The Dead Are Picking Vegetables in the Garden

I am blogging again. My life is lonely and stonish without this community. Stonish (ston/ish) adj. looking or displaying features like a stone.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you know that I live in fear of seeing ghosts, specifically my grandparents.  My mom told me that after a funeral once, when she was scared of the dead coming back as orbs, her father told her, “Why would they come back to scare you, they love you too much to do that.”  I believe this is true and so I reconcile this fear with the fear that any ghost that I see will not so much love me, but instead be there to either A. run me out of the place or B. give me visions to the future.  I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I’m that person who won’t hold their face under the shower head with their eyes closed for too long in case an apparition, or just overall “scary person” is standing behind her.

It scared me a little just to do a Google Search of this. (@Disney)

So. It’s probably not the best idea for me to go on a ghost tour. BUT…I did. (Let me preface this story with the fact that I have had a life long fear of Jafar as an old man from Aladdin.  Not sure why, and yes, the Disney version.  He’s just old, and crotchety and hunched over, and just one of the more scary of the villains in my opinion).  So, when the ghost tour man in Williamsburg brings us to the “Most Haunted House in America” that is, I kid you not, the color of blood (everywhere, even shutters) and dark and ominous at 11:07 at night, I’m already more than freaked out.  Then he starts in on the story of the Peyton Randolph House.

Peyton Randolph House @ Bluffton.Edu

It wasn’t the mysterious deaths from back in the day all the way up to EVERY security guard who worked the house in 2011 dying, or the fact that the upper right side windows looked as if a light was shining behind them at 11:07 when everything was pitch black, or the weirdness that no one in our group (of 22 people, I counted) could get a picture of the house.  When you tried to take a picture, the iPhone said there was a picture there, but it was just a white screen.  No, none of these things got to me, what got to me, was the woman he claimed haunted these lit up windows.  He gave her the delicate nickname of “the shrew.”  I was gone after that.  He described her wringing her hands at the foot of the guest’s bed.  She would shake her head and whisper only once, “get out.”  She even wore an old-time night cap and night dress which for some reason scares the crap out of me and reminds me of The Night Before Christmas at the same time.  See, people, everything connects to books.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

It is this “shrew” that kept me up last night reading until 1 am. And every time I woke up to roll over, I made sure not to look around and focused instead on the cats own stonish bodies instead of focusing on something that could or could not be at the foot of my bed.  The moral of this story, when you’re scared to death past the middle of the night, there is always a fabulous book to comfort you.  I was lucky enough to have Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.  It’s the story of an Indian family that has been transplanted to the dusty desert of the US because the head of household has taken up a career as a brain surgeon.  There are so many subplots throughout the 500 page story, but the best by far for me was the story of the children, Akhil and Amina.  There’s so much I can say about this book that I have no idea where to begin.

The Eapen family hides their secrets and when they all come to the surface, their house becomes a circus of buzzing activity with family members adding too little spices to dishes of comfort, and women running around trying to give advice to all members of the family.  The first inkling that the reader gets that this isn’t the happy American family is when the family visits India and must leave early for a beach getaway because they can’t get along with their Indian relatives.  The mother, Kamala, is clearly disappointed that they aren’t still living in India and I found that this argument was the day she let the length between her and India be the true length between her and her husband.  There is some fuss in India over relations between Thomas Eapen and his family, but I can’t tell you quite what because then I would ruin it.  Disaster strikes for the side of their family still living in India later in the novel.  The two most interesting characters of those in India are Ammachy who is a pushy and a braggart grandmother (as they usually are) that is very focused on the honorable way of doing things.  Then, Sunil, the brother of Thomas Eapen who might have a bit of a drinking and dancing problem (but don’t worry Mom’s, he’s not dancing on bars or anything, just in the privacy of his own drawing room).

I think this is truly the catalyst for the rest of the book which is filled with wonder and experience.  The key to my ghost story up there is that some of the characters in this story see their dead relatives through photos, hiding among the vegetables in the garden, and puffing a cigarette under the bleachers of a very expensive predatory school.  The relatives are not haunting the family, so much as invited into the novel as conversationalists.  They are the unscary of ghosts, and instead are welcomed.  You’re not sure as the reader, whether they’re welcomed due to medical trauma or just because this family is so lost by the departure of these relatives and the way their lived lives have unfolded that they need the guidance of their dead relatives.  It’s just brilliantly done in a way that makes it completely believable and I almost feel unlucky that none of my dead relatives have come onto my porch as I read and asked to sit across from me and talk.  Then again, I’m not even sure what we would talk about, but I’m sure we would think of something.

Amina, who is arguably the main character, is really interesting on her own.  She has left a career of photojournalism after getting THE photo of a man committing suicide off of a bridge.  Everyone is willing to pay her an arcade load of money for the photo, but instead of feeling accomplished, she feels finished.  She tries out for a position photographing weddings and gets the job spending five years and her sanity there.  There are a few kinks in her wedding photos though that lead the reader on an unexpected mission to her transplant home (her American home) where we see the true mix of her strong American identity with her family’s needs that she follow Indian customs.  There’s a great juxtaposition of this book between Native American tribes and immigrants from India.  There’s also a wonderfully constructed family in a constant state of repair that I found really compelling to read.  Truly, every family is dysfunctional in its own way and I love it best when I can find my family in a family so seemingly unlike mine.

Quotes @ Gravity Falls

  • “She’s half grandmother, half wolf, you know,’ Akhil whispered a few seconds later, and already have dreaming, she took it to be truth in a way unfathomable things can be.  She had seen the cool lupine glow in her grandmother’s eyes, her arthritic hands curled into paws.  In the days that followed, her hand would instinctively cover her throat whenever Ammachy looked directly at her” (307/8061).
  • “Burned?’ Amina said, the word aloud unhinging whatever it is in humans that keeps them standing upright and balanced” (2444/8061).
  • “Nobody in my dreams understands anybody else” (2496/8061).

And my favorite one, which is the epitome of “Talk Nerdy To Me” |

  • “Oh.’ Amina tried for nonchalance, but she didn’t personally know any freshman who had gotten high, or at any rate, high enough to get kicked out of school.  Something about it excited her terribly.  She wanted to lead Jamie back into the light and check his pupils and reflexes, maybe test his memory” (3898/8061).

This book was kindly given to me by Random House and went on sale YESTERDAY | July 1, 2014.  It is SO (emphasis on SO) worth picking up.  Also, Mira Jacob is a Goodreads author, and she’s pretty hilarious with her comments, so check her out as well.



Question: Is there a connection between these “orbs” and the bubbles that Fairy Godmother’s come in? Maybe we just have it all wrong, ya’ll.


39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It was a teacher workday today, so instead of cleaning out my desk drawers and taking down posters with inspiring thoughts “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop,” I spent the day finishing The Kite Runner.  225 pages in last night I was tweeting that I’m not sure I can teach this book because I found out the major hunch of Baba and Hassan and Amir.  And then I was PISSED at Baba.  I understood the two halves of himself coming together, but in the beginning I hated him for being a parent annoyed with the fact that his child is not a mini-him, then I grew to love him and his slight hobble asking for the sweet hand of a hook-nosed girl for his son, and then, I loathed him a little more than the beginning due to the secret he took to the grave.

Apparently, The Kite Runner is a graphic novel as well.

Around 300 pages in, I had to walk down to Hawke’s room and ask her if I should keep reading and if Assef “gets his.”  I’m putting a few almost spoilers in this review because I’m assuming that I’m the last person to actually read this book.  It spent 101 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List, so someone out there had to read it and then recommend it to all of their friends. I seriously wasn’t sure in those climactic moments that Amir could take the nazi (never deserves capitalization, I don’t care if it’s a “proper” noun) that is Assef.  What a dick.  The last time someone was stoned at a sporting event for me was reading “The Lottery” in my classroom and letting my students throw paper balls at the kid who won.  (We weren’t killing trees, they had to write all their work on those papers and then de-ball them in order to turn them in.  Sometimes fun is worth the crinkle of paper from a pocket binder).  In other words, no one has ever been stoned at a sporting event…in my conscious….ever.

I felt so dang American when I read this book.  I was beyond out of my element.  I wanted to simultaneously look away in horror, fly a non-paper-cutting-kite, hug a small child, serve tea, and reanalyze France’s decision on banning burqas.  It was 70% tragedy, 100% humanity, 39% horror, and 18% forced coincidence.  I never said I was a math teacher, which is precisely why I finally read this book.  I had already heard about the first horror of the book and knew just from that-that I wouldn’t be interested in a book like this.  Who wants to read a book where their favorite character will be abused before the hundred-page mark?  It’s like getting sick at breakfast and not being able to eat for the rest of the day due to your disturbing and wretched food poisoning.  BUT, tenth grade at my school teaches The Kite Runner, so I had to trial run it.

Movie Image @ Crash Landen

Taliban @ Wikipedia Commons

As soon as I finished, I knew my students would love this book if they could get through the density of it.  My freshman really appreciated Night, I’m not sure anyone can claim they enjoyed that one, and in Of Mice and Men, I had three girls cry and a choir of tense pressure build up by the end.  Kids who claimed to hate reading told their friends “even I liked that book.” They were both wins for the academics of high school forced-reading and for humanity as a whole as my students learned what empathy truly means through the best superpower, reading. If we covered World War II in 9th grade, maybe covering the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the introduction to Americans of Taliban, and the lead-in to America’s role in a war with Afghanistan might be something golden to teach in 10th grade, especially to students who weren’t even walking when September 11th happened.

Slingshot @ Pixabay (Creative Commons)

To own our history, we must understand the history of those around us.  I’m not sure one person can ever analyze, or study all the histories of the world (obviously), but I am sure that students can understand history that directly relates to their lives and the times in which they have lived.  I am SO looking forward to teaching my students this book.  Although it was kitschy at times; the slingshot, the kite, the brotherhood, the unveiling of Assef and unbearding of Amir, it was still such an amazing book.  I found myself getting nervous in the stadium with the characters, hearing the woman in the already dug grave screaming, seeing the old man ask for coins with his one spoiled eye, carving my name in the pomegranate tree along with Hassan and Amir.

I almost cried at the death of Baba especially when Amir said, “And for the first time in his life, Baba was alone.”  I never want anyone in death to feel lonely even though they’re not bodily with their relatives. BAH.  I fell in love when Amir met Soraya because she was such an honest female character. She’s one of the best-written minor female characters that I’ve read in a long time.  Khaled Hosseini made her so likable in so few paragraphs.  I’ll admit, her husband, it took time for me to like him, but what I like about that is that I only liked him at the time he also finally liked himself completely.  It wasn’t until he had fully forgiven himself that I fully forgave him as well.  Tone and mood came together, my feelings and his matched from that naked bathtub scene to the very end.

Old Television @ D.F. Shapinsky (Creative Commons)

Just, what a great book.  What a great book for the education it makes you research, for the simple fact that sometimes it’s important to feel like an “other,” like you know nothing about the world and pitfalls of the people in that world that live nothing like you (they didn’t even have television, just imagine America in that telescope). There are few books that are both enjoyable and drive their reader to keep reading books on the same topic.  I want to learn more about literature of the Middle East and I want to start right now.  I want to load up my cart and suck the life out of this history so that I can teach as many aspects as I please next year.  This is a book that you will read through the dead heat of night this summer if you haven’t yet picked it up.

I do wonder if I will ever get at the true feelings of what it is to be an Afghani if I can’t read Farsi.  This is one of those times that that the translation can never be as good as the book in the actual language.  I will always be reading from the point of view of the “other” if I can’t learn different languages.  What a disappointing epiphany brought out my an honorable work of literature.


Any recommendations for literature from or about the Middle East? What did you think about The Kite Runner and other books by Khaled Hosseini (that I need to read)? If there are any teachers out there, how do you teach this book? What is your favorite lesson?  SHARE AWAY!


What Must A One Eyed Raven Say?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

  1. Is there a difference between sacrifice and giving up and must you give up in order to have sacrifice?
  2. Is it a true sacrifice if there isn’t any giving in to others/world?
  3. Is revenge ever fruitful?
  4. Why are there such clear divides between Native Americans in this book and yet, American History 101 lumps them all together like a field of sheep.

Did you know sheep have no idea how to be a leader, they only know how to follow.  It may be the thick band of black in their eye, a censor bar to any sort of theory, or it may just be that they come as a clump and fall as a clump.  So much so that recently, 450 sheep jumped to their death in an effort to play follow the leader.  This is the metaphor the Christian faith has chosen to describe Jesus and his followers which simultaneously makes me feel full of strength because I’m surrounded by community, but full of fear that no one knows the answers.

  1. (This should be five) Should we all have a death song?
  2. Are out of body experiences literal? (Is anything literal)
  3. Do animals have Orenda (a supernatural force to be present in all object and persons)? said that Orenda is a thing of only the Iroquois First Nations, but I think this book would take that offensively as the groups are so disparate in their group-hood, but the same in so many ritualistic ways.

  1. (This should be eight) Does the whole world look at Catholics as evil?
  2. Did missionaries (and do they) ever really help the people that they surround? Was that a bias question?
  3. Can a missionary become part of the people without giving up their mission?
  4. Will torture always cause what we call today, PTSD?
  5. Is an act of sacrifice righteous in itself regardless of its reasons?
  6. What does it mean to be moral? Are the standards similar for everyone? (no.)
  7. Why are we scared to get blood on our hands?
  8. Is the act of “blood brothers” a nod to a First Nation history (more research needed).
  9. Define savages and civilized and give a brief example of each.
  10. Will you read this book to discover the prompt of these questions?

Okay, I can stop now.

Native American Indians in Canoe – Hiawatha´s Sailing @

While I thought the pacing of this book was sluggish at best, it took me a month to read it, LITERALLY.  The fact that it left me with so many burning questions (METAPHORICAL) makes me think that it deserves more than the three stars that I gave it on Goodreads.  The problem is, I didn’t really enjoy it.  In fact, I didn’t really like it at all.  It might be one of those situations when you go through a bad break up and you’re like “It’s not me, it’s you.”  I’m not sure if it’s the book in this case or it’s me being a lazy reader.

I’m going to blame the book.

This book was SLOW. It took hot baths and forcing myself to get the bar on my E-reader to move up another 20% each day for the last two days.   There were other problems with this book than just pacing.  The best character is a sorceress (the reader isn’t sure if the powers are developed throughout her tribe, or if they come to only her Orenda, but it doesn’t really matter).  She’s easily the most powerful character in this book as she constantly goes against the Catholic missionaries with a sly smile and cannon eyes, but in the end she folds under the birth of twins and becomes another harborer of death.  She can’t save the girl who is the true hero of this story, and she is still an outsider even in the end of the book, when the reader realizes they too have become an outsider, and have always been an outsider.

John White’s Depiction of a small palisades village in North Carolina

The hero girl, Snow Falls, is the truest of characters because she actually experiences real change in the story.  Most of the characters stay flat (other than Christophe Crow, the main Catholic missionary).  Snow Falls is only interesting because she surrounds herself with “drama.”  At least that’s how my high schoolers would say it.  She’s raped (almost, or definitely) three times in the story, she’s stolen from her family in the very beginning and fights off the bondage by taking off two fingers (of who I cannot say).  She keeps a totem raven with seashell eyes.  Occasionally, there’s hints that Gosling’s sorcery will one day become hers, but that’s never realized.  She kills a Haudenosaunee without ever having picked up a large, sharp tool.  She’s just a BAD B, if you know what I mean.  Her dad (adopted dad – she adopts him as much as he adopts her) is a brilliant father figure and village leader (named Bird), but he never really changes from the swift fighter and sentimental lover that he is from the beginning.  He follows the village ritual book to the T, even when walls are crumbling around him and corn is gray with rot.

Painter Robert Griffing placed Father Joseph Pierre Bonnecamp @ Explore PA History

Fox, Bird’s best friend, is a great minor character, but he’s unfortunately MINOR.  All of the members mentioned are Wendat tribesmen and women who accept the coming of Europe as a way to have easier trade deals.  What they don’t accept is the sickness and direct confrontations they have with these people.  All the questions about sacrifice come from the main Jesuit missionary, Christophe Crow, who is likable and dislikable at the same time.  He’s a friend to the Wendat, he’s willing to die for the Wendat, and he may be an equal leader to Bird, only he’s powerful in words where Bird is powerful in action.  Together, they’re an odd, but fruitful pair.  Christophe Crow is the first “crow” and missionary to “descend” on the village, but two others become main-minors as the story goes, Issac and Gabriel.  Neither are as strong as the first Crow in deed or manner, but Issac is really likable due to what he suffers at the hands of his first journey.  He threatens to kill you at the end though, hate it when that happens.

A Jesuit Missionary, Jean de Brebeuf, was the first person to document lacrosse in 1636. Then, in the 1840s French settlers in Canada took up the game. @ The History of Lacrosse

I am not sure though about other reader’s claims that these missionaries (European invaders) are seen for what they are (invaders).  I’m not sure that that’s the message of this book at all.  First, there’s no direct blame on them for the illnesses (that’s our own assumptions from history, which I think are accurate, but still).  They’re all willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the First Nations, even if it is to fulfill their own goals of bringing more people to the “Great Voice.”  They suffer right alongside on cold winters, huddling in their beaver skins.  However, there’s the other side.  There are hints of rape (as everyone loves to put in their books using the Catholic Church as a vehicle), and then there are not-so-hints of rape.  There are poisonings, nastiness, bitterness, worry, boring, BORING, letters home to France.  However, Boyden ends the book with the true suffering and resolve of one of the key members forcing the reader to realize that there is some missed connection between the First Nations and the missionaries.

The true beauty of this book is that there is very little judgment from the author.  He could play sides very easily in this war that the United States has been fighting since before its creation through revolution.  He doesn’t though.  He keeps it very clear that there are no two, three, four sides to humanity, only humans acting for the betterment of themselves, until their empathy or arrogance forces them to act for the betterment of others. Throw loyalty in there too while you’re at it.

“A Strange Nature, Only Partly Within My Understanding”

International League for Peace and Freedom @

One could probably argue that only during war does America experience “the other” in similar ways that third world countries experience the other as they are monopolized, corrupted, overtaken, and kneeling at the hands of their captors in order to face basic survival. Just after September 11th, America united over an idea that the Middle East was our fiercest “other” and all stops were taken to put an end to a distant fear, but a fear made of news stories that criminalized Islamic culture and taught the American people to have a hint of wonder (or something more powerful) if someone stepped on their plane in a hijab or a niqab.  In 1995, President Bill Clinton gave a speech about Racism in America. In it he discusses the rift between whites and blacks present well beyond the Civil Rights Movement, but in this case provoked by the wildly covered OJ Simpson trial.  He says that white people need to acknowledge and try to understand black pain and that black people need to be conscious of the roots of white fear.  In America, I have found that “the other” this person so unknown to us and we so ignorant of their ways is often our neighbor.  They may sit in the desk next to us at school.

A student told me just today that because her father was black that she was asked to move from a library table, the crowd of girls had just assumed from her skin tone that she was white and they could speak honestly about their built-up hatred.  This idea of “the other” never, and I say that word with all the force that could come behind it, creates unity, creates freedom, creates friendliness, or creates the power that comes from people understanding the diversity in the world’s backgrounds.  The only good “the other” creates is the acknowledgement that we are not all the same, but it lacks the depth enough to invoke a search for the stories behind these differences in order to find the truth – the similarities and an appreciation for a different side of humanity.

Books can change these engrained prejudices.

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

One of these books is Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya.  Please, please, please trust me on this one and not the Goodreads reviews. Many people have said this is a story of “utter hopelessness” and another reviewer called it “grimsville.”  It is none of these things.  At the heart of the novel is a series of interwoven love stories; the love a mother has for a child, even a child marked with “the other,” the love a wife has for her husband (swoon) and the love a family of the land loves the land of rice patties and cow dung where they have built an honest home.  This is the story of colonization in India, but it isn’t a story of hatred towards “the other,” those whites building the tanneries, the hospitals, but instead a story of how welcoming the people of these villages are to the newness of industrialization and faces unlike their own.

Bad things do happen to this family and they are overcome with more than their fair share of suffering, but in this beautiful told tale, it’s almost more important that they suffer.  In the calm stillness I saw him open his eyes, his hand came to my face, tender and searching, wiping away the unruly tears (139).  The narrator of this novel is a woman who has left her family at a young age, a priced bride, and moved in with her husband Nathan, a home he has built by hand.  From that moment on, Nathan protects her from burden, rocks to sleep her worries, and stokes the deep threads of the rice field that he does not own like he is feeding a fire.  He is a man of his word, but that word doesn’t come often and their relationship is one of true compromise and compassion.  I am in love with their love.  During the in-between of night when it’s not yet morning, but too far from evening, I read some of the lines to my boyfriend because I couldn’t deal with that much beauty by myself.  It opens with this, sometimes at night I think that my husband is with me again, coming gently through the mists, and we are tranquil together.  Then morning comes, the wavering grey turns to gold, there is a stirring within me as the sleepers awake, and he softly departs (1).  The relationship is subtle as the flecks in a light beam.  One of my best friends talked about this kind of love when he was discussing his latest crush.

Rice Paddy, India @ Columbia.Edu

“They touched my face, with their palm. Touched my face.  Laid across from me and put that hand against my stubbled cheek and left it there.”  This small description of his experience is the thing I think of when I think of the relationship between Nathan and his wife.  They are the couple that lay on a mat and touch the burnt cheeks of one another without saying a word.  Rough hands, scarred hands, hands smelling of wet rice paddy, disturbed water, but hands gentle for the face, for the night.

The intruder in this novel is obviously “the other” of colonialism and industrialization which leads without a heart towards the people of this small country village.  They are not asked whether they can afford to buy the land, they are told to move from it for the new tannery.  They are not asked to fill jobs, as the brick layers have brought in their own men.  They are not told to fill positions at the hospital because at this time, the money is begged for.  This is a village that cannot compete with the prices of the newcomers and so they suffer through not paying their own because they can bargain better with the industry.

Indian labourers stitch buffalo leather at a tannery workshop in Kolkata. Piyal Adhikary / EPA @ TheNational.AE

It’s a sad revelation to know that you’re in a country that uses other countries for their goods and their people’s working spirits.  I actually avoid thinking about it because it upsets me so much to know that somewhere a woman is hammering stones in a rock quarry to feed her family dinner and I am sitting in my cozy bed typing a blog that will reach only those with internet connection.  I’m not sure how I can fix anything being capitalist and needy, and “the other,” that doesn’t understand, but has empathy that she can’t really use and so it’s stored up for the next heartbreak on the shoulders of someone she cares about.

Kenny is “the other” in this novel, but he blends beautifully with the people of the village. He tries so hard to help them in little ways and the wife of the novel is very dependent on his comings and goings as he helped her conceive early in her time in the village.  Kenny is light-hearted, but knows he will never be one of them as they know they could never let him mingle in their culture.  I nodded.  There was no sense in agreeing or disagreeing, the gulf between us was too wide; it was no use at all flinging our words at each other across that gaping chasm (68).  He is a likable character although he symbolizes so many terrifying things.  In America, I guess I can’t speak for all Americans, but for me, I’m not sure which is worse, the thought of people starving in villages owned by corrupt landowners, but this is the way they have lived for generations, or introducing a world of industrialization that doesn’t invite them in for generations, but possibly teaches them a new way of life.  It’s the first world, “civilization vs. savage,” as if if you don’t have a personal commode in your house than you aren’t a civilized people.  Not true, obviously, but are there first world dwellers who believe this is a savage way to live? Probably.

Human Rights @ Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

There are moments of ruthlessness in this novel that are hard to gulp down.  “Sometimes from sheer rebellion we ate grass, although it always resulted in stomach cramps and violent retching.  For hunger is a curious thing: at first it is with you all the time, waking and sleeping and in your dreams, and your belly cries out insistently, and there is a gnawing and a pain as if your very vitals were being devoured, and you must stop it at any cost…” (65).  I definitely had trouble reading moments of grief, starvation, and times they lacked basic necessities.  This is a book I needed to read though.  It taught me about my own bias.  It taught me how to teach my students about their own bias, unconscious or otherwise, and it introduced me to a new way of reading literature.  We always try to suspend our own judgmental natures when we read, but to really try to experience the world as someone not so ourselves,  if only to understand for a moment the life of someone who is not built on public school and colored eyeliner.

Catster_LetsTalk1_28Read any books that changed your perspective on the world lately? Teaching this to my 10th graders I’m going to also use excerpts from Teju Cole’s Everyday Is For The Thief as I think it represents the idea of “the other” in a new way.  Does anyone else have other recommendations that could go along with this book? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. I also feel like this review might have offended some people, if you’re offended, I promise I didn’t mean to offend you.  I just speak how I feel and sometimes it doesn’t always come out with the right words.


Floppy Hats, Selfies and Sand Boobs | The Beach Read

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

Summer Beach Read @ The Phosphene (@ blue mop head s – Creative Commons

Beach reads: every girl needs them.  You’re either glopping yourself in sunscreen for the third time, being forced to be shark bait in a giant tube the color of last year’s spray tans,  buried up to your chin in sand with some nephew building your new and improved boobs, taking selfies in front of the pier, or you’re listening to the soft escape of the wind on the ocean and ignoring all the sounds of yelling sweat haired children in the distance because you have a beach read.  A romantic comedy in book form, for the perfect sand in your toes feel even if there is just bed sheet against your toes.  You can read a few pages in the car to drowned out the in-laws political conversations.  You can hide under an umbrella, or a floppy hat and only look up to see what embarrassing thing your friends are doing now.  You can avoid swimming out to that sand bar two hundred feet away where you saw dolphins and far too many small fish the night before.  You can relax.

Harper Collins was gracious enough to share a copy of One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern for my bedtime reading success.  If I was on the beach though, I’m telling you, this book would have gotten another whole star just for atmospheric purposes.  One Hundred Names is about a woman who is lost in her life due to her own need to get ahead.  Her only way out of feeling lost is by following the lead of her mentor, Constance, to a story for the magazine she writes for.  Constance is dying of cancer and tells Kitty that there is a final story she would like to tell.  Before Kitty can get back to Constance’s bedside, Constance passes away and all Kitty finds is a list of names.

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

In the beginning she searched out the first people on the list and not having much luck, she starts searching geographically.  Beyond her search, she goes through problems with the men in her life, problems with literal shit that people leave on her doorstep because of the mess she’s gotten herself into by being a lead news woman on a story that turns out to be untrue.  However, by searching the one hundred names, Kitty finds out more about herself, more about the human condition, and more about the variety of different life journeys that people can take.  It was one of those, “Awwww” endings that makes everything come out with a glass half full of rum.

Like @ Emojis

It’s got a great cast of characters, perfect for a movie, in case Ahern wanted to take that route again after PS. I Love You was such a big hit with the 20-30 RomCom glee club.  There are old and young people, people who are brilliant and people who hide behind their own hair, there are men with attitude and men who are too quiet to get what they want.  There’s a girl who is constantly proposed to only to never actually be proposed to.  It’s just a generally fun read and it talks about how ordinary lives can be extraordinary.  I think this book is one people need in a time when everyone is looking to social media to determine their own value.  How many “likes” do your photos get, how many “friends” do you have compared to someone else, or even better “followers.”  You must be a leader with 413 “followers.”  We want to live in other people’s vacations, people’s affairs, people’s jobs, and in turn we start to feel useless in our own beautiful lives.  This book says that everyone has equally important stories to tell.  It’s not the story that counts, it’s how you tell it and who you tell it too.  Maybe we need to stop telling our stories on news feeds and start living them in the moment.

(If the Food Lion 2 cents lion was here, he would agree with me).

Beach Chair @ Ted Hodges (Flickr – Creative Commons)

I think this book was published at a poignant time to show the importance of the mundane, the everyday, the small things, like someone letting you in line in front of them at Walmart because you have so few items compared to their 748 paper towel rolls.  This is a good reminder, a happy ending reminder, that everyone counts and in fact, it shouldn’t really be about math anyway.  People can’t judge others by the number of plaques they have, degrees, or even status comments, but instead by the lives they lead and the affects they have on others.  Bring joy to your world with One Hundred Names, even if it is a simple story with a simple title and a simple message, it might just get you in that bathing suit from last season that you didn’t quite find attractive because it’s an excuse to sit back in a beach chair and listen.

Macarena @ Chicago Now

Coming out May 6th from Harper Collins, I can assure you that your local Target will be carrying this one.   The following came up when I thought this book was out on May 5th, I have to leave it because I find myself hilarious:  And yes, I am telling you to stay home and read on Cinco De Mayo instead of making a fool out of yourself in a sombrero.  This is not a time for the Macarena.  Those pictures WILL end up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and screenshot Snapchat.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. (But seriously, get as many “likes” as you can).


Feels @ Tumblr

I can’t remember which one, but in one childhood movie, a character used The Bible as a sort of fate guessing game.  Point your finger, open a page and press down hard on the words of your future.  The only way God will tell you if that boy is going to breakup with you on Saturday when he meets Rachel is through random Bible trivia.  I think it was that movie where the girl stuffs her bra with ziplock pudding packs.  It’s the same girl that’s in Hocus Pocus.  Why can I never remember the name.

I’m sorry to say (is this a moment when you use one of those #smh) that I believed this was how God spoke to people back in the day.  Bible scavenger hunts and what not.  Most of my boyfriends either got dumped by Bible dosages, or I decided whether or not to lie to my parents about something minor.  Now obviously, I’m much more grown up and sophisticated (maybe not, #smh), and I have new ways of dealing with stress.  Flipping quarters. No just kidding. I have a book, a book for all things, all times, all feelings.  1000 Feelings For Which There Are No Names is a book from the lovely people at Penguin who send expansive emails with lots of verbiage.  They are book people after all, and they tote a small penguin around with them in their purse so we have to give them a break.

1000 Feelings For Which There Are No Names by Mario Giordana, Illustrated by Ray Fenwick, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

1000 Feelings For Which There Are No Names is a beautiful book.  French flaps (I learned this word from Audra @ Unabridged Chick), strangely unique illustrations (like looking at a Tumblr typography page), and a translator.  You know it’s going to be interesting when one day you’re able to use that language and the original meant tongue instead of lip and all of a sudden that kiss is much more sloppy than romantic.  A girl can dream.

Not only are the illustrations “ballin'” but the book is so much fun to scavenger hunt.  Having a rough day, close your eyes and crystal ball the hell out of #623. The fear that the medications won’t work.  Or maybe you’re “rough day” amounts to #666. The desperation when everyone tells you you’ve got to “finally let go” — and you can’t.  If you’ve never had a crying fit in your car over #666, then you probably haven’t lived through a teenage girl.  Or finally, for all the colleagues out there with desks to close to sneezing, sputtering, yammering, coughing, talking to loud to their ex-boyfriend, gum chewing, hair curling, professionals out there, this one goes out to you.  #802. The disappointment that other people get by just fine with advice and assistance. OH, YOU DON’T WANT TO TRY MINTS INSTEAD OF GUM, YOU ENDLESS POPPING CACOPHONY.

Anyway, there are unexplainable feelings for every moment of your life in this book, just about.  I’m sure we could come up with a few of our own if we had a book club, and a few restless wives just lying around. (Ba dum cha). Here are a few of my favorites with brief explanations:

  • #390. The envy of other people’s hickeys.

Ray Fenwick Art

Explanation: How much change did you find in that dirty couch when you didn’t know where to put your hands.  I’m looking at you, freshman, front row, hiding that red blotch behind a JROTC uniform.

  • #107. The anxiety that maybe you’re not a real man because you’ve never been to a brothel.

Explanation: Is there where women ladle out soup from large cauldrons wearing nothing but their skivvies.  Let’s stick to that.

  • #100. The felicity of the first touch.

Explanation: I have an American Girl Doll with that name.  She lives in the attic.

  •  #863. The indignation at being called vain.

Explanation: Oh, you mean, those seventeen selfies I just took because I couldn’t get one good one for #selfiesunday.  We see you, instagrammers.

  • #676. The urge to swerve into the guardrail.

Ray Fenwick art

Explanation: Normally this would be called depression, but I have this strange lingering feeling, just a nagging little itch, that everyone has looked at that metal bandaid on the high way and wondered at what speed they could shift it’s surface without killing themselves, sometimes on those rough days (623) how fast you’d have to go to plough through.

  • #485. The happiness of lounging on the sofa together.

Explanation: If by lounging on the sofa you mean in the guest bedroom because my boyfriend is allergic to cats and watching the entire first and second season of American Horror Story in one day so that your eyes are so bloodshot they refuse to close because they have reached that level of openness that now it is about survival.

  • #199. The certain serenity while gazing out a train window.

Alice Feels These Feels @ Disney

This feeling simultaneously makes me feel both alone and together with the entire world.  It might be the way you don’t move for the entire train ride, but stay stock still with your knees together as a school girl, or it might be the blurred grass that the human eye can’t make out by blade or bush, but this feeling is one of my very favorites. I can’t read on a train because I get car sick, my eyes trying to peripheral the view of the window while at the same time scanning the page.  Just not a good thing, so window it is, almost always.  The same thing can be felt in a plane, but that’s more of a “you’re just a speck in the vastness of the universe” than an actual fully together, ripped apart feeling.

  • #18. The dread of ice breaker games.

I think I feared this more than my camp children when we would play these in the large field.  I was a star swimmer in high school and yet the mounting fear was always, will I be picked last?


*With this outpouring of feelings, I have suddenly remembered (by googling pudding packs in bra movie) and the movie that I loved, oh so, is “Now and Then.”

Ten Year Byrd

Byrd by Kim Church

Kim Church is a small, frail woman made of bird bones and ombre.  Just before she reads from her first novel, she adjusts her glasses on her nose a touch and clears her throat.  There are no water bottles in front of her.  There is a sick Mayghan Mayhew Bergman who just finished reading next to her and is looking towards the four chair crowd of her family.  I am in a spinning chair that can be altered like you’re at the hair salon.  I quite like being tall enough to swing my legs like I did as a child and so I don’t depress the height of the fancy mesh chair at NCSU’s new library.  (We were all in the same room at NC Lit Fest).  The girl next to me quickly discusses her NaNoWriMo novel.  I’m more focused on her mermaid hair, just a swift comb and she would be as smooth as Ariel.  Truthfully, I’m here for one reason and one reason only, to meet Mayghan Mayhew Bergman who is my short fiction idol.  I have been going to events all day just waiting for three o’clock.  I spent a solid two hours talking to a pompous almost-graduate of the literature department.  At least he waited until I was over halfway through my black bean burger from the Cluck Truck to begin discussing his goals.

This was the day I decided I might try to write a novel.

I went for Bergman and came out full of Church and Wrinkle.  I haven’t read Wash by Margaret Wrinkle yet, but I was lucky enough to get a NetGalley copy of Byrd by Kim Church.

My toes weren’t touching the ground.  I was swinging my legs just slightly and there we all were, in a first grade classroom, introduced to Addie and her love of books. “Also, there’s the paper-and-glue smell of them, and the way the pages turn soft from being read and re-read” (79/2652).  Addie is working on cursive, phonics, learning how to admire a boy with a name full of alliteration the way some girls only date boys with names that start with certain letters (J, B, C) because we’re young and we don’t believe in coincidence, but we believe in fate.  She watches Roland Rhodes bite his ice cream sandwich into different animal shapes.  In high school, he watches her come unglued from behind the wooden grate of a desk when the teacher asks for argument, politely.  They don’t quite fall in love, but they fall into something, the only way you can fall when you’ve known someone since you can acknowledge yourself, continually.  And then like all girls once in their life, all roads lead to Roland.

They separate and come back together.  Roland moves to pursue a music career and Addie works on the top shelf of a bookstore where she lives as well.  She follows him to another coast (did I mention this was set in my hometown of Raleigh) and they drink cheap wine, and take up habits, and she finds the pit stains of another woman in his closet, but she doesn’t mind because his name has alliteration and his hands move like branches on the neck of a guitar.  Addie becomes pregnant with Byrd and the rest of the story is the beautiful becoming of a woman who has to give something up.

Addie is a reflection of most readers.  She practices inferencing, she likes to name things, she believes in the power of a story more than the power of reality, and sometimes she has to make up words in order to get her life to fit cosmically together.  Byrd, her almost son.  The boy she read to and whispered to and sung to and wrote to even though she hid the notes in a shoebox in her closet, the way some girls hide all the belongings of a boy in a break-up box below their bed.  Except for Addie, this belonging had a heartbeat and can’t be dug through in a time of epiphany.

Red Handle Shoemaker Hammer

I adored this book, I maybe even more than adored it.  One day I’ll make a list of all the books I’ve read about birds and their misspellings and every single one of them I’ve probably loved. I loved Kim Church reading from her own story, I loved the small habits of her fingers and the way she touched just a corner of the page. I can see Addie in the subtle rasp of Kim Church.  It took her ten years to write this book.  Five years to write in first person and five more to start over when she realized that wasn’t the right point of view for this novel.  She’s a practicing lawyer in Raleigh and lives with a man who sculpts and paints Carolina silos seen from the distance of a highway.  Her story is beautiful and so is the story she’s written on the page.  Addie is admirable even though most readers wouldn’t be able to comprehend her giving up a baby that she shared with no one.

Cup O’ Joe Coffee, Raleigh

What happens to Roland is dust and the updates on Byrd are few, but linger.  The affect of this one decision quakes the families in this book, and even the people no longer connected with Addie’s life.  The minor characters are brilliant, my favorite being the card reading miracle worker, a real “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  He himself could find a book in the too-filled drawer of Church’s mind.  I would read that, I would read any book that Kim Church writes.  I’m not just saying this because she’s local, and I got to be three feet away from her while she read from the second vignette of Byrd, but because when I was too tired to read at the end of a long day, I didn’t have to force myself, I wanted to be with the book, tapping next, next, next.

*Here is an excerpt from Dzanc Books

Ah, The Fragile Workings Of Our Sense of Smell.

I’m a little rusty on my reviews, try not to judge too harshly.  17,000 words down on writing.  The words don’t go together yet, but they are somehow a part of the same story.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Sheep make excellent book characters.  Whether they’re being sheared, or the reader can hear their cries through a broken fence, I can’t think of any novels where the sheep have not added something to the story.  In this story, they appear over and over as a mirror to the main character, Jake Whyte.  Jake has finished running from a haunted past and is standing still in the dark of a small English town where she keeps a sheep farm, a lone barn dweller, and a few pyro teenagers.

Shadow of A Man @ Helgi Halldórsson

I won’t go into the details about Jake’s haunted past because the killer part of this novel is the pacing and the structure.  The novel has alternating chapters between who Jake was before a series of incidents and who she is after.  In the before chapters, the reader learns her life as a teenager was not built on stars.  She had a large family who she (in present day narrative) calls and just listens to the space of breath on the other line rather than talking to her brother or mom.  The only person she does talk to is her sister who is not friendly.  The reader doesn’t understand why until the final chapters of the book.  Jake is a runaway that has now remained on her farm with a gun and a dog named Dog.  She refuses all humanity that approaches the farm and only really trusts Don, the man that sold it to her.  I will tell you that Jake has to run away twice in her life, once by her own undoing, and once by a forced lock and hidden keys.

It’s marketed as a mysterious thriller, which I think it is.  I think that’s justified.  There were moments in this book where my heart beat was pattering because I wasn’t quite sure what was coming next.  There’s a terrifying dog character named Kelly, owned by Otto who is a pathetic sack of arsehole, if you ask me.  It wasn’t a scary book, well, it was a scary view of human qualities gone shaky, but it isn’t a horror story.  It’s more just a really dark novel that remains dark until probably the last sentence.  There’s even a mysterious looming shadow that is hunting the living at the brim of the woods behind her house.  The reader finds out just what this force is by inference, it is never really revealed, but truly I thought this force was going to be an awkward encounter with Bigfoot.  No, seriously, that’s the kind of reader I am.  I also almost believed in the Google Maps Lochness siting from today.

Running Away @ Darted Rose (Creative Commons – Deviant Art)

The problem I had with this book was that not all my questions were answered.  Sometimes, I like if the author leaves a few points hanging.  I won’t lobby around the fact that the reader never finds out what happens to Greg, who Jake dated on a runaway stint to a sheep sheering gang where she was ousted by a friend of her boyfriends who saw posters of her face a few towns up.   I will lobby around the fact that there is no warning that this book is going both forward and back at the same time.  I liked that because it was new to my reading plate.  Other than Cloud Atlas, I had never read a book that could multitask in tenses, and move back and forth through a time spectrum in such a backwards way.  It was a bit rocky at times, Back to the Future rocky sometimes, but it wasn’t REALLY obnoxious.  It took me a few to-and-fros to understand what she was doing, but this was also the time when I thought the chapters were from two different people.  I really thought the girl’s stories would intersect, turns out it’s one girl.  WHOOPS, must have missed that one.  As you can see, this was a little bit of work for my amateur reading mind to really figure out, which isn’t always a bad thing.  Sometimes we need a little reading arithmetic in our lives.  Word problems of the bookish and blowzy.

Smell of Tammany @ Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

The things that are on my list of grievances are shorter than they are long. I liked this book, it was mysterious, difficult to follow at times in a good way, and interesting.  My problem was that it wasn’t fully thought out.  Some things in books, readers just can’t fill in because they don’t know where the author wants them to go.  I wasn’t sure of her ending story with the fire (if you’ve read this, you know what I mean).  The description was missing logical steps to follow to understand how everything happened.  There was no information on how she left home, how she recovered, what happened to the townspeople.

I also had trouble with the barn dweller.  She accepts this man into her home with very little forethought.  She does prove to be spontaneous and run her life on impulse previously in the book, but I also found her to be really untrustworthy with anyone, not just unsavory characters.  I have mixed reviews of her hasty turn of feelings on this whiskied man. (Yes, I just made whisky a verb).

I’m not sure of the pacing (how many days he was there before he took over the guest room and the dog training), but it felt like very few.  And this is a woman who trusts no one, sleeps with tools to kill under her pillow (I sleep with my car keys).  It’s nuts that that relationship came so willingly.  All you romcom girls out there, this isn’t one of those “it was love at first sight,” or “I met him and just knew” kind of thing, Jake is not that kind of woman.  She has tiger stripe scars on her back and can shear a sheep without cutting to the quick.

This book was worth the read if the reader is willing to fill in the blanks, and follow it through, if only to see how delicately and with much fragility a writer can weave in the sense of smell (and other well-worn senses):

“I’d been up that morning, before the light came through, out there, talking to myself, telling the dog about the things that needed doing as the blackbird int he hawthorn started up.  Like a mad woman, listening to her own voice, the wind shoving it back down my throat and hooting over my open mouth like it had done every morning since I moved to the island” (79/3191).

“The night sky is crisp with stars and I sit on the fence, listening to the cicadas and the night birds, the bandicoots and rats and all the live things that are out there, breathing with me.  Not far away, the sheep are a dense and silent cluster” (497/3191).

“I smoked a cigarette.  Down in the bottom field, one of the ewes ate from where the grass was still darkened from the dead sheep.  They didn’t hold a grudge, sheep” (519/3191).

“The headlights lit up a lot of insects for that time of year, white in the beams, large-winged flakes like ash. It took me a while to understand that they weren’t insects, that it was snow” (1628/3191).

“The hot smoked air, the birds. The salted ends of my hair when it flew in my mouth.  My family” (2594/3191).



Read any good books starring sheep or with sheep as side characters.  I think they’re kind of like the setting as a character, that oddly noisy sidekick.  Have any thoughts on the darkness in this book, or the narrative structure? Let other readers know what you thought.

See You Later, Beautiful.

This morning I woke up to a comment that I took the wrong way from someone I have learned to trust and appreciate in this blogging community.  Lately, I’ve been in a book slump and haven’t read anything that I absolutely love.  Today, I spent the day at the NC Lit Festival, listening to artists like Karen Joy Fowler, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Kim Church, Jill McCorkle and others.

This has all led me to this moment right here.  I thought it only fitting that I do this from the toilet (although I’m not using it…we won’t go that meta).

I have decided to take a break from my blog, after four years, and getting to know so many countless, beautiful, engaging, intellectual, inspiring people through this platform and this small corner of the internet that I can call my own.  I was crying in the car just thinking about how much these last four years has meant to me and how scared I am in the next step of my writing journey.  I don’t want to be a bitter blogger who can’t find any books she loves, and becomes that critic that everyone hates, and I don’t ever want to not try to write something on my own that’s independent of this, although I am scared TO DEATH.  Literally, this might be the scariest moment of my life.  I have put all my creative energies, and really, creative dignity into this blog and it has become something that is beyond me and brings me the most pleasure.  I look forward to talking to this community every week and I hope that you all are finding the same relevance, and the same inspiration from me, and this blogging world.  In order for me to sit down and write something that isn’t a blog, I have to give this up for a while.  I’m a heartbroken a little bit, thus the tears in the car ride home and the way I avoided talking to my father downstairs and instead ran up the stairs to write this blog.

I just want you all to know that I love you.  I am still on this journey with you and this is not goodbye, but see you later because I will blog ever so often (I still owe a few publishers a review) and I still want to keep in contact with every lovely person that I’ve met through this.  I’m glad you guys have stuck it out with me for four years through my neurotic, eccentric, insecure and overly excited personality.  I am no perfect creature, but I want to go off and try to write the most perfect book that only I can write.  And let me reiterate, I am scared beyond anything I’ve ever been scared of.  I have cried off and on for about two hours now.  It may be the Port City Java jitters, or it may just be that I know how hard the next step is going to me.

I need to thank the first novel panel at NC Lit Fest for really inspiring me to take this next step.  I also need to thank all of you for all the compliments and the stories and the conversation throughout these four years.  I want to keep talking to you. I’m a great letter writer and I respond to emails eventually…..sometimes, I suck more at that.  My email is  If you want to keep our conversations going, feel free to email me.

I hope I can understand why I’m doing this when I am in the writing process and I hope you can understand why I can’t blog and write something at the same time.  I’m trying to give my full dedication to some work that will be produced in the future, who knows what.   If I didn’t write this post right now, I might not have.  So, this is quick, but thank you, I love you, and see you later.

Favorite Poetry Exercises for Teenagers and Those Who Are Still Teens At Heart

Sometimes the only way to get a highschooler to like poetry is by showing them people who do it dramatically really well (slam poems) or Tupac, who put poems to music, or for that matter, any lyrical, or rap artist, arguably any musician (except maybe Ke$ha).  That’s not always the way I do it.  All I hear when I break out that first poem, because it is definitely a break, and not a nudge, or an “approach” to poetry, is squawking.  I break my students in like those good shoes you’ve had forever and your dad accidentally bleached one time in the wash.

Poetry is one of those times I like the static in my classroom, when I can actually feel the buzzing of their lips on the beats, or the clicks as they tap their pencil along each syllable because the best answer to this ADHD dilemma we have in schools, is poetry.  Memory, rhythm & blues, permeable words, the answers to life tough questions.  If I don’t open poetry with a slam poem, I open it with an exercise.  I make them write the first one.  I teach them that the stanza is the paragraph of the poem, the picket fence, the razor wire, the metal gate that they have to push open to find their way out into the next stanza.  Gosh, even explaining poetry is a metaphor.

I don’t care if they start the year saying, “I hate poems,” or “I just don’t get poems,” as long as once in that year, some line has caused a tightness in their chest, or some confusion of something they thought they held firmly in the palm of their hand, stray specks of dirt that fall out when they’ve broken it open, gather somewhere as a wet pebble in their mind. These are some of my favorite ways to sift the dirt.  I don’t need 97 poetry lovers, I need 97 unique individuals who can think for themselves, create something for themselves, or are just able to rake dirt, and plant flowers.

Here are a few of my favorite exercises, please use these at home.

Jamaica Kincaid @ Community Bookstore

1. If I know they’re going to read a poem, I give them 15 words from that poem and ask them to try to find some thematic way to structure these words together in a set number of stanzas, or lines.  If they can’t connect them together to find some theme, I just go for tone.  Then they create their own poem using that theme, tone, or a way to make the words rhythmically work (this is for my future rappers). My favorite poems to do this one with is “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid (touted as fiction in the NY Times, but we all know that’s poetry) and “Exile” by Julia Alvarez.

Here are the word lists in case anyone wants to write a poem:

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid list:

  1. clothesline
  2. slut
  3. bent
  4. crease
  5. flies
  6. throw
  7. away
  8. fall
  9. always
  10. behave
  11. girl
  12. sweep
  13. wash
  14. someone
  15. button

“Exile” by Julia Alvarez

  1. highway
  2. deep
  3. knew
  4. wrong
  5. curfew
  6. worried
  7. fled
  8. frantically
  9. America
  10. visitors
  11. respect
  12. father
  13. stay
  14. Ford
  15. sisters

We Heart It @ Tumblr

2.  Hanging Fire by Audre Lorde: This poem just kicks teenage poetry haters’ butts.  I might have one kid in my class every year who doesn’t connect with this poem and that’s because that kid is actively trying not to connect with life. It’s about a fourteen year old girl who just has no side.  She is a conglomeration of everything around her.  I have my students read this poem and then write one of their own versions.  What betrays you? What does no one think about you? Who defends you and who doesn’t? Who cares the most about you?  Where are you neglected and where are you praised? What is unfair and unjustified? If there’s anything that teenagers want to do, it’s argue about their own life.

3. Golden Description Chart (THANK YOU, 826 National & McSweeney’s)

#obsessed (HASHTAG OBSESSED) The Eggers version is in the link, but I make my students create a chart, and we usually do this chart within the first week because I want them to start thinking about senses, which leads to imagery.

Chart looks like this:

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After the chart, I tell them to give me a golden description of their favorite place.  They have to use all the senses to describe the place and I tell them I want to feel like I’m there if I close my eyes and someone reads this to me.  Then, I actually have people close their eyes and a student reads about their favorite place.  The person with the closed eyes tells the reader what they could best feel/see/hear/smell/taste and what they had a hard time feeling/seeing/hearing/smelling/tasting.

This is the best part though, I make them then write a dialogue between the smelly old person (who has become blind in a matter of seconds) and they have to explain their favorite place to the older, blind, smelly person.  This is fun because they have to use so much creativity.  They have to give detailed descriptions to someone, while using correct characterization of themselves (and how they talk), but also how an old person might question things.  My favorite example is that one of my students has a Chief Keef poster in their room.  They had to then describe Chief Keef to the older person because the older person didn’t know who that was.  It’s very interesting to see what you get, but I think this is one of those beginning poetry stages that you have to do because imagery is a killer in poetry.



Holy Smoke @ Thejaswi – Creative Commons

4. McSweeney’s Poetry Prompts That Don’t Suck aren’t half bad either…

(Trees and shit ALWAYS hooks my students).  Don’t worry, I got permission to cuss in the poetry parts of my classroom. Speaking of cussing…

5. Twitter Poems

Twitter poems are like technological found poems.  For the first time, I just have my students get on their Twitter feed and write down ten random tweets.  Then, they can only use these words in their poem.

I step it up when I want them to write a poem with a specific theme and I send them on the hunt to find tweets that will help them develop something around that theme.

I step it up again when I just ask them to write a poem that relates to the novel, short story, or informational text that we’re studying and then write me a few paragraphs on how the two live simultaneously in a one bedroom apartment.  What is their relationship, are they married and bitter, are they deeply in love but not allowed to seal the deal, are they sister and brother.  Tell me the connection. OU, KILLED ‘EM.

6. Historical Poems: For this students have to research the historical time periods and characteristics of their chosen characters before they can write a poem.  Then, they write in the voice of that person.  I had a kid once write as Ted Bundy and it might have been the creepiest thing I’ve ever read.

*Write as someone who was beheaded

*Write as a person who died on the Titanic

*Write as an Egyptian Pharaoh

*Write as a woman during the Salem Witch Trials

*Write as a founder of our country, or a dead president

*Write as a school shooter (this one makes me really sad, but it really puts their ideas of school security out there)

*Write as a soldier in a war of your choice

*Write as a Disney Princess

*Write as a gang member

*Write as a famous musician

*Write as a hippie (or a protestor of some sort)

*Write as female leader before the 20th century

*Write as someone just before they experienced Pompeii

*Write as someone from The Bible, or another famous work.

There are too many choices, seriously.  I just love the research aspect of this prompt and the fact that students get so into giving me the true voices of their characters.

Mona Lisa @ Wikipedia (Wiki Commons)

7. Paintings: In this prompt, students have to research famous paintings (or graffiti) and tell the story behind the paintings in poem form.  What is the true story of how this came to life.  I had a student write about the Mona Lisa (just for your information, Mona, was a blocked search term on google on my school’s internet) and he wrote about how everything in the painting points toward her cleavage (the river in the background, etc) and how, therefore, it must have been her lover who painted her Mona Lisa smile.  Only a junior male would come up with that one.

8. Broadsides: Students just take a line, section, or whole poem and create a visual display of the poem.  I haven’t actually done this one in my classroom, but I’ve watched a veteran teacher’s poetry cafe using broadsides and it was unbelievable.

9. Neruda Odes/Neruda Questions

For Neruda’s Odes, students will study an Ode by Neruda and see how he twists language to do how he pleases ,and then they write an Ode to something.  There’s obviously more effort done in the analyzing stage of this, but the Odes to things are always interesting.  I had a student write an Ode to his brand new oxfords at the beginning of a class, and then at the end an Ode to his dirty ass shoes.  See, poetry, makes you see the dirt.

*NOTE: When we read Odes, I have students just randomly read a line and then the next student who feels summoned to read reads the next line until the poem is finished.  If more than one student starts reading a line they continue, like a kind of chorus.  By the end, they’re all reading every line.  It’s pretty fantastic.

Sample Odes:

Neruda Questions is a little more difficult.  Neruda had a sort of series called The Book of Questions.  They’re really unanswerable questions about the human experience.  I like them because it takes my students a while to come up with a question.  I love, “Tell me, is the rose naked or is that her only dress?”  Students can come up with some really wonderful questions.  Then, some genius wrote a book called Talking to Neruda’s Questions and I showed them some of his responses to Neruda’s thoughtful questions.  So, after they’ve written questions, I have the groups switch questions and they have to answer the questions poetically.  This would be so much fun if we had poetry clubs like we have book clubs.

T.S. Eliot Book



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