Monday, December 31, 2012

Books Read in 2012

Books #1-8
Book #9
Books #10-20 (Actually, through 21 - first mathematical error detected. I'm good at reading, not counting.)
Books #22-28
Books #29-32
Books #33-36
Books #37-40
Books #41-44
Books #45-52

On my latest check, I did reach my goal of 52 books this year. I'll go check it one more time, but I think I'm right.

Reading Update

We just got back from a relaxing few days at the beach with our Christmas guests.  Here's the last reading update of the year.  My goal was 52 books.

Book #44 was Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This was for my class, and I really enjoyed it, so much that I ordered the sequel when it came out.  So while I didn't really read this next, let's count Days of Blood and Starlight as book #45 of the year.

Book #46 was The New Kids, by Brooke Hauser. This is a journalistic book about a high school for immigrants in New York City, and it was fascinating reading. Highly recommended.

Book #47 was The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This was another book that I liked a lot. It was the story of a foster child whose most enduring placement was with a foster mother who knew all about flowers and what they meant in Victorian times. The book has a beautiful website complete with a flower dictionary in case you want to try some of the language of flowers.

Book #48 was  Inquiry and the Literary Text: Constructing Discussions in the English Classroom. This was the textbook for the class I took this fall, and I found it useful reading. It contains many helpful suggestions for leading book discussions with students.

Book #49 was  Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual Discipline, by Seth Barnes. This was a very interesting discussion of how going somewhere new, somewhere uncomfortable, can be a galvanizing force for the spiritual life.

Book #50 was a reread, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, always one of my favorites.

Book #51 was the one I read at the beach, To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. This was a time travel story recommended by my daughter, and it was thoroughly entertaining. The title refers to the Victorian book Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Jerome K. Jerome. I hadn't read it since high school, but this was a fun reminder.

You can see that I didn't quite meet my goal, but I was pretty close.  My reading wasn't terribly cerebral this year but it was enjoyable. I hope my readers will forgive my cursory reviews in my haste to finish up the year's listings.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Poetry Friday: Winter Stars

Winter Stars
by Sara Teasdale

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

Here's today's roundup.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Peace Peace

This song is actually the one I was looking for yesterday, and I couldn't find any renditions on YouTube that I liked. Apparently my friends the Livesays were thinking about the same song, though, and last night they posted this video of their daughter singing it.

Peace Peace
By Sara Groves, Ben Gowell and Aaron Fabbrini

Peace Peace it's hard to find
trouble comes like a wrecking ball
to your peace of mind
and all that worry you can't leave behind you

all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
are met in Him tonight

peace peace it's hard to find
doubt comes like a tiny voice
that's so unkind
and all your fears they conspire to unwind you

all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
are met in Him

And in your dark street shines
an everlasting light
and all your hopes and fears
are met in Him tonight

all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
all your hopes and fears
are met in Him tonight

peace peace
peace peace
peace peace

Friday, December 14, 2012

Poetry Friday: This Peace

So many words to say, but I'm opting for silence
So many days to live
I thinking I'm sitting this one out
Cause something I've been chasing finally stop to let me catch it
Something I've been longing for and dreaming about 

It's a whisper in my ear
It's a shiver up my spine
 It's the gratitude I feel for all that's right 
It's a mystery appeal that's been granted me tonight
This peace

It's something so elusive
Something close but far away
It's the home that I can't live in yet somewhere in outer space 
And sometimes I barely miss it when I walk into the room
The curtains are still swaying and I feel the air move 

And it whispers in my ear and it shivers up my spine 
It's the gratitude I feel for all that's right 
It's a mystery appeal that's been granted me tonight 
This peace

No time to grab a camera
No time to write it down
Just time enough to breathe it in 
And linger 

It's a whisper in my ear 
It's a shiver up my spine
It's the gratitude I feel for all that's right
It's a mystery appeal that's been granted me tonight
This peace 
This peace 

Sara Groves

I had this YouTube page open on my laptop, ready to post it the first chance I got in my hectic day.  Then the news came through about Connecticut and it seemed even more appropriate.  There's so much that is not right in this world, so much suffering and horror.  In this holiday season, and end of school season, when we're all busy and the news is screaming at us about tragedies we can hardly bear to imagine, I wish you a little peace today, a little gratitude for all that's right in your life.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

No God-forsaken Towns

This past week, a study came out listing the best and worst cities in the world to live in.  I never expect Port-au-Prince to make the "best" list, but I was surprised by just how low our city scored on this index.  Out of 221 cities studied, Port-au-Prince placed 219th.  A new tourist slogan could be: "We're better than Bangui and Baghdad!"

There's worse news, too.  The same study examined the infrastructure in these cities, and on that list, Port-au-Prince came in 221st.  Yes, dead last.

Here's an article about the Mercer study and here's the study itself. And here is a recent UN report on the status of the world's cities.

It's true that in Port-au-Prince, you have to spend a lot more energy on acquiring basic utilities than in most urban settings in this world.  I've whined about that many times on this blog.  And that's for people living in homes.  A statistic I read this week said that 360,000 people continue to live in tents following the earthquake.  We will soon mark the three year anniversary of the earthquake.  Imagine living in a tent for three years, a tent that has by now been disintegrating in the tropical sun and rain for a very long time.  There is deep, intractable poverty here.  The inequalities are severe.  Yes, there is still much that is beautiful (and frankly I'd much rather focus on that), but I can't deny that the quality of life for many people in this city is far from adequate.

Kelley Nikondeha, who lives in Burundi, put it this way, speaking not specifically of Port-au-Prince but of the world in general, the suffering she sees everywhere:
More than anything I feel weighted by unsatisfied longings. Ambushed by word of disrupted adoptions and the demolished marriage of friends, angst replaces the more traditional anticipation. News out of places like Goma and Gaza remind me people live under daily threat, some days cowering in their homes. Slums in Kampala and townships outside Cape Town refuse to be quieted, they scream of layers upon layers, years and years of injustice. These people, these places press all the levity out of me.
  Read the rest of her post about her Advent ache here.

As we celebrate Advent once more, I have to believe that Emmanuel, God with us, is here in this city, that He has not forsaken this city or this world.  He came as a baby, as vulnerable as it is possible to be, to a family who had nowhere to stay the night of His birth and who became refugees soon afterward.

Last night we listened to a concert of the Messiah.  Before the concert, my husband and I got to hold the twin babies of a school employee, as their father beamed and snapped pictures with his phone.  Later, as we sat waiting for the music to start, I noticed a row of drool marks on my husband's shoulder from the tiny boy he had snuggled against him.  Instantly my mind went to the description of the Messiah that we would soon hear sung: "the government shall be upon His shoulder."  He who shoulders the burdens of the world became small enough to be held against the shoulder of fallible human parents.  He entered into the mess of the world, the low quality of life, the lack of infrastructure, and He is still here, bringing life in mysterious and incomprehensible ways.  

But we wait, we long, we work, for things to be better.  Because one way God is in this city is in His people.  Even though we don't know what to do, and we don't know how to help, and we get it wrong so often. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Poetry Friday: Best of 2012

This week I got an email from the Academy of American Poets giving the results of the voting on the best poems of the year. I've mentioned before that I get a daily email from the AAP (not the American Academy of Pediatrics), whose site is I didn't vote in these elections, but when I looked at the choices, I was surprised and interested to see that of the ten chosen, five were ones I had particularly liked myself. ( I always save the ones I like best and delete the others from my email.) Considering that voters had about 350 poems to choose from, this seemed a high level of agreement. You can look at the list here of which poems were chosen. There are links to all of them.

I had some trouble deciding which one of them to share with you here, but finally decided on this Rafael Campo poem, entitled "Love Song for Love Songs," for a couple of reasons. First, I've been reading a lot of love poetry this week, drafts from my seventh and eighth graders. I'm touched and amused in about equal measure by their take on romantic love, the pain and embarrassment and ecstasy and misery. At this age, at least in our school, they are mostly talking about crushes and adoration from afar, which is no doubt just as it should be. Still, these emotions are real to them, and I'm glad they can write about them. And secondly, isn't all poetry love poetry in its broadest sense? Poets write about our love for people and places and times and living, and even when they are writing of suffering or of topics that seem to have nothing to do with love, they still remind us of our rootedness in this earth, and of the joy and sorrow of being human. This poem is light and funny (and I enjoyed searching out more of Rafael Campo's poems, and his ironic touch), but it also makes me think of the job of poets, to make the oldest ideas and experiences in the world fresh and new. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes not, but I am so thankful that they (and I, in my own way) keep trying.

Love Song for Love Songs

Rafael Campo

A golden age of love songs and we still
can't get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon's bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
"No more I love you's," someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
what bothers me the most is that high-pitched,
undone whine of "Why am I so alone?"

 Here's the rest.

And here's today's roundup.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


Once November and the daily posting commitment was over, I slipped back into my old ways, especially since my class was ending and I had various projects to finish. Now that's done, and my grading is calling instead. But here are a few seasonal pieces I've read lately that resonated.

This one is from last Christmas, but new to me. Addie Zierman tackles the mandate this time of year to "Put the Christ Back in Christmas," and concludes,
"Incarnation means a lot of things, but one of them is this: the earth is wild with God’s love, his beauty, his presence. One silent night he came and now he is here, and because of that, the world is glowing, lit from within by grace."

Here she tackles some more of those Christmas cliches, and once again, reminds me that "Immanuel means that when you can’t find him, he is finding you."

In this post, Sarah Bessey goes all obstetric on us, because Christmas, after all, is about a birth.
"There is something Godly in the waiting, in the mystery, in the fact that we are a part of it, a partner with it but we are not the author of it. How you know that there is life coming and the anticipation is sometimes exciting and other times exhausting, never-ending. How there is a price that you pay for the love love love."
Go on, read the rest.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Poetry Friday: Window Seat

Yesterday the poem that came in the Poem-A-Day email from the Academy of American Poets was a remarkable one by a poet I'd never heard of before, Jacqueline Osherow.

Here's part from the middle of this poem, "Window Seat: Providence to New York City."

the window
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
of meticulous
ancient Chinese
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
conjunctions, just
emphatic strokes
on paper from
the inner bark
of sandalwood: 

You can read the rest here.

I love the way Osherow has turned the view out of a train window into almost an ekphrastic poem, making me think of exquisitely calligraphied Chinese scrolls.  "My heartbeat down its side in liquid characters" - isn't that beautiful?  I kept thinking about this poem all day.

There are lots more beautiful poems to keep you thinking all day  here at the Poem Farm, which is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Almost Over

NaBloPoMo is almost over, to which I say, yay!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Edwidge Danticat on Disaster

On the occasion of a publication of a new anthology about the 2010 Haitian earthquake, entitled So Spoke the Earth, Edwidge Danticat did this interview. I can't wait to get my copy of this trilingual anthology of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and not just because I am sure Edwidge Danticat's piece will be amazing, but because of the variety of Haitian women represented, and particularly Nathalie Cerin, one of our alumni.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stuff I Read Lately

I made it through this day, but I am not feeling very cheerful and don't want to write a post wherein I whine and feel sorry for myself, so here are a few pieces I've read and appreciated lately.

It appears that this island, which has appeared on maps as long as anyone can remember, really doesn't exist at all. It has now officially been undiscovered. Best quote:"It just goes to show the oceans are so underexposed. It's actually really shocking that we haven't not found more islands." It makes you wonder. How did that Manhattan-size island get on the maps in the first place?

In the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, these love letters came to light. It's nice to hear about letters coming to light that aren't scandal-filled; these are sweet memories of a courtship in the forties.

This beautiful article explores the metaphor of teaching English as a second language as a picture of faith. The author finds new joy in her native language through teaching it to others and watching them create new ways of speaking; in the same way, her faith becomes new to her as she shares it with people who haven't heard those stories before. It's also a little bit scary:
Letting go of your ownership of the language of faith can be frightening, unmooring. Instead of being the person with the answers, you become a person with questions.

What is hope? This article has some beautiful answers.

And finally, this "prank" which made someone's day. Watch the video and then go to the Improv Everywhere site for more information.


I made it all the way to November 26th before missing a day of NaBloPoMo, in which I was supposed to post something on my blog every day of the month.  Last night my plan was to write after putting my son to bed, but as I reached the top of the stairs in the dark, I slammed my bare foot against a trunk in the hallway, and the pain chased my plan out of my head. 

I took ibuprofen right away, and this morning the school nurse said that she doesn't think I broke anything, but still I am experiencing constant reminders today of my clumsiness and also of how much I should be grateful when nothing hurts. 

I could put yesterday's date on this, but that would be cheating.  But please accept my excuses, anyone in the blog world who is paying attention.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012


When my children and I were living in the United States after the earthquake, and my son complained that his lips hurt, I immediately starting worrying about food allergies. It simply didn't occur to me that his lips were chapped, because I'm not used to living in cold weather. I don't worry about chapped lips.

It's getting cold here now. And by cold, I mean that I'm sitting here in my bedroom, the warmest room in the house, in the hottest of part of the afternoon, and I don't have the fan on. On the street, the merchants are now selling jackets so that people can prepare for the coming winter. It's 79 degrees.

This time of year, I don't like taking cold showers. Most of the time, it's not a problem (though I don't linger - I get in, get clean, get out). But it's too chilly right now.

 I've lived in countries that have real winter. I spent four years in England, and I remember sitting on the radiators in the morning in my classroom to warm up, wearing fingerless gloves indoors, having to force myself to get out of bed in the morning because it was so bone-chillingly cold. I spent many years in the States, and have experienced snow days and other such miseries.

And now, this is as cold as I want to get, a Caribbean winter. It's nice, sleeping under a blanket, wearing a light sweater to work, turning off the air conditioner in my classroom when I'm working in there by myself in the afternoon. At the same time, it gets up to 90 degrees most days, and I can go the beach, and I hardly ever wear closed-toed shoes. My skin doesn't get dry and the only coat I own is in the attic in my parents' house. This is just the way I like it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Poetry Friday: Pablo Neruda and Coldplay, Together at Last

I like to read and write Odes around Thanksgiving (here's last year's), so for today, the day after Thanksgiving:

Ode to Laziness
by Pablo Neruda
translated by W.S. Merwin

Yesterday it seemed
the ode wouldn't leave the ground.
It was time, it should
at least show a green leaf.
I scratched the earth, 'Get up,
sister ode
- I said to her -
I've promised you,
don't be afraid of me,
I'm not going to chew you up,
ode with four leaves,
ode for four hands,
you'll take tea with me.
I'll crown you among the odes,
we'll go out along the shore
of the sea, on a bicycle.'
No use.

high up in the pines
appeared naked,
I got up in a daze,
half asleep,
on the sand I found
little broken fragments
of oceanic substances,
wood, seaweed, shells,
feathers of sea birds.
I looked for yellow
agates but found none.

The sea
filled the spaces,
wearing away towers,
the coasts of my homeland,
pushing forward
successive catastrophes of foam,
Alone on the sand
a ray opened
a ring of petals.
I saw the silvered petrels
pass, and like black crosses
the cormorants
nailed to the rocks.
I set free
a bee dying in a spider's web,
I put a little stone
in my pocket,
it was smooth, very smooth,
like a bird's egg,
meanwhile on the coast
all afternoon
the sunlight and cloud wrestled.
the cloud was filled
with light
like a topaz,
other times a moist
ray of sunlight fell,
and yellow drops fell after it.

At night
thinking of the duties of my
fugitive ode,
I took off my shoes by the fire,
poured the sand out of them
and almost at once fell
sound asleep.

Somehow the combination of the ocean and yellow and the fugitive ode and the somewhat melancholy mood that is on me today made me think of this song.  I wonder if Coldplay and Pablo Neruda have been combined before.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thank You

Yesterday, I had the girls in my small group share what they were thankful for, and they listed everything from "my new fish" to "my brother" to "school" to "my own room." I added "chocolate" and "books" and "plenty to eat." Others mentioned family members that they are getting to see more of lately, a place to live, a favorite musical group, Google, music, Facebook, good grades.

I'm thankful for all of the above (except I have no new fish, nor do I have my own room). Probably most of all, I'm thankful for the people God has put in my life. I am loved and supported so much, more than I have any right to expect or hope for. I have a wonderful husband, who puts up with me and loves me in spite of myself; funny, loving children; an extended family spread out over many thousands of miles, but close anyway; and loyal, sympathetic, incredibly high quality friends.

I am blessed, and I know it.  Thank You, God.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reading Update

Book #40 of 2012 was Article Five: Compliance is Mandatory, by Kristen Simmons.  Ember lives in a post-apocalyptic United States where the Bill of Rights has been replaced by the Moral Statutes.  As the novel begins, Article Five has just been instituted.  It states that children born out of wedlock will be taken for rehabilitation.  The Federal Bureau of Reformation, the FBR, will take care of making everyone conform.  This is a bit heavy-handed, and Ember is a very annoying heroine, sometimes seeming deliberately obtuse and making baffling choices.  We're told she is close to other characters, but we don't really observe their closeness.  There's plenty of action and suspense, but compared with other books I read for my Adolescent Literature class, this dystopic world isn't believable and the characters aren't compelling.

Book #41 was a needed break from all the YA I had been reading.  I picked up Blessings by Anna Quindlen knowing it would not be full of action, heart-thumping plot twists, and post-apocalyptic drama.  I knew this both because of the title and because I've read Anna Quindlen before.  This is the story of Lydia Blessing, aging in her home, Blessings, and the caretaker she has hired, Skip.  In the first chapter, a baby is left at Blessings, and Skip takes charge of her.  Quindlen tells a beautiful, satisfying story, and there's not a chase scene in sight.  Whew.

With book #42, I was right back to dystopia, but this time it was a real-life, historical dystopia.  This harrowing novel is the story of a family arrested in Lithuania in 1941.  Unfortunately, the title is Between Shades of Grey. Surely the author, Ruta Sepetys, regrets this title choice every single day.  She must get so tired of saying, "No, not that Shades of Grey..."  I had a hard time reading this because it was so terribly sad and hopeless.  Based on many true stories of what the Soviets did to Lithuania, the book never lets up on the horrible nightmares experienced by Lina and her family.  Just to give you an idea, there's a scene in the cattle car while the arrested Lithuanians are heading who knows where, and they find out that Hitler has invaded their country.  They are full of excitement because now things will surely get better.  I groaned aloud.  But I am glad that I persevered and finished the book.  It's very much worth reading.

Book #43 was the long-awaited The Casual Vacancy, the new book by J.K. Rowling, her first since Harry Potter.  This one is most decidedly not for children.  It shows us a whole new Rowling.  Her talent for plot is much more on display because she has a much smaller canvas: a small town instead of a cast of thousands.  There's not a single admirable character here, except maybe the one who dies in the first chapter.  Everyone has sordid secrets.  Who knew Rowling had this in her, I thought as I read, and then I thought of Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge, Dobby at his self-hating, self-punishing worst.  This book is darker than the Dark Lord.  It's brilliantly done and I couldn't put it down, but there's nothing remotely uplifting about it, so be warned.  I think I need to cleanse my palate with another Anna Quindlen book now!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mitali Perkins on Multicultural Stories

I'm working on a project for my adolescent lit class, and here's some interesting insight from Mitali Perkins that I've discovered in the process.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pride and Prejudice for 2012

I have written here before about how I am a die-hard Jane Austen fan.  I love her books for their caustic characterizations, but also because they are so very familiar to me, like old friends.  I posted here about how Pride and Prejudice was one of the first books I read after the earthquake, when I started to come out of my inability to concentrate or read much beyond news reports.  A friend commented that that isn't a book, it's a member of the family.  That's right - that is how I felt, too. 

I've also written about how I keep trying to read people's attempts to imitate or spin off from Jane Austen, and how I'm always disappointed, because somehow it never quite works.  And yet I'm very much enjoying The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  If you're a Jane Austen fan like me, I'd love to know what you think of this multimedia adaptation.  Lizzie Bennet posts two video blogs (vlogs) a week on YouTube, and her sister Lydia also has a video blog (which I like much less).  Some of the characters have Facebook pages and post on Pinterest and Twitter.  (I don't do Pinterest or Twitter.  There aren't enough hours in the day for me to get involved on yet another online time-sucker.  Well, except for LBD, of course.)

My daughter is reading P&P in her English class right now, and also following along with the LBD, and she says she likes the characters much better on LBD.  I know, I know, sacrilege, except that I do see that Jane Austen very much writes people off.  Of course Lizzie is wrong about Darcy, and about Wickham, and she gets straightened out, but nobody ever rethinks Mary, or Mr. Collins, or Lady Catherine.  They are all fairly one-dimensional.  And as my daughter points out, Jane Austen really does "tell" a lot, instead of "showing."  ("She interrupts scenes to inundate you with adjectives," as my daughter puts it.)

You can get started here, where you'll find links to the YouTube channel.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Night

Is it just me, or is Sunday evening a melancholy time for other people, too? There's the obvious fact that the weekend is ending, and tomorrow we will be back to school or work or just the normal routine of life.  But it seems that there's more to it than that, a bittersweetness that I feel even when I'm on vacation, that after-Sunday-night-church wistfulness.  As though I could have squeezed more out of the weekend than I did, and now the opportunity is gone for another week.

Today I spent the day in bed, sick, and I'm worrying about whether I will be well enough to teach tomorrow; I'm planning to, but worrying anyway.  That adds to the slightly glum feeling of this evening.

I remember when I was a child, sometimes on Sunday night we would sing people's choices of hymns.  I would carefully choose one, and wave my hand to ask for it, and sometimes I would get called on and sometimes not.  I remember being so little that I had to stand on the pew so that the person in the pulpit would see me.  I remember standing on the stairs after the service, shivering in the dark, while my parents talked to everyone.

I remember in boarding school, the weeks we would have evening chapel, and how we would always sing "Abide With Me," and how I would focus on the words "fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide."  I remember praying that He would abide, and somehow He always did.  I remember stepping out of the little wooden chapel into the night, and the brightness of the stars in those Kenyan highlands, brighter than they have ever been since.  I remember drinking hot cocoa before going back to our dorm.

I remember the cold, lonely rush to the cafeteria in college, after changing into a skirt (at my conservative Christian college we weren't allowed to go to the cafeteria in sweatpants on Sunday night, and sweatpants were what I had inevitably been wearing in the dorm).  I remember looking for a friendly face, someone who would beckon me over and say, "Sit with me!"

Sunday night, an in-between time.  It's not really the weekend any more, and it's not the bustling week yet, but we can't stay up late because we have to get up in the morning.  I'm reminding the kids about backpacks and P.E. clothes, and I'm looking ruefully at tomorrow's schedule and wondering how I will do it all.  I didn't get to choose a hymn tonight.  Fast falls the eventide.  Sit with me, abide with me, while Sunday dies away.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gary Schmidt on Books and Reading

I love Gary Schmidt's books and he speaks a lot of sense here about reading "controversial" books.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poetry Friday: Flowers

I just finished reading The Language of Flowers, and even before that I was thinking about flowers. I have a flower poem I've been working on for over a month on my desktop, and a flower post in my mind, but while I lack time to work on these things, here's a flower poem from someone else. I have been using this sonnet for a while with my students, but didn't realize that the author was practically a neighbor, from Guyana. You can get more information about him at the link at the end of the post.


I have never learnt the names of flowers.
From beginning, my world has been a place
Of pot-holed streets where thick, sluggish gutters race
In slow time, away from garbage heaps and sewers
Past blanched old houses around which cowers
Stagnant earth. There, scarce green thing grew to chase
The dull-gray squalor of sick dust; no trace
Of plant save few sparse weeds; just these, no flowers.

One day, they cleared a space and made a park
There in the city’s slums; and suddenly
Came stark glory like lightning in the dark,
While perfume and bright petals thundered slowly.
I learnt no names, but hue, shape and scent mark
My mind, even now, with symbols holy.

Dennis Craig

I love the picture this poem paints of flowers in the middle of a dirty city, and how even a tough kid who knew nothing about flowers found them "holy."  I don't know many of their names either - though I'm learning more - but I too love their "stark glory like lightning in the dark."

Photo Credit: Matsu 

Here's more information about Dennis Craig.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reading Update

All four of the books I'll be reviewing in this post were assignments for my Adolescent Literature class.

Book #36 of 2012 was Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher.  This was my least favorite book I read for this course.  Every student had to choose a different novel by Chris Crutcher, well known for writing "problem novels" that are often challenged and that come from his career as a therapist.  I'm sure Crutcher has seen the worst, and this book includes all of it: suicide, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, a motorcycle gang, a barroom rape, cruelty to animals.  It really seemed a bit much to me.  I liked some elements, particularly the friendship between the main character and Jennifer, a basketball star to whom he's close but who has a secret that she won't tell him.

Book #37 was  The Silence of Murder, by Dandi Daley Mackall, winner of the Edgar Award.  There's murder, mystery, and courtroom drama here.  The protagonist, Hope, is desperate to prove that her autistic brother, Jeremy, didn't commit the murder he's been accused of.  

Book #38 was Baffling and Bizarre Inventions, by Jim Murphy. Don't buy the Kindle version - the formatting is all wonky and difficult to read. But the content itself is a lot of fun. Using pictures from ads or patent applications, Murphy shows us strange inventions and asks us to guess what they are for. After we guess, we can read a description of the invention and find out its purpose. The book ends with some information on the patent office and a chapter on creativity and what it takes to succeed (basically, never giving up). Every class member had to choose a Jim Murphy book to read; he's written loads of information-packed non-fiction like this one.

Book #39 was Jack Gantos' latest book, the winner of the 2012 Newbery Award, Dead End in Norvelt.  Strange and funny and endearing, this is the story of young Jack, who lives in a planned community called Norvelt (named for Eleanor Roosevelt).  Jack is grounded eternally for obeying his father against his mother's wishes, and is only allowed out to spend time with Miss Volker, the town medical examiner and obituary writer.  Because of her arthritis, she needs Jack's help to type her obituaries, and in the process of helping her he is drawn into the drama of the town.  And why are so many people dropping dead, anyhow?

Coming soon: books #40 - #43.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Go Look at What Someone Else Made

I'm doing lots of stuff like making a video and writing a book review and researching for a presentation, PLUS grading my students' work and getting ready for a meeting tomorrow.  So you can chat amongst yourselves, or take a look at this wonderful United States of YA map. It includes a YA novel for each of the fifty United States, and there's a link to the project to make a list of a YA novel for each country in the world. Ambitious? You bet!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Being a Student

I've mentioned before that I am taking a class this semester online. I'm getting many reminders of why I stopped at my master's degree, instead of going on for a doctorate and a career as a professor, as I had thought about doing at one point. I love to learn, love to study, and have always been an excellent student. I never did all-nighters or threw papers together. Instead I would start assignments well in advance and research every little homework task as though it were my dissertation. But I found that I didn't much like the driven, competitive me that I was as a graduate student.

Now, more than twenty years since I finished my master's degree (how did that much time go by? I actually had to stop and count because that seemed too big a number), I have discovered that the calmer, more reasonable, less stressed-out person I've become, and whom I'd attributed to growing older and wiser - that person was an illusion. A compulsive gambler may feel cured as long as she stays away from an environment where gambling takes place. But once she's around slot machines, she feels that old temptation. In the same way, get me in the student mode, and I'm just as I always was. If anything, the online setting makes me worse, because working at my own pace to me means that I have to be way ahead, or I feel behind. I could always go post one more time on the discussion board, so therefore I never feel done.

Do you think this is why I sometimes have trouble understanding my students? Mind you, I know that my attitude is no more healthy than that of a student who does everything at the last minute. I was always obsessive about my grades, driving myself and everyone close to me crazy. Although I love to read and learn new things, I rarely would relax enough to just enjoy it. Instead I would fret about whether I was doing enough, and about grades, and about being the best. Even though I have enjoyed the exposure to lots of new books, and answering fascinating questions, and thinking through new ideas, I will be glad when the semester is over and I can stop being an official student for a while. I won't stop learning, but I'll learn in an environment that doesn't turn me into someone I don't particularly like to be.

Monday, November 12, 2012

After Disaster

After disasters, people loot and riot, right? Well, apparently not. I was interested to read this blog post about a book that argues otherwise, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.
"Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after these horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary.
People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. While they do this, they often express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the most horrific misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves."
The post details ways people are helping each other in the north-east United States in response to the destruction brought by Hurricane Sandy. In Haiti after the earthquake, it was equally heartening to see the way people took care of each other. In those moments of being "cracked open," people are also often open to deep connections with other people. Many people have commented on the depth of their "earthquake friendships."  But the strain, stress, and lack of sleep can also put people's worst sides on display.  It's not just buildings and livelihoods that are destroyed in a natural disaster; people's relationships and even their very sense of themselves can be, too. 

Solnit apparently draws conclusions about human nature (I haven't read her book). My conclusions about human nature are that people are capable of the most terrible atrocities and the most stunning goodness. I believe both in total depravity and in the indelible image of God on every human being. I think of the words in Prince Caspian: "'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.'"

Lately I have the sense that all the time, somewhere, people are recovering from a disaster, sleeping wherever there is a space, gathering new belongings to replace the ones that are gone.  Creating new lives, too, the "new normal" everyone kept telling me about after the earthquake.  Cracked open, vulnerable, at their worst and their best.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

City Full of Stories

After the Storm, a City Full of Stories. This article from the New York Times follows what happened to an assortment of New Yorkers who have been featured in the Times' regular Character Study column.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday, November 09, 2012

Poetry Friday: Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?

From the first time I heard this song in the TV movie of "Cinderella," I loved it. On one level, I suppose, it's just a silly ditty, but the questions it asks are deeper than that. In addition to the questions that Cinderella and the prince ask each other about whether they are inventing what they see in each other (answer: probably, since you've only known each other for ten minutes), there is the question of what makes us love. Why do we love people, places and things? Is it because of their inherent beauty? Or do we see the beauty in people, places, and things as we grow to love them? Of course, the answer is yes. There's something beautiful that attracts our notice, but as we grow in love, we see more and more that someone who wasn't paying such close attention would miss completely.

Attachment theory tells us that the love between parents and their infants is a sort of dance. Our babies are beautiful, so we coo over them and cuddle them. They respond by being even more adorable, "attachment-promoting behavior," as it's called. We in turn love them even more.

Aren't all loves kind of the same way? In romantic love or friendship, something about us is noticed and appreciated, and we respond by doing more of whatever the other person liked. We reach a point, with people we love, where we don't even see what they look like any more. We just see a face that is familiar and dear. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about friendship:
..."Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other people; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing."

But enough are three videos of this song, and the lyrics as well. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?
by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Do I love you because you're beautiful
Or are you beautiful because I love you?
Am I making believe I see in you
A girl too lovely to be really true?
Do I want you because you're wonderful
Or are you wonderful because I want you?
Are you the sweet invention of lover's dream
Or are you really as beautiful as you seem?

 Am I making believe I see in you
A man too perfect to be really true?
Do I want you because you're wonderful
Or are you wonderful because I want you?
Are you the sweet invention of lover's dream
Or are you really as wonderful as you seem?

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reading Update

The four books I'll review in this post were all assigned for my Adolescent Literature class.  I've enjoyed taking a class with so much fun reading!

Book #32 for 2012 was Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi.  It's scarily appropriate with its "city-killer" hurricanes, which go up to Category 6.  (These days, in case you aren't a hurricane-watcher, the maximum is 5.)  The book is set in the Gulf Coast region of a future United States, where New Orleans, along with Orleans II, is drowned and replaced by Mississippi Metropolitan (MissMet), which they didn't call Orleans III because "even the most ardent supporters of the drowned city gave up on the spectacularly bad luck enjoyed by places called 'Orleans.'"  Nailer, the protagonist, works salvage on abandoned ships and lives like many teenagers do today in large third-world cities.  He doesn't really know or think about other lives until he and his friend Pima find a rich girl whose fancy boat has been washed ashore during a hurricane.  This dystopic novel is exciting and action-packed, but also full of thought-provoking ideas about whether we are doomed to remain in the world into which we're born.  Here's an interesting interview with Bacigalupi where he talks about writing YA science fiction, whether his books are really dystopias, and how what he writes connects with what's already going on in the world.

Book #33 was not originally written as a YA novel; it was chosen for an Alex Award, given to books written for adults but judged to be especially appealing to teenagers.  It's called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, and it's the first novel I've ever read that is basically set on the internet.  Wade is a teenager living in 2044, a time when most people spend most of their time on the OASIS, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation.  One of the creators of the OASIS has died and left a will in which he gives vague and confusing instructions to find an Easter Egg which he has hidden in the system.  Whoever finds it will inherit his entire estate.  He has filled the hunt with references to his teenage years, the 1980s.  This starts a worldwide craze for studying eighties lore, but when the book opens, nobody has made much progress in finding the egg.  But that is about to change.  Cline obviously had so much fun writing this book that you have to enjoy it too.  I did find myself wondering who, exactly, his target audience was, since there are so many references to the eighties, which I remember very well, thank you very much, but which to my students seem like prehistory.  But this book has sold amazingly and there is even a movie in the works, so it must be understandable even if you never saw War Games and don't know what PacMan is.  You can see  Cline's blog here, and once again, he's having so much fun that it really is endearing, especially if, like me, you like geeks quite a bit.

Book #34 is a new favorite of mine.  I've already shared it with a class, my seventh graders.  It's called Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, and it's the story of Lai's own childhood journey from Saigon in 1975 to Alabama.  Written in incredibly spare and yet evocative free verse, the story makes Saigon and Alabama come alive, as well as the characters, especially Ha, who narrates the book.  She's not always so grateful to be a refugee, and it's not easy for her to adjust to her new life.  As the mother of some earthquake refugees myself, I found myself identifying with Ha's mother!

Book #35 is another one that the author enjoyed writing, The Notorious Benedict Arnold, by Steve Sheinkin.  Sheinkin includes an afterword full of his sources, and writes, "I've been fascinated by Benedict Arnold's story for years and have long wanted to write my own version - I'm convinced it's one of the best action/adventure tales in American history.  In preparation, I compiled an absurdly large collection of books about Arnold, not to mention plays, historical prints, and other Arnold items I probably shouldn't have spent my money on."  C'mon, don't you like Sheinkin already?  He's clearly obsessed by his subject matter.  And his book is really a wonderful biography of Arnold, written like a novel.   Here's Sheinkin's website.

Coming soon: books #36-#39

This post is linked to the November 10th Saturday Review of Books.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Promises, Promises

I was looking back at past posts about President Obama, and I found this link that I shared back in 2008. It's called the Obameter, and it keeps track of the campaign promises that the President has kept, compromised on, broken, or stalled. Twenty percent of the promises are rated "in the works." There's more detail, too, on each individual issue. You can browse the promises in several different ways.

And here's an excerpt from Obama's speech last night:

"It's not small, it's big. It's important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."

The speech ended like this:

"I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."

I hope it's true, and I'm praying for the President in the big job he has ahead of him.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

I guess we know who Big Bird would vote for.

Monday, November 05, 2012


Like everyone else, I am very ready for this election season to be over.  It has dragged on as long as I can remember.  Was there ever a time before these men were arguing with each other and everyone I know was arguing too?

But as much as I dislike the polarization we've seen during this election, I can't be cynical about voting.   I think about people around the world who have no voice in their government; I think about the photos of eager first-time voters lining up across the hills in South Africa in 1994; I think about women in the United States who fought for years for the right to vote.


Voting is a privilege, and I hope my American readers will go vote tomorrow.  I sent off my absentee ballot last week.  I admit that it gives me a thrill every single time I vote, even though my first election was -- ahem -- a long time ago.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sunday Night

The problem with getting an extra hour of sleep last night is darkness coming early, depressingly, this evening. The problem with having two short weeks (hurricane days off, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day) is that Sunday night comes, and tomorrow morning is Monday, and there's a five-day work week ahead.

Yeah, feeling a little gloomy, since it's dark and Novembery and we haven't had city electricity since yesterday afternoon (not the result of the hurricane, just the way things are). And I'm maybe just a teeny bit sleep-deprived in spite of the extra hour, because our neighbors had an all night bash last night complete with drumming until four AM.

 I'll try to be a bit more uplifting tomorrow.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Amy Wilentz on Sandy

I just recently found out that Amy Wilentz, author of the gorgeously written and controversial The Rainy Season, has a blog. I know I will be reading it regularly, because she writes so wonderfully and apologizes (in the post I'm quoting below) for being so Haiticentric. "I can't help it," she admits. Here she is on Hurricane Sandy. This is just a short excerpt from a much longer post, and she's also provided (in a separate post) the photo she refers to. Click on the link at the end to read the whole thing.  

"So when I look at the picture of a crowded gas station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ... I feel that I have been here before; I’ve been in that gas station so many times, only it was always in Haiti, and no one ever cared. In fact, no one really minded: in Haiti, gasoline shortages are habitual, just part of the program of underdevelopment — Haiti can run out of gas nationally because a tanker is delayed. One becomes rather insouciant and even fatalistic about it. It’s perfectly normal to say that you couldn’t get to an appointment because you ran out of gas or because you were delayed at the gas station for hours. Often you borrow someone else’s car that has more gas, if your meeting is really urgent.
And in Haiti, people who are standing in line picking up gas for distant empty cars don’t have those nice handy red gasoline holders to fill up; they have old vegetable oil bottles or dilapidated white buckets. (Did you know some gasoline is pink? I learned that in Haiti.) Also the cars that converged on gas stations in Port-au-Prince or in the provincial towns (in inefficient circles and wedges resembling the pattern at the Brooklyn station above), are not recent models. Suffice it to say that it is not surprising to look down while riding in a Haitian “taxi” and see the roadbed passing beneath your feet as if you were the aptly named Barney Rubble.
Also, by the way, hospitals have always had huge power problems in Haiti, all the time. I loved reading about how Bellevue hospital dealt with Sandy; it was so Haitian — the bucket lines, going up and down stairs on foot, without elevators, rushing oxygen tanks first to one bedside and then the next.  Welcome to the world as it is."

Here's the whole post.

And here's an article from the Atlantic on the hurricane damage in Haiti.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Poetry Friday: Another Hurricane Poem

Amy from The Poem Farm posted this poem, by a Puerto Rican poet, on Facebook this week. It was perfect for us, drying out from the storm, and I hope it doesn't seem frivolous if you're in New Jersey or New York. Believe me, I don't make light of hurricanes, this or any other. The latest statistics show that there were 157 deaths from this storm, and 51 of them were in Haiti. The damage doesn't have such high cost estimates here because people don't start off with as much to lose. All that said, I love this poem, especially the last line, so be sure to click through to read that.

Problems with Hurricanes
by Victor Hernández Cruz

 A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it's not the wind
or the noise
or the water.
I'll tell you he said:
it's the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

It's November! (Reading Update post)

It's November again, and since I have been a blogging slacker for the last several months (if it weren't for Poetry Friday, I would hardly post anything at all), I decided to try NaBloPoMo again this year.  Apparently this isn't really a thing any more; it's become more of a year-round challenge, and the official website just says something about "the birthday of this project." Never mind!  I will go by the rules I've followed for the last couple of years, which are, simply, to post something, anything, every day of November.

Since my last Reading Update post, I have read sixteen books, so I'm going to split those up over several posts and put one up whenever I have a day when I have nothing else to post.  I have time to do that today because we have All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day off from school. 

So here goes:

I actually read book #28 at the beginning of the summer but had somehow missed it in my blog list.  Ashfall, by Mike Mullin, is the kind of book that gives you nightmares.  In most dystopic novels, there is enough improbability (and part of that is the futuristic setting) that the reader can maintain some distance.  This book, however, is unblinkingly realistic, and set in the present day.  Did you know there is a massive volcano under Yellowstone?  I didn't.  Did you know what kind of results there could be if it were to erupt?  I didn't, but now I do.  Alex is forced to call upon all of his resources to survive the journey to find his parents.  On the way he meets Darla, and their growing dependence on each other is portrayed in an incredibly unsentimental, yet touching way.  You can read the first two chapters for free here, at the author's website, and you can also find previews of the second book, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and which I haven't read yet.  Having experienced an earthquake myself, and being immersed right now, like everyone else, in coverage from Hurricane Sandy, I am very much aware that this world is full of huge forces that are completely beyond our control.  This book reinforced that awareness.  Even so, I do recommend it for the way it draws you in from the first page, its believable characters, and its picture of human beings surviving because they have to, and even with a bit of hope in the midst of all the bleakness.

Book #29 was A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson. Many reviews have compared this book to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. It was reminiscent of those books, and it also reminded me of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.  Like Alexander McCall Smith's books, this one has an African setting that is not riddled with misery (though there are some glimpses of the problems of contemporary Nairobi), and like Helen Simonson's novel, there's a romance (or is there?) between non-youthful characters.  This was as light and amusing as the previous book was dark and terrifying.

Book #30 was another Alan Gregory book, Higher Authority, by Stephen White. Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist who somehow is around a whole lot of murders. His girlfriend (wife in later books) is a DA, so that explains some of the mayhem that surrounds him, but seriously, he makes psychology seem like a very dangerous profession. Like most of the murder mysteries I read (mostly just Stephen White, P.D. James, and Elizabeth George), I like these books for the character development and relationships. I often forget the details of the murder plot immediately after reading them. This one had the additional interest of its exploration (mostly negative) of Mormonism.

The next bunch of books were assigned for a class I'm taking in Adolescent Literature.  One of the best things about taking a class or joining a book group is getting introduced to a stack of new authors and titles.  Some of these I wouldn't have chosen myself, but I'm glad I read all of them.  The professor chose many award-winners from the last couple of years.  Book #31 was especially excellent, and I recommend it highly.  It's called  Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.  This is one of those books that made me see the world differently and made connections between disparate elements in my thinking.  There's a major Haiti component to the history of sugar, which explains part of my interest, but I was also fascinated to learn that the history of sugar is the history of slavery and industrialization and revolution.  Because human beings crave sweetness, the world changed.  I see abolitionism in a new light after reading this, as well; yes, abolitionists went without sugar in their tea to urge an end to slavery, but if a new way of producing sugar (from beets) hadn't been developed, would we still have the evils of plantation slavery?  Our craving for sweetness continues unabated.  This book reads like an action-packed novel.  You can see the authors' website here.

Coming soon: books #32 - #35!
This post is linked to the November 3rd Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Poetry Friday: Siblings

School is called off today for the second day as we are pounded by Hurricane Sandy.  She's not hitting us directly, but we are getting an unbelievable amount of rain.  The latest I heard was that nine people have died in Haiti as a result.

I found this poem about hurricanes.  Be sure to click through and read about the others that year - including the most famous one, perhaps ever, Katrina.

By Patricia Smith
Hurricanes, 2005
Arlene learned to dance backwards in heels that were too high.
Bret prayed for a shaggy mustache made of mud and hair.
Cindy just couldn’t keep her windy legs together.
Dennis never learned to swim.
Emily whispered her gusts into a thousand skins.
Franklin, farsighted and anxious, bumbled villages.
Gert spat her matronly name against a city’s flat face.
Harvey hurled a wailing child high.
Irene, the baby girl, threw pounding tantrums.

Here's the rest.
And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry Friday: The List

I read the poem in this post earlier this week with my eighth graders, and later in the same day saw this blog post linked on Facebook (it's a list of the "Ten books you absolutely must read" and includes such items as "every single book by your favourite author" and "the one that a friend recommends").  Both express my view that people should read what they enjoy.  I have read books before because they were good for me, or because I wanted to be able to say I had read them, and there's nothing inherently wrong with those things, but reading is also a great pleasure, and I want to enjoy it.  I don't believe that there is some list of books everyone should read.  Everyone should read the Bible (because there's so much in it that is so amazing), but other than that, people's lists are, and should be, idiosyncratic.

Here's Naomi Shihab Nye's take on that:

The List
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction, and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely.
There are only so many days.

Oh, I felt sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through the delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.

Here's today's roundup, hosted by the lovely Irene Latham, who is celebrating her new book. Congratulations, Irene! And I'm so sorry I never sent you a couplet for the zoo poem. When you're too busy to write a couplet, you are too busy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Poetry Friday: About Education

I am too busy these days.  I can tell because I'm not writing, I'm not blogging, and this week I didn't even read the Poetry Friday posts until Thursday evening (and I just skimmed a few).  I'm teaching and taking a class.  My grades are due next Wednesday, too, and teachers need no more information than that. 

Here's a poem for this week.  It seems appropriate.

To David, About His Education
By Howard Nemerov
The world is full of mostly invisible things,
And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye,
Or its nose, in a book, to find them out,
Things like the square root of Everest
Or how many times Byron goes into Texas,
Or whether the law of the excluded middle
Applies west of the Rockies. For these
And the like reasons, you have to go to school
And study books and listen to what you are told,
And sometimes try to remember. Though I don’t know
What you will do with the mean annual rainfall
On Plato’s Republic, or the calorie content
Of the Diet of Worms, such things are said to be
Good for you, and you will have to learn them
In order to become one of the grown-ups
Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole,
But keeps gravely the grand confusion of the world
Under his hat, which is where it belongs,
And teaches small children to do this in their turn.

Today's roundup is here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Poetry Friday: October

October where I live brings some slightly cooler weather, but nothing like the drama of autumn in the north.  Here's Paul Laurence Dunbar on October, who is "whole-hearted, happy, careless, free."  Here's to October living this weekend!


OCTOBER is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.
She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes' voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.
But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature's bounteous wealth is
Though princely fortunes may have been their
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o'er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Poem

After the earthquake I wrote here, here and here about hearing my friend Magalie Boyer on the radio, being interviewed on the American Public Media show The Story. Hers was one of the respectful, loving, and deeply sorrowful voices coming out of Haiti in those terrible days, an articulate Haitian woman speaking her sadness about what had happened to her country. 

This week Magalie shared a poem with me that she wrote about the earthquake, and I immediately begged her to let me share it for Poetry Friday. Here it is.

by Magalie Boyer

Some things we lost in the earthquake:

The Ministry of Planification and of External Cooperation and the Ministry of Public Health

The Ministry of Finance and of the Economy and the Palais de Justice

The Primature and the DGI

The National Palace


Sainte Trinite and Sacre Coeur

The Wesleyan Church of Carrefour-feuilles

Maxo’s records, complete with his new-born picture, from Chancerelle

And Mario, who was 17 and albino

Marie-Lucie, a nursing student, Marie-Lucie and her 98 classmates

The habit of hearing harmony in the city’s cacophony

(As if the ensemble of tap-taps and 4x4s could be a choir!)

Our casual relationship with rank misery

The ability to match our tears to our grief

Jacmel’s invincibility

The mask of sufficiency

The fig leaf of society

 Here is today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Poetry Friday: Elizabeth Alexander 2

I'm back with Elizabeth Alexander today, after finishing listening to the podcast I linked to last week. Again, I enjoyed learning more about Alexander than that she was the poet who read a poem at Obama's inauguration. I loved so many of the things that Alexander had to say, and the poems that she read, that I had to feature her once more. Here she is on poetry as a poor people's art:
"So but I think poetry — you know, what I also like to continue what a number of writers — Lucille Clifton, Wanda Coleman — they've talked about poetry as an art form that is a poor peoples' art form, which is to say you don't need — you can't write a novel without a lot of time to yourself. They don't get written any other way. But I love how these women talk about how you can snatch time to make a poem. That doesn't mean that they aren't hard to make, but it means that they are like grass or flowers coming up in the sidewalk cracks. Wanda Coleman says, 'I can start a poem if I'm waiting on line. Poor people spend a lot of time waiting on line. I couldn't write a novel waiting on line, but I could start a poem waiting on line.' Lucille Clifton says, 'The best conditions for me to write poetry are at the kitchen table, one kid's got the measles, another two kids are smacking each other. You know, life is going on around me.' And not only is that the stuff of the poems, but also that she can snatch little tiny snippets of space for the poems. She had six children and she was very, very funny. She said, 'Why do you think my poems are so short?' Because that's what results when you're grabbing time like that. But, I mean, they are incredibly, powerfully meditative, amazing, amazing poems. So I think that there's a way that poetry — you don't make any money from writing it and you don't need any money to make it."
I liked this quote because I have been feeling lately as though I don't have time for poetry - for any of my own writing, really. Of course I'm teaching poems to my students, but I'm also grading their work and taking an online graduate class, and that doesn't leave much time for thinking and creating. But I need to "snatch little tiny snippets of space" more often. Later she talks about writing with a newborn:
"You just realize like, well, if you're gonna do it, just do it. Don't even think about doing it. Don't talk about doing it. Just do it. So actually, it was with my first child and nursing in the middle of the night and being, of course, so tired, but also wonderfully unguarded. I found that actually being that tired was fantastic for my poetry because I had no filters. You know, I'd have the baby in one arm and it would be three in the morning and I'd write some things down on any scrap of paper. I just grabbed the time I had."

Speaking of birth, here's the beginning of Alexander's poem "Neonatology."


 by Elizabeth Alexander

Giving birth is like jazz, something from silence,
then all of it. Long, elegant boats,
blood-boiling sunshine, human cargo, a handmade kite —

No longer a celebrity, pregnant lady, expectant.
It has happened; you are here...

Here's the rest.

And with the combination of poverty and birth, I have to share this post too, written by my friend Beth McHoul. Yes, giving birth is like jazz, in all its improvisation and beauty and joy, but for too many women around the world, giving birth is terribly dangerous. Here's a poem I wrote about a scene I witnessed in Port-au-Prince right after the US election when Obama became president.

 November 7, 2008, Port-au-Prince

The Friday after the US election
 We were driving home on Delmas
And I saw a little family:
A man carrying a newborn with infinite gentleness
And a woman walking slowly behind him.
She had the doughy belly of recent childbirth.
My body felt that familiar soreness as I watched her.

Some women are pushed to the curb In a wheelchair
After the hardest work they'll ever do
And then helped carefully into a car
With a car seat awaiting the floppy-headed baby
And driven by a husband who tries to avoid every bump in the road.
This one walked home
With a towel tied around her waist
To hide any evidence of postpartum bleeding.

I wondered as we passed if she had named her baby Obama?
I wondered what his life would be like
With such a strong mother
And with a father who carried him home
With so much love and pride.

 by Ruth, from

Alexander says about poetry,
"I think that one of the great things about poetry, and many black women poets have written about this, that human beings have always made song. Communities, tribes, peoples, have always told each other the story of who they are in song."
This week, Elizabeth Alexander and Beth McHoul and Haiti have me thinking about poetry and song, birth and death, life and loss.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry Friday: Elizabeth Alexander

Yesterday I started listening to a podcast featuring Elizabeth Alexander (you can find the podcast here), and I heard her read her poem "Ars Poetica #100:I Believe." When I went to her website to look for the text, I also found another that I liked even better. It's called "African Leave-Taking Disorder." I grew up in Africa and have witnessed this "disorder" many times, and even developed it myself. Far from being a disorder, it's a wonderful feature of the deep, satisfying relationships that people have with each other in traditional African culture, where hurry is not valued, and people matter more than things or events.

The poem begins like this:

Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder

The talk is good. The two friends linger
at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.

There is no after the supper and talk.
The talk is good. These two friends linger

at the door, half in, half out, ‘til one
decides to walk the other home. And so

they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the
nightgowned wife who shakes her head and smiles

from the bedroom window as the men talk
in love and the crickets sing along.

You can read the rest here.

The only Elizabeth Alexander poem I had ever heard or read before this podcast was her inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day". When Obama was inaugurated, I searched out all the poems that have been read at inaugurations (there aren't many) and read them with my eighth graders. After listening to the lovely conversation in the podcast (I'm still not finished; I'm listening to the one that's an hour and a half long, and I just can't ride the exercise bike that long), I am sure I am going to be seeking out more of her work.

Here's today's roundup.

Have a great weekend. Here's hoping you develop "African leave-taking disorder," and spend some time in deep, satisfying conversation.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Poetry Friday: The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

Last week I posted a poem my son shared with me; this week it's one from my daughter.

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

by Albert Goldbarth

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They'll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Here's the rest.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.