Book Review: The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book

The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An Interactive Guide to ...

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I saw The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book (An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books) on the shelf of the public library. It was a chance check-out, done on a whim, and how glad I am that I did.

This text is in the form of a phone book (perhaps a generational splitter for readership, but who knows) and is a collection of codes, so that when you call the main phone number, and enter a code, you can hear another reader give a story or review of a book that is listed in the phone book.

Get it?

There are also prompts throughout the book (such as shout out your local independent book store or tell of a book you read as a child, etc.) with an invitation to add your voice to the telephone book. So each reader has the opportunity to be part of the book.

How cool is that?

There are also narrative transcripts in this physical book, taken from the audio files of readers, that tell stories of how books did transform their lives, and how certain books left imprints on their past, present or perhaps, future trajectory. I loved that sense of voice in these mostly-anonymous stories of books.

Oh, and did I mention all of the playful “advertising” throughout the book? They are funny, insightful and a bit tricky, calling on memories of stories and characters in famous books. Those have codes to call into as well.

The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book | Book by Logan Smalley ...

All in all, The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book is a reader’s delight on many levels, and it inspires the reader to ‘call in’ and join the mix of book lovers.

Peace (on the lines),

PS — wanna try it out? Call 774 325 0503 and use the code 5490 to learn about American Born Chinese, the graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang

Slice of Life: Poems for Planet Earth

(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.)

A few weeks ago, I noticed a “call for artists” through our local public library, for an exhibit they were pulling together about healing, health and the state of our planet. They were seeking videos, art and writing. Intrigued, I decided to try my hand at some poems — five short poems — with environmental themes, and I sent them in, and then I forgot all about it (as I am apt to do).

The other day, I found out that the library art gallery had accepted three of the five poems I sent in for its “In This Together: Virtual Exhibit on Planetary and Human Health” display. I feel honored to be among the 41 local artists (some of the other pieces in the collection are really amazing to look at — particularly the visual artworks).

This is from the gallery description:

As we emerge slowly from the Covid-19 pandemic, we reflect on how it has changed us, the environment we live in, and our outlook. While our societies and our world are still in the midst of enormous changes, how do we feel about our role? How has the past year impacted how we relate to the environment and to each other? Have our priorities changed?

abstract photo by Faith Kaufmann

via Hosmer Gallery, Northampton, MA

My three poems can be found here, here and here.

As a poet writing daily throughout the Pandemic, I noticed the act of writing has often been rather lonely. (Maybe that always is the case for poets, but the isolation of the lockdowns seemed to make it even more so). I like the idea of a few of my words being part of a local community collective effort to think on the changing Earth, and how the Pandemic is influencing that thinking, that wonder, that warning. To see my words mingled in with other media and art feels right, and satisfying.

I’m not naive. I don’t think poems or poets can change the world. A few verses won’t change policy. Stanzas don’t scale up.

But writing poems can change the poet who writes those poems, I believe, and the time I spent composing the five pieces gave me a chance to sit with the ideas, to mull things over, and try to capture some thoughts that will help me in my own small actions, each day. There were threads across the five pieces that I know are there, threads I made visible to myself that connect to how I can and should view this world we are caretakers of.

What more can a writer do?

Peace (in poems and planets),

Comics About Writing: RobotWriting

RobotWriter Can't Do Poems

This is part of a series of comics I had been making about writing some time back. Just ’cause … and then I forgot to share them here …

Peace (squared),

PS — I know this isn’t true — many AI engines are now creating poetry ..

How a Poem Comes to Be

Crane BeachA call for writing about spiritual summer journeys by my friend Carol V. had me revisiting this photograph I shot at Crane Beach (Ipswich, Massachusetts) last week as my wife and I went on an end–of-school-year getaway for a few days as a way to decompress and rejuvenate ourselves.

After posting the poem as digital object, my Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleague Jack C. asked if I might share the poem as verse, and reflect on the process (maybe Jack didn’t ask that in particular, but that’s what I am going to do here because I find it valuable as a writer to do that).

The Invitation

Carol sent forth a tweet and a blog post with a call for poems, writing and media. She does this regularly for the seasons. This call for work was about, as she writes, to “imagine all the opportunities to relax, meditate, and free ourselves from the restrictive boundaries of our pandemic lives.” I remembered my wife and I walking Crane Beach one early morning. Miles of sand and ocean and almost no one was else was there, and how rejuvenating that was.

The Image

There was this one photograph that I took by chance and then kept remembering back on. At first, I was amused at thinking how the sand shapes in the morning seemed to resemble a gathering of turtles burrowed down into the sand.  And then I saw them as puzzle pieces, scattered on the shore. As I thought more on it, I was drawn to the way the ocean, at night, creates its art, and leaves it for a little while for the world to notice, before pulling it back to water. Something about night’s work and morning’s viewing nudged my mind.

The Poem, Part One

I knew I wanted to write about the ocean at night, and to capture its invisible hand in shaping and reshaping the landscape, but I struggled with the first lines of the poem. I sat with the idea of the poem for some time, mulling over quietly in my head some possible ways to begin. I’d whisper phrases, trying to find the right words and the right rhythm. At last, something clicked, and “What night’s tides leave behind …” seemed to open up the rest of the poem, with the image of the beach still lingering in my head.

The App

Since I know that Carol’s call often is for art, visual, I opened up an app I often use for poetry called TypiVideo. It creates a form of kinetic text poetry but one of the odd elements is that the app only wants a block of text, not verse, and the writer has little control and little agency over where the text/screens start and end. So I wrote this poem as a single block of text (unusual for me) inside the app itself (also unusual for me). Even as I was writing, though, I heard the line breaks and saw where the stanza construction could be. The app didn’t care about that, but I did, and when Jack asked, I went back into the digital poem to reconstruct the poem as verse, pulling the threads of the single block of text back into the form of a poem.

The Poem, Part Two

It was the third verse where I began to pivot, from the visuals of the beach itself to the world at large, I think, as I am the poet I write about, trying to make sense of the landscape that is always in the midst of change (every day and every night, when considering the ocean’s relentless energy) and things we remember (and what we forget). The last stanza hooked me back to Carol’s call for summer, and the understanding that a visit to the ocean (for us) ends with us also heading back home, and what we are left with are the memories (that might become poems).

The Poem, Part Three

What night’s tides
leave behind
when morning arrives

lays scattered
like puzzle pieces,
an invitation
to the poet

to imagine sense
in the unknown,
before the ocean
claims the memory

this season’s always
tugging us towards

Peace (listening to the waves),

Slice of Life: Hold On To The Positive (Comic)

(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.)

This is a comic slice, the latest edition to my collection of comics I have been making since the Pandemic began as a way to deal with the turmoil. With this school year over, I am in reflective mode.

Hold On To The Positive

Peace (in panels),

Book Review: Wintering (The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times)

I can only imagine the publishers of Katherine May’s book — Wintering (The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times) — rushing to get it out of the galleys and into the stores as the Pandemic hit us hard and retreat was a global movement, as was loss and grief and fear for many. How to make sense of it all was and remains a conundrum of the times. May’s book helps give us some context.

I read Wintering just as Spring arrived, and vaccinations were just underway, and while there was optimism that we might yet venture more fully into the outside world (as has now happened), the warnings were everywhere to be cautious and learn from experience.

Some of May’s passages are just brilliantly beautiful, full of shadowed repose to remember that the dark brings the possibility to nurturing yourself, a reminder that not all is bright and light and sunny. This book is about realistic resilience, and May’s work doesn’t sugarcoat her pains and anguishes and worries.

But it does remind us that the dark may not last forever, and what we do during those difficult times will help us heal on the other side. Her book is divided into the seasons of Winter, and although I read it within a few weeks time, I wish I had savored each section during the time of year from which she writes about. I suspect that would have given my reading of her prose even more power.

Perhaps some other time, when I need it, then.

May shares her own stories, and strategies, and insights about how to grapple with the cold seasons of our lives, and she deftly surfs the metaphors here, through conversations with friends and colleagues, and bringing her own stories into the mix. Her connections to noticing nature worked the best, for me, as she notices the world more acutely even as her world seems more insular as illness and change impact her.

Wintering is a reminder that it is OK to find time to pay attention to yourself, and to use the natural world as inspiration, and reminder, to what may yet come when the season recedes and another takes its place.

Peace (burrowed down but coming up),

Memory Drop and the Pandemic School Year

I Don't Remember When

This was inspired by a real conversation I had with my teaching colleagues on the last days of school … seriously, we were having trouble remembering when things happened. It was that kind of year.

Peace (recalling it),

Collaborative Poetry: Making a Poem in MidAir

I used Etherpad to invite some colleagues in a new National Writing Project social space to create a poem with me. The video documents the writing of the poem, via Etherpad’s cool time-lapse feature. Since Etherpad now removes all ‘pads’ after a time of inactivity, the full poem can be read here.

What I love about these kinds of activities is the unexpected, the way a fellow writer can take a few lines in a new direction, and how the next person tugs the thread and pulls the poem forward, too. It’s not always in complete sync but going into a collaboration like this means giving up preconceptions about where a piece of writing is going.

(and see how Terry created his own video version)

Peace (in poems),

Slice of Life: This Is How The School Year Ends

(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.)

In the short but provocative novel Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher, the classroom of sixth graders has a tradition that they enact whenever someone is set to leave the class during the school year (either by moving or some other event). They conduct a Rock Ritual. The way it works is that the student who is leaving chooses a mineral or stone from a class collection, and then each classmates passes the rock around the circle, telling stories of the student who is leaving. That student takes the rock with them, with the idea that the rock has collected the words, stories and memories.

When we read Flying Solo in the middle of the year, my class of sixth graders all asked if we could do our own version of the Rock Ritual at the end of this crazy Covid year. I said yes, of course, and this morning, on our last day together, we will gather in the classroom to have our ritual (using Ring Pops instead of rocks).

Yesterday, we spent part of our morning with a sheet of all of their names, writing down ideas for the stories we would tell.  (Frequent Question: Can we write about ourselves? Answer: Of course). You should have heard the noise and laughter, and sharing, even though I suggested we wait until today’s actual Ritual to share (this is a rather boisterous and louder-than-usual class of sixth graders that is relentless in its socializing).

I’ll have to circle around another day to really reflect on this year of teaching and learning in the Pandemic, and all that I have learned and wished I had learned, and everything else. For now, I will settle into a final act of Community in the Classroom, as we tell stories of our time together in a year like no other.

Peace (and tradition),