Sunday, April 29, 2012

Line Twenty-Nine

I'm in Chicago, having adventures, but I'm taking a moment to link you to the twenty-ninth line.  I will be sorry to say goodbye to National Poetry Month tomorrow.  It has been a lot of fun. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

Poetry Friday: How to Be a Poet

I'm wondering how many Poetry Friday posters and readers are going, like I am, to the International Reading Association conference in Chicago next week.  Is there some kind of secret signal I should know to help me recognize fellow bloggers? 

I did a poetry reading this week.  Several people had been invited to read, but I ended up being the only one who accepted.  There was hardly anyone there, but it was still fun to read my poems to an appreciative audience.  I hope I can do that again sometime. 

I was amazed to see how many poems I had to choose from; writing just a little at a time, I have amassed quite a large collection.  There's a real sense of satisfaction in making something that didn't exist before.

Here's Wendell Berry for today, with his poem "How to Be a Poet."  I am afraid I don't follow many of his instructions.  There's not much quiet in my life right now, with kids at home and screeching middle schoolers at work.  But he says this poem is a reminder for himself, so I guess it can be a reminder for me, too.

How To Be a Poet

by Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.   
Sit down. Be quiet.   
You must depend upon   
affection, reading, knowledge,   
skill—more of each   
than you have—inspiration,   
work, growing older, patience,   
for patience joins time   
to eternity. Any readers   
who like your poems,   
doubt their judgment.   

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Line Twenty-Six

It's almost the end of the Progressive Poem.  Line twenty-six is up, and it's bringing us back to the silver slippers from the beginning.  I have a feeling this is going to wrap up beautifully. 

It's Poem in Your Pocket Day.  Do you have a poem in your pocket?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Line Twenty-Five

Our only male contributor for the Progressive Poem has added his line, and here it is.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Line Twenty-Four

Here it is. How is this all going to end?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today, April 23rd, is Shakespeare's birthday, and it's also the anniversary of the day I began this blog.  I've been blogging six years today.  Happy birthday, Will, and happy anniversary to me. 

Line Twenty-Three

Here's the twenty-third line of the progressive poem. 

Bud, Not Buddy

Book #9 of this year was Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis.  I read this book because I'm going to be hearing Christopher Paul Curtis speak next week at the IRA conference in Chicago.  (That's International Reading Association, not Irish Republican Army.)  I've never read anything by Curtis before, but some of my students were reading this book last week, and one of them said, "Isn't this the same guy who wrote The Watsons Go to Birmingham?"  I said yes, and asked if the student had enjoyed that one.  He said fervently, "Oh yeah."  So looks like I'll have to read that one too.

I loved this book.  It's the story of a boy finding home, and what could be better than that?  Bud (whose mother named him Bud, not Buddy - "Bud is your name and don't you ever let anyone call you anything outside of that either....Especially don't you ever let anyone call you Buddy.  I may have some problems but being stupid isn't one of them, I would've added that dy onto the end of your name if I intended for it to be there.  I knew what I was doing.  Buddy is a dog's name or a name that someone's going to use on you if they're being false-friendly.  Your name is Bud, period.") is growing up in an orphanage in Flint, Michigan in the Great Depression.  As the book opens, he's just been told he is going to go to a foster home.

Staying with the Amos family doesn't work out too well, to put it mildly, and his escape from there is the beginning of a series of adventures that takes Bud and the reader through life in the Depression and to one of the most satisfying endings I remember for a book in a very long time.  Bud-not-Buddy is a wonderful character, fully realized and completely believable, whether he's fighting, telling us his rules for living, or describing the world around him.  Here he is talking about the smell of an instrument case:  "The case had some soft smooth black stuff all over the inside of it, it covered everything, even the dent.  There was a real old smell that came out of it too, like dried-up slobber and something dead.  It smelled great!"  Here he is talking about music:
"All of the instruments blended up together, and just like that smell in the library, you couldn't tell which one was your favorite.  First you'd say it was Mr. Jimmy on the trumpet, then Doo-Doo Bug's trombone would make you think it was the best, then Dirty Deed would make the piano sound like water hitting big rocks and you'd know there wasn't anything that sounded that good until Steady Eddie would make the saxophone sing and talk and dance around everyone else and you'd swear that was the only sound you'd ever want to hear again.  All the while Herman E. Calloway and the Thug kept everything moving by making the drums and the giant fiddle pound out a soft steady beat, like someone's heart turned way up loud."

Even though Bud's life is difficult, he finds kindness from a series of memorable characters.  Bud is resilient, and ultimately the book is inspiring because he rises above everything that has happened to him in the past and finds the place he belongs.  Highly recommended in case there's anyone besides me that hasn't read it already.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Line Twenty-Two

Here's the twenty-second line for the twenty-second day!

Reading Update

The pace of my 2012 reading has been slow.  Here's what I've finished so far:

Book #1 was Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress.  This is an anthology of Jane Austen fan-fiction, and while I am a big Jane Austen fan, I have to admit that I tired of the book before I was finished.  When I read imitations of Jane, or spinoffs, or sequels, or whatever, they mostly remind me of how well Jane wrote, and how nobody else can quite do what she did.  These stories were entertaining, for the most part, and I'll probably keep picking up Jane Austen fan-fiction even though it never quite satisfies me.  (See Book #3, below, for example.)

Book #2 was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi.  I had read this before but it had been a long time.  This time I read it on my Kindle.  This book is about reading, and about the fact that our responses to what we read have as much to do with who we are and where we are in our lives as with the books themselves.  Nafisi and her students read and live simultaneously, as all of us do, and the Iranian revolution they are suffering through informs how they process literature.  As Nafisi is getting ready to leave Tehran, she tells a friend, "You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a you'll not only miss the people you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place."  Here's another conversation with the same friend:
"I said to him that I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic Republic for all the things it had taught me - to love Austen and James and ice cream and freedom.  I said, Right now it is not enough to appreciate all this; I want to write about it.  He said, You will not be able to write about Austen without writing about us, about this place where you rediscovered Austen.  You will not be able to put us out of your head.  Try, you'll see.  The Austen you know is so irretrievably linked to this place, this land and these trees.  You don't think this is the same Austen you read with Dr. French - it was Dr. French, wasn't it?  Do you?  This is the Austen you read here, in a place where the film censor is nearly blind and where they hang people in the streets and put a curtain across the sea to segregate men and women.  I said, When I write all that, perhaps I will become more generous, less angry."
(By the way, I really prefer authors to use quotation marks.)  Of course, as I read this I thought about the person I was the last time I read it.  That time I loved it, and this time I mostly felt sad at all the seemingly pointless, painfully absurd suffering in the lives of ordinary Iranians. 

Book #3 was more Jane Austen fan-fiction, this time by one of my favorite writers, P.D. James.  Death Comes to Pemberley is the story of a murder which takes place near Pemberley, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.  It contains such delights as a letter from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, which reads in part: "Mr. Pegworthy said that were I a man and had taken to the law, I would have been an ornament to the English bar - but I am needed here.  If I went to all the people who would benefit from my advice I would never be at home."  Oh, Lady Catherine, I know.  It's a curse.  Some Austen characters from other books make appearances, too, but I'll leave you to find them for yourself.  Earlier I linked to a good review of this book, and here it is again.  I read this on my Kindle.

When I was in the US in February, I saw a new Elizabeth George book.  When I was researching it, I found out that there had been another George book in between the last one I'd read and this new one I was just discovering.  Book #4 was that in-between book, This Body of Death.  Inspector Lynley is grieving the loss of his wife a couple of books ago, and while I am so sad for him, I don't think this excuses his huge lapse of judgement in this one.  Really, Inspector?  While this book kept me reading, I didn't enjoy it as much as previous Inspector Lynley stories.  Book #5 was the next one in the series, Believing the Lie.  I thought there was way too much going on in this novel, to a point that almost became comical.  I was wondering what else could possibly be introduced.  But I did very much enjoy an element that I always like in George's fiction, the many types of relationships, loving and not-so-loving, which she portrays so beautifully.  Her characters are individuals, in all their messiness, not stereotypes.  I read both of these on my Kindle.

Book #6 was Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life, by Shauna Niequist.  Last year I read Niequist's more recent book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.  I liked that one better; Niequist has found her own voice and Bittersweet reads less like she is channeling Anne Lamott (admittedly a far less profane Lamott, who cooks a lot better).  That said, I did very much enjoy this book, made up of essays about Niequist's own life.  There were lots of passages I wanted to read aloud, and will reread. I read this on my Kindle, too.  (I didn't fully realize until I was writing this post how much of my reading I have been doing on my Kindle lately.)

Book #7 took me back to Iran.  Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey, by Alison Wearing, is a travel book.  While the book jacket (yes!  I read this one in actual book format!) told me that Wearing was "traveling with a male friend, in the guise of a couple on their honeymoon," she makes us wait until page 114 before she reveals the true nature of their relationship.  (Spoiler alert:  I'm going to tell you what it is, but if you want to wait until page 114 to find out, skip to the next book.)  Ian is Alison's gay roommate from Canada.  He likes to travel too, and they have spent many hours planning this trip.  She would really rather be by herself, since she finds traveling a solitary pursuit, but knows she won't be very safe as a woman traveling alone in Iran, so agrees to take Ian along.  I was quite interested to know more about how they interacted, but Wearing doesn't tell us much.  Here's the paragraph where she finally spills the beans about the "honeymoon":
"I have a confession to make.  Ian isn't my husband.  We aren't even lovers, just friends.  We forged a marriage certificate just before leaving Montreal using photocopies of his brother and sister-in-law's document, and that is what we are using to get ourselves into hotels.  Most proprietors don't ask and of those who do, two have scrutinized the paper very seriously while holding it upside down, so we needn't have worried so much about its appearance of authenticity.  The thing we should have worried about, perhaps, is the effect that photocopying and whiting out names on a marriage certificate might have had.  By the time Ian and I reached Iran, his brother's marriage had collapsed." 
Alison and Ian's fake marriage kind of collapses, too - she seems to find him more and more irritating as the book goes on.  But she is fascinating on Iran, and especially on what it feels like to be a western woman forced to be covered at all times.  At first, covering seems to be a bit of an adventure, like a disguise, but she can't help feeling more and more oppressed by the limitations imposed on her because she is a woman.  But she also finds, when she gets back to more western values, that she can't fully accept them any more either.  Here she writes about watching a music video on satellite television in an expat's home:
"Shocked, horrified, mesmerized, hypnotised.  By the women on the television.  Stick figures prancing around in their underwear humping the air.  It's a music video.  I ca-ca-ca-can't believe's not just the clothes or the lack of clothes or the grinding or the gyrating....It's the look on their faces.  I had forgotten how women look when they spend their lives trying to be sexy.  I had forgotten how lonely it looks.  How painful it is to watch."
But some of Wearing's most evocative passages are about home, her home: Canada.  Here she is placing a long-distance call to her mother.
"She'll be outside, it will be evening - no, around noon.  August, so fresh corn on the cob that will leave baby teeth marks in the butter.  Thick slabs of tomatoes from the garden, sleeveless dresses and hair that's still damp from the pond.  She'll be eating outside.  Corn, tomatoes and a huge green salad with dressing that gives you garlic breath for days.  Outside on the back porch, where she can see the hill, the sunflowers, the blue jays bossing the chickadees around.  Surrounded by dogs: Sox, Alex, Sebastian, Mugs, who will be seated around her like parliament members - she is, after all, the speaker of the house - and the cats, Figleaf and Foliage, perched on the trellis like tightrope walkers or lying next to the dogs, ready to pounce on the first tail that dares to move.  Having dinner.  If there's a breeze, the poplars will shimmer like stalks of crepe paper - ssshhhhhhhh - telling the earth to be quiet.  The air will smell of...I'm not sure.  I close my eyes and try to imagine it.  Can't.  I smell this telephone, the last thirty people that shouted into it, the smell of dirt and sweat and cramped quarters made of metal and rubber and glass." 
I also loved the description of Alison and Ian reading their mail when they finally make it to the Canadian consulate.  I recommend this book.  Like many travel books, it shows how people are not like the stereotypes we see on the news, and although it's several years old - published in 2000 - it is very much worth reading.  (Whew, see how much easier it is to write about a book when you read a paper copy?  I just can't mark passages as easily on my Kindle, since my usual method is ripping up tiny shreds of paper and putting them everywhere that I like a quote.)

Book #8 was Al Capone Shines My Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko.  I read this because my son begged me to; he loved it.  I liked it fine, though not as much as the first book, Al Capone Does My Shirts, which I reviewed here.

So, that's it, almost the end of April and only eight books.  I'm in the middle of several, so I hope there will be more reading updates before too long.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book Recommendations Wanted

So, my seventh graders are reading me out of house and home.  Their Literature Circle groups keep coming back for more.  I'm not about to say, "No, put that back!  What are you going to read in your groups in eighth grade?"

My administrator told me I can order some more LC sets (six copies or so) of novels.  I'm looking for high-interest titles that kids can read and discuss basically on their own.  I usually have several groups of between two and six kids going at the same time, so while I'm snooping on them and having them write and trying to keep track of them, we aren't going over vocabulary and discussing these books as a whole group.  It's OK if the books are slightly below middle school reading level if they hold my students' interest.  We're reading more challenging things as a whole class. 

Highly successful LC books recently have been The Outsiders, Zach's Lies, Claws, Freak the Mighty, and Al Capone Does my Shirts.

So, what do you recommend?  What are some sure-fire winners that your kids have enjoyed?

Line Twenty-One

Here's line twenty-one of the progressive poem.  Can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: Stained Glass Windows

When I visited Chartres Cathedral, our guide told us about a blue pigment that was used during the Middle Ages for stained glass and to which the secret is now lost. Chartres blue is well-known for its clarity and, well, blue-ness.  (You can see it in the photo above.)  I remembered that story about Chartres blue when I wrote this poem almost a year ago. I thought about the poem this week when I was ruminating on people who help me write.


Writer, you have a single need: a reader.
Someone who can see into your mind
As though your words were stained glass windows.
Someone who can see the whole picture
But also the details:
The red, the green, the yellow
And sometimes, that lost Chartres blue.
Someone who thinks your window
Belongs in a cathedral.
Someone who is willing to use a little Windex
When the windows are smudged.
You don't need to be on the New York Times bestseller list.
You just need one person who pays attention,
Someone who reads with love.

Ruth, from

 Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

And don't forget to check out the latest line in the Progressive Poem.  Heidi has given us a wonderful post, explaining her thought processes and introducing her daughter, who sounds like she would get along great with mine.  You can see all of that here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Line Nineteen

Here's the nineteenth line!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Line Eighteen

Hooray! The progressive poem is visiting Amy on the farm!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing in Community

I used to think that writing was an entirely solitary occupation. I wrote alone, and nobody could see what I wrote before it was finished; often, I didn't even share it when I was done. I journaled obsessively. For a while as a child I even used a secret code. And it wasn't as though there were deep secrets I was keeping, either; writing was just intensely private to me. School made me competitive about any public writing I did. I entered contests. I wrote essays and tried to be the best.

A few years ago, I became involved with a public health project. I had to do a lot of research on a subject almost entirely new to me, write a summary of the current state of thought and the major studies that had been done, and present all of this succinctly. I worked online with someone living in the United States. Both of us read articles, which went zipping back and forth between countries. Later, the drafts of my talk did the same, back and forth, changing a word here and there, refocusing, arguing, collaborating.

I was amazed how much I enjoyed this whole process. Far from being solitary, this writing project was a joint effort. I found it exciting. I was being stretched and growing. Partly this was due to the new information I was learning, but part of it was the fun of writing with someone else.

This was a different kind of writing from what I was used to doing, and yet I have come to see that there is room for all kinds of writing relationships, in all kinds of writing. While much of what I do is still solitary when I write, I find myself being much less secretive, competitive, and -- yes -- stingy about it.

I'm much more aware than I used to be of the Great Conversation. I'm never creating ex nihilo; only God does that. (Here are some of Robbie's thoughts on that.) I'm inspired by conversations, stories others tell, photos, other writers' work.

I'm also more aware of audience than I used to be, and, I think, in a much healthier way. I don't care as much as I used to about whether anybody publishes what I write, or whether everyone in the world loves it. Last week I was invited to read some of my poems to a ninth grade class. I enjoyed reading so much, and felt such a rush from it. Afterward the teacher thanked me and said she'd enjoyed what I'd shared. My daughter said she liked it, too. But in general, I didn't get a bunch of accolades. And I was fine with that. I felt a satisfaction in my work that didn't depend on whether anybody else liked it or not. At the same time, I want it to communicate, and I'm blessed to have certain Ideal Readers who can tell me whether I've succeeded, criticizing me and yet reading with love.

I've been interested to read lately about the Civil Wars, the two-person band. Joy Williams and John Paul White write and sing together. People often assume they are romantically involved, but both are happily married to other people. Here's a quote from an article on their website.
"White and Williams met in 2008 on what he describes as a 'blind date, getting stuck in a room together, not knowing anything about each other.' This was a strictly professional blind date. As Williams recalls, 'I got a call for what's called a writing camp, where several writers were called together to work on trying to write several radio singles for a particular country band. Though I live in Nashville, I worked mostly in L.A. and came more out of the pop world, so I was like, why did they call me? John Paul definitely wasn't bringing a Music Row sensibility in when he was coming into the write, either, but neither of us knew that about each other. In that room, it was almost 20 writers, basically drawing straws and getting to know each other a little bit. And when he started singing, I somehow knew where he was heading musically and could follow him, without ever having met him before. And that had never happened to me.'

'I've done lots of co-writes and collaborative situations, but I'd never felt that weird spark,' agrees White —'that weird familiarity like we'd been in a family band or something most of our lives. The beautiful part of it was that neither one of us would let on, so we both played it cool for a while, saying "That went well, we should write another," and so on. I worked up enough nerve to—so to speak—ask her out. But there was a lot of scuffing my heel on the floor and 'I don't know what you're doing for a while, but I've got this guitar, and you sing pretty good, but you probably don't want to. You're so much better than I am. Never mind. I'm just gonna go." Luckily she felt the same way.'"
I am fascinated by the descriptions I've read of the way White and Williams work together. They are true collaborators. The introduction to their book reads, in part: "We don't pretend to know what brought us to this place, but we're thankful to have found a musical comrade to help us chase the Muse."

Here's to writing in community, whether it's in games like the progressive poem (here it is today), or with those people around me who are inspirations, readers (whether Ideal or not), collaborators, chasers of the Muse. Writing isn't nearly as solitary as I used to think.

Line Seventeen

The poem continues here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Line Sixteen

The poem continues its journey, and here's line sixteen, at Wading Through Words. I love it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Progressive Poem - Day 15

1 Irene at Live Your Poem

2 Doraine at Dori Reads

6 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

7 Penny at A Penny and her Jots

8 Jone at Deo Writer

9 Gina at Swagger

10 Julie at The Drift Record

11 Kate at Book Aunt

12 Anastasia Suen at Booktalking

14 Diane at Random Noodling

16 Natalie at Wading Through Words

17 Tara at A Teaching Life

18 Amy at The Poem Farm

19 Lori at Habitual Rhymer

21 Myra at Gathering Books

23 Miranda at Miranda Paul Books

24 Linda at TeacherDance

25 Greg at Gotta Book

26 Renee at No Water River

27 Linda at Write Time

28 Caroline at Caroline by Line

29 Sheri at Sheri Doyle

30 Irene at Live Your Poem

Look at the company I'm joining as I add my line today to the progressive poem! I'm honored to be included. I've enjoyed watching the poem develop, and anticipated my day with excitement but also fear. I asked my family for advice, and they weren't much help. My daughter's suggestion was "Suddenly, Ninjas!" The conversation deteriorated from there.

As I read and reread what is in the poem so far, I see a theme of togetherness, a group. Maybe it's because the poem is a collaborative effort that I'm thinking that way, but look: "Sit with us." "Let's riddle it together." The drying of tears and sharing of wine (filling, then pouring) are not done in solitude. We're figuring out secrets in a little huddle, not by ourselves. And the frozen fingers are those of the band, playing together, not a soloist. So my line continues in that vein. I added a question to the riddle, going back to Morocco and the spices. A tagine, I learned, is both the cookware and the stew. (It's two syllables, and the g is soft.) You can read more about it here.

But I'm talking too much. I do that when I'm nervous. Here's the poem. (Hope you like it hope you like it hope you like it!)

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell

A hanky, here, now dry your tears
And fill your glass with wine
Now, pour. The parchment has secrets
Smells of a Moroccan market spill out.

You have come to the right place, just breathe in.
Honey, mint, cinnamon, sorrow. Now, breathe out
last week’s dreams. Take a wish from the jar.
Inside, deep inside, is the answer…

Unfold it, and let us riddle it together,
...Strains of a waltz. How do frozen fingers play?
How do fennel, ginger, saffron blend in the tagine?

Photo source and link to recipe

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Line Fourteen

Here's the fourteenth line. Tomorrow I add to the poem. I'll be pondering all day. Here it is so far:

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell

A hanky, here, now dry your tears
And fill your glass with wine
Now, pour. The parchment has secrets
Smells of a Moroccan market spill out.

You have come to the right place, just breathe in.
Honey, mint, cinnamon, sorrow. Now, breathe out
last week’s dreams. Take a wish from the jar.
Inside, deep inside, is the answer…

Unfold it, and let us riddle it together,
...Strains of a waltz. How do frozen fingers play?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: Yellow Dress

Photo Credit

I'm enjoying the Progressive Poem (here's today's line), and it's got me thinking about how I usually write a poem. It's so different to be working with many sensibilities instead of just one. Usually my poems come entirely from my own brain, my own digesting of what's going on around and in me. Nobody else could write exactly what I do, in exactly the way I do.

Those ruminations made me think of my yellow dress. This poem comes from a memory that nobody else shares (except maybe Michelle, whom you'll meet in the second line). I found a picture of a yellow dress to illustrate the post, but the point is really the dream quality of the dress and all it's come to represent to me in those many (ahem) years since that summer afternoon.

Yellow Dress

One July afternoon in Paris
Michelle and I went into a little shop
and I tried on a yellow dress.

(I had a backpack full of
my Carte Orange and
my book of All the French Verbs Ever and
probably some poetry.
And, of course, a bunch of cliches.
I put down my backpack
to try on that dress.)

What a silky, flattering dress it was
and Michelle encouraged me to buy it
but I didn't
because it cost too much.

Probably my life would have been different
if I'd bought that dress.
I would have been beautiful
and irresistible
and my boyfriend would never have left me.
I would have worn sweatpants a lot less often
and taken better care of my skin
and not cried so much.

If I had bought that yellow dress
I bet I would be taller
and more confident
and weigh twenty pounds less.
I would be a better cook
and not so emotional
and I would wear cooler shoes.
I would write clear, incisive, convincing prose.
I would never yell at my children.
I would be altogether smoother
and more polished.

I looked great in that dress
(of course I was nineteen and hadn't had any babies yet)
and if I had bought it
(of course by now it would be faded by the tropical sun)
I would be a goddess
(of course I would have given it away years ago).

Sometimes I think about the lovely me I left behind
when I walked out of the store,
saying goodbye to that dress.
That was a yellow dress from Paris.
That was a perfect summer afternoon.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Line Thirteen

Here's the thirteenth line, along with a bunch of other goodies. I will be back later with a Poetry Friday post. Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Line Eleven

Isn't it fun seeing all the blogs where the progressive poem is traveling? Here's the eleventh line, as the poem makes a stopover at the home of Book Aunt. Just a few more days before it visits me!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Line Ten

Ohhhh, I'm loving the tenth line of the progressive poem...

Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter Eggs

Last year I posted on Facebook about my Easter egg fail. I didn't have any vinegar, and then I couldn't find the egg dye or any food coloring. A friend in the States went straight to the store on Easter Monday and bought up a stack of Easter egg dye left on the shelves. It took a while to get here, but it didn't matter, because there was a whole year before I'd need it. Now I'm set for the next five years, at least, unless I take up dyeing twelve dozen, like my Salvation Army officer friend, V., did this year.

So we colored eggs. See how imperfect they are? When you peel the shell off to eat them, the dye has seeped through the cracks in lovely patterns. For a mom like me, who can't even get organized enough to have the supplies on hand, and isn't dyeing eggs for hordes of orphans like saintly V. is, these eggs speak of grace and mercy. Friends who help me out, color that makes life beautiful in spite of the messes I make. A God who entered history, died on a cross, rose from the grave. Resurrection, an Easter morning when friends trudged to a garden to prepare the brutalized body of their loved master, only to find that everything that had seemed irretrievably lost and broken and destroyed suddenly was dazzlingly new and strange and incomprehensibly glorious. Not comfortable, necessarily; change never is. I imagine it's not comfortable for the caterpillar to become a butterfly.

There are still many cracks in Haiti, many broken places - and not just here. Creation groans, everywhere. But the resurrection is real. Thank God for that.

Line Nine

Hooray! Here's the ninth line of the progressive poem!

Line Eight

Here's the eighth line. Can't wait for the ninth!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Leaving Haiti, Leaving Japan

On my computer I keep a file called "Blog Ideas." For two years now there's been a question in that file. "Was it right to leave Haiti?" Even now, twenty-six months after the earthquake, I still feel deeply conflicted about our family's decision (really, my husband's decision) for the children and me to go to the States on the Saturday after that Tuesday, January 12th, 2010. I agonized about it here on this blog many times, and in private many more times. My friends and family got tired of hearing about it, I'm sure. And everyone has moved on, including, most of the time, me. I don't think as much as I used to about the way I abandoned my post, jumped ship, hopped in a plane and flew to safety.

Nobody ever criticized me for leaving Haiti; most people told me I had been right to do it. The woman who works in my home cried, and later when I spoke to her on the phone from the US, she told me that someone had asked her why I had left, and she had told them that I was afraid. That hurt a lot, but she didn't mean it to; she didn't think it was foolish to be afraid, although she never seemed to be.

My family and I have been in Haiti a long time, and there have been other occasions when many foreigners have been evacuated; each time, we stayed. I didn't realize until after the earthquake how much pride I took in staying. I didn't fault others for leaving; usually it wasn't even their decision, since organizations they worked for made the call. But I felt that I was somehow steadfast, trustworthy. During the political unrest in 2004 when the country erupted in chaos, a friend was robbed at gunpoint and the police didn't even answer the phone, and we spent days listening to the radio as people called in and described the destruction of their homes and property, I wondered whether staying had been the right thing to do. But that week our relationships with those in our neighborhood strengthened, as we stood on the street in little groups discussing what we should do, offering help, exchanging phone numbers.

After the earthquake it was different. But also not so different. Those who stayed gained stronger relationships and many great stories to tell in exchange for the fear, lack of sleep, and shortages. Those of us who left will never fully understand all that the steadfast experienced, no matter how much we try. And in some ways I still regret leaving. I wish I could have been here in solidarity with my Haitian friends and colleagues. In other ways, I know that leaving was the right thing to do. I won't go into all the reasons why, to justify myself, make myself feel better. We did what we thought was right at the time. I gained stronger relationships too, and became a different person in many ways. I came to a greater awareness of God's love for me. All of those things I have written about many times.

Today I read this article by American Anna Kunnecke, who lived in Japan most of her life and who left it after the earthquake of 2011. So many of her words ring true to me.
"There’s a strange thing that happens when you feel connected to a place that doesn’t love you back. It takes on a kind of hold over you, like the haunting presence of an unrequited love. ... Right after the earthquake, people posted on Facebook about ‘standing strong’ with Japan, differentiating themselves from flighty folk like me who jumped ship. I admire their fortitude. They are beautifully living up to the Japanese ideal of ‘gambare,’ which is an untranslatable concept that includes doing your best but also means gritting your teeth quietly no matter what, even if they are operating on you without anesthesia. Nothing the WSJ could call me, and nothing my friends could post on Facebook, was worse than the words in my own mind: Traitor. Coward. Deserter. ... But when I began to mourn, when the silent keening started up inside, another voice hissed in rebuke. How dare I feel bereft? I didn’t lose my house in the tsunami, and my loved ones were all alive and safe. Everything I lost, I walked away from."

I came back to Haiti, after only six months away. Anna Kunnecke has chosen to remain in the United States and seems to have made peace with leaving her home in Japan. But I think both of us will always think about those days, those decisions, and how our lives were changed.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Line Seven

Penny has the seventh line of the progressive poem here. Mysterious! I'm wondering what's next!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Poetry Friday, Good Friday

I am enjoying the Progressive Poem; aren't you? Here it is today, hanging out at A Reading Year. Who knows what will happen to it before it comes to visit me on the 15th? It's absurd how excited I've been every day to track its progress.

We had a half day yesterday. Today and Monday are holidays. Most schools in this country are on full-blown vacation right now, so our students are not at all satisfied with the four and a half day weekend we're getting.

The sakura is in bloom in Tokyo, and I've been enjoying photos from various Japan-based Facebook friends. I'm thinking of this poem:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now...
A.E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

But it's not time for "wearing white for Eastertide" yet. First we have Good Friday, and the long wait, the grave. Before the triumph is the suffering. Before the resurrection is the death. Before the joy comes in the morning, there's the night of weeping. So here's a poem about grief.

'No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief.'
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief."'

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

The mind does, indeed, have mountains, and there are times when no comforting is to be found. Hopkins knew this; he suffered with depression for much of his life.
"According to his own testimony Hopkins was subject to melancholy all his life, but his 'terrible pathos,' as Dixon called it, is most obvious in these late sonnets. Following Saint Ignatius, Hopkins defined 'spiritual sloth' or 'desolation' as 'darkness and confusion of soul ... diffidence without hope and without love, so that [the soul] finds itself altogether slothful, tepid, sad, and as it were separated from its Creator and Lord.' Called acedia in Latin, this sin is differentiated from physical sloth by the fact that the victim realizes his predicament, worries about it, and tries to overcome it."
(You can read this passage, and much, much, much more about Gerard Manley Hopkins here, at the Poetry Foundation website.)

I am thankful that Good Friday's sadness gives way to Easter's rejoicing, and also that poetry expresses both.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Line Six

Here it is, at A Reading Year.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Line Five

Susan Taylor Brown has the fifth line! Go check it out! (The plot thickens...)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Line Four

Shhh, I'm sneaking in here while eighth graders do silent reading to post the fourth line! Robyn at Read, Write, Howl contributed today's addition. The poem now reads:

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers
Come sit with us a spell...

OK, off to patrol the silent readers!

Line Three

Here's the third line of the progressive poem.

Now it goes like this:

If you are reading this
you must be hungry
Kick off your silver slippers...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tuesday Morning

Line three isn't there yet. While you wait, Author Amok is posting 30+ Habits of Highly Effective Poets this month. What are people's strange writing rituals? Find out!

I'll be back later to link you to line three. Just in case you're anywhere near as excited about it as I am.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

It's April!

"April is the cruelest month, mixing memory and desire," wrote T.S. Eliot. Maybe that's why April was chosen as National Poetry Month, since one of the best ways I know of to deal with memory and desire, and the havoc they can wreak on me, is by reading poetry. Why else do you think a whole section of the Bible - including the longest book - is dedicated to poetry?

This year I'm getting three daily poems in my inbox, and I wanted to share them with you in case you'd like to sign up.

You can subscribe here to the Academy of American Poets' "Poem-A-Day" email. I get this one year-round.

Knopf Poetry is also sending out a daily poem during April, and you can sign up for that here.

You can also get a daily poem year-round from Your Daily Poem. Your Daily Poem tends to be by far the most accessible of these three, and today's email says:
"Welcome to Wordwoman's Parade of Scintillating Springtime Poetry, my annual tribute to National Poetry Month, in which I attempt to prove that there's poetry out there for everyone. If you think you hate poetry, you just haven't found the right kind. There are poems for fishermen, for people with ADD, for nurses, for athletes, for construction workers . . . if Beowulf and Browning aren't your cup of tea, try Budbill or Bierce instead! Poetry should be a source of pleasure--and it will be, once you've found the right fit."
Ah, a woman after my own heart.

This year I am stepping out on a limb and participating in a "Progressive Poem." Irene Latham invited fellow poets (including a lot of actual published ones) to contribute a line. My day is April 15th. Here's the whole schedule:

2012 KidLit Progressive Poem: watch a poem grow day-by-day as it travels across the Kidlitosphere! April 1-30

1 Irene at Live Your Poem
2 Doraine at Dori Reads
3 Jeannine at View from a Window Seat
4 Robyn at Read, Write, Howl
5 Susan at Susan Taylor Brown
6 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
7 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
8 Jone at Deo Writer
9 Gina at Swagger Writer's
10 Julie at The Drift Record
11 Kate at Book Aunt
12 Anastasia Suen at Booktalking
13 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
14 Diane at Random Noodling
15 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
16 Natalie at Wading Through Words
17 Tara at A Teaching Life
18 Amy at The Poem Farm
19 Lori at Habitual Rhymer
20 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
21 Myra at Gathering Books
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Miranda at Miranda Paul Books
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Greg at Gotta Book
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Linda at Write Time
28 Caroline at Caroline by Line
29 Sheri at Sheri Doyle
30 Irene at Live Your Poem

This is going to be fun! Irene already started with this line, full of possibility:

"If you are reading this..."

There are many more poetic activities this month, too. Irene Latham has a whole list here (scroll down past the Progressive Poem schedule), and I just found out that my friend and colleague Robbie is posting a new poem each week this month, plus something from his archives every day. Check that out here.

I already read a poem every day with each of my classes, and was once happy to hear a student say, "Mrs. H. has a poem for everything!" But National Poetry Month is always welcome, since it's an extra opportunity to appreciate poetry. Nancie Atwell says that reading poetry is like eating chocolates, so you can't do too much of it at once. Here's to gorging on poetry, at least once a year!