Nora: A poem about a story (with thanks to Jo Knowles)

This is the first week of Teachers Write, the online summer writing camp I run for teachers & librarians. I started doing this to help people create a writing community, so people who work with young writers could practice their own craft in a safe, supportive place. But the truth is, I learn so much more than I teach in these summers. This is our fourth year, and launch week is always busy – posting lessons, scheduling guest blogs, responding to comments, welcoming everyone. It’s wonderful and joyful, but chaotic, too.

So I’m late in slowing down to really think about the Monday Morning Warm-Up that Jo Knowles shared this week, as she does each Monday. Jo has a gift for inviting us to poke around in our own story worlds in ways that open up doors and shine lights. Her prompt was just what I needed this week because I’m about halfway through drafting a new book that’s real and honest and risky enough to scare me every time I sit down to write.

But sitting down is what I need to do. So today, I sat down and wrote in response to Jo’s prompt – “White Page Day” – is an invitation to list and reflect and pull ideas into a poem.




This is a story about a girl

Whose world was safe

Until it wasn’t.

It’s about sirens that stayed silent,

Police on the school bus,

And killers in the woods.

Good guys and bad guys

And people who don’t fit in categories

And that’s a problem

Because Nora always knew



It’s a story about the moment you realize

That your world is not as safe as you took for granted

With your unlocked doors and tree fort sleepovers.

The moment you realize it’s bigger,

More complicated,

That your good guys are not all as good

As you want them to be,

And your bad guys weren’t always that way.

Hearing their stories

Makes it hard to tell the difference

Between the two.

It’s a story about what we cheer for

And who that makes us.


It’s about small towns and mountains

And the monsters that hide there,

Some flesh.

Some shadow.

And some that aren’t out in the mountains at all.


It’s about ugly things

Living in beautiful places,

Lines that divide us –

And how two people crossing one

Made all the others go wavy and unsure.


One time an author came to our school –

He had a black t-shirt and sunglasses on his head –

And said the secret to selling lots of books

Was just writing cool stuff.

But things that are cool in a story

Are different when the characters aren’t made of paper.


So this is about looking more closely

At a place you love.

Seeing the beer cans and cigarette butts in the high grass

Loving it anyway,

And putting on work gloves.


It’s about happy endings

And whether you can have one

Even if you finish the story

More unsettled than when you began.


And now it is time for me to get back to that story. Thank you, Jo!! xo

11 Replies on “Nora: A poem about a story (with thanks to Jo Knowles)

  1. I am so intrigued! I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for showing us how the prompt inspired you.

  2. Awesome, Kate!

    “It’s a story about what we cheer for” – this line gave me goosebumps because I am intrigued by this concept. I can’t wait to read this story.

    Happy writing!

  3. Love this line: “Even if you finish the story
    More unsettled than when you began.” This line captures for me the adventure of reading writing. Well put! Looking forward to reading about Nora.

  4. “Characters aren’t made of paper.” Your poem intrigues me. Your thinking amazes me. Where does this all come from? I’d love a small piece of your muse.

  5. “That your good guys are not all as good

    As you want them to be.” Isn’t that nearly always the case, and so disappointing when realization hits. That transition between childhood and adulthood happens in this moment. Eager to hear more.

  6. I love the unsettled part too. I think that’s what lends itself to great conversation, and keeps a story on your mind. We read Witness by Karen Hesse in the fall, and the kids are not happy with the ending, but we have great conversations about it. I’m looking forward to reading this story someday.

  7. Your response really resonates with me. I’ve been thinking a lot about my 12 year old and his tween years. The loss of innocence and the struggles and triumphs that will arise. Absolutely loved the lines “seeing the beer cans and cigarette butts in the high grass loving it anyway, and putting on work gloves. Can’t wait to read more. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Kate,
    Knowing where the seed of this idea originated, I’m completely drawn into the poem. I can picture everything you have written above, having been glued to the news for three weeks. I also wrote a poem around this event. It’s dark and scary and I’m not sure I’ll ever share it with anyone other than my critique group. Thank you for sharing yours. I’m looking forward to what you do with this.