Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading Update

We're back from a few days at the beach in time to celebrate the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Here are the last five books of 2014. If I finish another one today, I'll add it to 2015's tally.

Book #59 was The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann.  I've been reading these sermons all year, and finding them nourishing to my soul.  Highly recommended.

Book #60 was another Anthony Trollope book, the last one in the Barchester series, The Last Chronicle of Barset.  This wraps up some of the story lines we've been following through the whole series.  These books are satisfying to read, and I have many more still, even though this first series is done!

Book #61 was He's Gone, by Deb Caletti.  This was a fascinating examination of a marriage, undertaken by a woman whose husband has disappeared mysteriously.

Book #62 was The Secret Country, by Pamela Dean.  I read this at my daughter's recommendation, and I didn't like it as much as she did.

Book #63 was Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter, by Annie F. Downs.   There's lots of good, encouraging stuff here aimed at teenage girls.

Here are my other Reading Updates of the year:

Books #1 & 2
Books #3-19
Books #20-35
Books #36-49
Books #50-52
Books #53-58

I linked this post to Semicolon's annual post where people can share their reading lists from the year about to end.  Go and see what other people have read this year here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grief

I can't stop thinking about those parents in Pakistan who are burying their children this week.  And of the parents from Newtown, whose terrible anniversary rolled around last week.  And of parents around the world who are grieving the loss of a child, including some whom I know.  Kay Warren, whose son committed suicide last year, published an article this month about how the cards and letters so many people send this time of year, with photos of their perfect families, cause extra pain. 

Shakespeare, who himself lost an eleven year old son, writes about loss in the play King John.  This speech comes from Constance:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!

I read a news story in which one of the women in Peshawar spoke of her son getting up and getting ready to go to school to take his exams - and then not coming home.  She mentioned that her husband had already died.  And now her "widow-comfort," taken too. 

It is no comfort that this pain crosses boundaries of time, nation, religion - but how is it that we never learn, and that losses that we human beings could prevent continue to happen?  They happen, and then all we can do is try to give "better comfort."

Buffy, who is hosting this week's roundup, is focusing on light in darkness.  I'm afraid I've added more to the darkness than to the light with this week's contribution, but go and read what other people have shared, and I'm sure you will find something more festive!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reading Update

The year is winding down, and it's almost time for the end-of-year reading lists.  I don't know how many more books I'll finish, but here's the latest:

Book #53 of the year was Lay It on My Heart, by Angela Pneuman.  I was in college with Angela and was pretty excited to see her new book favorably reviewed in O Magazine.  I found it riveting, disturbing, and unforgettable.  The book skewers the evangelical world in a way that is both uncomfortable and compelling.  The last scene, especially, will stay with me.

Book #54 was a reread, Mystical Paths, by Susan Howatch.  I wrote a bit about the series in this post.

Book #55 was Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg.  This is largely a tribute to Ortberg's friend and mentor, Dallas Willard, who died recently.  It is a quick but deep read, worth going back to.

Book #56 was another reread, Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen.  The link is to the audio version I listened to while exercising.  It is read by Maureen O'Brien and is wonderful. 

Book #57 was Rob Bell's new book on marriage, written with his wife, Kristen.  It's called The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage.  I read it aloud to my husband, and while it may not be "a new way of understanding marriage," which is rather a large claim, the zimzum idea is interesting and cool.  We enjoyed thinking and talking about it.  The zimzum could be used to talk about the space between people in any relationship, really, but the Bells focus on marriage in their definition of it as responsive, dynamic, exclusive, and sacred.  I liked the conversational way the book was written, with Rob and Kristen both contributing.  The examples from their relationship were fun.  Probably most of my readers already know what they think of Bell.  Some wouldn't pick up anything he writes.  (Full disclosure: I love to hear him preach.  He's a poet and a master communicator.)  But if you're seeking evidence for his defection from your average evangelical party line, look no further than the first chapter, where we are told: "Marriage has the uniquely powerful capacity to transform you both into more loving and generous and courageous and compassionate people.  Marriage - gay and straight - is a gift to the world because the world needs more - not less - love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice."  That is the last time the g-word is mentioned, and the pronoun use throughout is exquisitely careful.  Other than that one line, I really don't think there's much here that any evangelical would quibble at.  The book doesn't go into gender roles at all, and given how dreadfully other marriage books have done at that one, I say, hooray!  It doesn't go much into the gospel, either, though there's a reference to John 3:16, concluding: "Divine love is the kind of love that does something."  Next we're going to read aloud Tim Keller's marriage book that he wrote with his wife (that's a thing right now, apparently, writing a marriage book with your wife - maybe my husband and I will try it!).  I'll let you know how that one goes.

Book #58 is the eighth - yes, eighth! - in a serious of massive books.  And the series isn't over yet!  I borrowed Written in My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, from a library in the States (I've recently figured out how to do this on my Kindle), but I found the two weeks allotted to read it were not sufficient during a busy time of the school year, and I ended up buying it so I could finish it.  At the time I purchased it, there was a deep discount on it.  I remarked when I read the seventh book (post here) that I kind of had to force myself to finish it, feeling that I'd invested so much of my life in these characters that I was obligated not to give up now.  I didn't feel the same about this one.  It was enjoyable, and I hope it doesn't take five years for the next one to be published!

There are a couple more I'm working on that I might finish before the end of the year.  We'll see!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: Mark Doty

I shared this poem back in 2011, and I thought it was time for an encore.  I love the way Doty juxtaposes the sublime music and the very ordinary, familiar performers in this local production of The Messiah. 

Messiah (Christmas Portions)

By Mark Doty
A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)

   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society

   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,

   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who

   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office

   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:

   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grading

I can't really think about poetry today, except that written by my middle schoolers, which I shall now be reading (along with their prose), in bulk, for the next several days.  This poem is appropriate, except that my creative, funny, original kids have chosen their own topics, and their writing will therefore be much more entertaining reading than what George Bilgere is avoiding. 

Robert Frost

by George Bilgere

Over there on the dining room table
are just twenty-five of the thousands of essays
on the poetry of Robert Frost
produced this week alone in the USA,
the world leader in essays on Robert Frost.

The essays are about ambiguity
in The Road Not Taken, and also ambiguity
in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Every year the English majors of America
must read these poems and analyze their ambiguity
or compare and contrast their ambiguity
in five double-spaced pages.

Here's the rest, at the Writer's Almanac.

And here's today's roundup.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Poetry Friday: Praise!

Perhaps what I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is some rest and time off.  So this poem seems appropriate:

In Praise of My Bed

by Meredith Holmes
At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Here's the rest.   (Don't worry - it's short.  You'll still have time for a nap.)

Here's today's roundup.  Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poetry Friday: Odes

I always do odes with my eighth graders at Thanksgiving.  I think I've started about four posts with that sentence so far on this blog.  (Here are my previous ode-related posts.)  We read several examples, and some of them write one. 

Here's a wonderful one, Ode to a Box of Tea, by Pablo Neruda.  It starts like this:

Box of tea
elephant country,
now a worn
sewing box,
small planetarium of buttons:
you brought
into the house
a sacred,
unplaceable scent,
as if you had come from another planet.

You can hear my brother reading the whole thing here.  

If you need some odes and don't have any Pablo Neruda books on hand, here's a link to a nice pdf collection you can start with, including the full text of the Ode to a Box of Tea:  Odes.

Why not write an ode to something you're thankful for?  And check out today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poetry Friday: Beach Music

Last Saturday we went to the beach.  We went because our neighbors were having a party on Saturday night, and when they have a party, nobody in our house sleeps.  There aren't noise ordinances where I live, so the best way to handle it, remain on good terms with the neighbors, and sleep, is to go away somewhere.  When that somewhere is the beach, so much the better.

We slept peacefully and had a great time, but during the day, there was music playing most of the time.  On Sunday the morning peace was shattered by a DJ blasting out Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."  Repeatedly.  At mealtimes in the hotel restaurant there were many musical offerings, such as "Turn Up the Love."  (This lyric made us giggle: "We're breathing in the same air/ So turn up the love...."  Our paraphrase: "You exist and so do I!  Turn up the love!"  Seems like a pretty low set of requirements to hook up with someone.)

But the one that amused us the most was a song called "Give me everything."  You can watch it here.  The lyrics, subtly, request, "Tonight I want all of you tonight/ Give me everything tonight/ For all we know we might not get tomorrow/ Let's do it tonight..."  The first time this song played, I commented, "Hey!  It's gather ye rosebuds while ye may!"

So in honor of our beach music, here's Gather Ye Rosebuds...

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former. 

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

So yeah, we might not get tomorrow, yo.

We also thought of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."  Robin Hood Black posted it here back in September with appropriate musings about carpe diem and poetic invitations.  Marvell starts out:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime. 

He goes on to explain that they don't have world enough and time, and in fact, turn up the love! You can read the rest, expressed far more beautifully, here.

I don't really have any profound conclusions to draw here, but as I commented on Robin's post in September (linked above), I think it's funny when people talk about poetry as something for sissies.  So much of it is about seduction.   My daughter asked whether I thought these poems, by Herrick and Marvell, were effective in their day, and I said, "Oh yes." I find them more effective than "Give me everything," for sure, but maybe that's just me.

Turn up the love and have a great Friday!  Here's today's roundup

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wandering in my Neighborhood

Rachel at Djibouti Jones recently learned the French word flâner, to wander without a goal, and encouraged us to become flâneurs in our own neighborhoods and write about the experience.  Today she's featuring my post about my neighborhood.  See with fresh eyes, she said, but that was a little harder to do than it seemed.  You can read my attempt here.  

Friday, November 07, 2014

Poetry Friday: Dinner with a Friend

Over the summer, my family and I got to have dinner with a friend from way back, someone we hadn't seen in years.  He and his wife (whom we hadn't met) joined us at an Indian restaurant one evening during our travels.  Afterward I wrote this poem. 

Dinner with a Friend, July 2014

You talk at dinner about what you’ve been reading,
A book on the geology of Tennessee. 
You tell us about the four layers of rock in the earth
And how you can see millions of years of history
And find fossils of ocean creatures along the freeway.
You talk about the New Madrid Fault
And how a giant earthquake there like the ones in 1811 and 1812
Would destroy Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis…
In 1811 the shaking rang church bells in Montreal.
Oh, and, you say, a book about the problem of evil.
And I smile and say I remember
That’s what you were reading the last time we talked about books
Years ago when we were all in our twenties
And most of our lives hadn’t happened yet,
All those earthquakes real and figurative.
I don’t know about you, but back then I had a strange idea
That the world would pretty much stay the way it was,
That the problem of evil was mostly an intellectual one
To be discussed over our kitchen table or yours
Rather than a battleground of pain and blood,
And that the forests we hiked through and the roads we cycled
Were there to stay, solid under our feet.
These days it’s easier for me to imagine everything changing,
Buildings falling, landmarks gone, bodies in the streets,
Ocean creatures swimming down highways in a landlocked state.
I know now that someday soon we’ll all be gone.
That thought does make me shudder a little,
But it also focuses my attention on the delicious naan I’m eating right now
And how good it is to see you again.

Here's today's roundup.  Happy Poetry Friday!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Poetry Friday: Yes

William Stafford

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That's why we wake
and look out--no guarantees
in this life.

Here's the rest (and you can listen to Garrison Keillor read it). 

It's so true -- no guarantees.  But if you clicked through, you saw a stanza full of bonuses.  

Linda is hosting today's roundup here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Poetry Friday: Death, Be Not Proud

Next week will be the sixth anniversary of our loss here at school of a beautiful, popular, fit, twenty-five year old teacher.  She went to bed one night and didn't wake up the next morning.  We were stunned, all of us.  That week I read this poem with my students.  My grandmother had recently died, and my brother-in-law had sent me the poem, which I had read before, but which was fresh in my mind and so appropriate for the occasion.  Since I thought Donne might be a bit much for my middle schoolers, I wrote my own paraphrase, too. 

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

This post is pretty similar to the last time I shared this poem, and at that link you can find links to the original event, including my musings about middle school and mourning.

Here is today's roundup.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Dessalines Day

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

Here are the lyrics to the songs Sara Groves is singing, her version of an old spiritual.  I hope you can see the video; my internet is so slow today that I really can't be sure. 

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Well, the only chain that we can stand
Are the chain of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Got my hand on the freedom plow
Won't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Got no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Paul and Silas thought they were lost
The dungeon shook and the chains fell off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom's name is mighty sweet
And one day soon we are gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize

Only chain a man can stand
Is that chain of hand in hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
Ain't no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize

The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize
The wait is slow and we've so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize
Keep your eyes on the prize

When you see a man walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee
When you see a child walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee
When you see a family free
It makes you dream of jubilee
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

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

This is a repost of my Dessalines Day offering for 2011.  Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reading Update

Book #50 of 2014 was Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, and #51 was Scarlet, the second in the series.  Now I'm waiting for one of my students to finish with Cress, the third one, so I can read that one too.  I'm really enjoying this fun sci-fi series with cyborgs, space travel, a deadly plague, and a fairy tale twist. 

I Always Loved You, by Robin Oliveira, was book #52 of the year.  I have been wanting to read this ever since seeing the Degas/Cassatt exhibit at the National Gallery this summer.  I read The Private Lives of the Impressionists, by Sue Roe (brief review in this post), first, since I wanted to know the historically accurate story, and also because I had it on hand.  Oliveira's book adds some imagination to the account of Degas and Cassatt, but I found her version very convincing.  Other very important characters are Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet, and we see the two unconventional pairs finding happiness, artistic challenge, and frustration in their complicated relationships with each other and the rest of the Impressionists. 

My goal for this year was fifty-two books, and I have several more weeks of 2014.  Here's my last Reading Update post, and it includes links to the other ones I've done this year. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday: Pangur Ban

My daughter got a kitten this week.  She named her Pangur Ban, and so far we don't know if she will live up to her famous namesake.  She mostly hides from us, coming out only to eat, drink, and use her litterbox.  A promising detail: one of her favorite hiding places is on my daughter's bookshelf, behind the books.  Perhaps she will make a literary kitty after all.

Here are several versions of the Pangur Ban poem that inspired her name.  The original was written by an anonymous Irish monk in the 9th century, and many poets have translated it.  The monk compares his work of writing with Pangur's work of catching mice. 

Here is Robin Flower's translation, the first one I heard and fell in love with when I was a child.  It begins:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

Click through to read the rest here.

While that one will always be the definitive version to me, I really love Seamus Heaney's translation, too.  Here are some later stanzas from that one:

With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
       When the longed-for, difficult
       Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
       Taking pleasure, taking pains,
       Kindred spirits, veterans.

You can read the rest of it here.

And here's Leontyne Price singing Auden's translation, set to music by Samuel Barber.  

Our experience with cats is pretty much confined to reading about them, so we have a lot to learn about Pangur Ban the real cat.   And we'll start learning just as soon as she comes out from behind the books.

Miss Rumphius is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup today here.  Head on over to see what everyone else has posted! 

Friday, October 03, 2014

Poetry Friday: Wendell Berry

One of our teachers shared this poem by Wendell Berry in our faculty meeting this morning.  It seems so appropriate, as I get huge mounds of student work in today and plan to spend the next few days working and working and working to get it all done.  As Berry says, "And yet no leaf or grain is filled/ By work of ours..."

by Wendell Berry

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace.

You can read the rest here.

And you can find the delicious Poetry Friday roundup here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday: Process

I read a poem with my students called "Folding Sheets," by Madge Piercy.  (Here it is.)  Afterward we talked about activities that make us think of certain people.  Piercy's poem includes lots of sensory details, so we talked about those, too.  I challenged the students to write a poem that recounted a memory of doing something with someone, and in the course of the description, revealed a person and a relationship.

Then I decided to try it myself.

The poem was a lot different from the way I was planning in my head (a fact which became part of my minilesson).  I decided to write about going to church.  There was a period when I was a child when my family attended a church in Swahili.  Though we had lived in Kenya for a while, we lived in an English-speaking enclave, since my parents worked in education, and all education in Kenya was in English.  Our vocabularies contained some Swahili words, and my parents had studied the language, but my brothers and I couldn't understand enough to follow what was going on.  That was the church experience I decided to write about.

I started by brainstorming.

Not all these details wound up in the poem, but I worked hard to remember exactly how it felt to be in that place at that time.

Next, I tried a first draft.

I found that I wasn't really focusing on my parents, whom I had intended to write about.  (You can see my mother saying "Shh" in the first draft, though.)  Instead, I kept thinking about a song we used to sing.  In English, the song is "Pass Me Not."  You can see that I had already remembered it in my brainstorming.  It was "Unisipite" there, and it was "Unisipite" in my first draft, but actually it's called "Usinipite."  I had remembered it wrong, a fact I learned when I talked to my brothers. 

Because that was my next step: research.  I told my students that we think about research when we're writing something informational, but that I often do research for all kinds of writing.  In this case, it involved talking to my brothers (we had an extensive Facebook chat sharing our memories).  It also involved looking up "Usinipite" on YouTube and finding this fascinating video:

I watched this video off and on for the rest of the afternoon.  Not only was that the song (jazzed up slightly in this version), but LOOK at that white tie!  It could be the seventies again.

I decided I wanted to focus on that song, and so I continued researching by looking up the lyrics and downloading Lyle Lovett's version (unfortunately I couldn't find a video of him singing it). 

I thought more and more about that song, and how I was asking God, in Swahili, which I didn't even understand (we used to call the song "Unispite"), to minister to me, too, and not pass me by.  And I thought about how God did that, and how my childhood faith, instead of being stifled by those hours in church, was actually strengthened.

I'm not completely happy yet with the poem that resulted, but I shared it with my students anyway, as well as the process I went through: prewriting,  researching my own past, marinating the ideas for days, shifting the focus from my original intention.  Here it is:

Pass Me Not

Sunday morning found my family in a schoolroom for worship.
Dressed in our matching polyester outfits, my brothers and I
Sat at splintery, grafitti-ed wooden desks.
My hair was neatly braided
And the kids behind us pulled my blond pigtails.
It was hot.
A fly buzzed.
The Swahili words of the sermon buzzed too,
Swarming around our heads
As we wiggled
And our parents hushed us.

We sang Usinipite
Which we gigglingly called Unispite.
“Pass me not, O gentle Savior,”
Say Fanny Crosby’s English words, which I didn’t know at the time:
“Savior, savior,
Hear my earnest cry;
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.”
And somehow
He did call on me too.
And through the heat and the buzzing and the splinters and the wiggling
He passed me not.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reading Update

It's been a while since I have posted what I've been reading.  Here's the latest:

Book #36 of 2014 was Longbourn, by Jo Baker.  I've written before that I have a weakness for Jane Austen sequels, retellings, and knockoffs of all kinds.  I check them out of the library and even buy them, and am nearly always disappointed.  Not this time.  Baker is a wonderful writer in her own right, and is not just attempting imitation Austen.  This story has the same characters as Pride and Prejudice, but it's told from the point of view of the servants, who, as you might imagine, see things rather differently.  You'll never think of Elizabeth Bennet's six inches of muddy petticoat the same way after you have read the chapter devoted to doing laundry at Longbourn.  Austen is often criticized for ignoring the fact that her country was at war, but Baker doesn't ignore it at all (in fact, the war section got a little long and graphic for me).  The story is satisfying and thought-provoking, and also beautifully written.  Highly recommended for Austen fans.

Book #37 was Jane Yolen's Pay the Piper: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale, which she wrote with her son Adam Stemple.  This is inspired by the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Creepy!

Book #38 was another Trollope title, The Small House at Allington.

Book #39 was a reread, The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason.  My husband and I read this around the time of our wedding (I can't remember if it was before or after).  This time I read it aloud to him, and we both enjoyed it and found much to talk about.  This isn't a perfect book about marriage, but it is poetically written and beautiful.  It's not a how-to book, but more a meditation on marriage.

Book #40 was The Testing, Book #41 was Independent Study, and Book #43 was Graduation Day, all by Joelle Charbonneau.  I bought this trilogy for my classroom, and it's being eagerly devoured now by fans of the Hunger Games books and other dystopic fiction.

Book #42 was Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett.  I read this aloud to my eleven-year-old when he was sick, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's got art, mystery, secret codes, interesting characters, and lots of information.

Book #44 was Invitation to Tears: A Guide to Grieving Well, by Jonalyn Fincher and Aubrie Hills.  This was a quick and very helpful read, with implications for all kinds of loss and grieving.  I am also thoroughly enjoying the podcasts that the authors have been doing in their "read-along."  (You can find links at that post to all the podcasts.)

Book #45 was The Good Wife, by Elizabeth Buchan, a novel about a political wife in England.  It was mildly entertaining, if a bit forgettable.

Book #46 was not forgettable at all.  It was clever, brilliantly plotted, and mysterious, and I can't tell you a thing about it without giving the whole thing away.  It was We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

Book #47 was The Private Lives of the Impressionists, by Sue Roe.  I read this because of my fascination with the National Gallery exhibit about Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, which I had the privilege of seeing over the summer.  This book is so good; it reads like a novel, and it opened up the paintings for me.  Highly recommended.

Book #48 was Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff, by Jennifer Holm.  I got this for my classroom, and I think it will entertain my students.

Book #49 was Later, Gator, by Laurence Yep.  My son picked this one and read it aloud to me.  I'm surprised to find that it may be out of print. 

Here's my last Reading Update post, which includes links to the others from 2014.  Looks like I'll reach my goal of 52 books this year!

This post is linked to today's Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poetry Friday: Yellow Dress

I was looking for something recently and happened on this poem.  I clicked on it because I thought about my own yellow dress poem.  But this one couldn't be more different from mine.  And of course my eye was caught by the italicized "Port-au-Prince" at the beginning.

I like to focus on positive aspects of my adopted country, but I have to share this poem because it represents a common scenario for me - and by that I do not mean that I see this kind of sight frequently, but that I often see sights I can't explain, from a moving car.  I catch a glimpse of a moment in someone's life, and then it's gone, and I will never have the context for it or understand it.  I've written down many glimpses like that in my "Writing Ideas" file, and some I've turned into poems (like the one I shared in this post).  Here, Amy Beeder reflects on one of these moments. 

Yellow Dress
by Amy Beeder


Girl on a heap of street sweepings high
as a pyre, laid on snarled wire & dented rim.
Girl set down among the wrung-out hides.
A girl who was coming from church. It is late
Sunday afternoon. Was it a seizure? Is it
destiny or bad luck we should fear? Weak heart
or swerving taxi? In Tet Bef by the dirty ocean
thousands crush past her without pausing
at the shrine of her spayed limbs; brilliance
like the flesh of lilies sprouting from the pummeled cane.
Is it possible to be lighthearted, hours later?
Days? To forget the yellow dress?
I am waiting for her mother to find her, still
wearing one white spotless glove (where is the other?),
my idle taxi level with her unbruised arm,
her fingers just curling like petals of a fallen flower
and how did it end?

You can read the rest, and hear it read, here.

Today's roundup is here, at the Poem Farm.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye on Teaching Poetry

I'm doing parent/teacher conferences today, so while I'm talking to parents about their kids' progress, here's Naomi Shihab Nye talking about teaching poetry, and how it's not about measuring, but about love.  Watch it; it's so good.

Here is today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Poetry Friday: Lead

by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.

I read this poem this week in conjunction with Parker Palmer's words, and you can read them, plus the rest of the poem, here.  Palmer calls this "an invitation to heartbreak."  Just being alive is an invitation to heartbreak, it seems to me.  Are we willing? 

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Poetry Friday: Hamlet Edition

I didn't intend to take a break from Poetry Friday, but here it is the end of the third week of school, and I see that I haven't posted since August 8th.  Those frenetic beginning days, when we're training and setting up routines and getting to know new names and faces, seemed to take all my energy.  It's been extremely warm, too, sapping my strength.

I wanted to share, though, about the very cool experience we had here in Haiti last night.  We were privileged to get to attend a wonderful production of Hamlet that was put on by the cast of Hamlet Globe to Globe.

Over two years, this troupe will be visiting every country in the world and performing Hamlet.  Last night they were in Haiti, country #39 of the adventure.  The audience was filled with our students, and we English teachers have been doing a lot of Q and A sessions about the plot and the language.

In honor of our visit to the theater, here's Hamlet's most famous speech.  To be or not to be, isn't that always the question?  We can choose to participate in life or stand aside.  We can choose to feel the pain of our lives and of the world, or we can numb ourselves.  We can "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," or we can sleep.  I know Hamlet is talking about choosing to die, and there has been so much discussion lately about suicide and how some people feel driven to make that terrible choice.  I'm thinking more, though, of the choice we sometimes make to say no to life and experience, so that even while we are still alive, we are asleep, avoiding "the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."

I want to choose, every day, to be.

Speech: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”

By William Shakespeare
(from Hamlet, spoken by Hamlet)
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Poetry Friday: Holocaust Museum

I have been reading the news out of Iraq and Syria and despairing, learning of another genocide ignored by the world.  This time the victims are Christians and other religious minorities.  There have been Christians worshiping in Mosul, site of the Biblical Nineveh, for 1800 years, but now there are none left.  Other cities are equally empty of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen. 

We say, "Never again," about the Holocaust, the one with a capital H, but how many small h holocausts have there been since then, that we seem unable to prevent or stop once they are in process, or do anything about except weep uselessly? 

I found a poem about a visit to the Holocaust Museum.  There are three people in the party, and one of them, a Jewish man originally from Warsaw, is blind.  It is a narrative poem, with the punchline in the last stanza, so be sure to click over and keep reading. 

Holocaust Museum

By Jane Shore
We filed through the exhibits,
Charlotte and I taking turns
reading captions to Andy.
Herded into a freight elevator,
we rode to the top floor,
to the beginning of the War

where we were on our own,
descending floor by floor,
year by year, into history
growing darker, ceilings
lowering, aisles narrowing
to tunnels like the progress

of Andy’s vision over the years.
In Warsaw, his family owned
Maximillian’s Fur Salon
like a little Bergdorf Goodman’s,
doorman and French elevator,
furs draped on the Persian carpet,

over the blue velvet Empire chairs.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Poetry Friday: Wendell Berry

My blog has been silent for a whole month now as I have been traveling, visiting friends and family in the US.  Yesterday I got home to Haiti and today I am savoring this last Friday of the summer, since I go back to work on Monday morning.

At the same time, I am sad for the end of the summer, and sad because this is my daughter's senior year, and will be full of "lasts", and sad because of the news of war and destruction and sickness around the world. 

Can I savor and be sad at the same time?  I think so.  This poem is from Wendell Berry's book This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems, which we acquired this summer.  It is in the 1999 section and labeled only with a Roman numeral. 


In Heaven the starry saints will wipe away
The tears forever from our eyes, but they
Must not erase the memory of our grief.
In bliss, even, there can be no relief
If we forget this place, shade-haunted, parched
Or flooded, dark or bright, where we have watched
The world always becoming what it is,
Splendor and woe surpassing happiness
Or sorrow, loss sweeping it as a floor.
This shadowed passage between door and door
Is half-lit by old words we've heard or read.
As the living recalls the dead, the dead
Are joyless until they call back their lives:
Fallen like leaves, the husbands and the wives
In history's ignorant, bloody to-and-fro,
Eternally in love, and in time learning so.

Here is today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Reading Update

It's halfway through the year, and I've read thirty-five books.  Here's the latest batch.

#20 was What We Talk About When We Talk About God, by Rob Bell
#21 was What Came from the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt
#22 was The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
#23 was Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Story of Sleeping Beauty, by Jane Yolen
#24 was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
#25 was Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, by Penny Kittle
#26 was The Milk of Birds, by Sylvia Whitman
#27 was I Was Almost Five, by Vida Zuljevic
#28 was The Living, by Matt De la Peña
#29 was Peanut, by Ayun Halliday
#30 was Just One Evil Act, by Elizabeth George
#31 was Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, by Laurie Helgoe
#32 was Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley
#33 was The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri
#34 was The Birth House, by Ami McKay
#35 was Trailing: A Memoir, by Kristin Louise Duncombe

Other books I've read this year:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Poetry Saturday

Yesterday was another travel day for me, so no post, but here is what everyone else posted. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poetry Friday

Today is a road-trip day, and I am probably not going to get a Poetry Friday post written.  But here's today's roundup, so you can go read what everyone else is posting!  Happy Friday!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Poetry Friday: Chikungunya Revisited

I said a few weeks ago that maybe I would write my own chikungunya poem, and now I have. For anyone who isn't yet aware of this virus, here is some good information. Here is a recent summary of the situation in the Caribbean, and predictions of this nasty virus coming to the United States.

Everyone in our household except one has now had the fever (and yes, I've had it, too). My husband had a particularly bad case, and was the inspiration for my poem.

My Husband Gets Chikungunya

Everyone’s getting it,
And then Steve does too.
The virus is a mosquito-borne history lesson,
A recap of all the injuries this body in its fifties has sustained.

The right arm that snapped while playing airplanes with Don
The summer between first and second grade,
Now aches as though Steve has once more been propelled through the air
And crash landed.

The two fingers broken in a car accident in college,
When, going too fast, he went off a bridge on a back road in Tennessee,
And the collar bone from that same impact,
Burn again with pain as he relives that night,
A blur of memory now:
Crawling out of his car;
The nurse fainting
As she held his bloody hand, nerves exposed;
Calling his mother.

Random knee injuries and ankle sprains
From years of basketball and softball
Return to haunt him
As he lies in bed, feverish and exhausted.

Some of these wounds predate me,
Like the conked head from falling out of a shopping cart as a two year old,
But some I was around for,
Like the broken coccyx on a cycling trip.
All, all hurt again,
As though to say,
Congratulations on surviving, zanmi mwen,
Tough old guy,
How many times could you have died already?
How blessed are you?

He moans, takes Tylenol, drinks the water I bring him,
And emerges,
Spent and covered in a rash,
From the ordeal of

Today's roundup is here.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Poetry Friday: Slowing Down

On Monday I finished up in my classroom, and I have spent the days since shifting into the rhythms of the summer.  We will be traveling, but for the moment I have been straightening up my house, exercising, hanging out with my kids, and reading.  During the school year, I feel as though I am stealing time to read, but in the summer I can relax a little, start in on the stack that has been accumulating by my bed. 

Today, as I was riding the exercise bike, I was listening to the Poem of the Day podcast (you can find it on iTunes).  I'm catching up on April's podcasts still, and on April 5th, Australian poet Mark Tredinnick is featured reading his poem "Eclogues."  This is a poem for the summer me: it's long, discursive, about work and family and landscape.  You can read the poem, and hear him read it, here.  The recording lasts just over eight minutes.

My dictionary defines eclogue as "a short poem, especially a pastoral dialogue."  It appears as though Tredinnick has written many eclogues.  I confess I had never heard of him before this morning, but I will be delving more into his work.

This poem describes Tredinnick's journeys back and forth from his house to the shed where he writes.  He illustrates for us his routine, the focus on work, the return to his family, and gradually, he talks about the country around him, and mortality (a friend who died, a friend who has cancer), and then he ends with a beautiful metaphor of landscape as poetry. 

It's hard to excerpt a poem like this, because the point is the whole, but here are some bits I liked:


Its balm inside and search again briefly for the frequency of family life
and I find it in the bath, my girl
                                               and our three children, sleek as seals,
and in that moment a truck passes on the road
and snaps the powerline from the eaves. The house shudders and we fall
back in time to candles and stories by heart and reading news from memory.


You’d call it a blessing if you hadn’t been woken four times
by minor deities, pyjamaed like children
                                                                             and frantic in the dark with oracles.
Why do our children not know how to sleep?
Do they fear we’ve left our waking late? At first light they dawn
and have you rise and lead them out into the story


The river has told the grass again, a parable the day has forgotten by nine.
And by ten, at your desk, you’ve forgotten it, too.
                                                                              A man so easily distracted
by himself. But what are you here for
and what do they love, if not the way you leave each day to change the world’s mind
and return with the night, your fire spent, your face lined with secrets?



But, listen: no one reads poems to learn how to vote. Verse can’t change
the future’s mind. You write it like rain;
                                                                              you enter it like nightfall.
It isn’t for anything; a poem is country,
and it needs you to keep walking it, and I walk out into it now, carrying my friend
and smelling the paddocky wind and feeling the rain cold on my face.

I'm so thankful for these summer days to slow down, read, think complete thoughts,  and maybe, eventually, if I can slow down enough, write something "like rain."

Carol is hosting the roundup here today.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Poetry Friday: Cleaning Up

My son remarked the other day, "You know what I hate about the beginning of summer?  Mom always wants everything to be clean."

It's true.  After nine months of constant focus on school, suddenly all my grading is done and I look around my house and see it a little more clearly.  Of course, there's all the cleaning to be done in my classroom, too.  And the metaphorical cleaning up as I reflect on the past year and all the messes I made, and wonder how I can do better next year.

I found this poem that expresses a bit of what I feel about the clutter taking over, and also the questioning about what stays and what goes, literally and figuratively.

Mother's Closet
by Maxine Scates

This is everything she ever closed a door
on, the broom closet of childhood
where no one could ever find a broom.
Here, layer upon layer, nothing breathes:
photo albums curl at the edges, books
she brought home from the library
where she worked, handled by thousands
of other hands before their final exile
where they’ve waited, paper and more paper
taking in the ocean air, about to sprout. 
You can read the rest of it, and listen to it, here.
You can find today's roundup here.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poetry Friday: Swamped

I'm swamped by grading today.  This was the last day of classes and I'm supposed to have everything posted by tomorrow evening so that kids know where they stand going into finals.  But go read what everyone else posted here

Friday, May 16, 2014

Poetry Friday: Chikungunya Edition

Gerald Weissmann writes here, "For an arbovirus such as Chikungunya to enter a new zone, three elements are required: a change in the distribution and/or survival of the insect vector; a change in fitness and/or infectivity of the virus; and a human who carries the virus into an area deficient in mosquito control."  Weissmann was referring to the outbreak of this decidedly tropical virus in Ravenna, Italy, in 2007, but all of those conditions have been met again, and Chikungunya is here, in Haiti, where I live.  It has crossed the ocean and it is wreaking havoc here, though it's only been on our side of the island for a couple of weeks.  You can read more about that here.

On May 2nd, I posted a Dengue fever edition of Poetry Friday, because that was how I had diagnosed myself.  I now think I probably had Chikungunya, and whether I did or not, now everybody does, including multiple people in my household.  When I googled "Chikungunya" and "poem," I got the article I quoted above, because later in the text, Weissmann writes that Dante died of malaria, which he described this way in the Inferno:

Like those who shake
Feeling the quartan fever coming on -
Their nails already blue, so that they shiver
At the mere sight of shade - such was I then...

Believe it or not, poems have been written about Chikungunya, too, including this one, which identifies the vector of the virus, the Aedes Egypti mosquito, an equal opportunity carrier which also likes to share Dengue fever with others. One of my colleagues wrote a poem from her sickbed, and posted it on Facebook.  Maybe when this gets done working its way through my whole family, I'll wax poetic about it too. 

I hope next week to write a Poetry Friday post with no trace of illness attached, and also soon to fill you in on my trip to New Orleans for the IRA conference.  Meanwhile, check out today's roundup.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Poetry Friday: Failing to Read an Important Novel

Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel
by George Bilgere

Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.

We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other's silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.

All the characters can relax.
I'm giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.

Here's the rest.

I'm off to New Orleans today for the IRA conference.  I'm hoping to see some Poetry Friday regulars there!  Meanwhile, Jama's hosting the roundup today, so it's bound to be delicious!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Poetry Friday: Dengue Fever Edition

Googling "dengue fever" and "poem" produces a surprising number of hits.  Unfortunately, most of the poems aren't in English.  And most seem to have to do with preventing dengue rather than with suffering from it.  It's too late, in my case, for the prevention.

Yes, I am at home from work today, covered with an itchy rash that is a symptom of dengue fever.  At least it is a symptom that usually shows up late in the illness, signalling that I will feel better soon.

Writers and poets get dengue too, as this 2011 article comfortingly (?) points out.  And here is a poem written about dengue in Mississippi in 1873.

That's all I have for today.  Be sure to visit Katya's roundup here

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reading Update

When my computer crashed recently, I realized I had lost my ongoing list of the books I had read since my last Reading Update.  I was able to reconstruct it, even before accessing my backup, but I realized I need to keep this information in more than one place!  I usually accumulate a significant number of books and wait to blog about them until I have time to do a mini-review of each one.  I decided to go ahead and do a list post, and then I can go back and do reviews if I want to.  So here are the books I've read recently:

Book #3 for 2014 was Night of Cake and Puppets, by Laini Taylor.

Book #4 was Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth.

Book #5 was Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth.

Book #6 was Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth.

Book #7 was Divergent, by Veronica Roth.

Book #8 was Insurgent, by Veronica Roth.

Book #9 was Allegiant, by Veronica Roth.

Book #10 was Keeper, by Mal Peet.

Book #11 was The Aviator's Wife, by Melanie Benjamin.

Book #12 was The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier.

Book #13 was Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier.

Book #14 was Among Others, by Jo Walton.

Book #15 was Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat.

Book #16 was Home Life, by Suzanne Fox.

Book #17 was Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor.

Book #18 was Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything, by Mandy Steward.

Book #19 was Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned How to Ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans.  Most of these links are to the format in which I read the book, but it looks as though the Kindle format of this one isn't available any more.  That's because it has recently been re-released under a new title,  Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned How to Ask Questions