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Poetry Ripples in the Pond: Gratitudes for Writers Teaching Uncategorized Wellness

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

Categories
Poetry Teaching

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

Categories
Poetry Teaching

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

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Poetry Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Poetry Teaching Uncategorized Wellness

Nye is Right On!

Photo of Naomi Shihab Nye from the article.

“Every day is filled with poems, it’s just whether you want to turn your head and look at them, or give them a little time on the page or in your mind,” she says in an interview. “I think it helps us to know that.” —  Naomi Shiahb Nye qtd. by Henry Gass in his article “This writer’s job: Get young people to see poetry everywhere” published yesterday in The Christian Science Monitor.

As a writer who teaches, all I have to say is, “Yes yes yes!” There is so much that is wonderful about this article in the Christian Science Monitor about U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye and her work. It reinforces what I’ve said before not only here in my post that “Reading Poems = The Mindful Noticing of Language”, but elsewhere as well! Check out the article!

Categories
Poetry Teaching

Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

This is one of my favorite months of the year, the month when my three other colleagues and I introduce a modified version of the Academy of American Poets unit plan, “Noticing Poetry” with all 108 of our students, the month when students begin to understand what it means to notice poems for what they are — the art of language itself.

This post was written about Day 1, January 10, 2019, the first day of the Noticing Poetry unit, during which students explored Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:

I start off class asking students to read the first slide of the PowerPoint in their cheesiest infomercial voice imaginable. One student, two students, three students, each take turns at one sentence after another. “I really need to make this into a real infomercial video,” I say. A number of students love this idea — a cheesy infomercial for a method to read poetry. They know me, and it very well may happen before the academic year is over, with their help, of course. So stay tuned! 🙂

After this levity and one particularly talented student reading, I explain the concept of looking at levels, only four things in any poem they come across: ideas, images, sounds, visuals (typography).

I pass out the iNotice cards, and ask them play “nose goes” to determine who the speaker for their level groups will be — one group, the Ideational one, is down to two boys who don’t quite understand the game.

“Okay, hands on the table, you two,” I say. “Ready? Don’t injure yourself… first one to touch their nose is exempt. Get set…. go!”

It’s clear who the loser is, the boy who was the most prepared, the one who thought he had his pal beat. After a good laugh and some redirection, I raise my hand for their attention.

“Look for as many instances of these things as you can,” I say. “It’s about volume. Quantity right now over quality. How much do you notice?” Then they go off into their group work.

Ideational Level Card


I walk over to the Ideational group. “Remember, start with the title; what is it that you know?” I ask. “Write this down next to the title. Then go through each phrase or clause, asking, ‘What do I know now?’ Your job is only to look at what is there, to notice what it literally states.”

I leave them, checking in on each of the other groups.

Visual/Typographical Level Card

The Visual/Typography group has two students in it. “You’re small, but mighty,” I say. “How does the poem look on the page? Leave no visual aspect unturned! Everything on the card and that you notice in the poem counts! It’s about the amount you notice!” The poem is a small one, and as two quieter students, they are quite happy to work diligently together.

Sonic Level Card

Noticing some silence from a usually spirited trio of boys, I head to the back of the room. Making a techno-club sound in the back of my throat to get their attention, I shift over to where the three boys slouch in their chairs staring ahead at the words in front of them. “You’re the Sonic level; remember your job is to find as many sounds as you can! How many so far?”

“Two,” says one boy.

“Two?” I ask.

“Uh-huh.”

“Hmm. Look again, please. Read it out loud. Go ahead. Any repetition of sound.” He begins reading aloud. Another boy from his group mouths “black bough. Alliteration.”

Score! I think.

“Keep going! Notice more!” I say.

As I walk away, the third boy adds, “What about wet and petals?”

I smile.

Sensory Level Card

Lastly, I go to my Sensory level group, the images/”word pictures” group. I’m expecting them to have many, many images. They’re doing well, noticing at least five images. Still, some of the images are lumped together.

“Remember, each picture counts,” I say. “Each and every image, even if it conveys a slightly different sense should be counted separately.”

I give them all a few more minutes, and it becomes clear from the chattering about events unrelated to the poem that they’re winding down. I pass out the “iNotice Poem Level Meters.”

“Okay, now we’re going to see just how much have you noticed,” I say. “Let’s start with the Ideational Level. What did you find?” Each speaker (a.k.a. loser of the “nose goes” game) tells me, and I write their responses on the board, on an “iNotice Poem Level Meter” I’ve projected. Other groups can add or question as we go, and we collaboratively fill in one master chart from the bottom up with their “noticings”:

What results is a kind of boombox spectrum analyzer of the poem’s levels of language (see below). They then accurately identify that the Sensory level, images dominate this little poem by Ezra Pound.

“Now, what connections do you see across levels?” I ask them. “Describe what’s connected and how different details connect to the ideas.”

I draw the connections they describe, and as they start talking about what they notice, I listen. Anytime someone says, “It could be,” or “maybe”, or “perhaps”, or approaches “being deep,” I redirect.

“Remember, just focus on what’s there. What relates to one another?” After making several connections, then it’s time to ask a new kind of question.

I ask, “Well, who cares about what’s there? What do you have to say about what we just did?”

Whatever meaning-making occurs from here on out, occurs organically and is rooted in the language of the page. One student says that the colon acts a as connecting device between the two ideas present in the poem. Another student comments on how the poem is not just pretty but a little sad in places, moving from an image that isn’t very pleasing to one that is more so.

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.

I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Categories
Poetry Uncategorized Wellness

Poetry Blogging

Reflecting back on 2018, I can’t help but also reflect on my writing, its highs and lows, and its associated writerly events/activities. I was fortunate to participate in the Beijing Bookworm International Literary Festival for the second time in the past three years, but as far as other events/ activities, my teaching life has kept my writing life at bay. However, no longer! I remain optimistic and committed to a more productive writing life in 2019!

To that end, I’ll be blogging twice a month here as part of the Poetry Blogging Network, set up by Kelli Russell Agodon over at https://ofkells.blogspot.com/. You should check out the list of Poetry Bloggers she already has lined up — a truly amazing list of talented writers!

Onward into 2019, and if you’re already there, I’ll be there soon!

Categories
Poetry Uncategorized Wellness

Don’t have “time to write?” Check this out!

Spend a few minutes listening to this podcast about CAConrad’s self-created rituals. While some are bizarre, I completely agree that just “getting up early” will not help you commit to writing. You need to integrate it into your life, and what better way than to “ritualize” the act?

While it’s on my Twitter feed at right, you can also check it out here:

You can check out Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology where both CA and I appear here:

http://www.minorarcanapress.com/catalog/arcana-the-tarot-poetry-anthology
Categories
Poetry Teaching

U.S. Poet Laureate & Noticing Poetry

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How happy I was to recently come across The Library of Congress Magazine‘s back to school issue and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s piece “How Do I Read a Poem?” What struck me was her admission that “Along the way, I take stock of what I notice.”

Smith details many of the same levels as those found in the “I Notice” method and the “Noticing Poetry” unit plan published on The Academy of American Poets website. She wrote that she tries to “listen to the music,” “look at the images,” look to where the “turn” (of ideas) takes place, and wonder at the “visual shape” of the poem. These align with the four levels of language used by the “I Notice” method and “Noticing Poetry” unit plan — sounds (sonic), images (sensory), ideas (ideational), and visual and shape (typographical).

I encourage you to read her post and compare the concepts for yourself. You can check out the full issue of magazine here.

Categories
Poetry Teaching

Today’s Poetry Teaching Tip: Contemporary Poetry Pairings Can Enhance Learning Across Subject Areas

One of the most powerful ways to explore poetry is in conjunction with other disciplines.

Case in point: I once gave a reading at Johns Hopkins University to a small audience of academics and other guests. At this event, I read my poem, “Entropy”, a poem about the struggle that parents face with small child rearing and the sense of exhaustion and disorder that can emerge at such times. After the event, a man came up to me and introduced himself as a professor or physics, wanting to know if the poem were published anywhere. At that time, it hadn’t been. He told me that he would have liked to explore it further because he found it interesting what I chose to do with language and the allusions I made in the poem (since he happened to be a teacher of physics). I told him that he should look out for the poem, that it was being considered at online journal. A year later, it appeared in Verse Wisconsin, in their issue on poetic form. Here is the link to it, if you’re interested to hear the audio as well.

The physics  professor’s interest in poetry reminded me that there are lovers of poetry from all walks of life and from all professions. Over the years I’ve counseled teachers from many subject areas on selecting contemporary poems that they could use in their classes to augment their instruction. I’m always more than happy to do some sleuthing, pairing poems with subject areas/lessons like wines with dinner entrees. Why? Well, when teachers in disciplines other than English expound in front of their students about how the language directly makes use of scientific principles, history, art, etc., students can better notice poetry for what it is and teachers can help increase student engagement in whatever it is that they’re learning.  In fact, reading and discussing how one poem’s language relates to a subject area/lesson is not only wonderful introduction to a concept or subject; it can also deepen the understanding about the applicability of that learning across disciplines and help with what we call trans-disciplinary transfer, wherein students can take the knowledge from one area of study and apply it autonomously to another. Basically, poetry’s richness of language nurtures learning across all disciplines.

Poetry as a genre is well-suited to the roles of increasing engagement, deepening understanding, and promoting transfer across all disciplines, since poetry’s concern is the language itself. Where teachers go from using one contemporary poem is up to them. But why not give it a try? I’m happy to play a small part in suggesting contemporary poetry pairings to enhance students’ experiences not only with poetry, but with all subjects areas.

Best,

Scot