Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday: How to Mend a Broken Vase

At an early meeting of my writing group, a member shared the Frank O'Hara poem "Why I Am Not a Painter".  It was photocopied from a book, and it was prefaced by this suggestion: "Make a title beginning with 'How' or 'Three Ways That...' or some such implied promise, and then in your poem that follows break or defy the promise, or complicate it."

The poem that follows was my effort to respond to that prompt.  This is a second draft, changed using some of the group's criticisms.

How to Mend a Broken Vase

First, gather up the shards.
Don’t forget that the shattering sent them in all directions;
There’s one, under the fridge,
And over there is another.
You’ll probably be finding pieces for quite a while.

Once you have them all picked up,
Put them in a pile,
And stare at them.

Think about whatever possessed you
To pick up that vase full of dead flowers
With butter on your hands
And scold yourself roundly.

When you’re ready, get to work with the glue.
Make a smeary mess.
Peel glue off your fingers and try again.
Cut yourself on pieces of glass,
Drop some on the ground and step on them,
Generally fail to mend the broken vase.

Give up.

Leave the pile where it is
And get irritated with it every time you see it.

Start enjoying the way the slivers of glass
Shine and sparkle as the light hits them.
Think about what you could add
To make a mosaic.

If, by chance,
It is your heart instead of a vase that you have carelessly
Allowed to get broken,
The same procedure will work.

Ruth, from

 Karen Edmisten has the roundup for this week.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: Love, by Classic Authors, and by Me

This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, that festival of hormones and sugar, I read love poetry with my eighth graders.  I chose some classic poems to share with them, and I made the point every day that people throughout history have had some of the same experiences and emotions as we do now, even though their technology and surroundings were very different.  On Monday we read Michael Drayton's "Since there's no help," on Tuesday "The Constant Lover," by John Suckling, on Wednesday "To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars," by Richard Lovelace, and on Thursday, Ezra Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter." 

I framed "Since there's no help" as "a break-up poem," and taught the word ambivalent to discuss the difference between Drayton's claim: "And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart, /That thus so cleanly I myself can free" and then his wistful suggestion in the couplet at the end that his girlfriend might be able to make their love recover, even at this point.  We also talked about the amazing metaphor of their relationship as a patient in a hospital bed.  Here's the poem, or you can read this photo I took of my handout, on the floor, with footprints on it.

(By the way, I really think ambivalent is a highly useful vocabulary word, no matter how old you are, and I was reinforced in this belief by the delighted response of a girl in the front row as I explained that you could feel both that you loved someone and that you hated that person, or both happy and sad, and that was called ambivalence: "Hey!  That's how I feel!")

Tuesday's poem, "The Constant Lover," was a chance to talk about how it feels to have crushes on lots of people at once.  I taught the word constant (used ironically in the poem), and we evaluated the idea that if this girl Suckling is currently in love with were any less wonderful than she is, he'd have loved a dozen dozen others during the three days he's loved her.  How much is a dozen dozen?  (Someone always says twenty-four, but then we figure out that it's...well, look at what my white board said.)  Here's Suckling's poem.

On Wednesday, with "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," we looked at the idea of going off to war, from the point of view of the guy who's leaving, and from the point of view of the girl who's getting left behind.  And that fabulous line: "I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more."  Here's that poem.  I just about jumped for joy today when an eighth grader turned in a response from Lucasta.

And then on Thursday, with "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter," we talked about arranged marriages and falling in love with someone you're already committed to, the opposite of the way we think of it today in the culture we live in.  Being married at fourteen to someone your parents picked for you?  Ew!  (Although one boy remarked, "Well, it depends who it is.")  But missing someone you love?  They have all experienced that.  Here's that poem.

I absolutely love all these poems, and you probably already know (especially if you're a teacher) that the students aren't quite as enthusiastic about them as I am.  But still, we have fun.  Yes, we do!

For my own love, I wrote a sonnet as my Valentine's gift, and he was very pleased with it and gave me permission to share it here.  You will probably recognize my opening couplet as a borrowing from William Shakespeare.  My husband and I were in a seminar together in college where we read all of Shakespeare's sonnets.  (We met in college, when I was still a teenager, and got married when I was twenty-one.)

Valentine for my Husband

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.”

In all these years of Monday - Friday weeks
Our hair’s grown grayer, happy days and glum
Have been and gone.  Our fortunes rise and fall,
We’re sick, then well, our children quickly grow,
And still our love abides, and through it all
We learn some more of what we need to know.

It’s thirty years since we first read those lines.
Back then we thought we understood how time
Would reinforce our love, how Valentines,
Poems, and roses would endure, sublime.
Earthquakes of life we didn’t then foresee,
And yet, here we still are, my love and me.

by Ruth, from

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Poetry Friday: Waiting

On Tuesday morning I was listening to the radio, and I heard a Syrian refugee talk about his journey to the US, interrupted by the travel ban but then completed when the ban was lifted.  It struck me that this is the story of humanity: ordinary people's lives getting altered by what people with power decide to do, and how those ordinary people make the best of it.  What I heard turned into this poem.

Waiting, February 2017

The voice on the radio, according to the interpreter, says:
“I waited very long in Istanbul.”

I wonder how many times in history
This exact phrase has been used:

“I waited very long in Istanbul.”

And before that:

“I waited very long in Constantinople.”

And before that:

“I waited very long in Byzantium.”

For three thousand years,
People have waited,
Observing the vagaries of empire, war, and power,
Without being able to do much about them.

There’s baklava,
Turkish tea and coffee,
A cruise down the Bosphorus,
A Turkish bath.

I wonder how many of these things
And the other delights of Turkey
Came into being
To entertain those who were waiting,
Waiting very long in Istanbul.

Ruth, from

When I shared this poem with my writing group, one of the members played this song:

I did some research on Istanbul for the poem, and now I really want to go.  Check out this link on fifty things to do there.

Here's today's roundup.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Reading Update

So far in 2017, I've finished five books.  Here they are, with brief reviews.

Book 1 of 2017 was Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives, from New Growth Press.  This was a devotional book I downloaded last January and finished in the first week of this January.  The daily entries were written by people associated with the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, and the book was overall helpful and worth reading.

Book 2 was The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  I had had this on my Kindle for a while, and it seemed to go well with my OLW for the year (ROOTED), so I decided to read it.  I recommend it highly.  As Wilson-Hartgrove puts it in the first sentence of his introduction: "This is a book about staying put and paying attention."  Here's a taste: "Stability is a commitment to trust God not in an ideal world, but in the battered and bruised world we know.  If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, then it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us."  With my background of multicultural living and frequent moves, this is profoundly against the grain stuff for me some days.  I don't want to invest in people and their lives because they always, always leave.  I want to hide away and protect myself from being hurt again.  If you're like me, read this book.

Book 3 was Sins of the Fathers, by Susan Howatch.  Fans of the Starbridge books will recognize a lot of the same themes in this earlier Howatch book: multiple points of view, deeply broken characters, multi-generational drama.  The Starbridge books, written after Howatch's conversion to Christianity, add the element of deep spiritual understanding and quest.

Book 4 was The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny.  So far I'm not hugely taken with this series, the Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries, but I hear Penny hits her stride in book four, so I'll read at least that one before I give up.

Book 5 was The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd.  The last book I read by this author, The Mermaid Chair, did not impress me.  (I must have read it before I started putting everything I read on this blog.)  This one, though, is wonderful.  It's the fictionalized story of the Grimké sisters, growing up in Charleston, South Carolina at the height of slavery.  Sarah Grimké receives a slave girl, Handful, as a gift for her eleventh birthday, and the chapters alternate between Sarah's and Handful's points of view.  While it's at times hard to read, I really appreciated that this book made no effort to romanticize the relationship between the two girls.  Slavery was and is always brutal, and Charleston was a particularly horrifying, dystopic place for African Americans at this time.   Eventually the Grimkés, Sarah and Angelina, became well-known (and notorious) for opposing slavery and for their early feminism.  Highly recommended.

This post is linked to the Saturday Review of Books for February 4th at Semicolon.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Poetry Friday: Refugees and Bright Wings

I have a little collection of things to share today on this first Poetry Friday in February, three pieces I read this week that helped me deal with the world as it is.

First of all, here's a poem written this week called "Odysseus at O'Hare."   Odysseus compares the hospitality he received among people who fear the gods in ancient times with the welcome he's getting at the airport in Chicago in 2017.

On Thursday I finished the verse novel I was reading with my seventh graders, Inside Out and Back Again.  This is the story of Hà and her family, living in Saigon in 1975, as the Viet Cong move closer and closer to the city.  Eventually the family is forced to flee, and even at the end of their harrowing journey, when they wind up in Alabama, things aren't easy for them.  Hà says at one point:

"No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama."

I have been using this book with my seventh graders for several years now, and certainly couldn't have anticipated that refugees would fill the news this year as we read it.  It provided a great springboard for discussion of what refugees go through at every stage of their odyssey.  Hà, at ten, is younger than most of the protagonists of books my kids enjoy, and the novel could definitely be used with younger students than mine.  To me, the most poignant scene in the book is the one where Hà's teacher, in a well-meaning effort to inform the other kids about Vietnam, shows the class war photos.  Hà, instead of appreciating the teacher's gesture, is angry and sad that her beloved country has been represented as a place of only war and suffering.  Some of my students could relate to this, remembering going to the US after the earthquake, and having their classmates know nothing about their country except for the destruction they were seeing on the news.

Lastly, I want to share "God's Grandeur," a poem which a friend left as a comment on my Facebook page this week.  It's filled with the hope I need, because I believe that God's grandeur is also part of the world as it is.

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast with ah! bright wings!

The roundup is here today.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

What's Saving My Life Right Now

Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy invited us to share what's saving our life right now.  She reflected that this is the midpoint of winter, but I don't deal with cold weather or Seasonal Affective Disorder where I live.  Like others, however, I have been struggling with the mess in the world and in my own passport country, the United States.  After a long and brutal election season there and in the country where I live (the one in the US was more brutal, but the one here in Haiti went on longer, with postponements and even a redo), the political news didn't quiet down, but instead got louder and more insistent.

When I stopped to reflect on Anne's question (originally from Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir Leaving Church), I realized that the answers all have to do with my OLW for the year, ROOTED.  The things that are saving my life right now involve focusing on where I am and on situations where I can have some impact.

The people around me are saving my life.  My husband, my children (one here, one via Skype from college, and yes, that still counts as "where I am," since my heart is with her as much as it is here), my extended family and household, my friends, my colleagues, my students, my church family.  The people in my life.  The people I love.

My writing group is saving my life.  I've wanted to be in a writing group for years, and now that I finally am, I'm finding it a rich experience.  Even if I don't get much done in the two weeks between meetings, I love the conversation.  We start with a piece by another writer (not one of us), and then we talk about what we've all submitted.  We drink tea and laugh and swap ideas and act all English-majory, and it's wonderful - like being back in grad school but without the competitive angst I used to writhe in back then.  Writing saves my life; it's one of the things that reliably makes me feel better, but it takes a lot of effort, and often when I feel the worst, I have the least motivation to make myself write.  The writing group helps with that, giving me the extra oomph to work and to know that I'll have sympathetic, smart readers.

Taking photos is saving my life.  I started a photography project at the beginning of this year, in which I'm taking photos every day, and posting one a day on Facebook in response to prompts from It's making me look around my world more closely, finding what's beautiful and what's ugly and what's worth capturing.  Some days I'm happy with my photo and some days I'm not.  Some days lots of my friends pay attention, and other days hardly anyone seems to notice.  All of that is all right.  It's a way of grounding myself, of being exactly where and when and who I am. 

Reading always saves my life, and it continues to do that.  I read to relax, to reflect, to learn, to grow, to escape, to live other lives.  I know that doesn't sound like being rooted, but it is.  It's being rooted in who I really am, and always have been since I learned to read when I was four, and even before then when my parents read to me.  I am a reader, a book person.  I am so blessed to have a job that lets me be a book person and encourage others to join me.  And it's also saving my life to be a Book person, a person who reads the Bible in the morning before I read my news feed, to orient myself with ancient wisdom and love before plunging into whatever awful thing just happened.  (I still plunge - I don't see how I can close myself off to it - but I have a more eternal perspective.)

How about you?  What's saving your life right now?

This post is linked to Modern Mrs. Darcy's roundup.