Friday, November 30, 2012

postcards from new york city

Last month I wrote about the fine day I had teaching 8th graders at my daughter's school in Silver Spring, MD.  I invited students to send me the poems that resulted from their 5-day visit to New York, and now (with apologies for the smallification of the text to accommodate line lengths)  I'm pleased to present five views of the city that never sleeps, rendered by 13-year-old souls.  They form a perfect arc from arrival to reflective departure.

*****************************************

Migration to New York  | Mikaela G.

Stumbling off the ferry on unsteady feet
Nauseated groups of students entering New York together.
The stench of greasy pretzels and the pungent river drift through the air like a greeting,
Following us away from the ferry, and into the city.
We cluster on the sidewalk, a massive roadblock
Ignoring looks from people with things to see and places to be.
Suddenly we are like a flock of birds, moving to the benches on the left
Sitting down, everyone is in deep thought, eyes wandering, and scrawling first impressions.
Most too absorbed to notice a dozen pigeons strutting by,
Graceful, confident and proud.
As we write, we observe the New Yorkers,
Walking by briskly, not giving us more than a glance.
They yell into phones, converse in foreign languages, or bargain with their companions.
Nobody’s without a purpose.
On the right, more tourists pour in,
As many as possible are crammed onto a single ferry until it overflows with hopes and dreams.
Our time was short, but just enough.
We find our groups, our families
And shuffle down the street.
As we wander further from our first impressions,
Our next destination awaits.

Mikaela casts the horde of 100 student tourists as immigrants, finding their feet and their way through foreign territory, "as many as possible...crammed onto a single ferry until it overflows with hopes and dreams."  I like the way she contrasts the human response to New York with the pigeons' attitude.


Street Performer | Maniza H.

My eyes scan the crowd,
their eyes coated with anticipation.
Others walk by, New Yorkers they are called.

They ignore me, but I notice them.
I am tired, but the day isn’t done.
I have to forget all the eyes,
I have to let my body take over me,
And I have to move to the beat of New York.

As I move, I feel a connection to my friends.

 


I can hear my fellow trumpet player,
from the corner of Times Square.

Oohs and aahs follow after the artist
creates a masterpiece of New York.



Caricatures are drawn with smooth curves,
and as the curves come together,
a grin peaks out,
as they see their face so exaggerated

I see my buddies in costumes,
Alvin, Elmo, and Cookie Monster.
They stride through the street;
and their faces fill with glee as they take a photo


Finally,
I come to a stop
Clap. Woot. Whistle.
Sweat glistens on my skin,
my breathing unnatural.
I am a street performer


A real New Yorker 


I love how Maniza shows the subtle and slightly surreal way that "ordinary" visitors to New York find themselves transformed into street performers just through being there, through participating as bit players in the big show that is street life.  "I have to move to the beat of New York....Clap. Woot. Whistle."

Leah writes from the opposite position, from way outside the hustle and bustle, with the pointed assessment of an outsider, and yet with imagination and compassion for each stranger's "mystique."


Disconnection | Leah S.

All different sorts of people hustle through the street;
Some look quite similar, like the businessmen shuffling their feet.
Others are more prominent, like the man performing flips in Central Park,
While thousands of made-up ladies in high heels leave their marks.
All these people look so much alike, 
with their matching black umbrellas, and shiny grey bikes.
But really, each person has their own defined story,
Like the smiling adolescent who is utterly worried.
The homeless man over there, looked so down upon,
Has just had a bleak life and all his relations are gone.
That “good” man just there, with a quality life,
Might not make such fine choices and could be cheating on his wife.
I go through New York City, the land of dreams,
So authentic and bursting with people at its seams 
and I realize something that I have always perceived:
No one really knows what a person is like inside, 
we just look them up and down and judge from the outside.
Oh, that chubby girl on the right isn’t cool one bit,
But the slender girl to the left must be popular and fit.
The secrets of New Yorkers remain confined, and it keeps the city abstruse, 
like a puzzle in your mind.
But the mystique of each person also allows judgment, and it creates a world of disconnection.

Jenna captures a moment of stillness that you can find amid the hustle and bustle, if you pause and submit to awe.  Up high, at the top of the Empire State Building, you might as well be on Mount Olympus with the gods, both tiny and mighty.


Star-lit Night in New York | Jenna W.

Lights. The silence.
The city illuminates the night
Like fireflies.
Neon stars dancing
Under the moonlight.

Queen of the City
Watches over
The vibrant colors.
Standing tall
Beaming into the night sky.

She reaches out
To trace over
The star-weaved darkness.
A blanket stretching
Across the never-ending distance.

The flow of light
Fills the city
All gleaming lights sparkle
In the city of eternal light –
New York.


Grace closes with an image of New York as a lifelike--but artificial--being.  She and I share the experience of New York as both exhilarating and exhausting, if you dare to experience it wholly.  At some point you either have to give in ("lights blur as complex reality slips") or harden yourself to it--or drive to safety through a rainbow tunnel.

Restless
A poem for two voices |  Grace W.

They say New York is the city that never sleeps
New York is the most tiring city in the world

The city is full of life, yet it remains lifeless, so how could it sleep?
The city pulses with a perpetual energy, keeping me awake

I like the idea of a living city though
The adrenaline emanating from the ground throbs through me with each step

Each building is a bump or crease on this enormous being
The electric air flows around me, giving me tingly goose bumps

People are blood flowing through their subway veins
My blood courses through my veins as my excited heart rate quickens

Tangled trees are the bedhead of this insomniac
Gentle breeze feeds my exhilaration and blows my hair into a frenzy

The problem is the city is artificial, it has no heart
The city combats my human frailty with its overwhelming industrial force

No tired brain to slowly, s l o w l y find the simplicity of rest
The dizzying images of lights blur as my mind lets complex reality slip

No listless body struggling to cross the bridge from waking to dreaming
My whole body aches while we keep walking through this unforgiving town

Despite this, the city’s intensity vanishes into a foggy tranquility
Finally the exhilaration submits to exhaustion as we drive away, through the rainbow tunnel

The city falls into an ambiguous silhouette as time passes on
                         Now I'm waiting for the blanket of darkness to untuck these lego buildings and toy cars, because it's almost time for morning.


Many thanks to these 8th grade poets for sharing their work with me, and to Mrs. Kiernan Cantergiani and the many other extraordinary staff at EMS who made this trip and these poems possible for their extraordinary students.

The Poetry Friday roundup today is with another teaching poet--and friend of the famous Mrs. Ray!--Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.  Visit her at The Poem Farm to enjoy Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere.

7 comments:

Tabatha said...

Thanks for sharing these, Heidi! Great imagery. I like how all these poets understand that you need to choose your words skillfully in a poem.

Susan Taylor Brown said...

I have not yet been to NY to wander the streets and see the sights as these students have, but thanks to their stunning poems, I have had a glimpse of this unique

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

I love how each of your poets captures a slice of New York City - the exhilaration and the exhaustion. I love the city, so it's extra meaningful to read about the way others experience it off the first time.

Anonymous said...

I had the good fortune to live in New York City for a year (so different from home now), and these poems took me right back. That feeling of being a visitor but so connected to it all...I remember just staring at people on the street or on the subway, staring and wondering, knowing we were so different but so alike. And the imagery in these poems matches so well the never-ending sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps. I cherish the time I had there, and I thank you and these students for bringing it all back to my farmhouse table, just for a moment. Hi Mrs. Ray! a.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

I had the good fortune to live in New York City for a year (so different from home now), and these poems took me right back. That feeling of being a visitor but so connected to it all...I remember just staring at people on the street or on the subway, staring and wondering, knowing we were so different but so alike. And the imagery in these poems matches so well the never-ending sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps. I cherish the time I had there, and I thank you and these students for bringing it all back to my farmhouse table, just for a moment. Hi Mrs. Ray! a.

skanny17 said...

It is so interesting to me to hear what seem like brandnew visitors to NYC describe what it is like. Their images capture the heart of city life. Their poems make me think. I grew up near there and go frequently on visits back "home". And like Amy, it is so different from where I live now. These poems help me look at it through new eyes. When I am there I almost take on the personnae of a "New Yorker" but still....I look up. Your students have given me the gift of something I will probably never experience: being in New York City with someone on her first trip....looking, looking, looking. Thanks to the students and teacher and you for sharing! Each poem does bring a slice of NY life to light! Janet F.

laurasalas said...

What lovely approaches! How fun to see their different views. My favorite bit is

trace over
The star-weaved darkness.

Yum.