Friday, September 30, 2011

the trenches of seventh grade

Over the summer, students in my daughter's humanities and communications program read All Quiet on the Western Front (which I also read in high school; did you?).  Now that the school year is in full swing, these 12-year-olds are writing 2-page essays analyzing the message and tone of World War I poems.  I recognized the names of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and some of the poems included in her packet, but I was not familiar with the poem Daisy chose.

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

~ Siegfried Sassoon, 1917

Simplicity itself--even nursery-rhymish--but effective, yes?

Daisy had a tough time getting going with her essay, and I guess I'm not surprised.  We thank our lucky stars that she has never lived first-hand through a war (a curiously true statement), and that being so full of despair you'd put a bullet through your own brain is foreign to her. (However, when I wondered whether her choice of "frustrated" to describe the soldier boy's feelings was quite strong enough to warrant suicide, she quipped, "This frustration would be enough for me!") 

But it's hard, as a parent, to know that my big little girl is spending time down in the trenches with the demands of a well-constructed five-paragraph essay on a topic she has to stretch hard to reach: the grim reality of war.  I take solace in the fact that immersing yourself in a masterful poem is always worthwhile.

Find more poetic war and peace--and above all, connection--at Read Write Believe with Sara today...BUT WAIT!  THERE'S MORE!

p*tag is here!!!  October 1 is the official launch date of the new p*tag digital poetry anthology for teens, conceived and edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  For only $2.99 (early-bird price $1.99 through today) you can download this anthology in a wink and become a proud part of the publicity machine for new work by the "best poets for young people, including YA poets and verse novelists Naomi Shihab Nye, Margarita Engle, Allan Wolf, Betsy Franco, Paul Janeczko, Helen Frost, Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman, current Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, and poetry legend Lee Bennett Hopkins,".... and li'l ol' me. 

Please take time to support this project and share it wherever you go, in body and in spirit.  Sylvia's intriguing photos were wonderfully inspiring and Janet's concluding piece is beyond powerful; there are poems for readers of all stripes ages 12 and up, and this approach to publishing is aimed at bringing more poetry to more young people using the media they can most easily access.  Go, p*tag!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OIK: what's my rule?

This week's OIK Tickler is from Neal, who watched closely as I sorted a set of apples.  We had already sorted by color and by size; "what's my rule for sorting this time?"

Pointing, Neal said, "Those are the sticking-up-things, and those are the not-sticking-up-things."

He was right: one group of apples had stems and the other didn't.  What can we make of his general-yet-specific description?  Post your responses in the comments!

Friday, September 23, 2011

guest poet and birthday boy

Here it is 7:23 am and we have already had the speed version of birthday cards and breakfast in bed, but what shall I post for Poetry Friday???

Never fear--Granddad is here, with his customary hand-lettered card on heavy cream stock incorporating birthday poem written just for the occasion!  See if you can detect why it brought me both a pang and surge...

DUN [yes we] CAN | DUN CAN'T

Duncan's nine!
Isn't that just fine?
Better than eight
(Though that was great);
One more and then--
You're really ten.
But take the time
To be just nine;
No need to rush,
To shove and push.
For nine is cool,
And as a rule
All boys this age
Must turn a page,
And leave behind
(Like some cheese rind)
Those childish tricks
Get you in fixx.

We count on you, young man; don't drift
Against the flight path of your gifts,
But use that busy brain of yours
For better, best; forget the flaws;
To be your better self with pride
Brings happiness deep down inside.
And does the same for all your others,
Sister, grandparents and mothers;
Just think of us across the sea,
Your (much) Extended Family.
So Duncan, on your day this year,
Give us a present, please; let's hear
How good and grown-up  you've become,
A model boy for everyone.
This of this once a week at least;
And now enjoy your birthday feast!

~ Granddad Damian Grant 2011

More mixed poetry feelings this week with Anastasia at Picture Book of the Day!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Overheard in Kindergarten: I pledge allegiance

Here's this week's Tickle.  Post your poetic response in the comments!

Today in kindergarten we attempted to fulfill an objective which is perhaps the most developmentally inappropriate in the whole K curriculum:

Identify and describe people, symbols, and practices associated
with the United States of America.

Now, my little Minnows are a pretty sharp bunch, but even so, their concept of the US of A is just about nonexistent; they're still trying to work out "my school," never mind "my neighborhood," "my state" or "my nation."  All the same, we gave it a go, and had a close encounter with a brand new 8"x10" flag.  We observed with *all* our senses before we analyzed its color, shape and size attributes--which means that we actually even smelled the flag (although we did not taste it).

"Can you smell the flag?"  I asked.

Sarah said, somewhat perplexed,
"The American flag smells like bubbles."

Friday, September 16, 2011

one-line power poem

What if the secret to success is failure?

That's the title of an article in the NYT Magazine by Paul Tough.  It explores the idea that character is just as important as academic prowess in climbing the ladder towards a college degree, and that the moral virtues like fairness, respect and integrity (labelled around here as the Six Pillars of Character) may not be sufficiently powerful, especially if you're starting from the real bottom of the ladder and not halfway up.

The most striking idea is that these other character strengths--which, enjoyably, can be summed up as 'grit'--can and should be taught in school.  These "performance character" traits include self-control, diligence and perseverance--in other words, the traits you need to keep climbing after you slip and slide down the ladder for the umpteenth time.  That's what makes the difference, and it's why some of those kids who start halfway up (or who make the climb with Mom & Dad holding up their butts) are having trouble these days.

So, once again:

What if the secret to success is failure?

If you've stopped by, don't forget to look below for a new feature on my blog, the OIK Challenge!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

OIK! a new feature: The "Overheard in Kindergarten" Tickle

Many of my poems are seeded by words overheard in the classroom.   In an effort to preserve the surprising, original, inspiring language of 3- to 7-year-olds, I'm designating Tuesday nights--or very early Wednesdays--as  "Overheard in Kindergarten" day here at my juicy little universe.  Perhaps you'll be as tickled as I often am by the things they say!

I'll record a bon mot let loose from the mouths of my 5-year-old babes, and those who wish to be tickled can come and post a poetic response in the comments.  You can also post your own Overheard nuggets for others to enjoy. My goal for this week is one response (besides my own).

What I can't promise is extensive commentary afterwards.  However, all participants will receive a big Mighty Minnows star for playing, and I hope we'll all have fun!

Here's this week's OIK, from Harry (all names are altered to protect identities):   
"You skipped me!  I need some of that sandihantizer."

Here's mine:


With one miracle pump
it squirts into your palm:
the sticky-salt smell
of the ocean,
the grit and sparkle
of itty-bitty particles
across your cheek and
between your teeth--
a handful of beach
pumped from a plastic bottle.

DRAFT Heidi Mordhorst 2011
all rights reserved

And from my dad:

Alcohol gel may sanitize
but nothing removes playground grime
Like Sandihantizer

Bob Mordhorst

Thursday, September 8, 2011

we're so brave, we're so smart

The Mighty Minnows of Room 144 are almost literally splishing and splashing down the hall this week due to the many inches of rain that have fallen here, and in two weeks of school they have not been out to recess ONCE.  (Long story; must get to writing that grant to fund 20 pairs of galoshes and 20 ponchos so we can go out in all weathers).

The "big song" we're learning is one both my own children sang in Kindergarten with the wonderful Miss Cook, The Sun Inside Us. (Scroll down to play a sample.)  It's by Sarah Pirtle, from an album called The Wind Is Telling Secrets, and we hope Sarah doesn't mind that we've changed an important word in the chorus from "strong"--which for little children implies muscle power only--to "brave," which is a fine character trait that even the most physically challenged can develop. 

It's just a song, and it's not like they made it up themselves, but I can hardly express how it feels to hear 5-year-olds assert, in sincere and joyful voice (and of course, with motions) that they were born brave and smart, with loving hearts.  I know that singing those words rubs off on them.  The poetry's darn good too.

The Sun Inside Us
Sarah Pirtle

Derry-down a-diddle-um-day!
So we are and so we’ll stay.
We're so brave; we're so smart;
We were born with a loving heart.

We were born with the sun inside us,
We were born with the mystery moon.
We were born with the stars to guide us,
We were born with the blackbird's tune.

We were born with the river's turning.
We were born with the river's run.
We were born with the wild bird's yearning.
We were born with the blue jay's fun!

We were born with the strength of hickory,
We were born with the seagull’s sight.
We were born with cells of crystal,
We were born with the rainbow light.

You're so brave; you're so smart;
You were born with a loving heart.

Katie's hosting Poetry Friday at Secrets and Sharing Soda today.  Bubble on over and fizz!

Friday, September 2, 2011

growing gills

I've been underwater for the last two weeks, thanks to the hurricane of back-to-school details and a pesky need to actually sleep every night.  However, I must be growing gills, because I'm finding time to post.

It has been a fairly fishy week.  I began the year with my new K class with a deeply favorite book, Swimmy by Leo Lionni.  He's just such a good role model, isn't he?  Swimmy stands out from the crowd, takes care of himself, finds wonder in his surroundings even though he's scared and alone, takes a stand and solves a problem--cleverly--and shows bravery and determination as he leads all the little red fish to liberty.  For right now, I'll be the eye, but soon my 19 little ones will begin to lead the way.

Then we sang a tune I used to sing to my children when they were infants in the tub with me:

"Splish, splash, splish;
I am a little fish.
Swimmy, swimmy, swimmy, swimmy,
Splish, splash, splish."

At snacktime (made necessary by a scheduled lunch time of 10:45!), we've been plucking and reading this week's poem from the Poetree:


Look at them flit
Tearing around
With a leap and a bound
But none of them making the tiniest

by Mary Ann Hoberman

This poem reminds Ms. Mordhorst's Mighty Minnows that fish are very quiet indeed, and that the Mighty Minnows can be very quiet when it's called for.  Now before we enter the hall we sing, "Splish, splash, splish; I am a silent fish," and we swim down the hall like one giant silent fish with our hands finning up and down or side to side.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is our "powerless" Poetry Friday host today...hope to surface long enough to see you there!