I am forever overlapping
you; your notes cascading
upon me; where shadows
loom, you hold the light
We meet in the middle,
at the bridge – at the break –
at the moment of unexpected
surrender to the moment of
story and song
I am melody: nothing, but
for the harmony that spans
its wings beneath
Note: this is a #smallpoem, written in the margins of a community feldgang, with this line as anchor:
“Making art, whether you do it solo or in a group, derives its patterns from everything around us, in an interdependent network.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is
Others have been leaving poems, too, in the book we are reading together in NowComment, and finding them in the margins of the text is a beautiful moment — a dance along the contours of Nachmanovitch’s ideas, made visible for shared experiences.
I had just finished The Stars Beneath Our Feetby David Barclay Moore and was perusing the comments at Goodreads (I try not to read comments until after I have read the book) and noticed that while many adults were praising the story (which I liked well enough), one young middle school reader wrote the opposite. And her response has me wondering if too many of the books coming out now with cultural diversity are becoming one-trick ponies.
This is some of what this young reader – her name is Lola — wrote:
I don’t see what everyone else sees in this book.
Perhaps that is because I have read so many, many, many books featuring characters dealing with the loss of a loved one? I want to say that is probably the case, but the truth is I constantly read these books and I tend to enjoy them as a general rule.
So what happened? The writing is lovely. It drew me in from the start. I was curious about the story and I certainly could not complain about the cool cover. But it took time for me to understand why there was tension between the characters,
Someone died. Who died? Oh, his brother. Really, how? Well, you’ll have to wait until I’m ready to share that part. Oh, come on, I’d like to understand now, not later. But I’m not ready to share that with you! And what’s up with his father, what’s going on? It’s complicated…
I felt confused a lot. And even when I wasn’t anymore, when the hero finally decided to shed some light on issues, I realized there is absolutely no plot and the little boy is just wandering around, making connections, pretending to be okay, trying to live on after the tragic death of his brother, doing mundane things like buying gifts, ….
Her comments had me thinking to many of the novels I have been reading in the past year or so, since a wave of frustration and lobbying for more diverse books finally began to take hold. There does seem to be a trend now of African American protagonists, from urban communities, dealing with the tragic loss of someone close, with the story of the loss only hinted at until something dramatic happens to bring a sense of understanding to the character.
That’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet. And I enjoyed reading this book, and I was rooting for Lolly (Wallace) as he struggled to deal with the loss of his older brother to gang violence, and resist efforts from his brother’s friends to recruit him into the gang life, and how the building of cities with Legos helped him to understand himself, and others around him.
If our stories are now becoming too predictable — I have also been reading On The Come Up by Angie Thomas, and the echoes of the same storyline are already ringing true, even as I am really enjoying the story and the main character — then we are doing a disservice to young readers, who deserve a variety of narratives — a variety of cultures and protagonists and events, told in a variety of forms — in their reading lives.
That’s something to think about, even as we can celebrate the diversity of books now on our shelves. Read The Stars Beneath our Feet, for sure, and put it on your classroom shelf, but also be attuned to other narratives. Be diverse in culture as well as in stories. We want as rich a tapestry as we can make, and read.
Terry has us tunneling into the book The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch, a book with the tantalizing subtitle of “Improvising As A Way of Life” that caught my attention. The introduction has my attention, for sure, as Nachmanovitch weaves in the concepts of improvisation to all sorts of ideas — music, art, text, collaborations, etc. I like the scope of it.
We’re inside NowComment as an annotation space (contact Terry if you want an invite), I am working to make art out of my reading experience. The comic above is a play on Terry’s invitation on Twitter and Mastodon, about “nibbling” at the edges of the work.
I then made this comic on my first reading start, trying to reframe the cover of the book as a piece of art and trying to explore the strange wording of the book’s title.
I’ve also been writing poetry — some of it found right inside the book —
Who knows where this improv will lead … following threads takes faith that the unraveling leads to understanding.
I’ve been interested over the past few years to hear/read/follow bits and pieces of the academic research that my friend, Sarah Honeychurch, has been doing for her Phd work in Connected Learning and the CLMOOC community, and she has just shared some of her draft both at her blog and with an open invite to annotate her work via Hypothesis.
As she notes:
CLMOOC is a highly connected, non-hierarchical community of lifelong learners with an ethos of social justice who support each other and learn through creative play.
I made the word cloud above by gathering the words of her thesis statement. And played with the cloud, too.
I am intrigued by Sarah’s gathering of ideas around these elements of CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration — which was envisioned and launched by the National Writing Project, and then supported by Educator Innovator, and which now continues to move along with members leading the way).
Lots of C’s!
But those phrases capture what I consider the spirit and essence, and underpinning, of the CLMOOC gathering spaces. See the new CLMOOC Planet for a gathering of RSS feeds to get a feel for the flow of CLMOOC. And look at the CLMOOC Muses page to see how many active people are still loosely connected with each other.
I’m diving into her post via community/collaborative annotations. See you there?
Thanks to funding support from our PTO, the school librarian, Pati M, and I (along with support by our art teacher, Leslie M) are bringing in the very talented Jarrett Krosoczka this coming Friday to share his work as a graphic novelist and maker of comics. Krosoczka’s most recent book — Hey, Kiddo! — is an amazing autobiographical examination of his childhood, with loss and love and art as the underpinning of his story.
Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum
I regularly use comics in my writing classroom (and did more when we had access to Bitstrips for webcomics but still use Make Beliefs Comix now and then) but I’ve been stepping it up a bit knowing that Krosoczka is coming to our school. And our art teacher has been focused on comics in art class, too, as our sixth graders work on graphic stories that are inspired by Krosoczka’s popular Lunch Lady series. Our students are celebrating non-teaching staff in our building by making them into superheroes, in comic format.
Meanwhile, I’ve had my sixth graders turning important scenes from the novels we are reading — Flush and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg — into comic strip format, and it has been wonderful to see the creativity flourish this way. We also did Onomatopoeia sound effect comics a few weeks back.
I am still tinkering around with different apps that animate words. This week, I explored the apps Plays, MOTT and then came back to Legend (re-found in the Google Play store after it disappeared but not found anymore in the Apple App store). None of these fit exactly what I am looking for but some come close enough to have fun with. Some of these examples here are riffs off others work (Terry, in particular) and others are just isolated word play or riffs off my own poems. I explored some others in an earlier post.
This is how it begins. An invitation to write. It knows my weakness.
“Your word will be instantly incorporated into an original two line poem generated by an algorithm trained on over 20 million words of 19th century poetry.”
Call me intrigued.
I arrive at this Google experiment (privacy hackles, dutifully raised) in poetry via Terry entitled Poem Portraits, and so I dig in, and learn that it is a collaborative poetry that is “ever evolving” as people add words and Google’s AI system culls through a myriad of texts it has in its data banks. They call it “An experiment at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration.”
As you add a word (my donated word: Harmonize), it uses your contribution to generate new lines of text, adding to an ever-expanding ongoing poem collaboration between human and machine. The AI asks for a selfie (but you don’t need to do one to add a word), and this is where I paused but then decided to do it and go further.
I had seen Terry’s, and then Sarah’s, and then Charlene’s, and then Sheri’s, and the fact is, I was still intrigued by the mix of poetry, text, words and collaboration.
The result is your word, and the words of your part of the poem, projected and mapped on your face, so that you become part of the poem. (Who knows where all those selfies go .. I suspect it becomes part of Google’s facial recognition data base. I’m sure I am already in there, but I would not likely bring students to this kind of poetry experiment).
I wanted to do more with the photo that gets generated. When you get to this step of your poem on your face, you can also read the larger, collaborative, AI-generated (with your word now added) unfolding on the page (You can access the scrolling poem without participating if you stop before adding a word).
So, I relocated my poem-selfie into the mobile app Fused, and began to layer in some visual static, working to deliberatively create a sort of fuzzy overlay of the selfie poem, as a means to represent some discomfort with how I willingly gave my image to Google.
Then, I wrote a short piece of music in Thumbjam, keeping the idea of my word — Harmonize — in mind, and working to layer three different musical sounds that work in harmony, and a bit of disharmony, too.
Finally, I took all of those pieces into iMovie and wove the media together, with a vocal reading of the text that filters across my face as part of my stanza of the poem.
The result of my playing is the video above … which starts as AI machine but ends with me, the pesky human, taking control of the image and poem again. (Or so I imagine).
Peace (in poems),
PS — this is how Terry played with his results, calling it his “ghost”
During April, every day, I woke up, not knowing what I was going to write. As part of my Random Access Poetry activity, my goal was to use a few different tools and sites to find an unexpected image that could spark a poem for the day. So, for 30 mornings, that’s what I would do — grab a cup of coffee, go to one of my image-finding spaces, land on an image and write small poems.
Here are some of the places I went to for random photo inspiration:
John Johnston’s Flickr Promptr (which he set up after I asked if anyone had anything that would generate a random image for poetry, and I so deeply appreciate that he took that idea and built something in Github)
John Johnston’s Flickr Stampr — which is as Creative Commons search engine
John Johnston’s (he’s great, right!) Flickr Blendr site, which randomly grabs two images and blends them together
Looking back over the 30 poems from April, there were some decent writing days, more than a few mediocre days and a couple of blah days with the poems. Some poems just worked and some poems just didn’t. Some poems seemed to write themselves — I would start and the lines would flow, and I’d try to figure out where the poem was going as it was being written. That’s an awfully strange and interesting experience. Other days, I’d get stuck mid-way into the piece, force myself to plow through and get to a good-enough stopping place.
What I found, as I was about to start writing each morning by calling up a photo with one of the tools above, is that I was searching for a hook in the visual image — something that grabbed my attention, a spark of a hidden story, or a character on the edges, or a small moment, or an emotion. I didn’t know what I was looking for as I was looking but I was fairly confident I might find it if I looked close enough with my writing eyes. Only once or twice did I not use the very first image I found and reset the process. Mostly, I let the random nature of my search become the inspiration, and just went with it.
The thing about poems is that they are designed to evoke, and photos can do the same. Evocation is also a tricky business for a writer in a rush — I wrote poems in a short span of time — and that’s why they don’t always work in this format. There was often a tension between what I saw, what I wrote, and what I aimed to accomplish. But I often left the writing with a phrase or line or stanza on the screen that I found worthy of the page, and for that, I was always inspired and confident as a poet.
If you bothered to read any of the poems, thank you. I hope you were writing, too.
Siege spins the story through a multitude of voices — and this use of voice in free verse is its most effective trait. While I do enjoy free verse books, the poems where never quite captured my fancy, for some reason. I was intrigued, though, by how the poems represented both the powerful (on both sides of the military standoff) and the common people caught in the middle of escalating violence.
Washington is the reluctant general, in some ways (as history has shown) and he railed against the restraints he was given as he sought to build up a military force to face the British. Food was scarce as disease was not. Gunpowder, the key to winning any battle, was in low supply.
The most intriguing storyline here, for me, was Washington begging his former secretary — Joseph Reed — who had returned to Philadelphia after his stint with Washington ended, only to be on the receiving end of many letters from Washington himself, giving full account of the chaos of turning regular rebels into an army, and calling on Reed to leave his family and return to Boston. There is something in the humanity of the two men that comes alive in the poems in the book.
Siege would be a solid entry into a middle or high school shelf, and of particular interest to those history geeks who love to learn more of the minute and human aspects of the time before the start of the American Revolution.
I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into when I saw some artistic friends doing an activity called Illuminated Alphabet in early April — where many people were doing daily “letters” on a theme through art (I found out later that it was part of some contest) — and decided to give it a try.
Mostly, I jumped in out of curiosity, using the theme of music, and then kept going, and at some point, I was too far along with the letters not to keep going. And some CLMOOC friends — like Algot and Ron and others — were in the mix at times, too. So, there’s that kind of collaborative inspiration.
Some days were definitely challenging to keep the theme of music flowing into letters (and some letters require a leap of faith that they somehow directly connect to music .. so, you know, trust me on my thinking on those ones). But, I had fun with making the simply-designed art (I used the Paper App to make mine, often working rather quickly once I had an idea) and seeing them all in a single collage is pretty cool.
Also, during the month, keeping an eye on the IlluminatedAlphabet hashtag on Twitter was one of the neatest things I did as the flow of letters and art was just magical and inspirational, and the mix of amateur artists (me) and professional artists made for some intriguing artwork and letters.