A Pause for Celebration

“Sorrow comes in great waves…but rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us, it leaves us. And we know that if it is strong, we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain.” – Henry James

 

After the events of the past weeks: the COVID pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, rioting and looting in many of our major cities, it is difficult to think of celebration.  There is so much I worry about, so much anger that needs to be healed, so many problems that need to be rectified.  It seems insurmountable.  This country I love is deeply troubled. But today, I find myself having to pause for celebration.

Today, June 4th, is Henry’s birthday.  It is Henry’s 40th birthday.   Recently, Henry and I reconnected after 36 years.  In 1984, Henry was three-years-old and one of my nursery school students.  His mother, Catherine and I became friends that year, and I also took care of Henry three days a week while Catherine worked on her dissertation on Henry James.

Then something unbelievably senseless happened.  One February night, Catherine was killed by a drunk driver.  I did not know how to process this loss.  The only thing I did know to do was to take care of Henry, and that’s what I did.  I became Henry’s full-time caretaker for the next two years.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life and the most rewarding.

Henry and I had many adventures together.  We shed many tears, and we also experienced everyday joys.  Then Henry, as boys have a habit of doing, grew up.  Gradually, we lost touch with each other.  However, I never forgot about him and every June 4th I would say, “Happy Birthday, Henry – wherever you are!”  I hoped that he knew that I was thinking of him and wishing him well.

Henry graduated high school, went to college, created several restaurants, and became a creative adult. I continued teaching and writing.  I hoped that one day, Henry and I would be able to reunite so that I could tell him about those years.  And then it happened, out of the blue. He reached out to me and said that he wanted to know more about his mother.  I was so overjoyed.  We talked over the phone, and the 36 years melted away.  Even though we were actually strangers now, we talked together as if it was a normal, everyday occurrence.

I realized that I had been waiting for 36 years to tell his story.  I sat down for 5 days in a row and wrote and wrote and wrote.  I created a 33-page book of memories for Henry. It was such an interesting process because the more I wrote, the more I remembered.  I felt a calm and ease come over me. When I sent the book to Henry, he said that many people had promised to write down memories for him, but no one ever did until now.  That made me sad for him, but also happy.  I am so amazingly happy that I could finally give him this gift, which he will read today on his 40th birthday, June 4th.

This is a poem I wrote a number of years ago about the day Henry and I came home from school to his house the week after Catherine died.  I hope my memories of that time will bring him closer to his mother.

Remember Me

Three days after Catherine died,

I took her young son home from school.

I put her key into her door

As her son pushed ahead,

Running through the house, calling,

“Mommy, Mommy, where are you?

I made a picture for you!”

He was three and didn’t understand

The permanence of death.

I ran after him,

Took him by the hand,

“You remember, Henry, don’t you?

Mommy’s not here.”

He leaned into me,

His face hidden between

The folds of my skirt,

“I remember,” he whispered.

 

We went into Catherine’s kitchen,

Made cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches,

Sat on the floor of her sunny living room,

Built castles out of wooden blocks,

“When’s my mommy coming?”

Henry asked again.

I looked into his eyes,

“Henry, I’m sorry –

Mommy’s not coming home.”

“But I didn’t say good-bye to her,

She’ll be lonely without me.”

I turned my tears away,

Looked out the back door

Trying to find the words

To make him understand.

 

I caught a glimpse –

Something bright from Catherine’s closet,

One of her dresses, the Marimekko

With the bright flowers,

The one she wore the first time I met her.

I took Henry’s hand,

Opened her closet, gathered all her dresses

And laid them on her bed.

I picked up each dress, one by one,

Held them in front of Henry.

He looked up at me and knew what to do:

He hugged each dress,

Nestled his face into the familiar fabric,

“Good-bye Mommy,

Have fun in heaven,

Remember me,” he whispered.

 

 

 

Ascent: Sharing Our Stories

This week’s Sharing Our Stories prompt from Ruth Ayres was “spreading your wings wider.”  I thought about her words for a little while.  Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings a little wider each day even though we remain in quarantine.  It’s funny how being physically inside has made me become more open and wandering within my mind and heart.

I usually like keeping my writing to myself. I am very protective of it.  Too protective.  I know where that comes from so I try to encourage myself to take risks and reach out.  Today, I invited three friends to join SOS.  They are talented writers and need a helpful nudge, like Ruth nudged me on my 64th birthday.  I wouldn’t normally reach out to people – even friends.  But this online writing group is teaching me to read others’ words and connect.  I’m learning that my thinking is stretched and strengthened by others.  I know that intellectually, but now I’m coming to know it emotionally.

When I come to think about stretching my wings, taking chances, being wild – I think of all the abundance I have in my life and how that abundance has been revealing itself to me  these past months.  I have a 94-year-old father who lives by himself in a high risk COVID area – he remains healthy and safe.  This is good news because my relationship with him continue to heal and grow in beneficial ways. I have a mother-in-law who is very needy and lives far from me.  She has no other relatives nearby.  I am her lifeline and though sometimes, it is stressful, I think about all the lovely talks we’ve had about books (she was a research librarian and has a home library of 4,000 books).  Over the years, she has reminded me just how important books/knowledge is to personal development.

Thought it’s been a tumultuous year so far, I recognize all the things in my life that I am grateful for: my husband – who always encourages me to stretch my thinking, my family (sister, cousins, aunts, and nieces) who are there for support, my friends – and especially my friend, Molly, who is one of the most creative, positive, and courageous people I know, and the children I’ve taught for the past 42 years, who have come back to share their grown-up lives with me.  I am ever so grateful and blessed.

I use my poetry as snapshots.  They help me remember moments in my life.  This poem below fits so beautifully with how I’m feeling right now and how Ruth helped me spread my wings.

 

Ascent

This morning, if I hadn’t decided 

To hike around Lake Minnewaska,

If I didn’t choose the yellow trail

Up the mountain, past Gertrude’s Nose,

If I didn’t stop along the ridge

To watch the hawks circle above the pines,

If I hadn’t bent to tie my boot on the rocky path,

I would not have seen that single moth 

With wings folded upright, carefully clasped

Almost the color of birch bark or sunlit limestone

She would not have startled me 

With her out-spread, periwinkle wings –

I would not have witnessed 

Her ascent into the April air.

 

Come into the Garden

 

As a child, I took great delight in my grandfather’s garden.  Though it was just a small, backyard patch of land, my grandfather transformed it into a magical place with an abundance of vegetables and fruits.  He planted rows and rows of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, a variety of squash and beans, tomatoes, and tall stalks of corn.  Grandpa also had an apple and a peach tree on which he’d graft branches of other fruit trees to expand his crop of fruits.  Our family would enjoy this bounty all year round.  Grandpa would make squash blossoms in the spring, set bowls of strawberries or cut generous slices of watermelon in the summer, we’d carved homegrown pumpkins in the fall, and savor his cinnamon-laced canned peaches in the winter.

No matter what the time of year, I loved wandering through grandpa’s garden.  I’d help him weed, concoct natural fertilizers from eggshells and coffee grinds, and set seedlings into the moist earth.  There was always something to keep my sister and me busy.  We would rake leaves, pick ripe fruit and vegetables, and gather up fallen tomatoes, setting them on a sunny sill to ripen. My grandfather would bring these garden treasures into his kitchen, creating delicious, savory and sweet treats.  Those smells and tastes remain in my memory.  My grandfather taught me that no matter how small the space, anyone could make the world beautiful.  All it takes is a little imagination and a lot of perseverance. 

Grandpa’s Garden

Grandpa’s garden stands green before me: 

Apple trees bloom pink-white,

Corn ripens on silky stalks,

Feathery carrot tops sway,

Watermelon vines wander aimlessly.

 

Grandpa and I walk among

Golden squash blooms,

Small green pears slowly ripening, 

Pumpkin vines crawling along the ground,

String beans climbing lazily towards the sun,

 

Grandpa’ hands, brown and weathered, 

Encourage tender shoots,

Smiling, he stands before me,

A perfect, sun-speckled peach,

A garden offering, in his hands. 

 

Squash Blossoms

No one quarrels

As the squash blossoms 

Are quickly plucked 

From slowly, spreading vines

In grandpa’s garden.

 

Under huge, green leaves

Grandpa’s rough hands,

Quietly gather the buds –

Tender green, yellow,

Mellow orange.

 

Wise fingers dip 

Blossoms in the batter.

Quivering as they sizzle,

A wonder to the tongue,

A springtime kiss.

 

Those memories always bring me comfort.  Though my grandfather died almost forty years ago, his garden remains with me and continues to give me sustenance. For that, I am ever grateful.  One magic recipe I made with my grandfather was squash blossoms.  They are a rare delight and well worth the effort.

Garden Recipe:  Squash Blossoms                                                                                              12-16 blossoms

You can pick squash blossoms from your pumpkin or zucchini plants.  Remember not to pick too many blossoms; otherwise you will have no pumpkins or zucchinis at harvest time.  If you don’t have a garden, you can get squash blossoms at your local produce stand, grocery store, or gourmet specialty store in the spring.

Flour mixture: Milk mixture:

1 cup cornmeal 1 cup skim milk

½ cup flour 1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder 1 egg white

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp baking soda

Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce:

½ tsp. Dill ½ cup apricot preserves

½ tsp. Chives 1 Tbsp. water

Canola oil for frying 2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. yellow mustard

Directions: 

  1. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients:  cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, dill, and chopped dry chives.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg and egg white.  Mix well.
  3. Dip blossoms one at a time in milk mixture and then roll in flour mixture.
  4. Place floured blossoms on a plate and place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  5. Pour an inch of oil in a frying pan.  Heat oil to bubbling. Place blossom in oil 3 or 4 at a time, turning until each side is light golden brown.  Remove blossoms from pan and set over paper towels. 
  6. Serve immediately with honey-mustard dipping sauce.

Making the Dipping Sauce: (Keeps for 2 days refrigerated)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.  Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wings Wide Open

 

Ruth Ayres recently encouraged me to think about what it means to live with arms wide open.  Even though I’m an introvert at heart, I love to take quiet risks.  I was born curious and that curiosity hasn’t subsided in my sixth decade of living.  I guess that’s why I also love teaching.  I am always looking for the new — looking to learn.

Last week, I found a new poetry form.  I never had heard of it before.  A new children’s poetry book, Nine:  A Book of Nonet Poems written by Irene Latham and illustrated by Amy Huntington, will be published in June. Nonets are poems with 9 lines and 45 syllables. Nonets can go in descending or ascending order (9-1 or 1-9 lines).  

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Nine+a+book+of+nonet+poems&i=instant-video&ref=nb_sb_noss

Line 1: 9 syllables                                                                                                                                  Line 2: 8 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 3: 7 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 4: 6 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 5: 5 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 6: 4 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 7: 3 syllables                                                                                                                            Line 8: 2 syllables                                                                                                                                Line 9: 1 syllable

I decided to have a go at writing nonets. I actually like the challenge of having to stay within a form.  It is somehow comforting to have parameters, boundaries – a garden border, a frame for my thoughts.

Nine Song Birds

In my yard, under the great green pine,

The songbirds gather in the shade

Pecking and chirping along:

Robin, jays, chickadees

With one joyous voice,

While woodpecker

Keeps the beat:

Rhythm – – –

Rhyme.

 

 

Buds

Buds

Blossom

Purple, white,

The crocus first,

In row upon row,

Then Yellow daffodils,

Golden guardians stand watch.

Sunshine in the form of flowers,

Long awaited spring returns and blooms.

As I continued to reflect on the idea of “arms wide open,” it made me think of the poem by Emily Dickinson, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers.”  I had repeated that poem over and over again when my mother was gravely ill six years ago. On a crisp, blue early November day when she was cremated, I walked out into the cemetery and suddenly a flock of Canadian geese took flight.  They honked and flapped, creating a “V” as they lifted into the air. I smiled and took in this as a final good-bye from my mother whose name was Vivian.  She was a teacher too and an artist.  It was Vivian who taught me to live life with arms wide open.

Anger

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it. 

– Marcus Aurelius

Anger is hard for me to write about.  It is probably hard for most people to write or talk about.  I most certainly would rather write about children, art, or cupcakes.  However, the whole point of beginning again in writing this blog is to take risks. I have always encouraged the people in my life to take risks: my husband, my friends, and my students.  I have been very brave having others put themselves out in front, diving into the deep water, taking a chance. All the while, I remain in the shadows not talking about anger.  And so… I begin.

Talking about anger means talking about my family.  I grew up in a very angry household.  Not everyone was angry.  Just one.  It only takes one. One can cloud everything.  That one for me was my father.  My father could be a very generous and amicable man, and then for no apparent reason, he would become intensely angry.  I was a witness to his anger countless times, and it made me into a reticent child.  It has taken my whole adult life to come to terms with this and to heal.  I am still healing.  And my father, at the age of 94, is still changing and growing.  Now, when he gets angry, he catches himself and gains self-control.

My father is a World War II veteran.  He was 18 years old when he enlisted into the Marines, served in Guam, and took part in the bloodiest of fighting – the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill.  My father survived the war, but most certainly had PTSD that went untreated for decades.  His trauma was carried from the battlefield and into our little, suburban Cape Cod. From the outside, our home was distinctly neat and quiet. Inside, there was always a storm brewing.

I became very adept at detecting storms, as did my sister and mother. They would run for cover.  I, on the other hand, would run straight for the storm, trying to tame it.  Not a good idea when you are four and six and ten and fifteen. Not a good idea at any age.  I was tenacious and resilient, but I was left in a wake of anger that it took me years to understand and overcome.  When my father was in his eighties, he self-published a book about his war experiences called The Timid Marine.  It was while reading his book that I began to fully understand where his anger had originated.

As I grew, though shy and reticent, I also had a great deal of hidden anger.  I kept it locked tightly in a box.  I was determined NOT to be my father.  And I wasn’t, but that didn’t mean I had a handle on my anger.  It was only  when I started to write a novel-in- verse a number of years ago that I began to delve into my relationship to anger and how deeply my father’s behavior affected me.

Water Cycle

In the morning before setting out

We go to Falls Park,

Watching the water cascade

I think about my father and me.

We are two rocks,

Rock against rock,

Striking and striking back,

Sparks fly – air ignites –

Chips of stone – pieces of each of us

Lay broken on the ground.

Aunt Connie tells me –

Water is stronger than stone.

I need to learn to be the water:

Blue, cold, crystal clear,

Flowing past the stone,

Carving an open space,

Leaving the stone smooth

Rounded – ready to listen –

Washing up the pieces

And carrying them away with me

Out to the ocean’s edge.

Recently, I heard Dr. Marc Brackett talk about his new book, Permission to Feel at the Bright & Quirky Summit.  Dr. Brackett is the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  He developed a system called RULER, which helps children and. young adults manage and regulate their moods and emotions.  This type of work has always intrigued me, because I feel that in order to create a productive and happy life, one needs to develop social/emotional skills, but that has not always been a well-understood science. As Dr. Brackett writes, “First, emotion skills must be acquired.  Nobody is born with them all in place and ready to work.  Emotion skills amplify our strengths and help us through challenges.”  Last week, a former colleague of mine, Deborah Kris, wrote about  Dr. Brackett’s work in her article,  “When a Child’s Emotions Spike, How Can a Parent Find Their Best Self?” These studies on Emotional Intelligence are so important and give me hope that families may be able to better understand, manage, and build relationships, even if it takes decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin again…

 

Sometimes, to begin again feels like a long hike in the summer sun up a steep slope. Sometimes, to begin again is like swimming in honey.  Today, I received an invitation from Ruth Ayres to begin again, and I accept it as a gift.

Now, I don’t know Ruth personally, but I subscribe to her website and have read her blogs for years.  I never had children, so I loved reading Ruth’s family stories.  They gave me a glimpse of the joys and pain of being a mom.  Ruth’s children have had dark beginnings, and they struggle. I loved hearing about their triumphs and was saddened when they struggled. Struggling is something I know a lot about.  

When I read one of Ruth’s recent blogs and her decision to start writing again, I knew I had to leave her a comment to tell her how much her writing meant to me.  I never expected a response, but I should have, because Ruth is all about connection.

Ruth sent me an invitation to begin to write again.  And it is that nudge I so desperately needed.  Thank you, Ruth. And so on my sixty-fourth birthday I begin again…

What should I write about?  What should I write about?  And then suddenly I know. A poem comes into my head. I wrote it several years ago as part a coming-of-age novel in verse I have yet to finish about a twelve-year-old girl who is struggling.

A Gift

When we are alone,

Aunt Connie hands me a present

Wrapped in brilliant blue.

I rip it open to reveal

A brand-new journal.

It’s suede, the color of new earth,

It smells of earth too, comforting,

Tied together with strong leather strings

And small brass beads.

I look up at my aunt to thank her,

She puts one arm around my shoulder,

Holds me close and whispers,

“Just keep writing – 

Just keep writing,” she says.

But she does not say it 

Like my teachers would,

Not just keep writing because I have to,

It’s an assignment– I will be graded.

Punctuation counts, spelling counts,

Not jut keep writing – like it’s good for me,

Like it’s medicine or spinach – 

But just keep writing because it’s part of me,

Like breathing in air and exhaling,

Because it keeps me alive,

Because it connects me to the world,

Because it keeps me sane

It is my life – I need to live it,

My feelings count, memories count.

The Art of Cookies

For our 30th anniversary five years ago, my husband and I returned to our honeymoon site – Montreal. Since that time, we make sure we return to Montreal every summer, sometimes twice a summer.  My husband found a wonderful boutique hotel in Old Montreal – Georges Marciano’s L’Hotel. Marciano, the founder and designer of Guess? Jeans, created this lovely hotel, which houses some of his vast collection of Modern art.

The first time we arrived at L’Hotel, to our delight, we noticed a cafe right next door – Cookies Stefanie. Since I am a foodie with Celiac, Cookie Stefanie was an amazing find for me because it is an exclusively Gluten Free bakery and cafe. In the past five years, I think I have sampled almost every item they have to offer: cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, all kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches, savory soups, tartines, and fresh salads.  There are also biscotti ice cream sandwiches, pan chocolate, and carrot cake. Each are so delicious that I cannot tell you what is my favorite one.  However, they do make a tiny treat, which I favored this summer.  It’s a chocolate covered cherry.  The cherry is surrounded in a moist chocolate cake and then wrapped in a creamy chocolate ganache.  It is small, so I don’t feel too guilty, and it is so rich that it definitely satisfies my sweet tooth.  Many an afternoon I could be found retreating to Cookie Stefanie for a cup of tea and a delectable treat.  I cannot describe well enough the happiness I feel when I enter this gleaming white and pretty pink cafe.  My eyes feast on all the glorious desserts and because they are gluten free.  I can have my pick!

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Here are some other wonderful eateries in Montreal, which I have enjoyed.  I cannot wait to return next summer to seek out more sumptuous treasures!

Gluten Free Dining Options in Montreal:

I am so happy that Stefanie created this wonderful place!  I wish she’d bring her talent to New York City!
This cafe is located in the open-air market – Marche Jean Talon in Little Italy.  They make buckwheat crepes, which are gluten-free in all imaginable flavors both sweet and savory.
Great gluten free croissants and eclairs!  Really!
Amazing sweet potato gnocchi, quinoa fritters, and other wonderful delights. It is a Vegan cafe too.
Fresh and creative salads in a pretty light-filled cafe.
Love this teahouse!  A respite of CALM!
The BEST gluten-free pizza crust I have every eaten and I’ve eaten lots of pizza!  Their pasta is also perfect!
Great risotto!

 

Ming Tao Xuan or How to Relax in Old Montreal

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”          – C.S. Lewis

This summer I was fortunate to spend a week in Old Montreal, one of the most beautiful places in the northern hemisphere: cobblestone streets, majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, quaint shops and restaurants nestled on the St. Lawrence harbor.  It is really a delight for the senses.  My husband and I walked all over the city exploring all the different neighborhoods in Montreal. For me, Old Montreal is a respite from the world, a solace for my busy soul.   We’ve taken many trips to Montreal in the past five year, and so I’ve come to know this historic part of the city well.  I love exploring all the shops, tasting culinary specialties at the various restaurants and cafe, but the place I go to treat myself, to take a mindful breath in my day is Ming Tao Xuan Tea House on the corner of Rue de Brésoles and Rue Saint Sulpice in the shadow of Notre Dame Basilica.

Pushing open the heavy glass door, I am immediately transported to a realm of beauty and quietude.  It is a small space filled with wood and glass.  There are floor to ceiling cabinets filled with teapots of all shapes and sizes: iron, clay, and porcelain. Huge colorful porcelain urns sit atop the cabinets like peaceful, sleeping sentinels. There are only four tables in the tea house.  They are study, square, and ornately carved. I take a seat at one table in the back of the room near the small marble fountain. I look out the window at the crowds and city traffic, but cannot hear a sound.  This is truly a sanctuary.

DSCF2936                           DSCF2944.jpg

The proprietor comes to greet me,  a distinguished gentleman with dark-rimmed glasses.  He hands me a thick, celadon-colored menu.  The food offerings take up one page while the next twenty pages are filled with teas of every color, aroma, and taste imaginable.  I become a bit overwhelmed by the choices, but finally choose one that I think will sooth my stress away.  After sipping and savoring, I meditate on this beautiful place and write a poem to commemorate this moment.

 

Ming Tao Xuan

Glass and dark wood,

The sound of trickling water,

People whispering tales

Around heavy square tables

Carved with flowers and serpents.

I take a respite here –

Set down my bones, and books,

and heavy backpack.

A tall, old man in dark-rimmed glasses

Brings me a thick, celadon-colored menu,

Six items: mango salad, tofu envelope, steamed buns,

Chicken skewers, cookies, and cheese cake.

And pages and pages and pages of tea:

Black, green, red, yellow –

There is such a thing as yellow tea?

Yes – aromatic buckwheat.

I choose the tofu envelope

And the Jasmine Pearl tea,

Because if I had had a daughter

Jasmine Pearl would have been

A beautiful name for her –

Jasmine Pearl – lavender and green,

Delicate and sweet.

 

The waiter returns unrolling

A red rattan mat,

Places the teak tray on top,

Arranges the tiny porcelain tea set:

The tiny teapot with a lid

Etched with a bamboo design,

The rounded pitcher with the graceful handle,

And a small white bowl from which to sip.

He prepares the tea,

Allowing the buds to open,

Pouring the first cup

And emptying the water through

The slats of the teak tray.

Now it is ready,

Now it is time for me

To sample and savor,

Relieve my mind,

Release my imagination,

Among the iron, clay, and porcelain teapots

of the Ming Tao Xuan Tea House.

 

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Write the Poem

I used to take long walks in the woods and a poem would pop into my head effortlessly.  The flow of my steps would jog something in my brain and images and ideas would come to me almost like magic.  Lately, my life has been filled up with mundane things: weddings, newborn babies, elderly relatives going into assisted living, trying to exercise more and eat less – you know – Life!

However, I know when I’m away from writing too long, my spirit crumples and my imagination dulls.  So earlier this summer, I was wandering the aisles of my favorite discount store.  I came across the book counter, which was stacked neatly with volumes of inspirational books: try a craft, learn to make beer, knit a sweater, arrange flowers, lose weight in 10 day diets, sudoku, word searches… And there in a neat blue stack was Write the Poem. I picked it up and immediately thought, “This is just what I need: some structure! Usually, with my art and poetry, I like to dabble and play, but my recent drought of artistic endeavors forced me into drastic measures. (Ah the rhyme and rhythm!)

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Now seriously, I bought this little book thinking I would try to write poems with words supplied by someone else.  It was a new experience for me, and I was up for the challenge.  I was doubtful that anything would come of it, but the first poem I wrote, I actually liked.  Here it is:

The Ocean

Tide rises with the new moon:

Waves,

Billowing foam

Laces the sand in briny bubbles,

Crashes in, then recedes.

I wait out in the depths,

Keep my head above the surface,

Tread the dark waters,

Feel the push and pull of the ever-undulating current.

New moon rises,

Casts a luminous path

Across the surface of the ocean,

Leading the way.

I follow and float,

Carried by her salty power.

 

I want to fill this little book up with my poems over the next 12 months.  I think it will give me the structure I need and give my imagination a kick-start.  I am looking forward to having a book filled with my poems, poems I can rewrite and re-imagine.  It is amazing that the same words can become so many different poems.  It would be fun to get a group together and share poems written using the same words.  I challenge everyone to give it a try!

The Ocean: billows, deep, brine, offing, wave, flux tide current

 

Write What You Notice

I recently attended a teacher’s workshop presented by Penny Kittle at Rutgers University sponsored by Rutgers Center for Literacy Development.  I’ve seen Penny many times. Usually, she talks to teachers about creating reading and writing workshop spaces in high school classes.  Penny was a high school English teacher in New Hampshire and her mentor was the late, great Donald Graves.  I was looking forward to Penny’s presentation because she is always inspiring and gives my teaching doldrums a spark.   This time, I was especially looking forward to hearing her because she would be talking about one of my favorite subjects – Poetry.   However, in the back of my mind, I thought there was very little new that I’d learn ,since I was a student of Adrienne Rich, have published some poetry, and have taught poetry to children for the last 40 years.  What could Penny teach me that I could bring back to the faculty at my school?  Probably not much, but I’d have a great day listening to and writing poetry.  That is a noble undertaking in cold and dreary January.

And of course, Penny had much to share.  She talked about exposing students to a lot of poetry, reading it aloud and re-reading it.  Then lifting a favorite line and using that line to spark one’s own poetry.  I’ve done this many times before both as a student and as a teacher, but practicing it again with unfamiliar poems made it all brand-new again to me.  One of Penny’s creative admonitions also rang true:  Don’t write what you know – Write what you noticeAs a little child, I was always noticing everything in my environment.  In fact, I was such a slow reader, because I was absorbing and dissecting the author’s craft.  I didn’t want anything to escape my notice.  I was also a notorious eavesdropper, using everything little tidbit in different poems, stories, and drawings. Helping students develop a keen eye for noticing is a essential in having them grow to be more curious and deliberate writers.

Then came a space in Penny’s presentation in which she showed a video clip of a poem by Patrick Roche, “21 Cups.”  I could not keep up with the rest of the workshop activities after that.  I became entranced by Patrick’s poem both the way in which he constructed it – counting back from 21 years to one year old – and the compelling way he described the dysfunctional relationship he had with his father.  Patrick’s poem completely held my attention; completely made me sit up and take notice.  Now, this is the true power of a poem. I immediately had to share it with someone.  Who could I share this poem with?  I knew almost immediately – Mike Rosen!  Mike is a former student of mine, and now he is an amazing, accomplished spoken word poet.  I would share Patrick’s poem with Mike; he would understand.  And of course, the world being what it is – small and round – Mike knew Patrick’s poem and had organized a poetry slam in which Patrick was one of the participants.  Small world, indeed.  And that is the other power of poetry – it connects.

I strive to write poems that will make people sit up and notice and connect.  I want to help students writers to notice, connect, and share.  One of the 3rd grade classes in the the school where I am the ELA Curriculum Coordinator, introduces children to philosophical ideas through literature.  This past week, the 3rd grade teacher shared with me her students’ reaction to the question: “Is art and poetry necessary for a community?” after reading Leo Lionni’s book, Frederick This teacher was a bit dismayed that her young students all agreed that poetry and art were indeed NOT necessary.  She wanted to jump into the discussion and tell them that they were wrong, but that is not allowed in philosophical discussions.  My reaction to her was that she needed to provide her students with more art, music, and poetry and have them wonder what life would be without the arts.  This is what happens when we separate the arts from academic instruction, but that is a topic at another time!

Penny ended her presentation by sharing the work she has been doing as a board member of the non-profit group, Poetic Justice, which helps incarcerated women in Oklahoma express their feelings and ideas through poetry and writing classes.  Here, Penny illustrates the immense need for community to forgive and heal through poetry.  Here, she shows  pathways between the outside and inside world.  Here, there is a place for inmates to  explore the depths of right and wrong and redemption.  And it is here where readers sit up, take notice and are transformed.