For the past week or so, I have been attempting to write a sonnet. It is not going well. I have counted syllables, tapped stresses, and written lists of rhyming words. I have read sonnets. I have read about writing sonnets. This has not helped. But I am not giving up.
Among the many sonnets I’ve read, I found this little gem, which seems to be lacking a few characteristics of a sonnet, in the Poetry Foundation’s sonnet collection.
“Talking About the Day”
by Jim Daniels
Each night after reading three books to my two children–
we each picked one–to unwind them into dreamland,
I’d turn off the light and sit between their beds
in the wide junk-shop rocker I’d reupholstered blue,
still feeling the close-reading warmth of their bodies beside me,
and ask them to talk about the day–we did this,
we did that, sometimes leading somewhere, sometimes
not, but always ending up at the happy ending of now.
Now, in still darkness, listening to their breath slow and ease
into sleep’s regular rhythm.
Over the summer, all our students in grades five through eight read Restart, by Gordon Korman. The kids loved the book, and have had some amazing discussions about its characters and themes. Earlier this week, as a culminating event, we had a Skype visit with Mr. Korman, who entertained us with stories and writing advice. Before our visit, the kids came up with many insightful questions. Their thoughtful wonderings inspired this poem. (Which was also inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye‘s ditty challenge for September on Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’s blog, Today’s Little Ditty.)
To the Author Of My Favorite Book:
What made you write this story? What gave you this idea? How did you find the just-right words to show the way I feel? Did you peek inside my diary, or spy on me each day?
Were you ever lonely? Were you ever blue? Did someone ever write a book that felt like a friend to you?
Do you think I can be happy like the girl inside your book? You made her come alive, you gave me a new friend. Please write more of her story so our friendship never ends.
Every teacher knows the week before school starts is one of the busiest of the year; a week that leaves little time for reflective, thoughtful writing. I’ve decided that working through some of the mentor texts in Linda Rief’s The Quickwrite Handbook is a realistic option to keep me writing during these first few weeks of school.
This week, Linda’s suggestion to borrow the phrase “Life is short…” from Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones,” appealed to me. Here is my response:
Life is short, so on the last Sunday of August, the day before school started, when I still had piles of books I wanted to read and at least one poem I wanted to write, I drove for half an hour to meet my friend.
Life is short, so we met at a place where we could walk in the sunshine of a late summer morning through a field still wet with dew and bedecked with the lacy offerings of a thousand spiders and talk about our busy week, our busy children, our busy lives.
Life is short, so even though there was laundry to sort and rooms to vacuum, we drove to a diner where we drank hot coffee and ate fluffy eggs and ignored the hustle and bustle around us and talked some more and worked on the crossword puzzle, just like we used to when she lived down the street, enjoying the easy comfort of our long friendship, a friendship that makes this life beautiful.
Like many of you, and hundreds of thousands of educators around the country, I’ve been busy preparing for the start of school next week. The buzz of anticipation at meeting new students, sharing new books, and embarking on our learning journey never fades. Unfortunately, there are always aspects of our teaching lives that we have no control over and don’t always agree with. What we can control, though, is our response to the situation.
I’ve always admired people who remain calm in every situation because I occasionally go to DEFCON 1 in an instant. I know this is not always appropriate or even warranted. It’s usually also never helpful. This is something I’m working on. I will carry the last line of this poem by the very wise and wonderful W.S. Merwin into the new year to help me.
by W.S. Merwin
As though it had always been forbidden to remember
each of us grew up
knowing nothing about the beginning
but in time there came from that forgetting
names representing a truth of their own
and we went on repeating them
until they too began not to be remembered
they became part of the forgetting
later came stories like the days themselves
there seemed to be no end to them
and we told what we could remember of them
As summer winds down, I’ve been thinking not only about what I accomplished (closets cleaned, books read, poems written), but what I didn’t do. For many years, my in-laws had a very rustic cabin on a lake in “down east” Maine.We spent many weeks there over the years. Going to camp was right up there with Christmas and birthdays for my boys. The cabin was sold long ago, but for some reason, I missed it more than usual this summer.
When I was young at the lake, I woke to the sun shining through the trees, making puddles on the floor of the cabin’s loft. I skipped stones across the glassy water and paddled a canoe to the island near our cove. My brother and I ran wild through the forest and built a fort to defend our territory. We swam in the cold water and searched for unusual rocks on the beach.
When I was young at the lake, the air smelled of pine trees and we picked wild blueberries that grandma baked into a pie. On rainy afternoons, as raindrops pinged on the roof, we sat on the porch and put puzzles together. On clear nights, we watched meteor showers from the beach that were better than any fireworks we’d ever seen.
I fished for trout with my grandfather from our rowboat. Grandma always clapped when we presented her with our catch. Then she breaded each fish in cornmeal and fried them in her big cast iron skillet. Once a year, we drove to Machias for lobsters and corn on the cob. On those nights, we felt like kings as pulled tender meat from bright red claws and licked our buttery fingers clean.
When I was young at the lake, we fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and drifted to sleep to the lullaby of loons.
Linda explains that “these quickwrites are seeds of ideas, the beginning of a piece to be worked on right away or, at the very least, captured for later use.” I can easily imagine revisiting “When I Was Young at the Lake.” I can imagine a poem emerging from these lines, or maybe a picture book. Even if these memories never get farther than this post, my memories of the lake are always in my “deep heart’s core.” (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats)