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Happy National Poetry Month

1 Apr

Many years ago, after my dog Clara passed, I was walking a Louie, alone, in Laurelhurst Park for the first time. I was a one among many frequent walkers. Many passed us by, but several always – or at least often – stopped to talk.

One was a young woman with long, wavy hair. She had a peculiar stride, you know the one, where the walker seems to be leaning back. I have seen it in a few people in the course of my life and, whenever I see it, I am reminded of the other people with the same style.

This woman, whose name I no longer know, if I ever knew it, saw me with a single dog.  You never really know how you (or your dogs) can become part of a stranger’s life. She seemed especially moved. I don’t recall that she had tears in her eyes, but I remember that she reached deep into the pockets of her coat and pulled out a small bundle.

“I hope this brings you peace,” was all she said.

I didn’t look at the bundle until I got home, but I was so moved by her gift, that I still have it.

Here is what each of the 2″x2″ cards says

  • we’re all soulmates
  • loving is just recognizing your spirit in another being
  • there is another way to live
  • keeping company with hummingbirds
  • lose your shoes
  • it’s all play
  • I visit a tree in the park that was my mate a thousand years ago

It is not traditional poetry, in the traditional sense, but the gesture was poetic and still touches my heart, as good poetry does.

Reading poetry with Lucy

1 Aug

At some point every day, Lucy and I take a walk and she lays down on the sidewalk to bask in the sun.

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It can get a little annoying, but I have learned to anticipate her need for warmth. Armed with treats, I lure her to my front stoop, pull out a lawn chair and read while Lucy takes her sun bath. I choose my books carefully because, although she loves the warmth, Lucy can only take so much heat. Her sunbath last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, so I like a book I can pick up and put down. Lately, it has been poetry. Each poem is like a short story and I can read one or several, waiting for Lucy to get her fill of the sun.

This week, I’ve been reading Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. I am already thinking about how I can use it in my classroom. It is that excellent!

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Publisher’s Summary: With authenticity, integrity, and insight, this collection of poems addresses the many issues confronting first- and second- generation young adult immigrants and refugees, such as cultural and language differences, homesickness, social exclusion, human rights, racism, stereotyping, and questions of identity. Poems by Elizabeth Acevedo, Erika L. Sánchez, Samira Ahmed, Chen Chen, Ocean Vuong, Fatimah Asghar, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Bao Phi, Kaveh Akbar, Hala Alyan, and Ada Limón, among others, encourage readers to honor their roots as well as explore new paths, offering empathy and hope for those who are struggling to overcome discrimination. Many of the struggles immigrant and refugee teens face head-on are also experienced by young people everywhere as they contend with isolation, self-doubt, confusion, and emotional dislocation.

Ink Knows No Borders is the first book of its kind and features 64 poems and a foreword by poet Javier Zamora, who crossed the border, unaccompanied, at the age of nine, and an afterword by Emtithal Mahmoud, World Poetry Slam Champion and Honorary Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Brief biographies of the poets are included, as well. It’s a hopeful, beautiful, and meaningful book for any reader.

Ode to a Banana Slug

11 Jun

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Genus Ariolimax!
You are North America’s largest land mollusk.
With two sets of tentacles —
the bottom two tentacles for feeling and smelling,
the upper tentacles with eye spots that
can move independently to scan for danger —
and a mouth on the bottom of your head,
you travel up to 6.5 inches a minute,
scouring the forest floor for anything to eat.

Ariolimax columbianus!
Traveller of Pacific Northwest,
you thrive in the damp forest floor.
You have but one lung (on the right side)
and a body coated in slime
to prevent dehydration.
Your slime is neither solid, nor liquid.
It is a a liquid crystal,
making you a gem of a forest dweller.

 

 

This week’s book talks 4/8-12

12 Apr

Monday

Be Prepared  by Vera Brosgol

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Tuesday

Wire and Nerves by Marissa Meyer

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Thursday

Legend: The Graphic Novel by Marie Lu

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Friday

Birdie  by Eileen Spinelli

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An evening with Jacqueline Woodson

5 Apr

It’s a busy week, after the relaxing pace of Spring Break. It’s all good stuff and has me wondering why everything gets packed into one week and isn’t spread out over the whole month. The Universe can be a weird place sometimes.

Last night, wasn’t weird, it was wonderful. I hear Jacqueline Woodson speak as part of the Portland Arts and Lectures series, where authors talk about their work.

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Early on she told said, ” I know I’m not supposed to re, but that’s okay because most of my books are memorized.” She started reciting “show Way and had us from that moment on.

She went on to talk about the many ways we take in narrative and told her own story, listening to the stories her family told. Her family worried she’d write about them and she learned that  how she portrayed people mattered.

In telling the story of writing Brown Girl Dreaming,  Woodson said, “if you have old people in your life talk to them, get their stories”. Those of us who have lost our parents, grandparents, and others of that generation really understand why she says that.

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What I found most fascinating was her explanation of how Brown Girl Dreaming  came to be the book it is.  She said it was falling apart – that all books fall apart at some point but you have to do the work to keep it going and move on. In conversation with a friend about the problem she was having, the friend remarked, ” The South was on fire when you were born.” and that was the spark the brought it all together for her. That doesn’t mean it was easy from that point on. There were 33 rewrites, a fact I will happily tell my students.

She gave some good pieces of advice to aspiring writers.

  • Know that you have a story and the right to tell it.
  • Decide why you want to write.
  • Show your writing to people you trust.
  • Be prepared to re-write a lot!

 

Goodbye March

31 Mar

IMG_0019I don’t do much gardening anymore;
I only keep a box and
a few pots on my stoop.

But, like March,
the season of the flowering kale
has come to an end.

 

 

In its place comes April,
full of hope and new possibilities.

 

 

I have replaced the kale IMG_0020
with pansies for now.
Later, I’ll put my dahlia tubers in pots
and change up the pansies
for something that can take
the heat of summer.

And so, Spring Break ends,
this month of daily writing ends,
but the journey
around the sun
continues.

Taking action

1 Nov

The first of November has me thinking about putting flannel sheets on the bed. It’s been getting colder and I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but now I feel I can take action.

You know who else took action? Pete Seibert. He’s the subject of this biography in verse, Ski Solder by Louise Borden.

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Publisher’s Summary: Ever since he first strapped on his mother’s wooden skis when he was seven, Pete Seibert always loved to ski. At eighteen, Seibert enlisted in the U.S. Army and joined the 10th Mountain Division, soldiers who fought on skis. In the mountains of Italy, Seibert encountered the mental and physical horrors of war. When he was severely wounded and sent home to recover, Seibert worried that he might never ski again. But with perseverance and the help of other 10th Mountain ski soldiers, he took to the slopes and fulfilled his boyhood dream— founding a ski resort in Vail, Colorado. The book is a dramatic recounting of a World War II experience and includes archival photos, as well as commentary on the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division, and a detailed list of sources.

It is a quick read, but sheds light on a little known slice of history.

Celebrating the signs of Autumn

18 Sep

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All the leaves are green
except for those on the tree
that stands sentinel
at the top of the street.
Its yellowing leaves
are the harbingers of Autumn.

There are other signs.
They appear most mornings,
announcing the change of seasons:
slippered feet on cold floors,
car lights turned on
for my dark drive to work,
jackets, worn to work, but
casually carried home
on warm afternoons.

Back to school
comes long before
Fall really begins
and I long to wear
tights and sweaters
and to feel the chill disappear
as I pull on my hat and gloves.

 

Listening to voices

30 Apr

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. I’ve been doing NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) with the students in my elective class, and we will keep going a while longer, since I only get to see them every other day.

I don’t often just sit and read a poetry collection – I am more likely to read a novel in verse – but I have been reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners at school during independent reading time. The collection has given me hope and inspiration.

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Publisher’s Summary:Acclaimed and award-winning poet, teacher, and National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye’s uncommon and unforgettable voice offers readers peace, humor, inspiration, and solace. This volume of almost one hundred original poems is a stunning and engaging tribute to the diverse voices past and present that comfort us, compel us, lead us, and give us hope.

Voices in the Air is a collection of almost one hundred original poems written by the award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye in honor of the artists, writers, poets, historical figures, ordinary people, and diverse luminaries from past and present who have inspired her. Full of words of encouragement, solace, and hope, this collection offers a message of peace and empathy.

Voices in the Air celebrates the inspirational people who strengthen and motivate us to create, to open our hearts, and to live rewarding and graceful lives. With short informational bios about the influential figures behind each poem, and a transcendent introduction by the poet, this is a collection to cherish, read again and again, and share with others

Backmatter includes biographies of all the people mentioned in her poems.

Mary’s Monster – A biography in verse

18 Apr

There are all different kinds of monsters. Some are real some are imagined. In Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, Lita Judge tells the story of Mary Shelley’s monsters (personal, familial and societal) and how they led her to write Frankenstein.

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Publisher’s Summary: Pairing free verse with over three hundred pages of black-and-white watercolor illustrations, Mary’s Monster is a unique and stunning biography of Mary Shelley, the pregnant teenage runaway who became one of the greatest authors of all time.

Legend is correct that Mary Shelley began penning Frankenstein in answer to a dare to write a ghost story. What most people don’t know, however, is that the seeds of her novel had been planted long before that night. By age nineteen, she had been disowned by her family, was living in scandal with a married man, and had lost her baby daughter just days after her birth. Mary poured her grief, pain, and passion into the powerful book still revered two hundred years later, and in Mary’s Monster, author/illustrator Lita Judge has poured her own passion into a gorgeous book that pays tribute to the life of this incredible author.

I knew a bit about this story before picking up Mary’s Monster,  but Lita Judge does a marvelous job setting Mary Shelley’s story in its historical context. And Judge’s black and white illustrations beautifully evoke the darkness and difficulties Mary faced.

The book is definitely intended for an older audience and most listings say Gr 7 & up, or ages 13-17. Although many 6th graders don’t read dark poetic biographies, I have one girl in my first period class who I think will love this book.

Frankenstein  was published 200 years ago, in 1818. You can read and/or listen to an interesting CBC commentary on the book  here.

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