Poetry Friday:at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989 by Lucille Clifton

Jone is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up today at Check It Out.

Among the podcasts I love most is the one one Ira Glass has been hosting for many years now: This American Life.  This week’s episode was about Afrofuturism, which really struck a nerve for two reasons: first, the events and mood in our country at the moment, and second, because I teach American history.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this particular podcast, here’s the summary and a link:

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One section of “We are in the future” has haunted me ever since I listened to it, this one about being a “slave re-enactor” at Mount Vernon:

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The social studies curriculum I cover for my sixth graders runs covers the years between the American Revolution through the Civil War: the nation is founded, it expands, and it almost self destructs.  We trace the idea of “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” all the through the events of the years we study, trying to sift through who was permitted “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, and at who was not.  I think it is imperative for my students to understand that racial inequality was baked into our earliest laws, and that we need to acknowledge this if we are ever to move towards being a country that truly lives the lofty words of our Declaration of Independence.

We spend an entire unit studying the history of slavery in America before we get to the Civil War, in the course of which I always have a handful of students who have been to Mount Vernon, Williamsburg, or Monticello and are truly puzzled by the difference in what they are learning in class compared to what they saw and heard when they toured these sites.  “All the slaves looked so happy there”, “their homes looked so nice”, “they were wearing nice stuff”, they remark, but clearly (based on what we were reading and seeing in class) this was not so…this was not true.  Why???  And the answers to that why? would lead to discussions about who we are today, and why we as a nation still struggle with that original sin: slavery.  (This  is a wonderful article about the difference between real history and tour guide history.)

Azie Dungey’s experiences as a re-enactor at Mount Vernon brought me back to those conversations in our classroom, and to this Lucille Clifton poem (which we read and talk about in our class during our slavery unit):

mount-vernon-memorial-enslaved-1929

at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989
by Lucille Clifton

among the rocks
at walnut grove
your silence drumming
in my bones,
tell me your names.

nobody mentioned slaves
and yet the curious tools
shine with your fingerprints.
nobody mentioned slaves
but somebody did this work
who had no guide, no stone,
who moulders under rock.

tell me your names,
tell me your bashful names
and I will testify.

the inventory lists ten slaves
but only men were 
recognized.

among the rocks
at walnut grove
some of these honored dead
were dark
some of these dark
were slaves
some of these slaves
were women
some of them did this honored work.
tell me your names
foremothers, brothers,
tell me your dishonored names.
here lies
here lies
here lies
here lies
hear

In an interview with Bill Moyers, This is how Clifton described how the poem came to be written:

LUCILLE CLIFTON: Well, let me tell you what happened with that poem. I went to Walnut Grove Plantation in South Carolina in 1989 and I was the only person of color on the tour.  It’s wonderful  2,000 acres, but on the tour there was no mention of slaves. And  they have the the original furniture. They had all the stuff and they talked about the difficulty of the work, a family, a small family, no mention of slavery…So I asked,  “Why didn’t you mention slaves?” The first answer was,  “Maybe the guide didn’t want to embarrass you.” “Well,” I said, “I’m not a slave. I don’t know why he would think I’d be that embarrassed.” Then I asked again, and the answer of, “Maybe they didn’t have any.” Well, they had two thousand acres in South Carolina in the early part of the nineteenth century. Be serious!

When I suggested that the guide check the inventory, because slaves were considered property and were often inventoried,  they discovered that the plantation had an inventory of ten slaves, but they might have had more because they didn’t recognize women. And, well, I had to write about that. I mean some things say, “Hey, write me.”

You see, we cannot ignore history. History doesn’t go away.  The past isn’t back there, the past is here, too.

(from The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets)

 

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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: “Cross” by Margaret Hasse

Penny Parker Klostermann has the Poetry Friday Roundup today!

back to school shopping

It’s back to school season, and every where I go back to school shopping is taking place. For once, I am glad to be an empty nester, because not only do I detest shopping in general, but I these particular kind of  shopping excursions fell into a whole other category of  loathing.  Once the kids got older, with definite ideas about everything from shoes to types of pens to where we should shop, back to school shopping became all the more exhausting and excruciating.

Arguments.  So. Many. Arguments.

Compromises.  So. Many. Compromises.

This poem, featured on The Writer’s Almanac the other day, touched a nerve and brought those back to school shopping expeditions back to mind.  I see many “grand annoyers” out there in the stores these days…and I am, for once, glad to have move beyond this stage.

Cross

At concerts that I did not want to attend with my mother,
I learned to practice any number of nuisances possible in a
place of silence. I wore a cross to vex my mother, a Unitarian,
then ran the pendant back and forth along my necklace chain
like a loud zipper. During a pianissimo passage I unwrapped
waxy paper from a caramel, then coughed as if feathers tickled
my throat.

I’m paying for past trespasses now.

(you can rest the rest of the poem here.)

Digilit Sunday: Curving towards social justice through song

digilit sunday

Digilit Sunday is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche.  Today, Margaret asks us to reflect on the word “curves”.

At first, I was not sure what to do with Margaret’s word, and so I borrowed Julieanne’s habit of allowing myself to simply mull over the idea to see where my thoughts would lead.  And I found myself gravitating to this image, a postcard on my bulletin board from a years ago visit to the Met, Vasily Kandinsky’s Free Curve to the Point – Accompanying Sound of Geometric Curves:

I have always loved the way this represented thought (to me, that is), and the way thoughts curve here and there in random ways at first, and then reach some sort of decisive point.

This led me to think about the way our year long poetry study has followed curves of its own: we began by examining the various craft moves in a poet’s tool box, then moved on to investigating poetry as a means of expressing personal thoughts, feelings, imaginings and perspectives.  Finally, in the waning days of the school year, we seem to be moving decisively into  the realm of the larger world: poetry as a call for social justice.  
A few weeks ago, a student wanted us to discuss Macklemore’s “White Privilege II”.  And so we did.  Our classroom crackled with important ideas and many perspectives; there was some agreement, and some disagreement, but our conversation (like Kandinsky’s curves), led to a decisive point: race relations cannot be ignored, and it is clear that equal justice under the law is something we are still working towards in our nation.
On Friday, we dug into the lyrics of Blowin’ in the Wind and If I had a Hammer.  My kids thought about each song first as individuals:

and then as a group.  They added lines and verses, sketched their thoughts, and asked questions about themselves and the world they live in:

At the end of our classes, my kids arrived at some decisive points in our conversations: we must not ignore the injustices we see, we must act more out of love than hate, we can make a difference.   We curve towards truth and the cause of social justice.

 

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: So Much of the World by Gregory Djanikian

Matt Forrest Esenwine hosts Poetry Friday  Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme today!

These are our in between days…in between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, the start of the goodbyes and the end of the daily togetherness…we are in between.

So Much of the World

by Gregory Djanikian

So much of the world exists
without us

the mountain in its own steepness

the deer sliding
into the trees becoming
a darkness
in the woods’ darkness.

So much of an open field
lies somewhere between the grass
and the dragonfly’s drive and thrum

the seed and seedling,
the earth within.

But so much of it lies in someone
standing alone at the edge of a field
with a life apart

feeling for a moment
the plover’s cry
on the tongue

the curve and plumb
of the apple bough
in limb and bone.

So much of it between
one thing and another,

days of invitation,
then of release and return.

Slice of Life Tuesday: The Kidlitosphere Poem arrives here!

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The Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem is hosted by poet, Irene Latham, who had this wonderful idea that a poem could be a collaborative April feast, crafted line by line all month long.  I participated for the first time last year, and had forgotten all the anxiety of the process, remembering just the delight in being part of this creative process.  Well, that anxiety has returned…since it is finally time for me to provide the next line!

The poem takes shape bit by bit, of course, and each line comes as such a surprise.  In this case, there was someone to be with right away, and she seemed a vital and fascinating presence.  Just as I was settling into her presence, striding with purpose and swinging brown arms, she seems transformed into a mermaid.  Then there is grandmother with her memory-laden cuffed bracelet and wise words which resonate.  And then a startled fisherman with a choice.  So much to think about, so many vivid shifts in imagery and mood.  Ah, the anxiety of living up to this poetry community!  After weaving my way through the twists and turns, and writing many a trial line, here are the first twenty lines of the poem along with my addition for line 21:

She lives without a net, walking along the alluvium of the delta.
Shoes swing over her shoulder, on her bare feet stick jeweled flecks of dark mica.

Hands faster than fish swing at the ends of bare brown arms. Her hair flows,
snows in wild wind as she digs in the indigo varnished handbag,

pulls out her grandmother’s oval cuffed bracelet,
strokes the turquoise stones, and steps through the curved doorway.

Tripping on her tail she slips hair first down the slide… splash!
She glides past glossy water hyacinth to shimmer with a school of shad,

listens to the ibises roosting in the trees of the cypress swamp
an echo of Grandmother’s words, still fresh in her windswept memory.

Born from the oyster, expect the pearl.
Reach for the rainbow reflection on the smallest dewdrop.

The surface glistens, a shadow slips above her head, a paddle dips
she reaches, seizes. She’s electric energy and turquoise eyes.

Lifted high, she gulps strange air – stares clearly into
Green pirogue, crawfish trap, startled fisherman

with turquoise eyes, twins of her own, riveted on her wrist–
She’s swifter than a dolphin, slipping away, leaving him only a handful of

memories of his own grandmother’s counsel: Watch for her. You’ll have but one chance to
determine—to decide. Garner wisdom from the water and from the pearl of the past.

In a quicksilver flash, an arc of resolution, he leaps into the shimmering water

Tomorrow Pat at Writer on a Horse will take bring us  one line closer to our completed 2015 Kidlitosphere Progressive Poem.  And here’s the Progressive Poem team:

1 Jone at Check it Out
2 Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy
3 Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe
4 Laura at Writing the World for Kids
5 Charles at Poetry Time Blog
6 Ramona at Pleasures from the Page
7 Catherine at Catherine Johnson
8 Irene at Live Your Poem
9 Mary Lee at Poetrepository
10 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
11 Kim at Flukeprints
12 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
13 Doraine at DoriReads
14 Renee at No Water River
15 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
16 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
17 Buffy at Buffy’s Blog
18 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
19 Linda at Teacher Dance
20 Penny at A Penny and her Jots
21 Tara at A Teaching Life
22 Pat at Writer on a Horse
23 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
24 Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect
25 Tabatha at The Opposite of indifference
26 Brian at Walk the Walk
27 Jan at Bookseedstudio
28 Amy at The Poem Farm
29 Donna at Mainely Write
30 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Digilit Sunday: The Poem Farm and The Favorite Poem Project

diglit sunday

Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

Every Thursday, my students unpack a poem and we share our ideas about how the poet used the elements of figurative language and beautiful words to craft poems we love to read.  Whenever possible, I love to share recordings of poets reading their own works, and speaking about how and why they came to write the poems they did.  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s site, The Poem Farm, is a rich resource for us to draw from:

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We love the way Amy writes about how she grows her ideas into poems, and we love hearing her voice as she reads each.  We learn so much about word choice and line breaks just from hearing poetry spoken loud.

Another wonderful poetry resource is The Favorite Poem Project:

Favorite Poem Project Videos

The collection of 50 short video documentaries showcases individual Americans reading and speaking personally about poems they love. The videos have been regular features on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and are a permanent part of the Library of Congress archive of recorded poetry and literature. They have also proven valuable as teaching and learning tools for a range of classrooms and ages. The videos may be viewed on this website. The video collection is also available in DVD format, packaged with the anthology An Invitation to Poetry.

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It’s a powerful experience for my kids to hear other kids talking about poems they loved so much that they memorized them and think about them all the time.  Poems can do that – they become the mentor texts of our lives in a very special way.  I would love for my students to feel about a selection of poems as their own, as I do, so that they can commit them to memory and have the pleasure of reciting favorite lines at will.

This year, I am thinking about curating a class video album based on the Favorite Poem Project – what a wonderful way of ending the year that would be!