Thursday, June 20, 2013

Student Poems and an Aesthetic

Stop by Carol's Corner today for the Poetry Friday Roundup. 

I wanted to share a couple more poems from my week with students at Brewer Elementary. I loved this photo and Metellus was so proud of the way his poem looked on the page, a little like that spraying water. 

This poet did not sign his work. We live in a military community where many fathers and mothers have been deployed multiple times. I hear his heart in this one.

I'm taking an online poetry class this month with Bob Haynes at Writers on the Net. Our first assignment was to write out our poetry aesthetic. I know the definition of the word, but I'd never thought about it in relationship to writing poetry. Trying to put into words the way I approach poetry took a little thought. Here's what I came up with. It feels very tentative.

I often find myself writing about the complexities and challenges of relationships. I like persona poems, like to try and understand what might make another person respond to life the way they do. I am not drawn to poems that are not accessible, but I long to understand the way those same poems make the leaps they do, the hidden connections. I like for a poem to make me stop and work to understand my own reaction to it, but not work to understand the poem. I am often frustrated by my inability to find the words and images that convey what I feel. I love the feeling that comes when I manage to get close. Writing in general, and poetry specifically, has given me a voice, but I am still often tentative to speak too loudly, if that makes any sense at all. I value honesty in a poem and vulnerability. I like to write joy, but it's much easier to write grief and struggle and sorrow. I don't think I have the freedom of play that I profess to love with words, even though I do love it. I call myself a writer, one who writes poems. I haven't made the leap to calling myself a poet.

At the end of the class, we will revise our aesthetic. I'll let you know if mine changes. Have you ever tried to define your approach to poetry? I'd love to hear if you have. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When You Hit Bottom

Some days you just hit bottom. You look at the rambling, unfocused thoughts in your journal, the half-finished or just-begun-but-abandoned manuscripts filling the folders on your computer, the unrevised poems for that collection you thought was such a good idea and wonder what you have to offer that hasn't already been said, done, written, or sung. And you come up with an answer that looks like the bottom of a peanut butter jar scraped with a spatula.

So what do you do? Read a book, watch a movie, eat a box of vanilla wafers (without the peanut butter, of course), the whole box. Anything but stare into that empty jar. 

But eventually you have to confront the lie. You have to look at yourself and say, "That's not true." You have to begin again to speak the truth to yourself. You are a writer because you love to write, you love the words, you love the stories, the sounds, the syntax.

And you open a new file or turn the page in your journal and begin again, because if you don't, you'll be miserable, because you're a writer. Like it or not. That's the truth. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Winslow Homer: Pictures and Poems

Our Poetry Friday host today is Margaret at Reflections on the Teche.

First, I want to thank Laura Shovan for generously sharing her wonderful poetry lessons. I had fun with summer poetry workshops this week. Read some of the student work here.

I visited the Winslow Homer exhibit at our local museum last week and was again caught up in thoughts about crossing genres.

Homer began his career producing lithographic covers for sheet music.

In 1857, his first wood engravings appeared in a Boston periodical.

 In his early work, the children looked like miniature adults.

Then he moved to New York and designed wood engravings regularly for Harper's Weekly. During the Civil War years, Harper's sent him to the field as a war correspondent.

 By the mid-1870s, Homer had mastered the art of carving children. In fact, this engraving, called "The See Saw" (1874) is one of his most famous works.

But look what came first. 

And this.
 Have you ever done this sort of thing? You've written a poem or a scene and put it away. Then you begin working on something completely different, only to discover that the piece you buried in a hypothetical drawer somewhere is the very thing you need to finish the current composition. This happened to me when I wrote my poem, "Allison." I don't normally write lengthy poems, but this one called for a number of sections, and was emotionally draining in the writing process. I got to the end, almost, and knew I needed something more, a conclusion that brought me back to joy. One day I was browsing through some old files and found that I had written that triumphant closing years earlier in a slightly different format. That old piece of a poem became the last two stanzas of "Allison."

And that brings us full circle back to poetry. Homer provided illustrations to many children's poems. Here is one for John Greenleaf Whittier's, "My Playmate," published in Ballads of New England in 1870.

by: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
    HE pines were dark on Ramoth hill,
    Their song was soft and low;
    The blossoms in the sweet May wind
    Were falling like the snow.
    The blossoms drifted at our feet,
    The orchard birds sang clear;
    The sweetest and the saddest day
    It seemed of all the year.
    For, more to me than birds or flowers,
    My playmate left her home,
    And took with her the laughing spring,
    The music and the bloom.

    Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Poetry Workshops at Brewer Elementary

I spent this week with students in the summer program at Brewer Elementary in poetry workshops. I think these have been some of my favorite classes this year. The fact that they were small classes gave both me and the students more opportunity to interact and work on their poems. There are still a few spelling and grammar errors, but our focus was getting a poem on paper. I used a couple of Laura Shovan's marvelous poetry lessons from AuthorAmok. Thanks, Laura. 

These are some of my favorites from a class of rising third and fourth graders:

And these from some rising fifth graders.

 This one is a Fibonacci poem.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Crossing Genres - Fairy Tales, French Horns, and Fierce Poetry

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

Tabatha Yeatts hosts Poetry Friday today, so when you finish here, travel over to her place for lots more poetry.

On each Friday in May, our Friends of the Library group sponsored "Tea and Tales," a bring your own teacup musical event featuring the local university's delightful French horn professor and accompanying Russian graduate student pianist. The focus each week was musical compositions that told stories.

Yes, I took my own teacup and filled it with peach tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea plantation in the continental U.S. I settled in with my tea and cookies, prepared to relinquish every item on my to do list and simply enjoy the music. But alas, the writer in me forced me to set my teacup on the floor beside my seat in the auditorium and dig out my notebook and pen. Ah, yes, this got me started thinking about crossing genres. Not taking up the piano again, my track record for getting the rhythm out of my fingers onto the keys was never very good, but the way ideas and themes and stories cross genres.

The piece Dr. Hansen brought to us was the second movement of a chamber piece for piano and horn composed by Dennis LeClaire, called "Three Fairy Tales, for horn and piano." The second movement? Thumbelina!

Thumbeline. Illustrated by Lissbeth Zwerger. Newly Translated from the Danish by Richard and Clare Winston.
New York: William Morrow and Company, 1980.

Click this link to hear an excerpt from the piece. You'll need to scroll down the page a bit to click the play button. Listen and imagine the tiny little girl trapped on a lily pad. You can hear the horn calling out to her.

Did you know Hans Christian Andersen was a poet? I don't think I did. His fairy tale fame diminishes any remembering of a poem he might have written. But he wrote hundreds. Not many are available in English, but here is one with poetry as his subject.

The Native Land of Light

There is a lovely Land
We call it Poetry
It reaches to the Sky
You’ll find it in a Rosebud

Its a Melody of Love
Lives on its greenest, heav’nly Shore

And there the Song of Bliss
Is like each Day you know

God is near
you can feel
That God is near
And old times live there

The Wise and Noble tremble
So grand it is, so rich

A Golden Hindustan
The Home of Melody

The Holy Land, by God,
It stands when Worlds will fade away
We call it Poetry
That Native Land of Light

                     —Hans Christian Andersen
                        Translation—Per Nørgård as lyrics for a choral piece

The native land of light. I love that description of poetry. And did you notice that this translation was lyrics for a choral piece? Crossing genres again. But then, Andersen understood music, too.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” 

And Thumbelina's story is the basis of this poem by Bernadette Geyer that I leave you with.

Thumbelina’s Mother Speaks: To the Toad’s Mother

With each year’s passing, grief dilutes itself
within my body, portioned out the way
a flash flood ultimately finds a meek
abode to welcome every soiled drop.
In letting go, I learned to be a “good”
mother, the kind who disciplines herself
to think only of what’s best for her child.
Of course, that’s why you seized her for your son—
deluded as you were to think she’d stay.
The sky is never bluer than we dare
imagine it to be.

Read the rest here, then try your own poetic response to a fairy tale.