Poet Laureate’s News

January 2021

Dear Sonomans,
rainy windowMay it be a very healthy and happy New Year to us all! We had a delicious Christmas present of some rain but we need more.

So I’m thinking of rain chants to encourage more precipitation. This may sound a bit fanciful but, as I tell my students, people have believed in the magic of words from the beginnings of language. So I’d like to share a couple of lessons that might get you and/or young people in your life writing rain poems. I could see a place for some of these in the “Seeing With New Eyes” (“Hearing With New Ears?”) section of our anthology.
First, one from our Cal Poets lesson plan book, Poetry Crossing, 2014. It features a poem from the wonderful Susan Herron Sibbet, 1942 – 2014. One of the seven founders of Sixteen Rivers Press, Sibbet published her first full-length poetry collection, No Easy Light, with the press in 2004. She was also the author of two poetry chapbooks, the coauthor of a third, and the author of a combined cookbook and book of poems, Burnt Toast and Other Recipes. A long-time San Francisco resident, Susan was devoted to California Poets in the Schools, where she served both as acting director and president of the board and taught for many years in the CalPoets program for younger children. Her novel, The Constant Listener, a fictional memoir by Theodora Bosanquet, the amanuensis to Henry James, was published in 2017 by Ohio University Press. 

Rain Poems worksheetRain Poems lessonIf you click on the following thumbnails you’ll be able to see full-sized pages of the lesson, by Alice Pero, from the book, one page with instructions to the teacher, plus Susan’s poem, and one with sample student poems. I hope some of these inspire you and/or young people in your life.

rainy streetSecond, here’s a lesson plan that another dear CalPoets colleague and I collaborated on. Claudia Poquoc, although born in Indian Trails, Michigan (Ojibwa for Great Waters), says that she was reborn like the phoenix 40 years ago in the Southwestern deserts in places like Pyramid Lake, Nevada; Monument Valley and Guadalupe, Arizona. As a poet-teacher, she is known among classroom children as Grandmother Spider of the Word Wise Web. She has produced several poetry chapbooks and, as a singer/songwriter, published one song/poetry book titled Becomes Her Vision, which includes a music album. She currently lives in San Diego with two-footed and four-footed companions. She’s also working on another poetry book due out in the spring of 2021 titled Intersections.
Say It This Way, Rain Chants: recommended for 2nd–4th grades by Claudia Poquoc and Phyllis Meshulam

“We are little spiders, weaving silver thread,
tying words together, on our magic web.” – Claudia Poquoc

Introduction: Writing chants meets curriculum needs, lets students experiment with language patterns and respond creatively to stimuli. Words are selected from any formal poem or topic, while at the same time you are looking for opportunities to involve students such as English as second language speakers who are learning to read and work with words. A chant can be recited individually or as a rhythmic group recitation. The pattern of the piece will lend itself to students discovering sounds, rhythm and meaning. Unlike a carefully crafted, crystallized poem, a chant is a dynamic thing that can be shaped to suit almost any purpose – a springboard into language and other learning.

  1. We’re going to do chants today. Say the “Group Chant” together.
  2. Discuss the importance of rain for life on Earth. Discuss rain’s musical properties. And how people have always believed the words have some magical properties.
  3. Do variations of the nursery rhyme: “Rain, rain, go away…” Instead of telling rain to go away, chant something like “Rain, rain, come and play/ Tap your drumsticks all this day.” Can we think of other ways to invite the rain to come? Invite a few volunteers to share their ideas.
  4. What are some letters of the alphabet or combinations of letters that make rain sounds? List a few of these on the board. Shshshsh; ssssss; plop; blip. You can play the rain stick or maracas to evoke these words. 
  5. Read “Rain Chant” together. (In “Rain Chant,” with its heavy use of the word “listen,” participants can play with volume, as the rain gets softer or louder, and tempo faster, as they interpret where the rain falls. Here, words are treated chiefly like sounds. Repetition lets children get into the flow faster than they otherwise would. It also enables them to take ownership of the chant and any extensions from it.)
  6. Get volunteers to read student poems on the worksheet.
  7. Now let’s invite kids to share some phrases that make use of a few of these rain-sounding words. They can take words right out of the poems on the worksheet and recombine them into other phrases.
  8. Let them intersperse these phrases about the rain with nonsense sounds or with more rain-soaked words! Repeat these as you would musical notes.
  9. Finally, when they have a finished chant, they are given a chance to recite it. Some students’ poems might even lend themselves to an entire class participating in the sounds as it is read. Or maybe you can then have them make up a group chant poem such as the one on the worksheet. 

Helpful Materials: Rhythm instruments. (Rain stick, maracas, thumb piano?)
A protected place you create for them to recite if they wish. As Grandmother Spider, I protect them with a web circle on the floor for them to stand in. I tell them that in this circle they are safe to recite – no one or no thing can harm them.
HELPFUL VOCABULARY LISTS: kinesthetic, noise words, ocean words, plants, weather

Group Chant – Claudia Poquoc
When we start we can’t stop
while we’re
We find words
that play and dance,                            
‘cuz that’s the way                       
we make our chants.
Rain, Rain, Rain – A. H.

Tap Tap goes the rain shh, shh, shh
Boom boom goes the rain
shh, shh, shh    pitter patter pitter patter
Tap, Tap, Tap
boom, boom, boom the rain falls hard
I stay inside and snuggle with my dog
Rain, rain, stay right there.
In a flash you’re gone.            Wosh, wosh, wosh.
The rain is gone. It’s time to go outside.
Now I can wish, wish, wish it will come again.
Untitled – T. R.

sh sh sh goes the wind
sh sh sh against my window
sh sh sh rain goes in the leaky gutters
sh sh sh looking out  at the rain
sh sh sh goes the rain against the street lamp
sh sh sh don’t you just love the rain
sh sh sh sh sh
Rain Chant – Phyllis Meshulam
           Listen, listen
           listen for the rain
           Listen, listen
           listen for the rain
In shabby slippers,
listen for the rain.
In stockinged sleepers,
listen for the rain.
           Bathing brothers
           rumbling for the rain.
           Sleeping sisters
           dreaming of the rain.
           Splish, shhh, splish.
Clouds, clouds, wrap me tight,
come again this very night.
Rain, rain, come and play
Tap your drumsticks all this day.
           Unneeded slickers
           rustle for the rain.
           Boots are squeaking
           stomping for the rain.
           Squeak, stomp, squeak.
Sun, sun, hide your face,
shine upon some soggy place.
           Sipping sparrows,
           whisper for the rain.
           Wet your whistles;
           whistle for the rain.
           Whoo whee whooooo
Untitled – D. M.
Tree in school yard
Drip Drop Drip Drop
filled with rain
Drops drip. Drop drop drop.
Acting like diamonds.
Drip Drop Drip Drop.
Now listen to the rain.
Drip Drip Drip.
feel the rain.
Glip glip glip…..
daisy in the rainIf you write a rain poem, I hope you’ll read it outside to the universe, or at least out your window! And if you’d like to share it with me for possible inclusion in the anthology, please send it to me at phyllie@sonic.net.

Daisy photo by Lucas Bonnema
(All photos courtesy of my daughter and son-in-law from Seattle.)

Phyllis Meshulem
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2020-2022


Archives of previous Poet Laureate columns may be found here for 2012,  2013, 2014,  20152016-2017, 2018-2020 and 2020-2022.

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