Poetry Friday: Georgia Heard, Roque Dalton, and Unlocking the Door to Poetry

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Poetry filled the air last weekend at the NCTE Convention in Boston. One of the highlights for me was hearing Georgia Heard, Tom Romano, and Linda Rief speak about the importance of “Keeping Poetry at Our Core.”

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Georgia Heard began the session by pointing out that “poetry is in every single strand of the CCSS.” She urged us to grow poetry slowly, not to wait until April, but to make a place for poetry in our classrooms every day. “Poetry changes us,” she said, “it changes our writing and our living.”

With these thoughts about the importance of poetry in mind, Heard went on to give us steps to guide our work. The first step is to “choose poems that are accessible, non-threatening, and relevant” to our students. Once we’ve done this, the next crucial step is to help students connect with a poem by guiding them “toward finding themselves and their lives inside the poem.”

Heard also shared that we have to give our students the tools they need to analyze and interpret poetry. Through close reading and asking questions such as “How does this poem relate to your life?” and “What is the impact of this poem on your life?” students can “unlock the door of a poem.” Then they will be able to analyze the meaning and craft of a poem for other layers of meaning.

Heard inspired me to be even more mindful about helping my colleagues share poetry with students when she closed her part of the session with the wisdom of Matthew Fox:

“The Celtic peoples…insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous.”

This quote can also be found in Georgia’s book, Awakening the Heart (Heinemann, 1999, pg. 118). As I revisited my copy of this classic, I rediscovered this poem by Roque Dalton, another reminder that poetry is for everyone.

“Like You ”

Like you I

love love, life, the sweet smell

of things, the sky-blue

landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up

and I laugh through eyes

that have known the buds of tears.

I believe the world is beautiful

and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

And that my veins don’t end in me

but in the unanimous blood

of those who struggle for life,

love,

little things,

landscape and bread,

the poetry of everyone.

(translated by Jack Hirschman)

Tom Romano and Linda Rief were just as eloquent and inspiring, so, in the weeks to come, they will each have their own well-deserved post. For more inspiring poetry posts, NCTE-related and otherwise, be sure to visit Carol’s Corner, for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

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Slice of Life: NCTE Edition

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“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

 ~Muriel Rukeyser~

I arrived at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston on Thursday evening for my first NCTE Convention filled with anticipation about the upcoming three days. To say my expectations were fulfilled is an understatement! From meeting authors Jane Yolen, Gae Polisner, and Kate Messner, to having breakfast with fellow Slicers, to learning so much from all the amazing presenters, it was a weekend I will long remember.

My head is still filled with the wise words shared not only by the teachers, authors, and poets in front of the conference rooms, but with everyone I chatted with throughout the day. How to share all these thoughts swirling around my brain, like the leaves on the streets of Boston Sunday morning? As I pored over my notes, a pattern of recurring words and phrases began to emerge, and I “found” this poem:

Open the door…

welcome to this safe space.

A space to share our voices,

and tell our stories,

through poetry,

movement,

and art.

A place to explore,

imagine,

speculate,

and connect.

A space to find surprises,

insights,

knowledge,

and trust.

This place is a source of joy.

It has the power to change us; to

help us discover what’s in our heart.

It gives us the courage

to take our message

out into the world.

Thank you to Judy Blume, Nancie Atwell, Helene Coffin, Georgia Heard, Linda Rief, Tom Romano, Chris Leheman, Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Joyce Sidman, Jane Yolen, Jerry Spinelli, Glenda Funk, Cherylann Schmidt, Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, Jen Vincent, Brian Wyzlic, Sara Egan, Brian Fizer, Sean Ruday, and Miriam Kopelow for so generously sharing these words, your experiences and your insights with teachers; for giving us the knowledge and the courage and the power to change our students’ lives.

Please visit Two Writing Teachers, where many wonderful and courageous teachers share their stories each week.

Slice of Life: Code Name Verity

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“Tell all the truth but tell it slant…”

Emily Dickinson’s words came to mind as I reread Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, over the weekend. When I originally read Wein’s tale of intrigue and suspense, I was caught up in the story of the two heroines. This time, I was more aware of Wein’s craft: her masterful use of foreshadowing and literary allusions that deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters.

Hyperion, 2012
Hyperion, 2012

But even as I noticed subtleties and connections I hadn’t on my first read, I was worried that my book group might not share my feelings about this title. Recommending a book you love to a friend is one thing. Suggesting it to your discussion group is another. A friend can always say she hasn’t gotten around to reading the book yet. In a group, though, it can be very awkward if everyone doesn’t love a book as much as the person who said, “Let’s read this!”

I needn’t have worried. Everyone liked Code Name Verity, even if some of the details were disturbing. The “YA” sticker on the book’s spine didn’t matter to anyone. The story drew them in, and held on to them until the end.

This is a great book for discussion. There aren’t any unresolved plot lines, but there are plenty of questions. Each person had their own unique interpretations and brought up ideas others hadn’t thought of. Listening to one another added layers to our insight and understanding of this powerful book.

Our diverse little group came together because we love books. We’ve developed a camaraderie over the years, sharing the ups and downs of our lives as we share our latest reading. I’m grateful for this community where I feel free to share my thoughts and ideas about books that I love. Books like Code Name Verity, where the truth lies waiting, even if the stories are made up.

Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for creating this wonderful community!

Poetry Friday: Hurry

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When I was in college, one of the required classes for English majors was “Introduction to Poetry.” One assignment was to write a sonnet, a challenging form under the best of circumstances. At the time, I had two small children and was working part-time in addition to taking classes. It seemed like there was never a moment to take a deep breath, let alone write a sonnet. The busyness of my life was my muse, and I ended up with a poem that included ringing telephones, crying children, and burnt food. (The poem itself is buried somewhere in my attic; count yourself as lucky that I didn’t have time dig it out of its cardboard sarcophagus.)

I thought about this poem last night while trying to decide what to share for Poetry Friday. Somehow, twenty-five years later, I’m as busy as ever. Last week, we were on our way to Pennsylvania for my niece’s wedding, and although I had an idea of what I wanted to share, I ran out of time and posted nothing. The same thing happened earlier in the week when it was time for It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? and Tuesday’s Slice of Life.

By Aldaron — Aldaron, a.k.a. Aldaron (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Aldaron — Aldaron, a.k.a. Aldaron (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This morning, I woke up determined to share a poem. I googled “poems about being busy” and found I’m not alone in my feelings of frustration at all there is to do. In “Notes on Distraction,” a wonderful post on The New Yorker blog, Giles Harvey writes about noticing a man glance at his watch during a performance of “Einstein on the Beach” as a “vignette of our contemporary busyness.”

Poet Marie Howe has captured this “contemporary busyness” in her poem, “Hurry.”

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store

and the gas station and the green market and

Hurry up honey, I say, hurry, hurry,

as she runs along two or three steps behind me

her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to?

read the rest of the poem here

This morning, I stood at my kitchen window for what seemed like minutes, just looking at a maple tree covered with yellow leaves glowing in the morning sun. It was lovely not to feel busy or rushed at that moment, even if it was just for a minute or two. I thought back to  the closing lines of Harvey’s essay:

“In a world of speed and distraction, the slow, demanding art work is more indispensable than ever, for it holds out the possibility of those elusive commodities: stillness, clarity, and peace.”

Be sure to visit Diane at Random Noodling for today’s Poetry Round Up. You’ll be sure to find a moment of “stillness, clarity, and peace.”