Friday, February 28, 2020

as muCH AS My

Good morning and welcome to a nerdy, rambling post in which I start with a simple (albeit stunning) photo and end with, perhaps, a colonoscopy.  There will be a poem, too.

I'm the family social secretary, and twice recently I've made confused errors with events on our family calendar. I saw a haircut scheduled on Feb. 14 that I was sure wasn't right, and took some time texting with my stylist to establish that no, I didn't make an appointment on Valentine's Day, but wasn't it a coincidence that my spouse ALSO had a haircut on Valentine's Day?! Turned out that was a real appointment, that the one I was seeing on the calendar WAS my spouse's, never mine, but for two days I thought there were two concurrent appointments! And then I sat right at the Sunday evening family meeting, reported my teacher training event located miles away, and then planned to pick my son up on that day--which, by the time the day arrived, I realized I couldn't possibly do.  (The reason that I'm the social secretary is that both spouse and son sat in that meeting and neither one questioned my flawed plan as I was making it.)

These incidents, and certain other signs of aging, have me questioning my own ability to do what I've always been especially good at: to remember verbatim what has passed in a conversation, to observe keenly and take detailed note of what is happening when and how.  My own precision in this is noticeable because of how I've heard my spouse recount conversations I've witnessed, using language that is at best in the same hemisphere as the conversation--but not nearly in the same neighborhood, never mind the same house. (She also says that no one wants to hear this much detail, for example at a cocktail party; they want to get to the punchline faster.  I say there are plenty of people I know--hello writers--for whom the detail IS the cocktail, the party and the punchline.)

I keep thinking about what psychology research tells us about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, and how our brains use all kinds of unconscious bias to build memories which we then treat as objective fact, and I begin to wonder if I have ever been as good at reporting my own observations as I think.  Am I, at nearly 56, losing a skill I really had, or did I never have it, because no one does?  This is very concerning for someone who relies on being right about stuff for their mental health.  Okay, maybe for their mental unhealth.

So, the poetry. I'm participating in Laura Shovan's 8th Annual February Poetry Project.  There are about 35 participants and someone provides a prompt for every day with a water theme this year.  It has taken up a good part of my poetry attention, which is why I didn't see Cheriee Weichel's host post last week until Linda Mitchell wrote a poem based on a form created by Avis Harley, the subject of Cheriee's post and of one on Sylvia Vardell's Poetry for Children blog in 2011. (Are you with me?) "Wow!" said my puzzly wordnerd detail brain. "I too want to write an intravista! Two poems in one! Deep hidden meanings! Orthography!  Let's go!"

That day's prompt was this photo by Catherine Flynn, of a particular piece of the Grand Canyon called Elves Chasm.  What better image to inspire a poem with a canyon full of more to see inside?  So I started writing.  And here's the thing:  I don't know how I did it.  I know I found the word "knives" with the little word "I've" hiding in it, which indicated a first person voice, and I knew I wanted the elves in the poem, and then I realized that I would have to choose the embedded words first and write around them somehow.  And then a thing happened where a) I was in full CsĂ­kszentmihályiesue flow and b) the needs of the embedded poem and the needs of the outer poem were talking to each other in a conversation which I could observe and record, but not exactly control until the poem finished itself.  This mental state, for a person who overthinks and overcontrols and relies on being right, is a very very very great relief--joy, even.  Kind of like that "twilight" feeling you get with the light anaesthesia of a colonoscopy. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Et voila, the poem.

           ©Heidi Mordhorst 2020

So, thanks to Cheriee and Avis and Sylvia and Linda and Laura and Catherine, who all had a role in my blissful elfin chasmic flow of joy, and thanks to Karen, who's hosting today at her shockingly clever blog. May you ride or escape the flow today, as you choose.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

i heart poetry: ncte notables part 4

Yes, it is Valentine's Day--possibly my favorite holiday--and therefore I will not disappoint by plunging into my last reviews of NCTE 2020 Poetry Notables without any hint at hearts.
Here is the song I wrote in 2001 for a class of 4-year-olds, slightly creased and glue-bedecked from all our monster-building activities.  I'm having a bit of trouble remembering the tune, though!

Now that you are well and truly monstered by love, here are the reviews. What riches!

James E. Ransome
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019

Our national history of the enslavement of Africans and their American-born descendants is difficult to place in context for young children. In The Bell Rang, James Ransome brilliantly builds his narrative of plantation life on a familiar days-of-the-week pattern. This gives readers 4-11 something on which to hang a shocking understanding: the humanity of ordinary family life in deep conflict with the inhumanity of slavery.

Each morning the overseer’s bell rings and a young girl and her big brother Ben go about their routine, until one day,

I wake to the sound
of Mama and Daddy
searching, looking.
No sun in the sky. 
Mama crying. 
No Ben.
Daddy crying. 
Ben ran.

Spare, repetitive language and richly detailed paintings are painfully educational; older readers will be able to interpret this narrative for themselves while primary aged children will need--and be enabled--to talk and talk about it.

David Elliot
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019

A tour de force of poetic craft, this reconstruction of the extraordinary life of an ordinary French peasant girl offers challenge and surprise on every page. Elliot weaves witness testimony from Joan’s trials with the distinctive voices of herself, the saints who guided her outrageously courageous actions, and the objects that play roles in her story--a needle, a dress, a road, a sword, the very fire upon which she was burned. Each poem has its form: metered verse set in concrete shapes that work against their formal regularity, just as Joan strained against all expectations of her gender and era.

please forgive this unprofessional photo of an extremely professional poem

Elliot skillfully mingles the facts of Joan’s mission to save France with the superstitious flavor of pre-Enlightenment religious belief that permitted a teenaged girl to lead an army in God’s name. Her charismatic leadership coincides fascinatingly with the current phenomenon of Greta Thunberg’s, and while only the most mature 11-13-year-olds will find this book accessible, they will be richly rewarded for their efforts.

Our Poetry Friday hostess-with-the-mostest is Linda at TeacherDance. March on over and take the Love Monsters with you!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

sunday swaggers: climate action terza rima

what I deserved after finishing this challenge

This month our CP Catherine Flynn, dabbling in a little Dante, challenged us to write a terza rima.  "Coolcoolcool," we said. "No problem."  HA.

The terza rima, explained by Edward Hirsch:

"A verse form of interlocking three-line stanzas rhyming aba, bcb, cdc, etc. The terza rima form was invented by Dante Alighieri for the Commedia….The effect of this chain-rhyme is both open-ended and conclusive, like moving through a series of interpenetrating rooms or going down a set of winding stairs: you are always traveling forward while looking back."

You know how every day you try to do something different than you used to, in an effort to lighten your footprint on the planet, if not actually halt climate change?  And you know how every day you realize that you FORGOT and did it the old, heedless, "our resources are unlimited" way?  The "boy, these convenient plastic ziplock bags are genius" way? The "crap, I forgot to ride my electric bike to work" way?

If you're like me, you're trying to travel forward while always falling back down the winding stairs, looking back at how we got to an average January temperature 3* hotter than it should be. So here I am, a modern troubadour, singing a song of two steps forward, one frustrating step back.


©Heidi Mordhorst 2020

I don't know--CAN we act in the way that our post-consumer age demands? Some days feel so daunting, like the bad guys are definitely winning, and then something buoys me up: for example,  Wednesday I participated in a training with the Elders Climate Action/ Environmental Voter Project.

I watched the trainer use a computer app to text 50 registered NH environmental voters in under 3 minutes, encouraging them to pledge to vote in the Primary Election.  He got a dozen responses right away and then spent about 4-5 minutes replying: tagging them as "voting," "wrong number" or "opt out."  It was beautifully efficient and I can't wait to play a role in getting voters--really ANY voters--thinking about which candidates have a plan for reversing global warming.  If you want to check it out, go here--and you don't have to be an "Elder"!

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Sunday Swaggers' efforts:

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Writing the World for Kids with Laura Purdie Salas--march on over to the beat of your different drum and make a difference!