Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Here's the official poster for National Poetry Month, an event created in 1996 and hosted by Poets.org

It features a snippet from the poem "Our Valley" by Philip Levine:  ". . . wait on the wind.  Catch a scent of salt, call it our life."   

I remember singing "Down in the Valley, the Valley so low" on long Sunday rides in the car with my family, my Dad leading with his bass tones.  I loved the spirituals best, which Dad sang with gusto, I think partly because the lyrics resonated with who he was as a Jewish man called Joseph.  "Down in the Valley" was often followed by "Go Down Moses" and  "Way Down upon the Swanee River" and "Old Black Joe."  I think he was really happy during those Sunday afternoons with his family.  It is also the most relaxed vacation-like time I remember from childhood

At first I sang loud and joyfully during those years, but as I reached the uncertain years of puberty my voice must have pitched up, because Dad commented on a screech effect.  I sang low or not at all from then on.  In school I moved from chorus to band where I played trombone, a wonderful brassy low-tone instrument.  During those same years I wrote a short story that was published in the literary magazine and I won a contest for writing a biographical sketch of Frederick Church, one of the Hudson River School of Painters.

My mother was convinced that I would become a writer, but--at age 60--I haven't become one yet!   I write all the time, of course: lists, emails, journal entries, greeting cards, and grant proposals.  I give talks and lead discussions whenever I am asked.  I have even earned my PhD and printed labored articles here and there.  But most of my writing is in the moment, wild and rough.  And once written it is put away as if a secret.  Unless I read it to someone.  This anti-social behavior is still a mystery to me.  I am moving past it, maybe, with this blog.  Here and on facebook my tiny comfort zone with "The Public" is changing.

New Blog

Feeling optimistic this Spring, maybe even feverish, I dedicated a new blog to poetry that I plan to write during International Poetry Month, April 2012.  As an afterthought, I added a second page for poetry that actually exists.  And I uploaded two poems that I wrote with a very special group of people: The Poetry Club of the Franklin Learning Center.  In fact, almost all poems for the last 8 years originated in the club.  We met for one to two hours on Fridays.  The entire week could have wiped us out, and that short Club Meeting would revive us.  The poem "TGI Poetry" is about exactly that.

I promise to type in an old poem on page two for each day I do not add a new one to the Home Page.   To keep my promise I delved into boxes of old poetry not yet word processed:  poems of yearning, poems of loss, poems of Look-at-Me, poems in rhyme, poems in time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

April 2012:  I will take the poetry a day challenge this year, my first April in retirement.  I commit to writing everyday and recording the results. Heart in throat!  This is a public commitment, whereas I have been happily in hiding, not committed, and hoarding my every word.  Except in a high school poetry club where I felt at home.  I will be grateful to those students forever for all that they taught me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

At the end of my last work day, 3/1/2012, a few of my peers gathered with me at St. Stephens Green to ease the transition to retirement because, of course, I have mixed feelings about leaving.  I invited my "go-to" friends, those whose presence at FLC and readiness to work together eased the day-to-day job pressures.  The catered gathering was also my thank you to them for their positive support through the years.  It was a small and sweet gathering.

Under the hugs and best wishes and smiles I sensed the hyper energy and exhaustion of my friends.  It had been a difficult day, especially for the three whom a student had confided in.  She had come to school after an incident of sexual abuse and, adding this to other recent losses, was ready to give up.  She didn't; she talked to her teachers instead.  The challenge was that no resources were available to the staff: Counselors were out of the building and no handouts of help-lines or other resources were in evidence.  One teacher surfed for information which she made available to the child, but wasn't sure whether she would be liable for any negative results from her action.  We sat and discussed that problem, repeating the ritual support that teachers give each other when the challenges of teaching seem to endanger us.

There is no avoiding the lives of our students.  None of us would want to.  In these days of teacher ultra-accountability, however, all acts away from the script--acts that are both trust-provoking and educational--are dangerous.  Self-preservation makes us hesitate to follow the very instincts that we have honed over the years.  These are teacher instincts, the instincts of teachers who teach children rather than merely subjects and who set up learning environments in which meetings for learning occur regularly.

In his recent NYTimes editorial "Confessions of a Bad Teacher," William Johnson details this problem.  Following good instincts leads to both negative evaluations and strategic ambiguity on the part of administrators who also seem to be protecting themselves.  We have to ask, from whom?  Whose job is it to "put the students first" these days?  My friends in teaching are the ones who take the actions to make this rhetoric true, and they are the ones who fear for their jobs when the worm keeps turning.

These issues had a part in my need to retire.  Nothing makes physical pain more difficult to bear then emotional pain and psychological undermining.  I have often been a radical in the face of mind sets--even my own.  This weekend's meeting with a successful ex-student from the College of William and Mary reminded me of that, big time.  My educational philosophy was  honed in the halls of Ellen Stewart's LaMaMa--the subject of my doctoral dissertation and critical hero of international diplomacy through performance.  She demonstrated how to guide potential clashes into both collaborative work AND individual integrity--what I think of as the quantum theatre and the United Nations and a classroom of students.    I expect to write more about this in the future.

Meanwhile, the friendship among like-minded teachers remains the major life-raft in the sea of politically-motivated school reform.  Thank you friends.  We do because we do.  I will miss you greatly and admire you always.