Counterpoint: “Legacies”

Today’s poem, another new poem from an old favorite, is a counterpoint to yesterday’s poem. Instead of two people learning how to communicate, these two, grandmother and granddaughter, hold their feelings inside. They deny the love they feel for each other and the connection between them, missing, perhaps deliberately, the coded messages in our common parlance. One wishes to strengthen their bond; the other is afraid of losing it: “neither of them ever/said what they meant” (ll. 16-17). Did they understand each other anyway? Do we understand each other?

Read the poem here.

“The Telephone”

One of my students chose “The Telephone” by Robert Frost for her poetry book. It is new to me, and I love discovering new poems by old favorites. This poem is both touching and inspirational. The beauty of the flower and the (super)natural communication between the two seems both innocent and pure. We could use more of that these days. Here’s the poem in its entirety:

The Telephone

Robert Frost – 1874-1963

“When I was just as far as I could walk
From here to-day,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say—
You spoke from that flower on the window sill—
Do you remember what it was you said?”

“First tell me what it was you thought you heard.”

“Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word—
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say—
Someone said ‘Come’—I heard it as I bowed.”

“I may have thought as much, but not aloud.”

“Well, so I came.”

There is story in these few lines. Perhaps the two had had a fight or disagreement, for he had walked “just as far as [he] could walk” away from her, yet their connection did not sever. Instead, he gave himself the time to be “all still.” And then, in the stillness, he hears her; he hears her heart. And he listens to it despite the possibility that she might still be angry. He forestalls her possible protestation that she did not call him; “Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you.” And she seems unwilling to admit she called him and to contradict him and say she didn’t. There is hesitancy and tenderness. Perhaps this couple will make it because they are learning to communicate. Perhaps one day I will write this story in its fullness…

“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.

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?

PAD: Whitman’s Legacy

Trying to decide what poem to share next, I came across this poem by Rosemary Catacalos, “Mr. Chairman Takes His Leave.” I was immediately taken with it because of both its uplifting nature even in the face of loss and its reference to Whitman.

Of late, I’ve been drawn again and again to Whitman, or Uncle Walt as I refer to him with my students. In fact, I redesigned my American literature curriculum from a chronological survey to a celebration of American Voices, starting with “I Hear America Singing.” In these days of war and political divisivness, Whitman’s vision of a unified, joyous America singing in harmony is a reassuring contrast to the talking heads of TV yelling about the degenerate other side of the aisle. Rather than argue the political right and left, this poem allows us to envision what we should be: a variety of voices in harmony rather than discord.

For his day, Whitman was expansive, but of course, as time rolls on, more and more voices speak up for inclusion. That is where my curriculum goes next, to poets that respond to Whitman with their own voices to add to the song that is America: Langston Hughes’s “I, Too“; Angela de Hoyos’s “To Walt Whitman“; and Julia Alvarez’s “I, Too, Sing America.” I can’t help but think that Uncle Walt would welcome them all to the table, happy for them to add “their strong melodious songs” to the “varied carols” of America.

Do you know a poem or have written one inspired by one of Whitman’s? Add your voice to the song using the comments below.

Do Crafts Have a Season?

I just posted a poll on the Facebook page for my Etsy shop asking friends what their favorite summer craft is. I did this because I have more time in the summer to craft, so I think of it as a time to create. I’ll be honest though, unless the air conditioner is on high, I prefer to save the yarn crafts for cooler weather! There’s nothing nicer than being halfway or more through a blanket on a cold winter evening. In the summer, I tend to turn more towards sewing.

Part of this may also be because I am a high school English teacher. During the school year, I use my crocheting as a way to unwind (unwind the mind while winding the yarn!); I sit in front of the TV with my hubby and crochet. It helps me let go of the hectic day so that my brain is ready for bed.

Sewing, on the other hand, I have to do while I am alert and focused. It is more exacting and fires up my brain rather than relaxes it. When I have off from work, it’s exciting to engage in a few projects during the day that charge my brain. I’m currently working on a sundress and have a plan to make some Roman shades too.

Writing is an all year activity, but I will admit that I do rachet up the hours during the summer. Teaching, planning, and especially grading can be exhausting, so I while I journal a lot and write some during the school year, less gets polished than I would like. During the summer, I can devote more time to “finishing” works.

Another all year activity, without the caveat, is painting. Our school’s annual art show is always in June (last weekend in fact). Then, we start again. Rain or shine I go, even in the snow if it isn’t too bad. And if it is, I might draw at home. Painting/drawing demands focus as well, but in a different way than sewing. I have to focus on what I’m seeing and put all the other random thoughts out of my head. I find it rather meditative and cleansing (even though my paint clothes might not show it!)

What about you? Do your crafts have a season?

Gardening Novice

A couple of years ago, my neighbors planted some lavender bushes; last year, they moved away. After hearing from our super that the new owner doesn’t plan to do anything with the garden, I spent some time this morning cutting away the dead branches. Two of the bushes were complete goners. I hope these come back a little.

I do not have a green thumb, but I do like the idea of gardening and the result of a pretty (and/or productive) garden. Maybe next week I’ll attack the upper level and clean it up. Then I can go to the nursery and figure out what to plant. It’s a little late in the season, but there must be something that’s okay for late June planting in the Northeast. I’ll ask.

In the meantime, at least it looks a little nicer. Too bad I didn’t think to take a before pic. The most important lesson I learned today though is simple. Gardening doesn’t have to consume the whole day. Even 25 minutes produces some result. Like most things, a little at a time gets the job done.

P.S. Anyone know what those green leafy plants in the front are?

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.