Book Review: I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf

I wish I could gently rip out every page of Grant Snider‘s new collection — I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf — and pin them up all around the house and the classroom, and celebrate the love of reading in Snyder’s colors, and wit, and gentleness. But, you know, then I would be both destroying the book (ack!) and maybe other people wouldn’t appreciate the sudden decor (but the people I love would appreciate the theme).

Snider, whose work as a cartoonist with a literary bent is someone I have been following for years with appreciation, dives deep into his love of books with every cartoon in this collection — some have been published elsewhere (his work is often in the New York Times, New Yorker, etc.) and at his blog site, but many of them here are ones I had never seen before. Like his other book collection – The Shape of Ideas — I can see myself coming back time and again for a little artistic rejuvenation and appreciation for the way he explores writing and reading at beautiful angles.

If you love books, you’ll love I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf.

Peace (in pages),
Kevin

Adventures in AudioStory Creation: Risking It All For the King

Risking It All For the King

As my students were writing their own “Stuck Inside a Game” short stories over a few weeks time in our distance learning adventures, I was recording an audiobook of my own story: Risking It All For The King. I’d been sharing each episode as I recorded them but then gathered all SEVEN episodes in one place, in order from start to finish. It was fun to layer sound effects in with voice for an extended story. This was fairly new to me.

Peace (in story),
Kevin

For Virtual Field Day: Making Stopmotion Movies

Our elementary school is taking a break from academics this week (we have three weeks to go until the end of the year) and doing all sorts of Wellness/Health/Arts activities. I think families, kids and teachers all needed a little mental health reprieve, a quick breather before the rush of the end of this strange school year is upon us.

Since we can’t have our usual Field Day of group activities throughout our school grounds, the specialist teachers designed a Virtual Field Day project, and invited classroom teachers to submit videos as inspiration to be active and creative for families. I decided to invite kids to make stop-motion movies, and made the video above as my way to introduce and invite movie making to happen.

Peace (frame by frame by frame),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Three Memorial Day (No One Else Was There)

Field of Honor: Florence, Northampton

We’ve been keeping an active eye during the pandemic social distancing on our elderly neighbor, whose husband (a veteran of the Korean War and a long-time military man) died a year or so ago. We bring her newspaper to her door each morning and mail, too, on rainy days. We check in with her regularly, seeing if she needs anything from the store and reminding her that we’re right here, if she needs us.

The other day, she told us how her husband’s military service was now being represented in the Field of Honor at the Elks Lodge field, where this is the second year in a row the club in the next village over has hosted an entire field of American flags to honor veterans on Memorial Day. We told her we would go there and find his flag, and we did, reading his short biography on a tag on the flag post. We also wandered around with the kids for a bit through the flags, reading about other local veterans and remembering.

No one else was there.

Leeds Memorial Day

Earlier, I had ventured to our village memorial to veterans, which is often the scene of a community gathering to honor fallen soldiers with roots in our village.  I walked by, stopped for a bit in the shade of the trees, and heard the ghost sounds of the trumpet playing Taps in my imagination.

No one else was there.

Finally, our neighbor had wondered if the larger stone memorials in our city downtown now had her husband’s name carved into the stone for the Korean War. She hadn’t been out to check. We decided to investigate yesterday, and while his name is not there (My wife: Who do we call to make it happen?), we again spent some time reading through the names of soldiers of war, now gone.

No one else was there.

It’s strange to find commemoration in the city so quiet, but I’m not surprised, of course. Coming home from the trip to Memorial Hall, I noticed a hand-painted sign that said: Memorial Day Parade This Way, with an arrow pointing down the street. My wife said the city’s mayor (a National Guard veteran, like me) and a few elderly veterans did a car parade through this village of our city, in order to keep intact its record as the oldest consecutive running Memorial Day parade in the entire country. I wish I had known. I would I have watched and clapped, and honored the memories of those soldiers.

I hope others were there.

Peace (remembering it),
Kevin

Panels of the Pandemic: Remember the Vets

Remember the Vets

We have an Old Soldiers’ Home about 15 minutes down the highway that has been decimated by the virus, with more than 80 veterans now killed by Covid19. All sorts of local, state and federal inquiries are happening over the reasons why this happened, but it clearly points to poor leadership at the facility, lack of sufficient oversight by the VA, and, in the larger picture of the country, the slow fumbling of this crisis at the very top that, research shows, probably led to tens of thousands more dying than needed to.

So, today, on Memorial Day, we remember our veterans and we continue to look for leadership from the federal government, even if it looks like no one is really in charge anymore (other than the one looking out for his own political interest).

Peace (and remembering),
Kevin

NYT: Rabbit Hole Podcast (What Is the Internet Doing To Us?)

One of the benefits of being at home is that I am diving into more podcasts as I do my multiple daily walks with dogs or just to get away from the screen. An intriguing series that I have been following regularly is called Rabbit Hole, produced by the New York Times, and it explores the impact of YouTube and its recommendation algorithms in its early episodes, and then begins to open wider.

It’s central inquiry question: What is the Internet doing to us?

These audio inquiries are at first, fascinating. and then frightening, as I could only think about all the young people home now, spending hours and hours — more hours than ever — watching YouTube and following who knows what algorithmic paths into who knows what strange corners of YouTube. The podcast reporters follow one person’s YouTube history (they downloaded the entire thing, with his permission, and then traced how he spent hours every day over a few years, watching YouTube) as the young man became increasingly radicalized by YouTube – first to the fringe right, and then to the fringe left.

The last few episodes have pivoted a bit, and focused on the impact of PewDiePie as a cultural force — the podcast calls him The Accidental Emperor. He started with quirky videos about video games on a whim, grew to millions of viewers, and then became a lightning rod for his political humor (including more than a few bits that uses Nazi symbolism for jokes). Learning more about him and what he has been doing with his millions and millions of viewers at YouTube is worth your time, as the cultural undercurrents of his sophomoric humor and focus by progressives often happens outside of the mainstream, but have resonance in the entire digital world.

And if you don’t know who PewDiePie is, your surely kids do. Trust me.

Listen to the Rabbit Hole podcast series.

Peace

Book Review: The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse

Sometimes, the right book arrives at just the right time.

So it is with The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse, by Charles Mackesy. At a time when a slower-paced book is needed, to calm the mind if not the heart, this small book — with such beautiful and evocative sketches and watercolors by Mackesy — offers an antidote of love, kindness, friendship and philosophy.

The narrative thread is a lonely boy who meets a cake-loving mole, who then rescues a fox, who then meets the horse, and all four creatures wander through a landscape, asking questions of each other on a range of topics, from what it means to be a friend to what it means to take care of yourself to what it means to love someone else and more.

There’s a quiet gentle, enhanced by the drawings, to the wanderings, sort of like the original Winnie the Pooh stories (before Disney got its hands on it), and that layered simplicity on top of message complexity makes The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse shine, page after page after page.

I’ve read the book twice in a week, and then shared it with my student book talk yesterday, and showed some of the pictures through video. This book is for any age reader, and while sharing it was the right thing to do, I believe this is one of those books you squirrel away, and take out when the world seems off-kilter, and maybe a little scary, and you need some reassurance that there is a path forward and you find the path with the ones you love, and traverse it together.

See? Perfect book for the times.

Peace (wandering through),
Kevin

Five Poems for OpenWrite

I stumbled on the Five Day Open Write at Ethical ELA and decided to join in. For five days, I wrote a poem, using the theme or style suggested, and came back to comment on the poems of others (there were a lot of people writing poems, which was very cool to see).

And I like that it’s just five days (and then other times of the year, it’s another five days of writing invitations). I also liked the graphic (above) that gives frames for commenting.

Here are the poems I wrote:

Never accept what
they tell you
she told me
or maybe
she didn’t
tell me but only
showed me
the way forward
towards resistance,
a mother’s message
to a son still resonating
decades after
she told me
or didn’t

 

I wish I could turn
and wander from
these moments,
to remember forever
how it was before

with school hallways
bustling with chatty energy,
jostling bodies walking,
the slamming of the
metallic locker doors

the quiet of our writing,
mid-way musings of
pencil scratches on paper,
digging into words,
emerging towards something more

of recess, and lunchtime,
of navigating friendship,
of bus loop energy,
of greetings, farewells,
silent reading on the floor

I wish I could turn
and wander from
this moment,
a return to the before

 

The way we felt
still feels now later
like unbridled
joy

from our perch
on the porch
as the pooch
zoomed by on
joy

with nary
a screen in sight,
or phone in use,
just pure abandon
in a moment of burst:
joy

 

some words can’t be found to be spoken
i know it feels this world, broken

i see this world, it merely seems broken
and a duplex like this, mere poetic token

but poems like these are not tokens
they’re like canapés or cakes, broken open

breaking open for us to dig inside, hard and oaken
like words, bound tight, but barely spoken

 

I remember
brushes on snare,
his foot on the pedals
of the big bass drum held
in anchor with concrete bricks –
the pounding of rhythm
through the rooms of the house

I remember
fingers on mallets,
the soft fabric covering,
the way we’d move from down low
to up high, the metallic rectangular
notes vibrating with such soft touch

I still remember
my father, the accountant,
who still plays those drums,
who still listens for the vibraphone,
who sought and found his own rhythm,
and kept on rolling it forward

Peace (and poems),
Kevin

On Rhyming Images: A Poetic Inquiry

Poems
Poems flickr photo by Pascal Maramis shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The other day, Greg and Sarah began an inquiry into the question of “how to rhyme an image” based off a tweet that Sarah posted after she watched a short presentation from Greg, and her query became the heart of the third edition of Local Glocals, an informal podcast some of us are doing around poetry of the local.

I could not participate in the live event, so I sent some audio responses to guided questions (as did Sheri, and maybe others, like Wendy and Terry, in the CLMOOC poetry community. I’m not sure who answered the call for responses). This is the basic text of my responses of thinking where image meets text and where image inspires text, and maybe vice versa on both of those ideas. (Greg is going to weave everything together into an audio show).

How do you rhyme an image?

What I like about this question is how it moves us beyond the pure visual aesthetics of photography or art. We have to see the image as a text first before we can think about what a rhyme is or what a rhyme may even be, from one picture to another. Perhaps we need to consider complementary colors, the way the color wheel tones of one image might connect to the tone of another image, and how our eyes process light off the world to make color hues our brain understands. Maybe one color tone of one image spills into the other image, and that is what we can call rhyme, the brain finding comfort in the connection. Think of interior decorating, and the way that a designer is intentionally thoughtful of what colors work, where, and what colors, don’t and why. Or maybe it’s the view perspective of the images that is the source of rhyme, or harmony — how one photographer’s viewpoint is in sync with another photographer’s viewpoint, the actual perspective of what the looker sees in the image itself. I’m also curious about the opposite of all this — how do images NOT rhyme? Is there a sudden jolt, a recognition of something off, a sense that this does not go with that, for god’s sake and why did you even try? Does the non-rhyming of an image make us, instead, look closer at the curation of the images — what underlying thinking brought these disparate things together? And is either of these two ideas — complement and dissonance of the visual — poetry?

* What are your other artistic endeavors? What connection to poetry do you see?

I play at being a songwriter, so poetry is the heart of that creative expression on many levels. One thing I find, with songwriting, is that couplets drive so much of the work because of the rhyme that goes in the flow with the music, and there are many times when a song won’t work because the couplet is either too rote, too simple, or I can’t find a rhyme at all. I do try to mess with the rules when I can — false rhymes, uneven lines, and all that. I find it both helpful and unhelpful to read a lot of rhyming poetry, though, for in songwriting, those rhymes and rhythms are apt to spill into my own writing, sometimes without me even realizing it until later. I’m fine with stealing and remixing phrases from others for songs, to twist the interesting ideas into something different, but when I catch myself with an exact phrase from some poem in my lyrics, I have to stop and shake my head, and start erasing or scratching out to start again.

* Do you, and if so how, do you use images in writing poetry?

I love using images as a source of poetry, and do it often. In years past, I spent every April with Bud Hunt’s blog, where he was posting odd images every morning to inspire poetry. I’ve gathered up a bunch of websites that generate random images from Creative Commons (thanks to folks like Alan Levine and John Johnston) for inspiring verse. Lately, I’ve been engaged with Margaret Simon and her “This Picture Needs a Poem” feature at her blog and I’m always watching Kim Douillard for her work with the lens of her camera to spark poetry in her students, and herself, and in others. The thing I find fascinating about images as inspiration for poetry is that the writer edges into the image from the side, looking for something maybe even the photographer didn’t notice. You want to pay attention to what no one else has seen – maybe it’s something inferred, like the story before the image was taken. Maybe it’s what comes next in the scene. Maybe it’s right there, in front of you, but you only see it by taking your time and being open to it. From this, poetry flows, and it’s an interesting kind of poetry, too, because a reader later may not have the visual context for full understanding of the poem, and that’s OK, too, I think. Poetry should give us pause, to wonder.

* Why did you choose the poets you are sharing?

This is strange, but I am sharing an interesting poetry bot, created by Zach Whalen, called Auto Imagist, that is designed to take the image texts from random photographs, and combine that gathered text into poems, in the style of William Carlos Williams. The results are fascinating for the stylistic approach (Williams, of course, wrote wonderful short poems where the visual cues play a key role in the reader’s ability to connect) but also for the technique that remixes the text of images into poetry. What you see in the bot-generated poems are little scenes, small glimpses of the world, little corners of dust and stories. I suspect echoes of the original photographs, as described in the image text, remain, but are obscured by the remix. I don’t know how Whalen created the bot — the raw code is at Github — and I’d be curious to learn more about the programming approach, and how the bot actually works its poetic magic, and of course, this all raises the question: can a bot be a poet if it remixes the words of humans?

Peace (from the East),
Kevin