Wednesday, May 13, 2009

isn't poetry great?

a couple of great poems to use for the classroom:

Stink Eye by Cathy Song
this is a really nice poem because it helps out (helped me out) with a little bit of a bullying study and writing assignment. i have middle schoolers (sixth graders), so i don't assume them to do too much with this beyond content discussion, but it's also great for looking at dramatic monologues and voice for those in high school.
Dream Variations by Langston Hughes
i mean, come on. Langston Hughes is an old standard. "A Dream Deferred," which you should never ever discount, gives me chills every time i read it out loud. but "Dream Variations" is really nice given the title and its implications when you consider the poem and the poem's refrain "Black like me" and "Dark like me".
I also want to put this to consideration:

"Another pair of gilded transpirations" by Joshua Beckman

Another pair of gilded transpirations
kept me happy all night -- the bay aglow with revelers,
those shore hollow stones making home in your chest.
Cold waters that wash down such olympian quandaries
and sorrowful cascades set free. "Daniel, now hold that
cup carefully." That's the sort of thing mother
would say to me, the sun playing about the witch hazel
in the courtyard. With an emerald magnetism
the dew settles. I have been writing lately
on the grief of the body. I enclose
about my head memories and am in due course awoken.
In direct relation to the sun, wind, and rain
my apple tree produces.

now you can call me strange. you can say, "but i don't get it!!" well, that's not my problem! well, in a way yes, in a way no. what you see here is a thirteen line almost-sonnet. not in the traditional sense, of course, rather in a very interesting combination of the sonnet tradition and the jarring-narrative/non-narrative play that apparently has begun to set in as a trend in some poets under 40 these days. in the traditional sense, this is a perfect study of a sonnet: you have a narrative (albeit it strange) that seems to have some sort of trajectory (albeit strange) in the beginning. then, the latter half of the poem, starting with "I have been writing lately..." takes a turn (something that the Petrarchan sonnet does frequently, from stanza one to stanza two, or what the Elizabethan sonnet will do at the ending couplet). in the non-traditional sense, we have a sonnet that's only thirteen lines! i think that this can be used in terms of studying contemporary uses of the sonnet (in high school, maybe in a senior AP course), but also of the idea of narrative and non-narrative lyrics. it's a great exercise for a creative writing class, or a class studying different types of poetry to mimic or examine this technique of writing a poem because i think it creates a deeper kind of poetry, something more sudden, haphazard-looking, and meandering. students should be encouraged to meander in their writing and to break their thoughts suddenly if the poem calls for it. it's a great stylistic attribute, and will add character to the students' writing.

maybe i'll do this as a nice little featurette every once and again...yes?

reflections on the expedition

later on i'm going to give a few pointers based on some PD we did once on the difference between a "learning expedition," which is a feature of being at an Expeditionary Learning school, and a unit. the basic idea is that the expedition has the concept of field work built into it, and the end result is a product that is physical and documented (like a video, a book of work, or something) that sort of like the accumulation of all the knowledge the kids've gained while exploring the topic they're exploring. units can be based around certain ideas and themes, and so can expeditions (ours is "Surviving Adolescence," for example), but the real expedition is about something specific--a "compelling topic" as it were.

well, our compelling topic was Sierra Leone, and specifically child soldiers, and more specifically Ishmael Beah's "Memoirs of a Boy Soldier." so, we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed a dance, a poem, a song and a play; we painted a mural (i mean the kids--two really--although i really mean my mentor teacher did it all and the kids colored it in...) and we put it all together in front of the other students of the school. 400 kids. it was fantastic. the kids did very, very well, and i'm very proud of them.

ishmael beah came, also. yup! he came to our school and spoke to our kids. they had lots of questions for him, usually about the same question that the other student next to him/her asked. but, it's all good. they felt completely satisfied and grateful for his coming to see them. i, however, was wicked awkward in front of him. never thank an author. he knows you're grateful. anyway, point of it is, we finished the book the day he came to our school. it's a bit pathetic, but that's how it goes. as for the final exam, i'm rather disappointed in my execution of it, but also the apathy that many students have for completing it. it's unfortunate. but, should it really be any skin off my back if they tell me they're not going to do it and get the zero anyway?

all in all, it was a very, very rushed reading of the book. i would've loved to do it at a much slower pace, but that's just not the case, really. i'd also like to have figured out much more a homework schedule (another issue i'd like to discuss at another point in time) and also a reading day vs. non-reading day. the schedules just were too crazy, and i never intergrated much of the stuff i wanted to integrate into the reading of the book. it sucks, but i suppose that's just how it went.

all in all, goods and challenges. i'm sure i'll be more prepared and be able to time my reading of a book much better. learning rules!!!