Thursday, January 21, 2021

Poetry Friday: My Whole Soul Is In It

Since I started this blog in 2006, I have posted about two inaugural poems: those recited at both of President Obama's inaugurations. Here, in 2009, I wrote about Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day" and here I reflected more on Elizabeth Alexander and wrote my own poem that was sort of connected to the inauguration. And then here I shared Richard Blanco's "One Today." I didn't post about the 2016 inauguration because there wasn't any poetry performed there. In fact, the only presidents who have ever included poetry in their inaugurations have been Democrats: JFK, Clinton twice, Obama twice, and now Biden. Why don't Republicans do this? I don't know. Here's an article from poets.org about all the inaugural poems in history.

 

I'm positive that I won't be the only one to write about Amanda Gorman's poem today. It was, simply put, amazing. In a day of much to appreciate, Gorman stood out. First of all, she was decades younger than anyone else who spoke at the inauguration itself. Secondly, she wore an arresting yellow coat and red headband. And thirdly, her poem gave me goosebumps, even after I had heard it probably eight times.

 

I decided I must share this poem with my students, and I did that on Thursday. My students don't live in the United States but most of them have been there; some were born there. All are affected by what happens there. Of course, people around the world are affected by US events, but perhaps Haiti is more influenced than some places, for reasons that have to do with history and culture and that I won't go into right now.  


I passed out a transcript of Gorman's presentation (which I found here) and asked the students to underline or highlight lines that they particularly appreciated. ("Or," I added because I didn't start teaching middle school yesterday, "maybe you will hate some lines, and if so, underline those.") It was so fun to watch some students highlight almost the whole poem (for love, not hate) as they listened. My very favorite moment was hearing an eighth grader say, as the video was just beginning, "Wait, she's Black?" YES my dear, she is Black! There is so much power in kids seeing people who look like them up in front of everyone being wonderful. After we watched the video, we shared the lines we had liked, and nobody at all said anything about disliking any of it. 


But Amanda Gorman wasn't the only person who used poetic words. I loved hearing Joe Biden talk about his heart: "Hear us out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart." But it was even better to hear him talk about his soul. My favorite line from his speech was when he talked about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and saying that if his name went down in history at all, it would be for that document. Lincoln added, "My whole soul is in it." And, said Biden, "My whole soul is in it today, on this January day. My whole soul is in this, bringing American together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face -- anger, resentment and hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness."


Friends, I know he has his work cut out for him. I know the words spoken on Inauguration Day are often poetic, but that the work is full-on prose. But oh, wasn't it wonderful to hear the words, anyway?

 

Because I can't resist, here are a couple more links. Here's Anderson Cooper interviewing Amanda Gorman (and telling her she's awesome). Here's a transcript of President Biden's speech.  

 


And here are a few of my favorite lines from Gorman's poem:

 

And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it

...

a nation that isn't broken

but simply unfinished

 ...

We are striving...

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us

...

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

...

Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid

...

It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it

...

So while once we asked,

how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

...

we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one

...

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it


Laura Shovan has today's roundup.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: White-necked Crow

During my free period on Friday, I was trying to get in a little birding. I was over by the elementary building with my binoculars when one of the elementary teachers walked by and narrowed her eyes at me. "Were you here yesterday?" she asked. "Because there was this huge black bird out here in the tree, squawking, the whole afternoon, and it was so loud!"


Something about her manner suggested that she blamed me, as the resident bird-lover, for inviting the White-necked Crow to perform. Because that is what was in that tree, though she didn't seem impressed when I told her. And I don't blame her, because they are very noisy. 


Source: Merlin app


The White-necked Crow, which I saw for the first time a few weeks ago in that very spot, is the Caribbean's largest corvid. You can see photos of it, and listen to how it sounds, here. It has very distinctive red eyes, and it's really big, 17-18 inches long. 


Yesterday morning I went out before school and saw two White-necked Crows in the same tree, cackling away as the day began. I smiled as I looked at them, and I thought about how those distinctive bird sounds will be part of the kids' memories of these days, whether they are fully aware of them or not. 




Friday, January 15, 2021

Reading Update

I've only read three books in the first two weeks of 2021, but one of them was over 900 pages. Here are the first three books of 2021:

 

Book #1 of the year was A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer. This is the second book in the Cursebreaker series, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I read the first book at the end of last year, and you can see what I thought of it in this post. The third one in the series is coming out next week!

 

Book #2 was Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell. This is the story of William Shakespeare's marriage and the death of his son Hamnet from the plague, but Shakespeare himself is never named in the story. We meet his wife, Agnes (she's usually called Anne in the information you'll find about Shakespeare's life). Hamnet's death isn't a spoiler because we know it will happen from the beginning. Another interesting fact is that the names Hamnet and Hamlet are basically the same, just two different versions of the same name. This is brilliantly written and has the advantage of being about an epidemic/pandemic.  (You may or may not consider that an advantage.) I really loved this book and highly recommend it.

 

Book #3 was the 900+ page one, Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith, who is really J.K. Rowling. What I love about these Cormoran Strike books is the character development of the ongoing characters, and that is here in spades. I could do without the excess of gore, but this is so meticulously worked out, much more so than most whodunits. You're not asked to take giant leaps of logic, but you see how the detectives find each tiny piece of information that ends up as a solution. In addition, the agency has other cases all the time, and those aren't neglected in the narrative either. This is the fifth in the series. I read books one and two in 2018the third in 2019, and the fourth later in 2019.

 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Poems

Tuesday was the eleventh anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. I teach middle schoolers, so this year's students have no memory of what happened. But I remember. 


I'm in a group right now working through the book The Artist's Way. The first chapter is about feeling safe to create. It's so interesting to me that the time when I felt safest to create was also the time when I felt in the most physical danger. It was after the earthquake that I began regularly to share my personal writing, and especially my poems, online. It felt like something I could do to bring Haiti to people's minds when there was so little I could do on the ground. All the fears I'd had before seemed to evaporate. 


Today I'm going to share some of my earthquake poems, as I've done for the past few anniversaries. All the way at the end, you'll find the new poem I wrote this year. 


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 that'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.

In 2019, I wrote The Last Normal Day.

 

Last year, in 2020, I posted Tenth Anniversary, about a man I read about in a Miami Herald article.

 

This year's poem is called "Eleventh Anniversary." Here it is:

 

Eleventh Anniversary

That night we slept on the ground on the soccer field
It was cold and we were afraid
The ground kept shaking - more than 30 times that night
We heard screaming and crying
We held our children and told them stories
A woman died that night on the soccer field
Her injuries too severe to recover from
That night

Tonight I will sleep in my bed
I will be warm and fear will be easier to dismiss
The ground will not shake (we hope and pray)
Our children will be in their own beds; in their adult minds will be their own stories
I will think of the woman who died on the soccer field that night
And the voices crying, wailing
Again and again
In Kreyol,
“The Lord gave, the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Tonight I will remember

 

Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
 

Margaret Simon has today's roundup.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: January 12th

Eleven years ago today, on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, I went home after a long day at school. Before I left my classroom, I wrote on the board, "January 13th, 2010."


As I entered through the gates of my yard, at 4:53 PM, the earth shook. I held on to my daughter, saying again and again, "It's OK. It's OK." 


It wasn't OK. Our city was devastated by the earthquake. But we were OK. Our whole family was unhurt. As the days passed, and we learned the extent of the damage, and the number of people who died (we'll never know how many; I wrote about that here), and we heard the stories of what others had gone through, our grief grew and grew. 


Today, eleven years later, I reflect once again that January 12th will never be just another day. It will always require quiet, mourning, feeling the pain again. 


The next time I walked into my classroom to get it ready to teach again, it was six months later. The date I had written, January 13th, was still on the board. (I wrote about this back then, here.) In between, I left the country with my children. In between, I struggled with what had happened. In between, I recognized that the lives of so many had been changed forever. So many had suffered infinitely more than I had. So many had lost everything. 


This is a slice of life, of my life, and of the life of Haiti. For us who were there, and for many who weren't, it's a slice we will never, ever forget.


(You can read in my archives the posts I wrote in January 2010 and in the months after, if you want to know more about how my family experienced those days.)


Thursday, January 07, 2021

Poetry Friday: Flourishing Where You Are

 My OLW for the year is FLOURISHING. I posted more about that here.

 

Part of flourishing is being adapted to your environment. One of the things I have been loving about my environment lately has been the birds that live here. Many times recently I have thought of the words, referring to a bird, "He sings each song twice over, / lest you should think he never could recapture / that first fine careless rapture." It's such a perfect description of birdsong and how joyful and abandoned it seems to be. 


I recently went and looked up the poem, and I'd kind of forgotten that the title is "Home Thoughts, From Abroad." Robert Browning wrote it from Italy, in a homesick mood. It's a time when he doesn't feel like he's really flourishing where he is. 


It's easy, when you feel homesick, to romanticize the place you miss. It looks better, brighter, more welcoming, from a distance. In your mind you know that things aren't perfect there, but you'd like to be there anyway. 


I have to say that the US is making it easier lately to live a long way away. Between COVID and the political situation and ... well, Wednesday ... I am quite OK staying where I am. But there are always places and people to miss. Here's the homesick Browning.


Home Thoughts, from Abroad

by Robert Browning


Oh, to be in England,

Now that April's there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England -- now!


And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops -- at the bent spray's edge -- 

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children's dower

--Far brighter than this gaudy melon flower!

 


 Song Thrush, from eBird.org


In high school I read a parody of this poem called "Home Truths from Abroad," ending with the couplet "For English spring sets men and women frowning / Despite the rhapsodies of Robert Browning." In other words, springtime in England isn't quite as idyllic as he says. It rains a lot, and it's still very cold. One time I went in the ocean at Weymouth in April, and I thought I would lose my toes, it was so cold! 


Flourishing involves being where you are. Sure, you'll feel homesick sometimes; even if you've never lived anywhere else, you may long for new places. But you have to appreciate the birds and flowers -- the circumstances in general -- where you live. And I do, especially in the winter, when it's breezy and beautiful here, with lows in the upper sixties. That makes it easy to flourish.


Sylvia Vardell has today's roundup here.

Spiritual Journey Thursday: OLW

In 2020, my OLW was HOPE. I reflected on how it went here. To summarize, in spite of everything, this was a great word for the year.

 

This year, I've chosen the word FLOURISHING. 

 

In some versions of the Bible, Psalm 92:14 uses the word "flourishing." Here's the NKJV rendition. Referring to the righteous, the text says, "They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing."
 
Other versions replace "flourishing" with "healthy and green," "full of sap and green," even "succulent." (Hmm, maybe I should choose the word "succulent." It just sounds a little too ... fruity.)
 
The fruit connection, plus the etymology of the word itself that suggests flowers, makes me think biologically. I've been studying birds a lot in the past couple of years, and each species has a different set of requirements for it to be able to flourish. Its habitat must be right, and that means planted with the right trees, with the right climactic conditions, with the right food to eat. What causes one species to flourish would kill another.
 
What causes me to flourish, other than God's goodness? Well, it all comes from God's goodness, but I'm also responsible to arrange things in ways that make me flourish. There are going to be times and seasons that are less than optimal. I like to think of myself as a hardy plant that can survive some adversity, kind of like bougainvillea, that does better in drought than it does when the rains are good. (I played some with that idea in my poem "Self-Portrait as Bougainvillea.") I can't expect conditions to be constantly ideal. But I can make sure that I get enough sleep, that I eat right, that I exercise, that I read plenty of books and spend time with people I love and who love me back. I can make sure I am doing activities that make me feel creative. I can drink tea with friends, even if we have to be distanced from each other. (Zoom teatimes are a thing, and I have a long table too, for local friends - we sit at opposite ends of it.) I don't have to put myself continually in situations that I know are not going to be conducive to my flourishing. 
 
I don't want to make it sound as though flourishing means self-indulgence, or as though I will wither up and die if my wishes are crossed. Not at all. But I do a hard job, and I live in a place that can be challenging, and 2020 was only the latest in a series of difficult years. I do need to make sure that what I can control, I do. I am sometimes too invested in my self-concept of being low maintenance, so I put up with things from others that I shouldn't, or I fail to prioritize taking care of myself.
 
I am newly physically healthy, having just been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency in the summer, and being physically healthy has resulted in being emotionally far brighter than I was. That's one thing that made my thoughts go in the direction of this word. 

But the main thing I have to do in order to flourish, even if the environment isn't ideal and the world news continues to be full of terrible things (which it will), is to remain in the Vine. Jesus used many agricultural metaphors, and one of them is the Vine. In John 15:5 He says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Like hope last year, flourishing isn't all, or mostly, about me.
 
I'm looking forward to exploring this word this year. 

 



 

Here are the lyrics to Sandra McCracken's song "Flourishing":

 

Teach me, oh God to follow your decrees
Give me understanding, your word, I wanna keep
Direct me in the path, of your commands
For there I find delight, my will is in your hands
 
 
Turn my heart away from worthless things
Preserve my life, according to your ways
Take away disgrace
You hold me in my place--flourishing
 
 
Fulfill your promise to the ones you love
Within your ways we walk, for your laws are good
Temptation loses pow'r, my soul's revived
In righteousness, oh God, preserve my life
 
 
Turn my heart away from worthless things
Preserve my life, according to your ways
Take away disgrace
You hold me in my place--flourishing

 

This post is linked to the SJT roundup here at Carol Varsalona's blog.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Zooming Again

Yesterday I went back to work, or rather I stayed home to work. We had a Zoom faculty meeting in the morning, and then we worked getting ready to start back to online teaching today. It's supposed to be just a week - we'll see - but it's kind of a letdown after the fun and enthusiasm of the holiday and the new beginning of January 1st. It's just the same now, not a new beginning. Just Zoom and emails and blah.