Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Reading Life: Poem #1

Photo by Frank Douwes, "Child Reading," Wikimedia Commons
April. Poetry Month.  I've always loved reading poetry, and have used a lot of it in my classroom. And I have always written poetry for myself. But for a long time, I didn't share a lot of my poetry with other people. In 2013, I decided, for whatever reason, that I was going to participate in National Poetry Month. And I have a friend, Mary Lee Hahn at Year of Reading, who is a real, honest to goodness poet. So for 4 years, from 2013 to 2017, I wrote with Mary Lee and several others. In 2013, we wrote to the theme "Common Inspiration, Uncommon Creations," where Mary Lee chose an image from Wikimedia Commons every day, and several of us wrote off of that image. In 2014, we did "Our Wonderful World" and wrote poems around the wonders of the world- ancient, modern, and then a few others. In 2015, our theme was Po-Emotions, and we wrote about a different emotion every day. Then in 2016, our theme was BYGONES. We used a series of old photographs as the basis for writing. And each year, even though the writing was really, really hard for me, I loved being part of that community.

Last year, Mary Lee elected to write about a song writer/activist, Malvina Reynolds. I thought about choosing my own activist, and even went so far as to do some research to find a person that interested me, but then when I wrote to that person, to ask her if I could write poems, she wanted to read each one before I published it. Which made perfect sense, but just wasn't do-able for me, given the crunch of writing in April. And then because I was a total wimp, and didn't come up with another idea, I just didn't write. And I was sad all month. I decided that no matter what, I was not going to miss another April.

This year, Mary Lee is going to do another amazing series. She has 30 students in her class (phew!). She let each student choose a quote, and each day, she's going to write a poem, based on one of their quotes. But wait, this gets better. Not only is she going to write a poem. She's going to write a "Golden Shovel" poem each day. Her first one, "Keep Your Promises," is here.  I wrote one golden shovel poem in March, and it took me pretty much all day to do it.

So again this year, if I wanted to write poetry, I needed to venture out on my own. Which is kind of scary. Mary Lee always had such good themes. The accountability of knowing that people were going to be looking for my  poems kept me writing. And I said before, I loved writing as a part of that community.

I have been thinking for weeks about what I might do. At first I thought I might choose a specific format (but NOT Golden Shovel, Mary Lee, those are TOO HARD!). I also thought about choosing four formats that intrigue me- golden shovel, abcdarians, shardoma and ????, and writing for a week using each of them, or maybe choosing seven formats, and having a common topic, but writing about it in seven different ays. And then Amy Ludwig VanDerWater, over at THE POEM FARM said she was going to choose one topic, but write in a different format every day. And I thought, ok, maybe I could do that. But what topic would I choose? Friendship? Middle School? Dogs? Parenting? Hmmmm...

And then the universe moved again. Yesterday, in a random tweet, Franki Sibberson asked me for the link to "Confessions of a Reader," a poem I wrote a long, long time ago. And I'm thinking this weekend, about going back to school on Monday. And about my seventh grade study hall, which was pretty much a complete disaster the week before break. The idea of study hall is that kids read for 20- 25 minutes, and then they have 20 minutes to work on other homework. I've been teaching the class since mid-October. It was going pretty well, but then three or four weeks ago, the middle school team switched out about six kids, and somehow, I'm not quite sure why, our whole community fell apart, and now no one is wanting to read. And I've been thinking all break about how I could pull them back together and help them re-engage with books. I know it's about choice, and structure, and book talks, and lots of quick conferences, but man, oh man, has it been ugly the last couple of weeks. All I really want is for each of those kids to have "a reading life." To have books and authors they love, to use books as an escape and a solace, to see reading as a way to understand themselves, others and the world.

And so for April, I have decided that my theme will be "A Reading Life." I'm not quite sure what it will look like. Maybe I will do all free verse. Maybe I will follow some of Amy's formats. Maybe I won't write every day. We'll just have to see how it goes.

And for today, because I just chose this theme this morning, and have spent the last hour writing my introduction, and because it's Easter, and because it's Sunday, and I have to go to Colorado Springs, and I have a million things to do to get ready for work tomorrow, and my taxes still are not done and I promised myself I would do that before I went back to work, I'm going to pull a total cheater pants move, and use "Confessions of a Reader," the poem that helped me choose this theme,  as my first poem. I promise I will write something new for tomorrow.

Jama Rattigan has compiled a list of lots of kid lit folks who are writing this month. Check it out here.

Happy April!

"Confessions of a Reader"

Almost Spring,
A spider
Stakes a claim
On a corner
Of the eight-foot window
In our living room.

Each morning
I admire
Taut guidelines
Tightly placed spokes.
Dancing gown threads,
Architecture unrivalled.

My mother
Would not tolerate
Such slovenly housekeeping.
She would get a broom
And knock down
This errant squatter’s palace.

I do not.

I am waiting for Charlotte
To leave a message.

Carol Wilcox
published in All That Matters: What We Value in School and Beyond.
edited by Linda Rief and Maureen Barbieri
Heinemann, 1995


Elisabeth Ellington said...

This poem is new to me, Carol, and so lovely. I was wondering as I read, where is this going, how is this about reading, and then the punch of those final lines that brings it all together. Delightful. I love your poetry and am so excited that you'll be writing poetry this month and even more excited that it will be about reading! I am still working out what I want to do this month. I only know that I want to do something. Mary Lee's challenge is truly challenging this year. I am going to have to try a golden shovel--I am pretty sure that writing one would take me days. I do like the idea of trying a different form every day as an exercise and I really like the idea of a thematic focus.

Michelle said...

Bravo for jumping in and finding your theme for this April! Enjoy the process, don't stress over it! I love your theme and look forward to reading more! Happy poem-ing!

Glenda Funk said...

I love this poem. I don't think of myself as a poet, but I am going to try this challenge. I'm so out of my comfort zone, so I'll be looking for lots of support from the poets and teacher poets publishing this month. Thank you for all these resources.

Cathy said...

Carol, I know you've been wrestling with a plan for National Poetry Month, but it looks like one found you. I'm so excited about your idea. I can't wait to follow along. (I hope you get your taxes done. Mine should be done on Friday. I was supposed to be gathering everything this weekend. I didn't gather one thing. It's going to be a long week. I'm guessing at some point there will be a poem about the struggle.)

Linda B said...

I love hearing all about the past, too, Carol. It was lots of fun writing with Mary Lee! I love your poem. Perhaps it will guide you all the month, and perhaps your poems will be about that class, and their reading challenges, mess, and change? Best wishes for the class and have a great time with the writing!

Mary Lee said...

Yay, YOU! This is the perfect topic and the perfect plan. And no, you are totally NOT cheating by sharing "Confessions of a Reader." That poem needs more readers--I LOVE it!!

Amy LV said...

I so love this poem and this plan, Carol. Thank you for taking us on this journey. Maybe we should each try ONE golden shovel. :) Happy Poetry Month! xx

Franki said...

I love this poem and I. am so happy I was a tiny part of getting it out to some more people:-). Happy writing! (I am amazed at all of you who write a poem a day in April!)

Ramona said...

Such a beautiful poem and I love your theme for the month. I'm in awe of folks who write poetry every day in April. I share poems and poetry love, but I'm terrified of writing poetry every day. Love this sentence from your post: "To have books and authors they love, to use books as an escape and a solace, to see reading as a way to understand themselves, others and the world."
It makes a wonderful poem. I just changed the pronouns.

A Reading Life (My Wish for My Students)

To have books and authors you love,
to use books as an escape and a solace,
to see reading as a way to understand yourselves, others and the world.

- Carol Wilcox