Friday, November 30, 2012

postcards from new york city

Last month I wrote about the fine day I had teaching 8th graders at my daughter's school in Silver Spring, MD.  I invited students to send me the poems that resulted from their 5-day visit to New York, and now (with apologies for the smallification of the text to accommodate line lengths)  I'm pleased to present five views of the city that never sleeps, rendered by 13-year-old souls.  They form a perfect arc from arrival to reflective departure.


Migration to New York  | Mikaela G.

Stumbling off the ferry on unsteady feet
Nauseated groups of students entering New York together.
The stench of greasy pretzels and the pungent river drift through the air like a greeting,
Following us away from the ferry, and into the city.
We cluster on the sidewalk, a massive roadblock
Ignoring looks from people with things to see and places to be.
Suddenly we are like a flock of birds, moving to the benches on the left
Sitting down, everyone is in deep thought, eyes wandering, and scrawling first impressions.
Most too absorbed to notice a dozen pigeons strutting by,
Graceful, confident and proud.
As we write, we observe the New Yorkers,
Walking by briskly, not giving us more than a glance.
They yell into phones, converse in foreign languages, or bargain with their companions.
Nobody’s without a purpose.
On the right, more tourists pour in,
As many as possible are crammed onto a single ferry until it overflows with hopes and dreams.
Our time was short, but just enough.
We find our groups, our families
And shuffle down the street.
As we wander further from our first impressions,
Our next destination awaits.

Mikaela casts the horde of 100 student tourists as immigrants, finding their feet and their way through foreign territory, "as many as possible...crammed onto a single ferry until it overflows with hopes and dreams."  I like the way she contrasts the human response to New York with the pigeons' attitude.

Street Performer | Maniza H.

My eyes scan the crowd,
their eyes coated with anticipation.
Others walk by, New Yorkers they are called.

They ignore me, but I notice them.
I am tired, but the day isn’t done.
I have to forget all the eyes,
I have to let my body take over me,
And I have to move to the beat of New York.

As I move, I feel a connection to my friends.


I can hear my fellow trumpet player,
from the corner of Times Square.

Oohs and aahs follow after the artist
creates a masterpiece of New York.

Caricatures are drawn with smooth curves,
and as the curves come together,
a grin peaks out,
as they see their face so exaggerated

I see my buddies in costumes,
Alvin, Elmo, and Cookie Monster.
They stride through the street;
and their faces fill with glee as they take a photo

I come to a stop
Clap. Woot. Whistle.
Sweat glistens on my skin,
my breathing unnatural.
I am a street performer

A real New Yorker 

I love how Maniza shows the subtle and slightly surreal way that "ordinary" visitors to New York find themselves transformed into street performers just through being there, through participating as bit players in the big show that is street life.  "I have to move to the beat of New York....Clap. Woot. Whistle."

Leah writes from the opposite position, from way outside the hustle and bustle, with the pointed assessment of an outsider, and yet with imagination and compassion for each stranger's "mystique."

Disconnection | Leah S.

All different sorts of people hustle through the street;
Some look quite similar, like the businessmen shuffling their feet.
Others are more prominent, like the man performing flips in Central Park,
While thousands of made-up ladies in high heels leave their marks.
All these people look so much alike, 
with their matching black umbrellas, and shiny grey bikes.
But really, each person has their own defined story,
Like the smiling adolescent who is utterly worried.
The homeless man over there, looked so down upon,
Has just had a bleak life and all his relations are gone.
That “good” man just there, with a quality life,
Might not make such fine choices and could be cheating on his wife.
I go through New York City, the land of dreams,
So authentic and bursting with people at its seams 
and I realize something that I have always perceived:
No one really knows what a person is like inside, 
we just look them up and down and judge from the outside.
Oh, that chubby girl on the right isn’t cool one bit,
But the slender girl to the left must be popular and fit.
The secrets of New Yorkers remain confined, and it keeps the city abstruse, 
like a puzzle in your mind.
But the mystique of each person also allows judgment, and it creates a world of disconnection.

Jenna captures a moment of stillness that you can find amid the hustle and bustle, if you pause and submit to awe.  Up high, at the top of the Empire State Building, you might as well be on Mount Olympus with the gods, both tiny and mighty.

Star-lit Night in New York | Jenna W.

Lights. The silence.
The city illuminates the night
Like fireflies.
Neon stars dancing
Under the moonlight.

Queen of the City
Watches over
The vibrant colors.
Standing tall
Beaming into the night sky.

She reaches out
To trace over
The star-weaved darkness.
A blanket stretching
Across the never-ending distance.

The flow of light
Fills the city
All gleaming lights sparkle
In the city of eternal light –
New York.

Grace closes with an image of New York as a lifelike--but artificial--being.  She and I share the experience of New York as both exhilarating and exhausting, if you dare to experience it wholly.  At some point you either have to give in ("lights blur as complex reality slips") or harden yourself to it--or drive to safety through a rainbow tunnel.

A poem for two voices |  Grace W.

They say New York is the city that never sleeps
New York is the most tiring city in the world

The city is full of life, yet it remains lifeless, so how could it sleep?
The city pulses with a perpetual energy, keeping me awake

I like the idea of a living city though
The adrenaline emanating from the ground throbs through me with each step

Each building is a bump or crease on this enormous being
The electric air flows around me, giving me tingly goose bumps

People are blood flowing through their subway veins
My blood courses through my veins as my excited heart rate quickens

Tangled trees are the bedhead of this insomniac
Gentle breeze feeds my exhilaration and blows my hair into a frenzy

The problem is the city is artificial, it has no heart
The city combats my human frailty with its overwhelming industrial force

No tired brain to slowly, s l o w l y find the simplicity of rest
The dizzying images of lights blur as my mind lets complex reality slip

No listless body struggling to cross the bridge from waking to dreaming
My whole body aches while we keep walking through this unforgiving town

Despite this, the city’s intensity vanishes into a foggy tranquility
Finally the exhilaration submits to exhaustion as we drive away, through the rainbow tunnel

The city falls into an ambiguous silhouette as time passes on
                         Now I'm waiting for the blanket of darkness to untuck these lego buildings and toy cars, because it's almost time for morning.

Many thanks to these 8th grade poets for sharing their work with me, and to Mrs. Kiernan Cantergiani and the many other extraordinary staff at EMS who made this trip and these poems possible for their extraordinary students.

The Poetry Friday roundup today is with another teaching poet--and friend of the famous Mrs. Ray!--Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.  Visit her at The Poem Farm to enjoy Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

OIK Tuesday: a hole is to dig

A favorite book of mine is the classic A Hole Is To Dig (1952) by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak before Wild Things made him a star.  Anyone who teaches 5-year-olds can hear their voices in this "first book of definitions," just as I hear them all the time in my classroom.

Last week the Minnows and I were getting familiar with some images and vocabulary from the story of the first Thanksgiving.  (I'm thankful for my subscription to Scholastic's Let's Find Out, which comes with lots of handy whiteboardable resources.)  As we compared a Pilgrim boy's Plymouth Settlement house and a Wampanoag girl's home, we noticed the difference in roofs (rooves?), peaked vs. domed.

Then I indicated the rectangular prism on top of Pilgrim Boy's roof (no, I did not call it a rectangular prism.  We have not reached Marking Period 3, Indicator 3.K.A.4 , "Analyze and compare two- and three-dimensional shapes, in different sizes and orientations, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, parts and other attributes.")  So I pointed to the chimney and said, "Look at this part of the house.  Who knows what that is?"

So excited, Tonya shot up her hand.  "I know!  It's for Santa to come down and bring the presents!"

Christmas Eve Incantation

go, magic smoke, go high, go high
go rise into the Christmas sky
show the way to Santa's sleigh
burn a path to Christmas day!

oh chimney, open up your mouth
swallow Santa"s north and south
keep your ashes to yourself
bring Santa down into my house!

You can tell we've been reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck lately, can't you?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

plan ahead to light the dark

I'm looking forward to hosting Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe on December 21 this year--a day which is special to me and my family since we celebrate the Winter Solstice rather than the other December holidays.  However, Dec. 21 is a regular school day for me AND we have a special dinner for guests that night, so I've asked for the assistance of some Solstice elves in getting it all done gracefully.  Here's the plan, for those who would like to help out.

1. You write or select a poem on the general theme of lighting the dark  (Here's a little background info on Solstice traditions, if you're interested.)
2. You prepare your Poetry Friday post early (starting Dec. 15, perhaps) and set it to publish at 12:01 on December 21. emailing me your post title as you do so.
3.  I'll start putting together my host-post early too, and add your links as I receive your emails.
4.  On Friday morning it will all pop into being c. 6:00 am, and I'll go off to school knowing that we have all brightened the darkest day of the year with our dozens of points of poetic light!

I'll be able to do some rounding up twice during the day as well, so if something prevents you from posting early, don't worry;  I can still include you!  I hope you'll want to participate both with the theme and the schedule, but joining in with either one will help make our Winter Solstice Poetry Friday something special!

With thanks to my farflung community...

Friday, November 9, 2012

good honest work

After last week's wobble, I'm pleased to say that oh me of little faith has enjoyed election elation of a physical nature!  Here in Maryland, in addition to our reliable support of the Democratic candidate for President (a particularly admirable one, in my view), citizens also voted resoundingly for a DREAM Act which eases undocumented immigrant students' access to higher education, and FOR civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.  This last is particularly momentous, since it is the first time that the people (not the courts, not the legislature) of a state have voted directly in favor of marriage equality for their LGBT neighbors.

Compared to many of our friends, we did only a little to educate and inspire, but there was some work involved.  To see our investment of time, money and energy come to fruition leaves (heh heh "leaves") me with a feeling similar to that captured in this poem from Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, which my kindergarteners are currently building at the Pocket Chart and illustrating in their Poetry Anthologies.  She posted it last year and it went straight into my classroom.  Thanks, Amy...and thanks, Maryland!

If you're a teacher and you want a copy of my "Raking" pocket chart, just let me know and I'll send it to you.  The roundup today is over at Think Kid, Think! with Ed DeCaria--jump in!

Friday, November 2, 2012


Wordle: mixed feelings

hybrid storm
hot then cold
fast wind churning slow
terrible  wild
passing to mild

leaves a mess
of mixed debris
schadenfreude isn't right
something luckier
something sadder

and it matters

Heidi Mordhorst 2012

And not only that--the clock fall back this weekend.  Links of interest:
Richard Cohen

Poetry Friday roundup is with Donna at Mainely Write.  GOTV!