Being a writer in a room of writers

Last night, as part of the New England Writing Project Retreat down at University of Connecticut, a large group of us teacher-writers wandered down to an Open Mic that had been set up as part of the retreat. The room was filled with high school creative writers, undergraduate and graduate students, and us teachers in the National Writing Project. All too often, we teachers write with other teachers. It’s as isolating as being in your classroom (although the National Writing Project is a place that helps dispel that feeling). So, to be part of an Open Mic event with students reading their writing (and in one case, singing a song, and in another, performing a one-act play) was fascinating and interesting and invigorating, and my ears overflowed with amazing poems. We were all equal — writers in a room of writers.

One of the teachers with me out his poem and, looking out at the crowd of young and older faces, smiled, and said, “I thought I would be reading to a group of English teachers,” but the kids were receptive and open to all sorts of writing.

Jason, here at UConn Writing Project, helped organize the event and I appreciated this kind of mix of teachers and young writers, who were clearly as happy to have us as their audience as we were to have them. I read a poem that I wrote over at Bud the Teacher’s blog this week. The poem is still in revision  (I was scribbling on it in the seconds before I stood at the podium) but I felt like this was an audience that would accept whatever words flowed from my mouth.

Peace (in the poems),

More Poems with Budtheteacher

Lightning; My First Try
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kuzeytac

Bud Hunt, aka Bud the Teacher (and Bud the Poet, and Bud the Daddy, and Bud the Bowler) has been posting some pretty interesting photographs at his blog site this month, and asking that folks be inspired and write poetry. I get up in the morning, wondering what he will have posted today, and somehow, I find a poem in the morning darkness. I like that kind of inspired writing. Some of my poems are disposable, but others could be worked on in the future. You’ll notice that I am using Vocaroo to podcast my poems, so if you want to hear me reading my writing, you can follow those links at the end of each poem.

Here are  few poems from this week that I wrote that have some potential:

My walls are crawling with sound;
echoes of the past seeping in
through the pores
of the duct tape repairs hastily made to photographs
falling to the floor as a result of the pounding
of small feet, up and down the stairs,
as if the treadmill here never ends and is always in motion.

We’ve placed our lives on top of the others who were here before us,
layering our laughter and sadness and kindness and cruelty
on top of their own: a symphony of living.

In early mornings, when no one is awake but the cat and I,
I clandestinely peel back the wood paneling to get a glimpse
of those who were here before us,
as if some secret to a long life is hidden there behind the facade —
a Chinese fortune inside the cookie shell —
yet all I ever find are uneven walls, unused nail hooks, paint splatters
and a few tattered remains of paper scratched with small indecipherable scribbles,
which I suppose is what we mostly leave behind anyway,
for those who will come after us.

Dear computer,
Oh, how you have served me well these long mornings
as I have tapped away in near silence to the musings
of my mind.
I forgive you the re-starts, the pauses, the endless rebooting and even the lost files:
everyone has their difficulties and my fingers often run too fast
even for me.
You did not panic when the little green XO came into the house,
nor did you bat an eyelash when the laptop arrived like some long-distant cousin.
The open source Netbook did not scare you
and you were silent as a star as I breathed out excitement
about the Macbook at school.
The iTouch no doubt sent a quiver down your motherboard,
but it, too, has its place, in another room,
docked and loaded with music and games and almost out of sight,
out of mind.
Here, with you, I still come to write.
Here, with you, I still navigate the world.
Here with you, I remain.
But I wonder …. will you still be here another year
or are you soon to be gone,
replaced with what the hipsters and hypersters all say will change the world?
I sense panic in your font, old friend, and can only say that we all adapt
when the price is low enough and the interest, great enough.
I remain, still stationary yours,

your movements
bewitch me:

the way you shift on your toes
when you walk down the hallway
makes me feel as if the entire world
has tilted on its axis

the way you hold your pen
as your write your notes
in swirling, romantic lines as if being played
to rhythmic salsa

the way you bend down to talk
to him with eyes wide open and full of interest
in all things Star Wars, Ninja Turtles and the distance
between Earth and Sun

the way you can sit so quietly
and just think

while my mind rumbles with love
over these small moments
that make up the day.

Why is it that every time you whisper,
I see lightning
flashing across the horizon
with sharp lines snapping and crackling;
but whenever I hear myself talk,
I only hear thunder
rumbling deep inside
on inaudible frequencies that shimmer and fade.

Come join us for writing poems over at Bud’s blog. Come on. You can do it, too.

Peace (in the poems),

Bud’s Picture Poetry Month

Radio Daze

Well, just as Slice of Life ends, so begins poetry with pictures over at Bud the Teacher’s blog. Each day, Bud posts an interesting photo, with a little bit of guided thoughts, and asks for folks to submit a poem.

Today the photo and idea around breaks inspired me to write this poem:

I’m breaking in
so you can break out
with those dance moves you’ve been working on
with the Wii.
I hear you down there at night,
with speakers on low,
your feet pound-pound-pounding to the beat
while I am deep in sleep,
dreaming of the microchips that carry the rhythm
of you.

And I am trying to use Vocaroo to record my poems with Bud.

Peace (in the night),

Me and Andrea and Billy Collins

Thanks to Aram for this quick video of me and my friend, Andrea, meeting Billy Collins in Philly. You can just make out me talking about the 30Poems in 30Days project.

Peace (in the connection),

Reflecting on Writing 30 Poems in 30 Days

I’m glad I did it — I’m glad I took the challenge of writing 30 new poems in 30 days and lining up “sponsors” who would donate a set amount of money per poem in order to help a local group that supports immigrant families in the Pioneer Valley (where I live). (See initial news story about the project)

But I do wonder about the quality of what I was writing. I felt like I barely had time to take a breath, never mind go as deep as I would have liked to have done in any other time. Don’t  mistake me — I write fast and let ideas bubble, not simmer. But a poem every day was still a challenge. I found myself looking at the small moments of my life, trying to see the world through the poetic lens, and then I tried to capture some of that with poetry.

I also made forays into technology — I wrote a poem with Wordle, with images, as a comic strip movie, in a Prezi presentation and with Voicethread. I wanted to explore some possibilities that aligned nicely with the short-form poems that I was writing. Most days, I podcasted my poems using the free Myna software from Aviary. It was a perfect platform for recording, downloading as MP3 files and then sharing out, too.

I also had this vision of my reader — my sponsors, who were stretched out across the United States (and into New Zealand). Every morning, I would send them off an email with a new poem. Sometimes, they would write back — sometimes, they wrote back with a poem of their own.

Aram, for one, decided early on that he liked the challenge so much that he began posting his own poems in response, sometimes, to mine. Or at least, in response to the challenge. (And it was thanks to Aram that I said hello to Billy Collins.) Another person in our iAnthology network, and a sponsor, took to writing her own 30 poems, too, but she has kept them private. I was grateful that my poetry inspired her to take the chance, too.

I began the month with a poem about “plunging into poetry” and ended it by letting my readers know that “Gratitude is the song I sing” for them being there every day. In between, I wrote about my family, about writing, about my classroom, about the digital world, and more.

Most of the poems were short — five to ten lines long, and I struggled to pack a punch into those lines. I didn’t want the words to just sound nice; I wanted the words to mean something. I hope they did.

So, what do you do with 30 fresh poems? I’m not sure. Right now, they sit in the bin with a previous venture of OnePoemEveryMonthforaYear, and poems written in response to photos posted by Bud the Teacher a few months back and other odds and ends of writing collecting dust.

If I can swing it, I am going to try to go to the poetry reading for the 30Poems in 30Days project at our local library this week (scheduling makes this difficult, so I don’t know …) I’m curious to hear what other folks have been doing and maybe, I’ll be able to share a poem or two of my own to a live, and not just virtual, audience.

Peace (in the poems),

And so ends the 30Poems in 30Days Challenge

(Poet’s note: I’ll write a longer reflection on another day but this is the last poem I wrote for the 30poems in 30days challenge, which supports a worthy group in my hometown. My sponsors are paying me for each poem that I wrote, which I sent them each morning. This final poem is for them — and you — those who spent a moment to read a poem here and there and followed me on this journey. I appreciated it.)

is the song I sing, dear readers,
for the encircling hands that you have held out
to prop up these poems.
Your eyes have guided me;
Your words have strengthened me
when my own thoughts seemed to flutter away
with misdirection.
That which I might have discarded as meaningless
became instead something different
when I considered you, sitting there comfortably with an open heart,
ready for what I had written,
and so I gift-wrapped these ideas again and again to make them ring
like melodies from the distance,
and you — you, dear readers, were the harmony shimmering beneath the lines.
is the song I sing
and I sing it just for you.

Listen to the poem as a podcast.

Peace (in the verse),

Day 29: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: I am almost at the end of this adventure. Today’s poem comes from a workshop that I was in last week around vocabulary instruction. One of  the things we talked about was Semantic Feature Analysis. I was fascinated by the words on this handout that we were given, and created a found poem.)

Semantic Feature Analysis: a found poem


the axis

where words present students

with opportunities –

relate variations plus connections to make

the grid of similarities known

and recognized within this box

of knowledge.

Peace (in the word),

Day 28: 30poems 30days

(Poet’s note: I wanted to use Wordle this month for one of my poems but I could not figure out how best to accomplish that. Single words do not always a poem make, if you know what I mean. Then, by chance (?), I stumbled upon someone’s blog post that showed how to string words together (you use the tilde sign ~ between words). Now I could do it, with a love poem about books. I used the advanced setting of Wordle so that I could weight phrases, allowing some to be larger than others)

Peace (on the page),

Day 27: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: This one is for Duke, our dog, a black lab. Sometimes, he sits there so silent, it’s like he is in meditative thought. Other times, not so much.)

Warm eyes, deep pockets
set in a canvas of black
fur, silently still.

Peace (in the dog),