Friday, January 17, 2020

Poetry Friday: The Things With Feathers

My OLW for 2020 is HOPE, and Emily Dickinson famously wrote "Hope is the thing with feathers," so I'm looking forward to exploring some avian metaphors this year. I got a good start on that with two bird anthologies for Christmas:
This fun bird poem was on Tracy K. Smith's podcast, "The Slowdown," the other day.

The Birds of New York
by Francisco X. Alarcòn

the birds of New York
live out on cornices
chimneys and roofs
on top of tall buildings

amid granite and cement
every morning they sing
thanksgiving chants to
the busy sun of Summer

the birds of New York
are confused by so many
city lights and take turns
flying around day and night

Here's the rest.

At this link from Audubon magazine, there are some treasures on the avian poetry front. After an interview with Margaret Atwood, there are five new bird poems by her!

I especially enjoyed learning that she and her husband Graeme Gibson (who died recently) used to go birding together. He wrote a book called The Bedside Book of Birds, in which he said that "birdwatching can encourage a state of being close to rapture." In the interview the author (Jessica Leber) asks Atwood to reflect on moments like that with her husband. Atwood's response: "You don't stop in the middle of watching a bird and say, 'Hey, are you having a rapturous moment? Yeah, gee, so am I!' It's not how life goes."

Here's to seeking birds, and rapture, and recognizing both when we find them.

Today's roundup is here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Keeping Track of My Reading

I recently listened to an episode of the What Should I Read Next? podcast where Anne Bogel, aka Modern Mrs. Darcy, talked to guests about how they track their reading, and I decided to write a post about how I track mine.

Every time I finish a book, I write it down in a TextEdit file. When I have a little collection of them, I write a Reading Update post here on my blog. I also save these posts on my computer so that I can access them even when I don't have an internet connection. 

I wrote a few posts in 2006 about the books I was reading, but 2007 was the first year when I kept a complete list on my blog of everything I read. That means that for the last thirteen years, I know every book I finished (984 books). Before that, I used to keep track sporadically, mostly when a teacher required it, and I have some paper lists from adulthood. But the blog is the perfect place for a record. Usually I write a little review of each book, though there have been times when I have just written a list. As in most of the aspects of blogging, I am the biggest beneficiary of this. I like being able to look back on my reviews to remember what I was reading at particular times, what I've read by a specific author, and what I thought about something the first time compared with my opinion when I reread it. It's also interesting to see which years were high-volume reading years and which ones weren't. I often have people tell me that they like to be able to look at my reviews, too, and that they head to my blog when they want some ideas on what they should read.

At around the same time as I started blogging about my reading, I started an Amazon Wishlist that functions as a kind of To Be Read (TBR) list. It's actually more a list of everything I hear about and don't want to forget, rather than a plan of what I'm going to read. There are some books that have been there since the beginning, but there were many others that I read and deleted. When I'm placing holds on library books, I often check my Amazon Wishlist to get ideas. I also use it when someone gives me a gift card.

Did you know that Amazon keeps track of page views when you read on a Kindle? I found that out because a friend started publishing her books there, and that's how she gets paid, based on which pages the readers access. I spent a few minutes contemplating the fact that Amazon keeps track of what I want to read in the future, what books I buy for myself and others, and what and when I read on my Kindle and wondering what this means for privacy, and then I laughed at myself when I realized that I also blog detailed thoughts on what I read, and certainly I wouldn't do that if keeping my reading private was a huge concern. But it is interesting to speculate on what could be done with all that data about people's preoccupations and thoughts. Someone should write a novel about that.

What did I read before I started this system? I have only the vaguest idea. I wish I had complete lists of all my reading through my life. I encourage students to keep such lists, though most don't really get on board. Nothing brings back a period in my life more vividly than looking at a list of the books I was reading.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Poems

Sunday marks ten years since the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince. "The earthquake," we call it, as though it were the only one. For us it is the only one, and we hope that is always the case, that no others will come to replace it in our memories.

To honor this date, I'm posting a few of my earthquake poems from the last ten years. At the bottom of the post, you'll find a new poem from this week.

These are about my own experiences.  I wrote about what happened in prose here and here and here, and then rehashed it again and again through the whole rest of that year.  There are many posts in my archives about the situation in Haiti and what was happening to other people, but my poems are very personal and don't reflect anybody else's views or experience. 

In April 2010, I posted Earthquake Vocabulary.

In May I posted Morning, about missing my husband while I was in the US and he was still in Haiti doing relief work.

In November I was back in Haiti, still struggling with the emotional aftermath, and I wrote Wave. Later that month I wrote Ordinary, about how much I appreciated the normal day to day aspects of my life after being away from home for so long.

In January 2013, for the third anniversary, I shared This Quilt.

In December 2013, I posted Sounds from this House. This is an example of a poem that I didn't expect to be about the quake at all when I started writing it.

In January 2014, I shared my poem about being evacuated from Haiti after the earthquake, called How to Pack an Evacuation Bag.

In March 2015 I posted Tears.  This one wasn't explicitly about the earthquake, but it's certainly one of the things I do still cry about, even now.

In 2017, I wrote Memento Mori and How Long Healing Takes in Port-au-Prince.

Last year, I wrote The Last Normal Day.

We thank God we survived. So many did not, and we grieve them.

Here's a new poem I wrote this year, after I read this anniversary article in the Miami Herald.


Tenth Anniversary

“This is not me,”
said the man,
gesturing towards the tin dwelling
where his family has lived for
ten years.

“This is not me,”
he said,
indicating the
tent city
with no name
and on nobody’s list.

“This is not me,”
he said,
of his home
where the earthquake
sent him,
the place
where temporary
became forever.

“This is not me,”
he said in surprise,
for who can understand
why time and chance
and tectonic plates
have brought him here
to this hillside
under this sky
on this tiny island?

Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
I'm not sure who made this photo; lots of us use it on Facebook in the days around the earthquake anniversary.

Sally Murphy, in Australia, has today's roundup.  Although the disaster they are going through there is very different from ours, to me it has a similar apocalyptic quality; it feels as though the world is ending, to us watching from a distance, and how much more so to them? Love and prayers come from us in Haiti.

Monday, January 06, 2020

What I Learned in 2019

As I was working in my classroom getting ready for my students to come back to school tomorrow, I realized that I hadn't written a post linking my "What I Learned" from 2019. I was faithful about them at the beginning of the year, even though things fell apart a bit with the extended political unrest starting in September. (There was political unrest all year, and we were kept home by it for a couple of weeks in February, as you'll see if you read that month's post, but it was in September that the real lockdown began.)

But here are the posts I wrote before then:

What I Learned in January
What I Learned in February
What I Learned in March
What I Learned in April
What I Learned in May
What I Learned This Summer
What I Learned in September

I have lists on my desktop for October and November, but somehow I couldn't get my act together to write the posts. And December doesn't even have a list.

Oh, 2019, I can't say I'm sad to see you go. But you sure taught me a lot.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Poetry Friday: Jack Gilbert and Me

Happy New Year! On this first Poetry Friday of 2020, I'm going to share two poems, one by someone else and one of my own. My OLW this year is Hope, and the first poem is about that. I love the way it hints at emotions all co-existing, all jumbled together, and hope in spite of the facts. The second poem, mine, is about a friend we lost at the end of 2019. I was talking to a mutual friend, and the poem came from a memory she shared with me about him and from our subsequent conversation. In my first draft, the "he" and "she" are replaced by their names, and I like that better, but I share this version for the sake of privacy.

Horses at Midnight Without a Moon
by Jack Gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.

Here's the rest.

Here's the last time I shared it, in 2012.


Emotions
by Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

When they were in college 
He told her that emotions
Are like unruly children,
Running wild in the playground. 

He became a psychologist 
And helped people with their emotions. 
She had lots of children, by birth and adoption.
Nobody knew better than she did about corralling children. 
They didn’t talk any more but she often thought about what he’d said. 

He died. 

She found out on Christmas Day. 
She cried while she made dinner for her husband and children. 
The emotions and the children mingled freely in the kitchen,
As she thought about the years 
And how life is harder than you think it’s going to be. 

And the children.
The children you try to guide and teach 
And yes, sometimes control,
Sometimes they peacefully gather around 
And play ring around the Rosie
But other times they huddle timidly in the corner 
Or run amok 
And get into fights.
Sometimes there are tears in the gravy. 

He would have understood.



Carol's roundup.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

OLW 2020

This is the twelfth year I'm choosing One Little Word (OLW) to focus on for the new year. My previous choices have been LOOK in 2009, LOVED in 2010, TRUST in 2011, HEAL in 2012, SHALOM in 2013, GARDEN in 2014, UNAFRAID in 2015, LOVED in 2016, ROOTED in 2017, ENOUGH in 2018, and POSSIBILITY in 2019. Each year, I've written here about what I hope to see in the twelve months ahead, and each year I've ruefully admitted that I just keep on being me, with all the same stuff. I just hope I'm making some progress somewhere.

Here's last year's post on POSSIBILITY.  And here I reflected on the year as a resident of Haiti, and on why a better choice might have been FUTILITY or perhaps IMPOSSIBILITY or DESPAIR.

As I was thinking about those words, I focused especially on the last one. In French it's désespoir, the opposite of hope, un-hope. Hopelessness. I don't really want that to be my focus for the shiny new year, so unspoiled and fresh. So I decided to take a leap and go against the way things feel, choosing HOPE for 2020. Not because I'm full of hope or see lots of newness or solutions on the horizon to Haiti's political and economic impasse, but because I'm going to have to look outside myself, to seek hope where it's not obvious.
Last year in my OLW post, I quoted Henri Nouwen on hope. "I have found it very important in my own life," Nouwen writes, "to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear."

I love the largeness of Nouwen's vision, but it's not easy to grasp on a daily basis. There are so many outcomes I hope for, and pray for, and don't see coming to fruition (in Haiti and in my own life). But to simply let go, and trust God with a more open-ended hope for His purposes to be achieved: that's more challenging. I tried it last year, and I try it every year, and I'm going to try it again this year.

And in case I feel like being less theological, HOPE is also the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson wrote:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked - a crumb - of me.

On second thought, I'm not so sure that's any less theological. But at any rate, I've been thinking a lot lately about the things with feathers, as my interest in birds has grown. 2019 seemed pretty hopeless for the birds, as a study came out showing that the bird population of the U.S. and Canada decreased in the past 50 years by about 2.9 billion breeding adults, or 29%. Those are some sickening statistics, and yet if you follow that link to the study, you'll see that it immediately switches the focus from the sickening to the hopeful: "Bring Birds Back." There are so many things that can be done to improve the outlook for these "things with feathers" with which we share our planet. And the birds themselves, the hardy survivors, seem to have been doing some adjusting of their own: this article from last month's Discover magazine reports that all the species studied had decreased in size over the past 40 years (you've got to read about how they found this out - it is so fascinating). The scientists analyzing this data hypothesize that the reason for the smaller sizes is the increasingly warm temperatures in the birds' habitats.

What's to be learned from this, things with feathers? Anything that can help me be more hopeful in this coming year, in spite of obstacles and circumstances beyond my control? I'll think about it.

Ultimately, though, I don't believe having hope is about me; I think it's about God working in me. In Romans 15:13, Paul writes: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." It's by looking outside myself, by turning to God, that I can have hope this year.

Margaret is hosting a roundup of the OLWs chosen by my Spiritual Journey Thursday pals. Here's a list at Two Writing Teachers of contributors' choices. What about you? What's your OLW for 2020?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Reading Update

I doubt I'll finish any more books this year; if I do, I'll add them to the bottom of this post.

Book #115 of 2019 was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. I really enjoyed this verse novel about Xiomara, her twin Xavier, and the boy, Aman, she's starting to like.

I wanted to tell her that if Aman were a poem
he'd be written slumped across the page,
sharp lines, and a witty punch line
written on a bodega brown paper bag.

His hands, writing gently on our lab reports,
turned into imagery,
his smile the sweetest unclichéd simile.

He is not elegant enough for a sonnet,
too well-thought-out for a free write,
taking too much space in my thoughts
to ever be a haiku.

Book #116 was Opening the Stable Door: An Advent Reader, by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher. I last read this one in 2013.

Book #117 was The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. I had read it before, ten years ago (here's my review from back then), but this time I read it aloud to my husband. We both enjoyed it immensely.
Book #118 was The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. I loved this story of siblings and their parents' marriage. It took me a while to get into it; I didn't like the first few pages at all and almost didn't continue. But I was very glad I didn't give up. I am not sure how she managed it, but Lombardo structured this book so brilliantly. It jumps all around in time and from character to character, but without confusing the reader at all (once you get past the beginning). We see major events through the eyes of each of the daughters, and we see the relationships as living, growing organisms.
Book #119 was a reread of Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times, by Henri Nouwen. I bought this in January and I've already read it three times (it's short). Highly recommended.

Book #120 was Comfort Ye My People: The Real World Meets Handel's Messiah, 26 Readings for Advent, by Kay Bruner. I've read this a couple of times before during Advent, and it's so good. Each reading includes a link so you can listen to a YouTube video of the section of the music she's referencing.

Book #121 was a Christmas gift from my son, Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to the Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue. This reminded me of Lauren Winner, and, bingo, Lauren Winner wrote the Foreword. I am a sucker for this kind of midrashy reconsidering of familiar texts. The lovely woodblock illustrations by Blue's husband, Jim Larson, are a bonus.

This was an excellent reading year. Being unable to go out for days at a time makes for prime reading conditions. One thing I especially enjoyed was how many books I read with my husband. We have always read books together, since our dating years, but this year we had a lot of extra time at home together, and this was one really nice result.

Here are links to my previous Reading Update posts.

Books #1-#5
Books #6-#11
Books #12-#16
Books #17-#29
Books #30-#35
Books #36-#41
Books #42-#50
Books #51-#61
Books #62-#71
Books #72-#79
Books #80-#92
Books #93-#100
Books #101-#114

What did you read this year that you think I should add to my list for next year? Where did you disagree with my opinions? I love to talk about my reading almost as much as I love to read! Talk to me in the comments, here or on Facebook!