Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mom Enough

It's Haitian Mother's Day. My friend Beth posted this photo on Facebook. It was taken right after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010.

Recently Time magazine published a story about attachment parenting with a photo of a woman breastfeeding on the cover. The caption was "Are you mom enough?" Don't we all wonder that, deep down, as mothers? Are we doing enough, teaching enough? We know we love enough, but are we expressing it in the right way to help our children become the people they should be? Breastfeeding is wonderful, but being mom enough is not about how long you breastfeed (and I say this as a mother who breastfed a long time).

Is this woman, nursing her injured child while lying on the ground after an earthquake, mom enough? You bet she is. Because she keeps going and does what she has to do to care for her child. Haitian mamas are mom enough.

Here's my post for Haitian Mother's Day in 2010. It includes a song sung by a Haitian musician for her mother.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Poetry Friday: Poinciana

The flamboyant trees are in bloom here in Haiti, and I took this picture this week over the wall of the basketball court at school. I was thinking of a poem, but never got it written, what with all the grading I've been doing. I decided to browse Google and see if anybody else had written anything about this beautiful tree, and learned to my surprise that the other name for it is the poinciana. And sure enough, there's a song about it! (Don't ask me why this video has the photo that it does. I suggest you listen to the music while looking above at my photo. There you go, isn't that better?)

Here are the lyrics:


Blow...tropic wind...
Sing a song...through the trees.

Trees...sigh to me...
Soon my love...I will see.

Your branches speak to me of love.
Pale moon is casting shadows from above.

Somehow I feel the jungle heat
Within me, there grows a rhythmic, savage

Love is everywhere, its magic perfume fills the air.
To and fro, you sway, my heart's in time,
I've learned to care.

From now until the dawning day,
I'll learn to love forever come what may.

Blow....tropic wind,
Sing a song through the trees.
Trees...sigh to me
Soon my love... I will see.

This song has been performed by many musicians (here's a sampling) but was written by Bernier and Simon, again according to Google. (How did I ever find anything out before Google?)

So what with the jungle heat and the rhythmic savage beat, our semester is jigging to an end. This time next week I'll have taught my last full school day of the year. Hooray!

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Poetry Friday: Oceans

This week I listened to this program on a podcast. It's an interview with Sherry Turkle, who wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Some of what Turkle said made me think about a poem I wrote a couple of months ago. It's about an experience a good friend had with technology.

He Seeks Oceans

Testing the new software,
He says, "Oceans" into his smart phone.
What will the cheerful, pleasant female voice suggest
To this man in a landlocked state,
Six hundred miles from surf, sand, and mermaids?
Will she counsel a ten-hour road trip
To the closest seaside town?
Or a ten-minute drive to a lobster restaurant?
Will she bring up alternative swimming experiences
Such as creeks, lakes, and public pools?

But no. She immediately replies,
"Ocean View Liquor Store," and gives the address and helpful directions.
The liquor store is surely no substitute for the ocean,
Any more than a lightbulb substitutes for the moon,
Or a one night stand for true, eternal love,
Or a cleverly designed smart phone,
However brilliant the virtual advisor,
For a much-loved human voice
Proposing a walk on the beach,
The shallow edge of endless ocean depths.

Ruth, from

Early morning at the ocean (the real thing). Taken at Jacmel, Haiti, last December.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

If I Had $120 Million...

Earlier this month a version of the Munch painting "The Scream" sold for $120 million. Here is an interesting New York Times article entitled, "If I Had the Cash, I Wouldn't Buy That." The author, Holland Cotter, details some other artwork he would buy if he had that kind of money, and concludes the article this way:
"Of course I never will start a museum, or, apart from an odd or end, an art collection. Part of me doesn’t warm to owning precious things. I’m glad there are museums where art can be kept, dusted and safe and out of my apartment. Personally I love ideas as much as objects, not that I can separate them: I feel ideas are as sensuous as things.

What I collect are experiences — traveling, seeing, being there, anywhere. For me “The Scream” will always mean the memory of a moody Oslo twilight from decades ago. The value of that experience to me is beyond price. When I hear $120 million, I think of how many experiences, for how many people, that might have bought."

Experiences. Yes, I agree with Cotter. I think the experiences are worth more, too. But I also think about a world where hunger is the #1 health risk and one out of seven people goes to bed hungry. A world where every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness that could be prevented by access to clean water. A world where measles still kills about 380 children per day. And I wonder, $120 million dollars for one painting? Is this really justifiable?

I love art, music, poetry; many people consider these things frills or luxuries. To me they are not. In Haiti they are not. Haiti may be poor, but it is full of all three; art flourishes here. I'm not saying that nobody should enjoy beauty. I know that art saves lives, as my friend Jess always says. I know that beauty has a way of changing things, as my friend Shelley says. (One could argue about whether or not "The Scream" fits anybody's definition of beauty, but clearly it expresses something about being a human being.)

But, really, $120 million? How can the world be such a lopsided place, where one painting goes for that much money, and children die for the lack of basic necessities like food, water, and vaccines? How can we put more value on a piece of canvas than on human life? Yes, that money could have bought a lot of experiences for a lot of people, as Cotter says. But it could also have saved countless lives. To me, that is something to scream about.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Poetry Friday: The Color of Lost Rooms

A couple of weeks ago, I won a copy of Irene Latham's book The Color of Lost Rooms in a blog giveaway. I was amazed at how quickly it got here; I received it last Friday. I've read it through, most of the poems more than once, but I know I'll be reading it many more times.

Yes, this is our very own Irene Latham, who's hosting Poetry Friday today and who initiated our Progressive Poem last month. She's a wonderful writer, of course; we all know that already. And these are beautiful poems, full of visual images. Several are ekphrastic, and although I haven't looked for all of the paintings they are based on, I've found all the ones I've searched for online. I like seeing what the basis of the work was, whether the poem sticks pretty closely to what's there on the canvas, like "Blue Still Life," or takes the painter's work in a completely unexpected direction, like "Alligator Pears in a Basket."

Other poems are based on historical figures, like Audubon's mother and Abe Lincoln and Audrey Hepburn, or characters from stories, like Hester Prynne (whom I'll never see in the same way again) and Guinevere. And still others seem more personal, like "Love Poem with Christmas Lights" or "Simplicity 8953," in which a mom sews her daughter a princess dress:

...I pack away

the scissors but keep thread in my needle
should white steeds dissolve into skittering mice,

the royal coach to a pumpkin, the prince caught
dancing with someone else.

"Living Room" is my current favorite in this collection, but every poem has some special touch, something that will bring me back to reread. You have to read these; you can get the book in paperback or in e-book format.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

IRA Conference Highlights

I got back from the IRA conference on Thursday, and it's now Tuesday as I'm starting to write this post. As expected, real life has hit hard, and I've been consumed with getting caught up on grading all the extra work I left for my kids to do while they had subs. I have a pile of books behind my desk in my classroom, waiting for me to put them into the computer so that I can put them on the shelf. My mind is full of undigested ideas and I don't have time to process them.

So, while they are still semi-fresh in my mind, here are some highlights from the conference:
  • Dr. Steve Perry spoke at the opening session. He seemed a bit of a quirky choice for a room full of teachers, since he seemed to hold teachers responsible for most of the ills of education. I completely agree with him that we can't use any of our students' challenges as excuses not to teach them the very best we can, and it's hard to argue with his interpretation of the conference theme, "Celebrate Teaching," that we should celebrate teaching by getting rid of the teachers who aren't doing a good job. He's absolutely right that it's a disgrace that in some parts of the United States, nearly 50% of the adults can't read. At the same time, there's definitely a place for mentoring and developing teachers, since reaching his standard of "amazing" every single day doesn't come instantly. In fact, in May in middle school, I'm frequently not feeling the amazing. It's a little hard to make a slogan out of Perry's words: "If it's too hard for you, find something else to do." But here, watch his talk for yourself. And here's a great quote from it: " the single greatest act of defiance, ... encouraging children to snap reality in half."

  • I went to a great session about teaching poetry. (More information here.) There were lots of useful ideas, but what sticks in my mind the most is that we need to stop summarizing what the text says for our students. I find myself doing that a lot, instead of letting them get to it themselves.

  • Cynthia Levinson wrote a book about the Birmingham Children's March, and I got to hear her talking about it. She put it in the framework of Joseph Campbell's ideas about the hero's quest. This was fascinating, and of course I bought the book to explore the history further.

  • The main thing on everybody's mind right now is the new Common Core Standards, and I went to a session on how all this homogenization affects ELLs, or English Language Learners. I felt a bit out of my depth here among the ESL experts and linguists, but I was introduced to many concepts for more research.

  • A session on revision discussed a new paradigm (to me) for helping students revise their work. Instead of beginning with what is wrong and what we can fix, we can encourage students to focus on what is strong about the piece. Then we can give a structured revision assignment, asking the student to write several more sentences in the part that we have identified which works.

  • ELLs can have their sense of themselves reinforced and enhanced when they are taught with a Writer's Workshop approach. Here's more information about that.

  • I attended a session on teaching essay writing using an hourglass graphic organizer.

  • I was privileged to get to hear Matt de la Peña speak. This was one of the two best sessions I went to. I hadn't read any of his work, but I bought several of his novels after hearing his presentation. He talked about what a powerful act it is to hand a kid a book, and the way we may never know the effects one book can have.

  • The other best session I attended was a panel of YA authors who spoke about bullying. The participants were Rita Williams-Garcia, Heather Brewer, Siobhan Vivian, and Jay Asher. I guess it's an emerging trend that the sessions I liked best were the ones with authors of YA books. It was wonderful to hear so many of them.

  • At a very expensive lunch, I got to hear Christopher Paul Curtis speak. He was funny and self-deprecating and made the very expensive price very worth it. Plus, my seventh grade boys were impressed.

  • At the closing session, there was a panel of four authors, who seemed sort of randomly chosen (as in, they didn't go together very well) but who were each interesting. The four authors were Esmé Raji-Codell, Laura Numeroff, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Linda Sue Park. The moderation was well done, excellent questions were asked, and if you could just imagine this session as four different sessions, it was great.
I started writing this post on Tuesday and I'm finishing it on Thursday afternoon. Blogger has been giving me fits and my internet connection has been slow (and I'm especially noticing it after just being in the States), but I hope this summary of my conference will have something in it that's helpful to someone.

I had never been to a conference this large, and I felt a tad overwhelmed by all the opportunities. There was no way to see everything. You could spend the entire time just going to book-signings if you wanted to. I felt that I wanted to be several people, so that I could experience multiple sessions during each time slot. It was exciting and energizing to be around so many people who care about reading, teaching kids, and great books. I highly recommend that you attend the conference next year in San Antonio!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Poetry Friday: Jane Yolen

I got back yesterday from the IRA conference in Chicago.  I had a great time there; frankly, I would have enjoyed it even without the conference.  I enjoyed traveling with a fellow teacher from school.  We did some Chicago sightseeing - though not as much as we would have liked.  We found a Target close to our hotel, and walked there three times in the four days we were there.  We enjoyed the fact that the electricity never went off - not once! - and that our room had hot water and internet access. 

But the conference was really wonderful, too.  I heard many interesting speakers, but the highlight for me was the author presentations.  I will blog more about some of what I learned in the next week or so.  But today I want to gush a little.  I was so excited to get to meet Jane Yolen.  She and J. Patrick Lewis were signing Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs.  I knew that if I got to meet her I would just babble about how much I love her and ask her to be my best friend and maybe even cry, so I thought beforehand about what I wanted to say to her.  I wanted to tell her how impressed I am by her generosity with her writing, the way she shares it so freely.  Here's a recent example of what I mean.  Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect posted a prompt for her Monday Poetry Stretch, and who was the first commenter but Jane Yolen, with a beautiful poem that brought tears to my eyes. 

When I said this to her, Jane Yolen looked up and me and listened.  I'm sure she hears stuff like that all day long, but she smiled and said, "I love it.  I love participating in the conversation."

I told her that she has inspired me to be more open and generous with my own writing, and then went away with my signed book, feeling thrilled. 

Since getting to be a Jane Yolen fangirl was one of the best parts of the conference for me, I'm going to post a poem of hers.  It's the only one on the Poetry Foundation site - I wonder why they don't have more? - and it's a good one. 

Earth Day

By Jane Yolen

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

Here's the rest.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Progressive Poem

I apologize for allowing May to arrive before I posted the final Progressive Poem.  Here's the link to Irene's post from yesterday.  She made a found poem out of the final version, plus posted the final version itself.  I agree with her that this was so much fun, and I can't wait until we can do it again.

Here's the whole poem:

If you are reading this,                                                           
you must be hungry.
Kick off your silver slippers,

come sit with us a spell.
A hanky, here, now dry your tears
and fill your glass with wine.

Now, pour. The parchment has secrets,
smells of a Moroccan market spill-out.
You have come to the right place, just breathe in.

Honey, mint, cinnamon, sorrow. Now, breathe out
last week’s dreams. Take a wish from the jar.
Inside, deep inside, is the answer…

Unfold it, and let us riddle it together,
…Strains of a waltz. How do frozen fingers play?
How do fennel, ginger, saffron blend in the tagine?

Like broken strangers bound by time, they sisterdance…
their veils of sorrow encircle, embrace.
Feed your heart with waltzes and spices.

Feed your soul with wine and dreams.
Humble dust of coriander scents your feet, coaxing
seascapes, crystal sighs and moonshine from your melody.

Beware of dangers along the path of truth
and beware, my friend, of too much bewaring–
strong hands cushion you, sweet scents surround you—now leap

without looking, guided by trust. And when you land
on silver-tipped toes, buoyed by joy– you’ll know
you are amazing, you are love, you are poetry—

here, you rest.
Muse. Up ahead, stepping stones speckle the stream, sturdy now.
May your words roar against the banks, your life a flood of dreams.

I'm sad to say goodbye to National Poetry Month; maybe that's why I waited until May 1st to do so.  Another reason was that I am at a conference in Chicago and was busy until late last night.  I'll post more about the conference and my time in the States when I can.