My sister’s dog, Lily, loves chasing balls. During a recent visit to my sister’s, Lily’s joy and exuberance were on full display as she and my brother-in-law played ball.
Black fur blurs, a rocket zooming across the lawn. She leaps, her quarry captured, then tumbles to the ground. Sphinx-like, she waits, guarding her ball on the sun-dappled grass, ever eager for the next round of fetch.
“The universe if full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
Most mornings I can be found walking along our quiet stretch of road with our dog, Lucy. Meandering may be a more accurate description. Lucy is a beagle and has to sniff everything. (You remember the Pokey Little Puppy, right?) Sometimes it takes us half-an-hour to go less than a quarter of a mile. This used to frustrate me because I. had. things. to. do! (More about that here.) But I stopped letting it bother me ages ago. The reason? I took a cue from Lucy and started really paying attention to the action unfolding all around me.
As usual, the birds were very busy this morning. These swallows greeted us as we started off, chittering “Hello!”
Then something upset this hawk, as he erupted from his perch in the pines with an ear-piercing screech.
As we moved a little farther down the road, we came across these berries. It looks like they need another day or two to ripen, then they’ll be a perfect breakfast for the birds in the neighborhood.
Goldfinches love the thistles that grow along the old stone wall at the edge of this pasture.
When we got home, more winged friends were waiting to greet us buzzing around in the hosta.
Finally, I sat down on the front step where I have a good view of this nest, which was strangely quiet this morning. The mama bird was very busy there yesterday.
Thank you, Lucy, for making me slow down and sharpen my wits to the “magical things” that are all around.
How can we make sense of yet another horrific act of senseless violence? Yesterday’s events in France have me in a state of despair. The light-hearted poem I had planned to share today now seems inappropriate. What to share instead?
As I walked my dog this morning, I was hyperaware of my surroundings, noticing traces of spider webs, ripening blackberries, and the cacophony of bird songs. Noticing the beauty of the world right in front of me. Somehow all this noticing reminded of me of this poem, which I wrote several years ago.
The Sand Beneath Our Feet
Sometimes in our busy lives, we brush others aside as carelessly as we brush the sand off our feet after a day at the beach.
But what if we stopped, took a moment for a closer look?
What wonders might be revealed to us?
The geologist, turning her microscope to those few grains of sand, is rewarded with an astonishing menagerie:
crystal jacks, ivory sea urchins, golden honeycombs, swirls of pink cotton candy, amber snails, spiraling ever inward.
Shaped by forces beyond our ken, each one as different from the other as you and I.
What pressures shaped you? What winds and rains have buffeted you about? What marvels have been forged in the depths of your heart?
My mind and heart are overflowing with all the passion, knowledge, and energy that was shared by the colleagues I was fortunate enough to learn with and from at the International Literacy Association Conference in Boston. I’ll be reading, digesting and thinking about the sessions for weeks to come. But while the experience is still fresh in my mind, I want to share some key take aways.
Summer. Thoughts turn to mornings of clearing away the clutter of a busy school year and lazy afternoons with a book, days at the beach, adventures near and far. But most of all, TIME to write! It’s been a slow transition for me this year, though, as I’ve been writing curriculum and taking care of other work obligations that seem to have no end. I’ve been de-cluttering like mad, but my writing has come in fits and starts and feels stale and stilted. The best remedy for this? Read poetry, of course!
So I revisited one of my favorite anthologies from the past few years, Firefly July (Candlewick Press, 2014). This entire collection, selected by Paul B. Janeczko and brilliantly illustrated by Melissa Sweet, radiates joy. On every page, poets surprise and delight with perfect images and metaphors. “A Happy Meeting”, by Joyce Sidman, is just one example.
Joyce’s poetry always gives me a jump start, and I remembered she has a new book coming out, so I went searching for more about that. As you may know, Before Morning, with illustrations by Beth Krommes, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall. And although I didn’t find too much about that book, I did find this interview, from 2010, with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
At the very bottom of the page, this treasure is waiting:
“How to Find a Poem”
by Joyce Sidman
Wake with a dream-filled head. Stumble out into the morning, barely aware of how the sun is laying down strips of silver after three days’ rain, of how the puddles are singing with green.
These words are as true today as they were 2500 years ago. I may have heard or read them before, but I was happy to see them painted on the wall of the “Cabinet of Art and Curiosity” installation at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford yesterday. I was there to participate in the museum’s “Summer STEAM” workshop, designed to show teachers “the many ways art can enhance science, technology, engineering, and math” in their classrooms.
Lisa Delissio, a STEM Faculty Fellow at Salem State University, began the day with a talk about the intersection of art and science. She explained that the “perspective and knowledge of artists is essential to scientific approaches to problems.” Specifically, she listed the observational skills artists bring to their work that have been found to have an impact on the skills of her biology students. These include:
other sensory qualities
connecting to meaning: memories and metaphor
context, function, and purpose
Dr. Delissio then showed us this image:
She asked us to use the observational skills of an artist and the perspective of a biologist to respond to the image with word and/or pictures. My sketch was very rudimentary, but my jottings were very much dominated by my poetry brain. I was immediately drawn to the stamens of the large flower in the foreground, which reminded me of sunspots exploding on the sun and the flower in the bottom center waiting to bloom. To me, its folded petals looked like hands folded in prayer.
We were given ten minutes to work on this, which sounds like a long time. But it really wasn’t. I could have easily spent another half hour working on my observations and the poem I was beginning to formulate. Keeping the STEAM theme of the day in mind, I started a Fib poem, a poem which uses the Fibonacci sequence to determine the number of syllables in each line.
Fat skink rests on bright purple aster petals, their stamens exploding like the sun.
The auditorium full of dozens of teachers was absolutely still as people worked. But it didn’t feel like work at all. We were completely engaged in our creativity, our intellectual curiosity sparked by the blending of diverse disciplines. As Dr. Delissio explained, students who pursue double majors in science and the arts are more creative, and exhibit more intellectual curiosity and divergent thinking than students with a single major.
Attending this workshop was a joy for me, not because I needed convincing that the arts should be included in STEM, but because it bolstered my belief in the importance of including the arts in our classrooms. As schools across the country embrace STEM and devote time and resources to integrate STEM into the curriculum, we have to ensure that the arts are always included. As Anne Jolly points out in a recent Education Week article, “The purpose of STEAM should not be so much to teach art but to apply art in real situations. Applied knowledge leads to deeper learning.”
Sometimes when we read a poem there’s an instant connection between us and the poet. Someone we’ve never met, maybe even never heard of, has managed a magical transformation of words into phrases into stanzas that reach into our heart, like the first rays of sunlight bathing the tips of tree branches in its yellow glow. In that moment we know we’ve found a treasure worth keeping.
For someone to read a poem again, and again, and then,
having lifted it from page to brain– the easy part—
cradle it on the longer trek from brain all the way to heart.
From TapDancing on the Roof; Sijo Poems (Clarion, 2007)
Not every poem we read, and certainly not every poem we write, makes that journey. And yet, we soldier on. We keep reading, we keep writing, because, as Katherine Bomer reminds us, “the journey is everything.”
When I first read this poem by Robert Haas, I knew I’d found a treasure that made that journey.
“Stanzas for a Sierra Morning” by Robert Haas
Looking for wildflowers, the white yarrow
With its deep roots for this dry place
And fireweed which likes disturbed ground.
There were lots of them, bright white yarrow
And the fireweed was the brilliant magenta
Some women put on their lips for summer evenings.
The water of the creek ran clear over creekstones
And a pair of dove-white plovers fished the rills
A sandbar made in one of the turnings of the creek.