In the Poet’s Defense: I Lift Lines to Remix Ideas

Not a single person has complained about my periodic “lifting of lines” from people in the Slice of Life Challenge. But still, I feel like I need to if not defend, then at least explain, what I am doing when I lift lines (steal phrases) from other bloggers. By writing about it here, I am trying to name it. By naming it, I am trying to see if it has legs for learning.

You know what I mean? (Note to self: your defense is off to a murky start)


Katherine even wrote a comment here at my blog after I left a poem at her blog:

There is beauty,
in the words you lift.
A second life found
inside of your lines.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

When I “lift lines” from Slice of Life posts, I am borrowing a phrase of words from the post, and constructing a poem around those words. I am deeply reading the slice. Meanwhile, I am also putting on my poet’s hat. Where is the “center of gravity” for me in the post? What words leap out in my mind as I read? What’s the nuance I bring to the post as a reader? These are the internal questions that go through my head. I think it started when I got tired of writing comments for Slice of Life folks that seemed genuine but rather boring. As teacher, we learn to say ‘good job’ and ‘nicely done’ in many different ways, but with fellow teachers, I wanted something more.


I want to play with words, to make my comments sing in a rhythm of their own, and I want my comments to enliven the conversations.

In a sense, my “line lifting” is nothing more than remixing, right? It’s not plagiarism, is it? I don’t think so. I am never stealing and using without attribution, and in fact, the poetic responses are published right with the post itself, as a way to honor the writer. And I do it to respect their ideas, and maybe bring a new perspective from the outside poet. Interestingly, as a writer, I find that some of my poems are clear partners to the text; Others, are distant cousins. Often, it may be that only I see the connections. This is part of the text wrestling that goes on between writer anc reader, and how online spaces both close that gap and make it more complicated.


The concept of “line lifting” came from somewhere else — Gosh, I can’t remember now, and I am sure someone gave me the idea. It may have been Margaret who named it for me after I did my work with some of her students’ poems — and I used the phrase “stealing lines” at some point, too. Names matter. I sort of like the alliterative tone of “lifting lines.”

I am sure we are all stealing, borrowing and grabbing ideas from one another, and I, for one, am all in favor of that free flow of ideas. During the #rhizo14 class, I even started a whole project called Steal This Poem (go on, it’s still there for the taking) and watched with wonder as others did just that — stole my words and made beautiful new works of art from it.

Steal This Poem

In my head, I am happy when I find that line in someone’s post that works just right, and resonates with me. The poem will flow, and I just sort of watch it happen. And I suspect that a blogger who writes, hits publish, finds people have read their writing … I imagine that they will be pleased to find a poem in the mix — a small morsel of words and rhythm — with the rest of the comments. And, if I am lucky, it will bring a smile to someone’s day, if only for the moment it takes to read a few lines inspired by your own writing. Maybe it will inspire a poem by others, too. Now, that would be a gift.

April will bring the whole “poem in a pocket” idea. I’d prefer to “lift lines” in March and leave small poems scattered about like seeds in the wind. I hope you catch a poem yourself one of these days and find a line that inspires you. Be a remixer of ideas and see what happens.


So, does this translate into classroom practice? Yes, it will, and when we move into poetry later this year, I will be bringing this concept of “lifting lines” to my students, using other poems and stories as fodder for creative ideas. What better way to foster readers who read carefully and writers who engage in “conversation” with other writers?

Peace (your honor, the poet thief rests),

Slice of Life: A Start to New Stories


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

There’s something special to starting a new book. Yesterday, I began to read two new books that have been on my radar for some time. On one hand, I love stacks of unread books. They represent so much potential. On the other hand, seeing a stack of book to be read makes me antsy, and I risk losing the “moment” of being “in” the book I am reading in order to rush to get to the book next up on my list.

Does that happen to you?


Wildwood book cover

Anyway, the first new book I began reading yesterday is a read-aloud with my nine-year-old son (a common theme of my Slices of Life – if you remember, my very first Slice of Life six years ago was reading The Lorax to my older boys, who were much younger then). Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy (he, of The Decemberists fame), is the third book in the Wildwood Chronicles. We read the first two books and have been waiting for some time for the third. That’s a whole other feeling, right? Waiting for the writer to get to work and get the story out (I’m talking to you, George R.R. Martin).

So, when Wildwood Imperium arrived earlier this week, and sat on the kitchen counter, my son and I were both thumbing our way through the pages, checking out the glorious illustrations by Meloy’s wife, Carson Ellis, and getting ready to dive in. Of course, neither of us can recall all the details of the last book, so I keep stopping and we keep asking each other, do you remember the shape shifting fox? the bear with hooks as claws? the plan to find the automaton boy prince? the magical tree?

There is tricky vocabulary in here (no surprise if you know Meloy as a songwriter) but I like that, and I like that my son has new words floating in his head as the story unfolds.

The other book I picked up as a solo read is The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud,  American Legend — a non-fiction book about the masterful leader of the Sioux Indians who oversaw a huge swath of America and even defeated the U. S. Army at one point (I believe), only to have the tide of injustice sweep him under the rug of history. Those who win write the history books, right? I know I never read about Red Cloud in my social studies classes. Now, I am learning.

While non-fiction, the book has beautiful writing, very evocative of the landscape and characters and the time of expansion and turmoil in our country, and I am only a chapter deep but already wishing I had a few hours to sit with the pages, reading.

What are you reading?

Peace (in the words on the page as stories in the mind),

Slice of Life: Getting Published in the Paper


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I had a column of mine run in the local newspaper yesterday, as I explained the rationale behind our continued teaching of Three Cups of Tea, in light of the controversies behind the book and Greg Mortenson. The column was partially spurred on by some questions from our School Committee about why we would still be teaching this book, and partially because this particularly column in our local newspaper is a place to feature teacher/writers from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (although others do periodically write).

Chalk talk

Here is a podcast of my column:

Peace (in the inquiry),

Slice of Life: You Write with That?


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I had a student come up with this in his hand, complaining that he could not get it into the sharpener.

Tiny pencil

Well, of course. It’s a bit small to be writing with, don’t you think? I watched him, amazed at his focus on the sharpening. But by then, the pencil was even a bit too small for him. He ended up using one of my tiny hand-held sharpeners and then agreed to trade his teeny little pencil in for a full-size brand-new pencil, although he did it rather warily, as if he had spent a lot of time and energy to this pencil just right and its size represented the amount of words that he had written out.

The funny thing is, this is not unusual — this small pencil syndrome. And it is almost always boys. I can’t explain it. But I can write a poem inspired by it.
Peace (in the writing of small posts),

Slice of Life: Wandering the Books of Memories


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

When my kids were younger, the Picture Book rooms of our libraries were our home away from home. As a stay-at-home dad with my two older kids (now in their teens), we could/would spend hours in the stacks, just browsing, reading, playing and hanging out with stories. Sadly, our youngest boy is now a bit too old for the picture book room, as he moved on to novels and graphic novels.

I still look wistfully at the room, though, and last night, as my youngest son and I were killing some time before getting his older brother from his Confirmation class, we drove to the library (our small city has two libraries, and this one is the one we don’t visit as often). While he sat on the ground, perusing a graphic novel, I wandered into the Picture Book room.

Such memories!

And I could not resist. I went thumbing through the stacks and pulled out a few favorites of the boys over the years — you know, the books that I had read hundreds of times and was always at the point where I was happy when the books were either taken out by someone else or I could convince them to leave the stories for another child. Captain Raptor, Traction Man, Bill Peet stories … oh, there were others, but these are some of the few I could still find in familiar places in the bookshelves, thankfully.


And then I figured: check ’em out. Bring ’em home. And so I did.

Welcome back, old friends.

Peace (in the books),

Slice of Life: Authoethnography Infographic (or, What the Heck I Wrote About)


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

As noted on the very first day of the\is year’s Slice of Life (March 1), I was curious to go back through my many slices to see what the heck I was writing about over the past six years of writing with Slice of Life. Some themes emerged as I moved through the posts (luckily, I kept them tagged here at the blog in my Slice of Life category). I then took a physical count (not including this year’s slices), putting the posts into subcategories, and then went into an app I have in on my iPad to create this infographic:

Slice of Life Autoethnograpy Infographic

I find it interesting to see where my lens ends up over time, and it is no surprise that family and teaching and writing are the main focus. The “other” is a real collection of odds and ends of topics.

Peace (in the data),

Slice of Life: Paper Circuitry, Illuminated Ideas


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

I had the good fortune to be able to sit in both a lunch gathering and a workshop on the topic of paper circuitry yesterday at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in Boston (I also co-presented about the Making Learning Connected MOOC but I will write about that tomorrow in a regular post). Paper circuitry is the idea of using sticker circuit boards inside a notebook, to illuminate ideas and to bring an “inventor’s/scientist’s notebook” of thinking to the writer’s notebook. Someone once said it is part of the movement to “reclaim” the notebook.

The project here is still in development, but presenters Paul Oh (of the National Writing Project), Jie Qi (a researcher through MIT), and David Cole and Jennifer Dick (of NexMap) not only gave us a presentation showing the possibilities of adding circuits to stories (and I still have Jennifer’s comment about the “storytelling comes first” in my head followed by Jie’s of developing “new tools to tell stories through circuits.”) but then they gave us circuit stickers and walked us through creating a simple illuminated page in a notebook.

We then got our Make on.

Of course, I didn’t have a notebook. Doh. So I stitched one together with some paper. The task of creating a page of sticker circuits reminded me a bit of creating with e-textiles, but this was a whole lot easier (no sewing!). I started to think of a story involving musical notes, where the embedded light would be part of the face. I used the pun (“See the light” for the C note. Get it?)

illuminated notebook

I’d have to think more of the application for my own classroom. I’d love to pilot this concept with some students, though, and if a paper circuit project could be another bridge from literacy to science and/or math class (which it could, as planning involves not just the story, but also the knowledge of circuit routes and representational information). I think the rough draft planning stage would be critical. In our workshop, we just sort of jumped in, given the time constraints. We’d really want kids to work out what they think would happen, then iterate during design, and troubleshoot along the way.

Interesting and intriguing? You bet.

Check out these two videos about paper circuits. The first is an overview and the second is an example of Jie’s idea in motion, literally. It’s beautiful.

21st Century Notebooking with Inside/Out from NEXMAP on Vimeo.

Interactive Light Painting: Pu Gong Ying Tu (Dandelion Painting) from Jie Qi on Vimeo.


Peace (in the light),


Slice of Life: My Immersion Learning Map


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

This morning, after I blog, I am heading out for the drive into Boston, for the Digital Media and Learning Conference. I am co-presenting a session around open learning, with the focus on last summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC (CLMOOC), and how the philosophies and ethos of the National Writing Project and Connected Learning Principles helped us create and facilitate learning opportunities. I was one of the facilitators, and enjoyed every minute of it as we engaged hundreds of teachers in making, creative fun and inquiry.

I’ll share more in the coming days, no doubt, but one of the activities in our session is a Mini-Make, in which we are going to be asking folks to make a learning map. What they choose to illustrate in their map is up to them, but the idea is to chart out and probe deep about aspects of learning, and represent it in a map format of some kind.

I decided to do my own, using Coggle, an online mind-mapping tool. It worked great (and I think I owe Ian a shout-out for using it this summer and sharing the tool with CLMOOC). This map shows “my immersion” into open learning and networks over the past year or so, and some of the offshoots that have occurred as a result. It’s not a perfect representation, but it does capture a lot of footholds of my learning life.
My Immersion Map

What would be on your learning map? How would you design it?

Peace (in the mapping),