Poems Inspired by Untranslatable Words

I really enjoyed reading through Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Sanders, in which she explores through text and art many words from across different cultures that don’t translate into other cultures. These are words that touch on tangled emotions, or focused insights, or specific cultural reference points. It’s all a beautiful reminder of how language is often elusive.

A few words really spoke to me, so I started to write some small poems inspired by them.

You’ll bury me,

I hope, long before
I, you.
Long before
days slip
to nights,
long before
lost comes
into view
¬†inspired by the Arabic word — Ya ‘Aburnee

How much water

will your hand hold
when the rain falls
this Monday morning,
with the whole world asleep,
but you?
— inspired by the Arabic word — Gurfa
When she asks what you’re thinking …
when the words break your gaze …
when you find yourself sitting where you didn’t know …
when the trail of poems runs suddenly cold …
when the soft vacant hue of the distance disappears …
when … when … when … whe …. wh … w ….
¬†inspired by the Japanese word — Boketto
To see sunlight
bend its way
through the green leaves
of the trees is to wonder
what else remains
out of sight until our eyes
suddenly open
¬†inspired by the Japanese word — Komorebi
Peace (poems),
Kevin

 

 

Comic Book Review: This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Images from Center of Cartoon Studies

 

I was happy to crowd-fund some support for the creation of this “Graphic Guide to Governance” by The Center for Cartoon Studies.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like is a comic book that explores American Democracy, tackling not just the structure of government (from the very top — president, congress, courts — to the most localized — town meetings) but also to show how every voter has an obligation to take part in keeping Democracy alive and vibrant.

So, a book for our times.

Inside the pages, the comic utilizes aspects of comic book genre, with sight gags (not too many, but just enough to keep the important and weighty issues in balance), artwork and page design.

We get a crash course in the three main interlocking parts of the US government, the way each — federal, legislative and judicial — are designed to check and balance the other. There’s also key reminders that the federal government is not the only government — states and local communities also wield the power and purse to make change.

“Our system is still flawed, but if people are willing to fight, progress can be made.” — from This Is What Democracy Looks Like

The comic book takes a turn of tone near the middle, where it explores the ways that Democracy may not be working as intended (big money, voter suppression, lack of diversity, unresponsiveness, divided government, etc.) but then pivots to why voting is essential, and how elections at every level have consequences.

Again, a book for our times.

“Democracy is a WE …. not a THEM,” the book reminds us. It also reminds us that there are many ways to engage in creating the government you want, from local elections (many of our towns here still have Town Meeting) on up.

You can download a free version of this ebook comic. The last page has a long list of resources for engaging more in the voting process and in learning more about Democracy. As we approach the coming 2020 presidential election season, perhaps a comic like this might be valuable for students in the classroom. (There’s even a teaching guide to go along with the book)

Peace (voting for it),
Kevin

WMWP: ReWriting the Script for Change

WMWP Best PracticesOur Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall event is about a month away. This year’s theme is ReWriting the Script: How to Make Change in Classrooms, Schools and Communities.

WMWP teacher-consultants will be leading a variety of workshops and the keynote speaker is a principal from the Springfield school system who made the news last year for publicly announcing they are transgender.

You can get more information, including the program flier and registration link, at our WMWP website. If you are a teacher in Western Massachusetts or nearby, you are cordially invited to attend and join in our conversations about how to make positive change in our schools and communities.

The theme of our conferences reflect the mission statement of our writing project.

Peace (mulling it),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

It’s possible you won’t read a weirder, stranger or more entertaining book anytime soon as The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin.

It’s a hoot, with elves off to parlay with Goblins in a world nothing like Tolkien imagined it, and both societies of creatures misunderstanding each other. And then there is the use of hilarious illustrations that are designed to be in conflict with the story itself … these two storytellers know how to push the boundaries of a tale.

The plot revolves around one Brangwain Spurge, an elf emissary who is a historian — and secret spy, on a mission he doesn’t himself quite understand — sent to the land of Goblins, with a gift of an ancient jewel for the alien leader of the Goblins. There, Spurge meets his Goblin host, Werfel, another historian, and the two get into all sorts of trouble that lead to an epic escape. Arguments lead to friendship, which are built on arguments and insults, and eventually the two work together to save the world, but not without a whole lot of mayhem coming their way.

I found the authors’ notes at the end interesting, as Anderson and Yelchin humorously dissect the making of the book, and how Yelchin’s illustrations were built to be in conflict with the story Anderson wrote. Or is the other way around? You’ll have to read their chat to find out. But the whole idea of using images to play at our expectations, and to use the text as the basis for disbelief, is an interesting perspective.

Plus, every page brims with pure zaniness.

This book’s complexity makes it more viable for high school readers, but I suspect middle school readers of a certain ilk might enjoy it to, if they invest in the formatting and the flow of the story.

Peace (in truth and some lies),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Begin at the Start (again)

Today will be Day Three. Already. We had students for two days, then a long weekend, and now a short week. In some ways, it’s a perfect way to start the new school year, with a slow roll forward.

It’s too early to get a good feel for this crew of sixth graders, but they seem a bit lively, a bit more social for the start of the year than usual, and a little less focused on instructions. I’ll need remind myself to slow down a bit, although we had great success the other day with activating all 70-plus Google accounts, getting them into Google Classroom spaces and beginning to work on a basic slideshow. There were quite a few steps to the process. Everyone is in! (high five)

I mostly have the names of my homeroom students down, and now need to begin to learn the other three class full of student names — this is always a challenge at the start of the year, but I find being systemic about it helps. Names are important. The sooner I have that down, the better I can begin to understand each student as a person.

This week, we’ll begin to talk about stories, and I will be reading aloud Rikki Tikki Tavi as a means to frame discussions around literary elements, as well as just letting them listen (and sketchnote ideas) to a story with a low bar entry point — my own reading, and our group discussions.

Over the weekend, I started to have a chat with a National Writing Project colleague from the West Coast who asked if we could connect classrooms this year for some projects, and I immediately began to think about the Write Out project for the National Day on Writing. I am hoping their classes and my classes can share images and stories of the spaces where they live, and get to know both sides of the country a bit.

It’s going to be a great year ….

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

 

#RevolutionaryPoets: Exploring Six (or Seven) Words in a Networked Space

Six Word Memoir

When someone invites me in, I often jump. So it is with Ian, who is running a university course called Revolutionary Poets Society, and the name caught my attention when he began sharing it out via Twitter. I’m going to poke around, from out here in the open (Ian will have students in his classroom, I believe).

His first post is a call to create six word memoirs, which I have done more than a few times but always enjoy it (and my sixth graders are working on their own right now as part of a getting-to-know-you activity). Then, Ian asks folks to take it a step further by sharing it with others, and sparking conversations about the word choices and ideas. Maybe inspire others to write their own.

I decided to bring my new six (or seven) word memoir into a relatively new online space — Yap.Net (join in if you want — it’s a closed network for sharing works in progress, etc)– and ask folks for feedback.

First, my words:

I am no longer who I was

Actually, my original six were:

I’m no longer who I was

but the contraction seemed to be cheating, somehow, in my head when I read it to myself and so I broke it out. Which leaves me with seven instead of six.

What does it mean? I was going for the concept of each day brings a different you/me/us — with new experiences and insights — with echoes of the past but a step forward towards the future. Or something like that.

I shared my words out in Yap.Net and posed the technical question: Who or whom? (I wasn’t quite sure, because I thought Whom was technically correct with I as the subject, but it sounded terrible on my lips, while Who seemed wrong grammatically but sounded right on the tongue.)

Well, the grammar query sparked a conversation, with mixed signals, as one friend thought it was Whom but Who was better used, and another friend, self-described grammar queen, stated that Who is right, not Whom. Others jumped in with their own words, including one in the form of a poem and another that reads like a painting on a canvas, and the thread of discussion was neat.

Interestingly, I don’t think anyone called me out for the Seven versus Six.

I’m sticking with Who, by the way.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

 

Badge of Badges Collage

Badge CollageI’m not a huge badge fan, even though I see the potential. I’ve used Mozilla’s Open Badges over the years to gather together different online badges that either I have earned or created (mostly via CLMOOC but also, in the early days of Thimble and Web Maker, etc.). This week, I received a notice that the Mozilla Open Badges Backpack (which was a handy place to transfer badges earned in different platforms) is closing up, and that things will move to Badgr. The email included a file of all my badges, so I figured I would put them into a collage — sort of a Badge of Badges.

Peace (pinned),
Kevin

Book Review: feast your eyes

Mya Goldberg’s latest novel, feast your eyes, is non-traditionally told, just how I like my novels. Her fictional exploration of a single mother photographer and her daughter is narrated through the text and journals of a photography exhibit that the daughter has put together for her dead mother, so the text of this book is a collection of journal entries, photographer titles and dates, letters and other writings.

What we never see are the photographs that inform those texts.

And so, as you read feast your eyes, your mind wanders to imagine the images that became the backbone of the story centered on Lillian, whose work as a photographer of her young daughter, Samantha, catapults her to unwanted fame and even prison, for a stretch. This notoriety comes because some of the photos, taken in her home and shared in one of her first public shows, feature a young Samantha in nearly naked form, in childhood poses around their house. The community uproar over pornography versus art rears its ugly head early in the novel, and threads its way through right to the very end of the story.

With that controversy, as well as another controversial image of a bedridden Lillian following an abortion in the days before Roe vs Wade (which is now under fire again in our country, making the reading of these sections even more harrowing) as the backdrop, the novel explores a photographer’s life of viewing the world through a lens, and the struggle to balance what goes public and what stays private, and who has a say in which path is chosen. The voices of both Lillian and Samantha mingle in the texts here, as both seek to understand the other.

This structure and form creates a powerful story, with the formatting of the novel giving plenty of breathing room for the complicated relationship that the mother and daughter have, driven by wonder and art and regret, and ultimately, love.

Peace (what we can’t always see),
Kevin

PS — from an NPR interview, Goldberg explains how she used real photographs to inspire the story.

I was looking through these books constantly for inspiration. Occasionally, there’d be a photograph that was just, like, this photograph is perfect, I want to use it. So the description you’re getting in the book is the description of an actual street photograph. Other times, I would see a photograph, and one corner of it would be what I wanted my photograph to be. So in my mind, I would enlarge it, and that would become my photograph … other times, I would see a setting, and I would sub out one kind of person for another kind of person, or put my own people in the setting and that became my photograph, and other times, yes, I did just make it up. So it’s a combination of all those things. — Myla Goldberg