Friday, December 11, 2009

more winter light

Poetry Friday is at Random Noodling with Diane Mayr...
Can't get enough of "natural light" at this time of year, and if it's not sunlight, then I'll go for wood fire or candle flame or . Here's another source, by Kay Ryan, making me want to brush up on my hagiology.

He Lit a Fire with Icicles
for W. G. Sebald, 1944-2001

This was the work
of St. Sebolt, one
of his miracles:
he lit a fire with
icicles. He struck
them like a steel
to flint, did St.
Sebolt. It
makes sense
only at a certain
body heat. How
cold he had
to get to learn
that ice would
burn. How cold
he had to stay.
When he could
feel his feet
he had to
back away.

~Kay Ryan

I can't quite go cold turkey, but here's my candlelighting poem reworked with fewer empty connectors. My first-graders memorized this without effort after three readings. I think that's a good sign. (I still don't know how to get Blogger to respect my indents so I'm putting ellipses in their place. It's not ideal, but...)

We Light a Candle

see how the wick waits
hear how the match scrapes
see how the flame leaps
now how the light creeps
.....comfort born

Friday, December 4, 2009

"just [the] facts, ma'am"

Last week Poetry Friday passed me by entirely as I attempted to plan for the next 3 months, during which I will be writing (not entirely by myself) an approximately 200-page charter school application--all in a revolving series of poetic forms, beginning with the following limerick:

A girl with too much on her plate
begins before it is too late
to "publish" a school.
Is she a fool?
If not, the result will be great!

Just kidding--the application won't be written in poetic forms, but I hope there will be some poetry ribboning through our vision for a small K-8 school--Global Garden Public Charter School--that aims to educate the whole child in a way that our huge, factory-model public school system doesn't.

But what I really want to do this morning is start following the advice of Lee Bennett Hopkins, who wrote to me this week after we met at the NCTE Poetry Party in his honor. (He interrupted my cherishing of his tribute book and his autograph to say that he would cherish MY book and MY autograph--fancy that!)
So here's a little poem that's been around for a few years, visiting with children whenever I do workshops at this dark time of year. I've thought it was right just as it is, but Lee has got me reconsidering the "and"s and "the"s...
We Light a Candle

see how the wick waits
cold and curled
hear how the match scrapes
hiss and burst
see how the flame leaps
tongue leaf horn
now how the light creeps
comfort is born

Those "empty connectors" are important to the rhythm, but I'm going to try reworking the poem without them and see what happens. What is it with me and the challenges?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

live from philadelphia

First, thanks to everyone who played along with the idea of "definito"s last week. I'm coming back to them soon and wish I could find a way to display all the comments permanently...
Despite my best intentions this week, I neither visited Miss Rumphius to pick up a Poetry Stretch on Monday, nor managed yesterday morning to post live from the NCTE Conference live from Philadelphia, where I had just the best time at the Poetry Party organized in honor of the NCTE Poetry Award (finally) Winner Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Many who contributed poems to a beautifully produced tribute volume joined the panel in saying a few words and reading their poems, but I believe I was the only one having the pleasure of meeting Lee for the first time. I have never felt so physically middle-aged than I do this fall (and let's face it, 45 is very probably halfway along my lifeline), but something about being in a room with him, with Bobbi Katz and Jane Yolen and the gentle spirits of Myra Cohn Livingston and Eve Merriam, makes me feel like my 4th grade self again, the one who wanted nothing more desperately than to have a poem published in the brand-new Cricket Magazine. When John Ciardi visited my school (thank you, Mrs. Jane Toler, school librarian), I was starstruck and have saved the autograph he gave me in my musical jewelry-box forever: it stood for poems, and what is a poem but a musical jewel? (I'll tell the story about the three cigarettes that once spent a few guilty days in that same jewelry-box another time.)

In the years since, I've been living and working on the outskirts of Poetry Town--knowing just enough news and just enough people to feel like a part of the community, but rarely setting foot in the Town Hall. So getting up and reading "Stanza Means Room" among that crowd of luminaries was was was--DIZZYING, knowing that my poems are built out of their poems, that the internal recording of my experiences as a kid was in a language they taught. I'm not the same now as when I went in, a guest in their poetry house.

Friday, November 13, 2009

one of my many projects

Poetry Friday is not lamenting but crowing over at GottaBook with Gregory K.

At our house, Gregory's "fibs" got everyone excited, especially my mathematician of a daughter, and I found J. Patrick's "zeno" intriguing as well. Intermittently I get an idea for another "definition" poem, which is not a form exactly but an intention for a poem: in few words it attempts to capture the essence of a less common word. It started with this one, written after D1, then in third grade, asked "What does immaculate mean?" and then separately, assigned me to write a poem of at least 10 lines. So I synergized:

Definitions #1

not a
smudge of mud
not a
jot of rot

tulip leaves of clean green
tulip petals of pure red

mingling, singularly

Here's a new one, first draft, from this week's engagement with D2's Level 16 nonfiction text entitled Squirrels.

Definitions # 12

reading about squirrels
your throat tightens
on seeing the limp body of the squirrel
under the cruel talons of the hawk

reading about hawks
your heart leaps
on seeing the skill of the hawk
as it drops onto the fleet squirrel

it's all a matter of

Now I wonder if I should formalize it after all...see how both have exactly 10 lines? and they want to fall into three stanzas of 3, 3 and 2 lines, with the last word being the word they define. Maybe it needs a name...the "definito"? Should the title also be the word in question? Anyone else want to play?

Friday, November 6, 2009

the same leaves over and over again!

Poetry Friday is at Wild Rose Reader today.

There must be as many leaf poems as there are leaves in our yard, but just as you can always find a leaf that seems like a miracle of colors, I keep finding another leaf poem to roll around in.

In my first grade class we talked about how this poem is the perfect combination of science fact and mystery. We talked about how poems are so often made of Noticing and Wondering and how Robert Frost must have been doing both when he wrote this. And I taught them how leather is made, and one little one asked, "Does the animal have to be dead?"

In Hardwood Groves

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is the way in ours.

~ Robert Frost

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


October may be the 10th month nowadays
but I counted it octopodally:
I was an eight-armed creature walking on water, juggling
many odd balls, some of them flaming
with excitement, even as
I battled an eight-armed creature equipped
with powerful suckers that threatened to drag me
too deep in an ocean of constant motion
clouded with turquoise ink, bad weather and
many more than one grain of sand.
In October my long arms finally reached
the rubbery endtips of my ability to Do Things.
Surfacing, now I can breathe the word

Thursday, October 15, 2009

party poopers

No bright uploaded image here; it's wet and chilly in Montgomery County, MD and I'm in a glowersome mood.

I was looking forward on Tuesday evening to participating in the PTA-sponsored "Read-Along Pajama Party" event at my school--the perfect opportunity to introduce myself (new this year) and Pumpkin Butterfly to the community. I asked about selling copies and donating some of the proceeds to the school, and my supportive and savvy principal called to inquire what the rules might be about such a proposal.

The answer from The Office was something like, "Not only can your teacher not sell copies of her book, she shouldn't be reading it on school property. That constitutes a conflict of interest." So I went to the pajama party and read work by Calef Brown and Valerie Worth, by Marilyn Singer and Constance Levy, by Ralph Fletcher and Brian Patten--a lot of fun! And yet...

The part about selling books makes sense to me; fair enough. But the part about not reading, not teaching my own published poems to my class (or any other in the system, perhaps including those of my own children as a parent volunteer), doesn't make sense. Our curriculum emphasizes the writing process and the development of the author identity in our students, and writers and poets are invited in all the time to bring that process to life--isn't having a live, in-house model a good thing?

I think it means something that after sharing one single poem from Squeeze (which is approved for inclusion in the county's school and public libraries), half of my first-graders are working on poetry collections for our Publishing Party at the end of the month. That's the interest we want to protect and promote, surely?

Friday, October 9, 2009

pushing out pumpkins

This isn't the first time I've likened the publication of a new book to the birth of a baby, but the effort this past 10 days has gone beyond metaphoric labor to literal heavy lifting. Last Friday, when I should have been blogging about how excited my class got when I announced that they would be publishing their own books just like Kevin Henkes and...well, ME, instead I was loading the car with all manner of promotional accoutrements: a 10x10 Swiss Army canopy, three folding tables, boxes of books, rolls of plastic tablecloth, bags of candy corn and plates of Trader Joe's pumpkin bread, laminated book pages cut from the f&g's Boyds Mills sent me at the last minute, a big fishbowl (for the raffle tickets), and of course, three giant pumpkins. I should have had the epidural.

My first event was held on the front lawn of a Lutheran Church who agreed at the last minute to let me squat there in the middle of a local restaurant event called "Taste of Bethesda" when I couldn't find anywhere else. It didn't rain (hallelujah) and I had a steady trickle of customers: a good combination of people who had received my email announcements of book events and families just passing by. There was no opportunity for a reading, exactly, but I sold 16 copies of both books nonetheless--plenty to make all the bearing down worth it (and now the car is loaded for all the other events this month). Here's a "Taste of Pumpkin Butterfly," the first poem of the new book.


we haul our empty wagon to a patch of hilly earth
weighed down with heavy orange
burdened with cumbersome pumpkins

"This is the one"
"And this one"
we say

we cut the tough vines and turn to load them up

behind our backs
a gust of butterflies rises and tumbles
on hot October air

yellow-green tinged with orange
wings as weightless and angular
as the pumpkins are heavy and round:

the ghosts of our pumpkins untethered from earth

Friday, September 25, 2009

if you find a rock

Today Poetry Friday is hosted by Susan Taylor Brown--thanks!

In our county, first graders spend the fall on a science unit about Rocks, Soil and Worms, and in my class the initial reading assessment requirements are nearly fulfilled so I'm looking forward to Rocktober.

You know how some books reach in and grab you by the heart? If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian is one of those for me. It's not marketed as a volume of poetry, but it works that way, and the "colortoned" photos by Barbara Hirsch Lember picture, in a slightly surreal way, real children doing real things with real rocks. They fill the simple, measured text with even more gravity. The message is that playing with rocks is serious business. Here's a sample.

If you find a rock--
a big rock--
by the edge of the water,
then you have found
a splashing rock.
When it hits the surface,
the water jumps
out of the way,
raining back down
on your outstretched hands.
The bigger the rock,
the wetter you get.

The other thing I love about this book is its element of magical realism--there's science content here, physics and biology and paleontology, but it's all mixed in with aesthetics and emotion and even the possibility of wishes granted. Just like real life.

And now, to spoil the mood, I must just announce again that THURSDAY IS THE DAY! Pumpkin Butterfly: Poems from the Other Side of Nature has its official release this week! Become PB's fan on facebook!

Friday, September 18, 2009

"this curriculum sponsored in part by Tom Chapin"

Today's poem is really part of a song from Tom Chapin's album "Billy the Squid." In case you don't know him, Tom Chapin is a musician famous for being Harry Chapin's younger brother--but I'd risk asserting that his music for kids is known by far more people because of his downright usefulness in the classroom.

The first day of school I sent my first-graders out delightedly singing verse one of "Great Big Words"--because there's great pleasure in being able to announce to grown-ups that you're an "eager bibliophile." And here I give a loud shout-out to John Forster, a frequent lyricist for Tom Chapin. I can't confirm that he wrote the lyrics for this one, but his wordsmithing is behind most of the other cleverly composed, perfectly appropriate yet never syrupy songs I've taught children over the years. All join in!

La, la, la la la la la, la, la, la!
When I was a little kid (a diminutive juvenile),
I liked my folks to read to me--I was an eager bibliophile.
Now I like words for how they sound and how they communicate...
I guess I should explain myself--that is, elucidate.
Great big words, I love big words!
Letter by letter, the bigger the better--
Great big words!

Now maybe you're adept at sports or excellent at school,
Or maybe you're vainglorious (which means you think you're cool).
But give me a massive ideogram (a big word) to make my point--
When you can verbalize your thoughts, you can really rock the joint!
Great big words, I love big words!
I get a thrill out of every syllable--
Great big words!

Big words are prodigious terms; now don't they sound delicious?
They impress your teachers, confuse your folks, and make your friends suspicious.
But that's okay; we'll start a trend that soon will sweep the nation:
The Hyperlinguistic Polysyllabic Speech Association!
Great big words, I love big words!
Letter by letter, the bigger the better--
Great big words!

La, la, la la la la la, la, la, la!

Friday, September 4, 2009

a big little beginning

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Crossover by Kelly Herold.

Today will be my fourth day with a rather phenomenal group of 1st graders. They've all arrived in my RLA classroom reading like 3rd-graders, and on the first day, when we began by reading Chrysanthemum (need I add 'by Kevin Henkes'?) and talking about names, they could all count the vowels, consonants and syllables in their own names. They could fill in a blank to describe their names as short, long, cute, Spanish, "un-comen" and "pawrfl" words.

But in general they write like kindergarteners, and they are only 6, and therein lies my delicious challenge: to lead them into rich, juicy literacy projects that call on their established skills (and not inconsiderable smarts) while respecting their 6-year-old hearts. Where better to start than with Ruth Krauss?

Beginning on Paper

on paper
I write it
on rain

I write it
on stones
on my boots

on trees
I write it
on the air

on the city
how pretty
I write my name

~Ruth Krauss, from the anthology Sing a Song of Popcorn

We started on Tuesday; by Wednesday they'd done their first choral reading, exchanging the "on" lines and the "I" lines, and yesterday we turned our backs on the chart and said it by heart. C'est parti, mes amis! (which is a prettier way to say, "And they're off!)

Friday, August 21, 2009


Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Boy Reader. Nice to meet you, Kyle--a fellow teacher who will be helping me reflect on my new job as Lead Reader.

So fond of alliteration am I that both our children start with D, which is slightly troublesome in that they must appear in the family diary as TWO space-consuming initials. Here I'd prefer just to call them by their carefully chosen names, but I feel a responsibility to protect their identities in cyberspace (is it warranted?), so here they shall be known as D1 (a girl halfway to 11) and D2 (a boy 6 and 11/12). But they are not both daughters. Though they are both darling.

D1 the mathematician likes to deny that she has any poet in her at all and says things like, "Mom, why do you have to make everything about poetry?" Then the other day at the pool during adult swim I saw her mouthing words and counting fingers, and then she asked to be reminded of the syllable count for a haiku. Gazing into the grass she said,

the clover is not
strong enough to hold the bee
that pollinates it

Is it nature or is it nurture? : )

Friday, August 14, 2009

drawing in, reaching out

I didn't notice it last week under the coastal sky at Rehoboth Beach, DE, but now that we're back in leafy Bethesda, it's clear: each night it's darker a little earlier. Here's an apropoem by Eve Merriam, a great favorite of mine...

The New Moon

Hold on to me
We will slip carefully carefully
don't tip it over
into this canoe
pale as birch bark

and with the stars
over our shoulders
down the dark river
of the sky.

Do not delay.
By next week
the canoe will be bulging with cargo,
there will be no room
inside for us.

Tonight is the time.
Step carefully.
Hold on to me.

That poem just entered my Top Five of All Time (don't ask me what the other four are yet; I didn't know I had a Top Five Poems list).

In other news, aiming as advised for 15 promotional events for Pumpkin Butterfly in October (15 events in two weeks is beyond a girl with a day job, don't you think?), I have strong leads on our local district Back-to-School Fair, a Pumpkin Festival at a farm (three days' worth!), several school book fairs, a workshop at my local branch library and the local B&N. I'm working on an all-ages poetry reading at my church, another something at a local church that goes pumpkin patch in October, and our local Whole Foods. And I'm going to the NCTE conference in Philadelphia in November. Must get postcards printed, must get postcards printed, must get postcards printed...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

pumpkins on my mind

Oh dear. I can't decide if I'm delighted or dejected to finally find my way to the wealth of promoformation at the bubblestampede blog of Laura Salas and Fiona Bayrock. So many provocative ideas, so many approaches, so obvious that I should have started long before beginning of June! Despite my 'tenacity,' I have been rebuffed by the farm where the pumpkin butterfly poem, "Ghosts," happened; they can't fit my fabulous book launch event into their packed pumpkin-harvest October now I'm trawling for another pumpkin farm that has more respect for poetry and racking my brain for another clever launch venue...

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!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Hug, by Thom Gunn


It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Friday, May 1, 2009

...and now it's sprung

is hosted today by Maya Ganesan at allegro.

I spent two mornings this week playing poetry with kindergarteners in a Title I school in Arlington, VA. Here's what one class had to say, with a little orchestration from me, about the view out of their window right now:


grow green, soft sprout
(drop splash puddle)
four white-pink petals
on juicy-sour stems reaching out
exquisite puddle of petals

Can you guess which word was the teacher's contribution?

Friday, March 27, 2009

insisting on spring

Today I'm joining Poetry Friday for the first time, and by way of introducing myself to the PF community, I'm posting a poem of my own for the first time. It's a small celebration of the fact that I received a PDF yesterday of the Boyds Mills Fall 2009 catalog, in which the forthcoming Pumpkin Butterfly is listed (I love saying "the forthcoming Pumpkin Butterfly"; it will be almost sad when it has finally come forth).

In the meantime, I'm keeping my eye on the buds and insisting on spring...


People come crowding to these chilly streets
to see the twisted old cherry trees
crowded with new pink blossoms.

I come walking one week later.
Now the blossoms are breaking,
blowing, blizzarding petal by petal.

The wind lifts them, waves of petals the size of
my thumbnail, sends them rolling,
riding, racing on their ragged edges.

They’re not like tiny, petal-soft wheels—
they really are tiny wheels of softest petal,
pedaling these streets toward summer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

as civilization unravels

it's soothing to chant something like the following, in which everything set backwards and upside down leads to a sense of floating rather than sinking....

I Am the Song

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.

~Charles Causley
from The Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry, ed. Brian Patten

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'and she was' to 'je vais vite': the quantification of music part 1

Becoming a math teacher has begun to take its effect on my real life. I find I have begun increasingly to think of the world in mathematical terms as well as in poetic turns, and I’m seeing patterns and trends everywhere (except in my personal finances, which I leave entirely in the capable hands of another). Let's do some numbers: In 1986 I was walking down East 84th Street towards the 1–bedroom apartment I shared with Lisa, crossing 3rd Avenue and listening for the x-hundredth time to 'Little Creatures' on my Walk-It. It was Friday afternoon and my book bag must have been light because I was swinging along; 'And She Was' came on and for the 1st time I noticed how the beat matched my stride exactly…and there I experienced simultaneously a moment of A-HA + DUH. (I believe mathematicians call this a Duh-Ha Moment.)

A-HA + DUH = A person who dislikes “working out” but who does like dancing could put together a mix of favorite songs and turn all that city walking into exercise! This meant laboriously trawling through all my cassettes and vinyl records and copying songs with the Magic Number, which was not Three but 29 beats per 15 seconds (which, as my 2nd graders cannot yet figure out, equals 116 beats per minute, but who sits counting beats for a whole minute?)

The first walking tape I made was pedestrianly titled Walkabout Mix, and it took 2 years and moving in with a man who owned better stereo equipment than I to get it done. It included 'And She Was', songs by Midnight Oil (hence the Aborigine-flavored name), New Order and Enya ('Orinoco Flow' turned out to be too slow at 28bp15s), and the song that took my listening experiences into a whole new spiritual, philosophical plane. 'Ackee 123', by the Beat (the English Beat to you folks who didn’t spend an extremely formative month in Evesham, England during 1981) led to the next tape, entitled Music for Instant Attitude Adjustment. You can hear it on this playlist, which includes "important" songs from each of the ensuing walking tapes.

Another perk, among many, of moving in with (and then getting married to) Brad with the better stereo equipment was the health club on the roof of our 46-story building in Battery Park City (BPC, not be confused with bps). There I discovered the treadmill, handy for those days when it was cold and wet and a girl really needed a dose of Instant Attitude Adjustment. There I discovered how to check my heart rate, which led in turn to discovering that while walking to all my carefully selected songs, my heart rate matched my stride matched the beat at 29bp15s. Surely the coordination of inner and outer rhythm was why this particular form of exercise felt so darn good. Keep this factoid in mind, as we will return to it later....

Those first 2 compilations lasted very well, supplemented by the likes of Deee-lite and Madonna's 'Immaculate Collection'--right through the move to London in 1991. There were other mix tapes along the way: Dancing and Kissing (What More Is There?) and Lovergirl Mixxx are the musical evidence of my split with Brad, and all of them could be filed under Mixed Feelings. By 1994, using Fiona's new Andersen-Consulting-funded stereo system, I had created walking tapes number 3 and 4, Pavement Pounder and then Pacemaker, which accompanied me on complicated London Tube commutes from West Hampstead to Camden to Haringey.

Meanwhile I was rediscovering the glories of a genre I had scorned during my long-ago "Heidi is/a punk-rocker" past (a pose which fooled no one): I bought a GBP5 cassette called "Divas of Disco" and had soon combined 'Ring My Bell' and 'Shake Your Groove Thing' with London club hits to make a new tape (45 minutes per side, approximately 22 tracks in total) called Sidewalk Groove. By the end of the London era, walking-instead-of-dancing had been joined by Actual Dancing as I took part in the Great London Gay-and-Lesbian-Ballroom&Latin-Movement. I salsaed, I rhumbaed, I East- and West-Coast-swinged, and I cha-chaed to the likes of 'Walking on Broken Glass' by Annie Lennox. Life was one permanently-adjusted attitude.

Please join us next week for Part 2 of The Quantification of Music, when we consider the short-term heart-health effects of life inside the beltway....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

pluck a daisy, dunk a donut...

I love snow days;
I love them not.
I love snow days;
I love them not.
I love snow days;

check in with me tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

heigh-ho heigh-ho it's off to work we go

I'm not at my best this morning, but both of us were smokin' last night at the Out for Equality Inaugural Ball. Everybody was already feeling fabulous, even after some frustrating "but I have tickets!" experiences, and music by Dave Koz, Katie Curtis, Thelma Houston and that ever-bubbling fount of exuberance Cyndi Lauper boosted us all way up over the top. (Rufus Wainwright performed too, remarking insightfully that he's not really a party dude, being "rather morose, but I look good, so it all works out.") The evening ended with Melissa Etheridge growling earnestly away; a friend and I agreed that we're fans of her existence if not her music.

One of the unscheduled visitors (Sir Ian McKellen said a word and Jamie Lee Curtis and Carrie Fisher were both sighted) was Bishop Gene Robinson, who spoke the opening words at Monday's We Are One concert (nearly attended by Fiona but not quite) but whose contribution was inexplicably not broadcast. Here is his prayer; to get the full effect compare it side by side with Rev. Rick Warren's. Whether you're Christian or not, religious or not, Robinson's prayer shows a future of faith that I for one can live alongside.

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
Opening Inaugural Event, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God's blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will...
Bless us with tears - for a world in which over a billion people existon less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger - at discrimination, at home and abroad, againstrefugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort - at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience - and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility - open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world. Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance - replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding thatin our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity - remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable inthe human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States. Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand - that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.