Slice of Life: Sharing Songwriting Notebooks

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I appreciate that so early in the year, I have already started to make some strong connections with students.

Yesterday, one of my students told me in the morning that they had “something to show me” but we didn’t get around whatever that was until the afternoon. I met the student in the hallway coming back to our classroom, and reminded them of our earlier conversation. They asked me to hold on a second, and then rummaged through the backpack to pull out a small notebook.

“My notebook,” the student told me, “for writing songs.”

I asked permission to look, and was eagerly granted it, and my student noted that there is only one song underway. I, of course, celebrated that they had a songwriting notebook and expressed appreciation for sharing with me. They apologized for the messiness and for having only the one song, but I celebrated both.

I know there is a vulnerability with sharing words and songs not yet completed. I’m the same way. I also know that finding another songwriter to share with is special, too. And I know this student was trusting me because of the fact that we both write songs, and that we both play guitar in order to write songs.

I may dig around this morning and find one of my messy songwriting notebooks, too, just to extend the sharing together as songwriters making a mess of notebook pages, all in the name of writing and of making music, and of deepening the connections as writers so early in the year.

Maybe I’ll even share this photo my workspace …

Songwriting Work Space

Peace (singing 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

 

 

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