Friday, August 19, 2011

tea for two hundred

Well, I thought I had been to the Lake District during my five years living in London, but clearly not--I would have remembered all these damp and dripping greens and greys. We're in a 16th c. house now mushroomed to a complicated and comfortable cluster of rooms, underpinned by a big old kitchen with two electric kettles that have served up at least 200 cups of tea to an ever-changing array of inhabitants over the last week. I do enjoy all the kerfuffle and banter of a large group of wonderful people, and the challenge that surrounds the mobilization of a party of 11 for a walk (we Yanks would say "hike") to Tarn How, or a party of 14 for As You Like It on the lake shore, or a party of 21 for dinner at the Black Bull pub...

But I must say I'm ready to be back, just the four of us (or even the two of us!), in our cozy kitchen at home.  From here at Coniston Water it would be fitting to post something by Wordsworth or John Ruskin or even Beatrix Potter, all of whom trod these rocky hills, but instead I'm thinking of the lovely interior poem my father selected to read at our little wedding, which holds out the promise of a quiet--but not too quiet--latter-years domesticity a deux.

Steve Scafidi

When we are old one night and the moon
arcs over the house like an antique
China saucer and the teacup sun

follows somewhere far behind
I hope the stars deepen to a shine
so bright you could read by it

if you like and the sadnesses
we will have known go away
for awhile---in this hour or two

before sleep---and that we kiss
standing in the kitchen not fighting
gravity so much as embodying

its sweet force, and I hope we kiss
like we do today knowing so much
good is said in this primitive tongue.

From the wild first surprising ones
to the lower dizzy ten thousand
infinitely slower ones---and I hope

while we stand there in the kitchen
making tea and kissing, the whistle
of the teapot wakes the neighbors.

~Steve Scafidi

Poetry Friday today at Dori Reads.  I hope Dori Drinks Tea, too!

Friday, August 12, 2011

dayenu = joy

 I'm posting from near Manchester, England ("England, across the Atlantic Sea; and I'm a genius, genius, 'cos I believe in" Poetry Friday).  We spent a few days in London and are heading to Lake Coniston today for a week-long family celebration of my mother-in-law's upcoming notable birthday.  (Side note:  My mother-in-love, previously honored here for her contributions to my poetry bookshelf, is now truly and technically my mother-in-LAW, thanks to that legal wedding certificate.  Nice bonus effect!)

Our London experience this time around was deeply colored by Daisy's twin passions:  Harry Potter and Shakespeare. We have spent large chunks of our trip visiting Harry Potter book and film locations in Wiltshire and in London, helped by a poorly-written but comprehensive book on the subject acquired in a National Trust bookshop at Lacock Abbey.  The two passions came together nicely on the terrace at the Globe Theatre.  There, among the many flagstones commemorating the supporters of American Sam Wanamaker's 45-year quest to rebuild the Globe, is one bearing the name of Sam's daughter Zoe, and any diehard Harry Potter fan knows that in the movies Zoe Wanamaker plays Madame Hooch, the flying instructor and Quidditch referee at Hogwarts.  I won't go into how many other Harry Potter actors are also noted Shakespeareans.

But I digress (even before approaching my true subject):  why can Shakespeare even begin to touch Harry Potter in Daisy's world of what rates?  Credit for early initiation goes to Mrs. Kleinman and Mrs. Alexander, the 4th grade teachers who had their classes performing Romeo and Juliet, in which Daisy played the Prince of Verona (and The Pirates of Penzance, a not unrelated British institution, in which Daisy played the modern Major General).  But credit for her lasting, maturing passion goes to Michelle Ray, a fellow Montgomery County Public Schools teacher and author of the recently published Falling for Hamlet.  My respect for teacher-authors gets a big boost once again.

Passion (or lack thereof) in the classroom is contagious, and this is why teaching is such a powerful and dangerous profession.  Ms. Ray, Daisy's 6th grade reading teacher, made Shakespeare current and true and important to Daisy. Here I find that Ms. Ray has also written a few words of wisdom on the topic of gratitude for what is sufficient in life.  "Being published has been one of the best things in my life, yet it’s been fraught with emotional challenges....So my mission:  focus on the joy."
I for one can always use the reminder that what we have, each of our blessings, our small contributions and celebrations, even each of our little adversities, is enough.

"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."

William Shakespeare
As You Like It, 2.1.13

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Karen at The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title.

Friday, August 5, 2011

p*tag you're it

After the rounds of poetry tag played at my Honesdale Highlights workshop, I didn't think a tag game would ever be quite so exciting again.  But I was wrong:  I have been invited to participate in the second poetry tag project coordinated by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, champions for the dissemination of poetry for young people.  Titled p*tag (you can play along here), it's the "first electronic-only anthology for teens" and will be illustrated with photos taken by Sylvia herself. 

Even as I write I'm in the midst of the challenge:  I have just been tagged by Stephanie Hemphill, an accomplished verse novelist.  My mission is to a) immerse myself in a photo I selected from Sylvia's intriguing gallery, b) select three words from Stephanie's fine poem, and c) compose my own poem inspired by the photo using Stephanie's three words and an as-yet-undetermined number of my own.  I have 24 hours in which to do this, and to write a piece that describes my process and how the resulting poem is linked to the photo and to Stephanie's.  

Then I get to tag another of the 31 poets who are participating (with respect for who's on vacation this weekend and who's working!).  The project will all be complete and available for download at an irresistible price by October. How cool IS this?  I just hope I can pull off something worthy of the concept and of the first Poetry Tag Time volume, which was e-published in April.

So, back to Stephanie Hemphill.  Her latest book is Wicked Girls, which I confess I thought might be another girls-telling-lies-and-being-mean-to-each-other-book despite its subtitle: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials.  I took up HarperTeen's offer to "browse inside" and found myself reading way past my bedtime with fascination and admiration.  Here's a selection called "Caught."

Margaret Walcott, 17

Past the crooked evergreen
and the brook what lost its water,
on my way home from playing
games on who'll make me husband,
I cross Ipswich Road.
I rub my eyes.  His two blue ones
be looking straight on me.

My pulse starts to gallop
like a steed.  But today I trip not.
I track on up to him and say,
"Be you following me?"

His arms be thick enough
to lift the axe of three men.
Isaac's laughter shakes
through him so fierce
it scatters the snow off his boots.
"Yea, Margaret Walcott,
betwixt tending the stables,
staking out the fields
and bringing wares to town,
I be scouting all the time after you."
He raises one brow.
"But where hast thou been?"

The color splashes over me,
drenching me red.  I hold up my buckets.
"Fetching water," I say.

"Thou are far from any stream
I know of," Isaac says,
and shakes his head.
His eyes catch on me
like he be holding lightly
my face with his hand.

"I must then be lost," I say,
and I pick up my bucket
and my skirts and trot off.
And do so quite a bit like a lady.

~ Stephanie Hemphill
from Wicked Girls, Harper 2011

Apart from the draw of the story itself, of the girl accusers of Salem's alleged witches, I am completely fascinated by the sound of American English at this early, early stage of our history--the syntax, the grammar, and not least the voices of these girls who find themselves, unlike most girls of the era, known in history rather than anonymous.

Check out what other worlds folks are dreaming today at A Year of Literacy Coaching with Libby.  Happy Poetry Friday, and look out for p*tag!