos and accounts to figure out the magic.

If you’re into handlettering, art, or small business, comment and share the social media handles that inspire you!