Tuesday, April 18, 2017



It is April.
National Poetry Month.

It is April
and we are reading
and writing poetry
of language
and images
to process
and paint our world
to infuse our words
with hidden layers
of meaning
and depths of understanding

It is April
and we are celebrating
who have
saved our lives
and taught us how
to write
our own poetry.

In celebration, I share two recent discoveries.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth offers a marvelous collection of poems in which the authors honor 20 poets.

In the preface, Alexander shares the context of his collection:
I believe that by reading other poets we discover our wonder.  For me, poems have always been muses. The poems in this book pay tribute to the poets being celebrated by adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration. 
I was delighted to find the among the 20 poets Alexander has selected to honor  many of my own personal favorites (Nikki Giovanni, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver,  and Naomi Shihab Nye to name just a few), I was also pleased to discover three new-to-me poets (Judith Wright, Chief Dan George and Okot p'Bitek) to enjoy and explore.

 Alexander further suggests that we:
... use (the poems) as stepping stones to wonder, leading ( us) to write, to read the works of the poets celebrated....to seek out more about their lives and their work, or to simply read and explore more poetry. At the very least, maybe (we) can memorize one or two.
The result is a collection of poems that delights our ears and our eyes, as well as our hearts and our minds.   I smiled as I recognized the styles of my favorite poets recreated skillfully by the authors. affording me an opportunity to intentionally consider style, form, and craft.  I lingered over  Ekua Holmes's lush mixed-media collages which illustrate each poem, seeming to visually capture the style of the poet.

 In The Death of the Hat: A Brief History in 50 Objects, Paul B Janeczko has gathered poems representing each period in history beginning with the early Middle Ages (from 400 AD) up through our current age of contemporary poets.

In summing up more than 1000 years of history through poems about objects, surrounded by Chris Raschka's easily recognized illustrations, we consider the actual objects that were important in each age, the styles of the poets in each period, and most importantly, how poetry developed and changed.

Like Kwame Alexander, Janeczko also hopes that this collection will lead us beyond the collection to more poets and poetry:

I hope that ..(the collection) gives you a better idea of how poetry has evolved. I hope, too, that you enjoy a handful of the poets enough that you decide to explore their work further.... Finally, I believe that poetry is meant to be shared--that's what anthologies are all about-- so I hope you share a couple of these poems with someone close to you.

It is April.
We are reading and writing poetry.
These beautiful, coffee table-quality, gift -worthy collections are two of the best places to start this year... and to return to often.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a favorite poet and reread several of her poems. If she has published new poems, seek out those also.

What is is that you admire about this poet and her writing?

Write a poem in the same style or form, intentionally echoing her ideas, topics, and thinking.


Select an object that has importance for you.   Find poems about that object. Can you locate poems about the object from several time periods?

How are they similar? different?

Write a poem about your chosen object incorporating elements suggesting our contemporary culture and time.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


the solid presence of
the undeniable truth of
the heavy power of
the ontological history of
the metaphysical magic of

I have always collected stones, even as a child, recognizing some unusual, unnamed treasure in small ordinary pieces of earth, pieces that could be held tightly in hand, giving strength, granting a wish, advancing a prayer, blessing the one whose fingers warmed the surface ...and closed into a fist around the life and story that was contained therein.  (Read my related poem, Stones in Our Pockets here.)

I have always collected stones--- as stories-- I was here, I was in this place, and this small piece of this place can now go with me, be with me, always

Stones that glitter, found as I walked the labyrinth at Proctor (the conference/retreat center for the Diocese of Southern Ohio)

Larimar, that I got in the Cayman Islands-- pale blue stones, the color of the Carribean Sea, the only place in which it is found.

The stone etched with a crooked cross after laying for eons on the bottom of the ocean before I found it one Easter morning on a beach in St. Thomas.

And the strings of stones-- the rosaries and prayer beads, I collect as I travel.

Stones have the power to hold our stories, to tell our stories,

We dream and hope and hold on to the little pieces of the earth to anchor us to the most important paragraphs of our own stories and to imagine the sentences that construct the stories of others.

Stones and I have a history.

So it was with surprise and delight that I discovered two books that honor the power of stones and their connection to our human stories.

We have all seen lovely editions of the Grimms' Tales. We may even own several.

But in The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan offers a uniquely beautiful and haunting edition, forcing us to see these timeless tales with new eyes, to consider their power to evoke our individual and collective lives in symbol and archetype and trope.

In the Forward, Neil Gaiman reminds us

People need stories.  It's one of the things that make us who we are.  We crave stories, because they make us more than ourselves, they give us escape and they give us knowledge. They entertain us and they change us, as they have changed and entertained us for thousands of years.

Tan has created stone-like sculptures to illustrate each story... or what he calls " the hard bones" of each story.  Each full-page illustration is preceded by just a paragraph, a short abstract, representing "what matters".  In the Annotated Index there are brief summaries of each tale for those who want to know more.  In the Afterword, he explains how as an adult he "came to appreciate these tales for their complexity, ambiguity, and endurance."

Of his sculptures, Tan says
What matters above all else are the hard bones of the story, and I wanted many of these objects to appear as if they've emerged from an imaginary archaeological dig, and then been sparingly illuminated as so many museum objects are,  as if a flashlight beam has passed momentarily over some odd objects resting in the dark galleries of our collective subconscious.  Like the tales themselves, they might brighten in our imagination without surrendering any of their original enigma.
 In his work, Tan has consistently exhibited the power to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

My first encounter with his work was his near novel-length picture book, The Arrival, which wordlessly illuminates the journey of a man leaving his home country and his family, then arriving and surviving in a new and strange land. This was one of my students' favorites, and still remains one of mine.

To see more works by Shaun Tan click here.

While Tan created stone-like sculptures to illustrate his book, in Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey by Margriet Ruurs, Nizar Ali Badr created illustrations with found stones or pebbles of varying sizes as his medium.

The author, Margriet Ruurs, says of his work in the Foreword:
Nizar's work spoke to me strongly.  In his art I saw people changing--from happy, carefree children into people burdened and fleeing.  There was hurt and sorrow. But ultimately there was also love and caring. and amazingly, all of this told with stones.  
She describes being inspired to create a story that could be illustrated by this amazing artist.

Their timely and unique collaboration is written in both Arabic and English. Her poetic prose illuminates the stone pictures and tells a story of freedom and loss, war and fleeing, fears and hopes, and finally arrival, after much walking, to a new nation, a new home.

My favorite illustration, very similar to the cover image, is accompanied by these words:

A river of strangers in search of a place
to be free, to live and laugh, to love again.
In search of a place where bombs did not fall,
where people did not die on their way to market.
A river of people in search of peace
 To see more amazing pebble art by Nizar Ali Badr click here. or simple search his name in Google images.

At a time when our government has made a journey such as the ones described in Stepping Stones or The Arrival an impossibility for many, the very stones cry out as witnesses for those dreaming, wanting, needing to make the journey... and those same stones sing in celebration with those who have already come to new homes.

the solid presence of
the undeniable truth of
the heavy power of
the ontological history of
the metaphysical magic of

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Shaun Tan and Nizar Ali Badr both represented stories in a unique way-- with stone-like sculptures and pebble art.

What story in your life can you tell using only objects? Can you use stones--- or perhaps another medium-- like sticks, buttons, leaves,.. the possibilities are endless?

Write about how rendering your story through a tangible medium changes your perspective.

Write a poem or essay to illuminate your illustration.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

E Pluribus, Unum?

By the wayside (Own work) [CC BY 1.0 

We are broken.

We are broken
at the very least.

We are broken 
and destroyed
at the extreme worst. 

We have long hidden
the chasms,      the schisms
are pulling open
no longer holding
the resentment
the anger
the hostility
 the hate

the deep divide
as tamped down
all encompassing
bubbles and oozes
to the surface
threatening to tear
the democratic fabric 
we wear
so unaware.

We watch in dismay
as freedom of speech
becomes  a civil war
rather than a civil responsibility
a civil right.

Our tongues and pens
are swords
cutting into
our Pluribus
our fictitious Unum.

Sapna Chand [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

How do we talk to each other?
How do we walk back from the abyss to a place safe enough to have a conversation-- to a space of critical and constructive, yet compassionate and kind discourse?

And what conversations need to be had to close the distances between us?

How do we tell our stories and be heard?
How do we hear  the stories others tell us?

How do we integrate facts accurately and significantly into our discourse?
How we humanize data and statistics so that we understand the human stories represented by each number, each percentage, each bar graph and pie chart?

How do we respectfully lift the invisible--that which we don't see, choose not to see, out of the context in which it remains hidden?

How do we train ourselves to see?

How do we foster talking with rather than talking to, at,  past, and around each other's Truths.

How do we talk to each other?

Some of my past blog posts may be helpful as we individually and collectively figure out how to talk to each other and how to teach our children and  our students.... and ourselves to also listen.

Included in most of the posts are books and other  resources that may be useful for current and necessary conversations.

We Are All Alike, We Are All Different

Remaking Our World

Open Season on Black Men

Ferguson and Other Nightmares

Social Justice


Against Forgetting: Poetry of Witness

The Poetry of Resilience

I, Too, Am America

Who Are We in America?

Black Lives Matter..., Too:  Let's Talk

An American Lyric:  Claudia Rankine

The Rights of Children

The Danger of a Single Story

You Do Not Define Me:  Telling Our Own Stories

 Today's Deeper Writing  Possibilities

Identify a person with a different perspective, opinion, or experience than your own.

Have an extended conversation with that person-- listening to understand her point of view and how she arrived at her thinking and understandings.  Share your own point of view-- identifying, if possible, places where your thinking converges,

Write a reflection or poem about your conversation, clearly explaining both points of view, and points of agreement.

Include any questions that remain about your partner's position and your own.Also identify any surprising  points or lessons learned.

If possible, share your writing with the person with whom you had the original conversation
Encourage them to write their perceptions and memories of the same conversation and share  with you.