Poetry Friday: Stone Mirrors by Jeannine Atkins

Poetry Friday is hosted by Katie at The Logonauts

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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.

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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:

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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!

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The Cat   by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

                The cat
licks its paw and
lies down in
the bookshelf nook
She
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
but
prefers domestic places
and the hum of the heater

Poetry Friday: Nothing is Lost by Noel Coward

Poetry Friday is hosted by Violet at Violet Nesdoly | Poems

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I will be going through tomorrow with blinkers on, I know, moving ahead with my teaching, and then preparing to march on Saturday. I will be trying not to think about what will be  transpiring all day: the  seismic shift in our national political landscape – moving from the Obama era of hope into… well, who knows?

It has been a week of saying goodbye to a President who did his best to lift us up, and move us forward.  I cried through the farewell address and the press conference, knowing that it will be a long time before see a successor as filled with grace and dignity as the man who has served us these past eight years.

So, what poem to share this Poetry Friday, when there is such a palpable sense of fear and doom?  Here is one by Noel Coward, which, captures my current nostalgia for January 2008:

Nothing is Lost  by Noel Cowad

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

Poetry Friday: Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Friday is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends

rain

Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

I have been thinking a lot about kindness and our collective sense of humanity this week, as President Obama’s days in office dwindle and we enter another dimension entirely: one where bullying, misogyny, racism, and selfish gain are not only permitted by the man who will sit in the White House, but celebrated, too.  If  Wednesday’s press conference is any indication, we will be seeing this behavior every day and it may well begin to be the “new normal”.

I worry about what this will do to us as a nation, but I worry more about its effect on our children; we may teach them not to behave and speak in disrespectful, intimidating ways, but they will see their President doing so every day, and getting away with it.  How to teach kindness in the face of that?

In my small world, which is my classroom, I think I need to speak less about kindness and endeavor to show more of it.  Our kids are watching closely these days, more than ever.  I think they see the disconnect between what we say they should do (anti-bullying posters and assemblies) and how we behave towards them and each other, how we tolerate the bullying by the powerful and make excuses for that.  I need to cultivate my patience, I need to look for the causes underlying acting out, I need to  be willing to see things from their point of view even when it gets in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish as a teacher.   If my students don’t see me practicing every day kindness, if they don’t feel my essential sympathy for them even when they aren’t at their best, it doesn’t matter what else I say to them – the road will only be wide/the rain will never stop falling.

I can’t do anything about the behavior of the man who will soon be in the White House, but I can be vigilant about the way I behave in my house… and my classroom, too (which is, after all, my home away from home.

 

 

Poetry Friday:Everybody Made Soups by Lisa Coffman

Poetry Friday is hosted by Linda @ Teacher Dance

turkey-soup

Today’s lunch was the last of the turkey soup, and, by proxy, the Christmas turkey.  We made the most of that turkey: pot pie, sandwiches, and soup.  That’s the last we will see of turkey until November, which is (at the moment) a big relief.

I almost tossed out this last bit of soup, so bored with turkey have I grown, but there was no time to make anything else this morning, and I cannot bring myself to resort to middle school cafeteria lunches.  So turkey soup it was.

In the quiet of my classroom, my plastic container of soup settled between two piles of reading journals awaiting my review, I found myself transported back to the holidays: the meals shared with children home at last, the conversations around the table, the companionable silence of just being in the same room with the people you love most in the world.

I was glad we made soup…if only to give me the chance, once more, to savor just-past memories, and be to be grateful.

Everybody Made Soups

After it all, the events of the holidays,
the dinner tables passing like great ships,
everybody made soups for a while.
Cooked and cooked until the broth kept
the story of the onion, the weeping meat.
It was over, the year was spent, the new one
had yet to make its demands on us,
each day lay in the dark like a folded letter.
Then out of it all we made one final thing
out of the bounty that had not always filled us,
out of the ruined cathedral carcass of the turkey,
the limp celery chopped back into plenty,
the fish head, the spine. Out of the rejected,
the passed over, never the object of love.
It was as if all the pageantry had been for this:
the quiet after, the simmered light,
the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted.

 

Poetry Friday:Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Poetry Friday is hosted Jone at Check it Out

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We have a black cat, who, due to our lack of imagination and inability to come to a collective family decision, is called Cat.  Cat, however, has risen above his lackluster name. He has attitude in spades, a hefty sense of entitlement, and owns any space he chooses to inhabit – it’s his world, and he lets us be a part of it when he chooses.  We love him.

Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.