Friday, June 29, 2012

Poetry Friday: Tintern Abbey

As we sat on the porch of the cabin, looking out over the woods, my husband said, "This reminds me of Tintern Abbey." He read the poem aloud to us. From now on whenever I hear or read it, I'll think of our friend P. killing bugs in a kind of rhythmic counterpoint.

Here's the whole thing. Some excerpts:

William Wordsworth


Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.


And now, with gleams of half-extinguish'd thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.


Our vacation provided much "life and food for future years." I wish you the same, this summer.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Missed Poetry Friday

I was away from the internet for Poetry Friday but here's the roundup. And I'd just like to report I had a wonderful day, in spite of missing the poems.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Poetry Friday: Two Places

I'm traveling today, going between the place where I live most of the year and the place where I spend several weeks traveling in the summer. The first place, Haiti, the place I'm leaving, is where I've spent 15 years of my life and two-thirds of my married life, given birth twice, experienced some of the most beautiful and definitely the most terrible moments of my life. The other place, the United States, my destination, is printed on my passport, and it's the home of many of the people I love most in the world.

These two places are not even the only ones that have made me who I am - I'm leaving out my African childhood, my British high school years, my summer in France. But for today, two places are enough.

where we are (for edward field)
by Gerald Locklin.

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

I posted this poem once before back in 2008.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reading Update

Book #9 of this year was The List, by Siobhan Vivian. This book came out at the beginning of April and by the time I heard the author speak at the IRA conference at the end of the month, it was in its third printing. The book has hit a nerve, with its portrayal of life and judgement in an American high school. The story takes place in a school where, for years, a list has come out annually, the week before Homecoming. There are eight names on the list: the prettiest, and the ugliest, girl in each class. This book is about how we let others define us, and how we define ourselves, based on physical appearance. While this book contains themes that are too mature for many of my middle schoolers, it would be fascinating to discuss with older teenagers.

Book #10 was The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I heard Jay Asher speak at the IRA conference, too. Emma and Josh use an AOL CD/ROM to get on the internet, and suddenly they can see their future Facebook pages, even though of course Facebook won't be invented for years. This was a lot of fun, although I would imagine that much of the AOL humor would be lost on people who don't remember 1996 as clearly as I do. It also includes some interesting ideas about how what we do right now affects our future.

Book #11, Thirteen Reasons Why, is also by Jay Asher, and also makes use of outmoded technology.  

A few days after a girl from school, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, Clay Jensen receives a box of cassette tapes in the mail. Each one was recorded by Hannah and explains her reasons for choosing to take her own life. Asher read us emails from readers of this book, many of whom found it helped them to feel empathy for others and to realize that their actions, and they way they treated people, had consequences.

Book #12 was Heidegger's Glasses, by Thaisa Frank. This was a strange and somewhat confusing book about Nazi Germany. It's not entirely clear to me how much of the premise is invented and how much is historical, but the story is about a group of people spared from concentration camps because of their linguistic abilities. They are required to answer letters from dead people. Apparently, before being murdered, many inmates of concentration camps were forced to write letters to people back home. The Heidegger's Glasses of the title refers to a pair of glasses made for the philosopher. Heidegger's letter about his glasses comes into the compound, with serious consequences. I loved the end of this book but I found many stretches of it hard to follow.

Book #13 was Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back. It seems clear that Colton Burpo had some kind of experience when he was clinically dead for a few minutes. He went somewhere and saw something. However, I'd be hesitant to draw many conclusions from his story about what Heaven is like. Time changes and distorts our memories, and many of the "revelations" Colton shared were years after he had experienced them. I also thought this book was rather stretched out, as though it would have made a nice article, but was turned into a book. It's a quick, easy read, and the Burpos seem like a very sincere, sweet family.

Book #14 was Three Black Swans, by Caroline Cooney. I used this as a read-aloud with my eighth graders, and it didn't hold their attention the way other books by Cooney have. That could just be because it was the end of the school year! Many of the students did say that they found the premise interesting. Missy and Claire are cousins and they look a lot alike. Missy decides to perpetrate a hoax, pretending that she and Claire are actually twins. A fellow student posts a video of the two girls on YouTube and suddenly they begin to find out that their lives are full of secrets.

Book #15 was Carl Hiaasen's latest, Chomp. Hiaasen's books are sure-fire winners with my seventh graders, who have enjoyed Flush and Scat. This one didn't disappoint, with its crazy characters, its focus on ecology, and its Florida setting.

Book #16 was Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan. I always enjoy Tan's books, and this one was very entertaining. It's about a group of tourists who travel to Myanmar/Burma and have a bit more of a cross-cultural experience than they had bargained for, and it's narrated by a woman who is recently dead, but whose spirit is still hanging around.

Book #17 was Not That Kind of Girl, another one by Siobhan Vivian. This has some of the same themes as The List. Male/female interaction, stereotyping, power and control. I didn't enjoy this one as much, though. It isn't easy to be a teenager today, that's for sure, and while adolescence wasn't ever easy, I think the choices and expectations facing teenage girls today, particularly with regard to their sexuality, are daunting. Again, this one is too mature for my middle schoolers.

Book #18 was yet another Siobhan Vivian title. This one, Same Difference, is about a girl who loves art and is just learning that she has a talent. Emily goes to a summer art program and finds a world very different from her suburban origins. She's trying to figure out who she is, and whether she can create a new identity that includes both her past and the art that is opening her mind. Her old best friend, Meg, and her new best friend, Fiona, pull her in different directions. Frankly, both worlds seemed a little stifling to me, and like many of the books in this post, this one made me so thankful that I'm no longer a teenager.

Book #19 was Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline. Ellen Gleeson has adopted her son, but when she gets a "Have You Seen this Child?" mailing, she sees the photo of a child who looks just like hers. Was her adoption legal? Why are people around her dying? Why does she run off to Florida to collect DNA samples? I didn't find this book believable or compelling at all.

Book #20, Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo, is set in Australia. The American edition won't be out until December (the Australian title is Good Oil), but I got an ARC at the IRA conference. Amelia is fifteen and works in a grocery store, where she has developed a crush on Chris, her trainer. This book is an example of how reading can pull you into a completely different word from your own. I won't be sharing this one with my middle schoolers either, largely because of all the drinking, drug use, liberal use of the f-word, and other assorted bad behavior, but Buzo has created a world that I could see, hear, and smell. The book is saturated with sheer longing. I thought about the Roddy Doyle books as I read this; how did an author fill me with so much sympathy for characters who spend large amounts of their time drunk? I have no idea, but Buzo, like Doyle, knows how.

Friday, June 08, 2012


This semester, the maintenance people bolted my bookcases to the wall. It's needed to happen for a long time. One of the bookcases, particularly, was wobbly, and I tried not to think about what it would do in an earthquake. In the earthquake in 2010, the only bookcase in my classroom that actually fell was the blue one in the first photo. The others were facing in the other direction. So only those extremely old anthologies fell.

We know, of course, that we could have another earthquake. I don't think about it every day any more, but I do think about it. The brackets wouldn't stop books from falling on our heads, but they would stop the furniture itself from crashing over. There's only so much you can do. These powers are stronger than we are.

I must admit that I see bookcases very differently now. Before, they looked entirely friendly to me. Now, sadly, there's an element of deathtrap to them. Maybe that's one reason I have embraced my Kindle so thoroughly.

Poetry Friday: A Hot Day

It's supposed to be 99 degrees today here in Port-au-Prince. Everything is coated with dust, and the poinciana trees are in bloom. It's completely, 100% summer. Sadly, though, I have to go to two meetings today and finish draping dustcloths over everything in my classroom. So make that 99% summer.

I was thinking about this poem, which I've loved since high school, and was happy to find that I had it written down, in my careful 16-year-old handwriting, with my lower case a self-consciously ... I had to pause here and look up the way to say that, and I didn't really find any way to say it except that the way I made my a was with "an upper terminal over the bowl." People, there is a whole page here about the letter A. How amazing is the internet?

Anyway, what was I saying?

Oh yes, it's hot. And this poem expresses that so evocatively, except that the hot here is not Haiti hot, but England hot, "what is so rare as a day in June" hot, bringing back all kinds of lovely memories of hanging out on the tennis court in my summer school uniform. Well, actually, my summer school uniform was hideously unflattering and I hated it, and I didn't like playing tennis, either, though I liked watching it, and even went to Wimbledon once.

But enough. Let's get to the poem.

A Hot Day
by A.S.J. Tessimond

Cottonwool clouds loiter.
A lawnmower, very far,
Birrs. Then a bee comes
To a crimson rose and softly,
Defly and fatly crams
A velvet body in.

A tree, June-lazy, makes
A tent of dim green light.
Sunlight weaves in the leaves,
Honey-light laced with leaf-light,
Green interleaved with gold.
Sunlight gathers its rays
In sheaves, which the wind unweaves
And then reweaves - the wind
That puffs a smell of grass
Through the heat-heavy, trembling
Summer pool of air.

I like Tessimond's poems (here are some more of them and here's a favorite I posted back in 2006.) I imagine there will be lots of fabulous poems today in the Poetry Friday roundup, and since Jama is hosting, there is bound to be plenty of delicious food served. Head on over!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Last Day

Today we had our eighth grade graduation, and then sent the eighth graders home. (Actually I heard rumors they were all getting together at a restaurant for lunch.) We occupied the seventh graders with a movie for the rest of the morning until the DVD player quit working and we ushered them all out onto the preschool playground for the last half hour before dismissal. I heard not one single complaint and the kids spent the last moments together before their summer vacation dunking purple and gold balloons in the preschoolers' basketball hoop, sliding down the tiny slide, swinging, and talking as though they hadn't just spent the last nine months talking constantly to each other, even in class. There were two reasons for using the preschool playground: first, the high school students were finishing up their exams, so we couldn't let seventh graders anywhere near that building, and second, the elementary school's last day was yesterday, so there were no preschoolers around to complain at the thirteen-year-olds on their playground equipment.

It's wonderful to be done with school for another year. The kids have been done and checked out for at least a week, so teaching them has been quite challenging. I used my regular tactic of saving the end of an exciting read-aloud, and even that didn't hold their attention the way it usually does.

It was good having some time today to enjoy and appreciate these kids, without the responsibility of teaching them anything. My eighth grade students made speeches (they all write and perform one in class, and the students vote on who gets to speak at the graduation itself). They were all dressed up and looked amazing. I talked to their parents about how wonderful their kids are (and they are, though I forgot that sometimes in the past week). Then supervising the seventh graders was fun, watching the way they interact and how basically kind they are to each other. I'm glad I'm just saying see ya later to them, that I'll get another year to work with them and see what else I can teach them before I send them off to high school.

After they all left, I ate some lunch and then went to my classroom and finished up my comments. I had less room than on Twitter, so it was challenging to say something useful about everyone, but I at least managed to say something about everyone. I still have to go back tomorrow and clean my room, and we have a wrap-up faculty meeting on Friday, but the work for the year is basically done. Another school year is history.

I did have one moment during the graduation when I remembered the night of the earthquake. That terrible night we sat there, in that chapel, for a few minutes, right where we were sitting to celebrate these new high school students. We prayed and sang and tried to comfort each other until tremors sent us outside again. Even though the building has a tin roof, nobody wanted to be under a roof of any kind that night. The picture of us sitting there flashed into my mind, but then was gone.

This year's eighth graders were in sixth grade when the earthquake happened, and one of their classmates died. Nobody mentioned her from the platform today, but she wasn't forgotten in our hearts. We remember; at the same time, life is going on. We're making new memories that are fresher than those terrible ones.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Poetry Friday: Remembering and Forgetting

This time of year, I'm thinking a lot about remembering and perhaps even more about forgetting. My students are taking tests, so I'm finding out what they did and didn't learn. Even in the act of administering the tests, I'm humbled about my ability to impart anything to my kids. I give instructions, hand out the test, then answer all the questions that my instructions already answered.

There are many things I want my students to remember about this year, and there are many I want them to forget. I want them to remember what I taught them about books and poems and about how they can move and excite and teach us. I want them to remember how wonderful it is to work on a piece of writing until it shines and expresses exactly what you meant to say. But I want them to forget the days I was sarcastic and impatient. I want them to forget anything I said that was discouraging or made them feel less than the creatures of infinite value which they are. But I can't choose what they will remember and what they won't.

Yesterday on Your Daily Poem, there was this poem:


Thomas Bailey Aldrich

My mind lets go a thousand things,
Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
And yet recalls the very hour—
’Twas noon by yonder village tower,
And on the last blue noon in May—
The wind came briskly up this way,
Crisping the brook beside the road;
Then, pausing here, set down its load
Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
Two petals from that wild-rose tree.

This made me think of Billy Collins' poem on the same subject.


Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

The capital of Paraguay is one of the things Billy Collins' persona has forgotten, and that's one thing I won't ever forget, because I've been there. My brother got married there, and it's part of my memory in a way those random facts he mentions are not. I hope the same for my students, that at least some of what they have experienced this year will be part of their memory even when the random facts have slipped away.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.