CLMOOC: Gifting Poems to Friends

Greg Poem LinesI spent some time yesterday, writing poems for friends. They were unexpected, I should think — for me, who wrote them on a spur of moment as part of our work this month via CLMOOC, and for my friends, who were probably surprised by the poems. (Learn more about what we’re up to and how you can submit words and get a free poem in return)

First, above, is a small poem that is less me than Greg. I grabbed a few lines from a poem that Greg had posted yesterday on the daily theme of “simplicity,” and the only thing I added was a comma, after moments. In doing so, though, his lines became its own separate poem, a sort of koan.

Second, this poem is for Ron, whose work as an artist is always interesting to me. He makes picture books and does daily artwork and sketches, and is always up for another connected adventure.

CLMOOC Poem for Ron

Ron and I know each other through CLMOOC and DS106 and other adventures. His poem began in digital format, but then I wanted a more static version, too.

Finally, this poem is for Raymond.

Poem for Raymond CLMOOC

Our paths crossed years ago in CLMOOC, and I bought his small book of poems, a book that inspired the poem. We still interact now and then, and although I think our political views are quite different, I enjoy understanding Raymond’s perspective and reading his poetry.

Peace (gift it forward),
Kevin

CLMOOC: Poems from the Days Before

Each morning in February, I have been turning to the above calendar of prompts for poetry as part of a month-long CLMOOC connected writing project. (See more about what we’re up to here, and add a few words to a Poem Request form and get yourself a poem.)

Not every day’s poem is a keeper, although I do have a site where I write the poems every morning, and I post them over at Mastodon and on Twitter, this month. Here are five recent poems that I think are worth a second look.

Theme: Negotiate

A writer
always negotiates
the correct word
the right phrase
the perfect order
of story, set into motion,
though such terms
never fully placates
the mind, which demands
devotion to craft,
an unending ocean
of revision and draft

Theme: Kindness

Sometimes
it is a bit like
flying blind;
this being kind

Theme: Love

For, despite
the commercial
value of such an
over-sold,
red-hearted,
designated day
of purchase power,
remember, too,
that

love becomes us

Long after
the shelves clear,
we’ll still be
holding hands
and whispering
secrets together

Theme: Friendship

The bracelet snaps
my attention; she points
and explains that she’s
the purple, and her companion,
the pink, the two of them
twined forever on her wrist,
twisted forever together
with fingers, in friendship;
all while she’s reminding me
of this in her quiet voice,
as if I had forgotten, but
I had not

Theme:  Peace

Meet me where
the river releases
eddies, small clusters
of currents over
roots and rocks,
where we’ll race our
fingers over water
of mountain glacial melt
and time’s perpetual tears,
where we’ll glide our fingers
over the swirling surface,
until the tension becomes
calm; the circles, smooth;
the place where
we practice peace

I hope you find time to write some poems, too.

Peace (left all around us),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Story, Nearly Done

(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.)

Back in December, I was struck so hard and so suddenly by an idea for a short story that I remember I literally leaped out of bed, sat down at the keyboard and started writing it for an hour. The narrative just untangled its way out of me. I could see the whole story clearly — the premise, the characters, the flow of it.

It was right around the same time that I saw a notice in our local newspaper that it was relaunching a popular Short Story Contest again after pulling the plug on it a number of years ago. I once got an honorable mention in that short story contest, which gave me about three seconds of fame among my friends in this literary city where I live.

The story that sparked me in December, I decided, is one I will submit to the contest, with the deadline looming in the coming days. Since that initial burst, I have been weaving my way back into the text, making revisions and tightening the story, expanding the characters. I’ve shared multiple drafts in a writing community that I am part of (called Yap.Net, which is a free but closed online space for writers and media makers sharing draft work), and have been helped in many ways by insightful readers in there.

Last night, I left the story for my wife to read. She’s a writer and teacher, too. She was asleep when I got home from band practice last night, but I see some of her notes in purple ink on the print-out of the story, including a helpful insight that I had missed about flowers and seasons and number of petals.

It’s interesting to be close to the end of a story, to know that soon, I need to call this revision cycle quits and be satisfied. To be honest, this revision process on this piece has been longer than I normally would have done for any of my writing, which I so often do in quick bursts. I’m proud of this story, even if it’s not a winner, and thankful for those who have helped make it better in the last few months.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

DigiDetox Comics 7: Inside the Algorithm Factory

Inside the AI FactoryKevin’s Note: I signed up for a month-long Digital Detox project out of Middlebury College and enjoyed the email updates throughout January that got us thinking about our digital lives, and offered small steps and actions to take. I made comics about the concepts as a way to read deeper and think a little more critically about the ways digital devices and platforms are part of our lives.

Peace (pushing back),
Kevin

Braiding a Poem by Breaking It Apart

Poem Braid fo Greg

I saw a post from my CLMOOC friend, Greg, about the writing of a poem for our month of writing poems. The poem is called Inertia of Art (Create) and in his reflection at his blog, he talks about his process of writing poetry — which is very different from mine. His process involves a lot of internal wrestling and frustration. Mine, just sort of flows. I can’t explain or understand it, most of the time. Often, I don’t even know what I have until I’m done (and it may be that what I have when I am done is badly-written poem).

As I was reading Greg’s reflection, and then his poem (somehow, I did this in revere), some of his phrases began to jump out at me, and I began a new poem – braided with the threads of his, so that his lines — now removed and isolated from his writing — began to inform my own new poem, braided within his. See the image above for how it turned out.

This morning, I thought about Greg’s regular recording of him, reading his poems in his voice, which he does for both accessibility of text and to connect with the poet’s voice. I decided that the poetic braid needed another dimension — audio  — his voice and mine, reading this new poem together.

I had to go deep into the Source Code of Greg’s blog to find his embedded audio file. I then downloaded it and spliced his words apart in Soundtrap (but any audio editor would have sufficed), then recorded my lines, in-between his. The result is a two-speaker poem, braided together.

Peace (in poems and partnerships),
Kevin

 

Book Review: One Long River of Song (Notes on Wonder)

Luminous, is the word I would use to describe some of the essays in this collection by Brian Doyle, a writer I was not familiar with until reading One Long River of Song.

This book, which I borrowed from the library but now feel so entranced by it that I am probably going to buy a copy for myself, was mentioned somewhere in a review, caught my eye, and so I kept it on my radar (I have lots of books on my radar).

Lucky me. While Doyle apparently is well known in many circles as an essayist of renown, exploring spiritual matters (one of his gigs was with a Catholic journal, I believe), which sort of would turn me off from him if things veered too religious, the collected pieces here are full of humor, insight, reflection, quiet, family and more. The spiritual aspects are more a sense of shared humanity.

Yes, there is a deeper spiritual nature and some references to religious beliefs to Doyle’s pieces, but these elements allow him to step back and look at the larger world with, as the subtitle says, Notes on Wonder. From the natural world (he is particularly attuned to Hawks and birds, and a piece about hummingbirds to start the collection is exquisite) to the unanticipated pleasures of parenthood (he and his wife were told they would not have children, and then had three) to growing up in a bustling family (one essay about biking to the beach along the highway, only to be saved from near death by an older brother is touching), to conversations with friends and strangers that become small odes of intensive observation, Doyle is a writer of note.

I am sad to report that this collection, curated by his wife and put into context by a writing friend, David James Duncan, whose foreword is a moving piece of textual friendship, was published following Doyle’s death from brain cancer. And yet, even the later pieces, in which he writes about leaving this life, Doyle somehow finds the right words to touch your heart, to be grateful for what you have in the moment you are in. One particular late essay in which he imagines what his wife thinks of him, through his own strange wanderings and mutterings, is touching, funny, and so deep with humanity.

As part of my own reading life, I often take passages and sentences that I deem to be beautiful or enriching, and share them out elsewhere under a #smallquotes tag. It’s a way for me to remember my reading, and honor the writers, but also, in typing out the passages from the books, I learn more about how to be a writer myself. Doyle has been a wonderful teacher, in this regard, giving me so many beautiful passages and flowing sentences that I could have easily found dozens in this book.

I wasn’t aware of Brian Doyle when he was alive and a vibrant writer of novels, essays, poems and more, but this collection of pieces has brought him and his words into my world, into my heart, and for that, I am grateful.

Peace (flowing on the page),
Kevin

Three Gifted Poems for #CLMOOC

Wide Arcs of MadnessThrough the course of the day yesterday, I wrote three different poems as gifts, inspired by our month-long Poetry Port adventure in the CLMOOC community, where folks are writing poems to daily themes, composing words as gifts to others, and requesting poems be written for them. (learn more)

The first poem, above, was written as a gift for the collective students in the Networked Narratives class, which I dip in and out of as an open participant. I went through and read a bunch of blog posts, in which they were examining Langston Hughe’s poem of Let America Be America Again, and thinking of its message in the modern day. The short poem is a reflection of what I read, and what I was thinking as I was reading, and leaving a trail of comments across the blogs.

Poem for Karen Y

Next, my CLMOOC friend Karen Young, who has been traveling, wrote that she had written a poem for CLMOOC the day before, but it had somehow never got posted on her travels, and the poem was now lost in transit. The poem was a gift for her.

Finally, as preparation for an upcoming inquiry group with the National Writing Project called Grapple, with a focus on algorithms and learning, we were asked to do some pre-reading and some pre-viewing, and this video about having “blind faith” in neutral technology struck a nerve with me on the conflicted concepts of clear human bias in computer code, so I wrote this small poem for the facilitators of the inquiry, with the screenshot as reference point.

Meanwhile, I continue writing poems each day, using the CLMOOC calendar themes to inspire me.

Yesterday, the theme was Peace:

Meet me where
the river releases
eddies, small clusters
of currents over
roots and rocks,
where we’ll race our
fingers over water
of mountain glacial melt
and time’s perpetual tears,
where we’ll glide our fingers
over the swirling surface,
until the tension becomes
calm; the circles, smooth;
the place where
we practice peace

Today, the theme is Friendship:

The bracelet snaps
my attention; she points
and explains that she’s
the purple, and her companion,
the pink, the two of them
twined forever on her wrist,
twisted forever together
with fingers, in friendship;
all while she’s reminding me
of this in her quiet voice,
as if I had forgotten, but
I had not

Peace (sailing the waters),
Kevin

Book Review: How To (Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems)

You’d probably be better off searching YouTube for how to really take a selfie, win an election, build a highway, charge your phone, cross a river, predict the weather, build a lava moat, dig a hole and the whole host of other both odd and common topics that pepper Randall Munroe’s recent book, How To (Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problem).

But it wouldn’t likely be nearly as much fun.

If you know Munroe’s work (through his xkcd comics and other books), then you know that his brain is wired with both logic and humor, and both are sure to get you laughing while you’re thinking. Or is it thinking while you’re laughing?

In either case, you’ll be doing both.

With math and science at his fingertips, and with plenty of his signature stick doodles to pepper the pages, Monroe tackles a wide range of issues with practicality and impracticality. If you are a teacher like me, you’ll quickly realize that this kind of expository/informational writing could potentially become a neat and interesting model for students to explore.

Nothing Monroe shares here is untrue (as far as I can tell) and much of it is written in clear, concise language (for the most part), and the illustrations connect to the text (if in funny tones) — so what if this kind of book becomes a sort of mentor text for teaching this kind of technical writing?

Even if not, this book is certainly worth your time. There’s even a final chapter on “How To Dispose of This Book.” You could send it to the Sun, bury it deep into the earth, put it beneath the ocean floor or just hand it over to a friend to read. Whatever’s easier.

Peace (stick people rule!),
Kevin

Slice of Life: One of Those Days

(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.)

The student arrived already grumpy on a two-hour delay day, as if the weather were plotting something against them, personally. They expressed that the bad day had already begun and would likely keep going, probably bound to get worse. All day. Today. There was make-up work to get started on, some daily things to accomplish, their friend was absent, a pencil wouldn’t sharpen, a paper was missing, and so on. All of it evidence of a world conspiring against them, today, this day.

I countered with a cheerful “good morning,” and made sure to check in with them a few times, smiling and being purposefully upbeat (not that I’m not anyway, but still …), and slowly, their mood seemed gradually to shift back towards some semblance of normal. By day’s end, as I was saying “have a great afternoon” when the dismissal bell rang, I saw glimpses of a smile and the carrying of a body that suggested some of the melancholy had dissipated.

One may never know what affects the moods of our students on any given day. What we can do is do the best we can to help them keep some balance and perspective on a swirling adolescent world, through our words and our actions and our caring dispositions. This has nothing to do with academics. It has everything to do with the child, and our role, as teacher.

Peace (even in the dark),
Kevin