Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Elementary School Poetry 180 - Week Two

6 - The Arrow and the Song - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
7 - "Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?" - Ron Koertge
8 - Numbers - Mary Cornish
9 - Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley
10 - At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border - William Stafford

Monday, September 27, 2010

Elementary School Poetry 180 - Week One

1 - Introduction to Poetry - Billy Collins
2 - When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer - Walt Whitman
3 - Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll
4 - "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" - Emily Dickinson
5 - Lines - Martha Collins

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Elementary School Poetry 180

This year I decided to take on a poetry project with my students.  I was inspired by Poetry 180, a program established by Billy Collins while he was the Poet Laureate of the United States.  He deliberately chose poems with high school students in mind.  I have kept some of those poems to read to my elementary school students.  I  have not considered any poems that seemed inappropriate to be read to a ten-year-old.  Thus, many of the poems that deal with romantic relationships, which are apropos for high school students, just wouldn't interest fifth graders, or would embarrass them.  But, generally, I've been much influenced by the choices that Billy Collins made.  I've steered away from poems that seem too old-fashioned, definitely dipping often from the modern era.  And I've chosen mostly free verse.  I want to broaden what students think of poetry, and steer them away from some of the sing-songy rhymed poems that are frequently aimed at them.

I also discovered another teacher had a similar idea for middle school students.  Tom Darling has a poetry blog called Middle School Poetry 180.  I have borrowed liberally from the poems he has posted on his blog.

I have a number of poetry books as well, and I have been finding delightful poems there as well to share with my students.

I was hesitant to blog about this at first, but I decided I just need to take that leap and share what I've been doing.  So far, it has been a successful experiment.  It only takes a minute or two out of each school day, but many of the poems I've chosen have connected with some student in my class.

I would welcome suggestions from anyone who is interested in poetry.  Feel free to leave comments on my posts about poems you think every fifth grade student should know before they go off to middle school.  And if you're a teacher, I'd be interested in any stories you'd like to share about your experiences sharing poems with students.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I had gone away to write, a solo writer's retreat.  I stayed in a beautiful lodge and I wrote.  But I was restless, so I walked into the neighboring woods, and in a grove where the light was warm and golden, reflecting the autumn leaves, I saw a dryad scamper back to her oak and disappear into it.  I stood until I noticed the light beginning to fade, and the colors of the grove dimmed.  I walked up to the oak, touched its bark, said, "Thank you," and "Goodbye."  Then I walked back to the lodge, more silently than I had come.

in this august place
the trees spoke to me - and I
found ears to listen

* * *

This haibun was written in response to a prompt at Big Tent Poetry.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Open Letter on Bad Parenting

First of all, don't show up to Back-to-School Night.  Don't show your child that his or her learning is important.  Don't provide any support to your child's teacher by reinforcing the message that education is important and that you are going to work as a partner with your child's teacher in making sure your child has a quality educational experience.  When asked about why you didn't attend Back-to-School Night, make excuses that are about you and how busy you are; this gives permission to teachers to make the same excuses to you about how busy they are and why they're not providing your child with a quality education.  Or, make the excuse that you didn't attend Back-to-School Night because you already know everything because the same teacher taught your child's older sibling.  Teachers like this excuse too because then they can give it as a rationale for why they haven't changed anything at all in their teaching; they can use the same old books, techniques, lessons, etc. that they used for your older child.  Teachers don't want to innovate or improve their learning; they much prefer being lazy and just going through the same tired motions year after year.

Second, don't respond to notes that the teacher writes home to you about how your child is doing in school.  All teachers operate under the lawyerly "silence equals assent" assumption.  This just makes it easier for us to send notes home, knowing that you agree wholeheartedly with what we have written.  It isn't necessary to respond and let us know that you too are concerned, or that you've spoken with your child about the problem and you've given them some help and advice on how to correct it.  Also, it's even more helpful to send the note back offering excuses about why your child isn't doing well.  Some blanket statement about how responsible they are even though the note was about how they're not handling their responsibilities as a student is most helpful to the teacher.  Obviously, we were just mistaken and didn't have that crucial knowledge. What we were seeing firsthand in the classroom is superseded by your statement about how responsible they are.  We are sorry for bothering you to get this important information and we can now rest assured that the problem will correct itself.

Third, go directly to the principal with your concerns about your child's teacher.  We teachers don't want to be bothered by pesky parents and their petty concerns.  Show your child that it's best to go over someone's head to get what you want.  Dealing fairly and respectfully with the person that you have an issue with is a waste of time, especially if it's a teacher, because they are notorious for not listening to you, being unfair, and generally being difficult and confrontational.  We understand that you are just saving us all a great deal of precious time by not speaking with us first.  We actually enjoy getting called into the principal's office to deal with parent concerns.  We are especially delighted when this occurs with parents who didn't show up to Back-to-School Night, who have not contacted the teacher at all in any positive way so far this year, including not returning the note sent home the second week of school asking your preferences for teacher-parent communication, who have not responded to notes sent home, and who have responded to other notes with rationalizations and excuses about their child's problems.

[I'll just apologize now for the sarcasm, before anyone writes me any comments.  Please understand that all this comes from a place of hurt, which has turned to anger, thus the sarcasm.  I'm not proud of it, but I had to get this off my chest.]

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I'm having difficulty with the word breakthrough
it's as if I'm having an argument with it
and, to be honest, it's not a fair, rational argument
because breakthrough just rubs me the wrong way
like someone you just don't like
because everything about them just turns you off

granted, I did concede there is wisdom in through
you have to work through your problems
it usually fails if you avoid them or try to go around
looking for some shortcut, an easier path
but everything else about breakthrough rankles me

military breakthroughs are violent, penetrative acts
and, frankly, so are medical breakthroughs
we like to think of doctors as healers
following the oath of first doing no harm
but that's just a pretty myth to believe in

surgeons can do amazing things, I know that now
but to an eight-year-old, they're just butchers
slicing you open, breaking you to fix you
and I have the scars to prove it, so don't argue
don't give me some line like surgeons save lives

a surgeon didn't save my father's life
that bit of useless butchery just drained him more
and the cancer took him that much faster
so I don't want to hear your thoughtless philosophy
because if you do, I'll show you my scars
and I'll bare my heart to you and show you
the hole there left by my father's passing

a surgeon didn't save my life when I was eight
but left me forever changed, limping along
broken inside, and knowing I had to be broken
so that I could be fixed, like some faulty machine
and all these years, the mending has been slow
accomplished without the help of any surgeon
the daily tenderness supplied by nurses and my parents

* * * * *

This poem was written in response to the breakthrough prompt at Writer's Island.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Need to Know

Lucy, there is nothing you need
to know about me. Keep dreaming
your British Empire dreams.
Keep believing you are safe,
even as I stand here, watching
you sleep.
                Your dreams will soon turn
to nightmares, if I stay too long
before our caress. It will not hurt.
If only you knew how delicious
you are, the iron bite of your blood
softened by the sweetness
of your soul.
                   There is one thing
you will know. You are mine forever.

* * * * *

This poem was written in response to the "Need to Know" prompt at We Write Poems.

I have been completely unsuccessful at posting a link to my poem over at We Write Poems.  It's always worked before.  I must be doing something wrong, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what it is.  My browser did crash while I was on the site, and my laptop shut down and restarted, so I figured that fixed the problem.  Maybe it didn't.  I hope people will find my poem.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

If only

If only understanding
wasn't a gerund
mixed race child
of noun and verb
a chimera
a misfit
an outsider
looking in at us
with wisdom
in her eyes
and sadness
because we can't see
what she sees

if only learning
was as easy as
not a thought at all
just a fundamental fact

if only loving
was as simple as
picking up a stone
and holding it
in your hand
and holding it in your hand
was the same as
holding it in your heart
and being held
by the stone too

if only I could be content
with just being
if I could get over
connecting doing
with happiness
writing a poem
and being satisfied
with the

* * * * *

This poem was written in response to the "If only" prompt at Writer's Island and the "finding words from our everyday lives" prompt at Big Tent Poetry.

The "if only" phrase kept bouncing around in my head, but I didn't know what to do with it. Then I remembered a note I had jotted down in my lesson plan book in response to a question one of my students asked about the word "understanding". He had identified it as a noun on a homework assignment and was wondering why it wasn't correct. I explained it was a gerund, and told my class that I'd research it further and that I'd teach a lesson on gerunds, which is why I had written it down. And those two words, understanding and gerund, from my everyday life were the inspiration to go somewhere with "if only".