Looking out the kitchen window

Have you been forgetting to look at the leaves changing? I have. We’re supposed to eagerly await the shift, to watch it happen, but I feel like I never do. Instead, I look up and see flashes of red, orange, and gold. I am taken aback. 

I think I’d rather not berate myself for being too preoccupied with life. I think I’ll let myself live. Anyway, if autumn isn’t a surprise at every turn, doesn’t it become just another item on the checklist? 

Poetry surprises me pretty often. Even my own. Words just tend to connect in strange ways when we practice association. I love gasping out loud when I’m reading poems. Like a color is waiting for me around the corner. 

I currently teach adult students in an ABE (Adult Basic Education) English class. Many of my students are English language learners and immigrants. We’re working on building their vocabulary, putting clear sentences together, learning grammatical distinctions between singular and plural, present and past, commas and dashes and parentheses. They are not experienced or confident writers, but they are eager to write. Each class when I set them up with a writing prompt, they grow progressively more intent on writing something they will be happy sharing. There is an interesting difference from my high school students, who are in the habit of writing almost every day, but have trouble thinking big, independent thoughts. My adult students have such a wealth of experience, such a diversity of age and background and beliefs, but they are not accustomed to putting their thoughts into writing.

Which is why it is so remarkable and exciting when they do find exactly the right words to capture their thinking. Their last assignment was to write about a special place, a place they knew well, and to try to describe it so it came alive. My student Ann, from Hong Kong, wrote about her kitchen window, looking out at the sunlight. I complimented her on the lightness and delicacy of her prose. It sounded gentle to me. She surprised me by saying it wasn’t a real place. She said, said: “I am writing my dream environment. And then — I hope — I can match it in life.” 

I want her to be a poet, and to find writing as a blessing throughout her life. I consider myself lucky to have writing as my companion, as a space where I can meet myself as I am in this moment, flawed, limited, with fears and doubts. 

But I love the idea of manifesting the world we want in our writing. Make the words and images on the page beautiful, and maybe life will be beautiful, too. At least for a minute, for the time you’re reading what you wrote. We can write ourselves better, too — set intentions, write out goals, put our dreams on paper and fold it into origami cranes to keep it safe and mostly hidden. 

The poet Maggie Smith’s book comes out soon, and on Twitter she said the title was from a note she wrote herself: “Keep Moving.” 

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She started in this small way, and now offers almost daily messages on Twitter that inspire hope and perseverance. I know, I know, Twitter is a time suck, an empty hole of call-out culture and snarky subtweets and constant self-promotion. But the poets I follow offer little snippets of golden light on dreary days. They encourage me to believe in myself and be confident: in my body image, in my efforts to better my mental health, in my relationships. 

I am not optimistic enough to believe that the universe will manifest whatever we intend and attract. I’m a little skeptical of affirmations and positive psychology, because I think you can be the best person in the world and horrible trouble can still fall upon you. It is too much to ask, in the face of injustice and depression and trauma, to just “cheer up.”  

But in the things I do have some control over — my approach to problems, my energy, the way I talk to myself — I could be so sweet, hopeful, and kind. I could use my words as a dream. 

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You can pre-order Maggie Smith’s book on Indiebound

If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee, I’d say “Sorry I’ve been away so long!” My last Sunday poetry post was on March 31st. You ask, “Why, what’s up? What’s been going on?” I’d look down and study the handle of my coffee mug and say “Nah, don’t worry about it. I’m here now. I’m okay.”

If we were having coffee, we would have to clink mugs and toast to TWO YEARS of writing poetry. Okay, so I wrote some poetry intermittently before then, but the style in which I write in now, my intensity of purpose, and my willingness to actually show my work to people– all of that was born two years ago when my heart was broken and I decided to write a poem every day for a month. I’m so glad I did.

If we were having coffee, we could take it to-go and walk through my neighborhood. Today I saw daffodils, abundant purple crocuses, a few snow drops, and some mystery stalks poking their heads out of the ground. I’m on a quest to find tulips; do you want to come with me?

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If we were having coffee, I’d speak to you of the benefits of self-care. All hail the bralette! All hail the scrunchie! It’s so important to hit the reset button sometimes, whether that means a massage (I got one of those this week and I feel more moisturized than ever before!), yoga, meditation, crappy romantic movies or a soapy TV show (I highly recommend Hart of Dixie), eating whatever you want, or extra sleep. Don’t forget, though, self-care can also be strengthening your will or getting stuff done (adulting! taxes!) and preparing for whatever challenges are going to come next.

If we were having coffee, the subject of the impending AP Test would come up — my kids have been working towards this all year, but now is the exciting time when they actually realize what they’ve learned, and go through the final push to make this big accomplishment! I’m nervous for them, but I’m also so excited. There’s definitely something to be said for a big culminating performance to celebrate the work that’s gone into mastering difficult material. Here we go, May 15th!

If we were having coffee, I’d do a little bit of self-promotion. You can read two of my poems in the Spring issue of borrowed solace (which, by the way, is currently open for submissions). And next week I’ll have another post up at The Aspiring Author Blog. You can read my last one here: Practicing Poetry in case you missed it. There’s a lot of great writing coming from the other contributors on the blog, too.

Have a wonderful rest of your April, Chag Pesach Semeyach to those who celebrate, and Happy Easter too! If you’re writing and living in this world, leave me your updates in the comments!

~ ☕️ ~

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.

POETRY: crucial to this battle

I’d like to share a poem here each month; here’s to writing about hope. 

 

crucial to this battle

 

is there any loveliness
equal to buying oneself flowers?
or to placing the fallen buds in a little jar of water on the nightstand?

is there any triumph like football —
no, to be specific, like the grin on my boy’s face
when he’s dirtied his jersey
by tackling the monster 87.
A win or a loss can’t beat
that grin, that dance,
the way he ruffles his hair when he pulls his helmet off.

is there a moratorium on despair
when a baby chuckles and coos
or when my friend hugs me
all squishy with sangria-happy arms
and a face I want to smooch?

is there anything more hopeful
than rising again into the
sunlight with a heart that
keeps beating?

and is there anything more
crucial to this battle than joy?

Are you a poet? Comment below– I’d love to follow you!