Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reduction to Practice

Well, my application is in for the New Jersey Writer's Project. My thanks to those who let me use their names as reference, and to anyone who wants to direct a little mojo my way (hint, hint).

Coincidentally, the latest Teaching Artist Journal arrived last week. I haven't completed it yet - always takes me a few weeks to nibble and digest, nibble and digest. This issue seems to have play and the application of play as its theme. A good subject, as TAs need to use fun as a motivator, at least at start. In "In Search of Serious Play", David Wallace makes the point that the rules of play have to be firm and clear yet enticing. Its a good article, but it trips over one of my peeves in the following excerpt:

"Virtually every form of play has rules of some sort - consider how many rules there are in baseball, chess, and other favorite pasttimes, In our lessons, two or three simple rules can provide structure for creative exploration."

I know what he's saying (and the rest of the article says it well), but the use of these examples seems to me to be missing the point a little. Sure these are complicated games, but they can be simplified in practice to be much less intimidating. It's not so much the rules of chess, for example, but the execution of its strategy that is daunting. Yet chess strategy 101 can be boiled down to three rules: 1. Take the center. 2. Make his king move. 3. Follow his king. Why can't we reduce our teaching of writing that way?

At the last Warren County Poetry Festival, Peter gave a great exercise, which (If I may simplify) was to answer three seemingly unrelated questions and put those answers into a poem. The reason it worked was because it provided specific, short, actionable steps. It turned "Write a poem" (cue scary music) into "Fill in the blank".

The article does go on to talk about ways to playfully but seriously engage students as a TA. But I fear that examples like this do an inustice to the things the engage in comparison. Baseball need not be more complicated than running, readiness, and the happiness of getting a hit. Chess, like creative writing, can be allowed to feel intimidating, or it can be presented in a way that makes it inviting, attaches to it some manageable goals, and welcomes play.

{Sorry, connection problems, links to come later}

Friday, February 17, 2006

Confidential to Woodhaven

My Goddaughter became a teenager this month and, as is typical for me, I completely failed to set aside the time to recognize her. 'Course, from her perspective, I'm just a scary loud guy she sees on holidays sometimes, so I'm sure that's not a big deal to her.

Anyway, the idea that she was acually becoming a young woman struck me hard last year. Here's what that blow drove out of me.

{sorry, this poem has been deleted}

Happy (Belated) Birthday, E.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Teachers and Teaching

I attended a terrific workshop for the New Jersey Artists-In-Education Program. Heard a little about what some local schools would like to do with their artists and got a great tour of the application from the woman who coordinates the artist end. The more I learn, the more I like; it's a wonderful way to ingrain the arts in education.

That insinutation of the arts is clearly called out in the application which, in addition to requiring applying artists to demonstrate they can create a cohesive crescendo of an arts experience, asks us to define what the "lasting impact" of our residencies with the kids we will teach. An excellent idea - it's one thing to immerse students in art, it's quite another to do it with a purpose and a plan.

Another thing our applications get graded on is the quality of the experience we design for the teachers of the students we propose to teach. This is both for their professional development and to make deeper and more permanent the connection with the curriculum. Remind teachers of how the arts can reach them. What they're capable of - the arts as well as the teachers.

This application process has made me take a serious look at what I consider unique about my artistry, what I consoder worth passing on. I'm quite hopeful I can become part of the program and make it work with the other obligations in my life, but even if that doesn't work out, I've learned an awful lot about myself, and about a small group of people who use a little bit of state money in an absolutely amazing way. I'll gladly settle for that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Be Someone's Valentine

Well, it's that time of year. Ted Kooser is recommending poems that compare romance with rocks. Kay Jewelers is once again stating for the record that love begins at 1.25 carats ("like" starts at 0.75; less than that is schoolyard flirtation). Love is in the air. (Note: The link isn't to the Staten Island Club's performance of that song. Sorry.)

The particulars of Valentine's Day in my house are, quite romantic -- in that "It's OK, I'll get milk on my way home" sort of way (
Writer's Blog archives, February 2004) -- but there's no need to rehash all that here.

But It's nearly impossible to find, let alone to write a decent love poem anymore. It's all glurge and dirge - sickly sweet and slow and almost always with word "above" at the end of the penultimate line. Slate's annual effort is not quite in that mold, however, and Kelli includes today a David Lehman effort that includes baseball references, which makes me think of Mike Fleming's "Rookie":

I was good -- damn good. I could bat for power
and for average, my arm was strong and true,
my glove as quick as a bullfrog's tongue. Hours
in the cage, days on the grass -- oh, I knew
I was good, all right.

It's a love poem. Really. I'm pretty sure, anyway. Go read it and find out for yourself. And as a quick aside, Mike's wife Meg Kearney, who directs the Solstice Creative Writing Programs at Pine Manor College, has updated her appearances list and will be making the rounds quite widely in the coming months. Oh, you lucky New Englanders.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Snowy Bits and Frozen Pieces

If you're reading this from somewhere on the east coast of the US, you're probably doing so to avoid dragging yourself into the driveway to start the chore of digging and salting your way to the street. So in the spirit of friendship, I offer the following useful distractions to proliferate your procrastinative efforts:

Jody Porter dropped me a note last week about Zafusy, an experimental poetry zine with links to blogs and and journals friendly to that poetic persuasion and not all well-known. I found it very different from my usual suspects, and anyplace you can find a poem inspired by a quark is OK with me. I recommend a visit.

Practicing a rather different poetics is Lily Literary Review, a newish zine more frequently published but in the same vein as Branches, with visual and literary artwork selected to be in each other's presence on the (web) page.

Are you watching the Olympics? The winter games holds less of interest to me than the summer games; I think Olympic track and field and gymnastics present the best individual sports efforts that don't involve steroids or a players' union. But there are still sports worth watching - luge and downhill skiing for fans of speed, figure skating for fans of grace, and more. Give NBC's coverage a chance.

And I wanted to close tonight with something snowy. Frost seemed too obvious; this does too, frankly, so I'm off now to find a suitably underpublicized poem with snow as its central image to post tomorrow. Any suggestions?

from Snow Day by Billy Collins

In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Upping the Beat

This weekend, I got an anonymous email (or rather, an anonymous comment on a post deep in the archive) profanely and morosely accusing this little space of being dark and depressing. So I'm going to forgo my usual Monday morning dissertation on the decay of earth's orbit and our eventual immolation in the unforgiving sun in an effort to be a little more upbeat.

The search for tools to supplement my poetry workshop design led me to some pretty neat books this weekend. I'd never seen The Daily Spark series - 180 exercies (one per school day) on subjects ranging from SAT prep to poetry. The poetry one is actually quite varied, using excerpts from O'Hara, Creeley, Wordsworth, Auden, and many others. The company has many other teaching aids, including an SAT vocabulary novel series. Sounded pretty dry until I saw first title was "Vampire Dreams".

I feel bad that Seattle didn't acquit themselves well yesterday, but I was glad to see The Bus rumble down the field for a few series. I hope he sticks to his retirement plan. He's one of the good guys in sports.

Fascinating gentleman stopped by my series yesterday to tell stories from his upcoming memoir on life in the army in the 1950s in the Germanies. Had some great tales.

Senryu For My Mother
the doctor replied:
true, but your swelled heart holds room
for this device, too.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Quoting Everybody

Working on my application, which requires the creation of a cohesive 4-day creative writing curriculum, in my case, for 4th-6th graders, since I've selected them as my target audience. But what should the point of the lesson be? I'm looking back over the respondents to Here Comes Everybody's question 7: "How would you explain what poem is to my 7-year-old?". That audience is a little young, but many of the answers are insightful and applicable to my quest: Some of the answers (excerpted):

Ed Foster: "When my son was that age or slightly older I had him write poems. I suppose that writing them is the best way for a child to understand what they are."

Josh Corey: "It’s like that game where you repeat a word until it makes no sense. Do that with four or five words in a row. Now make a sentence out of them. Repeat until it’s a poem. "

Christine Hume: I’d read your seven year old some poetry and let the child explain what it is to me."

Connie Deanovich: "I would say words have secrets and special powers. I would smile and wait for the child to smile back or to smirk. Then I’d say it is a poet’s job to discover these secrets and powers. I’d say a poet is like a honeybee except instead of going from flower to flower the poet goes from word to word to get what she needs. The bee makes honey and the poet makes poems."

And finally,

Donald Revell: "A poem is something made of words that you enjoy."

If I can get that one across, maybe they won't hate the things when they get to high school.

As an aside, I think many poets' answers to this question are needlessly complicated. While I don't believe in dumbing things down for children, I think it's necessary to put explanations in the context of an experience set they can understand and are willing to take in. I don't think everyone understands that.