Poetry Friday & #SOLC17: A Dog by the Sea by David Salner

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Catherine at Reading to the Core

Yesterday was #NationalPuppyDay, so the Twitter universe was flooded with photographs of puppies of all sizes and shapes with one thing in common: adorableness. This was my favorite Tweet of the day, of Congressman John Lewis and two versions of one thing – puppy cuteness:

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Our Sophie is no longer a puppy, which she is inclined to forget from time to time, especially early in the morning when we take her on her first walk of the day.  It’s a daily chore that we enjoy when the weather is not freezing cold, and we have time to take in all that surrounds us: the way the breeze blows, the tint of the sky, the sounds of leaves rustling, and the comfort of holding hands.

A Dog by the Sea by David Salner

Just after dawn, we get up,
without coffee, and let the dog lead us
through a grove of wind-stunted trees,
spiked succulents, red-berried holly,
and over the dune ridge out of the gray
of still sleeping minds. A line of pink
from the not yet risen sun
reminds me of the lilac shadows
caught in the radial grooves of shells.
I take up your hand and feel the blood
warming your fingers, as the dog bounds off
dragging her leash through wet sand.
She’s after gulls and a line of waves
that repeat themselves, she seems to think,
because they want to play.
A morning breeze
stirs the now turning tide, breathing over it,
sighing toward bayside. As the waves come in
whorls of light unfold on the sand. How I want
for us to repeat ourselves, on and on,
you holding the leash of a silly dog, me
feeling the beat, the blood in your hand.

Poetry Friday and #SOLSC17:Insomnia by Jane Kenyon

Poetry Friday is hosted by Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

More than with any other poet, I feel a deep connection with Jane Kenyon.  She loved a farm and came into herself there. She struggled with depression and found her art there. She battled insomnia and found a form of magic even in those exasperating  hours.  She felt an abiding bond with Nature in every one of her seasonal iterations and she noticed and delighted in even the smallest of her gifts.

Her books can be found in just about every room of our house in New Jersey, and, of course our beloved farm which is snowed under at the moment.  Spring and clearing the garden beds seems a very long way away, but  in reading Kenyon I can taste it…I feel my farm calling, and soon I will be there.


The Clearing by Jane Kenyon

The dog and I push through the ring
of dripping junipers
to enter the open space high on the hill
where I let him off the leash.

He vaults, snuffling, between tufts of moss;
twigs snap beneath his weight; he rolls
and rubs his jowls on the aromatic earth;
his pink tongue lolls.

I look for sticks of proper heft
to throw for him, while he sits, prim
and earnest in his love, if it is love.

All night a soaking rain, and now the hill
exhales relief, and the fragrance
of warm earth. . . . The sedges
have grown an inch since yesterday,
and ferns unfurled, and even if they try
the lilacs by the barn can’t
keep from opening today.

I longed for spring’s thousand tender greens,
and the white-throated sparrow’s call
that borders on rudeness. Do you know—
since you went away
all I can do
is wait for you to come back to me.

#SOLC:Poetry Friday – Happy Birthday, Billy Collins!

This post will serve many writing purposes today:

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

Heidi Mordost has extended this invitation: This week for Poetry Friday, all who care to will post a favorite Billy Collins poem (or Billy-inspired original) in honor of the great man, who turns 75 on March 22.

I love the poetry of Billy Collins.  I love the way he notices the poetic in the every day, and writes about it with such beautifully spare and concentrated attention.  I love his wry sense of humor and the breezy way in which threads the serious and the sensual.  He writes about cats and dogs, the heartbreak of 9/11, being an only child of aging parents, the surprise of Sandhill cranes in Nebraska, and all the other things poets touch upon: love, the death of love, and death itself.  Collins’ poetry encompasses so much.

As a teacher who loves poetry and wants to grow that love in my students, I most appreciate the advice Billy Collins shares about the teaching of poetry – explicit and implicit.  My favorite is this one, not because this is what I find students doing, but because it is what teachers do to students when we have them read and “analyze” poetry:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

—Billy Collins

I read this poem often, because I want to remember why we have Poetry Thursdays in my classroom: to “walk inside the poem’s room/and feel the walls for a light switch”.  I want my students to savor the poet’s language and to allow their imaginations to wander through the poem and then through their own memories and thoughts.  I want them to hold on to a poem or two long beyond their days in our classroom, because those poems touched them in some essential way, and they didn’t want to let go.   I guess I live for this moment Billy Collins himself shared:

Happy Birthday, Billy Collins – thank you for your gifts of poetry, and your wise teaching advice.


Poetry Friday:The Art of Disappearing by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Friday is hosted by Karen at Karen Edmisten


We are at that stage of weeding out, when every spare moment is spent sorting through some forgotten closet or rummaging through boxes tucked into the furthest reaches of the attic a long time ago.  So. Much. Stuff.

And, in the process of weighing what can stay and what must go, I am making some discoveries.  It turns out, for instance, that we have collected an inordinate number of clocks: wind up, battery operated, plug in, sit-by-the-bedside, or hang-on-the-wall…we have versions (in triplicate) of them all.  For most of my adult life, it would appear, I have believed that it was important to be conscious of the passage of time no matter in which room of our house I happened to be.

At some point, judging from the fact that so many have been boxed away or have ceased to work, I stopped actually looking at all these time pieces, too.   How to mark time and how to spend time, these seem to have shifted for me.  I think I’ve become more mindful of how I want to view time, and choosier about how I want to spend it.  Perhaps this is all just the natural course of things – as we get older, we get wiser about knowing what to do with the time we have…and all the clocks we no longer need.

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)


Poetry Friday: Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Poetry Friday is hosted by Katie at The Logonauts


What a great joy to read Jeannine Atkins’ new verse novel Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis today, while the words “nevertheless she persisted” still ring in my ears.  For Edmonia Lewis persisted, in spite of daunting  racism and sexism, and she prevailed.  

Born to an Ojibwe woman and a free man of color, Edmonia was raised by her aunts and felt a deep and abiding connection to her people.  At the age of sixteen, she was given a scholarship to attend Oberlin College at the outbreak of the Civil War – the gift of an education which was nevertheless fraught with tension and danger; Edmonia was always conscious that the color of her skin and the “otherness” of her heritage formed an invisible, impermeable barrier:

When most people ask where she came from,

the question draws a line between them.

Most strangers want only a slip of a story…

Even so, Edmonia knew that she was meant to  be an artist, for art allowed her the unique opportunity to express what she felt and connect to her roots.  But not even art or the relative progressiveness of Oberlin could save her from a wrongful accusation and its harrowing aftermath.  Edmonia tried to begin anew in Boston, where an apprenticeship with an artist allowed her to experiment with clay and stone, the mediums she would eventually master.   An encounter with the sculptor Harriet Hosmer lead to an invitation to come to Rome and learn to sculpt marble:

Artists reveal. Artists hide.

Edmonia remembers a dream of going to Europe.

Can she swap clay the color of her hands for pale marble?

Carve entire bodies

instead of life broken at the shoulders

and live where the ground is never hard and white?

Here, persisting in the face of many odds, Edmonia Lewis perfected her craft and made a name for herself.  Her fame, however, was short lived.  Records indicate that she was buried in an obscure London church for a paltry fee of five pounds, by which time many of her most well known works were already removed from viewing halls of museums and destined for their dusty storage rooms  and attics instead.

About Edmonia Lewis,  Jeannine Atkins writes:

(She) never spoke or wrote much about her past, and some of the stories that have come down through time are vague and contradictory.  Other people’s letters, diaries, and memoirs suggest places she stayed, but we can’t know much about who she saw or what was said.  I read biographies and speculation, studied sculptures, researched the towns, cities, woods, artistic communities, and looked for what seemed hidden beneath recorded words, plaster, or stone.

Through exquisitely imagined scenes and perfectly crafted verses, Atkins manages to bring Edmonia Lewis to life; we experience her frustrated anguish when she is forced to leave Oberlin, her joy when she begins to forge a path forward as a self sustaining artist, and her determination to conquer the challenges of her preferred medium – marble. Stone Mirrors is a beautifully imagined gift of story in verse.  I am filled with admiration for Lewis and what she was able to achieve; and I am grateful to Jeannine for uncovering her story and telling it in such a compelling way.


For Poetry Friday, I’d like to share this verse, one of my favorites, which captures the brilliance with which Jeannine imagines the artistic process:


Poetry Friday:The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Poetry Friday is hosted by Penny @ A Penny and Her Jots!

We are in a new normal now – first, Trump issues another edict in blatant disregard of our Constitution and values, then we rise up to protest.  No sooner had news of the Immigration Ban been announced, than more news followed: spontaneous rallies at airports and cities, petitions being taken up, and social media flooded with new petitions to sign and information to forward.  To #Resist is my new normal:

As the weekend unfolded, I knew that there was only one poem I could share with students for our Poetry Thursday:

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I knew that some of the words and references would be difficult for my sixth graders, but I have come to rely on their ingenuity, curiosity, and our class philosophy: when in doubt, look it up!  The main thing was to get at the heart of Lazarus’ message, and why it should resonate  powerfully today.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

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What can I say? My kids make me weep.  They are so good and want what is good…and our world has turned dark. So, how to keep their faith, tell the truth, and shepherd them through this time?  Thank goodness for poetry, and the way it provides a venue to keep the faith, tell our children the truth, and shepherd them through dark days.

Poetry Friday: The Cat by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poetry Friday is hosted by Carol Varsalona @  beyondliteracylink

The world out there is kind of terrifying at the moment, and I seem to be spending more time than is healthy ranting and railing against the tide.  I can’t bring myself to turn on the news, and when I do I instantly regret it.  It truly is a world turned upside down.  This evening, fighting the flu and waves of panic about yet more bad news on account of this mad man President, I turned to find comfort in our cat.

Blissfully unaware of anything but his needs and comforts, he saunters around the house, intent on warm spots to sleep, nice things to eat, and the occasional bird flying past a window for excitement.  Oh, to be a house cat in these troubled times!


The Cat   by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

                The cat
licks its paw and
lies down in
the bookshelf nook
can lie in a
sphinx position
without moving for so
many hours
and then turn her head
to me and
rise and stretch
and turn
her back to me and
lick her paw again as if
no real time had passed
It hasn’t
and she is the sphinx with
all the time in the world
in the desert of her time
The cat
knows where flies die
sees ghosts in motes of air
and shadows in sunbeams
She hears
the music of the spheres and
the hum in the wires of houses
and the hum of the universe
in interstellar spaces
prefers domestic places
and the hum of the heater