Sunday, January 31, 2010

Robinson Jeffers, "The Beauty of Things"

This year, the Poetry Center received a grant from the NEA's Big Read program to work with the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. As a result, among the options for our residencies we were asked to devise a two-week lesson plan devoted to one of Jeffers' poems, as well as the work of another poet sympathetic to Jeffers' world view.

I first encountered Jeffers' poems while living in Northern California. Part of his obsession involves the Big Sur coastline, where he built his home, Tor House, which remains standing today. It's easy to sympathize with his love of that part of the country, which is truly breathtaking; but his poetry is far from easy, both stylistically as well as philosophically. (I have pulled the Random House volume of his Selected Poetry off my shelf many times before, attempting to find something suitable to use in my public school classrooms, but I always got stymied by the density and verbosity of his writing.)

However, faced with having to teach a Jeffers poem, I once again dove deep into his oeuvre, focusing on the shorter works. In the end, I decided on "The Beauty of Things," both for its adherence to his concerns over what he called man's unhumanity as well as its central evocation of what comprises "the sole business of poetry."

I'll have the follow-up lesson and poems next week. In the meanwhile, please read these poems by students at Shields and Solomon Elementary.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stephen Dobyns, "The Street" & Langston Hughes, "Daybreak in Alabama"

This past week was my first full week of the semester. Between preparing for five classes and implementing my impeccable (ahem) lesson plans, it was a bit nutty, but things are off to a good (if exhausting) start.

Since I was unable to post anything about my Hands on Stanzas classes last week, I'll be succinct here and provide links to blogs at both schools, which include more detailed information about the poetry lessons and progress in the classroom. In each instance, as is usually the case, the same poem and plan was used, but of course the results are rarely duplicative between the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Solomon, and the 5th graders at Shields. Each school has quite different and dynamic social settings and diverse student populations, and that's without factoring individual idiosyncrasies into the mix.

The prior week's poem was Stephen Dobyns' "The Street." See what Shields and Solomon students created in response to Dobyns' ekphrastic verse. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, this week's plan revolved around "Daybreak in Alabama" by Langston Hughes; peruse Shields and Solomon student responses, and hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Wesley McNair, "Goodbye to the Old Life"

Last week, I returned to both Shields and Solomon for the second halves of my residencies. To commemorate the start of a new year, we read Wesley McNair's "Goodbye to the Old Life," a poem I first encountered as a subscriber to The Writer's Almanac email listerv. (Even though Garrison Keillor's taste in poetry can be maddeningly monochromatic, I have nonetheless come across many fine poems and poets this way.) Students and I discussed all the things McNair says goodbye to, looking more closely at a few of them to get at his particular intent. For example, when he writes,


Goodbye to the old life,

to the sadness of rooms

where my family slept as I sat



late at night on my island

of light among papers.

Goodbye to the papers



and to the school for the rich

where I drove them, dressed up

in a tie to declare who I was.



Goodbye to all the ties ...


I asked "what kind of papers?" (At least one student was flummoxed, thinking first of paper as a blank sheet rather than schoolwork, or perhaps drafts of poems.) Who (or what) is the them that he is driving? Why does he describe the rooms as sad? I also asked about the ties -- when does a person usually wear a tie? What does declare mean? Adding to the deceptive complexity of this poem is the manner in which McNair connects its stanzas, deftly using enjambment but also a certain chronology of thought as he considers each goodbyed item. It really is quite brilliant, yet in an offhand way. I also turned students' attention to the eleventh stanza, beginning


And to you there, the young man

on the roof turning the antenna

and trying not to look down


asking them who the young man could be, why McNair was speaking to him, and why at the end of the poem? They found the poem, and these questions to be very interesting. We had quite illuminating conversations in each of my six classes.

As for their poems, and an explanation for the prompt(s) based on McNair's poem, see blogs for Shields and Solomon.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Some winter-ings

As my semester starts off tri-tiered -- I've already returned to my Hands on Stanzas classrooms as of last week; I start a new rhetoric class next week, and two more sections of composition at a third school the following week -- thought I'd take a brief moment to mention some upcoming performances.

January 15th is my first Folk You! show of 2010. We are now officially in our ninth year, continuing the third Friday of every month at The Horseshoe. Here's the poster for next week's shindig:


On January 28th, my band, The Injured Parties returns to the Double Door for a free Rock 'n' Roll Bailout show, which begins at 8 PM.


In three weeks, I'll once again be reading at Woodland Pattern Book Center. Every year, on the last Saturday of January, over 125 poets, writers, and performers show their support for Woodland Pattern by participating in its Annual Poetry Marathon & Benefit. Each writer presents five minutes of work to a packed house and raises pledge money benefiting Woodland Pattern programming. I'll be participating during the noon hour.

Finally, on February 3rd, I'll be one of two featured readers for series A at the Hyde Park Art Center. The event begins at 7 PM.

Hope to see some of you at these events!

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