More than Meets the Eye

 

It’s Poetry Friday! Join me in this Friday’s round up at Reflections on the Teche.

 

Last month Margaret Simon over at Reflections on the Teche dreamed up the idea of inviting people to participate in a photo exchange she called “More than Meets the Eye.” The idea was that we would send a photograph from our area to an exchange partner then each of us would write a poem about the other’s photograph. I was paired with Catherine Flynn (who blogs at Reading to the Core); she sent me beautiful pictures from in and around Bridgewater, CT.

I get nervous about writing poetry – even though I’ve watched my blogging friends write a poem a day for all of April and I’ve popped in to the Poetry Friday round ups to read and occasionally share – and when I’m nervous about writing… I research! The first thing I stumbled upon was Trip Advisor where a found poem leaped (haha) out at me. So… just for laughs…

Lovers Leap Gorge
Trip Advisor Found Poem

This is a simple roadside pull-off with a nice view.
Great photo op.
No facilities exist.
Daylight use only.
Overnight parking prohibited.

But the stories, legends and history of the area deserve more than a tongue-in-cheek found poem. I was entranced by the sounds of the names, the newspaper articles from when they flooded the valley (covering over the Barnum house – yes, related to the circus) to create Lake Lillinonah (named for the young Pootatuk woman who, according to legend, leaped off the gorge with her lover). I learned that Still River runs into the lake and so much more. I wish I could have worked it all in.

And then… well, I tried free verse and a mask poem. I tried a little of this and a little of that and I couldn’t quite get what I was looking for. I wanted the circus (the sound of the calliope) to weave into the legend into the idea of man-made creation (because I’m assuming the legend is at least partly created and I know the lake is). It was the idea of weaving things together that led me to write my first-ever pantoum. It’s got my own twist – I used a refrain – and I tweaked the lines a little, but close enough.

Catherine, Margaret, here’s a Bridgewater/Lovers Leap Gorge/Lillinonah pantoum. Thanks for the inspiration!

Lillinonah
“I feel sure bits and pieces of the old valley will come bubbling up to the surface of the lake for years.” Mrs. Sewell Montgomery in the Connecticut News Times

Lillinonah:
Bits and pieces of the old valley
Bubble to the surface.
A lingering lilt of calliope
Ripples through the water.

Lillinonah
Bubbles to the surface.
A lover, she leaps and her echoes
Ripple through the waters
of the man-made lake.

Lillinonah:
Did your lover leap? Do his echoes
Glide like a canoe over
The man-made lake
Where Still waters cover legends?

Lillinonah,
Glide in your canoe over
The lingering lilt of calliope
Where Still waters cover the legends and
Bits and pieces of the old valley.

-Amanda Potts, all rights reserved

Accept the fluster*

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Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers – Join in and share a slice of your life

I am looking for my sunglasses. Again. I’ve been planning lessons – poetry broadsides for the 9s, I think, to emphasize the connection between word and image, but what will I do with the 10s? – and I’m not fully focused. I walk back into the kitchen and check the table. They still aren’t there. And they’re not on top of the shelves near the phone or next to the printer or even in the TV room near the lamp. They’re also not in the cubbies by the front door or on the stairs.

By now I have a blanket over my arm and a glass in my hand. I head upstairs to put the blanket in its bedroom and then downstairs to put the glass in the sink.

Four kids are already in the car. We’ve gathered our children and some neighbour kids and we’re heading to the Arboretum for a “romp.” This mostly involves tree climbing, but will also include looking for frogs, finding very large sticks and rolling down hills. Even though I will likely not do any of those things, I would like my sunglasses.

My husband has moved into the hallway, waiting patiently near the front door as I check the kitchen table one more time. After putting the glass in the sink, I’m here. The sunglasses are not by the refrigerator either.

He is nonjudgmental, my husband, whether because he understands my fluster or because he is used to it by now, I do not know. He usually helps me search for things for a minute or two, then moves to the hallway and eventually, quietly, into the car, leaving me to search for whatever I’m missing.

My sunglasses are not next to the refrigerator, but I do locate some sunglasses left over from my cousin’s wedding last fall. Or last spring? I should remember this. Let’s see… the baby is 7 months old… so….

These sunglasses are not the ones I’ve been looking for, but they are going to have to do. I pick them up and take a few steps toward the front of the house. I’d like to go meet that baby this summer. If I see my friend from college… when is that?… well, whenever it is, can we then get down to see my cousin’s baby? And when is Beth visiting? I should probably send her a link to “things to do in…”

I hear the door close. My husband has moved out of the front hall and into the car. I spot another pair of sunglasses – where were they hiding the last time I looked here? – on the bookshelf, but still not the right ones. Why do I suddenly have so many pairs of sunglasses? When did this happen? Nevermind. I have the wedding sunglasses. Good enough.

I move toward the front door, nearly stopping to pick up some nerf darts – no! I move on. I am thinking about the lessons for my 10th grade class. Again. Is the work actually “applied” or am I fooling myself? I grab my keys from the hook we installed so I can easily find them. I put on the sunglasses and head out the door.

(In case you are wondering, my sunglasses were on the shelves over the TV. I found them at 9:30 pm. While I was doing something else.)

*the title is taken from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art

Tie, tie again

 

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See more Slice of Life posts every Tuesday at Two Writing Teachers.

 

My son is learning to tie his shoes. It is not easy. It’s not easy to teach and it’s not easy to do. Learning to tie shoes, it turns out, requires desire, patience, persistence and no small amount of fine motor dexterity.

I watch him carefully cross the laces. He does not pull them tight before racing to form the first loop. Bunny ear. He pinches it together, hard, high above the shoe. Too high, I think, but I say nothing because he is already on to the next step, the one that gets us both every time. He takes the second lace, loops it around the first and… randomly stabs it through a space. He pulls. The maneuver does not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. So far, neither he nor I can figure out what makes the difference. I’m guessing it’s luck; he thinks it’s magic. Same same.

The bus will arrive in a few minutes. Does he have time for another attempt? Before I even finish the thought, he is pulling and pinching, looping and stabbing again. Without looking up he says, “You do the other one.” His focus is unbroken. Nope, it doesn’t work again.

He scooches his foot towards me, “Your turn.” If he is disappointed this morning, it does not show. This is just part of the routine. How many times has he tried this? How many more before he will be able to do this automatically? How many before he is teaching his own child, trying to remember the steps that elude him right now?

When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?

Today, my son stands up, shoulders his backpack and skips out the door. His shoes don’t fall off. He knows that eventually he’ll be able to tie those laces. He’ll try again tomorrow.

The Right Book at the Right Time

On Friday, we unboxed the books. Brand new, hardcover books.

“These are for us?” asked one boy, incredulous.
“Yes!” I laughed, “but you have to give them back.” He made a funny face and shook his head a little, dismissive of my excitement. Why would he keep a book?

“Can I use the stamp?”
“Can I choose the number for mine?”
“Yes!” I said yes over and over. Yes, these are for you. Yes, they are new. Yes, you can stamp them. Yes, you take them home.

“This book sure has won a lot of awards,” marveled a boy near the front.
“How’d you even get these, Miss?” asked another student, turning his brand new book over in his hands.
I laughed again, “I begged, borrowed and stole!”
His face got serious. “You didn’t steal, Miss. Don’t say that.”
I took it back. I should know better than to joke about stealing.

IMG_4832.jpgOn Friday, we started reading Jason Reynolds’ novel in verse, Long Way Down. I had offered the class several options for reading – book clubs, individual choice, whole class – and they told me flat out that they would never read a book on their own. “No point in that,” muttered M.

We’ve been reading all semester, but always short pieces. In general, my students are a little wary of my ways, but they were willing to try poetry with me last month, so I knew we were making progress. Still, they were nervous about reading a book, like maybe I’d gone a bridge too far – a whole book. Some of them are enthusiastic readers, but many of them haven’t read a book for years. When I told them that I would NOT read the entire book out loud, one boy looked down at his desk, shook his head and made a loud “tsk” sound. “That is NOT gonna work.”

And then came Jason Reynolds. Actually, first came the discussion about a shooting death in the neighbourhood. I was shocked to learn that gun violence is a part of so many of my students’ lives, then I was surprised by my own shock. (That’s a reflection for another post altogether.) Then I got upset because I realized how little support these students were receiving for their reality (also a reflection for another time). I had a long talk with the (amazing) EA who works in my classroom who insisted, “That book you’ve been telling me about is the right book for this class.” And she issued a challenge: “If anyone can get them that book, it’s you.”

So I begged. I told the principal I would buy half with my own money. I talked about the awards, the subject matter, the poetry. I told him about our progress, the growth, the learning. I found other pots of money. Finally, I said, “I have to teach these kids this book right now. I just have to.” Hats off to my principal and our Student Success teacher: they bought the books.

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That’s their handwriting – and page numbers!

On Thursday I gave the students photocopies of the first few pages. “AW! It’s more poetry,” groaned one kid. But they tried it. We used the same technique we used with Nikki Giovanni’s kidnap poem a few weeks ago: students wrote back to the text right on the paper. They asked questions, made comments and generally had their say. When we shared, they had made lots of inferences and had plenty of evidence to back them up.

Friday was the new books. After everyone had one, I explained that they could take a few minutes just to read. No set goal, no required number of pages, no plan – just read to see what’s there. My goal was 15 minutes. Boy did I underestimate them.

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They would not stop reading. T looked up after ten minutes and said, “Can we read as far as we want?” I nodded, he gulped some air and dove back into the book. S turned around and said, “Did you get to the part where he took the gun yet?” H nodded and kept reading. Silence. No phones. No sleeping. Eventually, one student lost focus, and I decided to stop them before the magic spell broke: “Hey, let’s take a break and see what we’ve discovered so far.”

They took a break, talked about the book, started to do the activity… and then I noticed that one, two, three kids had snuck back to their books. Then another. I asked if they wanted to just go back to their seats and read. “YES!” So we did.

As class came to an end, I found two kids surreptitiously trying to slide the book into their backpack. “You’re allowed to take it home if you want,” I said.
“For real?!”

One book went right into the backpack, but T hesitated. Finally, he put it back, “I want to make it last a little longer, Miss.”

I have a feeling that, for some of them, this will last for a long time.

 

Sink Holes and Lava Flows

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Join me on Tuesdays at https://twowritingteachers.org where you can read other slices of life – or even contribute your own.

 

On Mondays, if I remember, I ask my class how their weekend was, though sometimes by last period the weekend seems far away. I don’t have any research on this, but somehow it seems like talking about their weekend honors their life outside of school and says that what they experience matters. Also, sometimes I glean interesting tidbits about them, and pretty much always I can get a sense of the class energy from the way the discussion flows. So I ask.

Today, before I even finished the question, one girl was shaking her head and making a face. It was not a good weekend. She wants to move. Uh-oh.  I looked at her hard – I know of several reasons why she might want to move, so I wanted to tread carefully, but I also knew that if she spoke up, she might make connections in the classroom, and she might find support, so I took the plunge: “Anything you can share?”

There was a shooting just four doors down from her house; she had heard the shots. She didn’t feel safe. “It was a homicide!” called in a boy across the room. Then he added, almost casually, “I live around the corner. A guy got killed.”  I was shocked, but my students were not. Most of them live in the neighborhood, and they had lots to share. They talked about gun violence in their lives: they have heard it, seen it, been affected by it. I wanted to ask questions, find out if they were scared, know what they have seen, but I also didn’t want to push them or puncture the fragile veneer of safety they had created. One boy said he was not afraid because he wasn’t home when the shooting occurred. One girl said most of the shootings are on the 8th floor of her building, and she doesn’t live on that floor. As they talked, I realized that I didn’t know what to do.

I struggled to figure out my next steps, but my students didn’t hesitate. “Miss, did you hear about the sink hole in New Zealand? It’s GIANT!” “Yeah, and the volcano in Hawaii – you can see the lava!” I shook my head – I hadn’t followed any news this weekend, so I knew nothing. They were really proud that they knew things I didn’t. And just like that, we were talking about the changing world. We searched for articles, collected interesting words (“gigantic cavernous void”), talked about potential found poetry, watched videos. I complimented them for being so aware of the world – they weren’t doing this when the semester started. Most students participated in our discussion; everyone looked at the sinkhole video over and over. We couldn’t believe that it just opened up overnight, that the farmer just happened upon it. We couldn’t imagine having lava flow down our street. We decided that if we were in Hawaii we would NOT be dumb enough to go near the flowing lava to try to take pictures (though I’m pretty sure some of the boys were lying). And then we moved on to the rest of the lesson.

Now it’s evening, and I can’t shake off the shots that my students buried in that sink hole, that they burned beneath the lava flow. In case I had forgotten, my students reminded me today that they lead real lives that can sometimes make school seem beside the point. As we talked in class, we tried to imagine what it would be like to walk somewhere we knew well and happen upon a giant sinkhole in ground that had seemed solid just the day before.  I think that actually happened to me today. Their world is not mine. I am shocked, overwhelmed, embarrassed again and again that I can think that I know who they are. I love them, but I know nothing.

Fragmented

6:30 am
Just going to try to get this written before the kids get downstairs. Don’t expect it to be my best slice, but things are *busy* these days. Nothing like taking over a class mid-semester (and supporting the two teachers who are picking up the other ones) to keep me on my toes. If I can squeeze out 10 minutes, I’m going to call this my slice because today will be full.

[The kids woke up. Breakfast. Out the door.]

10:30am
Ok, so I didn’t finish this morning. Maybe I can edit this afternoon & cobble something together. One good thing about teaching writing is that, if I write alongside them, I get a little writing time, too. This week & next we’re looking at integrating music and writing. Today’s prompt is Beethoven’s Minuet in G & they’re supposedly thinking about atmosphere. I don’t know what they’re writing, but at least m
ost of them are physically writing. Of course, some are not. Some stare, almost defiant. Two are chatting.

[Another teacher came in, looking for my advice about a student with an IEP. Turns out that IEPs don’t go away just because I picked up an extra class…]

2:10
Now’s my moment. If I slice now I can do a quick edit when I get home & up it goes. Hmm… what to write about ? Book Sale – we’ve collected used books all year long to sell at the kids’ school’s Book Sale. This weekend we sorted a boxed hundreds of books. Maybe describe the physical feeling of books – the handling of them. But easier and easier for me to give away (though not my own)! Today we took 624 books (well, more or less: we fudged the numbers a little so that they were even) to the school at 8am. We ferried them out of the gray minivan, across the street, up the steps, through the front door, and into the lobby. Pause. Into the gym and onto the stage. Box after box. Sorted and

[Another teacher came in with a question. Then the principal swang by with a question. Then the Guidance Counselor called.]

7:02pm
Here I am. I have 13 minutes until the boys come tearing into the house & we start the bedtime routine. I promised a friend I would return her call 12 minutes ago. One of the cats just yowled in the backyard (where a skunk sprayed last night). The only edits I’ve managed are to add the interruptions.

Today I’m fragmented. Reflection is hard to come by. Story is escaping me and even the details slip away. I need to get my head wrapped around this new course, need to get to know my students, calm their parents, help my sick colleague, pay attention to the students I already love, play with my own boys, laugh with my husband… I need to feed the cats, make the lunches, wash the dishes. All these little pieces of my life & I’m just going to have to enjoy them as they go by because that’s all I’m going to get right now.

Somebody in some blog somewhere [Update – this is the post I was thinking of] recently posted about kintsugi, the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. What I’m realizing as I write is that kintsugi depends on having something that is broken, something that is fragmented. I bet the literature on kintsugi doesn’t tell about the moment the vase slipped from her hands, the way the pot hit the hard earth, how she wept when she saw the mess, how she had to take a deep breath, remind herself that the fragments themselves held beauty. No one talks about the hope she mustered as she gathered the shards and put them carefully into a safe place, fingers crossed that someday there would be gold – or words, or love – enough to create beauty from the fragments. She just has to wait.

7:15 – the door just opened (they really are good kids). I’m going to post without the Slice of Life picture or anything. And no editing. Deep breath – here it goes. Maybe I’ll edit and add the picture later.