March Madness–the Massachusetts Edition

On Saturday we flew to Boston to spend Passover with my sister and her family.  Both my kids flew in too (one from Chicago, one from Oberlin.)  So I was more than a little distracted when I got my word for the elite eight round of March Madness.  But I gathered the family around the kitchen table to brainstorm suggestions for my assigned word:

I don’t recall our exact discussion, but having others to talk to sparked some ideas. I recently finished writing a series of dinosaur books, and I was struck by how little evidence supports many of the  “facts” we assume we know about dinosaurs.  I thought that I might write from the viewpoint of a Velociraptor, and let the Velociraptor express that s/he is really a mystery to us, despite our assumptions.  Do we know s/he was a vicious predator?  Maybe velociraptor was a decent fellow.  And what will an unknown creature of the future conclude about us 100 million years from now?  My daughter suggested I play with decent/descent/dissent, which I thought was a great idea.

imagesBut another idea started to take hold.  I love praying mantises and mentioned them at school visits this month while talking about my book Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?  I had also just finished reading the final edits of my praying mantis story that will be in the May/June issue of Click Magazine.  Perhaps it was the praying mantis who was the decent fellow.  I started thinking about the mantis folding its arms in prayer and other religious images.  In the middle of the night, when my whirling brain and my sister’s hard futon kept me awake, I jotted a few lines:

Come closer dear,
You’ve nothing to fear.
I’m a decent chap/fellow

Alone on my leafy lair
I fold my arms in hopeful prayer

After a few more scribbles I searched youtube for praying mantis videos and found a terrific Animal Planet video.  I borrowed some words/ideas from the narration and jotted down some rhymes while my husband slept:

Rapt attention
slice and chew from head to tail/end to end
bite/don’t take flight
razor sharp
master of deception
deadly speed
blending in, mimic leaves, twigs
spies prey (10,000 miniature eyes)
sway my head as you move
track prey in any direction
move backwards
on the hunt
closely creep
sharp spikes spear
faster than a blink of eye
slowly chew while prey still alive
nibble spine like we clean steak knives
leisurely clean   a cat licking its fur?
Swivel head

In the morning I finished a draft just before the gang went out on our day’s adventure.  That night I made some more edits, after getting feedback from my sister and my kids.  Debbie Diesen, a member of my critique group, had also offered to read it and sent comments.  The only one unwilling to offer her 2 cents was my niece (who happens to be finishing an MFA in poetry…but said she knows nothing about kids’ poetry.  That clearly wasn’t stopping anyone else!)  After a final polish I sent it off Sunday night.  I was fairly pleased with the way it turned out:

Prayer of the Praying Mantisimages-1

I fold my arms. I kneel in prayer.
I’m hidden by my leafy lair.
I spy a tremor, tiny shake
creeping closer, quiver quake.

I focus raptly on my prize,
ten thousand lenses in my eyes.
My costume hides me, in plain view;
my dinner nears my holy pew.

I raise my arms and pray my prey
will find my altar, come to stay.
With patience of a saintly priest–
a decent chap–I bless my feast.

She’s almost here, another stride,
will bring my banquet to my side.
And now at last, she’s reached my trap.
I sway my head, and then… I snap!

I’ve made a few revision notes for my mantis.  He should probably wear a vestment instead of a costume.  I think his pew is a sacred one, not holy.  And I wonder if decent chap should fall on the chopping block?  I’ll let the poem sit a little longer, and come back to it again.


The voters decided to send M. M. Socks and his Cello Sun to the final four.  I had a blast in March Madness and am thrilled to have four new poems to revise, and the starts of several others.  But I’m also a little relieved to watch the final two rounds of the contest from the sidelines.  You can too!

Head on over to A Year of Reading to read more Poetry Friday adventures.

20 thoughts on “March Madness–the Massachusetts Edition

  1. What a fun poem!! Thanks for sharing your process.

    I love the beat and the humor, like the lines below!

    I focus raptly on my prize,
    ten thousand lenses in my eyes.

    PS. I love the damselfly photo at the top of your page!

  2. I loved your praying mantis poem, Buffy. And how fun that you’ll be in Click. Isn’t it odd how we set out thinking we’ll write one thing but then our brain detours because of a word or image or thought and BAM, our poem goes a completely different direction? Congrats on all your wonderful writing!

    1. Thanks, Laura. And a huge thanks for fueling my poetry with your weekly challenges…and for encouraging me to participate in Poetry Friday. I would not have found out about March Madness without your nudge!

  3. I loved reading about your process, Buffy. I haven’t been following March Madness, but your poem is terrific! I want to try more mask poems. I think they offer a window into poetry for kids who are hesitant to write. They can enjoy being creative when they look at the world through the perspective of another creature.

    1. I agree, Joyce. It can be freeing to write in the voice that you imagine for your subject–and lead to unexpected places! I think mask poems definitely tap into kids’ imaginations.

  4. Hooray, Buffy! You did SO well in the Madness competition! I love this poem and the back story on how it came to be, especially the lines:
    “I raise my arms and pray my prey
    will find my altar, come to stay.
    With patience of a saintly priest–
    a decent chap–I bless my feast.”
    I love the layered meanings and humor throughout. I was proud to vote for one (of many) of my Highlights friends. Bask in your accomplishment. =)

  5. Hi, Buffy. I loved your praying mantis poem, maybe because I am a fan of science/nature poems in general and yours is so beautifully written. Do you know the book Bone Poems? It’s a collection of children’s poems about dinosaurs, written in response to the dinosaur hall at New York’s Museum of Natural History. It’s a great book!

  6. Congrats on the good poems you wrote for the competition. Love this praying mantis one especially — “quiver quake” and a great ending!

    1. Thank you–that quiver quake was a line I revised and revised (originally the tiny quake was before some kind of shake, and seemed like repetition instead of growth.) So I’m glad it worked for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.