“Small Thing” Poems from School

The dog and his manCreative Commons License Cristian Iohan Ştefănescu via Compfight

We’ve begun to write “small thing” poems in class using Valerie Worth’s poems as mentors.

Thought I’d post some of the ones I wrote as mentors for the kids along with the short free-writes (I call those DISCOVERY WRITING) that I used to generate ideas for them.

Here is a link to the Google Doc that I used to help explore “small thing” poetry.

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DISCOVERY WRITING: blank paper. There is nothing quite like that feeling of a blank piece of paper, or a blank computer screen just before writing. I am scared of that, but, if the paper is like a farm field in the winter, then maybe I can plant something in that “field” when I start “ploughing” away?

blank paper

This piece of blank paper
sits on the table
like a snow covered field
waiting to be planted.

First letters grow into words,
words grow to sentences,
and sentences become stories
that give food for the heart.


*swift, cunning, smart, intent, focussed
DISCOVERY WRITING: Fox…I think of a video that I once saw of a fox hunting.

I want to catch that intensity in the poem. I wonder how I can create this intensity? I read a poem once that used very short sentences to help create a feeling of anticipation. I might try that to help me.


Fox cocks his ears
blinks his eyes
and hears
beneath the snow
a vole scurrying.

Stop. Crouch.
Lean. Leap.
Jump. Thump.

He buries his nose
and snaps.


Dog collar
DISCOVERY WRITING. Dog collar – old and stained, but I remember when I first got it. Now has been on the necks of two different dogs. Was worn by the first one when he died. The second one is very old now and I am thinking of the good times we’ve had together.

dog collar

A dog collar
woven tight,
bright blue
smelling new,

around the
dog’s neck
grows old,
picks up
the stains
of life.


telephone pole
DISCOVERY WRITING. telephone pole. Simile: a telephone pole can look so tied down like a person filled with worries and fear. Sometimes, though, the telephone pole can seem to sprint on by like someone who is on a quest. Maybe I’ll play with that idea of being stuck and then free? Personification might be the way to go…I could have the telephone pole “be” a person who is stuck and then finds freedom…?

telephone pole

you stand,
feet buried
deep in clay,
your arms
tied by thick
heavy wires.

But sometimes,
when I glance up
from my own
down the road,
I see
you sprint
past me –
and free.

Two Haiku from Up North

Here are two haiku from my recent trip north. The woods are several weeks behind Iowa, so the trees are still green-tipped and the skimmers (dragonflies) are plentiful! White-throated sparrows sang in the balsam scrub and warblers sang among the aspens.

Fir or Pine Needles Stuart Rankin via Compfight


dark pine needles
backlit against the gray sky –
distant thunder rumbles


the fir’s youngest branches
offer dragonfly
a place to rest

To Make the Crooked Straight

For the want of a nail…Creative Commons License Jim « JP » Hansen via Compfight

The last few days I’ve been visiting the family cabin in the north woods. A small place with an outdoor privy, it was built from local tamarack and spruce logs in the late 1940s. While it isn’t fancy, it is filled with all sorts of memories of my extended family. Here’s a poem about my grandfather that tries to be about more than a can of old nails.

To Make the Crooked Straight

On a rusty metal shelf
that stood on the dirt floor
of the shed behind the house:
three rusted Arco cans
filled with bent nails
pulled from a thousand used boards,
and, also, with hope —
to save the unsavory
to make the crooked straight
once again.

– Steve Peterson

Between the Water and the Air

Dragonflies are hatching. Skimmers and darners are darting, catching mosquitoes, midges, and whatever else they can find. This poem is about that, but also about the moments that make life rich, and how easy it is to miss them. Gratitude.

Ringed Boghaunter (Williamsonia lintneri) Dragonfly - Male David Marvin via Compfight

Between the Water and the Air

Maybe a different day
would have passed unnoticed
like the rabbit, hunched and silent,
who watches you make your way
through the pasture grass.
Especially under a leaden sky
that promises all day rain,
it is easy enough to miss
the significance of things.

But there, at your foot,
pausing for a moment
between the water and the air,
a dragonfly’s transparent wings
glint wet and new;
and within them the whole
threatening sky, the leaning
grass, the dying elms that rim
the field, your peering eye,
this entire large world
are caught
in a web of veins.

– Steve Peterson


Dust StormCreative Commons License Rajiv Bhuttan via Compfight


All things are
connected, they say
even the flutter
of a butterfly’s wing can
raise a typhoon
half-way across the world.
They say the dust that
rises in the warm,
March sun was born in
the core of a distant star.
Toward the end, it burst
and scattered itself
across the galaxy and
into the house where
it collects quietly under the bed.
They say there is a
moment when the old
becomes new, when the new
becomes old again, the disconnected
reconnects. To everything
there is a season. They say ashes
to ashes, dust to dust.

– Steve Peterson