I was writing and rewriting this poem during some quiet writing time in the classroom the other day. Not sure the framing of the poem works, but the mess of the page is how I often write (although when I write with keyboard and screen, all that notation and revision becomes rather invisible).
Yesterday, during an extended freewriting time in my four classes of sixth graders, I wrote these small poems, trying to capture the energy and essence of each class period.
Murmurs in the room
captured voices – planning —
talking slowly — each
demanding attention — sharing
thoughts — go wander in among them;
insights fueling discovery –
they teach each other
ways into the world
marbles on a wooden floor
a hornet’s nest, disturbed
glitter in a spring wind
confetti from a skyscraper
voices at a riot
eraser marks on paper
This is how the mind works
the longest day of the year
writes stories —a 20 headed monster
We walk in
on forty feet, pencils
gripped against the void
We voice dissent, but not discontent,
sowing chaos — long thin threads
pulled against the quilt of conflict
Only gathered up together like this
do the strands become woven
into something newer, stronger, better
Our stories bound
shared, and beautiful
we were all just characters
in a comic strip? one asks
and we wonder — what if
everything we said was in bubbles
above our heads? another pondered —
and we wondered — and what if
we could reach our hands
beyond the wall itself to grab hold
of our future self? another added
and at that, the room went quiet,
an empty frame of thought
I am dipping into some of the assignments that my friend, Ian, is doing in a university course called Revolutionary Poets Society, as he shares things via Twitter and his website, inviting others to join in. The second prompt calls for a poem of home in an assignment entitled Where I Begin. This is mine.
A Poem Calls Home
where we crouched in the corner of the abandoned swimming pool, dark water thick with ferment, time and algae
where we punched in stolen nails to make a ladder to climb the stairs to the stars of the disappearance tree
where we bog-jumped in winter, cracking surface ice in shoes too thin for warmth, the bonfires always raging
where rain meant shelter, beneath the eaves of leaves, an excuse to dive even ever deeper into the woods
where we laughed, went quiet, cried some, wondered where we’d be, and if we’d all be there, at all
where we passed the pipes of stories along in quiet, hidden passions, beneath the guise of restless childhood
where we lost some, the shared grief its own river beneath us, our empty shouting at the skies at night
where just beyond the distance, if we ever bothered to listen, we might still hear the voices
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
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,
— 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 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.
My friend, Sheri, wrote about public art sculptures in city blocks, and referenced a piano for playing on the sidewalk. I’ve been seeing more and more of these (although not yet in my city, which is interesting, since it is so heavily tilted to the arts). She shared a few images, and something stirred about a memory of my great-grandmother whistling a song as she made us tea in her home.
Sheri gave me permission to use her photo and I composed a few lines on piano. This song is not the melody of my grandmother, necessarily, but there are faint echoes of memory.
Notice, now, the keys,
the colors of the box, the way your eyes get drawn
You sit down,
curious – a muse of the streets –
a single note played,
your grandmother’s room,
the tune she whistled while making you tea,
I am the ink-made marks
in the margins of the
text, the voice you’ve not
said out loud — not yet —
my comments and doodles
left like candy to the side,
all colored and sweet,
for my future self to complete;
I won’t hide them, these thoughts
tumbling from an active read,
and if the author ever notices
my presence on their page,
I’ll shout from this space:
I am here, I am here –
I build upon the idea
you left for me in there
This poem is part of my regular poetry writing, inspired by reading and interactions with others. This poem sprouted from other ideas about the margins of texts. You can read more poetry at the site where I gather my poems before they get lost. At least there, I know where they are.
My friend, Rob, who plays bass in my band, shared a story of 9/11 with me. He was in New York City at the time of the attack, watching it from a rooftop and then going to try to help amid the confusion. He moved away from the city afterwards, unable to remain in the space where the disaster unfolded.
After our talk over a band dinner, he sent me some writing he had done, as a way to continue to process and remember. He said I could use his writing as I wanted, so I made a found poem as a way to honor his sharing of his story with me.
This video version of the found poem — I Am Witness — uses Keynote for some simple text animation … and the music is something I composed and created in an app called Thumbjam as a soundtrack for the poem. I shared versions of this project at the new yap.net site, as I was working on finalizing a few things, and I appreciate the feedback from there.
Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform
You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:
What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)
The poem, as original text:
Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
and our fields
may go fallow
of words may be
but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture
Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.
Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.
And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:
What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.