Letters & Donations S. W. A. K.


Poetry and letters have so much in common; if not twins, they are at the very least kissing cousins. Don’t you think?

In this drawing, just imagine  and LETTERS FOR KIDS!  printed right next to the word “poems.”

It’s hard to believe that Letters For Kids could get any better, but now The Rumpus has decided to make a donation to 826 National with every new subscription through the month of August. If you know me, you probably know why this arrangement tickles me hot pink with black and white polka-dots. In case you don’t know me, I’ll explain.

Dave Eggers, the founder of 826 Valencia & 826 National, is one of my heroes. He’s the awesome author/advocate dude who inspired me to create Word Play, a poetry in the schools project.  I happened upon this video of him accepting a TED Prize, wherein he talks about what motivated him to create a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering kids’ literacy and creativity. In his TED Talk, Dave extends an invitation for everyone to get involved in their local schools and communities, to invest in young people. Not so much with dollars, but with time.

Spending time doing what? you may ask. Sharing something you’re passionate about.

That’s what Dave did when he created 826 Valencia with a mission of mentoring young people & sharing with them his life-long love affair with reading and writing, learning and creating, journeying through worlds of make-believe. His wildfire passion ignited my own and set me on a path that changed my life immeasurably for the better. If you go back to the start of this blog, you’ll see lots of photosart and creative writing from all of my wicked-smart, uber-imaginative students.  We wrote letters to President Obama, which were hilarious and kind and, sometimes, quite sobering. Many of the kids gave advice, a kind of To-do list for the president. Some told about themselves and drew pictures, and many of them included poems they’d written. Like this one, written by a 3rd grader, that left me speechless with its beauty.


Dear Mister President Obama, I made this in my poetry class. Tell me if you think it is okay:

I used to be a dog, but now I am the moon.

I used to be the moon, but now I’m a wolve.

I used to be a wolve, but now I’m a howling night wind.

I used to be a howling night wind, but now I’m a goodbye.

I used to be a goodbye, but now I’m a laughing ghost kid.

Love, me


I often wonder if President Obama ever received those letters, if he read them, how the kids’ words and images made him feel. I wonder if he was tempted to write back, maybe even pen a poem or draw a picture.

I wish Letters For Kids existed when I was doing Word Play because I think it’s the perfect way to get kids reading and writing more, a lovely source of connection to and communication with other lovers of words, letters and story, as well as an utterly unique and inspiring source for writing prompts (Hint, hint, teachers!). And what a great way to make new friends, to learn fascinating things about other people, to learn and share things about yourself.


My Best Friend

Is myself

I am a good person.

I am funny.

I am smart.

I am good at tracking severe weather.

–Samuel, 9


The truth has a way of coming out in the act of writing. Sometimes in amusing ways, sometimes in ways that make you realize those truths have been waiting a long time to be given voice. All letters, regardless of the intended recipient, are also missives to our inner-most selves.

My grandma reminds me of a song.

My brother reminds me of a monkey

and drums

and an electric guitar

all playing at the same time.

–Ahviana, 9


Letters and poems, regardless of their level of intimacy, have this way of speaking with a”raised” confessional voice meant for a larger audience. A way of saying Hey, listen, I’m telling you something about myself and my experience of the world – something important, listen.


An Exquisite Corpse Collaborative Poem

– by the 5th – 7th Graders of Word Play

I used to live in Georgia, but now I live in Miami.
I used to be a dog, but now I’m a monkey.
I used to be a nurd, but now I’m cool.
I used to never do my work, but now I do.
I used to write, but now I draw.
I used to have shoes, now I have paws.
I used to be a single child, but now I’m not.
I used to crawl, now they look how I walk.
I used to talk, but now I don’t.
I used to like someone secret, but now I won’t.
I used to be dead, but now I’m alive.
I used to sit, but now I fly.
I used to be nice, but now I’m mean.
I used to cry, now I let myself scream.
I used to watch TV, now I really play.
I used to be silly, but now I’m crazy.
I used to eat like a pig, but now I eat like a ant.
I used to have a piggy bank, now I help pay rent.
I used to be shy, but now I’m grave.
I used to be afraid, now I am brave.
I used to be a puppy, but now I’m a deer.
I used to be scared, now I’m No Fear.
I used to be a fish, but now I’m an alligator.
I used to be an Igloo, now I’m a refrigerator.
I used to be a cat, now I’m a police.
I used to be a daughter, now I’m just a niece.
I used to be hot, but now I’m hotter.
I used to be a janitor, now I’m a movie star.
I used to play the drums, now I play the piano.
I used to be alive, but now I’m mostly a ghost.


Here’s what some of my students had to say about why they love writing.  And this is one of my favorites.


Go Poetry Go!

I learned that poetry lets you yell out
and shout
all your feelings, your thoughts
your knots
and nots.

You get to put all your creation
and imagination
in a single poem!

Poems are just like life.
Without them
I would feel chopped
by a slicey knife.

Go poetry go!
Bring on your show!!!

–Joanna, 10


Subscribers of Letters For Kids get to write back, to respond to whatever engages them in the letters they receive from middle-grade and YA authors, like Adam Rex and Rebecca Stead.  That just might be the neatest thing of all. Your donations – via your subscriptions to LETTERS FOR KIDS – give you the gift of being a part of all the tremendous tutoring, teaching, mentoring and artful adventuring that 826 National makes possible.  So don’t miss out, share the letter love!

LETTERS FOR KIDS  makes a fabulicious, story-packed, creativity-stoking gift for kiddos & young-at-hearts of any age (that means you)! It works like this. The wordy-good folks at  THE RUMPUS  arrange for actual paper-&-ink letters to be written by real, live authors – like Lemony Snicket! and & have them delivered – *gasp* – by real, live (well, mostly) postal carriers right to your very own mailbox. But whoa, hold on there narrative lovin’ cowboys & cowgirls.  If you act NOW (and by “now” I mean the month of August), a donation goes out to 826 National writing & tutoring centers with every subscription purchased.  Which means you get to be a hero twice-over.  Yo, how cool are you?!?

Get your very own sealed-with-a-kiss subscription on its way to you, today!  Get more details (& washing instructions for your new superhero cape) right here. Don’t forget, every subscription is, in effect, a “double gift ” subscription.  Because whether the subscription is a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re also giving the gift of helping to better the lives of all those lucky 826 National students with the donation The Rumpus sends on your behalf.  Really, folks, it’s hard to imagine a more pay-it-forward two-fer deal than this.


I also highly recommend Letters In The Mail.  It is the single best thing I’ve done for myself and for my writing in –  I don’t even know how long.  It might just take the cake in recent history for most beloved and most beneficial thing I’ve given myself.

And Letters In The Mail, like Letters For Kids, is ridiculously affordable. Even for writers. Even for POETS. Which is really saying something :0)

Here’s a mini-interview with Stephen Elliott on Huff Po about why he created Letters In The Mail.  Stephen Elliott, founder of The Rumpus, also writes The Daily Rumpus, which I’m more-than-happily addicted to. You can subscribe for the free “overly-personal e-mails” on The Rumpus website.

PSS (or is it PPS?)  ((or is it PS-squared?))

The Rumpus has a rockin’ poetry contingency these days: reviews, interviews with poets, even original poetry.  There’s The Rumpus Poetry Club, and The Rumpus Book Club for fiction and nonfiction titles.  You get the books before they’re released and there’s a group chat and interview online with the authors and poets, as well.

Without a doubt, The Rumpus is my favorite literary website.  Okay, okay, it’s my favorite website, period.

Now go, buy your subscriptions for Letters In The Mail & Letters For Kids.  Buy a couple of gift subscriptions for kids you know, while you’re at it.  Like Letters In The Mail, a Letters For Kids subscription is the kind of present that keeps giving throughout the entire year.  Now that’s something worth kickin’ up your spurs to Woohoo! & Yeehaw! about.

Send some Letters. Get some kids excited about words on the page, using them to communicate ideas and emotions, to tell stories. Who knows? Maybe we’ll grow crops of letter writers, poets and storytellers in neighborhoods all over the globe. All you have to do is plant the seeds. Just ask Dave Eggers.

What I Like About Poetry Days

– a collaborative poem by the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Graders of Word Play

I can think of a place I want to be.

Writing about wishes & secrets.

It can be funny, silly, fun, fanassy, cerious.

I can stop thinking about school.

We talk about sounds a lot & I like sounds.

When she makes us think silly.

It’s much better than TV.

When we make it up or the truth.

Making a chatbook.

Writing about the ocean, beach & camping.

She says to make believe, make it up!

Luke is pretty funny & rilly rilly cool.

I can expreece my feelings.

I can think of peace full places.

I can be silly & it won’t matter.

I can see one of the sweetest dogs in the world.

Writing about what happens in my dreams, even bad dreams.

When we got to imagine being in a forest.

It is very fun when she reads poetry to us from other kids.

Getting to take out your amoshens.

I can lie and no one gets mad, because it’s funny & everyone laughs together.

I like seeing the dog & petting Luke, & I like righting!!!

When she & Luke comes and does poetry with us it’s like living at home.

When you get to umagun, because you can do anything when you umagun it.

She tells us to think about the woods at night with no one there & what do you smell

& taste & hear!

I get to see Luke.

I write what I feel.

I get to rime words.

Poetry makes me happy so much.


Hey kids (young & “old” alike), poetry makes me “happy so much” too. And so do letters. I think because that kind of writing comes from a place of reflection, of openness and authenticity, that within us that seeks to reach out, to connect with others. I’m crazy about Letters For Kids, but if for whatever reason you’re not up to purchasing a subscription, there’s absolutely nothing keeping you from writing some letters of your own.
Write to your friends, young and young at heart; write to total strangers, all across the globe. Write to our soldiers. Write to family you may’ve lost touch with. Write to teachers and coaches and mentors who made a difference in your life. Write to your heroes and tell them why they inspire you; tell them what action you’ve taken – or have plans to carry out – to honor them. Write a letter to that special someone in your life – your best friend and/or your life partner – thanking them for unswerving, unconditional, above-and-beyond devotion. Write a letter to someone who once bullied you, to someone who discouraged you at a time when you needed uplifting; without judging or blame, share your feelings, your experience, tell them what you wish would’ve happened/been said to you, instead. Write to poets and authors, actors and dancers, singers and filmmakers, to the writers of stage and screen – all the artists who inspire you, entertain you, broaden your mind and touch your heart.  Write to folks in animal rescue who serve as superheroes to the underdogs; write to trainers of service, therapy, rescue/recovery dogs, tell those tireless folks how much you appreciate the work they do, transforming the lives of people in need. Write to child advocates and civil rights advocates, to the founders and leaders of nonprofit movements and organizations championing causes and people you care about. Write to the president or to the Queen of England or the Dali Lama. Write to firefighters and police officers in your community and say Thank You. Write to Elmo or to Luke the Poetry Dog. Write to the child you never had or to the child you lost. Write to the body you had before cancer or Parkinson’s, ALS or MS took up residence. Write to an Olympic athlete – or better yet, write to a Paralympic, Deaflympic or Special Olympic athlete. Write to the manufacturer of a product that makes you happy and/or makes a tremendous difference in your life, because some products are more than just something to be bought and sold, some products change your life – and the makers of those products? those makers are true innovators, who deserve recognition and gratitude. Write to a loved one who’s passed away. Write to your 6 yr-old, 12 yr-old, 18 yr-old self in the past; write to your 30 yr-old, 50 yr-old, 70 yr-old self in the future. Write to your neighbor and introduce yourself.
In poetry, there’s a class of poem we call an Ode, which is, at its very essence, a poem of praise. Letters are a great vehicle for odes of the slightly more “prose-y” variety. So go for it!
Write, write, write.
It’s all a letter. It’s all poetry.

About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. www.deniselanier.wordpress.com & www.wonkybent.wordpress.com

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