Saturday, February 25, 2012

SPARK 15: artist/writer exchange

For the second time I signed up to participate in SPARK, a quarterly "inspiration exchange" in which artists and writers are paired up.  Each partner sends the other a piece of work, and then makes a new piece in response to the inspiration she received.  My partner for SPARK 15 is Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, and she sent me the intriguing photo below, entitled "Window Pains."

Yesterday was Day 10, the end of my time to respond to Linda's photo.  I hope my poem does it some kind of justice.

Window Pains

To ash the hands who built the frame
to dust the hands who hung the drape
which taking pains to hammer nails
and taking pains to stitch and so

Painstaking made a house and home
to hold the combs and loaves and soap
that fill and close all cracks and holes
but open doors just out of sight

Blew the weather in and out
wore the boards and warped the house
how time and climate tore it down
the cloth to rags uncovering

Glass the last to fall holds in
panes taking gray gone finger prints
pressing through as kisses did
a spirit of the hands intact

Heidi Mordhorst 2012
all rights reserved

Friday, February 24, 2012

slow-motion poetry reading

I don't know how I came across this poem a couple of weeks ago--maybe it was on another Kidlitosphere Poetry Friday blog!  In any case, it swept me off my feet.  Here it is, along with a little blow-by-blow of a peak poetry experience.

by Amy Lowell

[To Ezra Pound: with Much Friendship and Admiration and Some Differences of Opinion]

The Poet took his walking-stick
Of fine and polished ebony.
Set in the close-grained wood
Were quaint devices;
Patterns in ambers,
And in the clouded green of jades.
The top was smooth, yellow ivory,
And a tassel of tarnished gold
Hung by a faded cord from a hole
Pierced in the hard wood,
Circled with silver.
For years the Poet had wrought upon this cane.
His wealth had gone to enrich it,
His experiences to pattern it,
His labour to fashion and burnish it.
To him it was perfect,
A work of art and a weapon,
A delight and a defence.
The Poet took his walking-stick
And walked abroad.

Peace be with you, Brother.

The Poet came to a meadow.
Sifted through the grass were daisies,
Open-mouthed, wondering, they gazed at the sun.
The Poet struck them with his cane.
The little heads flew off, and they lay
Dying, open-mouthed and wondering,
On the hard ground.
"They are useless. They are not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. Go your ways.

The Poet came to a stream.
Purple and blue flags waded in the water;
In among them hopped the speckled frogs;
The wind slid through them, rustling.
The Poet lifted his cane,
And the iris heads fell into the water.
They floated away, torn and drowning.
"Wretched flowers," said the Poet,
"They are not roses."

Peace be with you, Brother. It is your affair.

The Poet came to a garden.
Dahlias ripened against a wall,
Gillyflowers stood up bravely for all their short stature,
And a trumpet-vine covered an arbour
With the red and gold of its blossoms.
Red and gold like the brass notes of trumpets.
The Poet knocked off the stiff heads of the dahlias,
And his cane lopped the gillyflowers at the ground.
Then he severed the trumpet-blossoms from their stems.
Red and gold they lay scattered,
Red and gold, as on a battle field;
Red and gold, prone and dying.
"They were not roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother.
But behind you is destruction, and waste places.

The Poet came home at evening,
And in the candle-light
He wiped and polished his cane.
The orange candle flame leaped in the yellow ambers,
And made the jades undulate like green pools.
It played along the bright ebony,
And glowed in the top of cream-coloured ivory.
But these things were dead,
Only the candle-light made them seem to move.
"It is a pity there were no roses," said the Poet.

Peace be with you, Brother. You have chosen your part.

Now, I know next to nothing of Ezra Pound or Amy herself, nor their relationship of "Friendship, Admiration and Some Differences of Opinion," but for once I am not off Googling to see what I can find out, because this poem tells it all and more, and I don't want to spoil it with Facts.  I am very happy with this critique/fable/song of wisdom just as it is.

The title leads me one way, and the dedication informs and inflects the title.  "Oh," I think, "did Ezra suffer vision problems that made his poet's work difficult, and did Amy console and encourage him although the world was pitiably distorted?"  But then the story starts and all that astigmatism talk fades as I widen my mind to picture that cane, to imagine "quaint devices;/Patterns in ambers,/And in the clouded green of jades" as richly as they are described.  And off he goes, the Poet, with his cane of delight and defence.

But now the story is paused.  The Poet is not just friend but "Brother," and there is some reason to wish him peace.  What is to come of "a work of art and a weapon"?
And now he sets off again, and we follow him on his fool's way through the loveliness of the "lesser" blossoms, and we are guided to know he is a fool by the kindly, the measured, the nearly neutral  observations of the chorus.  And finally, at the end, I can think again about astigmatism, what it means to look and not see, to close your eyes wide open, swinging before you a stick of dead beauty which is judgment.
Just bloody brilliant, this poem. 
Shoot, you could even read it in Kindergarten.  Can't you see it as a picture book?
Enjoy some more bloody brilliance at Check It Out with Jone.  Peace be with you, Sister, Brother.  Go your ways (and may they be wise).

Friday, February 17, 2012

rethinking pink

I've officially introduced the concept of writing con-ventions to my 5- and 6-year-olds, and it does surprise me how little most of them notice the patterns of capitalization and punctuation that they've been looking at since (at least) the beginning of the year--a reminder that however hard we strive to teach them to read in Kindergarten nowadays, they're only ready when they're ready.

I have a little jingle that I sing to make the basics stick (can I embed audio in Blogger?):

"Sentence starts with a capital letter;
Sentence ends with a punctuation mark!"

Last year, with some take-their-time first-graders, it finally got so that as I was observing them writing, all I had to do was lean close and hum the jingle and they'd check both ends of their sentences--but they still needed that reminder until the very end of the year.

For some of us, these conventions are not just conventions; they're an art form.  I freely manipulate these influential little marks to inflect and pace my written language, with the aim of helping my readers hear my voice.  I find it fascinating and baffling that so many adults seem to regard punctuation as optional or meaningless.

My student Talia will not be one of those.  She's a reader, a thinker, a noticer and--as I was at this age--a corrector of painful precision.  (Memorably, at three I informed my mother, who had asked me to put something in the trash can, "It's not a can, it's a basket.")  This week, as I was waxing rhapsodic about capitals and the three important ending punctuation marks, Talia interrupted to point out that I had just said "pinctuation," not "punctuation."  A teacher could get impatient about such a remark, or a teacher could write a poem.  A pink poem.


As it turns out, a teacher could start a poem, but not finish one.  I thought I was going to write a rosy little piece for 6-year-olds, but sometimes a poem gets uppity and starts acting like a character in a novel, bossing the poet about and refusing to come quietly.  So it is today.  I weigh the options:  post the poem-in-progress, with all the risk that entails, or delay until it's "finished," knowing that you, dear Poetry Friday visitor, may not return to see what pinctuation means to me.  Hmm.

As I get older, I get a little wiser, but see:  I'm impatient after all. 

Pinctuation Lessons
Pinctuation Lesson One:
Pinctuation is for everyone, boys and girls,
and all must find their precise shades of pink.
Winter, spring, summer and fall,
we can all dress our sentences
to fit the whether.
Correct pinctuation is required;
creative pinctuation is inspired.
Pinctuation Lesson Two:
Every sentence starts with a heart.
Pink is the capital of the United States of You.
[rest of stanza 2]

Pinctuation Lesson Three:
In the end, pinctuation marks the moment.
Beneath your telling statement beats
a feeling colored pink. Your brain believes
it's neutral gray, but heart trumps it.
When you ask a question, your
whowhatwherewhenwhy quivers pinkly
with uncertainty. Why try to hide it?
And if you exclaim satisfaction or delight,
shock, surprise, excitement,
your heart rises to your face, flushed with pink.
Your heart commands:  embrace it!

Heidi Mordhorst  [draft] 2012
all rights reserved

Pop on over to the wonderful Gathering Books blog with Myra Garces-Bacsal today for some Valentinian variety!

Friday, February 10, 2012

overheard in the staff meeting

I'll admit that I was surprised to walk into a staff development session on math teaching a few months ago to hear it suggested that we begin math lessons by asking "What do you notice?  What do you wonder?"  I've talked for years about how poetry grows out of noticing and wondering, and while I've applied the Noticing and Wondering formula (which is anything but formulaic, once you get past the initial questions) to every other piece of curriculum in the classroom, I realize that I've been leaving math out.

You can watch the video that I found mind-changing at that staff development meeting here:

Our staff has met twice more to consider and discuss (only very briefly; seven minutes isn't near enough time for in-depth conversations) this approach to math education and to try to link it--of course--to the new Common Core Standards and to the Five Strands of Mathematical Proficiency, UCARE.  (Yes, I care about math; it just doesn't come as naturally to me!)

Earlier this week one of my colleagues shared, valuably, her experience with a less-is-more inquiry approach which begins with a lot of TIME.  To start, she has been offering her students plenty of time to sit and look at a new math concept, such as a fraction and its reduced version, in order to notice and wonder about the two numbers and their possible relationships.  Perhaps they attempt to represent their ideas on paper or whiteboards.

Once they have begun to have some ideas about what might be going on (and my favorite feature of  the "What do you notice?" launch is that everyone can notice, whether or not they have an inkling of what the end point or "correct answer" might be), the children have seven whole minutes to talk through their thoughts with a partner, to express their notions of the problem in words.  This is wait time with a capital W. 

My colleague spoke about her strong tendency to feel that this might be a waste of time, compared to simply teaching the class the logarithm for reducing fractions straightaway, and how she has had to persevere in permitting herself to allow time for ambiguity, for process.  She described observing the children's initial delving into what the problem might be, and how understanding comes in fits and starts that often begin with "flashes of maybeness." 

This is a feeling I know well, having been a child who struggled with math although I had a fairly good sense of "reasonable."  Now I know that not understanding place value until I was offered base 10 blocks in a Math for Teachers course at age 22 makes me a more effective and sympathetic teacher for children (unlike my own!) who need substantial time to reach true comprehension of math concepts.  I'm grateful for the lead toward honoring all those flashes of maybeness.


there's a ticklish
in your eyebrows
or ribs
a lightness
that zaps through
your backbone and lungs

a pause
a breath and then
flashes of maybeness
bubble your brain:
"that might--
it could--
what if--
hey, look!"

the eye in your mind opens wide
starts to see
and any day now
your mouth will catch up

Heidi Mordhorst 2012
all rights reserved

Many thanks to my colleague Stephanie Cromwell for giving me this week's poem, and to Joelle Thompson, the staff development teacher who has been leading these meetings.  The round-up this Poetry Friday is with Laura Purdie Salas (and her guest David Harrison) at writing the world for kids. 

Friday, February 3, 2012


Add to my all-time favorite books Mattland, by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert (published in Canada).  I have long been a fan of Roxaboxen and its depiction of a kind of collaborative, creative, imaginative play that today's children sometimes need to be taught.  Mattland is the same kind of story, but a little more accessible and step-by-step than Roxaboxen, and with a dramatic crisis that the true story of Roxaboxen lacks.  (I have my little complaints about the design of Mattland and how the illustrations sometimes don't match the words in shape or placement, but these are surmounted by the powerfully satisfying overall effect.)

We read both these books as a way of coming to an understanding of the "physical features: landforms and bodies of water" that are in the Kindergarten curriculum.  We worked up to building modeling clay landscapes on lunch trays, with little toothpick flags to indicate mountains, lakes, deserts, rivers, grasslands, oceans and islands.  We called the project "Youland," since most children, like Matt in the book, named their place after themselves, and they were very proud of their lands indeed.  It took me way too long to realize what song we needed to learn:  Woody Guthrie's folk classic below.  Did you know all the verses?

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

by Woody Guthrie

And now, enjoy this Youtube version which links Woody's cultural/political message with our National Parks system...

Sing your way to the Poetry Friday Round-up at The Iris Chronicles with Karissa.