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!

Lines…a Photo Challenge

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About two weeks ago, Kim Douillard of the blog, Thinking Through Your Lens, posted a challenge to notice and photograph the lines in our daily lives. Once I had it in mind, I saw lines everywhere! I also remembered this photo, one I had taken earlier in the month. It shows the back garden fence reflected on the lingering snow. I love the way the lines play against the contours of the snow.DSCN9361.jpg

One recent Sunday morning, while visiting our children, I opted for a very chilly early morning walk. I had Kim’s challenge in mind, and I was immediately intrigued by the jigsaw puzzle lines of the ice on the river. Looking down from the bridge into town, I enjoyed the linear reflections of the guardrail on the ice below. Notice, too, the lines that the tree shadows make across the floating ice. If it hadn’t been so cold, I could have stayed and watched the interplay of water, ice and shadows for quite some time. It was, however, one of those days where you have to keep moving or get inside, so I moved along.

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Walking down to the river, I noticed the water had refrozen overnight into thin layers along the banks of the river. I stepped carefully over ice and crunchy patches of snow, maneuvering down to the water’s edge. When I got closer, I saw these amazing razor-sharp lines etched into the ice.  I couldn’t believe my eyes–What incredible geometric shapes!

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In the nearby park, I discovered more lines. The veins and edges of this leaf are lovely on their own.  But with the cumulative alchemy of changing temperature, absorbing warmth, melting, etc., this leaf has created its own silhouette. Lines within lines within lines.

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Back at home this past weekend, Saturday’s snowfall, while not particularly welcome, was quite beautiful. The raised ridges on the metal barn roof peeked through the cracked lines in the snow and caught my eye. Not too long after I took this photo, the snow sheets avalanched from the roof  with a resounding Whoosh!

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And, finally, there are the lines that lead toward home–Perhaps my favorite of all.

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Thanks, Kim, for another great challenge! I appreciate how you help me see my world in new ways!

Hooray for April, Poetry and …Snowstorms?

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Each year we celebrate the arrival of spring with a brilliant blue river of flowers cascading down the hill. This year we’re still waiting.  Today’s storm feels like yet one more pause in the move toward spring. Truly beautiful…but…Sigh… I imagine the Scilla bulbs are swelling beneath the snow, yearning to burst through the earth in a riot of color.

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April 1, 2017

Scilla Waits for Spring

Winter white returns
Our hillside Scilla river
will slumber longer

Tucked beneath the snow
Brilliant blossoms poised to burst
Scilla waits for spring

Molly Hogan (c) 2017

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April 17, 2016

 

The Secret Delight of Poetry

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This week in anticipation of National Poetry Month the Washington Post published Garrison Keillor’s piece, “The Secret Delight of Poetry.” What a treat! His dry wit and wry sense of humor are evident in full force and it was an utter delight to read from start to finish. Here’s one small excerpt:

“This is the power of poetry. Poets get the girl.

Football heroes get concussions or need hip replacements. My classmates who played football are walking with canes and moaning when they sit down, and they find it hard to figure out the 10 percent tip at lunch. We poets go sashaying along, perpetually 17, lost in wonder at the ordinary, astonished by streetlights, in awe at lawn ornaments, bedazzled by baristas releasing steam into milk for the lattes.”

The man can write, can’t he? I’ve read that final phrase over and over–“bedazzled by baristas releasing steam…”  Ahhh…. There is also a more serious vein to his piece, though, hidden among the hyperbole.

“This is what you learn during Poetry Month. You may lose the vote, fall into debt, suffer illness and remorse, feel lost in the crowd, and yet there is in language, everyday language, a source of such sweet delight…”

This year, more than most, I’ve been reminded of the power of language, of words–the power to explain, the power to mislead, the power to divide and the power to unify. I’ve written to explore this new world we live in and to express my concern, my sorrow, my confusion and sometimes, my anger. I’ve written to share moments of joy and gratitude and to explore relationships and ideas. And sometimes I’ve written to experience the sheer beauty of playing with words and combining them in a new or unusual way. I’ve found solace and clarity in writing, and above all else, I’ve found community.

With this post I’m finishing the TWT Slice of Life Challenge: I’ve now blogged 31 days in a row.  I finish feeling enriched by participating and feeling incredibly thankful for online writing communities–places where I can join with others in a celebration of all the “sweet delights” of language, both poetic and prosaic.

If you’re interested in delighting in poetry, head on over to this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup hosted by the wonderful Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at her blog The Poem Farm. Take some time to browse through Amy’s rich home to all things poetic. You’re sure to come away delighted!