Friday, July 20, 2018

Poetry Friday: Vacation

by Rita Dove

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls.

Here's the rest of Rita Dove's poem.

A couple of days ago, I got a newsletter from the Academy of American Poets entitled, "'I'm just here in my traveler's clothes': Poems for Vacation Travels."  I hadn't read any of the poems yet, and when I clicked on this one this morning, I was startled by how appropriate it was for my day yesterday.  I flew home from just over three weeks traveling by myself in the United States.  Dove describes the nowhere yet everywhere feeling of airports so well in this poem.  

Getting home is always a maelstrom of emotions.  You'd think I'd be prepared for it, after all these years of back and forth, and I sort of am, but each time it hits me a little differently.  I had been up since four AM, and the atmosphere was more oven-like than I had remembered.  There were visible signs of the recent riots - frequent piles of the remains of burned tires on the road home, for example.  And my house always looks different to me when I'm returning from the States: I see everything through American eyes for a few moments and think in some surprise, "This is where I live?  Huh."  

I decided to leave the luggage completely alone.  I ate a sandwich, took a shower, and went straight to bed.  Everything would look better in the morning, I reasoned, and you know what?  It does.   

Heidi has today's roundup. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reading Update

Book #46 of 2018 was The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.  This is a middle grade novel about Ivan, a gorilla who lives in a low-budget zoo in a shopping mall.  It's a lovely story and perfect for the reading slump in which I found myself at the time.

Book #47 was Clara and Mr. Tiffany, by Susan Vreeland.  Clara Driscoll worked making Louis Comfort Tiffany's designs in the late nineteenth century.  This is the story of her life, both her personal life and, even more interestingly, her professional life at a time when women did not receive respect or recognition at work.  Driscoll has a series of disappointing romantic relationships, but her work colleagues and creative friends are the most important connections in her life.  Fascinating.  Book #49 was Life Studies, also by Susan Vreeland, a book of short stories about art. 

Book #48 was Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, by Rachel Jones.  I have a chapter in this book.  (I thought it was pretty interesting.)  But the rest of it was good too! 
Rachel has collected a series of guest posts about TCKs that appeared on her blog a few years ago and updated them with new material such as interviews with the authors and discussion questions.  The strength of a book like this is that it contains many different voices, and I enjoyed reading it.

Book #50 was a reread, Susan Howatch's book Absolute Truths.  This is one of those books I keep returning to.  I wrote about it here in 2009, 2010, and 2015.  It's about aging, the way stories come full circle, Romans 8:28, and more.

Book #51 was a recommendation from a friend, and I finished it after leaving her house and mailed it to her when I was done.  It was Fiela's Child, by Dalene Matthee, and it covers many of the topics I like to read about: identity, cultural clashes, what home really means. 

This post is linked to July's edition of Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Poetry Friday: Calling Yourself a Poet

Recently I heard a poet on a podcast say that he never calls himself a poet. He said a poet is what he wants to be more than anything, but he prefers to let other people use the word because he feels it's pretentious to use it himself. Who was the poet? I have no idea; I thought I could find the quote again and didn't write it down. I did learn, while hunting for the podcast, that there are many poets who feel sheepish about using the word; here's an article that discusses the idea.

To me, it's all right to use the word "poet" about yourself if you write poetry. You aren't saying you're a great poet or even a good one; you're simply saying that you write poetry. I do, so I'm a poet.  Just as I call myself a reader because I read and a mother because I have children and a walker because I walk, I call myself a poet because I write poetry.

Even so, it's nice when others think of me as a poet, and I had an experience like that last week.  A friend commented that something that had just happened was symbolic and then she added, "Ruth will probably write a poem about it." (You'll have to take my word for it that she didn't say this in a mocking way but sounded as though she'd actually like to read such a piece.) In fact I had already made a note in my head that this event would be a great topic for a poem. Later I took the note from my head and wrote it down on my phone, and it's a good thing because otherwise it might have gone the way of the quote from...whoever that guy was who doesn't call himself a poet.
I had gone with my friends that day to their cabin in the woods. I've spent time there every summer except one since 2011, and every year I've written poems about it and shared many with them.

Earlier this summer I listened to this podcast, an interview with Michael Longley. It has lots of great stuff in it, but one of the parts I enjoyed most was when he talked about going to his cabin, a place called Carrigskeewaun, where he's been going regularly since 1970.

Krista Tippett said, "I want to ask you also about the mystery of place. And so, Carrigskeewaun is a cottage in County Mayo that you and your wife and family have gone back to it, I believe, for over many years. And you said something wonderful about the beauty of going back to the same place over and over again, that you notice more and more. It’s not that you exhaust a place; that you go more deeply into it."

Longley responded, "Yes, it’s inexhaustible. Mind you, it is very beautiful, and it’s very remote. And we’ve been going there since 1970. And we carried our children through the river and through the channel, and now they come back over — such a compliment to my wife and me that the children want to spend time with us. And they come back, and they now bring their children, our grandchildren on their shoulders through this really quite tough terrain. Every time I leave, I think, 'Well, there can be no more Carrigskeewaun poems. I’ve exhausted it.' But there always are poems, and the place is inexhaustible. I mean, you know this — the phrase, 'Travel broadens the mind.' We do quite a bit of traveling. But I think it also shallows the mind. But going back to the same place in a devoted way and in a curious way is a huge part of my life. And I’ll be going there even when they have to push me in a wheelchair."

(Listen to the rest here.)

I've so enjoyed traveling this summer, back to places I've been many times. I didn't realize how much I needed some things to look at that were separate from my usual life in Haiti.  I love Haiti deeply, and it is home, but I needed a break, and I'm thankful I've been able to have one. (Plus you may have seen in the news that things have been sort of difficult there this summer. I don't take my privilege for granted. There are plenty of people in Haiti who needed a break this summer way more than I did and who didn't get it, but instead got trouble and a worsening of their already challenging lives.) Going somewhere new would have been great too (and I did do some of that), but it was wonderful to go to some familiar places, places I already love, inexhaustible places.

Here's a poem I wrote about the cabin in 2011.  It's about fall, a time I haven't ever been there, so I was just going from photos and descriptions and imagination.

Morning at the Cabin, September 2011

Mug of coffee in hand
He sits back on his rocking chair
And watches this day arrive.
He has a front row seat.
Each tree, each blade of grass
And each invasive cattail
Takes its place for the performance to begin.
He holds his breath.
Has anyone read this play?
Can anyone say what will happen next?
Perhaps a deer will enter,
Perhaps a squirrel.
Some leaves are reddening.
All the elements are in place
For a drama.
All that's needed is time to stare
And that, he has.
He takes a sip of his coffee.

Ruth, from

I wouldn't put that poem on the same level as anything that Michael Longley has written, but is it a poem?  Yep.  And did I write it?  I sure did.  So do I call myself a poet?  You bet I do.

There will be more poems from the cabin; it's inexhaustible. I came away with a whole list of ideas. They will give me memories and poems for the whole year.

Bonus: I wrote this post about the cabin in 2012.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Poetry Friday: What is Home?

In 2012, I posted the Wislawa Szymborska poem "The Joy of Writing."  Here's the beginning of it:


Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence — this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

(Read the rest here.)

Last month in the Poem-a-Day email from, I read Maggie Smith's poem "Written Deer," responding to Szymborska's poem.   Click through to read the whole thing, but I'm mostly fixating on the last stanza, which ends like this:

What is home but a passage
I'm writing and underlining every time I read it.

I'm away from home right now, and that always makes me think more about home and what it is and isn't.  I like the idea that it's a passage I'm writing and underlining.  Maybe I'll write my own poem about that.  

In the meantime, check out the roundup here to see what other people have posted this week for Poetry Friday.  

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Halfway Through

Doraine is hosting Spiritual Journey First Thursday this month, and she's asked us to reflect on the year so far, since we're now officially halfway through 2018. When I first saw the topic, I thought what a good one it was, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sad.

My OLW for 2018 is ENOUGH.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul wrote: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." In that spirit, let me boast that I'm very weak in the ENOUGH department at this moment, as I get ready to head southwards after two weeks with my daughter in the midwest. I am so blessed in my life, and I have so many reasons for gratitude, but the goodbyes kill me every time. When I'm here, I miss my husband and son at home, and when I'm there, I miss my daughter here, and there are always friends and family to miss wherever I am.  Several of my closest friends in Haiti have moved away during the past couple of years. The news doesn't help, as I watch families separated and think about tiny children not knowing where their parents are, not knowing when they will see them again. The world is a sad place sometimes. It seems that perhaps a better choice for an OLW this year would have been GOODBYE. 

Please don't tell me goodbyes bring hellos. I know that, but right now I'm not feeling it. 
I love the picture Sara Groves paints in this song, a place and time when everyone we love is together, where there are no goodbyes and no separations. In this life we get brief tastes of that, brief moments.  I'm trying to focus on every moment, every blessing, every piece of goodness in my life, to turn toward the hellos and find ways to make them be ENOUGH in this second half of 2018. But what I mostly need, and what I know will be ENOUGH for me, is God's grace, which has always been there, and will keep being there.  His power is made perfect in my weakness.
You can see what other people have written on this topic here

Friday, June 29, 2018

Poetry Friday: Bayou Song Blog Tour

Today I am honored to host the third stop on Margaret Simon's Blog Tour for her charming new book Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Lousiana Landscape (you can see a list of the other stops on the Tour at the end of this post).  When I read the book, I had just listened to this podcast from On Being, so those two pieces of art, both about finding joy in nature, are intertwined in my thoughts.

Let me back up a little bit and tell you about one of the ideas in the podcast, and how it illuminated Margaret's book for me and made me appreciate even more the beautiful way it mixes nature, reading, and writing.

In the podcast, Krista Tippett interviews Michael McCarthy, the British author of The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.  She starts out by sharing this quote from McCarthy: "The sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us may well be the most serious business of all." He has a lot to say about crisis in the natural world, the way ecosystems are collapsing, habitats are disappearing, and there are just fewer creatures out there.  It would be easy to despair, and sometimes when we teach kids about nature we can do it in a negative way, focusing on words like "endangered."

Tippett says to McCarthy: "while statistics of decline and demise and the destruction of the natural world don’t mobilize action — they, in fact, dampen us — and so joy can have a quality of seriousness, and yet, be animating."

And he replies: "If we could mobilize this sort of love we have for the natural world — and the essence of it is the fact that the natural world is a part of us, and that if we lose it, we cannot be fully who we are. And if we were to realize that, which is hard, and if we were to realize it on a large scale, which is even harder, that might offer a defense of nature at the time when we are trashing it remorselessly."

As I was listening to this interview, I was thinking about how we can do this with children; how can we encourage them to love the natural world so much that they want to protect it, not out of fear and despair, but because it's so important to them?

When I read Margaret's book, I thought: this is how. 

In Bayou Song, Margaret doesn't write about the whole world. She writes about her tiny part of it, a part that she loves, a part on a bayou in Southern Louisiana. Using a variety of forms, she writes loving tributes to plants and animals that live where she does. Beautiful photography and drawings help the reader see Margaret's world even more clearly. And then each poem is accompanied by a prompt, so that we, following Margaret's lead, can look around closely at the nature in our world.  What lives where we do?  Let's pay attention, and let's write about it!

Here's an example of Margaret's writing, "Ode to a Toad."

Her note introduces the reader to Pablo Neruda and his odes to ordinary things. She suggests writing an ode, too. So I did. I looked around my part of our beautiful planet, a street in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Look what's in bloom right now!
Taking Margaret's poem as my mentor text, I wrote my own ode.  (The "conspicuous claws" reference comes from a little research I did, in which I learned that the word "delonix" comes from Latin for "conspicuous claws," a description of the petals of this tree.)

Ode to a Flamboyant Tree (Delonix regia, Royal poinciana)

You blare
your bright red jazz
through June’s steamy days.
You are all flourish
and ostentation.
Leaving subtlety
to others,
you make the most
of your conspicuous claws.
You accessorize your red
with glowing flashes
of yellow and white. 
Royal tree,
I curtsy to you as I walk by.
I watch you fan yourself
with your green fringes
and display your blossoms
to advantage.
Flamboyant you are
as you dance
with your castanets,
far into the night.

How can we encourage kids to care for nature? We can encourage them to love it, and we can do that by teaching them to pay attention to it, not as a grand abstraction but in the specific plants and animals around them. Margaret's poems and prompts will help me do that with my students next year.

Order your own copy of Margaret's book here.

Bayou Song Blog Tour

To read more exciting posts about Margaret Simon’s debut children’s poetry book, Bayou Song, follow this blog tour.

Friday, June 22: Michelle Kogan
Tuesday, June 26: Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
Friday, July 6: Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes
Friday, July 13: Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise
Tuesday, July 17: Laura Shovan
Tuesday, July 24 Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy
Friday, July 27: Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink
Monday, July 30 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
Friday, Aug. 3 Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

Carol has today's roundup.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Poetry Friday - Some Photos I Took at the Library

I've been opening our school library once a week for the summer, since we don't have public libraries where we live, and I don't like thinking of the kids being bookless.  Here are some pictures I took on Tuesday, some of the library in general and some of a poetry book I found and enjoyed.

In the middle of all the mess in the news this week, it felt good to read some beautiful words.

Michelle has today's roundup.