Friday, April 23, 2010

poetry as a second language

First I must express right up top my gratitude to Kate Coombs at BookAunt, to Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect and to Gregory K. at Gotta Book for their generous and careful attention to my work during this month of poetry festivities. Apart from anything else, I just love the feeling of being part of this community! Thanks to all who make it be.
My classroom is a little community in itself: surrounded by books (since it used to be the Reading Specialist's headquarters), I am one of four teachers who use it daily. I arrive as another, exemplary "Reading Initiative" teacher is finishing with her second-graders, and as I'm wrapping up my first-grade teaching session at 12:30, two ESOL teachers are preparing to conduct their small groups (often simultaneously!). We do pretty well at sharing our slice of real estate, and all this eavesdropping on other teachers is very educational. It's had other influences, too, and tomorrow morning I'll take the ESOL Praxis exam to become certified to teach ESOL as well as general education.
Meanwhile, as our public charter school Founding Group prepares for a Q&A session with the school district's review panel, I come to the section in our application on provision for students who are speakers of English as an additional language. Here's the poem by Gregory Djanikian that opens this section:
How I Learned English

It was in an empty lot
Ringed by elms and fir and honeysuckle.
Bill Corson was pitching in his buckskin jacket,
Chuck Keller, fat even as a boy, was on first,
His t-shirt riding up over his gut,
Ron O’Neill, Jim, Dennis, were talking it up
In the field, a blue sky above them
Tipped with cirrus.

And there I was,
Just off the plane and plopped in the middle
Of Williamsport, Pa. and a neighborhood game,
Unnatural and without any moves,
My notions of baseball and America
Growing fuzzier each time I whiffed.

So it was not impossible that I,
Banished to the outfield and daydreaming
Of water, or a hotel in the mountains,
Would suddenly find myself in the path
Of a ball stung by Joe Barone.
I watched it closing in
Clean and untouched, transfixed
By its easy arc before it hit
My forehead with a thud.

I fell back,
Dazed, clutching my brow,
Groaning, “Oh my shin, oh my shin,”
And everybody peeled away from me
And dropped from laughter, and there we were,
All of us writhing on the ground for one reason
Or another.

Someone said “shin” again,
There was a wild stamping of hands on the ground,
A kicking of feet, and the fit
Of laughter overtook me too,
And that was important, as important
As Joe Barone asking me how I was
Through his tears, picking me up
And dusting me off with hands like swatters,
And though my head felt heavy,
I played on till dusk
Missing flies and pop-ups and grounders
And calling out in desperation things like
“Yours” and “take it,” but doing all right,
Tugging at my cap in just the right way,
Crouching low, my feet set.
“Hum baby” sweetly on my lips.
Why is it so hard for big school systems to allow that Play Is Learning?

Friday, April 16, 2010

the first grade update

Poetry immersion continued this week with more children's choices: "Nightmare," a spider poem from Hey There, Stink Bug! by Leslie Bulion, chosen by Christopher; Sophia's selection "I Know Someone" by Michael Rosen collected in My Song Is Beautiful; and Kate's choice of "Violets, Daffodils" by Elizabeth Coatsworth from a lovely large-format collection that I'll get back to you on. Rafael chose "Schools Get Hungry Too" from Kalli Dakos's The Bug in Teacher's Coffee which I'll be going back to when we talk about voice, and yesterday Ella picked "Monday's child is fair of face" collected in The Barefoot Book of Rhymes Around the Year, which I've owned since my years teaching in London. We all enjoyed coming back to this one which popped up in our read-aloud Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, a classic English series by Catherine Storr which is not well-known here but very worth tracking down.

Meanwhile, there's some poetry action going on in my son's own first-grade classroom and as a result I enjoyed a peak moment this week: close to an hour snuggled in bed on a rainy evening with my two children as we all simultaneously wrote color poems following a form that Little D had used in class--he in a brand-new writing notebook, I in my umpteenth writing notebook, and Bigger D on her laptop (when did she learn to type so fast?). This is the one he brought home from school, specially copied out for Mommy the poet.

Black and Me

Black is the deep black night and Great Ape's

Black is a great wolf's howl

black is a spider creeping

black looks like a slick fur coat

black sounds like an echo in a neverending

black smells like smoky black coal

black feels like the threatening black spikes on a
steel gate

black tastes like the smoky taste of smoked

black makes me feel brave and swift

black is an old ghost in a tavern

~Duncan, age 7

Much later I realized I had missed that mattered.

Friday, April 9, 2010

april summer snowflakes

I got so inspired by all the April festivities in the Kidlitosphere that I've imported "Thirty Poets, Thirty Days" into my first-grade classroom. Of course we've been enjoying poetry all year, but now we're riding the poetry wave! On April 1 we were on Spring Break, so I had to choose the first six poems to catch us up. I took them all from Poetry Speaks to Children and have put the CD that goes with that gorgeous book in the listening center. Now, however, the children are each taking a turn to choose the Poem of the Day--a power which they deeply dig! So far Katana has shared "Covers" from Nikki Giovanni's The Sun is So Quiet and Vivian has selected "ME I AM" by Jack Prelutsky, collected in My Song Is Beautiful by Mary Ann Hoberman. I'll keep you posted on what else goes up onto our Poetry Calendar in the hallway!

Here in the D.C. area the weather has been a little extreme. Not that many weeks ago we were buried under more than two feet of snow, "proving" in the minds of some folks that global warming is a myth. Now, for the past few days the temperature has been near 90 degrees, which sounds like climate change to me (although my brief research shows that in years with 90* April days, we do tend to get more snow...I wonder how that works?). Right now in my yard are blooming simultaneously forsythia, daffodils, periwinkle, tulips, hyacinths, weeping cherry, bleeding heart, dogwood and even some of the azaleas! Makes me want to sleep outside--except for "Marlon," the suburban raccoon who's hanging around and apparently aspires to becoming our pet. It's a little creepy.

In the spirit of unpredictable weather, I offer up this poem by David McCord, which was an ideal opening for the public charter school application's section on Special Education.


Sometime this winter if you go
To walk in soft new-falling snow
When flakes are big and come down slow

To settle on your sleeve as bright
As stars that couldn't wait for night,
You won't know what you have in sight--

Another world--unless you bring
A magnifying glass. This thing
We call a snowflake is the king

Of crystals. Do you like surprise?
Examine him three times his size:
At first you won't believe your eyes.

Stars look alike, but flakes do not:
No two the same in all the lot
That you will get in any spot

You chance to be, for every one
Come spinning through the sky has none
But his own window-wings of sun:

Joints, points and crosses. What could make
Such lacework with no crack or break?
In billion billions, no mistake?

~ David McCord
(anthologized in Sing a Song of Popcorn)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

late for poetry month

April 1 is a very important day for me and it has nothing to do with National Poetry Month--or it has everything to do with National Poetry Month! Back in 1999 I was faced with the fact that while I seemed to be very good at growing a baby, I was not going to be good at pushing a baby out. It was disappointing to think that I had been carrying around those child-bearing hips since age 12 for nothing; on the other hand, it was fun to choose my daughter's birthday, and if you can choose April Fool's Day, whyever would you pick March 31 or April 2?

Thus arrived our little April Fool, two weeks late and by appointment--and shortly thereafter, following a hiatus of 15 years, I felt the urge to write poems again. (More on this funny twist to my writing life in my interview later this month with Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect). This year, on April 1, when I might have been posting for Poetry Friday, we were with our shiny new 11-year-old in Charlottesville, touring Monticello, eating outrageous desserts and swimming in the hotel pool.

Today I post the next two poems included in the public charter school application--the ones about reading and writing. Just see who authored the poem I chose to open the section on the place of writing in our school's curriculum...

The First Book

Open it.

Go ahead, it won't bite.
Well...maybe a little.

More a nip, like. A tingle.
It's pleasurable, really.

You see, it keeps on opening.
You may fall in.

Sure, it's hard to get started;
remember learning to use

knife and fork? Dig in;
you'll never reach the bottom.

It's not like it's the end of the world--
just the world as you think

you know it.

~Rita Dove (who, in a superb coincidence, is a professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville)

While Writing

Let the words come to you
Let the words escape you; flowing through your body to your pen
Let the words lead you through your whole life.

Let the words seize you
Let the words rip you from your world and take you to theirs
Let the words uncover your deepest thoughts

The words make feelings express themselves
The words make real life seem like fantasy
The words make us feel like nothing will ever be bad

And I love the words

~Daisy, age 10 (after Langston Hughes's "April Rain Song" )