Friday, August 30, 2013

Poetry Friday: Linda Pastan

I had a dream last night that I had been kidnapped.  I had managed to escape from the kidnapper, but he was still in the house, and I didn't want him to hear me.  I was sneaking around and being as quiet as I could, but guess who else was there?  In the inexplicable way of dreams, all of my middle school students.  And they wouldn't be quiet.  I was shushing them and explaining in a tearful whisper that our lives were in danger if they wouldn't stop talking.  They were behaving just like they do at the beginning of silent reading every day, except without that glorious moment when everyone finally relaxes into a book and there's that beautiful reading zone hush.  I woke up in a cold sweat.

So that dream pretty much shows you where my mind is these days.  I always forget what a job it is to break in a new batch of seventh graders, and we have changes this year in schedule, resulting in different pacing; it's a better fit, but it just takes time to get used to.  I feel swamped in grading, as though I never get out from under it.  I have no time or mental energy to think a thought.

Someone shared this poem on Poetry Friday a couple of weeks ago, and I've had it open on my desktop ever since.  This is where my writing is now; it's not happening.  In spite of all the other things going on in my brain, I need to, like Linda Pastan, "decide not to stop trying."

Here's her poem:

Rereading Frost

Linda Pastan

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.

Here's the rest of the poem, including where she decides not to stop trying.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Poetry Friday: In an Artist's Studio

I read this poem with my eighth graders every year and we speculate on the story behind it.  I love it because there is just the right level of mystery.  The kids always say, "Obsession!" when they get the picture of the studio filled with countless paintings of the same woman.  Yet it's an obsession with the artist's idea of the model, "not as she is, but as she fills his dream."

I found this wonderful analysis of the poem.

In an Artist's Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel—every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Christina Rossetti

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Poetry Friday: Aimee Nezhukumatathil

I don't know anything about Aimee Nezhukumatathil except what I read on Poetry Foundation, but I like reading her poems.  My favorite is this one, which plays cleverly with the way writers use reality:

Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.

You can read the last seven lines of the sonnet here.

Another fun poem by Nezhukumatathil is her found poem made up of lines from emails she got from high school students, hence the title:

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill,

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
(a found poem, composed entirely of e-mails from various high school students)

You can read that one here. 

It's great to be back to Poetry Friday after about five weeks of hiatus.  Today's roundup is here.  Enjoy lots of wonderful poems!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Reading

Although we started school on Monday, I already have a day off, since August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption.  I wanted to blog about my summer reading before school started, but this is the closest I can come to achieving that goal.

Book #24 of 2013 was Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton.  This book is a typical Victorian novel, except that all the main characters are dragons.  Picture a very correct, rules-bound society of enormous savage dragons.  It took me a little while to get into the proper frame of mind to enjoy this book, recommended by my fantasy-loving daughter, but once I did, I was captivated.  It has been a while since I've read anything this fun and satisfying. 

I chose book #25 because it occurred to me that I have read several books compared to Anthony Trollope - Tooth and Claw, for one, and Susan Howatch's Church of England series, and books by Joanna Trollope, who is a distant relative of Anthony's - but never read anything by the man himself.  I decided to remedy that.  I found a free Kindle version of The Warden to begin with, and when I liked that, I was able to find this collection of his complete works, 47 novels for $2.99.  That should keep me going for a while!

Book #26, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher, was one I had been wanting to read for a while, since I enjoy Fincher's blog, also called Ruby Slippers.  She fearlessly takes on topics that other Christian bloggers might avoid, and her ideas have given me much to think about.  I found much to enjoy in the book, too, but ultimately I wasn't entirely satisfied with her explanation of what constitutes a "female soul."  I would like some friends to read this one, too, so we can talk about it.  Any takers?

I wish I had had more information about book #27 before reading it.  Specifically, I wish I had realized that Never Fall Down was a lightly fictionalized account of the experiences of a real person.  Patricia McCormick interviewed Arn Chron-Pond in English about his experiences as a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, and she tells us in an Author's Note at the end of the book: "Trying to capture that voice was like trying to bottle a lightning bug.  Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the light went out.  And so, in telling Arn's story I chose to use his own distinct and beautiful voice."  I wish I had known this because it would have kept me from being irritated all the way through the book by the unexplained pidgin-English quality of the writing.  Why, I reasoned, would the main character be speaking English at all?  In his own language he would be fluent and there would be no need for sentences like, "A lot of time kid throw stone at me."  Even in spite of not knowing the reason for the way the book was written, I did get drawn in by the horrifying story.

Book #28 was another Trollope title, Barchester Towers, and these absorbing stories about Victorian clergy and their families will be sprinkled in among the other books I read for some time to come.  Forty-five more titles to go!

Book #29 was another recommendation from my daughter.  The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was a fun Australian novel about students at two rival schools required to write letters to one another.  I wouldn't give this to my middle schoolers; it's really for older kids.

Book #30 was Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People, by Glenn Packiam.  This unpacking of the Beatitudes replaces the more traditional word "blessed" with "lucky," explaining that in the original language, the word used by Jesus isn't a particularly "religious" one.  This is a refreshing and enjoyable take on a familiar passage, and I think a small group would get a lot out of discussing it together. 

Book #31 was Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore.  This is a companion book to Cashore's books Graceling and Fire, and characters from both books show up.  There was less of the mind-reading that so fascinated me in the other two books (though there is some), but this book is about a society healing after a time under the brutal regime of King Leck, Bitterblue's father.  Leck's abuses are described in some detail; ultimately I didn't find it too much, but I would understand if some did.  But I found this a very thought-provoking study of what a society would need to do to recover from a rule like this.  How have real-life countries done this?  Very differently.  Look at South Africa's amazing recovery from apartheid, due to the forgiveness modeled by Nelson Mandela, and bringing people's stories into the open during the Truth and Reconciliation process.  Compare that with the suppression in Japan of the atrocities committed during World War II, to the point that some of them are only now, sixty years later, starting to be talked about. 

Incidentally, I enjoyed this video by Christian author and literature teacher Karen Swallow Prior about the benefits of what John Milton called "promiscuous reading," meaning reading a variety of different material without much of a plan: "haphazard, mixed reading," Prior calls it.  Clearly I am a practitioner of this type of reading!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Another Poem-less Poetry Friday!

Today was our first day of school; the high school students came to register, get lockers, and other administrative details.  I spent the afternoon planning for next week, when I'll start teaching.  I had to put poetry at the bottom of my to-do list, but I really hope this is the last time!  Meanwhile, there are many great poems here, at today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Home Again - Poetry Friday!

After five weeks of traveling, I'm home, but still not quite up to jumping back into Poetry Friday.  Next week...

Meanwhile here's today's roundup!