What I did: I Wrote Poetry

We had one of those very odd weather days yesterday, when snow closed down my school (because of the elevation and bus routes) but not my sons’ schools. My wife was in DC, lobbying for the National Writing Project as part of the effort to restore federal funding. So, it was me and our dog for a few hours. I did chores and in-between, I wrote.

I started out with the Global Poem Project, adding a few lines to a collaborative writing project. (See more about it in my post from yesterday.)

Then, I ventured out onto Bud Hunt’s site, where he is posting an image each day and asking us to write poems inspired by the pictures. Yesterday, the prompt was about what keeps you up at night. (by the way, come join us at Bud’s site.)

begets dreams
begets hours of wakefulness
of missed opportunities which
begets regrets
which in turn
begets confusion.

Then, I saw that one of my NWP friends, April, had written a haiku at her blog site. I was reading it — it’s about a blind date — when I realized that a good comment might be a haiku, too. So I wrote one from the other side of the story of her haiku.

nervous energy –
inside, he sees the mirror;
and combs back his hair.

I noticed another NWP friend, Andrea, had a poem, too. (She is part of a #poemaday twitter feed). Her poem was about kids and clothing and the metaphor of growing up and growing out of things. Again, I was struck by her poem and found myself writing a haiku response.

Bags of your clothing
sit ready for donation;
parting is sorrow

And then, yet another NWP friend, Joel (starting to see a connection in my network of teacher-writers?) had a great poem about April Fools and the weather, which was on my mind, too, as I looked out our window to the trees dripping with snow. He referenced the groundhog in his poem, so I thought a way to comment w0uld be a poem from the groundhog’s viewpoint.

A Groundhog’s Response

Just because I came up
doesn’t mean
I know what
I’m doing;
Sometimes, I am just
coming up for air
and sunshine.
You try living down in a hole
and see how you like it
and add to the cramped quarters
the pressure of expectations.
It’s not the shadow that scares me;
it’s you people.

Finally, I had my guitar out (dog at my feet) and was trying to work on a new song. This is what came out. I don’t necessarily feel it will go anywhere beyond this demo, but songwriting is poetry, right? I have been trying to write something about Japan — something true. But I have been failing miserably for days on it, to be honest. I can’t quite get the right song or emotion. So, this started out as a song about Japan, but veered sharply away at some point.

Lost and Found

When the shadows are falling
and the voices are calling
and the world is storm
brewing at sea

Will you hold me together?
Will you offer me shelter?
Will you keep me forever
if that’s what I need?

‘Cause I feel the Earth tearing apart
if you reach out your hand — I’ll give you my heart
I feel I’ve been lost
’til you found me

Well, we all have this fire
this burning desire
to shed off the past
as history

But somehow it finds us
it’s never behind us
I’m no longer the man
I used to be

I refuse to allow the pain to creep in
I’m shouting out loud — please let me in
I feel I’ve been lost
’til you found me

Peace (in the writing),

New Song: Tangled in the Wires

I’m working on a new song that is somewhat inspired by listening to Steve Earle. This one probably is not right for my band, which is more of a rock and roll/dance venture, but I still like playing this. I began writing it with another “story” in my head — that of a relationship in which one person is getting more critical of the other (not inspired by real life!) — and I followed the words into another story altogether — that of a long-distance relationship slowly blooming with uncertainty (again, not inspired by real life! I am happily married.)

The phrase of “tangled in the wires” kept coming up in my head as this metaphor of the situation, and so I worked that into the chorus. But the line that I like best is “I’m the static — You’re the neon sign,” which goes to the heart of these two characters, and what might have drawn them together (their differences) and what may be slowly driving them apart (the same differences).

Tangled in the Wires
(Listen to the song)

I’m always prone to question
wayward thoughts and best intentions
If you could read my face, you’d read my mind

All this distance here between us
We do connect but have you seen us?
I’m the static — you’re a neon sign

They say it’s love — well, I don’t know about that
We’ve been lost, tangled in the wires
It may be enough — well, I don’t know about that
We’re hanging on, tangled in the wires

You say you want to “friend” me
as if you really comprehend me
You push my buttons, you make me want to smile

You way you write, you dance around
I feel your words, they tumble down
If you could read my face, you’d read my mind

They say it’s love – well, I don’t know about that
We’ve been lost, tangled in the wires
It may be enough — well, I don’t know about that
We’re hanging on, tangled in the wires
We’re hanging on, tangled in the wires
We’re hanging on, tangled in the wires

Peace (in the song),

The Rock and Roll Brainstorm

Maybe the title of this post should be in this list. I was challenged by the drummer in our new rock band to come up with some “name ideas” for what to call ourselves. I demurred at first, and then thought: what the heck, this could be fun.

I’m not sure any of these names will make the cut but it was interesting trying to come up with a moniker for a band that is interesting and conveys a meaning of something cool. Some of the names just came out of thin air. Some were inspired by other bands. A few came from thumbing my way through a recent edition of Wired Magazine, and searching for terms that might be interesting. A few came to my head during my son’s recent school chorus concert (OK, so I was thinking when I should have been listening).

See what you think. I put the list into both Wordle and Tagzedo just to see give the list a little oomph. Which ones do I like best?

  • Boss ‘Nova and the Overtones
  • Distortion Box
  • Ten Minutes ’til Midnight
  • The Key Hackers

band names wordle
band names tags
Peace (in the naming),

PS — Meanwhile, I also made this brainstorming idea our writing prompt over at our National Writing Project iAnthology space, and some neat names are emerging there. A few teachers have even brought it into the classroom as a writing prompt.

Recording a Demo Song

I have a new rock and roll band up and running, with three friends from my old group and three new friends on bass, lead guitar and vocals. I am mostly playing saxophone now, and a little rhythm guitar, and maybe some keyboards as we push ourselves farther towards gigging a few times a year.

I was thinking of our new singer the other day (he has a great voice) and I began writing a song for him to sing with the band. I came up with this upbeat song about dancing through the night to the rhythm and blues. I had recorded a simple demo (me, with acoustic guitar) but I didn’t like it.

So yesterday, I dragged out some instruments and used Audacity to record this version, complete with guitar, bass, organ and saxophone (I had to use my alto because my tenor is at my friend’s house, but it came out OK). I did my best with my own vocals. It’s good enough for a demo, but I can’t wait to here our real singer give it a try.

Listen to the Song

Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight

I’m all fired up and I’m ready to rock
I got my dancing shoes on — (I) ain’t never gonna stop
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night
‘Cause when I change my clothes and you put on your dress
You got me spinning around — my head’s a mess
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night

Somewhere out there we can hear our song
The band’s working hard and we can sing along
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Don’t look for tomorrow ‘cause it’s too far away
The sunlight’s sleeping ‘til the break of day
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night
I’m gonna hold you close, so I can feel your heart beat
Gonna kick back our heels and knock you off your feet
You can take my hand and lead me off into the night

Somewhere out there a guitar’s on fire
a saxophone wails with desire
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Baby, we ain’t getting old
‘cause we listen to the radio
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight
Champagne, Whiskey and the Rhythm and Blues Tonight.

Peace (in the music),

Haiti, a year later

It’s been a year since the earthquake ravaged Haiti. And still, so many people there are without homes and living in dangerous conditions. It’s difficult event to fathom. I know a group from our church has been trying to get to Haiti with some relief efforts for the past few months, but weather conditions and political violence have delayed that effort. Which means the people who need help the most are not likely getting it.

Last year, when the earthquake hit and I was hit hard emotionally by the images of the destruction, I wrote and shared this original song at a concert we organized at my school. A year later, the song still seems to touch a nerve with me.

I Fall Apart

Peace (and help to those in need),

Playing Rock and Roll w/Friends

The other night, a friend of mine who has played drums in various bands with me over the years turned 50 and threw himself a bash. He invited various musician friends to play at the party, and I dusted off my saxophone to jam the night away.

There’s a moment when three of us are on stage. I am on guitar (along with my friend, John) and the birthday boy, Bob, is in the center. He’s listening to a song that I wrote to honor him (his nickname is Duke Rushmore) as a birthday present.

Here are some clips from the night:

Peace (in the music),

Dipping our toes into the Gulf

oil spill question
I started out Day One of the school year with a discussion around what my sixth graders know about the oil spill in the Gulf and what has been happening in the recovery and recapping efforts over the summer months (later that same day, I found out about the explosion of another platform). I shared with one of the interactive maps online that shows the spread of the oil from May to August.

I explained to them that throughout the course of the year, we will be doing inquiry projects and environmental-themed writing that centers around these issues as part of the Voices on the Gulf endeavor. My hope is to touch a wide range of issues as we move forward. I explained this to my principal the other day, and he was very excited about it, wondering how we could use Skype or videoconferencing to connect with other students, particularly those who are involved who live along the Gulf Coast region. I’m going to work on that, I told him.

But first, I asked my homeroom class: What questions do you have about the oil spill? I took their answers and created a Wordle of the responses, which is now posted up at the Voices on the Gulf.

You, and your students, are also invited to join us on this collaborative project. You can read more information about what is required (it all depends on you) and how to get started.

Peace (in the starting),

PS — I’ll leave you with a song that I wrote during late August about my feelings around the Gulf’s recovery. I shared it at Voices on the Gulf, but I was on my blogging vacation back then.

Listen to Ocean Dreams

Writing and Singing Songs with Students

Listen to “I Fall Apart”

We’ve been working on songwriting this week in class. I usually do it right on the tail end of poetry, but I pushed it off and almost did not get to it this year until one particular student kept asking, and asking, and asking until I realized: he really wants to learn about writing songs! So, here we are, working on songwriting.

We analyzed some lyrics this week and listened to music, cranking it up on the whiteboard speakers. I chose Kris Allen’s Live Like We’re Dying and Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days and Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which we also sang together with me on my acoustic guitar. These three songs speak well to developing a “theme” and follow a traditional “verse chorus” pattern. I tell my kids to listen closely to their favorite songs and notice the techniques of writing — structurally and also, as a piece of writing.

Yesterday, I shared with them a song that I wrote earlier this year in the aftermath of Haiti. The song — called “I Fall Apart” — is told from the view of a character whose love is trapped in the rubble, and the character is telling them that it will be all right, even as they fear the worst. I then handed out my lyrics, with notes on some ideas that I wanted to draw their attention to, from the writer standpoint. Then, I performed for them. (They mostly seemed appreciative)

We then moved into a song that I wrote a few years ago. This song — “Just Believe” — has a missing verse, and their job is to write it and then, next week, to sing it with me. I have my electric guitar, amps, PA system, and drum machine in the front of the room, and I use all of my cajoling skills to get everyone up there to sing into the microphone, even if they can’t sing. I tell them, this may be your only chance to play with an electric guitarist and sing words you wrote.

Yeah — I wish I had had a teacher who had done that.

Peace (in the muse),

Tinkering with Dropio with a Song of Mine

I know a lot of folks are touting Dropio as a way to share files, so I figured I would give it a try. I am working on recording some new songs and this one is almost complete (still needs some bass).

I am going to try to embed the Dropio for this mp3 file here. (Note: there is few seconds of silence at the start of the file).

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

Peace (in the sharing of songs),


Composing on Multiple Tracks

Yesterday, I pulled out my acoustic guitar and began to fiddle around with some melodies and rhythms. I’ve been wanting to do a bit more on Audacity with layering guitar tracks. Usually, I do my demos with one guitar track and that’s about it (partially because of the limitations of my playing abilities).

But I was inspired to do a bit more and composed this song out of layered acoustic guitar.  I tried to add some effects here and there, and doubled up some tracks along with recording single notes. I was trying to explore sopme different ways of creating sounds. I also tried to use the stereo effect here and there.  I kind of like it, although it is a bit off in parts. Doh.

Listen to One Morning in May

Peace (on the tracks),