Take It Easy

I started walking through the park today after work for the first time in quite a while. When I got to Bethesda fountain, there was a bride taking pictures of her sister? friend? and her SO with her phone. There were just the four of them. She wore a lovely off white full length sleeveless lace gown. Her husband wore a gray suit and a man bun. The female friend/sister had a floral dress and her boyfriend/husband had on dark gray trousers and a white dress shirt. I loved the tableau the four of them created, so I decided to sit down and try surreptitiously to get a pic. I failed to do so. Someone walked right in front of me just as I snapped. And then, the moment was gone. But that’s okay because I have the memory and because of them, I stopped instead of just powering through the park.

I decided to enjoy the moment despite the overcast nature of the day. Work had been full of time sucking paperwork, mind-numbing forms. Being in the park felt rejuvenating. In between spurts of people watching, I decided to check Facebook and came across this blog post from Kim of The Holderness Family in which she advocates for being lazy sometimes. Go read it and come back. I’ll wait. 😁

I looked at my watch and realized that I’d better get a move on if I was going to make the next train. And then I thought, “why do I need to make the next train? Why not take the one after that (35 minutes later) instead?” Last (school) year, I’d gotten so used to rushing out of the city to beat the evening rush and the crush of people that accompanies it to avoid big crowds and possible Covid exposure and then getting home and “doing something.” I’d forgotten the mental health benefit of walking in the park and people watching. How good it felt today to stop for a little while. Once student papers start pouring in and after school activities ramp up, this will be harder to do, but I hope to remember this feeling and indulge in a leisurely walk and people watching every now and again nonetheless. I want to see the seasons change in the park and revel in each one. I need to remember that this is just a important as “doing something.”

I hope that between Kim’s post and mine you too are inspired to give some time to beneficial laziness.

“Icarus also flew”

I know National Poetry Month has come to an end, but I cannot help still sharing poetry as I read and grade my students annual poetry anthologies. This poem, “Failing and Flying” by Jack Gilbert is new to me, and it hooked me from its first line: “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” Isn’t that the truth? His fall from the sky is the focus of the myth and so many references to it. We so easily forget the moments of success before a project or passion came to an end. The focus is solely on the outcome, but our lives are made up of all the experiences that come before it.

Can we apply this same lens to the work of a writer/actor/singer/artist whose work we admire but about whose personal life/beliefs we learn some unsavory facts. Does the work, like Icarus’s flight, exist separate from its creator’s fall from grace? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but it is so much harder when the person is living in our own time rather than in times past. We cannot excuse the prejudice to historical blindness. We also become loathe to financially support a person through the buying of his/her art if that person has made statements that are anathema to us. Yet still, the work on its own soars. Or maybe this is a reversal; the art is the outcome that soars, and the experiences of the author that sour.

Perhaps this is something we can only apply to our own experiences. Perhaps we can use this idea to separate the art and the artist. In any event, read the poem and enjoy at least your own moments of flight regardless of the quality of the landing.

Recommended, Nay Required, Reading

I do not like to get political here on my blog, though the argument can be made, as Orwell did, that all writing is political. Yet, a news alert about the Supreme Court’s leaning to strike down Roe vs. Wade impels me to recommend a couple of novels set in a United States, or subsection thereof, where that same has happened.

This 2011 novel by Hillary Jordan follows the story of Hannah, a woman convicted of murder for having had an abortion, who is not incarcerated, but rather “chromed,” that is her skin is genetically dyed red to announce her crime to all around while she tries to survive both the stigma and the emotional and mental strain her world, her actions, and her beliefs put on her. Well written and engrossing, this novel, to paraphrase This is Spinal Tap, goes to 11. I read it when it first came out, and I’m still thinking about it. If I had a class set, I’d teach it alongside The Scarlet Letter.

If you haven’t heard about The Handmaid’s Tale, well, then you’re probably not reading this blog either. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched the series, but I read the book a few years ago after hearing rave upon rave from several English teacher friends. Several claim it to be their favorite book. I’ll admit that I didn’t “LOVE” it as I’ve heard so many others speak of it, but that is because it horrified me. Which it is what it should do. The ease with which the people of Gilead accepted the total subjugation of women is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read. Yet Atwood, like Jordan, is not didactic; they both tell stories that tell us something about ourselves, and these are things we don’t want to know, but hopefully, if we can confront the ugly in fiction, we can avoid or at least ameliorate it in real life. (For a bonus, check out my 2019 review of The Testaments, Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Old Favorites

It’s the last day of National Poetry Month, so let me share some old favorites:

“The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell I have loved this poem since the first time I read it. There is such beauty in it. The loss is deep, but so is the solace.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost Ever since Ponyboy read this poem to Johnny in The Outsiders, it has held a special place in my heart.

“She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron In seventh (or maybe eighth) grade, I had to make a poetry anthology, much like the one I now assign to my students, and I included this poem. I can still see the drawing I made on the paper that I wrote the poem on. It’s so tender.

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth I’ve taught this poem for almost 25 year, but when I hiked the Lake District that I truly appreciated the glory of this poem.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight” by Dylan Thomas If you’ve ever sat at the bedside of a dying loved one, this poem will cut to your heart.

“A Motto for Poets: Leave Stone”

Today’s poem comes from my tenth grade class’s textbook.

I have been teaching this poem for many years, but yesterday’s discussion was the best ever. I asked the students first to look at the first few lines and tell me what the motto is: “leave stone/alone…try/trees” From there they offered what the differences are between stone and trees (not living vs living) and what that means to us. We need to keep growing in our lives; we should not be stagnant.

However, lines 7-9 show a different contrast between stone and trees. In this section, stone seems preferable because it lasts longer.

Finally, lines 10-18 view the marks on stone of someone long gone.

My students and I were inspired by Retamar’s poem-that we should live like trees, always growing and basking in the sun, but that we must write our words down so they are preseved, like stone, when we are gone.

For Roberto Fernandez Retamar

Your words, perhaps once scrawled

In a lined notebook or a loose scrap, now live

In a tenth grade textbook even though

You have passed on to another realm to which

There is only a one-way passage; yet because you

Followed your own advice, I can see the beauty of

The trees and the permance of stone, and in reading your

Motto now so long after you have gone I see

Its wisdom and sit myself down

To write.

Springtime Pastimes

Yesterday while browsing through a book of John Betjeman’s poems, I came across this poem about golf (“Seaside Golf”). Since I played my first round of the year on Monday and it was probably my best round yet, I decided to go with it, and I thought I’d round up a few poems about golf to share; however, I found that Leon S. White, PhD beat me to it. Here’s a review of his 2011 book, Golf Course of Rhymes, an anthology of golf poems by writers from England, Scotland and the US and a link to his blog, golfpoet where he shares his own golf inspired poetry.

So, let me share some poems instead that reference, if not actually are about, other spring pastimes:

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” by Billy Collins

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

What I Would LIke to Grow in My Garden” by Katherine Riegel

Inspiration Point” by Jennifer Jean

So begin today with a few poems and then get out there and enjoy spring! And as always, I’d love to hear from you. Which of these are your favorites? Or is there another you’d like to add to the collection?

POEM-A-DAY 2022

I have not been on the ball this year writing a poem a day as I’ve tried to in the past, but I still want to celebrate this month dedicated to one of my favorite art forms. So, this year I’ll share with you poems that I’m currently loving. Some are in the public domain, so I’ll post them in their entirety; others are newer, so I’ll post links. One such will be today’s poem.

I was introduced to this poem through Poets.org Poem-A-Day email and liked it so much that I entered it in our school’s annual POETRY MADNESS competition. (It won its first round.) Here is the link to Ada Limón’s “Instructions for Not Giving Up.” https://poets.org/poem/instructions-not-giving We need these directions after the past couple of years we’ve all endured. Stay strong. Read poetry. Be well my friends.

Turning on Your Teacher Brain: Guest Post on Norton’s K-12 Talk

We’re baaaaaaaaaaaack! Back in the classroom that is. And while it feels so good, there are still many challenges. Check out my post on Norton’s K-12 Talk Blog for more on my thoughts about adjusting to this new school year

PAD 6 Change/Don’t Change

For Twofer Tuesdays, Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest always presents two sides of a prompt for us to choose from, or we can tackle both. Today, I chose change.

Change

July comes and

The mercury climbs higher

The humidity builds

Your hair frizzes

Your body sweats

Your energy lags and

You long for cooler days.


Until, the winter comes

And you’re stomping your feet

Adding another sweater yet

You’re still shivering and

The yearning for summer to begin.


The desire for something else,

Some other time, 

Some other where than what one has

Is a constant.

We are always looking for

That next thing.