Category Archives: Poetry
Here is my 15-word poem in response to Laura Purdie Salas’ visual prompt found here.
I’m off, post haste,
Hobbling on just one leg,
Delivering love to my fair lady.
Thank you, Laura!
By hook for a crook–
Sweet pound of flesh: Revenge.
Boomerang! …I’m d e a d….
Wool through gnarled fingers.
Frozen joints struggle to hook.
Grandchild’s flesh is warmed.
If you have not yet shared with students (of all ages!)—or enjoyed for yourself–the HBO Family DVD, created in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation, A Child’s Garden of Poetry, I highly recommend the experience.
(Although I have shared the video with students, in total, well over one hundred times, and enjoyed it on my own, as well, I never tire of immersing myself in this presentation!)
To the students’ delight, more than a dozen of the world’s most beloved poems are brought to life with animation, music, art, and recitations by well-known vocal talent (and wonderfully, sometimes even the poets, themselves!).
Besides the multi-sensory presentation, what makes the experience especially accessible for students is that the introductions to/reflections on the poems are delivered by children of all ages. (A most welcomed absence: no grownups interfering, elucidating, explaining, and stifling …no authoritative proclaiming! …”Just” a very special dose of knowledgeable peer sharing.)
When I first projected the DVD to students, I was concerned that some poems were too “heavy” for the younger primary-grade students, and others were too “babyish” for the intermediate students. And so I intended to pick and choose the poems to share with various grade-level audiences.
What I soon learned was that the older students enjoyed “My Shadow,” for example, as much as did their younger schoolmates. Likewise, younger students (surprisingly) loved “A Road Not Taken,” and “When You Are Old,” just as much as did the older students!
Undoubtedly, the visual presentation of the poems opened up their meanings for the students. Would the students—of all ages– have reacted as positively as they did if they had heard the words without the animated visual context/backdrop? …Probably not…
One of the responses of a child (probably no older than nine) who was featured on the video, perhaps, provides the best explanation—particularly for why students so loved “When You Are Old.”
She said, in essence, that although sad poems make you feel sad, they also are the most beautiful poems.
(In my words, sad poems are the most memorable, I think, because they are the ones that move us most deeply, touching us in places that are most vulnerable—making us feel most commonly human.)
So it was that, when I polled the K-Grade 5 students to learn their favorite poem from the video, even kindergartners chose “When You Are Old,” as did the older students, although the older students seemed more often to choose “The Road Not Taken.”
In the latter category, there was one notable exception. In sharing his response, one fifth grade boy named “When You Are Old” as his favorite poem, citing it for having opened his eyes (and his heart, no doubt!) to see differently his grandmother’s recent-loss reaction.
“The poem helped me see why my grandmother always looks so sad,” he explained. “I’m going to spend more time with her. I told my family that, too. We haven’t been very nice. I see how she feels now that my grandfather died.”
Saying he was very happy I had shown that poem, he thanked me. He thanked me. And I thought, it’s the poet he should be thanking. And I wondered if, when Yeats wrote that poem, he ever imagined that a ten-year old boy sitting in an elementary library would be so deeply touched and moved by his words to respond completely differently–so very compassionately- to his grandmother’s demonstrated grieving.
And I thought, too, of how–as I was preparing for her funeral–seeing photos of my mother as a young adult helped me to see her as a person, before, during, and after I entered the picture. She had a life apart from me, apart from being my mother….She was a woman; a woman with a long personal history…
In that context, I suspect that the animation of “When You Are Old,” which showed the older woman as a beautiful young girl and then, morphed into a sad elderly lady, helped the fifth grader to see his grandmother as someone, once young, who loved, and someone, now old, who grieved that loss.
Given that yesterday (October 1st) was the annual International Day of Older People, I “have” to share the poem that for five years so deeply moved “my” elementary K-5 students.
(Yes! Without apologizing, for the last five years, it became an annual Poetry Month event to share the Poetry DVD to all grades of students. Although there were some moans at the repetition, most students looked forward to seeing their favorite poems on the big screen; many recited the words right along with the narrators. What a blessing that DVD was for me–and for my students!)
Now, Mr. Yeats–
When You Are Old
———————William Butler Yeats——————-
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
When you call to mind the most memorable poems, are they the “saddest” ones?
If you are sixty or older, I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s day in your honor! (If you are not sixty or older, maybe you can get together with someone else and the two of you can qualify to celebrate!…Being old is good stuff–at least that’s what I’m telling myself.)
After so many nights of being in the front of the classroom on such occasions, one September eve, there we were sitting on the other side of the desk, engaging in our first ever back-to-school night—not as teachers, but as parents.
When it came our turn to for a quick one-on-one meet-and-greet with our daughter’s kindergarten teacher, we looked forward to hearing some positive words about our little cherub– as had all the parents whom we had met in similar situations in our teacher-roles, no doubt.
After a complimentary introduction, the veteran kindergarten teacher confided that there was one disciplinary concern she intended remedying. In preparation for the intervention, she forewarned that we should not be surprised to learn from our daughter that her table-seat had been changed.
Apparently our daughter was engaged in a kindergarten romance with the boy assigned to sit next to her at one of the classroom’s four tables. The teacher knew this was true because every time she turned to write on the board (There were chalkboards then.), our daughter and her little beau took the chance to smooch. They also took every opportunity to surreptitiously hold hands under the table.
“I thought by now their romance-novelty might have worn off,” the teacher explained. “It hasn’t. Unfortunately, I cannot let it continue. Their kissing has become a source of giggling for the other children. And their holding hands is distracting to themselves. It’s for the best I separate them. I hope you understand. It’s not a punishment, as such.”
Yes. We understood. The children were in school to learn many things—how to have a clandestine kindergarten romance at their table was not one of them.
Happy to say, our daughter took the classroom separation well. Her kindergarten playtime “romance” with the son of our best friends continued—supervised–outside school.
Then came first grade, and the sorrowful day our daughter announced that the romance was over—not by her choice. Her beau had found another girl who captured his heart.
Yes! She had tried to fight for the boy she loved, but without success.
And so she concluded her announcement, with these words spoken as much, I thought, to assuage her broken heart, as to inform us of her reconciliation to the “break-up.”
“No matter what, I always have the memory of our love.”
What????… Is this our six year old daughter talking? Has she been reading Tennyson’s In Memoriam:27…?
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Four years after our first back-to-school night, when our son was in kindergarten, it wasn’t the teacher who called our attention to his romantic interests. No; it was the parents of the object of his affections.
No. They did not appreciate the bubble-gum machine toy ring he had offered their daughter. No. They did not want their daughter considering marrying him: yes, no, or maybe. In fact, they would appreciate our son having nothing more to do with their daughter than was absolutely necessary in school.
What???? ….If the girl’s parents’ concerns were rational, then, apparently, there was something wrong with our reactions when our son shared with us his intentions. We admired that our son had used his accumulated change to get a ring, and applauded his ingenuity to print—all on his own, which pleasantly surprised us—a “Dear So-and-So. Will you marry me?” The question was followed, below, by 3 vertical boxes, marked “Yes,” “ No,” and “Maybe.” (Couldn’t her parents at least have given him credit for making her responding to his question easy?)
And who was this beauty who captivated his young heart? A tomboy, whose appeal, according to the reasons he gave for what attracted him included how fast she ran—even faster than he did, how hard she kicked a soccer ball, how really far she batted a baseball, how accurately she could throw a ball, and–most importantly!—how she always wore a baseball cap—backwards.
His love for her, and the idea that they should marry, had been sealed, I supposed, when they served as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus in the kindergarten December assembly.
Of course, we kept our “What????” thoughts to ourselves, instructing our son to keep his distance, out of school, from his best buddy. Never again was he to offer her a ring. He promised, content they still would play in gym, confident that she would continue wearing a baseball cap.
When I thought about the list of how-many reasons he gave for wanting to marry his athlete-buddy, a list that he had rattled off for loving her, I thought of Browning’s 43rd Sonnet:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
That’s it. Both our children had loved and lost (?) early in their schooling. Happily, both have gone on to find enduring loves, consecrated many years ago in marriage. And while I don’t know if either of our children ever give their first loves so much as a passing thought, I know every once in a while, I do. Proud, without apologies, that both of them were capable, willing, and so inclined to love and lose, even at their young age—just six.
Interestingly, our son grew up to be a sales and marketing director. His kindergarten penchant for premiums, survey-options, and choices, in business and in love, I’m sure, has served him well.
Our daughter? The child with the Tennyson philosopher-at-love heart? She grew up to teach speech, drama, film and literature. Roman Holiday is one of her favorite films to share with her students.
…I guess I’m not surprised how both our children turned out! …Are you?
In that regard, the seventh line of another poem comes to mind, a line, which, as a teacher, as well as a parent, I’ve often reflected on. …Normally, the masculine references in poetry and prose bother me not, but I admit that when reading these words in reference to our daughter, I would exchange “wo(man)” for “man,” and interchange a mother-alternate seventh line version. I hope Mr. Wordsworth would not feel offended.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Rewind to this past April…Without feeling any modicum of gratitude (no, quite the opposite!), thanks to the scheduling demands of the PARCC exam, our elementary school was forced to abandon its traditional full-day’s Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities, in favor of a majorly scaled-back version.
Disappointed and frustrated that for weeks PARCC testing had been robbing us of so much instructional time, and knowing what Poem in Your Pocket Day had been in the past and could have been that day if not for the PARCC exam, I was feeling rather glum on Poem in Your Pocket Day morning, when the first students came to the library bearing books that needed returning.
“My grandma gave me a poem for my pocket,” a little first grader announced, absolutely glowing.
“That’s so nice,” I replied. “I hope you thanked her.”
I continued…“Your grandma knew that she didn’t ‘have’ to give you a poem, right?” …Without waiting for a response…”She knew you would get a poem from your teacher—just like last year, right?”
“She knew. She said she just wanted me to have her poem in my pocket when I walked to school… ”
Then, her ebullience dimmed. “Somewhere along the way I lost it.”
“Oh, that is too bad,” I commiserated. “Do you know what it was about?”
“Uh-huh. A man who writes poems,” she readily told me. “…And a tree.”
I smiled, memory going into overdrive, racing through the opening words I had long ago learned by heart; truthfully, the only words I could think of having to do with a tree and a male poet. (Shame on me! I had forgotten about the Giving Tree. Good thing that wasn’t the poem she was missing.)
As dramatically as I could muster first thing in the morning, I recited:
“I think that I shall never see a poem [as] lovely as a tree.”
“Yes! That’s it,” she said. “. ..And there’s something about God at the end.”
Ceremoniously, I responded:
“Poems are made by fools like me[. ]But only God can make a tree.”
“How did you know?” she asked me, incredulously, expecting, I thought, for me to explain that I had magical powers to read the poem that she had carried in her pocket as she walked to school.
Rather, “I learned that poem a long time ago–when I was your age,” I said.
Books having been returned, and self-disclosure over, the little first grader turned to go.
“Wait!” I said.
Quickly, I found, printed out, and trimmed the extra white space from a hard copy of the online version of the poem whose first and last lines we had shared.
“Here.” I said, “It’s the poem your grandma gave you.”
After a full-smile look and “Thank you,” the little first grader checked the words (though I doubted she could read many of them), and then, with the joy of victory on her face, slipped the paper with those treasured words to Joyce Kilmer’s Trees safely into her pocket.
When she left, I felt glad I had been able to give her the words to the poem her grandma had wanted her to have in her pocket. At the same time, I felt sorry that the best I could do was a printout. Surely her grandma had printed those words for her—in her own handwriting. My printout was better than nothing, but certainly it was not a replacement, but at least, decidedly, a poor substitute.
The interaction had clearly changed my mood. If nothing else happened that day, Poem in Your Pocket Day had been an amazingly gratifying success. A little girl had proudly walked to school carrying in her pocket a poem that her grandma had chosen for her; a poem her grandma had written out for her, a poem composed by a man about a tree; a poem that ended with something about God.
And how I wished that grandma were in school, standing in front of me, so that I could move out from behind the circulation desk. How I wished I could embrace her; thank her; compliment her.
What a gift she had given her little grandbaby—a gift of loving poetry, of being personally, inextricably connected with poetry in a way that no amount of full-day Poem in Your Pocket Day events could have compared with or exceeded. …In a way, I was certain, that would forever outlive one particular Poem in Your Pocket Day.
And although I’ll never know for sure why the grandma picked that poem, I couldn’t help wondering and speculating. Had she been required to memorize it (as I had been) when she was a child? Was it her all-time favorite poem? (Can’t say it’s mine.)
It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that this gutsy grandma had wanted her grandbaby’s pocket filled with words that the public school likely would not give her. Words about God. Words I’m sure this loving grandma hoped would fill not only her grandbaby’s pocket, but her mind and her heart.
Imagine! Five years of Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities and never before had I heard of a family sending a child to school with a poem. Maybe they had, and I just did not know. If that is the case, then, sorry as I am for the child, I am grateful and glad that she lost the poem her grandma had written for her.
What a blessed memory I have, thanks to that little grandbaby and her grandma.
When I printed out the hard copy of Joyce Kilmer’s poem for the little girl, I printed out a copy for myself.
And like picking up on a conversation with an old friend, I recited those words to myself, wishing my Grandmother once had written them for me, a copy I could carry in my pocket all day every day–if only no more than the last two lines.
“Poems are made by fools like me[. ]But only God can make a tree.”
God bless poets. And God bless Grandma’s.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Christine Pisera Naman, who birthed a son on September 11, 2001, honored all babies born that fateful day by authoring a commemorative pictorial book that featured her son and forty-nine other babies—one from every State.
Each child was honored with a two-page spread: one page provided a close-up photo; the other page offered well-wishes, expressed in the forms of “hopes.”
What I especially liked about the “hopes” was that they chronicled the freedom children have to be innocently, spontaneously, joyfully themselves: jumping in rain puddles, wishing upon stars, catching snowflakes on their tongues, carving jack-o-lanterns, blowing bubbles, running through the grass barefooted, coloring outside the lines, doing somersaults, wishing upon stars, making snow angels, putting teeth under their pillows, waiting for the tooth fairy–and so much more.
The title of the book speaks to the gift that the birth of those fifty children represented in the face of 9/11: Faces of Hope. Hope in the midst of death and pain. Hope in response to a temptation to succumb to feelings of vulnerability and hopelessness. Hope, embodied as the fruit of love, standing strong in defiance of hatred and violence.
And as a teacher-librarian, when I think of embodying hope, I think of the words of Emily Dickinson’s definitional poem.
Hope is the thing with feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Inasmuch as the poem captures the mystery, majesty, humility, and tenacity of hope in the face of adversity, America’s united, optimistic response to the hatred, evil, and violence of the terrorism that struck on September 11, it seems to me, makes it appear as if Dickinson wrote this poem in advance commentary.
Faces of hope. That’s what the babies born on 9/11 were. That’s what babies always are. And speechless as they are, their every coo and babble communicate an optimism that circumstances–no matter how adverse–dare not silence.
Perhaps that is why the words of poet Carl Sandburg, included on the back cover of Faces of Hope seem apropos: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”
Now, fourteen years later, inspired by the hope embodied by those babies who were born that fateful day, as well as by those babies who have continued to be born each day since–America has gone on.
And for that unique, living gift that babies are, for the gift of themselves that validates life and love and hope, the sum total cost of having and loving babies in return—no matter how much—is comparably, insignificantly small.
In the context of 9/11, how do Emily Dickinson’s words, as well as Carl Sandburg’s, speak to you of hope?