One Of Those Days (Wrong Shoes Blues)

wrong shoes blues

You ever have one of those days?

I drove to school the other day and I was getting the classroom all ready for the morning — the scramble to make sure everything is just right — when I looked down, only to realize that I had two different shoes on my feet.

Somehow, in the rush to get out the door to get to school and with my mind crowded with lesson plans and the day ahead and everything else on my plate, I had inadvertently put one shoe on one foot and then grabbed an entirely different shoe for the other foot, and never even realized it until that moment of pause (and giggle) in the empty classroom.

Weird.

Those are the kinds of days that just make you stop and laugh and shake your head  … Crazy times.

Peace (walking it forward),
Kevin

Five Poems/Five Days

Peace“Peace” by kevin dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’ve been writing each morning this week over at Ethical ELA with its monthly OpenWrite, which is five days of poetry prompts. I appreciate the community of writers there, and the generous spirit that unfolds in the writing shared, and comments, made.

Here are my five poems from the past five days, with the one-word themes in bold as the titles:

Thanks

The shelves have become
barren of those silly cards,
those throw-away phrases
that always tried so hard
to make us laugh, in aisles
of the grocery store and
boutique shops and kiosks
in the mall, manufactured thanks
spit out by cold machines,
while I’m still one of those few
who settles down in the quiet,
pen in hand, to carve out poems
from the bones of memory,
a crinkled paper-cut of words
tucked into the folds
of your jacket pocket

Giving

What is
hope

but a rope
for which
to climb

a chance
to take
our time

a moment
in which
we find

something within us
that brings us
together

Receiving

There was a time
when the crowd hushed,
when all of our eyes watched
the ball flung into motion

with such beautiful flight,
its shape slightly wobbled
in the air flow imbalance
of impossibility

It’s that breath before
that I remember the most,
the beauty of the possibility
of perfect reception,

and not the drop,
when the world stopped,
and the magic
of the moment, broken
open

Breath

Awake,
when sleep
departs,
listening
to rhythms
of night,
the landscape
inscrutable
but for some
small melody
still yet lingering:
mere gossamer
and translucence
and then gone

Heal

Scars
show healing,
too, knife lines
tracing wounded
worlds, places
of exposure
in which fingers
brush up against
the past, the skin
always sharing stories,
with jagged
imperfections
etched deep
inside the heart

Peace (sharing it forward),
Kevin

Book Review: The Poetry of Strangers

Brian Sonia-Wallace hit the streets with a manual typewriter to see what poems he could write for other people, and quickly found his calling. In The Poetry of Strangers, Sonia-Wallace recounts his years as a street-corner poet, typing out verse for anyone who “needs a poem,” as he asks those who come to him.

Part of it was an experiment, to see if he could spend a month as a street poet, earning enough in donations in a month to survive, and part of it was making connections with other people, to allow them space to tell their stories to him, the poet filter, who then would gift them with a poem.

The book recounts his journey, and while there are some sections that veer off the trail of his main theme, the book is a nice companion to stories of groups like Typewriter Rodeo, and suggest that bringing old typewriters into public spaces might touch an emotional core to many of us. And that he is able to both leverage poetry and elevate language to anyone with an interest is exciting for us writers, and suggests possibilities for poetry.

While I enjoyed his tales of where his talent has taken him (from streets of many cities in America to corporate functions to political campaigns and more), what I found to be most powerful was his insights into people, who yearn to be heard in the age of digital noise. Some of the most emotional moments, he notes, are in the conversations he has with people before he writes them their poem, where they share parts of themselves with a stranger/writer/poet, who then recasts that story in verse, and hands it over.

He ends his book with this:

With every poem I write, I remember the value of a story doesn’t always depend on how many likes or retweets it gets, or how many people it reaches. Sometimes, just one person hearing a story — is enough. — from The Poetry of Strangers, by Brian Sonia-Wallace, page 286

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Drumroll, Please

Newspaper Announcement

Last week, for Slice of Life, I mentioned how I had been told I was a finalist in a short story contest here, sponsored by our local newspaper. Well, I didn’t win it all but I did come in what they are calling First Runner-Up (sort of Second Place, I guess) and this morning, my story was published in its entirety in the newspaper (in wicked small font!).

Newspaper Story

I’m pretty excited about it and I will bring the newspaper into the classroom today, too. You can listen to the interview I did with the local radio station and hear me reading the story out loud, over the phone, if you are interested.

Now, for my next story …

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Process Notes: Turning Poem into Song (About Writing a Poem)

I’ve been trying to write each month with the folks at Open Write via Ethical ELA (it’s pretty inspiring how many people come to write there), and it works by having just five days of writing prompts each month (so, manageable). The email notifications are always welcome, as I always forget it is coming up.

Mostly, I work on my daily poems with the prompts. The other day, the theme of ‘thanks’ came up for the first prompt of November, and I began a poem about the greeting cards you get from stationery stores, and then veered into something different, something more interesting (for me).

The shelves have become
barren of those silly cards,
those throw-away phrases
that always tried so hard
to make us laugh, in aisles
of the grocery store and
boutique shops and kiosks
in the mall, manufactured thanks
spit out by cold machines,
while I’m still one of those few
who settles down in the quiet,
pen in hand, to carve out poems
from the bones of memory,
a crinkled paper-cut of words
tucked into the folds
of your jacket pocket

It was the place where the poem took a turn in the middle with the writer becoming self-aware that I could not shake throughout the day. I found the words becoming lyrics in my mind all day long, small phrases dancing in my mind, and finally, I had time to sit down with my guitar, and I slowly began wrangling the poem into another shape altogether, turning the lines into lyrics of a song.

An interesting and challenging element of this process is that the rhythm and rhyme of the poem didn’t quite work (I’m not sure why I even heard the poem as song verses, given the lines) and so I found myself moving the pieces around, adding words, twisting phrases — all in the service of song.

I was intent on keeping the meaning, though, of a poet — feeling a bit estranged from the world, of thinking they are “one of the few” still scribbling words to paper – still writing, and intent on tucking words into the pockets of another person, hopeful that the poems will be found and recognized, and read. I think I was successful in this thematic connection from song to poem.

Paper Cuts You (Everywhere You Go)

I may be one of the few
to settle down
in the quiet and write you a poem

I wish I knew
how to share the silent
the way memory holds us like bone
the paper cuts you everywhere you go

These four walls
these blue lines
the days turning into night

I can’t recall
what it is we said
I’m tucking words inside your sleepy head
dreaming on this paper bed

And if it rhymes, it’s time
to break it all apart
I’m the poem inside
the pocket of your heart

And if I had the words
then we’d be OK
I’d hold you in the dark before the light

So close the door
pull on the shades
I’m writing you from somewhere yesterday
and tomorrow will be better than today

And if we find it’s time
that we make it from the start
I’m the poem
inside the pocket of your heart

The music was first recorded as a rough demo with only guitar and voice as a way to get it down. I found I liked what it was in that rough format but the song needed a bit more lyrically to bring things around to something hopeful. So I began all over again — adding other instruments — keyboard, piano, bass, guitar, strings. I wanted to keep my voice front and center — the poet, thinking — and the guitar fairly sparse strumming, more like a mandolin (the capo is high up the neck).

In the end, the song is different from the poem — the middle section, with worries that the poet is falling into method as opposed to heart, turns things a bit and the last parts give more hope, with the poet being the poem inside the pocket of the heart — but the pieces are still connected by some invisible string, circling around the central idea of a writing having hope that words can still impact the audience – even an audience of one person.

Peace (sounds like love),
Kevin

Giving Ourselves the Gift of Forgiveness

forgive“forgive” by timlewisnm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ve been in the midst of our parent-teacher conference week. Forging strong connections with families is always important, and it is even more so during these Pandemic times of hybrid and remote learning. All of our conferences are taking place on Zoom, which at times began to take on the role of a video confessional booth, although I didn’t mind when it veered into that direction.

Before we even ventured into the topics about academics or student progress, I consistently started out with the question: How are you (the family doing)? That question caused a pause, and then often a sigh, and then it sometimes opened a floodgate of response, and it was soon very clear — most families are just barely balancing the demands of their own work and lives with the school lives of their kids, and their collective nerves are frayed.

Some parents leaned in to apologize for not doing enough to help support their child’s learning during the Independent/Remote Days (in our Hybrid, we see students two days a week in the building, and then they are home for three days, doing independent work). Some families, primarily those with more than one child at school, admitted they just can’t keep up with the emails and notifications from different teachers, and have stopped looking.

More than one parent started to tear up. Many asked for more advice on how they can best support their child at home. Most said something along the lines of, “We’re doing what we can, but it doesn’t feel like it’s nearly enough.” They have not given up, but most seem resigned to the reality of the situation.

More than a few asked pointed questions about whether we are seeing gaps in academic performance due to the Spring shut-down and current Hybrid model, and if so, what would those gaps mean? I spoke reassuringly about what we are seeing, what we are doing, and the direction we are heading as a school. Parents seemed relieved by information and anecdotes.

All expressed heartfelt thanks for the teachers and the work we are doing, which I appreciate (particularly given some contentious decision-making by our local School Committee over fully re-opening the school and eliminating the six-foot-distancing rule, which families pushed back against, hard, leading to a reversal of that decision for the upper grades).

I found myself, often, urging parents to find forgiveness for themselves, to remember that we are still in a Pandemic and, unfortunately, the Pandemic is getting worse right now with winter coming, not better. I reminded them that all we can ever do, is the best we can do, and that taking care of our families is priority number one. For some, that means working from home. For others, it means trusting children to be productive in their independence.

Be kind to yourself, I told one single parent, who was distraught as our conversation unfolded. Family first. We will work together to address any school issues, I told them. You are not alone in this. Forgive yourself, for you are doing what you can in this moment of uncertainty, I reminded them. That is what our children need — love and support and stability — more than anything else.

Maybe I was reminding myself, too, as much as giving them a gift of forgiveness to give themselves.

Peace (to you),
Kevin

Missed The Marathon; Found Some Poems

Consider the Hinge

My National Writing Project friends at the Morehead State Writing Project hosted a post-election Writing Marathon last week that I had hoped to join but then could not.

Write Our Way Out

Luckily, they shared out the prompts afterwards and so I spent a few mornings, using the prompts to inspire some small poems. I’m sorry I could not join the night of the Marathon, but I was glad to be able to take my time each morning with a poem.

UndertowI was also trying out a new mobile app from the folks at Buffer (which hosts the free Pablo), which I use quite a bit for adding visual elements. The app — Buffer Remix — turns Tweets into an image, with different themes and photo options (including image search from Unsplash). It’s kind of cool. It works best with tweets with fewer words.

Look to the StarsThe Morehead State Writing Project folks are hosting a second event tonight, and while I signed up, I have yet another conflict. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the prompts for further morning poetry writing.

Writer in the Storm of Night

Peace (and poems),
Kevin

Video: Letters to Veterans

Most years, our elementary school hosts an amazing breakfast and all-school ceremony to celebrate our military veterans in the community. We live near two National Air Guard bases, so many of our families have military people in them. We often have dozens of veterans attend from all different services and from all different experiences, and introduce themselves to the student community, and students sing songs of appreciation. I’m a veteran, too, and I always appreciated the celebration.

This year, we can’t do that kind of event, due to the Pandemic, so I asked my sixth graders to write letters to our community veterans and then gathered them together into a video format. It’s not the same, but it’s something.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin