Poems of Presence (Noticing the Moments)

Separate souls
Separate souls flickr photo by $ALEH shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I had thought I would take a break from writing poems each morning (as I had done for the past few months) but then a Twitter hashtag pulled me right back in! The #poemsofpresence folks — mostly teaching and writing, and writing/teaching, friends, but also assorted others — were writing some interesting small poems that captured a single moment in short verse, as a way to battle the anxiety of the times.

So, I have dipped in a bit, with no obligations in my mind to do anything more than what inspires me, which frees me up to write each day or not.

Walk gently
through white –
the discards
of night —
whether blossoms
or snow, or both

 

Nothing breaks the quiet
with the urgency of
the Pileated Woodpecker –
its hammering head on
the tree like a snare,
a syncopated jazz jam
of the wood – channeling Blakey, Krupa, Williams, Rich;
scratching the itch to find rhythm in anything

 

When walking
towards the full
morning moon,
lingering as it is
like the first notes
of your inner song,
it’s best to slow
the pace, to gaze
into the wonder
of the moment of
soft radiant light

 

Even trees
seem at rest,
our engines
sputtered to a stop,
as forest nymphs
and bored children
take over what’s
been abandoned
by the times

 

This strange universe
sings, a night melody
of starlight, empty
only in perception;
Instead: listen

 

Time forever
reminds us:
nothing lost
remains forgotten

Peace (make it present),
Kevin

Music from the Pandemic: Connect With You

I wrote and shared the first draft of this new song with my students, as a message staying connected in the time of isolation and as an avenue to peel back the process of writing.  I have a handful of students who are writing songs, too, and sharing with classmates in our closed spaces. I wanted them to get a glimpse of how I go about writing a song.

In the first video (below), I showed students my scratched-up, penciled lyric page, and then played the song on acoustic guitar. The more polished version (above), which I am sharing today, was done over a series of days, and I like the rock/pop feel to it.

Peace (keep connected),
Kevin

Book Review: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

I could not help reading Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary without thinking of my sixth grade students, now at home, and how our school is now closed (just like the Emerson Elementary is closing, but for different reasons) and traditions (like Step Up Day for us; Moving Up for the kids in the book) have all been rattled by the times.

This book’s premise is two-fold: each entry from the 18 kids of the classroom is part of a time capsule that will be installed on the grounds of the school, which is being demolished to make way for a grocery story; and each entry is written as a poem, with the 18 students represented on different days throughout the school year.

The result is a beautiful tapestry of stories — not just about the attempt to save the school through student protest and civic activism — but also of each student, as their home life and friendships and interests slowly emerge through the poems, and I appreciated the pace of the storytelling, how Shovan lets us settle in with the characters and watch many of them change over the poetic lens of a single year in fifth grade.

Not everything is knotted tight in resolution by the end, but that’s OK, too. We’ve come to trust the characters enough to wish them well on the next stage of their journey. And Shovan helpfully provides some valuable additions for the reader at the end — an overview of the many poetic styles used by her characters in their poems and a collection of writing/poetic prompts that one could use to write their own stories, told through poems.

Note: I was able to ‘meet’ Laura through her facilitation of the Water Poems Project at her blog and on Twitter, a recent daily water-themed poem project which I loved, and I bought her book because of that connection, and I am sure glad I did.

Peace (poetic style),
Kevin

 

WMWP: After Collecting Our Breath

WMWP Editorial May2020

I facilitated the writing of a collaborative editorial by our Western Massachusetts Writing Project in our regional newspaper, using our organizational presence to urge school officials and policy makers to notice the poverty, digital access and learning issues made visible by the Pandemic’s impact on our schools.

“At some point, school communities will catch their collective breath.” — the editorial begins

We urge leaders to:

  • Notice and make note of the inequities they were seeing now in the time of crisis, so as to address them more structurally later
  • To work to advocate for more equity of digital access, particularly for our rural communities, where reliable Internet is still not the norm, and our urban centers, where families are often struggling to make ends meet
  • Formulate professional development goals to help educators navigate the next wave of Pandemic, so we are not all scrambling as we are now
  • Help teachers be thoughtful in the technology platforms being used with young people, and not trade ease of use for student privacy

And more.

We aligned the themes of the editorial to the tenets of our WMWP Mission Statement, around access and equity and social justice, as well as teachers teaching teachers (and I guess, teachers as writers, too).

The local newspaper — Daily Hampshire Gazette — ran it as the lead piece on its Opinion Page, and it generated some buzz in local education circles. We hope it has some value in the times ahead of us, to use the time of disruption to enact positive change in the lives of our students and the state of our schools.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Objects in the Woods

We’ve been spending a lot of time in our local wooded paths and bike trails, staying close to home but also getting a deeper look at our sense of place. I suspect we’re all doing versions of this.

Yesterday, I was noticing how people are putting more and more little found trinkets and objects along our paths — which others in our neighborhood (one person, in particular) have long transformed into a natural art museum, using downed trees and natural things for temporary sculptures.

It may be that some families are doing scavenger hunts with kids during these times, or artwork at home is being shared with our local community through placement in the forest trails. In addition, the nearby river always spits up objects from the past, and it’s not uncommon to see folks leaving those unearthed treasures for others to observe. (This is all very different from the trash and mess that people — outside of our neighborhood — will begin to leave behind as they use the river for cooling off from the heat).

I could not resist using my camera to look more closely at the objects

Peace (found),
Kevin

Book Review: Kent State

A wife of a teaching colleague sent along her copy of Kent State, by Deborah Wiles, many months ago, with a recommendation that I read it, and there it sat, until last week. I had not an inkling that the anniversary of the shooting of college students by the National Guard was even approaching, never mind the 50th anniversary (which is today), when I picked it up last week. I only had a gap in my reading list, and the book filled a need.

Talk about good timing for a book and a historic event.

I was immediately drawn in by the experimental use of voice in this well-researched book by Wiles, who taps into the concept of the collective Greek Chorus, of giving voice to various factions of the time and place, through use of font style, size and page placement. The way the page looks helps to tell the story. Although somewhat a free verse novel, the passages don’t read like poems, more like gathered voices standing on the page, arguing points about what happened at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

We read/hear different student perspectives (the calm voice of sadness and the frustrated voice of anger; the Black voice of student protest wading into the racial contours of America’s response to the white college students killed by gunfire by the American government); the townspeople (irate businessman and scared mother of small children, the one who remembers the military helicopters most of all); and the National Guardsmen, too, explaining how young they were and how chaotic the college protest was for them.

These voices weave in and out of each other, as the story of Kent State unfolds over a weekend, starting with unrest on the campus over Vietnam and the federal and state government, leading to the shooting on campus that shocked and rattled the nation. Wiles explains at the end of the book how she spent a lot of time with oral biographies and with personal interviews, to capture the tension and confusion, the anger and regret, the voices of the times for her book, and her effort to be true to the event and the people shows.

There is no single point of view in Kent State, as there should not be although we often only know the story of soldiers killing college students, thanks in part to the song “Ohio” by Crosby Stills Nash & Young (a song that my band still plays).

This short but powerful book ends, as it begins, with a call to the reader (to us) to show empathy to all sides of the tragic event, and to be the one (you, I, us) who helps make the changes that make for a better nation.

We hope you’re
on fire
for change
for hope
for love

I would say this book is most appropriate for high school, but some upper middle school readers might enjoy it, too. It could easily find a home in a Social Studies/American History classroom, as an example of how to turn research into a work of experimental art.

Peace (today and every day),
Kevin

Music from the Pandemic: I Ain’t Moving (From This Easy Chair)

Along with teaching, reading, parenting and all that, I’ve been making time to play guitar and fiddle with sound loops, making music. I’m going to share some of it out now and then.

This three-chord bluesy song – I Ain’t Moving (From My Easy Chair) — is no doubt inspired from some listening to John Prine and how he used humor in his songwriting. I was hoping to capture some of the oddities observations of the times, and the character’s sense of being alone and being left alone. I hope you’re OK.

I Ain’t Moving (From My Easy Chair)

Is it a Monday?
or is it a Sunday?
I seem to lose track of time

Is it morning?
Or is it evening?
I’m sure I’m losing my mind

No, I ain’t moving from my easy chair
tell the world, I disappeared
You can’t move me if I don’t care
tell the world that I disappeared

Is that a news show?
Is this a game show?
I don’t know the truth anymore

When home is the work site
and work is the home life
I pull the plug and shut the door

Chorus

When the food is gone
and the cupboards bare
and I’ve chewed through every box that was there

Still I won’t go
I’m hanging on
I’ve got soup cans and dried beans somewhere

Chorus

Peace (rocking it on the chair),
Kevin

Poems Nearly Lost and Left Behind

Spring poetry...
Spring poetry… flickr photo by js hsu shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Note: I’ve been writing poems every day now for quite some time and am about to take a break for a bit, to recharge the writing mind. These three poems were leftovers — sitting in a place where I’d jot down poems but only sometimes used. – Kevin

Short, Attention, Span

This
is about all
I can take –
before I
break

Finding Funny

We’re having some trouble
finding the funny – these
rainy days used to be sunny
but now it’s just clouds
and trouble – the news feed
merely doubles our anxiety
so we’re sitting on the couch
with sitcoms — intentional
scripted dumb on display —
letting an earful of canned laughter
remind us to forget before
we need to remember again

And I Believe Him

He says he put his head down
only to drown out the sound
of the teacher’s voice –
the drone of talking
as the slideshow advanced —

and I believe him …

for what I can’t believe or
fathom is a teacher talking
for 60 minutes, the small screen
as podium, as if
all eyes were alert instead
of wandering

He says he put his head down,
for only a minute, to rest,
and I believe him.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin