Category: Poetry

Light! More Light!

As more and more of the world stays at home more and as so much negative news circulates online and on television, we need to remember the good out there. To that end, I hope that this post helps you limit lugubriousness by finding the funny!

Some Good News (SGN) with John Krasinski

I came across this show the other day while desperately wanting a break from all of the anxiety-producing cornona-coverage. Krasinski’s new stay-at-home project cheered me; I hope it does the same for you.

Weird Al

Perhaps there is no better moment for Weird Al to reemerge than now: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/weird-al-seriously-gives-a-talented-musician-his-due/2020/03/25/5e10c6d6-69e4-11ea-9923-57073adce27c_story.html

Here are a few of my favorite recent Weird Al sightings on the webs. First, on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

Then on Twitter, where he plays the accordion on a rooftop:

I mean how can anyone resist smiling at the sight of U.S.’s beloved parodist-satirist-musician-humorist?

“But wait, what about poetry, Scot?” you ask.

Fear not, fearless reader! I have you covered!

A great place to find the funny is Light, a poetry journal dedicated wit and humor with its weekly feature “Poems of the Week”, which you can check out here: https://lightpoetrymagazine.com/#potw. As a bonus, if you head on over to their Links page, you’ll see other great places to get your fix of light, humorous verse with links to awesome poetry and humor sites such as: Able Muse, The Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Mezzo Cammin, A New Book of Verse, The New Verse News, Parody, Rattle, The Spectator (home of frequent light-verse contests), Snakeskin, and The Washington Post Style Invitational.

I hope these and more provide some levity to your day as you go about your busy lives moving from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the bedroom, to the basement, to the kitchen to the family room to the front door, to the bathroom to the kitchen to the couch to the front door to the backyard to the front door to the bathroom to the bedroom and finally to bed…

All best,

Scot

Poems: Bridging the Distance Between Us

During this pandemic, as I am increasingly practicing social distancing, I have turned to poems for comfort and connection. I realize that I have always turned to poems, ever since high school, when, alone in my dorm room, I felt isolated, as if no one in the world could possibly understand what I was going through. One poem in particular I am thinking about this morning is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, “A Psalm of Life,”

I first read this poem in my sophomore year of high school, when my English teacher, himself a poet, introduced me to the Transcendentalists. As a teenager, it was this stanza which resonated most:

Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
“Dust thou art, to dust returnest,”
   Was not spoken of the soul.

Even though I lived away from home, struggled with friends, and felt alone, Longfellow’s music, its metrical regularity, buoyed my spirits. It led me to other poems, too, more complex and nuanced poems. Now in mid-life, I find myself ruminating on another part of “A Psalm of Life”:

Let us, then, be up and doing,
   With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
   Learn to labor and to wait.

“Learn to labor and to wait.”

As I, along with many others, grapple with the new long-term reality of social distancing and potential self-quarantine due to COVID-19, these lines provide a degree of comfort, the idea that all of what I’m doing now is waiting and doing the good work of staying connected with family, supporting my kids in their education, caring for friends, family, and neighbors, and for me, reading poems, memorizing poems, and working on my own poems.

However, I’m not the only one finding comfort in poetry. Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched poetry resources proliferate the Internet, and many people I know who previously couldn’t care less about making time for poetry are finding themselves drawn to it.

There are many, many wonderful resources out there, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here. If you’re in need of comfort or solace and want to give poems a try, I hope the following resources can help. They surely help me feel even closer to others, even as I practice social distancing:

The Slowdown — For me, this is an old standby, a podcast by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, a collaboration between American Public Media and The Poetry Foundation offers a 4-7 minute way to slow down and reflect on the stuff of life, followed by a short poem. Click here to access the most recent episode.

Shelter in Poems — This new initiative by The Academy of American Poets asks readers to share poems that “helps to find courage, solace, and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so.” Learn more by clicking the link above.

Favorite Poem Project — Ordinary people reciting extraordinary poems. The is perhaps one of the most valuable resources out there for staying connected to one another through poems during such this challenging time. Check out this one, recorded by a students who has dreams of being a writer and teacher:

Ours Poetica — This YouTube Channel collaboration between John Green and The Poetry Foundation has quite a few episodes and is alway adding new ones. According to their channel, Ours Poetica is dedicated to “Making poetry personal, in the hands of people who love it. New episodes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” Here’s the most recent episode:

Using the “iNotice” Method for Engaging with Poetry via MS Word’s Track Changes

Recently, I decided to create a new resource for educators and students who use the “iNotice Method” and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan from The Academy of American Poets website. For years I’ve wanted to help those who could only work on a computer and not have hard copies in front of them. The outbreak of COVID-19 in China and around the world has required me to rethink my pedagogy for the purpose of distance learning, giving me the nudge I needed to address the problem of needing physical copies of poems to engage in the “Noticing Poetry” & iNotice Method pedagogies.

If you haven’t read my “A Letter to Students Before We Start to Read Poems,” I suggest you do that now so you can get an idea of just what the “iNotice Method” entails. If you’ve done that, then download the following file which is simply a Microsoft Word document with the iNotice levels so you can use Track Changes after you watch the screencast example.

So you can see how the “iNotice Method” can work with MS Word’s Track Changes, I’ve created my first ever screencast and published it to YouTube! Just like the original unit plan at The Academy of American Poets, I use Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” to model how one can go about noticing in a digital document. It’s just some basic noticing, nothing fancy or too “deep.” In fact, it’s all about noticing what’s there in order to make connections. This resource will hopefully allow you to do that even if you don’t have hard copies of poems in front of you.

Let me know if this is useful! I’d love to hear feedback from students and educators about the iNotice Method and “Noticing Poetry!”

Best,

Scot

A New Year’s 2020 Post from Vienna

Skaters in front of the Rathaus in Vienna (Wien), Austria on New Year’s Day 2020.

It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.

And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.

Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.

There was a time in my life when I would have known about Auden’s summer home far in advance, a time I would have made a literary pilgrimage a mandatory waypoint on my journey. It’s an hour to the west of where we are right now, and with my flight out of Austria looming, I won’t make it there this trip.

These days, I often feel that there is so much of Life and so little of Time, and as I sit here recalling how often I have been listening to the bells of Viennese churches ring in the New Year, I can’t help but remember the lines from Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening,”:

“But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.”

However, instead of depressing me, the recollection of these words helps me reflect on the year that was and the year yet to unfold. The poem is a reminder to me that there is an ending to all of this, even if I often don’t realize it or worse, if I choose not to realize it.

It might seem kind of strange, but Auden’s poem also brings to mind a 1996 song, “Pepper” by the band The Butthole Surfers from their album Electriclarryland. If you haven’t heard the full song, you can check out the video after the excerpt below:

“They were all in love with dyin’/
They were drinking from a fountain/
That was pouring like an avalanche/
Coming down the mountain./”

Now, the song itself and the Auden’s poem don’t necessarily mesh well overall. However, there is a relationship for me in those lines, an echo that seems relevant as I look backward and forward at the same time. Life often seems as though it is “pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain” with far too much to take in and far too little Time to do so. At least for me it does… While Auden’s lovers are certainly not the ones “in love with dyin'” per se (or are they?), I think that the two works when recalled here in Austria act as a sort of memento mori for me. The cemeteries and churches

and the poetry of Auden and the lyrics of The Butthole Surfers remind me that Death is always so close and that each moment should be lived in mindful present awareness. We are each always doing “the work” of our Living, whatever “work” that may be. And doing the work of the Living, even when it is hard or unpleasant or sad or unbearable, is still Joy.

As William Blake wrote in his “Auguries of Innocence”:

“Joy & Woe are woven fine/ 
A Clothing for the soul divine/ 
Under every grief & pine/
Runs a joy with silken twine/”

To put it another way, the artist Passenger sings in “Life’s for the Living”:

“Don’t you cry for the lost/
Smile for the living/
Get what you need and give what you’re given/
Life’s for the living so live it/
Or you’re better off dead/”

For me, Joy and Living are about poetry and writing and teaching and exercising and parenting and striving to be a better partner every day. These are most likely different for you. Or maybe not. Whatever your Joy is, keep doing it, whatever your Living entails, keep dedicating yourself to it and to kindness and to gratitude and to making the world a better place in 2020 and beyond.

May you be well,

— Scot

Students Reading Poems Too Quickly? This May Help…

While the “I Notice” method and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan work well to positively impact student engagement with poems, there’s one area wherein I, and many other educators have struggled — the Ideational Level. This is because what this level requires is a noticing of each idea, noticing how they shift or turn. The problem is always the same, “How do I help students notice each idea unfolding in a poem?” Students usually rush through, thinking they’ve got the answer. What can be done?

Recently, a TED Talk by famed author Jacqueline Woodson has been circulating on social media.

Woodson’s TED Talk on reading slowly can be adapted to reading slowly for the Ideational Level, the ideas within poems and how they turn/shift from beginning to end.

Woodson is on to something here, something I alluded to in my previous article Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language:

Help students

slow

down

In her talk, Woodson says, “But I learned that the deeper I went into my books, the more time I took with each sentence, the less I heard the noise of the outside world.” We teachers need students to hear the words and ideas of the poem, to sit into them with the requisite attention and mindfulness toward language, sentence by sentence, idea by idea, unit by unit of language.

For a while, I thought I needed to alter the “I Notice” method and its accompanying resources, but would this help model for students how go slowly, idea by idea, even if doing so seems painstaking at first? No. The way of noticing ideas is the issue, so what tools are available to help students go more slowly at noticing?

Here’s one idea:

  1. Ask students to read using their pointer finger to follow each idea’s start and stop place (basically identifying each phrase or clause). This does not mean that students are numbering each line necessarily. Look for the grammatical units of clauses first to identify each subject-verb combination.
  2. Number each idea as they go through the poem.
  3. Once students have arrived at the end of the poem, ask students to put each # into the poem level meter.
  4. After each idea is put in, students should ask, “What do I know now?” and respond in a brief paraphrase about what they know to be true about each individual idea. By looking at the # of ideas, students can see how they change/shift; students also don’t have to rewrite the ideas themselves. Here’s the example of the Ideational Level numbered from the “Noticing Poetry” lesson plan on poets.org:

This revisiting, paraphrasing, and exploring of each IDEA is enough to help students identify what the ideas actually are. It slows them down enough to where they think about each idea representation. This can also be done separately, or the Ideational Level can be cut into strips so students can physically connect them to the other levels’ contents. This allows students to further explore connections betweenIDEAS and SOUNDS, TYPOGRAPHY, and SENSES.

I’m looking forward to trying this out with my students this year! If you give it a go, let me know!

Best,

Scot

Developing a Noticing Habit

As I look forward to the upcoming school year, I’m thinking about the Noticing Poetry unit that our tenth grade teaching team adopted two years ago and the research that validates its use in helping students become more competent and confident readers of poetry. However, I’m also thinking that the unit doesn’t go far enough. The “I Notice” methodology should be integrated into ongoing practice throughout the year.

This is because the Noticing Poetry unit is a standalone, but it is not incorporated into the daily, weekly reading habits of students and teachers. It certainly can and should be. What I’ve been thinking about for some time is pulling out the levels/cards and using them consistently, and focusing in on the Ideational Level more fully throughout the process, since it’s what most students have the hardest time with. Several years ago, I had deliberately transformed the “I Notice” method into a unit since that is the way most teachers prefer their units of instruction unfold, but I’m thinking now that what is needed is an additional approach in order for “I Notice” to be useful to anyone, not just students. I’m tinkering with the method and the unit, adapting it to be a tool for ALL readers, not just students, allowing more and more people to engage with “the art of the language itself” a.k.a. poetry, even if they have some trepidation or anxiety about doing so.

So stay tuned! An even more useful tool is on the way that can help all readers!

Best,

Scot

Poetry and Science!

I woke up this morning to a wonderful article in Scientific American entitled, “How Poetry Can Help Communicate Science,” written by Sam Illingworth. According to his bio, “Sam Illingworth, PhD, is a senior lecturer in science communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, in the U.K., where his research involves using poetry to enhance dialogue between scientists and nonscientists.”

It’s a wonderful article, and it reminds me that infusing poetry across disciplines is natural. Language art is limitless in its capacity to communicate!

As a U.S. poet living overseas in China and teaching at a private international school, I’m always on the lookout for ways to integrate multiple disciplines with poems or vice versa, which is why Illingworth’s post reminded me of this sonnet I wrote a while ago:

Entropy

The overall struggle for existence of living beings is […] a struggle
for entropy [more accurately: negative entropy]…
—Ludwig Boltzmann

The mounds of dirty clothes wait on the floor;
the piled-up Matchbox cars, a lonely doll
and Weeble Wobbles loiter near the drawer
where they belong. A “Gibbs” pre-printed football
rests on the kitchen floor. The plate-filled sink—
drowned sippy cups turned upside down, some forks
and spoons akimbo, Oh! The garbage stinks
like Brussels sprouts. This wont of ours won’t work.
It matters that disorder’s all around:
my dappled tie, the flowered skirt you bought,
the scattered bills, the diapers on the couch,
the puzzle piece of Noah’s ark—my God!
We kneel. We pray: redeem us, send a maid.
We’ll need one since we’ll procreate again.

I recently revised the last line (above) from the version of the sonnet which originally appeared in the now defunct literary magazine, Verse Wisconsin. You can still read that version here.