Poetry Magic

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hApril may be Poetry Month, but I’m so enjoying reading and writing poetry in May with my class.

Here are some comments overheard in my class today as students wrote poems:

“Z. wrote a reverso!”

“Dude, this is soooo good!”

“I’m starting a new poem and I think I’m going to do really good on it.”

“I need 5 minutes more…please!” begged a student urgently as I announced there were about two minutes left. ” This is the end of my free verse poem.”

“I want to work on using better words. I want to make sure my reader sees what I want them to see.”

“Mrs. Hogan, we have to read you this. It’s so sad and so good! It’s a free verse poem.”

His friend and co-author piped up, “It’s two perspectives!”

“Can you think of another word for beach? Beaches are sandy and I’m thinking more of rocks and stuff, not sand….maybe… shore?”

“I have to read you my sky poem.”

The most wonderful thing is that poetry feels accessible to my students, and they are energized by the freedom intrinsic in it. Students are burning to share their work and eager to make changes to improve it. They are making very deliberate choices as they write and considering the impact on their reader. Conversations about craft moves are common and there’s a general air of happy productivity and positive energy in the room. It’s delightful!

Ahhh….The magic of poetry at work!

 

 

Tractor

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hMy husband has wanted to buy a tractor for years and years and years. There’s been a lot of increased discussion about this over the past few months–mostly him elaborating about all the great things he could do with one (and needs to do with one) and me suggesting that renting is always a viable (and reversible) option. Just to clarify (in case you couldn’t tell already), this whole tractor scheme definitely falls under the umbrella of “Not My Idea.” It’s expensive and I’m not sure how much horsepower is safe for my husband to have unlimited access to.  Don’t get me wrong: He can fix or make anything, but there’s often a bit of collateral damage along the way.  Combining tractor power with a love of demolition and an impulsive nature seems like a volatile combo to me. (Here’s hoping he doesn’t read this post. He can be a bit sensitive about this topic.)

Anyway, one day last week while I was at work, he drove to the farm store, plunked down a chunk  of change, signed some papers, and finally bought himself a tractor. Then, much to his dismay, he found out that he had to wait for it to come. The tractor would not be delivered that day and might even take a week or two. Imagine the look on a 7 year old child’s face, bright and early on Christmas morning. Now, imagine if you had to tell him that Christmas was delayed and wouldn’t occur until next week….or maybe the week after.  Yup. That’s about what he looked like. I know this because even though I wasn’t there, he still looked that way hours later when I got home. Poor guy.

Late yesterday afternoon, I drove home through the unceasing rain and turned into our driveway. We have a steep gravel driveway and when I left for work yesterday morning, one area had some ruts and shallow channels that had been carved by recent rainfalls. When I returned yesterday, I immediately noticed that the damaged section of the driveway was looking much worse for the wear.  There were big tire tracks and uneven piles of gravel and grit interspersed with ruts and divits. What happened? I wondered. It looked like some sort of big vehicle had gotten stuck and churned around. Then the light went on.  Oh, wait, I know! I bet they delivered the tractor today and the delivery truck did this. They must have had a hard time with the grade. I looked closer. Wow! That looks really bad. I can’t believe they dug the driveway up that much. I wonder if they’ll repair it. I maneuvered my car carefully around the damaged area and continued up the hill. Then, sure enough, at the top of the driveway I saw the big, orange tractor parked in my yard.

A few minutes later, walking into the house, I called out, “Oh, your tractor came! You must have been so excited.” (I’m trying to be positive about this–remember, Not My Idea.)

“Yeah,” he said, grinning. “They delivered it this afternoon.”

“Wow,” I commented, “That’s great!”  Then I added on, ” They really dug up the driveway when they delivered it, though. It looks awful!”

“Oh, no! That was me,” he replied, smiling happily. “I was trying to smooth out some of the ruts with the tractor just to see what it could do.”

This does not bode well.

Looking for a Silver Lining

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hPitter patter…sprinkle…sprinkle…drip drop drip. Spring in Maine this year has been marked with lots and lots of rain. Lots. The temperatures have been hovering right around raw. After a lengthy, snowy winter, it’s been tough to slog through day after day of chill and drizzle. In fact, it’s downright aggravating. I’d stamp my feet in frustration, but I’m pretty sure I’d splash myself.

In an effort to pull myself out of the pit of despair when it started raining again tonight, I decided to try to think of the positives of this unrelenting, depressing, miserable  streak of weather. Here, in no particular order, is my list of 10 reasons why it’s good that we’re drowning in experiencing a bountiful rainfall this spring:

  1. Nature is beautiful when sprinkled with raindrops.
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  2. I don’t have to mow my lawn when it’s raining.
  3. The peepers still sing in the rain and I suspect they’re happy to be perpetually moist. (At least someone is!)
  4. It’s easier for both teachers and students to be inside at school when it’s gross outside than when it’s 75 and sunny.
  5. There’s a lower risk of forest fires and the ground water supplies in southern Maine are being replenished.
  6. It’s perfect weather for cozying up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book. (and a blanket–because it’s still darn chilly out!)
  7. The drainage area outside my classroom window is a full-fledged pond and it’s fun to watch the ducks visit.
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  8. Foggy mornings are common, which makes for an atmospheric ride to work.
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  9. No one’s getting sunburnt.
  10. The best reason of all–on the rare occasions when the sun comes out, you really, really, really appreciate it!

Hope you’re enjoying your spring, rain or shine!

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A trip to the beach on a rare sunny day

 

Naomi Shihab Nye

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“Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. I jumped from my seat at the restaurant and ran over to the window which was plastered with a colorful assortment of flyers.

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked, clearly startled by my mad dash.

“Naomi Shihab Nye is speaking in Augusta this week!” I exclaimed.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought someone got hit by a car.”

I took a picture of the flyer to capture the details and bubbled and babbled with enthusiasm, explaining to my husband who Naomi Shihab is, why she is so amazing and how stupendously happy I was that I could go hear her speak.

“Do you want to come?” I asked, after finally taking a breath.

“Um…no,” he answered.

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Two nights later:
I’m at the University of Maine at Augusta and people are gradually filling the seats in the small auditorium. My eyes drift over the audience, pausing on each face, expecting to recognize someone. It’s sort of a game for me: Maine is a small state and it’s unusual not to see someone you know in a crowd–even if it is half an hour away from home. I continue to gaze until…Yes! That woman sitting down in the third row. I know her! But how do I know her? From where? Oh, from the bookstore downtown? …Maybe…Then it hits me. The forehead smacking DUH! Of course I recognize her! It’s Naomi Shihab Nye! Sitting in the audience, I enjoy the ridiculousness of that moment and my simultaneous fan giddiness. I’m sitting in a room and breathing the same air as Naomi Shihab Nye. Wow!

IMG_1267.jpgAfter some prize presentations and readings from local poets, she takes the stage. She is warm, funny, and simply wonderful. She shares a number of poems and weaves in conversation and amusing anecdotes as she reads. Her somewhat husky, low voice adds another layer of enjoyment to the poems. There’s something magical about hearing a poet read her own work, isn’t there? (If you’d like to hear her voice, here is a link to her reading a very short poem “Please Describe How You Became A Writer.”) She reads one of my favorite poems, Famous, and an audience member comments that it was recently recited by a judge in a court case. (Click here if you want to read more about that amazing story. Poetry in the courtroom–Now that’s something to celebrate!) The audience is rapt, spellbound by the worlds she weaves with her words. Some funny. Some profound. Many both. Her work highlights the common places, the places where our lives intersect and converge, where our shared humanity is fully visible. In her poem “A Valentine for Ernest Mann” (another favorite of mine), Shahib writes “poems hide…” and then she elaborates, “…what we have to do/is live in a way that lets us find them.” I’m so thankful that she is adept at finding and sharing the hidden poetry in her world.

After the show, I wait in line to talk with her, to have her sign my books. She is kind and gracious and we speak fondly of a common friend, the same friend who first introduced me to her work. On the drive home, I play and replay our conversation in my head, cringing at my phrasing and nervous comments, sparked from that fan giddiness I spoke of earlier. Ugh…why did I say that? Ah, well, I hope that her keen vision sees past my inept small talk to my unadulterated appreciation and admiration.

Later that night, back at home, I page through my new books of her poetry and old ones as well. In my newly purchased book, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, I tumble into love with her poem, “Staying Close”, from the first delightful image. Here’s the first stanza for you to enjoy.

Staying Close

On your tree surprised lemons
wore small caps of snow.
The bowl of steaming lentils
opened its wide mouth as we sat and sat,
stitching the seam of talk,
till the man with the rug from Baghdad arrived
rolling out its long length inside your door.
….
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a link to this poem, but if you’d like to explore more poetry, click the next link and head on over to Poetry Friday Roundup at the blog Teaching Authors. Enjoy!

Science Reading

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Students were partnered up all over the room, heads bent together, reading and discussing Secrets of the Stomach. Some sat at adjacent desks, others sprawled on the floor or lay on their stomachs, knees bent, feet in the air. The room buzzed with reading, laughter and conversation. It was the first day back from break, but the kids were working hard, reading about how a trio of scientists investigated and learned how the stomach digests food. The reading involved vomiting hawks, open, unhealing wounds to the stomach and a pretty high “ick” factor: In other words, they were fully engaged.

I circulated, checking in with students as they read together and completed some written follow up. I stopped by one partnership as a student was reading aloud some information about how the stomach uses acids to digest food. He stopped reading suddenly and looked up at me with a puzzled expression on his face. Then he asked earnestly, “Mrs. Hogan, if the stomach is where your food is digested, how do women make their babies?” Oh, dear.

“Not in their stomach,” I replied quickly, torn between laughter and dread.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed, “Now I’m starting to get really interested in how babies are made.” Uh oh.

“Ummmm…” I stammered, “Well…” Hmmmmm…where do I go with this?

I’m not sure what my face looked like, but thankfully, he quickly interrupted, “But that’s not the point now.” He resumed reading with his partner, and I walked away quickly.

Thank goodness for a one-track mind and compelling reading material!

 

Dawn’s Sweet Tendernesses

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h.jpgIn February I participated (off and on) in Laura Shovan’s February Daily Poem Project. The group opted to continue writing together on a monthly basis. This month the challenge was to riff off Rainer Maria Rilke by writing a poem using the following 10 found words harvested from his poem, “Early Spring” : varnished, softness, meadows, rivulets, tendernesses, earth, subtle, risings, expression, and trees. Here’s my effort, including 7 out of the 10 words:

Dawn’s Sweet Tenderness

Dawn offers sweet tendernesses
as earth softly stirs
with subtle shifts of sound
from jaunty peepers’ chorus
to liquid silver birdsong
while the rising sun dips
gauzy clouds in sherbet hues
and rivulets of dew coalesce,
thinly streaming down grassy stems
into drowsy meadows
like yesterday’s tears

Molly Hogan (c) 2017

Dandelion

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Photo credit to Cate Kastriner

It all started when I heard on NPR that Crayola was retiring Dandelion as one of its crayon colors. Retiring a color struck me as an odd concept, but retiring Dandelion? Cheerful, plucky Dandelion, harbinger of spring, granter of wishes, sent out to pasture? It just didn’t seem right. Then, I read that Amy Ludwig VanDerwater was using crayon colors as inspiration for her poetry writing in April (here). What a great idea! So, I randomly pulled a crayon from my own crayon box, thinking it might inspire me in some way– And yes, you guessed it, I pulled Dandelion.

All of this got me thinking about dandelions which led me to pull out this treasured picture of my son. It melts my heart every time I look at it. Those sweet cheeks, the why-didn’t-his-mother-ever-cut-his-hair hair, the baby neck creases… and his one little hand carefully clasping a dandelion while the other hand rests open, filled with sunlight. All framed by a field full of brilliant yellow dandelions. Melts. My. Heart.

 

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Thinking of him, the little him I miss so, and of my own memories of long ago dandelion-wishing days, mixed with thoughts about retiring, aging, and change to inspire this poem.

Dandelion

Your exuberant hue spangles the meadow
evokes the sweet, pressing heat
of lazy, fragrant afternoons
and the buzzing of pollen-dizzy bees
bobbing from blossom to blossom
in their mysterious, intricate dance

Your name conjures
the phantom touch of a small hand
long ago (or was it yesterday?)
presenting a wilting cluster
of starburst blossoms
with bent and broken milky stalks
love in a bouquet

Your toothy flowers burst with memories
of spring promises, childhood joy,
and gossamer wishes
cast on summer breezes

Perhaps we can trace our lost innocence
to the day we first scorned you
as a weed

Molly Hogan (c) 2017

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The Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted this week by Doraine Bennett at her blog Dori Reads. Click on the link to enjoy some poems!