Mother’s Day, Books, and My Students on Poetry

What a glorious day today!
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This little bunch of bluebells was sitting on our doorstep a few days ago 🙂

I’ve had a little more time to read lately; I finished Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It’s the kind of exquisite book I feel curmudgeonly about pointing out any flaws in–and yet, I found it a bit repetitive in parts or at least predictable. Still, certain sections of Perry’s prose are breathtaking–the first paragraph, for instance:

One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory. There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames. Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the northeast wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time were running out. Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present, and loathed by those who wished the present past. Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clement’s, and Westminster’s division bell was dumb.

I’ve also been reading Michael Robbins’ Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, in which he says, “You don’t decide to go deep into words. Something takes you there.”

That reminds me of some of the things my AP students wrote last week in response to my question: What makes a good poem?

“A good poem makes your hair stand up. It is entirely up to the individual.”

“A poem that leads to serious assessment or thought about something.”

“One that emotionally involves any and all readers and leaves you thinking.”

“A good poem is able to illustrate a relatable and complex feeling in a unique and powerful way.”

“A good poem can be almost immediately recognized as true.”

“A good poem is one that is simple, easy to read but has sophistication and deeper meaning; I don’t want to dissect it like a puzzle but rather more contemplate it.”

“A good poem is any poem that changes your outlook on its subject in any significant way.”

“A good poem conveys emotion, any emotion.”

“A good poem makes you imagine the poem in real life.”

“A good poem always needs to make me feel something new or something I haven’t felt in a while.”

“It should make one consider and re-evaluate one’s own life as it makes one feel.”

“A good poem has music and rhythms coursing beneath its surface, regardless of whether or not it rhymes. It conveys its images in surprising, interesting ways, and the poet shows a mastery and command of language.”

“A good poem makes you compare it to what you know about the world.”

“A good poem casts a striking image in one’s mind and intelligently conveys its message.”

“A good poem has a thoughtful structure that compliments the topic itself.”

“A good poem is able to describe and create feelings that people have always known, but never been able to explain.”

What an insightful, emotionally intelligent group of students I have! Typing out their handwritten answers is part homage, part hallelujah, and the beginning of this year’s bittersweet goodbye.

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Earth Day, Books, and a Poem

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We walked the Bloedel Reserve this afternoon with its gracious vistas and green in a thousand different shades.

I’ve been a bit preoccupied for the past month with a couple of things (National Boards, my health) and it’s taken me over a month to finish a single book.

However, this book is well worth reading: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, by Arthur Herman. With a rambunctious, overstepping title like that I opened it a bit skeptically but soon found it to be must-read material for anyone with more than a passing interest in Scotland. I bought it for S, who won’t have time to read it until summer (when she’ll be working two jobs, so maybe not much free time even then).

Before that, I read Graeme Macrae Burnet’s brilliant book His Bloody Project, which is a reader’s holy grail for me: a noir of high literary merit (the novel was a finalist for the 2016 Booker prize), set in Scotland. 

I also listened to the audiobook of Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I am fascinated by the references to David Hume, who may have been familiar with Buddhism.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/07/what-meditation-can-do-for-us-and-what-it-cant Adam Gopnik’s take on the book is fantastic.

 
And finally, the BBC Sound Effects  Library has just released thousands of sound files, and perusing their titles is a delight. Here’s my found poem:

                          I

1 man constant walking up sharp incline of loose stone

1 man climbing and slipping

1 man 1 woman approach and stop

2 people clambering over loose debris

1 man 1 woman depart

10 bells ringing, Lichfield Cathedral.

                          II

12 month baby boy, scream & blowing three raspberries

12 month old baby boy, saying “Dada” (three times)

12-bore Shotgun, load, shot & cartridge ejected

12 bells ringing, Worcester Cathedral.

                        III

1 lorry passing slowly

200-year old village pump filling bucket

6 bells poorly rung in English village church.

 

 

Early April

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Eggs and greens for K’s 20th birthday celebration! They made a delicious frittata. S collected the eggs from chickens she’s taking care of over spring break; the greens and herbs are from our garden.

Easter books this year for B and A:IMG-1329

For K:

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For S:

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And for A:

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The camellias on the table are courtesy of this great beauty:

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Bairn o’ mine

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S. will be headed to Scotland in the fall (!!!), which means the whole family is involved in a sort of ancillary education about St. Andrews, Scotland, and the UK. For example, yesterday evening S, B, A, and I spent several hours at an admitted students event in Seattle, speaking with university admissions and support officers and hearing from a panel of past students.

It seems like a perfect match for S–my hopes are high. To-do lists are running long because we’re still in a thicket of deadlines and applications (loans, visa, housing, etc); nuts and bolts still have to be fastened down everywhere.

Thank goodness for K’s line of study just now: her main homework is to give practice massages (!!!).

The Best Things I’ve Read This Week

1. Last night I entered night owl territory, flying through David Grann’s riveting New Yorker piece on Antarctic journeyer Henry Worsley.

The story of Worsley is likely far more interesting if one has more than a passing familiarity with Ernest Shackleton–I recommend the documentary below, an excellent one that I’ve used to teach my freshmen storytelling techniques as they create their own documentaries.

2. Martha Nussbaum’s lengthy, wide-ranging interview here. Arguably the most important working philosopher today, Nussbaum’s archness here, with her regular precision and humanity, are at once inspiring and delightful. The Emotion Researcher site is having troubles this morning–The Atlantic’s article on her is also good.

3. Deep Work by Cal Newport posits a radical (to me) idea: that our brains don’t need light or shallow activity to recover from deep, focused work, they simply need a change, a switch to a different type of deep, focused activity. I have been guilty of glutting on Twitter at times over the past year, trying to make sense of things far and near, and I have been dogged by an unnerving sense that I’m shifting something fundamental in my brain. My students were often on my mind throughout this book; Deep Work seems to confirm my growing sense that my students likely are having more trouble with diving into deep work (such as timed writes) because of their regular smartphone use.

4. Speaking of timed essays, I read some good stuff this weekend from my smart scribblers:

• Children fear what they do not know, while adults fear what children should know.

• In this poem, the speaker pinpoints fear as the child’s biggest attribute to be stamped down by adults. For no one has more fear than an adult who has seen the horrors of reality.

• Collins indirectly poses the question, are such horrific events inevitable? Or can we change our fate if we change our actions and the way we educate our children?

Winter Solstice 2017

S. noticed that the hummingbird feeders were frozen this morning. We hopped to it, bringing them inside, putting them in a pan of hot water and within seconds of rehanging them, the little brrrds were filling up their reserves.

Maybe we’ll bring the feeders inside while the hummingbirds are in torpor at night and then put the feeders out again in the early morning.
IMG-1200K, our singing group, and I sang at the beginning of Bloedel Reserve’s Solstice Walk and then joined the quiet procession through the dark woods and gardens. (photo credit: K)

IMG-1208A couple of hours of darling children: gingerbread house building and crocheting next to the fire.

IMG-1215Tasha is one of the very best parts of a winter stay-cation.

Early December

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A at his 14th birthday party. I was in anthropologist mode, listening to a complicated trivia game he made up for his partygoers to play.

The mornings lately start like this:

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And get to this:

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The Danish String Quartet is my current favorite group–they’re coming to Seattle in February!

The latest book I’ve read: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben is a short, fun, what-if scenario about seceding from the Union. It references Trump and Tillerson but shies away from any really hard-hitting commentary.

Last, incidental student poetry from the back board:

  1. Seattle-area students getting their grumbles in:

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2. Seniors already chomping at the bit:

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3. But very much still kiddos:

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