A Few #WriteOut Poems

poem“poem” by spo0nman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’ve been writing small poems regularly with the Write Out community, sometimes using the daily prompts by National Park Rangers to consider a theme.

Here are a few of my poems from the past week:

We’re all caretakers
of these mountains,
we are, of buildings
and rivers, of near and
of far, of dams and bridges
and lakes and volcanoes,
of even the scars of what
we’ve done with these lands;

We caretakers, we are not
always gentle with our gifts,
nor always appreciative
of their splendor, this Earth
accepts our flaws, for now,
these battered spaces of quiet


Such tender
paths on this
tender map

the seasons
always seem to
linger when we
need them most

we pocket the leaf
that maps the tree
that maps the wood
that maps the love

what once was seed
now becomes journey


Black Iron Fence

and spears on the
black iron fence

One mile
one quarter,
the perimeter of the
black iron fence

Ten thousand,
seven hundred
distinctly-made pieces,
the skeleton bones of the
black iron fence

Cannon iron;
collected, gathered,
blacksmith-ed, forged,
held, and hammered into the
black iron fence


this river releases
small secrets, broken
shards of pottery
and glass, worn
smooth, cloudy
by the constant embrace
of eddies and currents,
leaving us with more
questions than answers
as to who it was who
came before us
and where they have
gone, since

Peace (in poems of place),

WMWP Virtual Writing Marathon for #WriteOut and National Day on Writing

SPAR Marathon SiteWe’re excited to be hosting a Writing Marathon for the National Day on Writing and for WriteOut with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Last year, we gathered and wrote inside the Armory museum itself; this year, we’re using a Padlet digital wall to offer a series of self-guided writing prompts, with videos from SPAR park rangers, historical documents and more.

If you are interested, you can still register at any time, and we will get you into the mix. This is all self-paced and choose-your-own-writing prompts. Be inspired to write!

Here are some of the prompts we have posted at our site:

  • Ranger Pearl and teacher Harriet Kulig ask you to explore the role of women at the Armory and in the workforce during wartimes. Many women in the Pioneer Valley were recruited as WOWs (Women Ordinance Workers).

  • Park Volunteer Carl gives insight into the recognizable fence around the Armory, and it has an interesting historical story. Consider the role of fences — who do they keep out and what do they keep in?

  • Workers at the Armory came from many different countries, as the war efforts sparked an influx of immigration of workers to the Pioneer Valley. Listen to the historical stories of some of the Armory workers, and get inspired to write them a letter, from the present to the past.

  • Ranger Alex gives an insight into the grounds and landscape and buildings of the Armory site, and asks us to imagine the site from the viewpoint of trees, structures and more.

  • Ranger Dani explains how museums like the Armory cherish and protect historical objects, as a way to remember and share stories of the past, through thoughtful curation. What artifact might you leave behind? What object would help tell the story of us, today?

  • A few summers ago, Springfield middle school students at our WMWP/SPAR summer camp curated videos about the museum floor for the public. Take a look at the YouTube Playlist of their work and respond in writing to either the students or to the museum displays.

  • Ranger Scott gives us a historical look at the Commandant’s House, a celebrated building where the leaders of the Armory often met to plan and party. Scott asks us to consider what happens when Nature takes over buildings, as part of a prompt he did for students in Write Out this year.

  • And more …

Writing Marathon Flier 2020

You can also access more ideas:

Peace (in words, gathered),


Further Ways to Use #WriteOut in the Classroom (Postcards)

Postcards from the Parks activity

Last week, I shared out how my students were exploring National Parks as part of our Write Out adventure. I even shared my adapted HyperDoc for others to use (I hope you found it useful).

This week, I am having my students continue the adventure with a Postcards from the Park project, that first uses creative writing and park explorations as students write a series of “postcards” while on an imaginary journey across five different National Parks. Then, they will be writing a real postcard to a real park ranger (one who has been sharing prompts with us) that we will mail off.

This link will make you a copy (if you have a Google account) of this week’s HyperDoc activities – You may need to adapt or add a slideshow template component (here’s a link to that template for making a copy, if it helps). Also be sure to look at the Write Out Postcard page for downloadable PDFs of postcards.

We’re also writing every day with the Park Ranger-led writing prompts, as I pull the daily prompts into Google Classroom to kick off my students’ days for our independent learning from home (we are working in a hybrid model, so this is perfect!).

Peace (further explorations),

Writeout Poems: Nature Reclaims Words

Yesterday, my friend, Ranger Scott Gausen, was the featured park ranger for the daily prompt for Write Out, and he posed the question of what happens to our buildings when Nature reclaims the urban landscape. (See all of this week’s ranger-led writing prompts — more are coming for next week, too)

My students had a lot of fun with the prompt, exploring the possibilities of a changed world, and I went forward myself with three poems written during some free-writing time yesterday in school.

Nature Reclaims Words

forever, lapses;
each frame, a finger
on the camera,
society collapses
with such hubris,
worn like suits of steel,
as Nature waits, patient,
then wanders in,

Who’s buried wish
is this,
with roots tangled
below ground,
the place where
ideas get lost
and only sometimes
become found?

I was never one
of the Wild;
someone tamed me
as a child,
fed and bathed me –
maybe you were, too? –
but like this land,
Wild, we grew

Peace (flourishes),

How I Am Using #Writeout With Students (Week One)

Write Out Hyperdoc

This year, as part of the Write Out project, which is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, I am fully integrating the concept of connecting writing to place into my online learning platform for my students who are not in the school but are at home, doing independent work. I’m tapping into the concept of a HyperDoc as a way to provide instructions and a flow to activities.

So far, so good.

First, I created a series of park explorations in a HyperDoc that has them looking at maps, videos, images and text about all sorts of National Parks. Then, they are choosing a National Park, and creating a presentation about that park, which will get shared with the entire sixth grade. (feel free to get a copy for yourself) This HyperDoc is a remix of another that I found in the HyperDoc community, which I greatly appreciated. Thanks to @kellyihilton and @SARAHLANDIS!

Second, I invited Springfield Armory Park Ranger Scott Gausen to a Zoom meeting, and nearly 20 students showed up yesterday morning to hear him chat about the National Park Service, and his work both at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site but also the Oregon Caves park. It was great. Scott and I have worked together for a few years as part of a local partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory.

Third, each day, I am pulling the Write Out prompts by National Park Rangers into our Google Classroom space, and students are writing responses each day to the prompts, either as creative writing or as informational writing. Some of their writing has been amazing. (see all the park ranger prompts for week one here in a slideshow format)

Next week, we’re going to be doing a Write Out postcard project, but I’ll share that out another day. Oh, and the National Day on Writing is coming next week, too, on October 20. And I haven’t even started to use the many storytelling videos for Write Out, but I will.

Peace (in parks),

WriteOut: SmallPoems Inspired by Roots and Trees

Tree Poem for WriteOut

Yesterday, for Write Out, the theme for the daily writing prompt was about understanding how trees communicate. Park Ranger Mackenzie from the Sequoia National Park introduced the daily prompt (see the Write Out page where all prompts will go live each of the two weeks of the event)

My students wrote about it in their Google Classroom spaces and during our free-writing time in class, I composed a few small poems about trees, roots, leaves and more.

Three Poems; Falling

First Branch

drops drain
these trees —
Arbor leaves sing
like cymbals

Dripping Autumn rains
find rhythms all their own

Second Branch

Every leaf
might contain
a map –
each vein and vessel
an artery line
to somewhere close –
traversing root to trunk
to branch to stem –
pure electrical pulse:

Third Branch

If canopy
was ground
and ground
was sky
from your branch
and wonder why

Peace (even if you can’t see it),


WriteOut: Poems All Over the Map

Writing Marathon BINGO

Since early summer, I have been spending time, wandering as a poet through the handful of virtual Writing Marathons that sites in the National Writing Project had hosted. Each site had created interesting maps, with pins and links that led to historical moments or natural landmarks or buildings with fascinating stories.

I had only joined one single marathon in person, myself, when they were on Zoom (I participated in the Hudson Valley Writing Project event, which centered on the amazing Storm King Museum). But I knew I wanted to explore what the other sites had done, too.

So I took my time. I ambled. Wandered. I wrote over many weeks.

With the third year of Write Out now officially underway, I also decided to adapt a HyperDoc project into a Bingo activity for visiting the NWP Writing Marathons. You can access it here and wander about a bit yourself, and maybe find some inspiration to write. Write Out has resources and activities around creating and hosting Writing Marathons. Check it out.

Looking back on the poems I wrote, here are a few that I think are worth sharing. I chose one poem from each location that I think might have some resonance.

Inspired by New York

Oracle of Lacuna

only half
a house
buried in dirt
the bricks
a writer
might use
to build
a few words
into only
half a home
for a poem

Inspired by Mississippi

All around this small house
you’ll find cubbies and
alcoves, small nooks
for fingers and dreams,
large enough to hold
the historical legacy
of one, Miss McCarty,
the woman of the wash
who worked her days
planning for another’s

Inspired by Arizona


Rock fists
in protest;
these stone gods
with faces
and bodies hidden
stand strong
against the winds
of every day
change arrives,

Inspired by Kentucky

Some still dig deep
into this earth,
the past condensed
into their skin
like pressed stones,
mottled with dust
and dirt
and stories
and home

Inspired by North Dakota

Standing still
in the exact
center of this
country, one senses
nearly simultaneously
how solid
and yet how fragile
it all is, these fault
lines cracking, and how
tired is this turtle
of foreverness,
its carapace
not quite designed
for something like this

Inspired by Minnesota

is the place
of all sixteen words
spoken in Dakota,
every doorway
another entry
for the lost
becoming welcomed

Inspired by New Hampshire

Brick dust and bones
and kicked stones
and walls torn apart;
the end is where
this starts

Inspired by Louisiana

Remembering Ellis

The radio show played
the entire concert
of the father, Marsalis,
leading his sons, the family
riffing off each other in front
of an audience, with us
listening in, too, but it was
the son’s voice on the passing
of the father that hung so quiet
in the air, like a complex harmony
of shared jazz improvisation

And then, knowing my writing journey was over for now after visiting all of the places, I wrote this final poem, to celebrate the journey and the hope that what begins in one place continues in another.

All Ends Are Merely Beginnings

What at first
might seem like
merely pins on
the map become
stories of a place
when you dig deeper
in – wrapping fingers
into dirt, resting ear
against wood, scratching
words into stone; so sit
with it for awhile and
let the land tell you
its tale of where it’s been
and where we’re going

Peace (in poems and place),

Write Out Takes You Outside and Beyond

Coming Soon to a hashtag near you: #writeout

Starting Oct 11 and running for two weeks, the National Writing Project and the National Park Service will once again host Write Out (#writeout), a free online celebration of writing and the simple pleasures of being outside—all gathered by a hashtag! This year’s Write Out features ideas for connecting classroom learning and the out-of-doors under the National Park Service theme of “Stories Around the Campfire,” including online writing prompt “visits” by Park Rangers, storytelling events for a range of age levels, resources for how to run a classroom-based writing marathon, and more. Keep in mind that Write Out also bookends the National Day of Writing on October 20th. Sign up today for the resource-packed newsletter to get updates and curricular resources to bring Write Out to your classroom, park, community, or school yard.

Sign Up →

— from the National Writing Project Newsletter

Come and play with us!

Peace (outside and in),

Facing Diversity and Race in National Park Spaces

Delaware River Gap: PEC

I took part this week in a retreat this week for a project called Parks In Every Classroom, that is run by the National Park Service in the Northeast region to connect educational opportunities with National Park and Historic spaces.

I’ve been working as a teacher and consultant with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, in my role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, for the past five years or so, helping to run summer camps at the Armory for urban students and facilitating professional development for teachers. This work with PEC is not directly related to my role in the Write Out open learning initiative (coming again in October) with the National Writing Project but there are overlaps in colleagues and the shared goal of Place-Based Learning for students.

This my second Parks In Every Classroom retreat (last year, we went to the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area; this year, we were home, zooming) and I continue to be impressed by how well-run the days are, how thoughtful and rich the conversations are, and how the participants (about 40 of us) grapple with tough questions.

This year’s theme was all about diversity, equity and race, and we dove deep into systematic racism, looking at schools and also looking at our National Parks, and how we might design educational opportunities to address why people of color don’t seem to use public spaces in large numbers. This forces sites to look at its own demographic make-up, how a park space is marketed to the public, what kinds of community connections are being made (or not) with what groups, etc.

We’ve had articles to read, videos to watch (including one with Robin DiAngelo, of White Fragility fame), and discussion groups. I’ve explored issues of ‘red lining’ (approval of bank loans for homes based on race and location, creating areas of poverty), and it’s impact on the school-prison pipeline; the way standardized testing’s history, originated in the terrible ideas of Eugenics and race, still has resonate today in who is considered intelligent and who has access to college, all via tests that are often rooted in white culture stories and passages; and an analysis of children’s picture books on why only white characters seem to be shown exploring nature spaces and National Parks, and what that message sends to other readers about who owns those spaces and who is not welcomed.

We worked on site-based action plans and having deep, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussions about race and access, and White Privilege, of noticing the different experiences of people based on race. Like many gatherings of teachers, this PEC group is primarily white and female, but outside consultants have joined in to help ups find ways for us to identify problems in our own systems and begin to play for action to address it.

As a teacher who is technically outside of the National Park Service, I applaud the courage of the PEC organizers to take on this issue of systematic racism, particularly knowing our work might be at political odds with the White House, the ultimate boss of federal agencies. That there are National Park Service folks, like those in PEC, willing to move ahead on race issues and White Privilege even in this rhetorical landscape of this particular time is admirable, and gives hope that our institutions can survive this moment we are in.

Peace (working on it),