Poetry Friday: “From Blossoms”

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A friend recently asked me, “But what makes it a poem?” I confess I was stumped for a minute, then resorted to a fairly dry, textbook definition. This bothered me, so I went in search of a better answer. I’m not at all surprised that I found one in Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry. Oliver ends her analysis of “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by William Carlos Williams with this brilliant description:

“It is, above all, a poem that celebrates not only a momentary enchantment plucked out of the vast world but the deftness and power of the imagination and its dazzling material: language.”

Isn’t that a wonderful explanation of a poem? I have been enchanted by fresh peaches this week, and found this dazzling celebration of them to share with you today:

From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

Read the rest of the poem here.

"Harrow Beauty Peaches at Lyman Orchards" By Sage Ross (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Harrow Beauty Peaches at Lyman Orchards” By Sage Ross (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Please be sure to visit Margaret at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: “A Box of Pastels”

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“A Box of Pastels”
by Ted Kooser

I once held on my knees a simple wooden box
in which a rainbow lay dusty and broken.
It was a set of pastels that had years before
belonged to the painter Mary Cassatt
and all of the colors she’d used in her work
lay open before me.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Mary Cassatt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Cassatt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Please be sure to visit Kimberely on Google + for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: Joyce Sidman’s “First Life”

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I’m immersed in a poetry project that is challenging me in every way imaginable, so I’ve been reading stacks of poetry books for guidance and inspiration. Over the past week, I’ve returned to Joyce Sidman’s Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010) again and again, savoring Sidman’s masterful use of language and form.

The book’s opening poem, “First Life” has become one of my favorites.

 

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This screen shot comes the excellent Teacher’s Guide Joyce wrote, which is available here.

Sidman finds beauty and wonder in all these species, from the lowliest bacteria to wolves, sharks, and humans. The poems in this collection truly are celebrations of  these survivors. In her author’s note, Sidman tells readers that “…99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct…the ones who made it, and are thriving, are indeed remarkable.

Please be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: Wonder Poems

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For the fourth summer in a row, Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, and Jen Vincent are hosting Teachers Write!, a wonderful online summer writing camp. What began as the result of a comment during a Twitter chat has grown into a huge community and even inspired a book, 59 Reasons to Write (Stenhouse, 2015).

Yesterday, Kate kicked off the 2015 season with an invitation to wonder. Kate writes that wondering is where authentic writing starts, that “Wonder is essential for writers, but sometimes, we don’t leave time for it in our daily task-finishing, dinner-making, laundry-sorting lives.” Unfortunately, this is often true in our classrooms, too.

I usually make time for wondering during my drive to work and when I’m walking my dog, so it didn’t take me long to come up with a list, which soon morphed into a poem:

What wonders does the world behold?
a chirping robin greeting the dawn
a mighty river carving stone
a million stars shining in the sky above
the ringing of a telephone
the warmth of your hand in mine
finding a friend in the pages of a book.

Not sure what I would do with this list, I went about my morning. Within an hour, I heard a story on NPR about the NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Of course I started wondering what discoveries will be made about this most-mysterious non-planet. The similarities between the word “planet” and “Pluto” popped out at me, and I started thinking about how to work this into a poem.

J. Patrick Lewis says that in poetry, like architecture, “form follows function.” My work-in-progress has me thinking a lot about poetic forms. Lately, I’ve been working on a diamante (Which J. Patrick Lewis doesn’t consider a true verse form; read why here.) because it seemed like the form might help me accomplish my purpose for writing. This form also seemed like it might work for a planet/Pluto poem. Here’s a draft:

Planet
celestial, spherical
orbiting, rotating, reflecting
rock, solar system, outcast
freezing, wandering, eluding
distant, mysterious
Pluto

While there are parts of this I like, I wasn’t thrilled with it. Still wondering, I did a little research. Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect is a treasure-trove of poetic resources, so I checked her site for more information. Coincidentally, Tricia’s post yesterday was about cinquains, another short form with a strict pattern. So I decided to try the Pluto poem as a cinquain.

Frozen,
rocky mystery
wandering at the edge
of our solar system; outcast:
Pluto

I’m still pondering this one, but playing around with different forms was fun. It also helped me see a new possibility for a poem that’s been challenging to write. In addition, a few implications for teaching became clear as I was writing.

Asking a child, “What are you wondering about?” is such simple act, yet how often do teachers do it? What a gift it would be to ask our students this fundamental question each morning! What a list kids would generate! If we did this, then all the moaning about not knowing what to write about or groaning about making revisions might fall by the wayside. When you’re truly invested in what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. And who knows where their questions will lead? 

Thank you Kate, and everyone at Teachers Write! for the inspiration, and thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: “Gettysburg: July 1, 1863″

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“If war is nothing more than lists of battles then human lives count less than saber rattles.”
~ J. Patrick Lewis ~

As we gear up to celebrate our nation’s birthday tomorrow, its seems appropriate, this year especially, to pause and remember the battle of Gettysburg, which ended 152 years ago today after Pickett’s disastrous charge.

It is impossible to recall this battle today without thinking of the profound words spoken by Abraham Lincoln four months later at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery:

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Equal. How is it that after all this time, our nation is still grappling with this issue? I don’t like to get political in this space, but I do think Lincoln’s words are a reminder of how pernicious and divisive the public display of the Confederate flag truly is. The conclusion of Lincoln’s remarks further remind us that we still have far to go to reach this ideal:

“It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln’s speech is a masterpiece, full of poetic and rhetorical devices that move us, but “the honored dead” of whom he speaks are nameless and faceless to 21st century readers. Jane Kenyon’s poem, “Gettysburg: July 1, 1863” does for this bloodiest battle of the war what poetry does best: it shines a light on one anonymous soldier’s death, and helps us see the humanity of the 7,863 soldiers who died over those three days.

The young man, hardly more
than a boy, who fired the shot
had looked at him with an air
not of anger but of concentration,
as if he were surveying a road,
or feeding a length of wood into a saw:
It had to be done just so.

The bullet passed through
his upper chest, below the collar bone.
The pain was not what he might
have feared. Strangely exhilarated
he staggered out of the pasture
and into a grove of trees.

He pressed and pressed
the wound, trying to stanch
the blood, but he could only press
what he could reach, and he could
not reach his back, where the bullet
had exited.

                     He lay on the earth
smelling the leaves and mosses,
musty and damp and cool
after the blaze of open afternoon.

Read the rest of the poem here.

To bring this conflict to life for younger readers, turn to J. Patrick Lewis’s fine collection, The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse (National Geographic Society, 2007). Lewis’s poems give voice to soldiers, slaves, and abolitionists. Accompanied by period photographs, Lewis looks beyond the romantic notions of the nobility of warfare, and offers a compelling introduction to the stark realities faced by the rank and file during this brutal war.

Here are the final two stanzas of the last poem in the collection, “Passing in Review.”

Salute the boys
You never knew
For valor. It’s long overdue.
Young men still passing in review

Do not require
A great parade,
A big brass band or cavalcade
To sing the sacrifice they made.

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 Please be sure to visit Donna at Mainely Write for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Astray on a Summer Breeze

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How to teach poetry? “This has always worked: find the material in your own life.”
~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~

Penny Kittle tweeted this last night from the Boothbay Literacy Retreat, quoting a line from Naomi Shihab Nye, the evening’s “Distinguished Lecturer.” I had been thinking about this very idea earlier in the afternoon after I saw this on my way home:

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Needless to say, I did a double take. So I drove home, parked the car, and the dog and I walked back to the field to capture the moment. The camera on my phone really doesn’t do justice to the scene, so I’ll try to paint a picture with words.

A balloon bouquet,
astray on a summer breeze,
touched down in a
sun-drenched meadow
to dance with butterflies.

I hope you all have a chance to enjoy a few sun-drenched afternoons this summer!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: A Treehouse All Your Own

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Each month, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes has a poetry challenge over at her blog, Today’s Little Ditty. This month, her guest poet, Corey Rosen Schwartz, challenged readers to “Write a stanza or two about building a treehouse and challenge yourself to come up with a rhyme word that is two or more syllables. “

Well, I managed one pair of rhyming multisyllabic words in this poem inspired by my boys. And although their tree climbing days are long past, they still like to play in the woods.

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When you’re feeling boisterous,
rowdy, shouty, roisterous,
go outside and find a tree
that you can call your own.

One that has a flat, wide space
between the branches that can brace
a treehouse hideout
that you can call your own.

Find a friend to help you hoist
smooth pine planks for each floor joist
plywood walls and a flat tin roof
that you can call your own.

Once you’ve built your private lair
twenty feet up in the air,
you can jump and stomp and shout
in a treehouse all your own.

Be careful as you prance about.
The ground’s a long way down!

Catherine Flynn, ©2015

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Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup.