Friday, July 30, 2010

Poetry Friday: Terrific Picture Books

I think I've already mentioned my affinity for chillin' at the bookstore. It's one of my favorite places to just hang out when I get "alone time." Sometimes I'll blog or surf or work on lesson plans or just wander around browsing (making sure to have my cell phone camera handy, naturally).

Earlier this year I stumbled upon two picture books that intrigued me. Both were illustrated versions of poems by Langston Hughes: The Negro Speaks of Rivers, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, and My People, featuring the photographs of Charles R. Smith, Jr.

I was drawn to these books because Hughes is one of my favorite poets, "Dreams" was one of the first poems I ever memorized. I think I was in second grade. Also, I really love sharing these kinds of books with students--books that bring poems to life through pictures and images--because I think it helps them learn how poems can paint a picture in their minds.

Actually, I ended up not sharing these books with my students, but we did read and discuss the poems together. Then I asked them to do what Lewis and Smith did--bring the poems to life. I had long been trying to figure out how to incorporate technology into our poetry studies. This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to try something new. In what was kind of an experiment, we used iMovie, which would allow them to find pictures from the web and add text and music to create a kind of multimedia version of one of these poems.

For only our second time using iMovie, the movies turned out pretty good. In retrospect, I think I wish I had shown them the books first. Initially my thinking was that I wanted to see what they'd do without any "influence." However, it probably would have been a good idea to give them some guidance and I think the books would have done just the trick. For example, the students who chose "My People," ended up with movies filled with images of famous people, which kind of misses the mark, in my mind. But alas, it was a learning experience for all of us. And I don't suppose there's anything wrong with that.

Here's a fifth grader's multimedia interpretation of "The Negro Speaks of Rivers:"

Poetry Friday is being hosted by Irene Latham at Live Love Explore today. Be sure to check it out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sweet Home Chicago or Hog Butcher for the World

Just got home from four days in Chicago for some educational technology training. The city of Chicago fascinates me and just might be my favorite city in the country. (Sorry, Vegas).  It's not without faults, of course (I can't lie, I loathe the Cubs and all their die hard fanatics), but it's a fascinating and exciting place.

I was there last summer for a month-long seminar about teaching poetry, which was when I started truly enjoying reading poetry for the first time in my life. So maybe that's the connection--maybe that's why I like it so much there. There are certainly millions of poems hiding in those crowded city streets. Every time I go back, I discover new ones.

Who knows if I'll end up back there again someday, or for how long of a time (I certainly ate enough hot dogs this time to sustain me for a good few years), but when I do I know new poems will be there waiting for me to read and to write.

What better to share than two Carl Sandburg poems after returning from the place where he wrote some of his most famous poetry?

The Road and the End

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,
Where shapes of hunger wander
And the fugitives of pain go by.

I shall foot it
In the silence of the morning,
See the night slur into dawn,
Hear the slow great winds arise
Where tall trees flank the way
And shoulder toward the sky.

The broken boulders by the road
Shall not commemorate my ruin.
Regret shall be the gravel under foot.
I shall watch for
Slim birds swift of wing
That go where wind and ranks of thunder
Drive the wild processionals of rain.

The dust of the travelled road
Shall touch my hands and face.


THERE are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

I am not sure which one I like best, I just know I like his use of free verse and metaphor, not to mention the
use of a great word like "effluvia." Finally, for all you fellow classroom teachers out there, I can't talk about
Sandburg without mentioning that one of my all-time favorite poems to use with young students will always
be "Fog." 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Poetry Friday: E.E. Cummings

As promised in my last post, I want to share an E.E. Cummings poem. Here's one that I just discovered:

[as freedom is a breakfast food]

as freedom is a breakfast food
or truth can live with right or wrong
or molehills are from mountains made
--long enough and just so long
will being pay the rent of seem
and genius please the talentgang
and water most encourage flame

as hatracks into peachtrees grow
or hopes dance best on bald men's hair
and every finger is a toe
and any courage is a fear
--and long enough is just so long
will the impure think all things pure
and hornets wail by children stung

Please read the entire poem here.

Like so many of his poems, this one appeals to me because it doesn't make sense at first. Cummings is turning things upside-down with contradictions and off-the-wall comparisons. Also, the poem's rhythm is irresistible in a way and its sing-songy and nursery rhyme feel draws you in in a way that this strange arrangement of words seems just right. I just really like this poem and I can't put my finger on why. I think I'll return to it throughout the weekend to continue seeing what I can make of it.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Language, Literacy and Love today. Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I'm Reading or How To Be a Nerd

Figured out two ways to know you're a total nerd recently (and, yes, I do both):

1. When you're out at the bookstore and you see a book you want to read, you snap a picture of the cover with your phone.

What? You don't do that? Oh, um...neither do I. Ok, yeah, I do. I don't always have pen and paper handy when I'm chillin'at Barnes & Noble. And this way a list of books that I want to read or buy for my classroom is always on hand. Unfortunately, though, it has only helped me to increase my already ginormous WTR  list, because lately the books I want to read are never available at the library!

2. You know the Dewey Decimal number of the poetry section by heart.

Now this one seems way less nerdy, but equally helpful. No matter what library I'm in, I always know exactly where to head to look for some good, new poetry books. This week I picked up E.E. Cummings: Selected Poems, edited by Richard S. Kennedy.

I've always been fascinated by Cummings. His poems are like puzzles to me. I enjoy them for their uniqueness,without the need to "figure them out." I'm discovering a lot of new ones in this book and I'm loving it. I didn't know much more than "[anyone lived in a pretty how town]," which my wife perfectly described as "depressingly brilliant." As in, Cummings wows you with his genius, but leaves you feeling like you're just a few hairs away from being smart enough to understand him. I, personally, am okay with that. In fact, I'm reveling in it as I explore his poems.

One of the best parts about this book are the chapter introductions by Kennedy. He provides interesting and relevant biographical information about Cummings as well as insight into some of his poems. Not too much to be overwhelming. Just enough to enrich the reading. For example, did you know that E.E. stands for Edward Estlin? (He went by Estlin, though). There's much more info beyond that, such as the fact that E.E. was an artist and that the Cubist school appealed to him. This makes total sense when you think about it, with the way Cummings played with line and punctuation and seemed to break all the rules, yet did so in a beautiful way.

So if you're a Cummings fan, or even if you're not, I highly recommend this book. I'll try to share some of the poems I'm enjoying as I discover them, so stay tuned.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Art of Losing

I am constantly losing things. Before 10:00 a.m. this morning I had already misplaced the checkbook and my cell phone. A frantic search ended in the recovery of both items (one in the car and one between the couch cushions, naturally). My frantic searches usually end in such a way. Everything turns out okay in the end, but me storming around the house hunting for missing stuff is never fun to watch.

It's funny how the mundane events of life can bring a poem to mind. One of my favorites is "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop, and I've been thinking about it since my things turned up.

One Art
By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

Please read the final three stanzas. You won't be disappointed. The ending is stellar and somewhat heartbreaking. The first five stanzas build dramatically towards this ending--from keys, to names, to a house (how do you lose a house?), and finally to a person--"you." Throughout, she seems to twist the language and the words in a slightly unexpected way; you're really forced to slow down and pay attention. By the end, you're drawn into a poem where even within the strict rules of the villanelle form form, there are surprises in nearly every line, particularly when we come to realize that no matter how many times we repeat it, the art of losing is painfully hard to master.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A New Poetry Prompt

Last week, I wrote about the Monday Poetry Stretch, hosted by The Miss Rumphius Effect. I think my first effort was pretty good. I just couldn't hack it this week, though. The challenge was to write about a saying, particularly one repeated in your youth by a parent or grandparent. Two obstacles seemed to stand in my way: drawing a blank on anything repeatedly quoted to me as a child, and not wanting to sound like I was ripping off Hal Sirowitz's brilliant collection, Mother Said. (His poems are hilarious and poignant, by the way. I couldn't find any shared with permission on the web, so you're on your own to seek them out I guess. I'm doing my best to follow copyright rules!)

Anyway, long story short, I stumbled upon a pretty cool site the other day: Big Tent Poetry. Each week they offer up a writing prompt of their own and invite others to share. This week's prompt called for examples of Steganography, which simply put is the "art and science of writing hidden messages" in such a way that none but the sender and intended recipient can understand the message. Um, yeah. I didn't fare too well with that one either.

I really wanted to write about the last race I ran in and how amazingly fast I was and how annoyed I am that I've let my running hobby lapse lately. I couldn't find any sort of code to embed, though. Maybe there is one there, planted by my sub-conscious mind, but I doubt it. So in an effort to be brave and keep sharing my poems, I'm posting it here today and encouraging everyone out there to check out Big Tent Poetry and all they have to offer. In addition to reading some terrific poems that have been submitted, I've also found some great new poetry blogs to follow.

Back Then

Back then I could fly--
back then a mere
nineteen months ago.
One race. Only three miles.
But you know--
held back by nothing--
I could have run fifty
that day.

Since then,
I’ve been
Can’t muster
the energy,
the time,
the speed.
You should have seen me
back then.

Tell me it’s time
for another shot.
Another chance
to see what was
there all along.
What is still there
Tell me
I can fly again.


Poetry Friday: Visual Response

My adoration of The Poetry Foundation is no secret. (I almost fainted when I got to visit their Chicago offices last summer.) I have to admit, though, some of the journal articles they post are a bit over my head. But I try to read and understand them, I really do.

One that I read this week is called The Assemblages of Jess. In describing the life and art of Jess Collins, the article tackles the question: "What does it mean to say a visual thing is poetic?"

This got me thinking about an assignment I gave my fifth graders this past school year. Step One: find a image on the web that seems "poetic" and that could inspire you to write a poem.  Step Two: Write the poem inspired by this image. Step Three: find some companion images that match your theme. Step Four: combine text and images and music to make a short video.

They have some imperfections (this was our first time making a movie of any kind so it was a bit of an experiment), but for the most part they turned out beautifully. To celebrate Poetry Friday, I thought I'd share a couple. The first is by Claire, probably my best writer of poetry. The second is by Stasarahmy. I like the repetition (something we focused a lot on in poems we read) in her poem.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at My Juicy Little Universe today. Be sure to stop by and check out what everyone's up to.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Planning Ahead: Poetry for the New Year

For the first summer in about ten years, I'm at home. No summer school. No month-long poetry seminars. It's been very busy, but refreshing and relaxing, too. More time than I've had in awhile to read and write and think about how to approach the oncoming school year.

I am teaching fourth grade this year and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to teach poetry. Last year, with my fifth graders (whom I began teaching in fourth grade), we had an all-out poetry immersion, reading over 100 poems together and writing at least 35 of our own. We read everything from Hughes to Whitman to Dickinson to Frost to Cummings as well as a ton of modern stuff. No kiddie-poems for us! The kids handled it splendidly and really appreciated the fact that they were reading poems that most people don't encounter until high school or college. As a result, I think they make huge leaps forward as both readers and writers of everything, not just poetry.

But I've taught fourth grade before and I know it's going to be a different story. More than likely, their exposure to poetry has been quite limited, especially on the writing side of things. So, where to start? I think I can get them to a point where they can handle the more complicated poems. But fourth graders experiences, in life and in reading, are fairly limited. This is not a knock against fourth graders, just a general fact of life.

I think I'm going to start slowly and focus on wordplay and rhyme and language. Building an appreciation for poems at first will allow us to delve deeper and really get into the nuances of poems, which is what I really like.

Take for example the Poem of the Day from earlier this week over at The Poetry Foundation, "The Folk Who Live in Backward Town," by Mary Ann Hoberman. (Enjoy this poem for yourself, here.) Reading this poem with them and them having them write their own poem about Backward Town would get them to explore rhythm and rhyme and just get them playing with words. More importantly, they'd get a poem that's fun. I want them to love poetry as much as me, so fun poems are definitely the place to start, I think.

The hard part is that the types of poems I really want to read are by T.S. Eliot. Not exactly fourth grade material. Oh well, I have plenty of time to think and search for poems. School here in Michigan doesn't start until after Labor Day!

A Poem To Enjoy

Just read the most recent post over at How A Poem Happens. This blog, if you're not familiar with it, features poems by contemporary poets as well as a Q & A about the writing of the poem.

Today's poem, by Zachary Schomburg is called "Scary, No Scary" and it's one of the best things I've read in a long time:


You’ll return 
to your childhood 

after a lifetime away
to find it 
abandoned. Its 

red paint will be 
completely weathered.

It will have 
a significant westward lean. 

You're well advised to read the rest of the poem here because the ending is my favorite part. It's pretty close to perfection in my mind. The poet's comments about the writing of it are quite interesting, too. Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poetry In Music

I have odd and fairly wide-ranging musical tastes, although my favorites seem to be limited to musicians I discovered during high school and college. There's not a lot of "classic" stuff I'm familiar with, nor is there much 21st century music that appeals to me. That being said, there aren't many genres of music that I don't enjoy in some way. What I'm really drawn to, though, are poetic lyrics. I'm not talking about just rhyme here; it's more the poetic language that I really enjoy.

R.E.M. has been a favorite of mine for quite some time. "E-Bow The Letter," which I hadn't heard in awhile, came to my attention thanks to my iPod yesterday. Michael Stipe's seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics, woven with obscure and unfamiliar references, fascinate me. It reminds me of a prose poem, in a way. I have a thing for prose poems and for poems that are just out of the reach of me understanding their meaning. The rambling lyrics make almost no sense to me, and that's part of what I like about it the most. Oh, and the music is pretty awesome, too.

I give you "E-Bow The Letter:"

Pure poetry, I tell you. Also feel free to read the lyrics, if you'd like.

And I can't leave without just one more. If a song leaves you scrambling for the dictionary to look up "bergamot," and "vetiver,"  it must be a work of poetic genius. I hope you find time to check it out.

What other poetic songwriters am I missing? I'm happy to take suggestions. My iPod needs new tunes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Poetry Stretch: The Sky

One of my absolute must-follow blogs is The Miss Rumphius Effect. I was drawn to it by its title, inspired by one of my all-time favorite picture books, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, and I became a regular reader because of the awesome posts about literacy and poetry.

New followers of my blog should definitely subscribe to The Miss Rumphius Effect and I encourage all of you to take part in the Monday Poetry Stretch, a terrific weekly posting. This week's stretch, called for poems about the sky. Can you write one of your own? Leave it in the comments here or, better yet, at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

To preface my poem, I have to say I have never, ever published a poem of my own for the world to see. Ever. So this is a first. I really enjoyed the revision process as my poem started as one thing and ended as another. Finally, I guess I need to give a nod to Uncle Walt because upon rereading, my poem seems to have a bit of a Learn'd Astronomer kind of vibe. So, thanks Walter. Now, I bring you "Not For Us To Know:"

Not For Us To Know

There is talk amongst us
of what’s above.
Analysis of stars and satellites
and the heavens.
Gaseous nebulae reduced
to formulas.
Predictions of collision and
Those sparkling shards--
that darkness--
calling to us, daring us
to unravel the science within.
The unwritten
chapter of the night--
it is not for us to know.

Children’s arms reach upward,
the skies just within their grasp.
They marvel at
the moon’s majestic glow
and worship its light.
They know
the majesty fades
each dawn,
the sequel arrives
each dusk.
There is more
to know. There is no
more to know.

This mystery.
This distant palette.
This celestial regalia.
Ours only to admire,
to wish, to hope,
to imagine.
There is
in not knowing.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Merwin Named Poet Laureate

Acclaimed poet W.S. Merwin's recent appointment as Poet Laureate has got me thinking about and re-reading some of my favorite Merwin poems.

To be honest, not every one of his poems strikes a chord with me. This spring, I took a look at The Shadow of Sirius and really had trouble getting into it.  Even in the poems of his I like, Merwin is usually a challenging read for me. But that, for me as a reader, is part of the pleasure. I enjoy the complexity, the joy of trying to master the language and make sense of it all.

I also enjoy the raw emotion of some of his poems. There are some feelings that words just can't do justice because of their depth and complexity. Merwin, however, finds the language and captures these emotions exquisitely. Take, for example, "Separation," a short and perfectly painful poem about loss.

Or what about this one?

By W.S. Merwin

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

Stop right there. The ambiguity caused by the absence of quotation marks has me totally hooked. Go on to read the rest of the poem and see if the sadness of this poem resonates with you, too. Or, better yet, listen to W.S. Merwin read it himself:

One of my other favorites is one I can't find a copy-written version online, "The Unwritten." Maybe you know it--it's fabulous. So instead I leave you with one last poem from our newest Poet Laureate:

To the Blank Spaces

For longer than by now I can believe
I assumed that you had nothing to do
with each other I thought you had arrived
                  whenever that had been

more solitary than single snowflakes
with no acquaintance or understanding
running among you guiding your footsteps
                  somewhere ahead of me

in your own time oh white lakes on the maps
that I copied and gaps on the paper
for the names that were to appear in them

Read the rest of the poem here if you wish. And be sure to share your favorite Merwin poems in the comments.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Poetry Book Review: Time You Let Me In

Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25 was a book I discovered at the library earlier this year. The poems were selected by one of my poetry heroes, Naomi Shihab Nye. I pretty much have to own anything with her name on it. She's a gifted poet and, for my money, might be the best selector of poems for anthologies working today.

There are some wonderful poems within Time You Let Me In, most by poets you've probably never heard of--I know I hadn't.

Some of my favorites include "Photons" by Nicole Guenther, which has a glorious ending (I'm a sucker for poems with good endings), "foundling," a superb prose poem by Matthew Baker, and "Rootless" by Michelle Brittan, an excellent poem about much more than mung bean sprouts. You also will enjoy Baker's "Ode to Poetry," a hilariously sarcastic poem that turns the ode form on its head, to say the least. My students certainly loved it, although I had to read them a slightly edited version.

I think this book would provide some very teachable poems for middle and high school teachers, although the poems listed above were thoroughly enjoyed by my fifth graders this spring.

Do you know this collection? Do you have a favorite among them or maybe another anthology I should be sure to get my hands on? Please let me know.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Veritas Sequitur

Poetry has carved out a special place in my life. In the last year I've gone from not caring much for it at all (to be generous) to incorporating it into my daily teaching and reading. I've even written a little.

I'd like to use this blog to share both my poetry assignments and the poems of my students. I'd also like to share my favorite poems and new poems that I discover along the way. And finally, I'd like to connect with others within the poetry blogosphere.

Speaking of favorite poems, now seems like a good time to share the one that inspired the title of this blog. If you knew it without being told, you're in the right place. If you didn't and you enjoy it, you're in the right place, too.



Veritas sequitur ...

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down—
That they are there!

                              Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

                              The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Read the rest here.

There are so many things I love about this poem. What about you?

Happy reading. I look forward to the journey.