Under Waves: A Poem Inspired by Riven

(Note: In a presentation around gaming and writing yesterday at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, my co-presenter began the session by dimming the lights and putting on the soundtrack to the immersive game, Riven, and asked us to be inspired and write. The sounds were of the ocean. Here is what I came up with as I listened.)

Under Waves

I’m drifting …
caught here in the center of this wave
as my toes drag across the bottom
of the sea …
wondering where you are right now
and if you can feel
this pull of gravity, too,
or if you see the moon as I see it
above me
with invisible forces …

I’m drifting …
hidden in the white noise
as thoughts lay scattered like seashells
on the sands …
wondering where you are right now
and if you feel
this push of gravity, too,
or if you see the moon as I see it
below me
with invisible love …

Peace (in the poems),

Dipping Toes in the Data “Stream”

I have been toying around with Google+ and for the first few days, I felt lost. OK, so I still do. But not as much as the first few days, which inspired me to write and share this poem on Google+

Another Network

Streams seem
to find me
if only because I leap so suddenly
into currents
only to find myself drifting in circles
in search of a rock to use as anchor
to hold onto before I get too lost in the new world
and so
here I am …. reaching for stones ….

Peace (in the poem),

A Poem for the 4th: What We Found

We’re doing some writing over at our iAnthology space, and the topic was found poems, using a Shel Silverstein poem as a mentor text. I went in another direction, with a short memory about finding something on the Fourth of July after the explosions have died down.


After the last smash of gunpowder in the air –
after the screams and whistles died down –
after the crowds dispersed,

we went searching for the carcasses of the fireworks
and used our flashlights to find the tattered cardboard remains
on the pavement,
laying about like dead ants in clusters.

The cold night air smelled of sulfur
and the bodies were still warm to the touch,
as if the trajectory into the stars was just too much to bear
for such a little rocket.

You gently cupped the ones that didn’t work,
imagining the possibilities for failure,
even as I stuffed the tubes of others into my pockets,
remembering the explosions and all that expended energy.

Peace (in what remains),

A Poem for my Father for Father’s Day

I wrote this one a few years ago and it helped win me an award at the New England Association of Teachers of English conference. In honor of my dad on Father’s Day, I dug it back up from my old harddrive. I would not be a musician if I had heard him playing his music all of my life. Thanks, Dad.

Listen to the Poem


The sound of drums beating out hours of the day
from the basement workshop he’d go
disappearing for hours
with sticks and mallets and cymbals crashing
music slipping into my ear and out again and then sounds down low
fading into the soft splash of sunlight
the gentle rhythm of Life

On weekends when rain fell from dark skies
and threatened to turn newsprint into soft clay of words
he’d crawl from his bed, bidden, sleepy, smiling, smelling of coffee
driving wordless down empty streets
as I made deliveries of the world from his metal umbrella
not always saying thanks but thankful just the same.

The sound of baseballs thrown in the air, hitting a glove
and the thwack, thwack, thwack of the ball hitting back
returns again in a familiar arc across the backyard lawn.
The crack of a wooden bat — nothing less than the sound of youth
reaching out for dreams of glory before the crowds go home.
“That’s it,” he’d say as I swung hard, and I could touch a star
and wrap myself in the light of his words.

We’d stand by forgotten bends of rivers
swatting at bugs and casting our lines
urging for some action but ready for silent peaceful thoughts.
I’d watch him wade into water
powerful against the currents, careful in his deliberations
and then, a hit, a tug, and a smile towards me as he reeled inward.

Father, Papa, a man of grace and wisdom
he has given me precious gifts: Love, Affection, Encouragement.
I follow his footsteps now as a father,
leaving a trail behind for little footsteps that echo all around us.
I tell them, listen for the rumble of drums.
Listen for the joyful crash of cymbals.
Listen to the music of your heart.

Student Poetry Podcasts: Inside This …

I am finally getting around to sharing some of the poetry podcasts we did last week with our iPod touches. Here are some “Inside This ….” poems that used Figurative Language techniques to get at the essence of inanimate objects.

I like this one because you have to know the child — full of energy and off-beat ideas and a creative thinker. His poem is entitled “Inside this Lightbulb.”

Take a listen

And here is a folder with some of the other poems.

Peace (in the sharing),

Poem for 2 Voices: The Writer and the Mathematician

My class is working on Poems for Two Voices this week, and our plan is to use our school’s iPod iTouches for podcasting. I’ve gone around and around on the best way to go about this, and decided that I would set up a classroom account on Cinch and have us podcast and post on there. I’ve already had to think of some workarounds, mostly because our iTouches are not the latest generation and we need to use a headphone/microphone unit for recording.

In my head, I had this great vision of two students, each with headphones, connected by a jack splitter to the iTouch, recording. Well, reality hit. The touches have an odd jack input, and my splitter that I usually use for connecting headphones won’t work. So, we are going to have sit the headphone w/microphone in front of each pair, and record like that. We’ll live with the background noise, I guess. On Tuesday, I am going to let them podcast a few of their own poems, individually, so they can get the experience of working the headphones.

To make sure the idea would work (always a good thing), I wrote a poem myself about writing and math, and asked my math teaching colleague to record it with me. He took the writing part and I took the math part, just to flip our normal roles. It sounds OK, actually.

TheWriter and the Mathematician- A Poem for 2 Voices

Peace (in the voices),

All Poems Come to an End (for now)

I spent just about every morning in April writing poems. First, I would head to Bud the Teacher’s site, get inspired by the image that Bud would share, and then I would write. I’d often try to add a podcast, to give a little voice to my words, on Cinchcast, and after sharing the poem on Bud’s site, I would head over to our National Writing Project iAnthology site, for more sharing. There, we had about 20 people involved in the writing of poems. Not everyone wrote every single day, but there were a lot of poems being written, shared, talked about, and even used as inspiration for poetry responses (ie, one poem inspired another poem).

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I started to run out of poetic steam by the end of the month. I did. But I tried to write through those walls as best as I could, and while not every poem I wrote is  a gem, there may be a few diamonds in the rough that could emerge as something better with a little work. My job now is go back, and see the poems through different eyes. What words are worth salvaging and refinishing?

My final poem for Bud was about coming to the end of PoemaDay.

I imagine my poems like leaves
falling behind with the seasons;
they burst into view
and become reborn again the following year
in the spring sunshine
of April
as something entirely new

Peace (in the poetry),

Book Review: Practical Poetry (across the curriculum)

Just in time for the push of Common Core curriculum alignment by our state, and many other states, Sara Holbrook’s Practical Poetry: A Nonstandard Approach to Meeting Content-Area Standards is, well, practical and useful and full of interesting ways to merge poetry with math, science and social studies. I was lucky enough to receive this book from Lisa, thanks to a poetry contest she held at her blog (Effective Teaching Solutions), and the other night, as my son was in basketball practice, I dove in.

Holbrook is a poet who has gone into many classrooms to work with students, and her insights are valuable around the ways that poetry can engage and connect writers with various elements of curriculum, without making it boring. This is creative learning.

She notes that poetry is one of those topics that seem to be left out of discussions around curriculum change, particularly as we move into more expository writing (ie, the Common Core) and leave more narrative writing behind. But she lays out a strong case for keeping poetry alive and well in our schools.

She argues that writing poetry:

  • jogs the memory
  • demands keen observation
  • requires precise language
  • stimulates good communication skills
  • encourages good organizational skills
  • encourages reading fluency
  • helps us learn about ourselves and our world
  • is a powerful language all of its own

While she begins with a look at the Language Arts classroom, she then shifts gears into how to bring poetry ideas into math, science and social studies in meaningful ways. While she acknowledges that some might scratch their head on these connections, she patiently lays out her rationale for each subject area, gives specific lesson plans and provides many student and her own exemplars.

When it comes to math, for example, she notes that both mathematicians and poets have similar intent: “We look for patterns in the world. We attempt to find a pattern that we can apply in order to define the unknown. We first look at nature as a whole and then attempt to break it down into parts. We use symbols to represent the unknown while we are in the process of defining terms, and we use comparative techniques to communicate with one another (58).”

I love that.

In science, she does something similar, but with physics. “Poetry’s mission is to understand the universe — physics’ mission is the same. Both condition the mind to search for an answer, to stimulate imagination, to look beyond the status quo. The arts and sciences are intertwined more than either side seems to want to admit (92).”

Again, I love that.

And in the field of social studies, she notes that the lens at which we make sense of the social and political and geographical contours of our lives and the lives of others also connects with poetry.

“And nothing gets a poet’s pen twitching quite as quickly as a good controversy. At the heart of every change or conflict in the written history of the world has been some bothersome poet spouting off on one side or another. The personal quality of a poem makes all those dates and events not only more interesting but more memorable. Poems are letters and snapshots from the past – ‘original source documents’ ; they’re like reading someone else’s mail versus reading a telephone directory. And memorable is definitely an advantage when test time comes around. (128)”

Yes, she hovers around our testing society and what that often means for creative writing, and again, she strongly makes the case that poetry is another way to help students achieve on standardized testing by moving beyond the drill-kill methods. There are ways to meet curriculum standards AND still spark creativity in our students. We need to remember that.

My sixth  class will soon be moving into poetry and I am going to have Holbrook’s book of ideas right on my desk. I also will be bringing it to meetings I am sure we are going to be having next year as we re-configure our district’s curriculum map to align with Common Core. I don’t want to lose poetry, and Holbrook’s Practical Poetry may help me make my case.

Peace (in the poetry),


Making My Illuminated Text Poem

(an updated version — with audio)

A Warning: An Illuminated Poem from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

I was asked by a few people yesterday how I created the illuminated poem I shared yesterday. So, I am trying to step back a bit and reflect on how I went about it and the choices I made in the composition process. A version of this post will also be on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site.

First of all, I began my day at Bud’s site, where he had an image of warning signs and a few lines of a prompt for a poem. I also had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to explore how to do a simplified Illuminated Text project. As I mentioned yesterday, it was through some colleagues at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site that gave some insights, some inspiration and a direction for me to proceed into this unknown terrain.

The writing came first, although I wrote the poem knowing that I would be using the text in some sort of animated project. I worried less about more poetic elements such as meter and rhyme and flow, and more about the message of the poem. The theme put forth by Bud was a warning, and I knew I wanted it to be about shaking up life to get to the things that are important. The lines came fairly easily, and I was revising them as I was creating the project. The last line was most important to me, and I changed it a few times to get it to how I wanted it.

Next, I opened up Powerpoint. I’ve done lessons around animation with Powerpoint before with my students, although it has been some time since I dabbled in there myself. I decided to use a plain white background, and to use just one single slide. This narrowed my working space and limited some choices, but that was fine. I debated the black-text on white-background, and even tried some other colors. In the end, I liked the simplicity of the design. I wish I had more time to spend with font, though. I feel as if that area of text choice might be more deliberate than I was.

I then slowly added each line of the poem as text boxes. Here, though, I made some decisions about which words should be separated from the line — which words should be their own individual block of text.  The word “go” seemed to need to move, right?  And I wanted to make the word “door” its own text, as if it were a doorway of sorts.  The stacking idea came later, as the text became the door. I knew that later, these planned separation of text would give me more flexibility in the animation. I didn’t want too many words like this. Instead, I tried to break off pieces that had meaning on their own in the lines of the poem.

Once the words were there, then I began the rather difficult task of animating the words and lines. There were about 20 pieces of animation in the poem, and synchronizing them to work one after another, or in tandem, took some time and trial-and-error. I wish I could say that I was very, very deliberate in every movement that I chose. For some lines, I was very purposeful.  The line that ends “shake it up” was a line I wanted to shake up — connecting the visual to the words. For others, I wanted it only to look good. I’m not sure why I made one line vertical, and then added multiple “open it” texts around the piece. I had some vague concept of the phrase making connections with the poem. I don’t think it worked, even though it looks cool, visually (although I should have staggered it more). In fact, not every animation here is completely in sync with the meaning of the text it animates.

More than once, I made some mistakes in the animation design and had to step back in time, and rework the sequence and flow. This is where the structural weakness of Powerpoint came into play — it is not designed for this kind of project, I concluded. The management overview of my workflow was weak. But I always like the idea of using a platform for something other than what it was designed for.

I knew I wanted to convert the Powerpoint into a video, and I have this software program that I bought a few years ago to do that. But I guess I hadn’t updated it recently, and it would only create a video with a watermark. I didn’t want that, and so I turned to the web. I found the AuthorStream site, which converts slides to video and then kicks out an embed code and hyperlink. I wasn’t happy, to be honest, because I didn’t want to the poem to be silent. But I could not find a way to add audio with the site.

Later in the day, I finally figured out how to update my Powerpoint conversion software. I took that raw video, and dumped it into MovieMaker, where I added some music from Freeplay Music. Then, I added in a narration audio track, which is what I wanted all along. I want voice in my poems. The result is pretty decent, and I could not host it myself at my Vimeo video site, which I am now doing.

Given the limits of the tools I used, I am pretty happy with the results. I think the technology helped make the poem very different than I would have been as just lines on the page. The animation, and the choice of words that get animated, and the sequencing of animation — plus the audio tracks — really make this a very different kind of poem.

Could I replicate this in the classroom? Yes. It would require time and mini-lessons around the deeper levels of Powerpoint — particularly around structuring a page of animated text (which requires organizational skills) — but on a smaller scale, this is doable. And there is no real need for the conversion to video, either. You can add audio right into Powerpoint slides and share the project out as a PP Show. The quality is not as good, in my experience, but it is workable.

What do you think?

Peace (in the poems),