Grading Papers

Grading Papers

That handwriting is impossible to read–
The pencil has smudged the words
Out of existence–
Sometimes their pens blot and words
Become blobs, obscuring
Meaning
And then, there are the crossouts, the write-overs,
The                       spots never
Filled in.

The lights are dim in here, aren’t they?
My eyes burn and water, blurring
The page, drowning the cries of Frankenstein who
Has suddenly stabbed Laertes in Elsinore, or of
Hamlet, chasing the creature
Across the frozen tundra to
Raskolnikov’s cell.

It is cold in here, isn’t it? I’ll go get
A sweater, and a cup of tea. Then,
I’ll be ready. Except,
Where did I leave my glasses? And
My pen?
There’s one. –Ah, but it’s red, and
Too upsetting to their
Delicate hearts that i carry with me
As they ponder who is the mad lady hidden
In Pemberly’s attic.
I’d better switch to green, or better yet
Purple for Celie and her sister, Little Nell.

Dear hearts, they’re trying, but when
Offred travels to the Savage Reservation
And meets the Eloi in 1984, my head
Spins and my throat is as dry as
The Sahara where the Little Prince
Cries about his Beloved Country, and it seems like
These papers may never get finished.

Whether you are in the last days, last weeks, or last months of the school year, if you are an English teacher, I am sure you have stacks of papers to grade. Today’s Creative Writing Club prompt was to write an “impossible poem” (See Writer’s Digest prompt for May 1st.) Of course my first thought was finishing all the grading I have to do! As I wrote, the characters started to story hop. I hope you enjoy! Now, back to grading!

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National Poetry Month

No fooling, April 1st begins National Poetry Month. I told my students on Monday that I didn’t care about April Fool’s Day, the important thing is that it is the beginning of National Poetry Month. I went on to explain how the NCAA-esque poetry brackets work. You see the NEHS is sponsoring a poem tournament for the month of April, school-wide. It’s a pretty ambitious project. Fingers crossed it goes well with a lot of participation. (More on this later; stay tuned.)

But appreciation is only half of the NPM coin for us writers and poets. So once again, I’m trying my hand at Writer’s Digest’s Poem-A Day Challenge. It’s really good exercise for one’s creative muscle to commit to writing every day, and so many do it regularly. For me, it’s fits and starts. I go for stretches when I write regularly, let’s say five out of seven if not every day, but then… something happens that gets me off track. April and the Poem-a-Day Challenge are a great way to get back in the groove.

So, you may have noticed, this is not a poem. But as the wee hours of April 1st wore away, I scribbled down a few lines in response to the day’s prompt: write a morning poem. And as I write this, another angle for this prompt springs to mind. I may not post every day to give myself time for review and revise, but the aim is to write. I’ll keep at it. I hope you do too. Happy National Poetry Month.

Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

Writing/Not Writing

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been writing. Sort of. Or well, rather I’ve been starting many things. You see, I’ve started having my students draft and free write on a more regular basis this year, and I’ve been writing alongside them. We respond to poetry and prose and sometimes simple statements or questions. Sometimes, I share my work with them; sometimes I do not. I want them to value their own thoughts, so I do not default to sharing with them first. I let them share their ideas. But I do let them see me write, and every so often, I put something I scribbled out with them up on the Smart Board and let them see me do some preliminary revisions.–More of a “this is how revision is done” thing than a “this is what I think about the topic” thing–They can see me write and hear my words without me telling them that this is what one should think about this topic. It’s still early, so it’s hard to tell how well it’s working with their writing, but I do know that they are not as reticent about writing as they were in the beginning of the year because they are seeing it as a class work activity rather than a big assessment. That in and of itself is the beginning of a win.

As for me and my writing, this activity has left me with the beginnings of many pieces and ideas jotted down for others. Despite the fact that the real season is autumn, it feels like spring in my writing life–planting seeds that I hope will germinate and come to fruition. I hope you don’t feel neglected, and I hope you’ll stay with me through the planting season and will be around to see what has grown.

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The Water is Wide

Verdant green rises

On either side,

Thick and lush,

Cool and shaded,

Peaceful.

But the water is turbulent

Churning waves,

Deep and wide

From every direction

Intending to

Upset your raft.

In the distance,

You can see

A calm stretch of water,

Placid and serene,

Before the river turns

Into the unknown.

Poetry Notes

Summer vacation has begun, and so, therefore, also has my quest to complete all the creative tasks that I start or germinate during the school year. Today, I am sitting in my local coffee shop going through an old notebook of writing ideas, and I came across some notes from September 20-22, 2002. Though the notes are not titled (as I am always encouraging my students to do!), I have been able to deduce that they are from my first visit to the Dodge Poetry Festival which at that time was held in Waterloo, NJ. I attended High School Teachers’ Day on Friday and stayed for the general sessions on Saturday and Sunday. It was a wonderful experience. Now that the festival is held in Newark, NJ, it is possible for me to bring my students to the High School Students’ Day. If you are a teacher and can get to Newark for a day trip, I highly recommend the Dodge. It is an amazing experience for both you and your students. Teach them through experience that poetry is not a dead white man’s art form. Poetry is a living art form, and there are many amazing living poets practicing their art right now.

Here are a few notes from that weekend that I wrote down then and still feel connected to now:

If you don’t begin in imitation, you won’t go very far in poetry.

“The more poetry you read, the more original your poetry will be and the less poetry you read, the more clichéd your poetry will be.” Edward Hirsch

When we read poetry, we are looking for something.

How to Teach Poetry: cross the line between literature and creative writing. Make them write; make them follow the beat; it doesn’t have to make sense; make them see the care and the craft.

Coleridge hated the sound of his own name; like to be called STC. (Fun Fact!)

If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep your reader up at night.

Memorization is important.

Reading a poem well shows better understanding than a test/writing.

Have a poem on you at all times!

Ground covered: poems have to move/change you; begins in one place, ends in another; how did we get there?

Read with your students not to them.

Poetry is a participatory experience.

A lot of teaching includes steering the student to the right poet.

Teach poetry in reverse chronology.

Lyric poems are not about history; they are about time, immortality.

Student Frustration: they speak English, the read English, but they don’t understand this; it causes frustration, discouragement. They feel inadequate and then become hostile. (***Current Note: We must help ease that frustration; we must lead them to poetry in a way that allows them access.)

Chain poem: Give them the first line and give them a crazy first name. Help them realize that they don’t have cooperate with the ideas of the first line.

These are most of the notes from the first day. Think about your poetry; think about your teaching. I bolded a few lines that I find most important. Which notes resonate with you? Comment below with your favorite line from above or add your own note.

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Grading Papers on a Sunny Afternoon

Sunlight on the slick clean table

Melts the edges away

Encroaching on the work

In front of me, anchored only

By a red pen that has lost

The very thing that gives it power.

Soon, if daylight keeps encroaching,

The papers will slip into the molten sea

Of the dissolved table and the coffee

Will tumble into the liquified abyss

Pouring out its heart on the fluttering wings

Of student attempts at composition and

Analysis while the bloodless pen spins

Uselessly through the void–

Unless

The setting sun retracts rather than

Advances its rays on

The evanescing table, setting it back

On terra firma, restoring the student efforts

To their fate once I procure another pen–

Though which option offers deliverance,

For them and for me,

It is impossible to say.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Feeling particularly tired yesterday on my commute home, I knew that if I read as is my wont, I would fall fast asleep and end up at the end of the line. So instead I took out my phone and starting flipping through my photos for inspiration. I came across the one above which I took last week during a particularly trying grading session at a local cafe when my pen ran out of ink. This poem is the result of photography, memory, exhaustion, and imagination, and, once I got started, a thesaurus as I became invested in using various synonyms for “melted” and “essays.”