Monday, January 31, 2011

Thinking About Poem Titles

is not something I often do. I should do it more often. I certainly know that poets think about them a lot and choose them very carefully. Nothing happens accidentally in poems, and that includes their names.

When you stop and think about it, titles can be fascinating. Whether it's the title doubling as the first line of the poem or the title AS the first line of the poem or the title which makes no sense at first glance or the title that makes perfect sense (or both) or the title that's a red herring or...

You get the point. But I think I'm going to start paying closer attention to titles and see what I notice.

I'll start with this one, which is called "Blizzard" and involves a blizzard but, at least from what I can tell, is not really about a blizzard, not a literal one at, this looking more closely at titles thing is kind of fun...


After midnight the blizzard howls itself out,
the wind sleeps, a tired lover.
Before bed, I think of you
and play the Meistersinger quintet
over and over, singing
along on all the parts,
dancing though the house
like a polar bear who thinks
it has joined the ballet.

Read the rest of this poem at The Writer's Almanac. Then I think you'll have a better idea of what I mean about the title.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Poetry Rant Gone Askew

Today just couldn't get off the ground. You know how those kinds of days are, right? A little morning crabbiness begets grouchiness begets anger and before you know it, you're just ticked and you don't know why.

Maybe because I started the morning by finishing a book I've been reading--Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. Great book. Terrifically written. But, never one to pull punches, Bourdain goes all out in the penultimate chapter, raging against all that gets his goat. Maybe that got me worked up into a lather.

Or maybe it was the grocery store. Nothing like the grocery store to rile you up. Everything's either expensive or gone up in price. Or you have to buy 10 things to get them for the sale price. Well what if I don't want 10 things? And why are graham crackers so expensive? What's in those things anyway?

Or maybe it was my jeans. Now, I'm a jean guy. I'd wear jeans and a sweatshirt every day if I could. But I pulled my only clean pair out of my closet today and it's this pair that represents my greatest mistake ever as a clothing consumer. They're something called "low rise boot cut" jeans. Whatever this means, I hate it. I hate how they look, I hate how they feel, I hate everything about them. Most of all, though, I hate that when I bought them I didn't pause for a moment upon reading the tag (clearly marked "low rise boot cut") and think "I don't know what that means. Maybe I shouldn't get them."

By now you're asking what in the world this has to do with poetry...I'm getting there, trust me. But like many good poems, this post started as one thing and has turned into something completely different. Back to the rant...

Whatever the cause it only got worse once I got to the bookstore. Left there with the chirruns and some time to kill, I was wandering about the children's section, alternately adjudicating disagreements at the train table and shopping for myself. As always, I checked out the children's poetry section and initially, as always, shook my head at the scarcity of shelf space reserved for non-Silverstein, non-Prelutsky poetry books. Except this time, it was worse. What once was a pathetic four linear feet of shelf space for these books seemed to have shrunk to something in the neighborhood of two. Oh, this got me hot.

You're telling me, you can't fill a five-shelf, four foot section with poetry books? No Jane Yolen? No Lee Bennett Hopkins? No (I can't believe I'm typing this) Mary Ann Hoberman? Not a single anthology? Just Shel, Jack, and a couple of unsell-able copies of Poetry for Children: The Seasons. Talk about criminal. Is this what it's come to?

But then I started looking around. If this particular Barnes & Noble in suburban Detroit is any indicator, there's something wrong with more than just the poetry section in the world of big box bookstores and their children's and young adults' departments.

Some things I noticed:

  • Realistic Fiction is an endangered species. At least in Children's Lit. The shelves of the chapter book sections are dominated by fantasy, sci-fi, and several weird multi-genre series that are basically a rip-off of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Is the real world so lame that no one wants to write about it anymore? Or, even worse, so lame that no one wants to read about it anymore. And this might get me in trouble, but even the realistic fiction that's out there isn't all that "real." It seems like a book has to focus on ISSUES in order to get published--mental impairments, autism, racism, et cetera, et cetera. Something about that just feels preachy to me.
  • Speaking of preachy, if I see one more picture book "written" by a celebrity, I'm gonna puke. And most of them, save maybe Steve Martin's, are so heavy-handed and over-the-top with their messages. It's less like reading and more like getting bludgeoned with the mighty hammer of self-esteem. Yes, I'm talking to you, Madonna, and you, Spike Lee and Tony Dungy and John Lithgow and especially you Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • Did you know: this store devoted over 70 linear feet of shelf space to the genre (previously unknown to myself) TEEN PARANORMAL ROMANCE. Really? Seriously? I have no words for this. Neither will you when I tell you that one of the books in said section was "written" by Hillary Duff.
  • There is a book for sale in the young adult section with the title I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You. It's targeted to teenage girls from what I could tell. Today might mark my daughter's last trip to a bookstore. Oh, and it was placed right next to a book "written" by Lauren Conrad. 
Maybe I just don't get out enough. Maybe this should come as no surprise. I know there are high quality books out there and more are being published every day. My classroom is filled with them. And I personally own about 2 times as many poetry books as they were selling there today. So why aren't bookstores full of them, too? I know, I know. I'm being naive and I lack a capitalist's mindset. The tripe is there because people buy it. Duh. It's still loathsome and enough to make my bad mood even worse on a day like today.

So I'm sorry I'm not really writing about poetry today. I'll do better next time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Poetry Mix Tape: Prose Poems

It's been awhile since I last posted a Mix Tape. If you aren't familiar with the concept, you should check out the earlier incarnations. I think you'll find it satisfactory and self-explanatory. And to make up for the dearth of Mix Tapes, I'll provide you, dear reader, with an super-sized edition for your reading enjoyment.

For this installment, I'm focusing on prose poems. For awhile, I couldn't figure them out. They seem pretty straightforward, but how can something be both prose AND poetry? Silly me. So naive. Since I started exploring them, I've figured out there's so much more to them than meets the eye. It's all in the language, the imagery, the sounds, the rhythm. All that's really missing are line breaks--they are poems through and through. And when they're well written, I find them irresistible. I think it's the prose poems with a "stream of consciousness" feel to them that I'm drawn to the most.

Take "A Supermarket in California," by Allen Ginsberg for example. I'm not a Beat kind of guy. But a prose poem about Walt Whitman? With the word What's not to love? Take a look:
 What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon. 
         In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! 
         What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? 
Read the last two stanzas here and bask in all the psychedelic ramblings that make up this terrific poem.

But wait, it gets better. Ales Debeljak is a Slovenian poet whose following prose poem was published in Naomi Shihab Nye's international anthology This Same Sky:
The sodden moss sinks underfoot when we cross half frozen bays and walk through birch groves, wandering in an uneven circle that widens into darkness, through the minds and bodies of men and animals trapped in last year’s snow - no: trapped from the beginning, emptiness all around us, ice collecting on our pale faces, I can hear you singing on the run, an unknown melody, I can’t make out the words, clouds of breath freeze on your fur collar, eyes open wide as we trudge through silence and weakening starlight, through the fevered babble of children exiled to distant camps, insects, curling up under bark, December or June, no difference
Read the remainder of this beautiful piece here. I think it's all one sentence. And I like that. A lot.

My final sampling reminded me of my 2010 trip to Los Angeles (apparently I'm still obsessed with California). So descriptive and perfectly arranged, Fanny Howe's "Everything's a Fake" starts like this:
Coyote scruff in canyons off Mulholland Drive. Fragrance of sage and rosemary, now it’s spring. At night the mockingbirds ring their warnings of cats coming across the neighborhoods. Like castanets in the palms of a dancer, the palm trees clack. The HOLLYWOOD sign has a white skin of fog across it where erotic canyons hump, moisten, slide, dry up, swell, and shift. They appear impatient—to make such powerful contact with pleasure that they will toss back the entire cover of earth.
You can finish it here.

If you like prose poems as much as I do, allow me to recommend these as well:

Well, I sure have provided a deluge of reading material, haven't I? I hope you're able to take the time to explore these or at least bookmark this page or subscribe via RSS or email or (shameless plug) add me to your blogroll so you can come back and read more when you have time. And if I'm missing one of your favorite prose poems, by all means let me know in the comments.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Treasure Trove That Is The Poetry Foundation

My adoration of The Poetry Foundation is well documented. (I dream of my children saying one day, "Daddy, tell us again about the time you visited their offices.)

For my money there's no other organization out there as devoted to spreading the joys of poetry throughout the land as they are. What would I do without their brilliant Poetry Tool? My Poetry Mix Tapes might not exist! Or without their near-infinite number of poems that are made available to the general public for free? This blog itself might not exist! I have to stop imagining that before I get too upset to continue...

And then there's The Learning Lab. I think it's been a part of their site for some time, but I happened to stumble back into it today and it's definitely expanded. If you're a Language Arts, English, Literature, or Writing teacher, it's definitely something you've got to see.

You'll find essays and articles on poetry, a poetic glossary, discussion guides and over 50 poem guides--which include some combination of annotation, explication, analysis, and discussion. None of this is to be missed. (One thing that I hadn't noticed before were the Poetry Magazine Discussion Guides, which feature essays on reading poetry that have been published in their monthly magazine. Definitely something for me to explore.)

If you check it out, please let me know what you think and how you're using it.

I'll leave you with this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. It's new to me and it has an accompanying Poem Guide in the Learning Lab. Enjoy.

kitchenette building

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes   
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes   
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,   
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,   
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

You'll find the final stanza here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My New Favorite Poem

I've always used the term "favorite" loosely. I don't really like the word that much to be honest with you. I find it so limiting. When asked to choose a favorite color or food or movie or book, I invariably end up listing three or five or more. I guess this is my little protest against having to choose just one. Just check out the number of blog posts I've labeled "favorite poems" and you'll see what I mean.

There are, of course, a few instances where I do give only one answer. But ultimately I end up thinking of or discovering a different one within the next hour or so. (e.g. "No THAT one's really my favorite...wait, THIS one...wait...").

And then there are times when I'll choose a favorite and then push it aside for another favorite only to return at a later time and let the original reclaim the throne. This cycle can go on and on for me. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

If you're a teacher, you probably have a set of catch-phrases that you use repeatedly throughout the school year. One of mine is used whenever I introduce a book or a poem before reading it aloud. I always end up saying something along the lines of "This is my favorite book/poem ever and I just have to share it with you." My students moan (I think all of my catch-phrases elicit this response) and say things like "You said that about yesterday's poem." But it's true. I find new favorites all the time.

Now when it comes to poetry, my list of top five poets is pretty secure. You've got Collins and Merwin and Shihab Nye and Hughes and cummings...or maybe Kenyon or Kumin or Williams or Addonizio...

Anyway, I came across this poem in my daily email from this week and it immediately became my new favorite:

Rime Riche
by Monica Ferrell

You need me like ice needs the mountain 
On which it breeds. Like print needs the page.
You move in me like the tongue in a mouth,
Like wind in the leaves of summer trees,
Gust-fists, hollow except for movement and desire
Which is movement. You taste me the way the claws
Of a pigeon taste that window-ledge on which it sits,
The way water tastes rust in the pipes it shuttles through
Beneath a city, unfolding and luminous with industry. 

The poem turns slightly at this point, so you'll want to read the rest of it here for sure.

I wonder who the poet is speaking to here--a lover? a child? I also am unable to puzzle out why the poem is called "Rime Riche." There must be some wordplay I'm missing. Makes me want to spend a lot more time exploring this poem. Overall, it's the comparisons (like the ice needs the mountain) and the unique personification ("gust-fists", "water tastes rust") that get me. Without a doubt, this is my favorite poem of all time. For the time being.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Poetry Moves I Love: Allusion

I've already confessed to loving poems I don't fully understand. So now it's time for me to admit that I also love poems that make me feel smart. Don't get me wrong, I'm no genius and I was pretty useless as an English/Literature student. But I really like reading a poem that is a bit on the complicated side that I actually "get." I like the feeling provided by noticing things in poems that others might not.

Take for example the poem "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost. I took part in a close reading of the poem during a study of poetic forms (it's written in terza rima). I chimed in with a less than eloquent but moderately insightful comment that I thought the poem was about death. My colleagues nodded in agreement and I think I even heard an "I hadn't thought of that." Inwardly, I beamed. I'm smart. They like me, they really like me! Definitely a good feeling.

Getting back to my original point, I also like the feeling provided by reading a poem that contains an allusion that I understand. Trust me, there are millions of allusions that go completely over my head, especially Biblical ones. But when there's one that I read and I know what the poet is talking about, it's a nice warm feeling. Me smart. Me know poetry.

Such a simple thing really, allusion. But it can completely change the reading of a poem. It's like opening a door you didn't know was there. Maybe it was hiding behind that giant armoire that's too big for the room. But when you push that baby out of the way, turn the knob, and open that door, the poem can change right before your eyes.

So even if it's a silly poem like "We Old Dudes" by Joan Murray, a riff on Gwendolyn Brooks's iconic "We Real Cool," or a reference to G.I. Joe's infamous Cobra Commander in a more adult poem like "[Sonnet] You jerk you didn't call me up" by Bernadette Mayer, understanding an allusion makes a good poem better and a great poem all the more pleasurable.

Of course, there are much more serious allusions out there--Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is chock-full of them (most of which are over my head); David Gascoyne's "Orpheus in the Underworld" is a nice read but I think it becomes downright moving if you know the story of Orpheus. Even a tiny allusion, such as Bruce Smith's reference to Miles Davis in "Obbligato" can provide a richer context and add to the enjoyment of a reading.

So while there's millions of references that will fly by me unnoticed and not understood, the few that I do catch make me happy. And you can't beat that.

I'll leave you with two poems that just might make me happiest of all, two poems that reference the same poet, William Carlos Williams. "An Apology," by F.J. Bergmann is wonderful and hilarious. It is not the most subtle poem, but my poetry ego gets a boost when I notice the not-so-obvious "This Is Just To Say" allusion in the fact that the SUV is "plum-colored."

And then there's this gem by Naomi Shihab Nye called "Honeybee:"

Dipping into the flower zone
Honey stomach plump with nectar

Soaking up directions
Finding our ways in the dark

Fat little pollen baskets
Plumping our legs

You had no idea, did you?
You kept talking about 

That wheelbarrow 
And chicken

Visit this page to read the rest (it's the third page in their little viewer thingy) and keep an eye out for allusions--you wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to feel smarter, would you?

Poetry in Music: The Hip That Are Tragic

It's been awhile since I posted about music, but that doesn't mean I've stopped hunting music with poetic tendencies.

There's one band in particular that I've liked for awhile whose songs are nearly always lyrically poetic. They're The Tragically Hip and they're from Ontario, Canada. I have to say I'm not so sure how well known they are on this side of the border, but in Canada, they're huge. I discovered them as a youth here in the Detroit area--the Hip got a good amount of radio play on the two Canadian radio stations I listened to frequently. So whether you've heard of them or not, I'm a pretty big fan.

Gordon Downie, their lead singer and main songwriter, writes lyrics that are practically dripping with the sounds, language, and emotion that we equate with poetry. I've struggled choosing only one song to share, but I think the one that best fits my "Poetry in Music" category is called "Silver Jet", from the album In Violet Light:

I enjoy reading the lyrics, too, because they reveal wordplay ("inviolate light" NOT "in violet light" as the album's title led me to believe), some great sounding place names (Cape Spear, Clayquot Sound, Northhumberland), unique words (archipelago, nocturne), alluring inner rhyme ("air of peril"), and some all-around great lines ("I think to myself 'I don't really know my heart' / and you whisper 'me too.'").

Hopefully, you'll explore this great band's deep catalog and bask in Downie's unique voice and his beautifully written lyrics. Songs like (first song I ever heard by The Hip) "Ahead by a Century," "Yer Not the Ocean," "The Last Recluse," "Emperor Penguin," and (one of my personal favorites) "Wheat Kings." Besides, how can you be a devoted reader of a blog like this one and not love a band with a song titled "Poets?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

Poetry Friday: For Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.--what would the world look like if he were still with us? Things would certainly be different, right? How different? How much better? I have to believe that he would have continued to change the world in the decades after 1968. Who knows what our world would look like.

I suppose, though, that wondering what could have been isn't the best way to honor the memory of Dr. King. Making sure we do things to preserve his legacy and spreading his message of peace and justice are better courses of action. I hope I'm doing that, I really do.

There are certainly days, however, where I am not so sure even he would be able to help us. I shake my head and wonder exactly what happened to make our world this way.

My whole point here is to share a poem with you that I think echoes the spirit of unity and peace that Dr. King pushed Americans to achieve. It's a gorgeous and moving peace, and I won't talk too much about it because it certainly speaks for itself.

By Naomi Shihab Nye
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

The poem turns toward a beautiful ending at this point. Please read the rest here via Google Books. And please check out the Poetry Friday round-up, hosted this week at Laura Salas: Writing the World for Kids.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Banished Words

Living in Michigan, you would think I'd have heard of Lake Superior State University's annual list of Banished Words. LSSU (go Lakers!) is in Sault Ste. Marie way up in the Upper Peninsula and apparently every year someone there publishes a list of words that, in their opinion, should be banned from use forever. Having poured over this list and the lists of years past, I have to say, I can't really argue with them in nearly all cases.

From their website:
The "back story" on LSSU's popular list began on Jan. 1, 1976, when former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and a group of friends each contributed a few expressions that they disliked to form the first list. After that, the nominations stacked up for future lists and Rabe's group, known then as The Unicorn Hunters, didn't have to make up its own list again. LSSU receives well over 1,000 nominations annually through its website,
Why I've never heard of this, nor the history of the Unicorn Hunters, is unknown and is nearly unforgivable as a Michigander. However, I think I can get over it enough to share with you some of the words that are banished in 2011 so that you can stop using them in your daily speech, correspondences, and (heaven forbid) poems...
  • FAIL
  • BFF
  • MAN UP
All of these definitely belong on the list, right? (My nomination for their next list is the use of "right" at the end of a sentence.) In fact, the list goes on--read it here.

And if you're like me and you've never heard of this list, you probably need to read their archive so that you can stop using words and phrases like czar, tweet, and teachable moment (2010); awesome (I'm in trouble on that one, big time), we're pregnant, and chipotle (2007); segue, road rage, and thinking outside the box (2000); target audience, jumbo shrimp, and vast majority (1995); dead meat, longer hours, and if you will (1991); and finally macho, meaningful, and scenario (the inaugural list of 1976).

That "awesome" banishment is really going to be a problem. I'll have to work on that. Until then I think I might assign students to write a poem from the point of view of one of the banished words. That prompt would be a designer breed (2007) of a prompt, one of epic (2011) proportions and so sweet (2008) that it would decimate (2008) even the red states' (2005) extreme (2003) standards of excellence and be a game changer (2009) into the foreseeable future (2002).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lemony on Poetry

If you were to walk into my living room on some weekend night, that would be creepy. But before I stood up alarmed and demanded to know what you were doing there, you would see me in a big black leather chair that, I’ve been told, is too big for the room. I’d be all dressed up, and reading poetry.
So opens "Happy, Snappy, Sappy." Daniel Handler, author (as Lemony Snicket) of perhaps my favorite series of novels (for any age) ever, A Series of Unfortunate Events, has written an essay for Poetry Magazine. I discovered it at the website of The Poetry Foundation and whether you're a fan of his or not, it's a good read.

As if I didn't worship Mr. Handler enough, he goes off and hits a home run by ruminating on poetry. You'll definitely have to read it yourself, but in his search to find the right time and place to read poems, he ends up discovering that the best place is home and the best time is when waiting for your wife to get ready for a party...or perhaps more appropriately and inclusively, anytime you have a free minute.

You might argue that Handler doesn't exactly say anything monumental in this piece, but he's a dazzling, gifted writer and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on one of my favorite pastimes. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Poetry Collection Crisis

Okay, maybe I overshot with "crisis." More like "conundrum." I bookmark poems that I discover online in two ways: I tag them in my Google RSS Reader and, more frequently, I use the social bookmarking site Delicious. Delicious has long been one of my favorite Web 2.0 resources. I think it's brilliant and it's possible that I use it more than any non-Gmail site on the web.

Well, it seems Delicious is on the verge of shutting down and there's no word on whether my 1,500+ bookmarks that range from poems to teaching sites to resource compendiums to Edmonton Oiler blogs will be preserved. Luckily there's another site, Diigo, that offers many of the same things. And it seems like the transition will be secure and easy.

The art of losing, even the trivial things, is certainly not hard to master, but it's rarely fun. So in the spirit of the possible loss of Delicious and my love of List poems and the Monday Poetry Stretch posted at The Miss Rumphius Effect, here's a first draft of a little list poem on Losing.

I Have Lost

That mix tape you made me.

So many pens it's not funny.

My patience way too often.

I blame genetics,
grandfather; your temper 
was legendary.

My grandfather.

A friend or two.

My ability to ignore your absence.

Track of time again.

My memory of adult life without
children. (No need for it.)

Control of this poem.


A nod to Word Playgrounds author John O'Connor on this one. I think he features Loss Poems in his wonderful book.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Poetry Friday: A Poet to Enjoy

Do you ever read a poem by a poet that you really, really love and then spend the next few days, weeks, or months reading all the poems by that person that you can? Like most poetry fiends, I have favorite poets, but I also enjoy discovering writers that are new to me.

That happened this past week when I read New Year's Day by Kim Addonizio.  I blogged about it Sunday and since then, I've found myself somewhat entranced by Ms. Addonizio's work. Granted, I haven't explored everything or gotten my hands on any of her books, but what I've found I've liked. A lot.

The language or her poems is so rich with imagery and emotion. There's also sensuality, which I'm often not drawn to in poetry, but Addonizio makes it work. Her poems operate on many levels and they have such depth that they make me realize what a poetry novice I am--I just know there's more to them that I'm not totally "getting," and trying to write about them probably just makes me seem like a doofus--but I really enjoy reading and re-reading them. Kim Addonizio is a poet to know and one I'll be reading more and more of in the future.

So on this first Poetry Friday of 2011, I wanted to share this poem:

How many nights have I lain here like this, feverish with plans,
with fears, with the last sentence someone spoke, still trying to finish
a conversation already over? How many nights were wasted
in not sleeping, how many in sleep--I don’t know
how many hungers there are, how much radiance or salt, how many times
the world breaks apart, disintegrates to nothing and starts up again
in the course of an ordinary hour. I don’t know how God can bear
seeing everything at once: the falling bodies, the monuments and burnings,
the lovers pacing the floors of how many locked hearts. I want to close
my eyes and find a quiet field in fog, a few sheep moving toward a fence.
I want to count them, I want them to end. I don’t want to wonder
how many people are sitting in restaurants about to close down,
which of them will wander the sidewalks all night
while the pies revolve in the refrigerated dark.

You can read the rest here via Poetry Magazine.

And since I had a really hard time picking just one Kim Addonizio poem to share, you might also want to read this one:

My Heart 
by Kim Addonizio

That Mississippi chicken shack.
That initial-scarred tabletop,
that tiny little dance floor to the left of the band.
That kiosk at the mall selling caramels and kitsch.
That tollbooth with its white-plastic-gloved worker
handing you your change.
That phone booth with the receiver ripped out.
That dressing room in the fetish boutique,
those curtains and mirrors.
That funhouse, that horror, that soundtrack of screams.
That putti-filled heaven raining gilt from the ceiling.
That haven for truckers, that bottomless cup.
That biome. That wilderness preserve.

Read the conclusion at

And if you're like me and you've become a new fan of hers, here are some links to some others you might like:

Poetry Friday, which will be hosted HERE March 4, is located this week at Live. Love. Explore! Be sure to check it out.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

More with Poetry Moves

In the fall, I posted about poetry "moves." This is the phrase I use (borrowed from teacher/author/poet Joseph Tsujimoto) for poetic techniques that make poems enjoyable to read.

I'm talking about moves constantly while I'm reading poems with my fourth grade students. My goal is to get them to notice how poets use moves so that they can incorporate moves into poems they write themselves.

When we talk about writing poems and using moves, I'll generally zoom in on one or two moves. They're young so I don't want them worrying about trying too many things. I don't want their poems to sound forced. By focusing on one or two, I think their poems become infinitely more pleasurable to read.

Another thing that helps is a model--we do a lot of patterning. I find a poem I like that I think they'll like AND that exhibits the move I want them to practice. We read and discuss it and then I basically say: "Write like that."

And for the most part it works.

This week we read "Things to Do If You are the Sun" by Bobbi Katz. This poem appears in one of my favorite anthologies: Falling Down the Page. (If you want to read more "Things to Do..." poems and read more about Bobbi Katz, check out this post by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. Elaine regularly posts her own "Things to Do..." poems and, like Ms. Katz's, hers are terrific!)

I can't find a published version of the Sun poem, but here are a couple of lines from "Things to Do if You Are the Subway," that Elaine shares the aforementioned post:

Pretend you are a dragon.
Live in underground caves.
Roar about underneath the city.

The moves I wanted students to practice with this kind of poem are: Surprise and Personification. When I say "surprise" what I'm really talking about is getting my students to write lines that are unexpected, lines that make me think "Wow, I never would have thought of that myself." As far as personification goes, I think these types of poems are great vehicles for bringing inanimate objects to life. 

One final note--this poem is a great example of a "list poem"(also called "catalog poems"), which are one of my favorites to read and have students write. I'll have to post more on these at a later date, I think.

I will say, in a final final note, that this writing activity provided one of the few instances where I wish I taught secondary school. I think older students could come up with much more poetic and creative lines for "Things to Do..." poems than my students have so far. We're still working on it, though, and maybe they'll surprise me. They've been known to do that. If they turn out, maybe I'll even share a few with you. And if you try them with your class, please let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Gift of Poetry

Unexpected gifts are always a double-edged sword for me. Maybe it's my personality, I don't know. Before the Christmas break, a teacher I work with gave me a poetry anthology called Teaching With Fire. I thought this was incredibly thoughtful and I was touched that she would think enough of me to remember my love of poetry when picking me out a gift. On top of that, it was completely unexpected, making it all the more meaningful. I only felt bad because I hadn't bought anything for her, hence the double-edged sword effect.

Don't worry, I got over it and soon found that there are lots of great poems contained within (despite its slightly cheesy subtitle: "Poetry That Sustains The Courage To Teach"). The poems are accompanied by vignettes written by the educators who selected them, too, and most of them are pretty interesting.

So if you're a teacher and you like poetry anthologies like I do, even if you never read anything but the poems, this is a pretty good collection. And I think it would make a great gift for a colleague or a teacher-friend as well. I know I've enjoyed it.

Finally, here's one of my favorite poems from the book. It's by the great William Stafford:

The Way It Is

There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.

It's one of many in Teaching with Fire that were new to me. If you get a chance to check out this book, I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Enter the New Year: Part Two

In my last post, I set forth on my New Year's resolution of blogging more. 60 or so posts in a half a year made for a pretty good debut, but I'd like to do more. My last post also reminded me of another, albeit smaller, resolution I figure out the formatting issues I've been having with my blog posts! When I paste in a poem, the text after it becomes tiny and weird-looking. Very frustrating, but fear not faithful readers, it is a problem I will fix.

Anyway, on to my second, and much more challenging, resolution of writing more. By this I mean writing more poetry. Prose and I will probably never hook up. I am afraid that, at least for now, my dreams of publishing a novel will have to wait. Someday, for sure, but not 2011.

Please enjoy...and let me know what you think...

Enter the New Year

January 2, 2011

enter the too much
the too many attempts
at vows to change to be better
at stopping at quitting at trying
to try again

enter the resolute
movement of days from
trickle to unabated torrent
through aching
grasping fingers

enter the New Year,
flown in on calendar wings
to be better to wash you to clean
you to return you to what
you already were

Enter the New Year: Part One

Resolutions--can't live with them, can't live without them. I can see their value. Change is good. I fully support change: weight loss, smoking cessation, cardiovascular fitness, kindness to animals, returning control of the House to the Democrats...

My only beef with resolutions, I suppose, is that January 1 is such an arbitrary day to set them. Why can't I make a resolution on March 5th? Or any other day of the year for that matter. Why the pressure of the first of this month? All you people setting your goals--why let the calendar be your master? A calendar that some white dude long ago created, randomly declaring January 1 as the beginning of a new year. What did they do before calendars, huh? Maybe their resolutions never failed.

Which brings me to another problem I have...failing. Unless you're some sort of robot you have to know that an astronomical percentage of New Year's resolutions fail within weeks, if not days. Why set yourself up for that sort of letdown? 

Now's the part where I tell you I want nothing to do with resolutions and that my life's journey is one of continual, not just annual, self-improvement...well not quite. I've got resolutions of my own, both personal and professional. I'll spare you the details of the personal goals, which mainly involve trying to not be such a fat boy. There are some relevant professional resolutions I've set, though, including an old one--"write more"--and a new one--"blog more." Part One begins my attempt at the latter.

Here are a couple New Year's poems that I came across at the Poetry Foundation and felt compelled to share:

New Year’s Day

The rain this morning falls   
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell   
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.   
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only   
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never   
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against   
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,   
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out   
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls   
of other people’s houses.

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation. And please enjoy this one by the incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye, whom I resolve to feature more often at The Small Nouns during 2011:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Please enjoy the conclusion here. And be sure to check out Part Two!

May your 2011 be safe, happy, and poetry-filled.