Friday, October 24, 2014

Poetry Friday: Death, Be Not Proud

Next week will be the seventh anniversary of our loss here at school of a beautiful, popular, fit, twenty-five year old teacher.  She went to bed one night and didn't wake up the next morning.  We were stunned, all of us.  That week I read this poem with my students.  My grandmother had recently died, and my brother-in-law had sent me the poem, which I had read before, but which was fresh in my mind and so appropriate for the occasion.  Since I thought Donne might be a bit much for my middle schoolers, I wrote my own paraphrase, too. 

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

This post is pretty similar to the last time I shared this poem, and at that link you can find links to the original event, including my musings about middle school and mourning.

Here is today's roundup.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Dessalines Day

Today in Haiti we have a peaceful, quiet day off school to celebrate Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was anything but peaceful and quiet. He was brutally treated as a slave, and he in turn was brutal to his enemies. He had the nickname "The Tiger" because of his ferocity in battle and
"Fearing a French resurgence and the reinstatement of slavery that would accompany it, he ordered the massacre of approximately 5,000 of the island’s white men, women, and children declaring 'I have saved my country. I have avenged America.'"
The effects of slavery on this world are horrifying and long-lasting. In honor of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, let's keep fighting slavery of all kinds wherever we find it.

Here are the lyrics to the songs Sara Groves is singing, her version of an old spiritual.  I hope you can see the video; my internet is so slow today that I really can't be sure. 

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Well, the only chain that we can stand
Are the chain of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Got my hand on the freedom plow
Won't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Got no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Paul and Silas thought they were lost
The dungeon shook and the chains fell off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom's name is mighty sweet
And one day soon we are gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize

Only chain a man can stand
Is that chain of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Ain't no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize

When you see a man walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee
When you see a child walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee
When you see a family free
It makes you dream of jubilee
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Photo Source: article on Jean-Jacques Dessalines from Wikipedia.

This is a repost of my Dessalines Day offering for 2011.  Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading Update

Book #50 of 2014 was Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, and #51 was Scarlet, the second in the series.  Now I'm waiting for one of my students to finish with Cress, the third one, so I can read that one too.  I'm really enjoying this fun sci-fi series with cyborgs, space travel, a deadly plague, and a fairy tale twist. 

I Always Loved You, by Robin Oliveira, was book #52 of the year.  I have been wanting to read this ever since seeing the Degas/Cassatt exhibit at the National Gallery this summer.  I read The Private Lives of the Impressionists, by Sue Roe (brief review in this post), first, since I wanted to know the historically accurate story, and also because I had it on hand.  Oliveira's book adds some imagination to the account of Degas and Cassatt, but I found her version very convincing.  Other very important characters are Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet, and we see the two unconventional pairs finding happiness, artistic challenge, and frustration in their complicated relationships with each other and the rest of the Impressionists. 

My goal for this year was fifty-two books, and I have several more weeks of 2014.  Here's my last Reading Update post, and it includes links to the other ones I've done this year. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday: Pangur Ban

My daughter got a kitten this week.  She named her Pangur Ban, and so far we don't know if she will live up to her famous namesake.  She mostly hides from us, coming out only to eat, drink, and use her litterbox.  A promising detail: one of her favorite hiding places is on my daughter's bookshelf, behind the books.  Perhaps she will make a literary kitty after all.

Here are several versions of the Pangur Ban poem that inspired her name.  The original was written by an anonymous Irish monk in the 9th century, and many poets have translated it.  The monk compares his work of writing with Pangur's work of catching mice. 

Here is Robin Flower's translation, the first one I heard and fell in love with when I was a child.  It begins:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

Click through to read the rest here.

While that one will always be the definitive version to me, I really love Seamus Heaney's translation, too.  Here are some later stanzas from that one:

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
       When the longed-for, difficult
       Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
       Taking pleasure, taking pains,
       Kindred spirits, veterans.

You can read the rest of it here.

And here's Leontyne Price singing Auden's translation, set to music by Samuel Barber.  

Our experience with cats is pretty much confined to reading about them, so we have a lot to learn about Pangur Ban the real cat.   And we'll start learning just as soon as she comes out from behind the books.

Miss Rumphius is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup today here.  Head on over to see what everyone else has posted! 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Poetry Friday: Wendell Berry

One of our teachers shared this poem by Wendell Berry in our faculty meeting this morning.  It seems so appropriate, as I get huge mounds of student work in today and plan to spend the next few days working and working and working to get it all done.  As Berry says, "And yet no leaf or grain is filled/ By work of ours..."

by Wendell Berry

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace.

You can read the rest here.

And you can find the delicious Poetry Friday roundup here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: Process

I read a poem with my students called "Folding Sheets," by Madge Piercy.  (Here it is.)  Afterward we talked about activities that make us think of certain people.  Piercy's poem includes lots of sensory details, so we talked about those, too.  I challenged the students to write a poem that recounted a memory of doing something with someone, and in the course of the description, revealed a person and a relationship.

Then I decided to try it myself.

The poem was a lot different from the way I was planning in my head (a fact which became part of my minilesson).  I decided to write about going to church.  There was a period when I was a child when my family attended a church in Swahili.  Though we had lived in Kenya for a while, we lived in an English-speaking enclave, since my parents worked in education, and all education in Kenya was in English.  Our vocabularies contained some Swahili words, and my parents had studied the language, but my brothers and I couldn't understand enough to follow what was going on.  That was the church experience I decided to write about.

I started by brainstorming.

Not all these details wound up in the poem, but I worked hard to remember exactly how it felt to be in that place at that time.

Next, I tried a first draft.

I found that I wasn't really focusing on my parents, whom I had intended to write about.  (You can see my mother saying "Shh" in the first draft, though.)  Instead, I kept thinking about a song we used to sing.  In English, the song is "Pass Me Not."  You can see that I had already remembered it in my brainstorming.  It was "Unisipite" there, and it was "Unisipite" in my first draft, but actually it's called "Usinipite."  I had remembered it wrong, a fact I learned when I talked to my brothers. 

Because that was my next step: research.  I told my students that we think about research when we're writing something informational, but that I often do research for all kinds of writing.  In this case, it involved talking to my brothers (we had an extensive Facebook chat sharing our memories).  It also involved looking up "Usinipite" on YouTube and finding this fascinating video:

I watched this video off and on for the rest of the afternoon.  Not only was that the song (jazzed up slightly in this version), but LOOK at that white tie!  It could be the seventies again.

I decided I wanted to focus on that song, and so I continued researching by looking up the lyrics and downloading Lyle Lovett's version (unfortunately I couldn't find a video of him singing it). 

I thought more and more about that song, and how I was asking God, in Swahili, which I didn't even understand (we used to call the song "Unispite"), to minister to me, too, and not pass me by.  And I thought about how God did that, and how my childhood faith, instead of being stifled by those hours in church, was actually strengthened.

I'm not completely happy yet with the poem that resulted, but I shared it with my students anyway, as well as the process I went through: prewriting,  researching my own past, marinating the ideas for days, shifting the focus from my original intention.  Here it is:

Pass Me Not

Sunday morning found my family in a schoolroom for worship.
Dressed in our matching polyester outfits, my brothers and I
Sat at splintery, grafitti-ed wooden desks.
My hair was neatly braided
And the kids behind us pulled my blond pigtails.
It was hot.
A fly buzzed.
The Swahili words of the sermon buzzed too,
Swarming around our heads
As we wiggled
And our parents hushed us.

We sang Usinipite
Which we gigglingly called Unispite.
“Pass me not, O gentle Savior,”
Say Fanny Crosby’s English words, which I didn’t know at the time:
“Savior, savior,
Hear my earnest cry;
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.”
And somehow
He did call on me too.
And through the heat and the buzzing and the splinters and the wiggling
He passed me not.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reading Update

It's been a while since I have posted what I've been reading.  Here's the latest:

Book #36 of 2014 was Longbourn, by Jo Baker.  I've written before that I have a weakness for Jane Austen sequels, retellings, and knockoffs of all kinds.  I check them out of the library and even buy them, and am nearly always disappointed.  Not this time.  Baker is a wonderful writer in her own right, and is not just attempting imitate Austen.  This story has the same characters as Pride and Prejudice, but it's told from the point of view of the servants, who, as you might imagine, see things rather differently.  You'll never think of Elizabeth Bennet's six inches of muddy petticoat the same way after you have read the chapter devoted to doing laundry at Longbourn.  Austen is often criticized for ignoring the fact that her country was at war, but Baker doesn't ignore it at all (in fact, the war section got a little long and graphic for me).  The story is satisfying and thought-provoking, and also beautifully written.  Highly recommended for Austen fans.

Book #37 was Jane Yolen's Pay the Piper: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale, which she wrote with her son Adam Stemple.  This is inspired by the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Creepy!

Book #38 was another Trollope title, The Small House at Allington.

Book #39 was a reread, The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason.  My husband and I read this around the time of our wedding (I can't remember if it was before or after).  This time I read it aloud to him, and we both enjoyed it and found much to talk about.  This isn't a perfect book about marriage, but it is poetically written and beautiful.  It's not a how-to book, but more a meditation on marriage.

Book #40 was The Testing, Book #41 was Independent Study, and Book #43 was Graduation Day, all by Joelle Charbonneau.  I bought this trilogy for my classroom, and it's being eagerly devoured now by fans of the Hunger Games books and other dystopic fiction.

Book #42 was Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett.  I read this aloud to my eleven-year-old when he was sick, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's got art, mystery, secret codes, interesting characters, and lots of information.

Book #44 was Invitation to Tears: A Guide to Grieving Well, by Jonalyn Fincher and Aubrie Hills.  This was a quick and very helpful read, with implications for all kinds of loss and grieving.  I am also thoroughly enjoying the podcasts that the authors have been doing in their "read-along."  (You can find links at that post to all the podcasts.)

Book #45 was The Good Wife, by Elizabeth Buchan, a novel about a political wife in England.  It was mildly entertaining, if a bit forgettable.

Book #46 was not forgettable at all.  It was clever, brilliantly plotted, and mysterious, and I can't tell you a thing about it without giving the whole thing away.  It was We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

Book #47 was The Private Lives of the Impressionists, by Sue Roe.  I read this because of my fascination with the National Gallery exhibit about Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, which I had the privilege of seeing over the summer.  This book is so good; it reads like a novel, and it opened up the paintings for me.  Highly recommended.

Book #48 was Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff, by Jennifer Holm.  I got this for my classroom, and I think it will entertain my students.

Book #49 was Later, Gator, by Laurence Yep.  My son picked this one and read it aloud to me.  I'm surprised to find that it may be out of print. 

Here's my last Reading Update post, which includes links to the others from 2014.  Looks like I'll reach my goal of 52 books this year! 

This post is linked to today's Saturday Review of Books.