The Mess I’m Making (is the Poem I’m Writing)

Mess of a Poem in draft

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).

Peace (poems),
Kevin

Poems of/from the Classroom

new school bike racks

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.

Period One

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

Period Two

Almost like:
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
so far

Period Three

This machine
writes stories —a 20 headed monster
of ideas

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
than before

Our stories bound
shared, and beautiful

Period Four

What if
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

Peace (noticing it),
Kevin

 

#RevolutionaryPoets: A Poem Calls Home

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

of parents calling us
home 

Peace (in remembering),
Kevin

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

 

 

#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

 

Poem: The Piano Keys

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
to sound

You sit down,
curious – a muse of the streets –
a single note played,
speaks volumes

time rewinded,
your grandmother’s room,
the tune she whistled while making you tea,
you see

the piano
on the street corner
believes

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

 

A Poem of the Margins, from the Margins


Magic Margin flickr photo by Theen … shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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.

Peace (left for you here),
Kevin

Help the Next Person Through the Dark (via poet Joy Harjo)


Espaces Vides (#03) flickr photo by lepoSs shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I love this final line from a poem by Joy Harjo, entitled For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet:

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way
through the dark.

which completes this poem I discovered via Teach that Poem project (poems emailed every Monday), which shared the poem out as a suggestion to teach on the last days of a school year:

Peace (as school days end),
Kevin

A Poem for a Friend: I am Witness

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.

Peace (may it come),
Kevin

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

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,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

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.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

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.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),
Kevin