Friday, October 28, 2011

Poetry Friday: Machines

Another week with no posts between Poetry Fridays. I've been doing better about posting during the week, but what a week this was. We had our accreditation visit, a fire, electrical problems. But we're coming up on a week with several vacation days, so we will have a chance to recover.

Meanwhile, today's poem compares a beautiful piece of music to a bicycle. I read that Steve Jobs wanted to call the first Mac computer the Bicycle, because a bicycle is so elegant and simple and perfectly designed. I love the way the poem acknowledges that in creating beauty, "so much is chance," and I love the phrase, "effortless gadgetry of love." I'm just posting the first two stanzas, and these quotes are from later in the poem, so be sure to follow the link to read the rest.


Michael Donaghy

Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsicord pavane by Purcell
And the racer's twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell's chords are played away.

Here's the rest of the poem.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: Villain

I started reading a draft from one of my students, and two lines into it I gasped. This was about me. I was the one who had caused this girl enough negative emotion to write the best thing she had written all year, something deep and heartfelt instead of the surface-y creations she had dashed off in order to satisfy my requirements.

Her work caused emotion in me, too. It hurt me enough that I had to put aside my grading for the evening. It made me cry. It was intended to sting, and it did.

But. As I thought about this more, I realized that I have taught my students that one way they can respond to pain, whether caused by an earthquake or a friend or - yes - an unfair teacher, is to write about it. And I realized that I have created a classroom environment where she feels safe writing about how angry she is with me. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I threw a fit and forbade her to write about the first thing that has moved her to good writing this year?

We did talk about her work. We talked about it as writing and I shared my interpretation of what had happened, which differed from hers. And then I did what I had taught her to do. I wrote about it.


It has come to my attention
that I am the villain in your story.

I knew I wasn't the heroine,
Because I never saved you from a burning building
Or carried you across a river
Or rescued your kitten.
But villain?

I do not even own a black cape.
I have no secret lair and no scary weapons.

What I am is your teacher
And you are a middle schooler.
And I guess those facts alone are enough for a villain's role.

You say I am lying in wait
Hoping you will mess up,
Taking pleasure in your failures.
You say I am accusing you
Of things you do not do.
You say I ruin your day.
I take your beautiful name
And write it upon my bad list,
The list of those who are In Trouble.
The injustices I visit upon you are legion.

For now, I am the villain in your story.
Surely no miscreant worth her salt would let that hurt her feelings
So I try to harden my heart.

I hope, dear student, that I am the worst villain you ever encounter
And that the ruination of your day caused by me
Is the low point of your life.
I hope that the stories you have to tell of me and my evil
Will be, by far,
The most traumatic
Recounted at your class reunions.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

(By the way, this week I was introduced to a new collection here. I wrote and asked Steven Withrow to send me the pdf of his book, Crackles of Speech. I'm very much enjoying it and I recommend you do the same!)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dessalines Day

Today we have a peaceful, quiet day off school to celebrate Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was anything but peaceful and quiet. He was brutally treated as a slave, and he in turn was brutal to his enemies. He had the nickname "The Tiger" because of his ferocity in battle and
"Fearing a French resurgence and the reinstatement of slavery that would accompany it, he ordered the massacre of approximately 5,000 of the island’s white men, women, and children declaring 'I have saved my country. I have avenged America.'"
The effects of slavery on this world are horrifying and long-lasting. In honor of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, let's keep fighting slavery of all kinds wherever we find it.

Photo Source: article on Jean-Jacques Dessalines from Wikipedia.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poetry Friday: Happiness

I did well the first week of October with my posting, but this past week was super-busy, with the end of first quarter arriving today. I did get everything graded (except for a quiz that I'm giving today and still hoping to get posted before I go home -- we'll see how that goes).

I read this article this morning about comparative happiness across international boundaries. I've blogged about this idea before (here and here, for example). I'm fascinated by efforts to compare people's levels of happiness. As the article in the first link points out, the results vary wildly according to the kinds of questions researchers ask. The researchers discussed here got very different answers based on whether they looked at "Life Satisfaction" or "Positive Feelings." They did find that Haiti is the second most unhappy country in the world, based on life satisfaction.

I will be looking into this more and following some of the links, and maybe posting again, but for Poetry Friday today I want to share a poem that I wrote a few months ago called "Happiness."


Feelings are the caboose,
They told us in Sunday school.
Faith is the engine,
And sometimes the emotions will follow,
But if they don't, oh well.
If the caboose gets buried by an avalanche
On the way through the mountain pass,
So be it.
At least you know what you believe.

But sometimes
Happiness comes as a gift
And it's no caboose, but a whole long train,
The kind that keeps you waiting
At the railroad crossing
For half an hour,
Listening to the whistle
And counting the cars as they go by,
Marveling at just how many of them there are.

by Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Next Friday is the last day of the quarter, and I'm deep in the piles of grading. I really do keep up on my grading all along throughout the quarter - I respond to piles of drafts every day, and most of the final copies I'm seeing now are versions of pieces I've already read. But then there are the ones that were scribbled in class on the final due date. Not surprisingly, those are usually not as much fun to read.

I worked hours today and now I need to stop. I reach a saturation point when I'm grading writing. I know it's time to quit when either I'm getting super-critical or I'm just slapping grades on the papers in some kind of auto-pilot mode.

The rest of the papers will still be there on Monday.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Sidetracked by Poetry

I'm supposed to be grading papers, but instead -- shh, don't tell -- I was reading Poetry Friday posts. That's how I found out about this new poetry anthology. The temptation was too great for me and I bought it ($2.99, delivered immediately to my Kindle). And now I'm reading it instead of what my students wrote.

This is a very cool concept. A poet chooses a photo from this collection and writes a poem about it, then tags another poet. That poet chooses another photo to write about, but has to include at least three of the words from the previous poem.

Well, after all -- it is Friday night. My husband is at a school activity, my kids are happily watching Dr. Who, and I'll have time to grade tomorrow.

Poetry Friday: Lost

Well, I didn't do much this week that I'm proud of, other than calmly facing down a tarantula, that is, but I did blog every day. Hooray! It wasn't profound, but at least I didn't go all week between Poetry Friday posts without blogging at all, the way I did every single week in September.

Yesterday a student told me that he was going to write something awesome in Writer's Workshop, and later when he was wandering around and socializing with his neighbors, I reminded him that he needed to sit down and focus, and then the awesomeness would find him. This poem says basically the same thing, if a bit more eloquently.

David Wagoner


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Here's the rest.

Trying to sit still, Here, in Port-au-Prince, and let the awesomeness find me.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Excitement in Eighth Grade

So yesterday morning in my eighth grade class, a kid unzipped his binder and then commented, rather nonchalantly, that there was something in there. He held it up and I saw a spider, but I didn't think much of it because I assumed it was fake. I gave my best cynical "pull the other one" teacher look, and then I saw that the thing was moving. It wasn't fake; it was a very much alive, medium-sized tarantula.

Unfortunately others had also seen what I had seen, and noise and drama ensued. I zipped the binder back up and sent the kid out with it to dispose of the spider, meanwhile trying to calm down the remaining students. Of course whatever genuine fear anyone was feeling was quickly magnified into mass hysteria. Some kids were so frightened that they were forced to run full pelt out of the classroom (thus following the spider, rather than staying away from it). It took a good while for me to calm the students back down enough to read the next chapter of The Hunger Games (because that's a recipe for calm).

The spider was quickly dispatched out in the hallway, which was actually a shame because it could have joined the one that's in a cage in our library, had it survived.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Black Tie Beach 2011

I needed something to make me smile, and here it is.

(Explanation of the event at the link above.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Beethoven's First Draft

I heard this very interesting piece on NPR on Sunday. University of Manchester music professor Barry Cooper reconstructed the first draft of a piece of Beethoven's work, even though the final version was far different.

Would any writer or musician actually want someone finding and publishing a first draft? I think most would feel more like Anne Lamott, who says in Bird by Bird,
"But the bad news is that if you're at all like me, you'll probably read over what you've written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are."

Even so, I love the idea of a lost work being found, even if it was a first draft. And I love it that the first draft was "very Beethoven."

Monday, October 03, 2011

Reading Update

Book #29 of the year was Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai. I was looking for a new readaloud to start the year with, and I did end up using this one. I like to begin eighth grade with something about culture clashes, and this was especially appropriate because of the anniversary this fall of September 11th, 2011. Fadi and his family live in Kabul, and at the beginning of the book they stage a daring escape, due to his mother's illness and his father's need to get away from the Taliban, who have asked him to work for them. Unfortunately Fadi's sister Mariam gets left behind. The rest of the book is about Fadi's attempts to rescue Mariam, while adjusting to a new life in San Francisco. Fadi is a photographer (hence the "Shooting" in the title, which I really didn't like - it seemed to me that the title was a poor attempt at a joke). I would like to read more by Senzai, although my students found this one slow in places.

Book #30 was Red Kayak, by Priscilla Cummings. This one was also a possible readaloud, and I'm still not sure if I will use it. It's the story of Brady, who gets involved in a crime in a way he didn't intend, and has to decide what to do about it. He also has to deal with the losses in his own life. I enjoyed the book and I think my students would, too.

Book #31 was Truth and Consequences, by Alison Lurie. I read Lurie's Foreign Affairs many years ago and remember it as clever and interesting on Anglo-American relationships. This one was clever and interesting too, though the characters' selfishness was a little wearing.

Book #32 was from my classroom library. Leo and the Lesser Lion, by Sandra Forrester, is set in the Great Depression and is the story of Bayliss, a 12-year-old who loses her beloved brother, Leo. She survived the accident that killed Leo, and she assumes that God has saved her for a purpose. Now to figure out what that might be. I liked this book a lot and found Bayliss an appealing character.

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, by Lizzie Skurnick, was book #33. This is a book of essays based on Skurnick's feature Fine Lines at (And yes, you should assume that stuff published on a website called is rated PG13 and above.) I had read a lot of the books Skurnick talks about (and she also includes contributions from Meg Cabot, Cecily von Ziegesar, and other female writers), and I found her ruminations about them often hilarious and sometimes very touching. She includes a chapter on books she can't believe anybody let her read and I can't believe it either! (Although I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I had read one of the books she reviewed, when it was being surreptitiously passed around in my high school.) Skurnick is part fangirl and part literary critic and her writing, while peppered with four-letter words, is difficult to put down.

I found book #34, The Glorious Ones, by Francine Prose, to be a quick and slight read. It's about a commedia dell'arte troupe and the personalities in it, all of whom have secrets.

Book #35 was in a box of donated books. I have read a lot of the Alan Gregory mysteries by Stephen White, and when I looked at this one I thought I hadn't read it. I realized on the first or second page that I had, but I finished it anyway. Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist and I always find these books fascinating, both for the psychology and for the character development. As usual with thrillers, I couldn't remember how this one turned out, so the suspense worked on me just as well as the first time. The book is called Private Practices.

A Theory of Relativity, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, was book #36. I thought I hadn't read the last book and actually had; this one I thought I had read but actually hadn't. It's the story of a baby whose parents are both killed in an accident and the custody battle that ensues. The twist, and the source of "relativity" in the title, is that the baby's mother was adopted and due to some loopholes in the state law, the maternal uncle and grandparents are not considered relatives. Mitchard is usually great with character development and this book was no exception.

This post is linked to the October 8th Saturday Review of Books.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

God is so Good

I was reading this post yesterday about the song "God is so good." Aaron said that it was an "old school song," and he's right. He added that its message is timeless, and he's right about that too.

When I was growing up in Kenya, it seemed like we sang this song almost every time we would get together with a group of Christians. One of the things we liked to do was to sing it in the language of everyone present. When you get a group of Africans together, there are always at least two or three languages represented, and usually many more than that. Often it would take a long time to get through everyone's language, affirming again and again that God is so good.

When we traveled to churches in the States, this song was the one my brothers and I had to sing, dressed in our matching clothes, in three languages. We'd sing it in English, Kipsigis, and Swahili. Man, we were cute. I even remember one time when both my brothers refused to sing and I did a solo. (I'm guessing neither of my brothers remembers this.)

I sometimes think that I spent my childhood singing this song and the rest of my life learning how true it is. Aaron has it right in his post (here it is again in case you didn't go read it from the link in the first paragraph). He points out that life is very difficult for most people in Haiti, and that it might be easy to think that God hasn't been very good to this country and its people.
"And yet, God repeatedly shows himself to be not only good to the Haitian people, but good to me in a thousand daily ways. I see him meet needs and work miracles and provide supernaturally on a regular basis. I see him in the faces and the lives of the Haitian men and women that we work side-by-side with who trust him and love him simply because he is God. It's easy to say “God is good” when all your needs are met. But to see these men and women love and worship God even when many needs go un-met...when some of their needs will never be humbling."

I have said it so many times on this blog, but I'll say it again: God is so good to me. Since the earthquake I have been aware in a brand new way of how much God loves me and how very good He is to me. Each blessing in my life became inexpressibly precious when I came so close to losing them all. And in that terrible time, God met my needs each day and comforted my heart through His goodness, shown to me over and over through His people.

God is so good. I hope you experience that today, too.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

October, Blogging Resolution, Day Out

So, the only thing I posted in September was Poetry Friday posts. Clearly this can not go on. I'm going to try to do better this month.

It's always easy to find something to post on the first of a month because that's the City Daily Photo Blogs' Theme Day. This month's theme is "Mysterious Object." You can see thumbnails here.

In addition, unlike most Saturdays, I am not working in my classroom today. I went over for forty minutes to make copies (the copiers were being serviced yesterday), but then we went out. That's right, somewhere other than home or school or church. I know. Exciting! But unfortunately I left the camera at home, so I can't show you what we saw.

First we went to a new English bookstore, called The Bookstore, on Rue Grégoire in Pétionville. I suppose "new" isn't the right word, since someone we talked to in the store told us that it was open before the earthquake, then closed for about a year, and then reopened. I had heard all about it from parents at the Parent/Teacher Conferences, and I was excited to check it out for myself. There's not a lot of selection, but it's exciting to have English books available here at all, and rumor has it that the owner will be happy to order specific titles. There's also a little cafe with drinks and sandwiches for sale. We had lunch there and bought a book each; we want to support this business, in hopes it will stay around!

After that we drove up to the Montana Hotel, where we'd heard there was a Memorial Garden. This is where I really wished for my camera. Here's an article from the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, including a photo of the garden. The garden is very small, but there's a sign with January 12th, 2010 on it and some metal bird sculptures. I felt very sad and the whole place felt subdued to me, compared to the way it used to feel.

This was our first time to the Montana since the earthquake; we had been there probably two weeks prior to it to see the new construction; a beautiful shopping plaza was just going in. Now that is all gone, as well as the main hotel building itself. The pool and restaurant are still there. There's a lot of landscaping and construction work going on. I'll try to go back again soon and take the camera. Here's something I posted about the Hotel Montana in January 2010.