Friday, March 31, 2017

Poetry Friday: Memory and Desire

Tomorrow begins National Poetry Month.  Every year I quote the line from T. S. Eliot: "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire."  I've been thinking about that line, and its focus on the past (memory) and the future (desire).  I've also been thinking about the hundreds of poems I have posted on this blog in the nearly eleven years (my blog birthday is this month!) that I've been writing here.

Many of the Poetry Friday bloggers are full of fabulous project ideas for this month.  Amy's writing about colors.  Heidi's on a math kick.  And, of course, Irene's organized the Progressive Poem.  (And there are so many other creative projects planned! Here's Jama's list.)  I know myself better than to commit to writing a poem every day in April, because April in middle school is, indeed, the cruelest month.  Who knows what could happen?  But I do want to do a daily post this month.  (I'll be linking you to each new line in the Progressive Poem, at the very least.)

So here's what I came up with:  six days a week in April, I'll write a post linking up to a wonderful poem or two from my archives.  And on Fridays, I'll post something new.  I'll attempt to make it something newly written (by me), but some weeks it may just be something newly discovered.  In other words, Saturday through Thursday will be about memory, and Fridays will be about desire.  Or something like that.

So for today, I will link to the poems that got me thinking about this idea.  I was browsing past posts, and in June 2012 I had written about my husband reading "Tintern Abbey" while we were on vacation at our friend's cabin in the woods.  I wrote: "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."

I love that idea, expressed in Wordsworth's lines below, that our moments are precious not only for the delight they bring us while they're happening, but also for the memories we have to ponder later.

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.

Here's that post.

And in December 2009, I wrote another Tintern Abbey related post, this time referring to Billy Collins' poem "Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern Abbey."  This one skewers the idea of nostalgia, beginning:

I was here before, a long time ago,
and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs in life.

Here's that post.

In this article, Garrison Keillor tells us that April isn't the cruelest month - March is.  (And it's almost over!)  He also suggests that you shouldn't read poetry, necessarily, but you should definitely write a poem to someone you love, and he gives some tips for doing so.

Here's to a fabulous National Poetry Month!  And Amy has today's roundup at The Poem Farm.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Coming Soon: The Progressive Poem, 2017!

It's almost April, and you know what that means: National Poetry Month!  And you know what else that means: the sixth annual Progressive Poem!

The Progressive Poem travels around blogs all around the blogosphere, with each blogger adding a line.  This year we're doing a poem specifically for kids.  It is always fun, as you can see by looking back at past Aprils.


Below you'll find the schedule for this year.  The fun starts on Saturday!

April1 Heidi at my juicy little universe
2 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
3 Doraine at Dori Reads
4 Michelle at Today's Little Ditty
5 Diane at Random Noodling
6 Kat at Kat's Whiskers
7 Irene at Live Your Poem
8 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
9 Linda at TeacherDance
10 Penny at a penny and her jots
11 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
12 Janet F. at Live Your Poem
13 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
14 Jan at Bookseedstudio
15 Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales
16 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
17 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
18 Buffy at Buffy's Blog
19 Pat at Writer on a Horse
20 BJ at Blue Window
21 Donna at Mainely Write
22 Jone at Jone Ruch MacCulloch
23 Ruth at There is no such thing as a godforsaken town
24 Amy at The Poem Farm
25 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
26 Renee at No Water River
27 Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme
28 Michelle at Michelle Kogan
29 Charles at Poetry Time
30 Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids

Friday, March 24, 2017

Poetry Friday: A Box Full of Darkness, Response

Last week I shared a prompt from my writing group.  Three of us wrote poems in response to it, and lively discussion ensued.  Here's mine.  I found it a lot of fun to write.  I kept paring it and paring it; my final version was probably a third the length of my first draft.  I enjoyed the process so much - even though the subject of the poem is so sad - that I found myself wondering again why I don't routinely write every day.  The only reason I made myself sit down and write this was that I had my group meeting coming up.  I think the answer to my question is that I usually prioritize my "real work," which involves reading student writing, and on the rare occasions when that is finished, my brain is tired and picking up my own writing seems too much.  Yet writing is the one thing that reliably makes me feel better when I'm tired and down.

Box Full of Darkness

Someone I love gave me
A box

A box full of velvety black-hole darkness,
Sound-swallowing silence,
Absence, not-there-ness, all-gone-ness,
A box filled to the brim with emptiness,
A box of goodbye.

I’d throw the box away,
But it will take me years to unpack,
And besides, it’s from someone I love.


Here's today's roundup.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: A Box Full of Darkness

One of the members of my writing group sent us this poem to use as a prompt for our meeting next week.  I haven't written anything yet, but I've been thinking about it.  Maybe you'd like to think about it, too. 

The Uses of Sorrow
by Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Poetry Friday: Birthday Gifts Edition

Today is a busy day for me because it's a due date in both seventh and eighth grade.  The seventh graders made poetry anthologies, and the eighth graders are turning in a variety of things, but the main genre of the quarter was feature articles, and there are lots of very interesting topics, based on interviews they have done.  The piles are a little daunting, but there should be some great reading.

Speaking of great reading, I got some in the mail yesterday, too.  For my recent birthday, I received two Amazon gift cards, and I decided to treat myself to some poetry that had been on my Wish List for a while.  I got three books, one a download and two analog (I've typed and deleted several ways of referring to the book books - I'm not sure what to call them!).  I got a box from Amazon yesterday, and as soon as I get a little control of the grading, I'm excited to dig into these books.

I downloaded Derek Walcott's Omeros, which is a Caribbean retelling of the Odyssey (Walcott is from the island of St. Lucia).  I've been wanting to read this for a long time, and I couldn't wait, so I started it already.  It begins with a description of the building of canoes.  An islander called Philoctete is explaining to tourists:

"Wind lift the ferns.  They sound like the sea that feed us
fishermen all our life, and the ferns nodded 'Yes,
the trees have to die.' So, fists jam in our jacket,

cause the heights was cold and our breath making feathers
like the mist, we pass the rum.  When it came back, it
give us the spirit to turn into murderers.

I lift up the axe and pray for strength in my hands
to wound the first cedar.  Dew was filling my eyes,
but I fire one more white rum.  Then we advance."

I'm sure I'll write about this when I'm done with it, or maybe even while I'm in the process of reading it.

I've been reading poems by Gregory Djanikian for several years, and have posted some on this blog in the past (here, here, here), but have never read any of his books.  The one I got is called Years Later
Djanikian immigrated to the United States from Egypt as a young child, and if you follow the links to the poems I've posted by him, you'll see that he writes a lot about his experiences.  

The third book I got is by Jan Richardson, whose blog I love.  In fact, I've read several of the poems from this book, The Cure for Sorrow, there.  I have been wanting to get the book since it came out.  It's about her sudden loss of her husband after less than four years of marriage, but her format is blessings, with titles like "Blessing in the Chaos," "Blessing of Memory," "Blessing for a Whole Heart." 

There are few better feelings than having a whole little stack of books you are looking forward to reading.  Yay!

Here's today's roundup. I'm looking forward to reading that, too!

Friday, March 03, 2017

Reading Update

Book 6 of the year was Love Well: Living Life Unrehearsed and Unstuck, by Jamie George.  "God does not delete your story - " writes George, "He redeems it!"  He shares his own experiences with God redeeming his life story.

Book 7 was News of the World, by Paulette Jiles.  It's 1870.  Johanna was abducted from her family when she was six, and now that she is ten, she's been ransomed and she's on her way "home."  Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a man who travels around and reads newspapers to audiences who pay a dime each to hear the "news of the world."  He's agreed to take Johanna back to her original family, whether or not she wants to go.  I loved this book, with its intricately detailed portrayal of Johanna and Captain Kidd, and the way they grow in importance to one another.  Highly recommended.

Book 8 was Ann Patchett's latest book, Commonwealth.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on here, because there were lots of characters whom I couldn't keep straight very well.  But when, about halfway through, I figured it out, I was glad I hadn't given up.  The book explores issues about childhood, siblings, and how much of our story belongs to us.

Book 9 was The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey.  If I had known what this book was about, I wouldn't have picked it up, and that would have been a shame.  I know that is no help at all for you if you're trying to decide whether to read it, but I think it's best read without knowing too much about it, since you're supposed to realize the situation gradually.

Book 10 was The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, by Helen Russell.  I hadn't read any of the current spate of Denmark books, and knew very little about the country.  I learned a lot reading this book, written by a British woman whose husband got a job at Lego, sending the couple to Denmark for a year.  It's a mixture of very personal memoir and investigative journalism, and great fun.

Book 11 was Three Sisters, Three Queens, by Philippa Gregory.  I have been waiting for this to become available for download from my library ever since it came out.  The three queens of the title are Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, and her two sisters-in-law, Mary and Margaret.  I'm quite familiar with Katherine and Mary, but Margaret's story is much less known, and while it's pretty harrowing - like all the Tudors and anybody who came near them, particularly women, Margaret had a rough time of it - it also makes for exciting and entertaining reading.  I think I've read all Philippa Gregory's novels about the Plantagenets and Tudors, and now I'm ready for the next one!

Book 12 was A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.  I've wanted to read this ever since a good friend mentioned years ago that it was her favorite book.  I read it aloud to my husband, and since it's over 600 pages long, it took us a while.  This was only my second Irving book, and my husband's first.  Owen Meany is an unforgettable character, and I loved the leisurely manner in which the story is told.  At times hilarious, at times reverent, at times shocking and profane (language and content alerts for days), always vivid, this is the story of John and Owen's friendship against the backdrop of the late sixties and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  John Irving is a simply brilliant writer, and it's a pleasure watching this story unfold.  As John is trying to figure out how he will handle the threat of the draft, he tells Owen that he wants to go on reading, as a student and a teacher: "I'm just a reader."  Owen tells him that's nothing to be ashamed of, because reading is a gift.  It certainly is, when there are books like this to be read.

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

It's also linked to Modern Mrs. Darcy's "What I'm Reading Lately" post for March.

Poetry Friday: Strange Lands

Today, in honor of Billy Collins' 76th birthday this month, we have an all-Billy episode of Poetry Friday.  Our host, Heidi, suggests that "all who care to will post a favorite Billy Collins poem (or Billy-inspired original)." I've got one of each - one of his and one of mine - for you today.

I've been thinking a lot about photography lately, since I'm doing a year-long photo-a-day project.  For the last couple of years, I've also done a photo-a-day project during Lent, so this year during Lent (which started on Wednesday), I'm posting two photos each day on Facebook, responding to prompts I got here as well as the regular ones I got here.  I'm very much an amateur photographer; my husband bought me a nice camera that is able to do way more than I know how to do, but I'm experimenting and learning, and having all kinds of thoughts about connections between photography and writing, photography and being fully present in the moment, and photography and love.  Maybe I'll develop some of these thoughts further in writing in the future.  

Meanwhile, I picked the Billy Collins poem "Strange Lands" to share today.  This poem is from Collins' 1988 collection  The Apple that Astonished Paris.  In the poem, people back from a trip pass out their vacation photos, "like little mirrors," to friends after dinner.  Isn't that quaint and old-fashioned?  Even though the technology is dated, though, I like what the poem has to say about taking pictures and why we share them with others: "to make them believe we really found / some sweet elsewhere, away from here."  

Here's the poem:

Strange Lands
 by Billy Collins

The photographs of the summer trip are spread
across the table now like little mirrors
reflecting our place in European history.

They are the booty of travel, bordered and colorful,
split seconds that we pass to friends after dinner
one by one to make them believe we really found
some sweet elsewhere, away from here.

There we are, the familiar gazing out of the foreign,
stopped in front of a carved Cistercian door,
or leaning obliquely against a kiosk;
frozen behind a blue and white Della Robbia,
or parked at a café table strewn with phrasebooks,
obscured there in the underexposed shadow of an awning.

Here's the rest, including the travelers walking on after taking a photo, "unfocused, unphotographed...two blurs," as though they really only fully exist when they are documenting their travels.  

I wish Billy Collins would update this poem, but in the meantime, I tried my hand at it.  I sound a bit more negative and cynical about social media than I really am; I enjoy connecting with people that way, but it is, let's face it, a pale substitute for being with our friends in person. 

Strange Lands on Social Media
by Ruth, from

The photographs of the trip are posted,

like little digital gifts,
ready for friends all over to like,
be startled or saddened or angered by,
or even love.
Pics, or it didn’t happen.

See what a good time we’re having?
That’s us, in the pictures,
smiling, or posing ironically duck-faced.
That’s what we ate, what we drank, 

artfully arranged and gleaming,
the walks we took.
Those are the sights we saw,
and you can see them now, too.

We can’t share the smells or tastes or textures with you - yet -
But you can experience some of the sounds in this short video.

Hear those exotic birds?  Those foreign-sounding voices?
(Feel free to share.)

Do you have any comments for us?
If so, we’d like to read them.

We wish you were here,
next to us,
laughing and swapping stories,

spilling your drinks in an unpicturesque manner,
instead of far away,
scrolling through our photos 

on your phone.

Here's today's roundup.