Archives For #poetryfriday

#PoetryFriday: Pole Dancers

November 23, 2017 — 11 Comments

The fall of 2017 in Connecticut was one of the warmest on record. That unusual warmth allowed for long evening walks on the beaches of the Long Island Sound shoreline. One night, I witnessed a fabulous illusion which resulted in this poem.

While I am not a regular contributor to the #PoetryFriday posts, I did want to record that moment, and poetry was the best way. Writing this also affirmed the statement by poet Amy Ludwig Vandewater (recently featured at the National Council of Teachers of English) that in order to “write stuff you have to do stuff.”

 

Poetry Friday is being hosted by Carol at Carol’s Corner. Check out the poetry postings!

 

John Glenn-Spaceman and Lollipopimage

A few days after John Glenn orbited our Earth three times, Mrs. Murphy gave each of us a lollipop to make an astronaut.

I was in kindergarten when she counted out three pipe cleaners and showed us how to carefully, carefully, carefully wrap them:

one fuzzy wire around the middle, three times for arms;

one fuzzy wire around the bottom, three times  for legs;

one fuzzy wire bent in circle around the top for the space helmet.

We were a classroom of John Glenns in different favors, with white pipe cleaner arms waving, cheering, pointing, celebrating.

We could not understand the vastness of space or the feats of engineering that had launched him into history, but we all imagined with our spacemen.

We were six; we understood the world was suddenly different.

My John Glenn, spaceman and lollipop, was orange, and I gave him to my father,

My father took this tribute and put it in his brief case, a high honor for a craft project. For years after, I would look to find my John Glenn in the brief case, buried beneath files and papers.

His arms and legs were always bent in celebration, and he still wore his space helmet.

Only his candy head showed his age, the clear cellophane wrapper protecting the orange-white powder and tiny shards of sparkling sugar.

“Space dust,” my father assured me, “he is made of space dust.”

 

 

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The term ekphrasis is Greek in origin, meaning “writing inspired by art”.

So, what better excuse for ekphrasis than Greek statues of antiquity? And where better to find Greek statues, than in a museum?

This past week, the Seine River that bisects the city of Paris ran over its banks, cresting at 21.3 feet. This flooding has meant that the curators of the many art museums and galleries that line the Seine scrambled to save works of art that had been stored below flood level. The Louvre Museum closed to the public as masterpieces were relocated to higher ground.

The lead story for the June 3rd, 2016 NYTimes, “In Paris, the Seine Rises to Highest Level Since 1982” (by Lilia Blaise and Benoit Morenne), reported on this disruption:

The evacuation of artworks from the Louvre, which was closed to visitors, has attracted particular attention…

…An estimated 150,000 artworks in storage rooms and an additional 7,000 pieces in galleries were vulnerable to flooding, and a large portion of those were moved to higher floors as a precaution, officials said.

 

6/3/16 NYTIMES: Staff at the Louvre scrambled Friday to move artworks to higher floors as Paris experienced its worst flooding in 30 years. Credit Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

 NYTIMES: (6/3/16) Staff at the Louvre scrambled Friday to move artworks to higher floors as Paris experienced its worst flooding in 30 years. Credit: Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

 

Here, then, is my art inspired poem-an ekphrasis

 

A Collection at the Louvre

 

Ancient visitors, unearthed from the basement,

fix their gaze on pieces from the collection

of 21st Century office furniture

in the famed Louvre’s Salon de Files.

 

They are stolid, polished rock, 

marveling at the smooth steel geometry:

a maze of files and crates;

appraising the nuanced shades of black:

obsidian, charcoal, onyx, jet;

admiring the asymmetrical shapes:

tall, narrow, wide, short.

 

They note the detailed inset pulls on metal drawers;

they puzzle over the labels on such Decorus artem,

translating into Latin or Greek

the names, dates, and numbers.

They pose and ponder in thought

as they have seen others do.

 

Sculptures who tilt an antique head

(if there is one)

or raise an antique arm

(if there is one)

to point and question, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

something they have heard others say.

 

Far in the background, 

a suspicious guard keeps watch

on this underdressed crowd.

 

They stand still, 

breathless,

as if poised to hear,

with their cool marbre ears,

the stories contained in these modern repositories.

“Si haec lima loqui. Quod si dixerint ad fabulas ?”

(“If only these files could talk. What stories would they tell?”)

 

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Carol Varsalona on her blog Beyond Literacy Link. Stop there to visit some of the other poetic submissions for June 10, 2016.

One of my favorite things to do when I taught a poetry unit was to select a poem I had not ‘prepared” to teach and then ask students to give me their impressions. A selection like this always brought interesting discussions because there was no prescribed agenda; we read for meaning together. One of the “go to” poets in such classroom experiments was the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

My students were already familiar with his Paul Revere’s Ride. They were also familiar with some of his acquaintances including the authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens. His verse was always accessible to students in different grade levels; the narrative in his poetry always captured their imaginations.

As we approach this last weekend in the coldest February on record, readers can get a glimpse of how Longfellow might have approached his birthday on the 27th with  Afternoon in February:.

The day is ending,fence
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red.

 

The snow recommences;
The buried fences
Mark no longer
The road o’er the plain;

While through the meadows,train
Like fearful shadows,
Slowly passes
A funeral train.

The bell is pealing,
And every feeling
Within me responds
To the dismal knell;

Shadows are trailing,
My heart is bewailing
And tolling within
Like a funeral bell.

In six short stanzas, this New England poet accurately captures the bleak experience of this winter month. Looking back, I am reminded how well my students understood that this Longfellow’s poem makes a solid case for February’s brevity!

Yesterday, Scott, the social studies teacher, brought an eighth grader into my office to recite a poem. He had arrived unannounced, and the young girl looked uncomfortable standing in front of teachers and 12th grade students. But, she had Scott by her side, and he encouraged her with small nudge. She took a breath, and holding a copy of the poem before her, she began to recite:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

No one said anything after she muffled the last line, and there was an awkward pause.  So, I asked her to read the last line again, and Scott pointed to the last sentence in the poem.

“Start here,” he told her, and she reread: If ye break faith with us who die /We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.

Only then did we all clap. Her relief was evident, and I noted just as they left, “That last line is the most important in the poem.”

Equally important is what Scott did when he supported this student in having her practice reciting a poem aloud to a group of people. Moreover, this Memorial Day weekend is the appropriate time to hear this particular poem read aloud.

Screenshot 2014-05-23 09.48.29

autographed copy from Arlington National Cemetery website

 In Flanders Field was composed by John McCrae, a poet and a physician who served in the Canadian army in World War I.

The most common account of the poem’s origin is that McCrae was sitting in the back of an ambulance after the Battle of Ypes in Belgium, when he scripted the poem on May 3, 1915, as a eulogy for his close friend Alexis Helmer, who was killed during the battle the day before.

There are other accounts that McCrae was unhappy with the poem and crumpled the paper before it was retrieved by another soldier who was so impressed that he committed it to memory. Another story is that McCrae had worked on the poem for months after the Battle of Ypes. Most stories about the poem agree, however, that McCrae was struck by how quickly poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died, and he used this striking image that dominates the poem.

So powerful was this image of a brilliant red poppy that American professor Moina Michael promoted the wearing of red poppies year-round to honor the soldiers who died in the war.

By 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted the poppy as its official memorial, and when fresh poppies could not be found to sell as tributes, artificial poppies were made by veterans groups. These poppies are called “buddy poppies” and, according to the information on the VFW website, the proceeds from their sale,buddy poppy

“provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home for orphans and widows of our nation’s veterans.”

I appreciate Scott encouraging his student to share the poem. Hearing her read, “If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep” reminded us listening to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The image of those red poppies, those blooming on Flanders Field or those buddy poppies taken from the hand of a veteran this coming Memorial Day, remind us as well.

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April is Poetry Month. What should you do about this?
Take advice from Sir Philip Sidney and “Look in thy heart and write.”

Sidney composed “An Apology for Poetry”  (Defence of Poesie) in 1575, and in this essay maintains poetry combines the liveliness of history with philosophy, and this combination is more effective than either history or philosophy in inspiring readers. According to Sidney, poetry acts in a way that “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought.”

Sidney himself was an accomplished poet who wrote a sequence of 108 English sonnets known as “Astrophil and Stella” where Astrophil is the star lover, and Stella is his star.

The first sonnet in the sequence sets the conceit; the meaning embedded in the last line (bolded):

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show
That she (dear She) might take some pleasure of my pain:
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain;
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain:
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sun-burn’d brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay,
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite–
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”

writeMeaning? Stop thinking about writing a poem and start writing a poem. Your heart will guide your pen.

So, what to write during Poetry Month?

  • Write a poem and share on a website. There are hundreds of sites. (ex: poetry.com)
  • Write about your favorite poem and share the poem.
  • Write about a lesson on poetry you remember.
  • Write about a lesson on poetry you taught.
  • Write a post for #PoetryFriday, a platform where poets and readers of poetry share their writing.  Each week, a blogger is tasked with rounding up the #PoetryFriday posts around the blogosphere and hosting posts on his or her website.

As Sidney suggests, the best way to know what you think about poetry is to sit and write about poetry.
It’s April.
It’s Poetry Month.
Your muse is impatiently waiting.

Write!

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