The branches of the learning tree …

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, friends and neighbors!

Today’s Google Doodle was lovely: https://g.co/doodle/hjchhys. Fingers crossed they have one of these every day this week!

My Teacher Appreciation tonight goes out to Michael, an extraordinary adult education teacher. I met him at one of my first adult ed jobs. We didn’t work together then, but I had the chance to observe his class once and had several opportunities to get some impromptu professional development training when I found myself lucky enough to be in the teachers’ office doing prep at the some time he was there.

Years later, we ran into each other in the hallway at grad school, and he mentioned that the program where he was currently working was looking for a new instructor. I got the job and then began seven excellent years of teaching with and learning from Michael.

I arrived at that job with some teaching experience, but a lot of that had been teaching high school students, and adult education — especially adult literacy — is entirely different from teaching high school English. I had taught both literacy classes and high school equivalency classes before I started working with Michael, and I’d learned a lot in those jobs, but I wouldn’t say I was a good teacher then. I was good-hearted, and that maybe counted for something. I wanted to be a good teacher for my students, and that surely counted for something, too. But I really needed to just simply be a good adult ed teacher, not just dream about being one.

Working with Michael was the bright, dividing line for me. Before that job I was well-meaning and okay. That job helped me become well-meaning and good. I learned to calm down and trust myself more. I learned new ways to imagine what a classroom could be. I learned that I could fully lean into my creativity and bring my whole self to the classroom. I learned to create different environments and experiences for the students to offer opportunities for them to experience and exhibit mastery even while reading and writing remained steep hills to climb. I learned to ask questions and more questions. I learned how to study my own learning. I learned how to be wrong without shame, drama, planetary implosion or other catastrophes.

I was learning pretty much all the time. For all of those years. The entire team of our program were pivotal in my teaching and development. I wasn’t only working with Michael, after all, but my significant collaboration was with Michael. In our last year of teaching together, he and I received the New York City Literacy Recognition Award, the first (and I think still the only) teacher team to receive the award. Working with Michael was one of the best gifts of my career.

And one of the hidden gifts of that experience? Teaching with Michael brought me back to writing poetry. I had stopped writing poems after a horrible experience in a poetry workshop my freshman year in college. The wall between me and poetry was erected then, my firm belief not only that I couldn’t write poetry but that I absolutely shouldn’t. Poetry was for other people, for talented people, for POETS. And I was most definitely not one of those.

Michael is a poet. And we brought a lot of poetry into our adult ed program. And we encouraged learners to write poetry. And Michael pushed me to not be afraid to write poetry, too. That was when I saw that I couldn’t very well push my students to try things that were challenging and daunting for them if I wasn’t brave enough to try them myself. After 12 years of not writing a single poem, I wrote my first poems in that program, in class with my students. They weren’t spectacular, but they were poems and I had written them.

The wall between me an poetry is still high in places, but it’s also cracked and crumbled in many other places. I mean, I write at least 30 poems a year these days because of National Poetry Month, so I can’t pretend that I don’t write poetry. I still feel some of the damage from that ugly workshop so many years ago, but I also remember the fun I had in class with Michael and our fabulous students, playing games and finding rhythms and getting words on the page.

Michael. Thank you for everything you taught me in all the ways you taught me. I cannot imagine what I’d be doing with my life if I hadn’t worked with you at SINC. Those years are the foundation that has made the rest of my career in adult ed possible. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ❤

Last Gasp

Another National Poetry Month for the record books! I mean, I guess there are record books? In any case, another one done. It still amazes me that I write any poems at all, and amazes me even more that I take on this 30/30 challenge each year and have mostly been successful, that I have been doing this since 2009. That’s just nuts. And yet, here were are.

As I feared, last night I fell asleep (again!) before posting the poem I was working on for day 29. So I’ll post both my 29th and 30th Golden Shovels here tonight. The source text for the first poem is, you guessed it, Lucille Clifton’s poem “1994.”

Imagining Good

Everything I have,
tied to this moment, the idea of a "we,"
looking past anything we're not
past everything we've been.
Imagining all the ways we can create good,
embracing with the trust of children.

Somehow, it seems fitting that I would end this month of Golden Shovels with a poem that is awkward and doesn’t come together in the end. I’ve struggled to work with this form pretty much the whole month. Ending in this prickly way isn’t surprising.

The source text for this month’s final poem is the untitled poem on page 86 of Lucille Clifton’s How to Carry Water.

Your hand rests, it
looks as old as you feel, is
drawn and grey, a 
tired thing, no longer able to cast a spell.
You massage it slowly, no
need to rush. Magic
can always wait. You've no
other task, no obligations, no anything.

And so, farewell NaPoWriMo2021!


National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream …

… make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. You know, or something.

So again, sleep claimed me before I could post last night. I didn’t even get to type up my poem before I conked out.

Yesterday, I had my annual physical. I appreciated my doctor’s clever set up to keep everyone distanced and safe. What I didn’t love was that I had three vaccines! Pneumonia, Shingles, and a Tetanus booster! Today, I feel achy all over, lethargic, and incapable of sustained focus. I know it will pass, but I feel beaten up, and I’m not happy about it. So I’m going to post last night’s poem now, in case I can’t stay awake long enough to write one tonight.

Today is poem-in-your-pocket day. And I spent the day in my apartment, of course, so I didn’t get to have my usual fun of roaming the halls at work giving out poems to all and sundry. This is the second year in a row of not getting to play the poetry fairy. It’s a small and entirely insignificant thing to lose to Covid, but it pains me all the same.

The source text yesterday was still Lucille Clifton’s “1994.” I’m telling you, that poem really speaks to me.

Blind Relentless Faith

The thing I know is, there are
no cobbler's elves, the 
secret helpers, the ones
whose mission is to set your life right. We
laugh at fairytales, tell
others, tell ourselves
that we know they are stories. But you,
and I, and all of us also know
we are undercover believers, dreamers. How
else to explain our faith -- blind, relentless, dangerous --
in miracles, in magic, in whatever it
takes to lay glitter over what just is,
to shade the evidence of
reality, the drumbeat, the lure of a
brighter something, warmth instead of cold,
possibility as a shield against dread, and
the simple, mortal
truth of the body.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

What the Universe said …

Yesterday, the Universe decided that what I most needed to do was fall asleep, not press “publish” on the poem I wrote late last night. And I think that was a good decision. I wasn’t loving the poem I wrote yesterday. So tonight I scrapped a chunk of it and wrote something else. And it’s early enough that I should be able to stay awake long enough to publish both this rewrite of yesterday’s Golden Shovel and tonight’s brand new one.

Hard to believe this month of poetry is almost over. It seems have gone by really quickly. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, right? So much of quarantine feels as if it’s been on some kind of cosmic bullet train, whizzing past before I can catch hold of anything. Why should this second pandemic April be any different?

The source text for last night’s poem is actually two texts: “leda 1” and “leda 2 a note on visitations” by Lucille Clifton. The three “leda” poems are so painful and sad and powerful. I really wanted to use lines from them, but so many of the lines lend themselves to writing painful, sad things, and I was trying to lean away from that. So I messed with the Golden Shovel form a little, expanded it a little, taking a line from “leda 1” and a line from “leda 2.”

Will

Out of my window ... there --
slowly drifting across my vision is
a half-deflated mylar balloon, freed, full of nothing,
flitting up, down, side to side. Luminous
in the sun, trying to be about
its business but instead left to this.

Which is the way life goes sometimes.
I strive, make my plans and then another
path unfolds I find myself following a different star,
find that I am not the one who chooses.

The source text for tonight’s poem is Clifton’s “1994,” a piece that keeps calling to me, here in the second half of my 58th year. This Golden Shovel has nothing to do with that, of course, but every time I read through the poem as I look for the lines I want to use for one of GShovels I am wowed all over again, struck by the serendipity of discovering this poem only now when I am at the exact age she was when she wrote it.

The Ugliest Bits

I know, of course, that you
write your lines, that you have
ideas about what comes next, what your
moves will be, that they will be your own.
I know. Of course. But I still try to craft the story,
try in spite of you
and because of you, because I know
that you always insist on telling the
bloodiest bits, the ugliest, the saddest,
and I am cunning at adept with pretty lies.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

Raprochement, Part 2

Or perhaps instead of “Part 2” I should say, “pas de deux,” since I seem to have dancing in mind a lot lately. Last night I wrote about an imagined reunion with an old love. Tonight I’m thinking about the epistolary flirtation that provided a welcome shift in focus during some of the rougher moments of the past year. Hey, it’s spring and sometimes this is where my brain goes …

The sources text for tonight’s Golden Shovel is, at last, some lines from Lucille Clifton’s poem, “to thelma who worried because i couldn’t cook.” I’ve been looking at these two lines every day this month, and not hearing what I could do with them, just knowing that I loved them. What I’ve written doesn’t match what I had in mind, but I’m okay with it.

Distraction

In this season of thorns, you revealed yourself a rose
climbing toward sunlight, always looking up
yet firmly planted here, solid like
the trunk of an oak or a 
stubborn resolution. While I -- pliable as dough -- 
watched, hesitated, questioned. And
tried not to trust, waiting for the bubble to burst.
And a year later, still cloistered in
our separate spaces, tentatively approaching the
world outside, you send brick oven
pizza, flowers, fruit. What am I to make of
any of that, of you and your
insistent, slow-burning hunger?

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!