Friday, July 31, 2009

back-to-school thoughts, just for a moment

I have an exciting new teaching job starting in a month (yesterday I had my first official meeting with the Reading Specialist), and in my role as charter school founder I've been having some deep "academic design" thoughts. So this wicked poem that I rediscovered in a book called Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (ed. Gary Mex Glazner, 2000) has been wandering the halls of my inner school...

Backwards Day

Sometimes at school we have a special day
We call it backwards day
Everyone wears their clothes backwards
Or wears colors that clash
I have a modest proposal
Forget your silly backwards hats and tee shirts
Forget this stripes and checks together puppypoop
Let's get serious
Let's really shake school up

In math class, for homework
Describe the associative, distributive, and
commutative properties
In dance
Choregraph it, dance it, show your work
Points off for clumsiness
In Social Studies, for homework
Prepare two Civil War marching songs, one North one South
Sing in four part harmony, show your emotion
Points off for flat notes

In English, for homework
Carve a sculpture that expresses Hester Prynne's solitary courage
The cowardice of her lover
The beauty and strangeness of her child

In Science, for homework,
Bring in a broken toaster, doorknob, or wind-up toy
Fix it
You get extra credit for using the leftover parts to make something new
Points off for reading the directions

On the S.A.T.
Every one of the questions
Will be in haiku

You get two scores
One in whistling, and one in Legos
No calculators

Let's take a stroll down the hall
Let's see who is in the learning disabilities classroom now
Will you look at all those guys with pocket protectors
Sweating, slouching, and acting out

Hey, no care that you can divide fractions backwards in
your head buddy
You will stay right here and practice interpretive dance steps till
you get it right

Will you look at all those perfect spellers with bad attitutdes
Look at those grammar wizards with rhythm deficit disorder
What good is spelling gonna do you
If you can't carry a tune
Toss a lariat
Or juggle?

You are going to stay right here and do the things that you can't
Over and over, and again, and again
Until you get them right,
Or until you give up
Quit school
And get a job
As a spell checker
At the A&P

~Daniel Ferri
P.S. Does anyone know how to make blogger obey my WYSIWYG commands? Grrrrrr.

Monday, July 27, 2009

finally, a solution?

Somewhere towards the beginning of 2nd grade, the silent reading speed of my sharp little D1 (F, now heading for 5th grade) surpassed my own read-aloud speed. As a result, I have despaired of ever being able to read aloud to her again. At bedtime-story time, rather than attending to a skillful but tediously dramatic performance by her mother, she prefers to lie companionably beside me while racing through novel after novel and the occasional nonfiction selection while I get on with my own bedtime reading.

But poetry is my bedtime reading (brevity is beautiful: I can usually get in at least one whole poem before my eyes close and the book lands on my belly), and I have discovered that D1 WILL allow me to read her a poem or two. After all, in poetry there's often a little something extra that my read-aloud can reveal. Last night it was Billy Collins. I was looking for "The Lanyard," to go with the several that D1 started at the Chautauqua Boys' and Girls' Club last week, but I didn't find it, so we went for "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'" and then "Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles." In both cases, she enjoyed the journey but wasn't quite equal, first time around, to the destination.

We'll save "The Lanyard" for another moment in the future, in which her green, white and black lanyard is less special, and realizing that I may have found a way to preserve the cozy bedtime reading habit, I'll work on being as intentional in my choice of poems as I am in offering picture- and chapter-book choices to her brother.

Friday, July 24, 2009

a piranha religion

I may be the last poet to discover the Favorite Poem Project, but just in case not, here's a sample of the glory of this idea of Robert Pinsky's that the medium of a poem is not the words, but the breath, voice and body of each person as he or she reads that poem, especially a favorite one, out loud.
Nick and the Candlestick
by Sylvia Plath
chosen and read by Seph Rodney, photographer
I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears
The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs
Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.
Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,
Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish--
Christ! They are panes of ice,
A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking
Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,
Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo
Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean
In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.
Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs--
The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,
Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,
You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

Monday, July 20, 2009

live from chautauqua!

I'm here for the first time in beautiful downtown Chautauqua, New York--one week late for the Highlights Foundation Writers' Workshop, I know, but compromise with the grandparents was necessary--and trying to get the hang of how to do it without overdoing it. On the first day already I went to a poetry&prose reading and then read from Pumpkin Butterfly for the first time to a small but enthusiastic group of adults. In between doses of this week's theme, "The Ethics of Capitalism," I'm reading White Girl, a memoir by Clara Silverstein, the only other girl from Richmond, VA who attended Wesleyan at the same time as I did. Robert Pinsky will be here later this week discussing, among other things, the Favorite Poem Project and the third collection of Americans' favorite poems entitled Invitation to Poetry.

So I'm thinking about my favorite poems, and remembering how in high school two stanzas by an outwardly prim Victorian priest whomped me upside the head (despite all the God talk) with the sheer wildness of the words, some of which I couldn't even attach to actual things, as concrete as they all are in Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Pied Beauty":

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

(And wondering: does anyone know how to preserve a poem's formatting in a blogger post? All the indents just disappeared...)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Poetry Friday, early or late?: the best ultrasound ever

You know how when you're pregnant you go to the sonographer who shows you what the baby looks like at, say, 7 months? Here's what my new baby looks like. He's not due until October 1, but it's great to know that he's looking so hale, hearty and hardbacked! Thanks to the folks at Wordsong/Boyds Mills for another beautiful book. Here's one of the poems, feeling right for these long, glowing baseball days...

Cherry Very

Be sneaky, be cheeky
Pinch from the kitchen
The reddest, the roundest there are

A bowl full of cherries
A bowl of the very
Most cherriest bombs by far

Backbone straight
Step up to the plate
Puff up your chest and lungs

Swallow the fruit
Ready to shoot
Put the pit in the groove of your tongue

One more tip:
Round your lips
To launch it without a hitch

Don't get tense
Aim for the fence
Wind up like you're fixing to pitch

Now blast it hard
Across the yard
Kissing that missile goodbye

It's over the fence!
It's out of the park!
It's a letloose cherryjuice
noschool slobberdrool
spitwhistle summerfun home run!