Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I read.

I read
a book.

I read
a book
that reminds me
of another book.

I read a book
that reminds of me
of another book
that I read
once upon a  time.

I read a book
that reminds me
of another book
that I read
once upon a time
along with a poem

I read  a book
that reminds me
of another book
and another book
that I read once upon a  time
along with a poem
that answered them all.

That answered them all
pushing back against the metaphors
and questioning the perfect paper
logic of the first book
and the poem.
I watched these texts
and every other
I have recently read
and several
much less recently
with each other
line for line
thought for thought
and maybe agree to agree
or continue to disagee
word next to word
in the end becoming
strange bedfellows.

What texts speak to you?

Which texts force you to return you to previously read texts?

Perhaps a better question is which texts speak back to the texts that speak to you?

Pablo Neruda wrote The Book of Questions , in which each poem consists of a list of questions related in ways we discover, invent, and infer anew each time we  read. The poems/questions juxtapose that which we easily name and that which we cannot name, highlights paradoxes, and just generally delights us.

Neruda captures the wonder we felt as children as we asked question after question of some patient (or not so patient) adult--questions that in most cases had  slippery answers, if an answer could be delivered at all.

He captures our continuing wonder as adults, seeking to return to a time when we didn't think we knew, when we knew for sure that we didn't know--allowing us to simply reflect on both the questions and our thinking.

Here is one of my favorites:

Is 4 the same 4 for everybody?
Are all sevens equal?
When the convict ponders the light
is it the same light that shines on you?
For the diseased, what color
do you think April is?
Which occidental monarchy
will fly flags of poppies?

We can  ramble and ruminate through the questions, turning over the enigmas and, perhaps, formulating answers in our minds-- and on paper.

M.T.C. Cronin did just that. He wrote Talking to Neruda's Questions.  For each of Neruda's numbered poems of questions, Cronin has written a corresponding numbered poem, answering the questions.

Here is his answer to the poem above.

4 is the same 4 for everybody and all sevens are equal;
zero – or O – however, is somewhat of a sticking point...
My light and the convict’s light
travel(s) the same but shine(s) differently.
For the diseased,
April is the same colour as the closest thing to hand.
The occidental monarchy with stones in its boots
will fly flags of poppies.
Click here to read more of Cronin's answers to Neruda.
Click here for a PDF copy of Talking to Neruda's Questions.

I recently read an article in Seminary Ridge Review (Spring 2013)  which reviewed Raging for the Exit: A Commonplace Book by David Breeden and Steven Schroeder.

 Inspired by commonplace books of the 1500's and 1600's, poems throughout this collection alternate responsively,  in italics and then in a Roman font, one by Breeden, one by Schroeder.  The poems speak to each other and invite us to join in the conversation.  The pairings enhance and extend the reading of each poem.

Here are the opening lines of one poem

Zoe Aionion
The Angel of Death
said to me: " Let me
Lay my cards on
The table- what
You think you know
Is a mistranslation:...

Zoe Aioion is place on the same page beside life is short.  Here are the opening lines:

life if short
time was death and death's angel would wrestle all night for a promise  and played a mean game of chess--games of mind and body, both.  
Now it's poker and penny slots  on the internet. I think I  don' t know nothing, and that's no trouble, I'd bet...

Browsing the paired poems in Raging for the Exit on Amazon was enough to leave me reflecting the rest of the afternoon--and to convince me I needed to join this converation to which the poems invited me.
I bought this book immediately.

What texts speak to you?

Which texts that you have read that speak to each other?

As teachers, we often pair books and other texts to deepen understanding of concepts, to promote critical thinking, and to foster questions of texts.  There were several companies that intentionally pair related fiction and nonfiction selections.

Carol Rawlings Miller offers us surprising and thought-provoking pairings of a variety of types of texts in Strange Bedfellows /Surprising Text Pairs and Lessons for Reading and Writing Across Genres .  She includes speeches, editorials, excerpts from novels, poems, songs and memoir. She hands us such unlikely pairings as speeches by  Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Luther King and William Shakespeare, poems by Rudyard Kipling and H.T.Johnson, and memoir by Seneca the Younger and Joan Didion.

In the introduction to this wonderful treasure Jim Burke reminds us of the importance of talking about texts as they talk to each other:

We read for the conversation that texts invite us to have about the world, human nature, and ourselves.  Every text is an invitation to converse, and we bring to these encounters a different urgency and perspective at various stages of our lives..It is more, however, much more than a polite textual tea party where these different authors sit around tables taking easily about politics or wartime or cultural identity. Carol Rawlings Miller has arranged these works around heftier, edgier ideas, using these diverse text to answer or at least respond to essential questions appropriate for our times and the world around us. Read this, and then let's talk, Miller seems to be saying.

I might add in the flavor of this post, Read this and listen to the texts talk to each other, and then let's talk.

What texts are having conversation around you right now?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Which texts are speaking to you?
Which texts are begging you to return to previously read texts?

Which texts are speaking to each other in your presence?

Write a poem responding to or answering a recently read text.

Select a pair of texts that you think speak to each other.  Write an essay about that conversation.

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