Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

The Fruit of the Poet’s Tree

June 23, 2014 @ 6:50 pm | Filed under:

What with getting sick the week before last and zooming back and forth to appointments last week, I never found time to write about something I absolutely must chronicle. I mean, it was only one of the finest surprises of my entire life. As I’ve mentioned, I taught a six-week  poetry workshop to a group of our homeschooling friends. These were the same kids as my Journey North group; I had so much fun doing Mystery Class with them that my friend Erica (who generously hosts our meetings at her house and is a far better planner than I am) and I put our heads together and decided to start a Literature Club for this enthusiastic bunch of kids.

Our age range was wide: from a ten-year-old or two up to a number of teens, including one 18-year-old who arrived home from college midway through the session and asked, to my delight, if she could drop in. (Not Jane: her school gets out late and she missed the whole thing.)

Over the course of the six weeks, we discussed rhyme scheme and meter, many kinds of meter, and several kinds of figurative language. We had examples from lots of poets but each week (except the last) I chose one poet for close readings—someone wonderful whose work had example of the meter and/or tropes we were encountering that week. Yeats (you know I had to start with him), Frost, Hughes (Langston, not Ted), Dickinson, Blake.

We had ourselves a fantastic time. Most of our meetings ended with my giving the kid a few starter lines in a particular meter and having them form groups and finish up the poem. This was their favorite part of the class, and the group readings provided much merriment.

For our last session, I wrote a poem incorporating all their names, sorted by meter—a stanza each for our iambs, dactyls, and trochees (written in the appropriate meter), with some lines full of spondees for the single-syllable names. It ends with an appeal for an anapest: we had none in the group.

I was pretty excited about my little surprise, and they seemed to get a big kick out of it. But then they revealed they had a surprise for me: they’d all written poems to thank me for the class. They read them out loud and I was crying before the first poem was finished. These kids, they blew me away.

I sailed away with my good friends three,
Up and out to the Poet’s Tree,
There I wrote poems about sharks and dogs,
And giants galore who got smacked with fat logs
But we couldn’t have done all of this without you,
Yes Mrs. Peterson you’ve made that fact true.

—”The Poet’s Tree” by Peter H., age ten

(Peterson’s my married name, as I think most of you know.)

Couldn’t you just melt? Best thank-you gift I’ve ever been given, these poems. All the kids presented me with copies to keep, which I will forever.

Alliteration, synecdoche, and onomatopoeia,
Learned a ton,
Love you lots,
Until next time—see ya!

lines from “My dear Melissa Peterson” by Olivia L., age 13

photo (35)

Monday reading notes: only all the poems

March 10, 2014 @ 7:26 pm | Filed under: ,

freesia

Overslept this morning, thanks to Daylight Savings Time (which I nonetheless adore) and to having stayed up past midnight, too wired from sending off a manuscript (yippee!) to sleep—or to read, for that matter. Fumbled at a crossword puzzle on my phone instead. Well, after talking at my poor exhausted husband for an hour.

So no early-morning reading for me today. And a whirl of a morning, catching up on the housework and garden work I’ve neglected these past weeks. It’s spring out there! Who knew! Loads and loads of freesia sweetening the air—almost knocked me over, the scent was so lovely and so unexpected. And the pink jasmine is blooming, and the lime tree and grapefruit (not as exciting as it sounds, those two—they don’t seem inclined to produce fruit, ever). Nasturtiums and sweet alyssum and loads and loads of lavender. I might have to live outside for a while. “I think your garden needs you, Mom,” said Rose only a little reproachfully. She’s right; the clover is overrunning everything, and let’s not even speak of the bermuda grass.

But inside, there was Spenser. We’re reading it in excerpts, with plot summary between the passages—Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls is wonderful for this—if you, a 21st-century teenager, can forgive the condescending name. Today was great fun, as the girls kept spotting parallels to Narnia (Una happening upon the dancing fauns and satyrs, not to mention her devoted lion)—Rose or Beanie, which?, said “I think Lucy is supposed to be an Una, Mom.” And the description of St. George going forth unto the dragon’s darksome hole:

“And lookéd in: his glistering armour made
A little glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plain…
Most loathsome, filthy, foul, and full of vile disdain.”

I thought of Bilbo and Smaug, but Beanie thought of Eustace. They know a lot about Tolkien’s literary credentials and influences from our Beowulf studies, and now they know about Lewis’s too. You can’t help but see it, reading Spenser.

Oh, and we returned to our Poetry 180 journey, poem #8, “Numbers” by Mary Cornish.

Now, during all this poetry-reading, Rilla was perched in her usual spot at the kitchen table, drawing, and suddenly she flitted across to the shelves behind my rocking chair and started piling up books—mostly volumes from our Poetry for Young People collection, plus Child’s Garden of Verses. Later, I found this pile on my bed. She informed me gravely that she has decided to be a poet as well as an artist, “and I’m going to need to study everything about poetry. All the poems, and the poets’ lives, and everything.”

All the poems. Well, then. No time to lose. We began with Sandburg, at her request—his “Between Two Hills” is her favorite. And then a bit of Poe (we are incapable of saying his name without belting “Poe, Edgar Allen, American poet, born in eighteen hundred and nine…“). She liked the Raven but deemed it “too long” (I can’t disagree) and said she prefers poets like Emily Dickinson who “tell a whole story in a short little poem.” I can’t argue with that, either.

“What a thing it is to have an unruly family!”

February 25, 2014 @ 7:35 pm | Filed under:

Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter

I’m enjoying these daily booknotes even more than I expected to—it’s the least taxing writing I’ve done in a long time. I’ve said before I like talking about books more while I’m reading them than after I’ve finished, and doing it in these slapdash daily notes is less pressure than a monthly or weekly roundup. Also it makes me realize how much I actually read. Because sometimes weeks will pass without my finished a whole book, I’ve had a sense lately that my reading has dropped way off from where it used to be. But it hasn’t really, not when I’m counting (and why wouldn’t I? why haven’t I?) all the things I read to and with my kids in the course of a given day.

***

Early morning. Instead of turning to Middlemarch, I found myself sinking contentedly into Howards End instead. Gee, I wonder what put that particular book in my head? I love Forster—his prose at once crisp and dreamy, which is an impossible feat. I don’t know how he manages it. He’s a cipher. And a realist. Anyway, I got as far as the Beethoven concert, the goblins walking quietly over the universe from end to end. Bit wrenching to lay that aside and rise to the imperatives of contact lenses and lost Lego men.

***

Mid-morning, with the girls. Another small chunk of Wormwood Forest. The buried villages. Where are the poems? There must be reams of poetry about them. Probably in languages I can’t read.

This poem (it’ll be obvious by now that we’re reading through the Poetry 180 selections in order): Ron Koertge’s “Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?” I’m trying not to talk about these too much, not unpack them, just let the girls sit with them. We’re doing so much heavy-duty analysis in our other poetry studies (Shakespeare’s sonnets at the moment), talking technique and all the rest of it. I don’t want to overwork poetry for them, to “tie the poem to a chair with rope /and torture a confession out of it” as Billy Collins describes in the very first poem of the 180 series.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

I hope we haven’t beaten Shakespeare and Marlowe with a hose, but certainly we’ve poked and prodded them, ruffled their hair, measured the size of our hands against theirs. And so to balance it, we read these other poems, one a day, and I try very hard to sit there with my mouth shut.

***

After lunch: More Howards End Is on the Landing. I wonder if any of you laughed at me yesterday when I said I wasn’t going to make lists of the books she rhapsodizes about. Of course I’m going to make lists. Or else I’m just going buy this book, which I got through interlibrary loan. Of course I’m going to buy this book. I could blog my way through it, reading all the books she’s reading, like Julie and Julia only even more meta. And with less aspic.

I’m having an ongoing conversation with Susan Hill in my head. She shocks me sometimes. She mentions in passing a book “about Australian aborigines, in whom I had then, as now, little interest.” I gave her such a look! How can you not be interested in a group of people? How can you say such a thing, and mean it, and in print!

***

Early afternoon. Spent a long time poring over our Beatrix Potter treasury with Rilla. I much prefer the small single editions, the original miniature size that is so just right for stories about mice and rabbits. But this big battered old collection is wonderful too, and she wanted to page through it and talk over all the stories, the ones she remembered and the ones she didn’t—it’s been at least a year since it came off the shelf. Halfway through is Roly-Poly Pudding and, well, there’s no paging through that one, you have to stop and read it. The “unruly family” line I quoted above made her laugh so hard. Potter’s genius shines here—who else would enfold a naughty, sooty kitten in dough and have a couple of rats roll him with a rolling pin? I love how full of antiheroes her tales are, too. Practically no one behaves himself.

***

Will close with another quote from the Susan Hill book. (I found an excellent OCR app that can take a picture of print and turn it into editable text! You can paste it into Evernote or an email, straight from your phone.) Here Hill herself is quoting a 1904 Atlantic Monthly essay by Thomas Wentworth Higginson called “Books Unread”:

The only knowledge that involves no burden lies…in the books that are left unread. I mean, those which remain undisturbed, long and perhaps forever, on a student’s bookshelves; books for which he possibly economized and for which he went without his dinner; books on whose back his eyes have rested a thousand times, tenderly and almost lovingly, until he has perhaps forgotten the very language in which they are written. He has never read them, yet during these years there has never been a day when he would have sold them; they are a part of his youth, in dreams he turns to them…He awakens, and whole shelves of his library are, as it were, like fair maidens who smiled on him in their youth and then passed away. Under different circumstances, who knows but one of them might have been his? As it is, they have grown old apart from him; yet for him they retain their charms.

A Fan Letter to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

March 26, 2013 @ 6:34 pm | Filed under: , , , , ,

Book cover: Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley.

Dear Amy,

My name is Rilla. I am 6. Mommy read Forest Has a Song to me. I think that It Is really pretty poetry and i also think that deer are pretty too. I really love nature. And deer are one of my favorite animals and it said a lot about deer. In the picture of the fiddlehead ferns, I really like the pattern of the colors. And the fossil looks so realistic. When I grow up i want to be an illustrator like Robbin Gourley. And also, i love the Spider poem and the Dusk poem. I love the never-tangling dangling spinner part. And I love baby animals. They’re so cute and fluffy when they’re birds at least.

One of my favorites is “Farewell.” How it says “I am Forest.”

Love,
Rilla

(Doggone spellcheck. She made me correct all her invented spellings—the red dots under her words tipped her off. Then again, “rhille priddy powatre” might have been hard for you to parse. Also, of course, recognizing that a word just looks wrong is a big step toward learning to spell and I can’t very well stand in the way of that progress just because the invented stuff is adorable.)

As for the book, I wholeheartedly agree with Rilla’s review. What a gorgeous, gorgeous volume. The poems sometimes wistful, sometimes whimsical, always lyrical. Beautiful for reading aloud, full of delicious internal rhyme and alliteration. And infectious: I predict a lot of original nature poetry in our future. This collection begs you to take a fresh look at the world around you and see the magic of the curled fern frond, the mushroom spore. Of course I’ve been a fan of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s work for years.

I can’t imagine a more perfect pairing for Amy’s poems than Robbin Gourley’s art. Lush watercolors, rich and soft. I kept coming across pages I’d like prints of. Actually, this is exactly the kind of book where you want a second copy for cutting up and framing. (If you can bear to. I always think I’d like to do that, but the one time I actually bought a spare copy for this purpose—Miss Rumphius—I couldn’t, in the end, bring myself to dismantle it.)

Beanie’s favorite poem was “Forest News”—

I stop to read
the Forest News
in mud or fallen snow.
Articles are printed
by critters on the go…

—which she loved for its intriguing animal-tracks descriptions, its sense of fun, and its kinship with her favorite Robert Frost poem, “A Patch of Old Snow.” (“It is speckled with grime as if / Small print overspread it, / The news of a day I’ve forgotten — / If I ever read it,” writes Frost, perusing a somewhat more somber edition of the woodsy chronicle.)

Wonderboy’s favorite was the puffball poem, and he later wrote (in his customary stream-of-consciousness style) this string of impressions the book made on him: “dead branch  warning and woodpecker too  dusk  burrow in a burrow chickadee sit on my hand  and come fly here”…

Truly beautiful work, Amy and Robbin.

Related post: The Poem House

hist whist

June 29, 2012 @ 6:17 pm | Filed under: , ,

A Child's Garden of VersesWhen the big ones were little, we got the Child’s Garden of Songs CD (like every other Charlotte Masonish homeschooler in the country), and oh how those small girls of mine adored it. For years it was their most frequently requested music, especially at bedtime–especially in summer. 😉 We got the beloved Tasha Tudor-illustrated picture-book-sized edition of Child’s Garden of Verses, too, of course: another CM requisite. My girls liked the book well enough, but it was the CD they cherished, and it’s the CD they still recall with affection, and hum around the house from time to time. Those lovely Celtic-flavored melodies got into my blood, too; that’s the kind of music I love best; it stirs my heart, gives me the shivers.

Now and then I’ll realize suddenly that there are these books and songs that meant the world to us ten, twelve years ago (Amazon informs me I purchased the Tasha Tudor book on April 14, 2000—six years to the day before Rilla was born; gosh, even before Beanie was born; and now I’m a little whelmed by the thought that in some respects, Amazon has a better record of my family history than I do)—important to us years ago, I was saying, but my younger trio don’t know them at all. It happened with Miss Rumphius (heresy!) and it happened with Child’s Garden of Songs.

I realized this a week or two ago and tracked down the CD, and we’ve listened to it every couple of days since. Rilla and Wonderboy are as enchanted by its melodies as their big sisters were. Huck remains somewhat indifferent, but then there aren’t any songs about trucks, are there?

The large book with the Tasha Tudor illustrations has failed to jump out from any of the shelves on which I’d expect it to be residing. All I found was the little Dover paperback edition, print only, no pictures; but Rilla doesn’t care. She sprawled on my bed today, frantically hunting each of the poems during the opening measures of its corresponding song on the CD—pause, Mommy, I can’t find it! oh here it is—and then calmly, almost serenely, singing along, kicking her feet, looking up to identify various instruments in the musical arrangement. Guitar, piano, violin, a fluty thing, those little round things you wear on your fingers, more violin, maracas. It was supposed to be my quiet reading time but I gave up on my book and watched her instead. It was a fancy dress day; she likes her sash tied in a fastidious bow, but she scorns anything that binds or tames her hair. The ragged locks fell over her face as she peered down at the book. Amazon says I purchased the Garden of Songs CD on July 19, 2002. Jane was seven that June. You know, last week.

hist whistThe other book Rilla wanted today—wanted fiercely, rejecting my offer of the next Brambly Hedge story—was hist whist, the little paperback picture book that is an e.e. cummings poem set to pictures. Beautiful, haunting, Halloweenish paintings by Deborah Kogan Ray, whose bibliography I must remember to look up. Her work here is exquisite. If I had a second copy, I’d take it apart and hang up the pictures each October. I don’t have to look to Amazon for a record of how this one came to us; it’s a Dragonfly Book, which means I probably picked it up on the giveaway table when I worked at Random House/Knopf. Scott and I have loved this book forever. The language of the poem is marvelously rich, cummings at his best:

little hoppy happy
toads in tweeds
tweeds
little itchy mousies
with scuttling
eyes    rustle and run     and
hidehidehide
whisk

You can see why Rilla asked for it five times in a row this afternoon. Five times. I had to smile: yesterday when I added it to our bookstack, she was disgruntled, didn’t think she’d like it. I just began reading it aloud, as if to myself, and by page three she had clambered up beside me and was rapt.

For our family, more than anything else it may be books that serve as our links to years past, our bridges back to the selves we were some time ago. Music, yes, especially for Scott, and for me the 80s tunes of my teens, or certain songs from the Bruce Springsteen mix tape Scott made for me that first summer after we started dating, when he was in Connecticut and I was back home in Colorado—but books are more numerous bridges for me. I’ll remember what bed or sofa we were curled up on, reading this novel, that picture book. The bay window in our Virginia house with Favorite Poems Old and New on its sill, behind the little brown table with the three tiny chairs; and out the window, a red cardinal on the bird feeder, bright against the snow. “Read it again!” they’d beg, shouting. “Page 36!”—The Thomas Hood poem they loved, still love, though now Huck, not Wonderboy, is the three-year-old “imp of mirth and joy” it depicts.

hist    whist
little ghostthings
tip-toe
twinkle-toe

I think perhaps it isn’t only a Halloween poem after all…

* * *

{{Visit Poetry Friday at Paper Tigers}}

Poetry Friday: Sidekicks

March 30, 2012 @ 6:45 pm | Filed under:

Yesterday I linked to a wonderful Billy Collins poem from the Poetry 180 website. That site’s a new discovery for me, but it’s been around a while and I feel like I must be the last poetry lover on the internet to learn about it. Just in case I’m wrong and you’ve missed it as well, here’s the link.

“The idea behind Poetry 180 is simple: to have a poem read each day to the students of American high schools across the country.”

We enjoyed the second poem today: “Sidekicks” by Ronald Koertge. Sparked a good discussion, and then we had to go look up all the cowboy-film sidekicks mentioned in the poem. I knew Gabby and Pancho, but wasn’t sure about Andy or Pat. The latter turned out to be Pat Buttram, who rode with Gene Autry. Here they are on YouTube (embedding’s disabled on the clip so I can’t post it here).

Gabby or Pat, Pancho or Andy remind us of a part
of ourselves,

the dependent part that can never grow up,
the part that is painfully eager to please,
always wants a hug and never gets enough…

I’m late to the party tonight, but here’s the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted this week by my juicy little universe.

I know Poetry Friday isn’t until tomorrow, but these are the poems we read today.

March 29, 2012 @ 4:08 pm | Filed under:

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive…

(Read the rest.)

Because You Asked about the line between Prose and Poetry
by Howard Nemerov

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow

(Read the rest.)

****

Other booknotes: Tale of Tom Kitten; Odyssey for Children (Beanie); 1984 (Jane). Rose read a stack of Seuss to Huck.

“He imitates the world he drove away…”

July 6, 2011 @ 4:23 pm | Filed under: ,

I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”

“You mean right away?”

“Yes.”

I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.

I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.

His poems move and shiver me, too—

All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?

I know that mockingbird.

I know that bat, too.

Related post: Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat

Speaking of Robert Pinsky

August 31, 2009 @ 8:10 am | Filed under:

I got to chauffeur him once. He gave a reading at UNC-Greensboro while I was an MFA student there—this would have been around 1992—and as poetry editor of The Greensboro Review it was one of my jobs to help get our visiting authors from place to place. In this case I was asked to pick Mr. Pinsky up at the Charlotte airport (I think it was Charlotte—it was about an hour away, I remember that) and drive him up to Greensboro for the reading. My classmate David Scott (now married to our fellow classmate, author Julianna Baggott, aka N. E. Bode of The Anybodies fame) came along for the ride. We picked Mr. Pinsky up on schedule and for once in my life, there were no misadventures of any kind on the trip.

(But— “Not in your car,” Scott is saying over my shoulder. “Tell me you didn’t take your car.”

Oh yes we did: my fabulous silver 1981 Isuzu Imark with the blue grafitti on the door. The one with no air conditioning. The poet’s Cadillac!)

Mr. Pinsky was warm and kind and voiced no complaints about the unluxurious mode of transport. I remember we spent most of the drive talking about gardening—at one point I told him about my habit of planting imaginary gardens in the places I passed around town, thinking out what I’d plant there if this or that bit of earth were mine, and he said that sounded to him like the making of a poem. Later, I tried to write that poem but it turned into something quite different—became a sort of comic sketch involving an elderly woman planting watermelons on the grounds of her church.

Now, looking back, I think the real poem lies somewhere in that car ride: the shabby silver car speeding past the kudzu and pine; the moist Carolina heat; the esteemed poet discreetly unsticking his skin from the cracked red vinyl of the seat; the young students of poetry hoping not to bore; the imagined gardens that never grew even in a poem…there’s something there. Robert Pinsky could find it, I’m sure.