Sunday Poetry: love week

Sunday poetry is a new series beginning this Spring! Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

March 24: love week

Part of my poetry class is divided into themed weeks full of contemporary poetry. This week, it’s time for love poetry. I have the kids each write a break-up poem, and I show them some of my own love poetry and read my friend Noa’s poem, “Losing you makes me think of terrible Godzilla analogies and I wish I could explain why but I can’t.” I love love, obviously, and I think poetry is one of the ways to demystify love and yet keep it shrouded in roses.

Last year, I pushed my class to read this poem, but due to its evocative nature and erotic hints, it’s a little much for my new class to handle. But I do love it so:

 

Sunset

Nothing exists in a vacuum,

Least of all that pale shade of pink

Perched at the corner of her mouth.

 

The color recalls grapefruit,

Freshly picked from new heights

Provided by the roof of her neighbor’s house.

 

How many hours did we stay there?

 

Lying on the shingles still warm with afternoon heat,

Trying to pick out the few stars in the sky

That escaped the harsh glare

Of driveway lights turning themselves on at dusk.

Tiffany Babb is a mixed-race, bisexual poet currently based in New York.

 

Happy Sunday; tell someone you love her.

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Sunday Poetry: the last winter poem

Sunday poetry is a new series beginning this Spring! Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

March 17: the last winter poem

We are about to catapult into a new week and I’ve spent a lot of my day preparing for it. Grocery shopping, to-do-lists and budgets, planning my time for the week, looking desperately at my calendar to eke out writing time, deciding what I’ll wear and where I’ll go. Sundays are for this type of planning, for the little changes that propel us forward into new weeks, months, years. We can move spontaneously through time or try to wrestle it, but either way change shakes us and challenges us.

These past weeks of March, I’ve been eyeing the prolific piles of snow in my city, not wanting to wish them gone because I am deeply loyal to the oft-maligned New England winter, but wondering how long they’ll last. It is still cold outside, but there is more fresh air blowing, some chilly yet fragrant days. Spring is approaching, the ultimate season of change. In my poetry writing these days, I’m bidding goodbye to winter and internalizing the depth of winter that we have indeed reached and overcome. And now I’m thinking of the ways change resonates in winter. We don’t have to wait for spring to renew, to make parts of our lives our own again. Things are growing and preparing under the snow.

I offer this work of my own:
Mountain Poem 
there is nothing that shakes us like the wind
and no motion that unearths us
quite like the call of a mother bear
the tremble of pine boughs
the crack of ice
the encroaching of snowbanks
in their silent waves.
Good night; dream of bears.
 

Essay Fragments

Essay Fragments

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Photo by Iva Muškić on Pexels.com

Does your writing sometimes exist in fragments for months at a time?

I have so many ideas for essays, titles, little pieces I’ve written here and there, observations, journal and free-write entries that might eventually become something. Many of my essays come into being sprawled across multiple notebooks and on pages stuck into my folders at school. Once I have an idea, I muse on it for quite a while, and it comes to me in flashes, which I write down fast, pen flying, and then I take a long break, knowing that I’ll eventually . This makes sense, and I think it even makes my writing better, because I’m often dealing with multiple ideas that get twisted up into what I hope becomes an interesting yarn.

I’ll share a couple of my fragments with you:

i.

The probable site of my future wedding is Providence City Hall. 

I feel not tied down to this idea, but excited. Rhode Island has welcomed me and I’ve made it home, so much so that I feel like putting down money for a house; so much so that I want strings of lights in the basement for the many Christmases I’ll spend here. I can imagine walking hand in hand with my little ones down these streets, and meeting them at the library when they’re old enough to go on their own. 

I like that I can smell salt water and drive to the ocean. I like the way people know and honor each other. I like that this place welcomes and values me; that I am not a stray but a refugee seeking haven, that I have found a way to envision futures away from where I came from. 

ii.

At times it seems inevitable. When I tell people I’m a high school English teacher (even in bars; especially in bars), they will look a little sheepish. “I wasn’t very good at English in school,” they will say. And they will follow this with a confession that they either hated reading or writing, or both.

I’ve grown interested in the catalogue of reasons to not read: books never captured their interest, they found all the class books boring, they liked reading as kids but somehow school took the joy out of it, they had learning issues, a disability, ADHD, or were just slow at reading, and they couldn’t keep up. Or they just had better things to do.

My students often hate reading too, and they tell me. Some seem adamant that I will NOT like them, because they DON’T like reading. They’re defiant at the start of the year, and though I wish I could say that every kid in my class learns to love reading by the end of the year, I know that many of them leave for summer and won’t crack a book’s spine for months. As an educator, it’s my responsibility to care about the reasons kids aren’t reading, and to intervene when I can. But as I explain to my classes, I am not personally offended. I intend to make the argument to every teenager I meet that reading is awesome, but if they resist, I do not wither and die. I do have a life outside school, and enough of a solidity in my love for reading that it can resist a little shoving around. I know what books mean to me.

 

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Photo by Kinga Longa on Pexels.com

See, I have to have hope that someday (maybe someday soon, as I’ve been paying a little more attention to prose this week), I will take up these fragments in my hands and lovingly fit them together into something that makes sense. And then, once I have a whole picture to look at, I’ll probably add a frame to my mosaic, then a title, and then smooth out the surface into something beautiful and telling.

 

Poetry Class

Poetry Class

Oh what joy! 🐦

My poetry class (for 11th and 12th graders at my amazing little public high school) has started for this semester, and I am loving it. I designed the course last year with a small group of incredible students who gamely jumped into writing their own poetry and followed me down the path of reading poetry. This took guts — most of them weren’t already poets, and many had those stubborn, thorny views of poetry as a whole: it’s old, boring, and hard. 

Many people think that to get high schoolers to engage with poetry is impossible, but I believe that it is just a matter of getting them to try it. Like when you’re a kid, and your Dad makes a deliciously refined dish — or broccoli– and you are required to take three bites. Three bites, and if you still don’t like it you can go make yourself a PB&J. If I can get kids in the classroom to write three poems and read three poems without realizing that they’re really doing ~POETRY~ then usually they’ll kind of keep going. I know not every kid I teach is going to wholeheartedly embrace poetry, but I think that I can at least open the door.

I said it this way to a junior student who is thinking about taking the course next year: “It is definitely a class that requires creativity and a willingness to just try stuff, even if it doesn’t work. But by the end of it, the goal is that you could read poetry on your own for enjoyment, you have a way of writing poetry that you can always return to,  and you could succeed in a poetry course in college.”

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, writing beside my students has been simultaneously the best thing to spur my writing practice forward and the best thing to help my students’ writing growth. So, in concordance with this mission, I’ve started producing more poetry again.

We start with memory poems, inspired by Geraldine Connolly’s The Summer I Was Sixteen, then we move on to lists. I write what I assign the students to write, and ended up with a flawed poem about the sky that reminded me of afternoons waiting for my mom to come home from work, and a few different lists of things I see and notice.

An easy way to write a list poem is to write “I Saw” three times, creating three stanzas, and then fill in the blanks. Here’s what I wrote in class, on the whiteboard.

I saw the fog over Providence this morning on the bridge.

I saw a bird looking suspiciously down at me as I walked out my door.

I saw the steam from coffee brewing.

 

It’s simpler than what I usually write, but there are things I like about it. I like that it includes both fog and steam, which are relatively hard to see. I like the story it suggests about birds — in every house I inhabit I seem to make bird enemies, who yell at me or haunt my windows when I’m waking up, or guard their chicks from me up in the eves. I think it’s funny how birds like to yell at us, expecting us to understand what they mean.

My students are always invited to comment on these in-class rough drafts, and I often ask them to help me revise. In this case, one girl was adamant that I should switch the order. It made no sense, she insisted, that I started with driving to work and then went backwards back into my house. She’s right, in a way — it would be clearer to the reader if I swapped the first and last lines. But I like how the morning chases me back inside, into a quieter space. It’s often how I feel in the mornings, boldly venturing out in the cold to drive to a job I love, yet somewhat inclined to go back, bundle into bed once more, return to the warmth of reflective, quiet morning.

Does the poem mean that to a reader, or just to me? If I expanded it or added more entries to my list of things I saw, would it add to the sense of the poem, or just make it seem cluttered? When I write frequently and within a community, I get to have this thought process. Poetry happens spontaneously most of the time (at least in my life), but the handling of the poems once they have come into existence is where great skill is needed. I’m still learning that, and I LOVE having my students around me to help.

Stay tuned for further adventures in poetry!

January Sun(day)

January Sun(day)

Hello from my adorable kitchen!

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  • The most exciting news — I have finally gotten an acceptance for my poetry!! Ya girl is going to be published this spring! It feels great to have someone pick me. More information coming soon on where you can read my work when it’s released!

 

  • I do love those cold, sunny winter days, when I can actually take a walk around the neighborhood and breathe in some fresh air. Maybe I’ll set an intention to take a walk every day this week, but I’m also proud that I exercised at home 2x last week and attended a great yoga class. With my health always a little blah and my anxiety always a little “AAH!” it’s important for me to exercise often in very small, non-threatening ways.

 

  • 2019 is the year in which I am 27, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. No fear about getting older, just feeling a bit more settled and solid in my life. Then my students say, “You’re THAT old??” and remind me that no one knows what my face looks like or how old I am. Am I even real?

 

  • My new semester of classes starts tomorrow and BOY am I unprepared but excited! That also means I’m buried in grading as the quarter closes, but I’m not minding it too much. Lots of productive thinking about my students’ writing, what progress they made, how they can show me what they learned. I think I’m ready to set some goals for teaching this semester, as I am very interested in my own professional development right now instead of just letting it fly.

 

  • My novel is inching forward oh so very slowly. (about 1450 words) I’m reminded, since I’m writing by hand, that my best thinking never goes linearly. You should see some of the pages, with their arrows and * and ** and ^ to show where each thought ends up when I run out of space and jump around in my thoughts. It will be so fun to eventually type it up — not.

 

  • One of my best friends is getting married in October, and we’re going through some wedding dress exploration. I get to wear a really pretty bridesmaid dress! Eek! My femininity is jumping for joy like I just fed it a cheeseburger.

 

  • In this spring semester, I get to teach a course of JUST poetry — ah, how lucky am I to have this job! That means I’ll be reading a lot more poetry (stay tuned for more regular weekly reading lists on Fridays), and writing a lot more, too. When I teach this course, I commit to the discomfort/ vanity of letting my kids read some of my poetry, because I believe in writing beside them and it only seems fair to bare my soul when I require them to bare theirs and also get grades. Looking forward to it.