FEEL THESE FEELS

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?

READ THIS BOOK. EAT THIS BOOK. FEEL THESE FEELS.

*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.

Spiritualityhelp.org

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.

Alphacoders.com

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).

Catster_LetsTalk1_28

 

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 clmannes@gmail.com.  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:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 10.00.24 PM

 

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

10. OTHER SOURCES:


Why Write in a “Preachy Tone” When You Could Just Write A Memoir?

“What, I wonder, are the social consequences of life in a country that has no use for history?” (Cole 97).

Photography by Teju Cole

Anytime we read something my students have questions.  Yesterday, they questioned me about the reason they can’t stand up and yell something in class because of the first amendment that we had just gone over.  What do Facebook comments have to do with free speech.  Why is it that the school can have a Christmas tree if the idea of the Christmas tree comes somehow from Christ and we have separation of church and state.  Sometimes I have answers, and sometimes I have to send them out into the world to discover the answers for themselves because I still don’t have them yet.  Some, I’m not sure I ever will.

Teaching literature through the historical context is one of my favorite things to do in my class.  I’m teaching Of Mice and Men through the historical context of the Great Depression with connections to immigrantion (not that Lennie and George are immigrants, but migrant workers and immigrants have great ties in my student’s knowledge of what is an immigrant today.  In their eyes, and the eyes of many southerners I would think, – immigrants living in the ride along mower state of North Carolina are picked up by farmers at Lowes Hardware, paid under the table, and can be kicked off the truck if they complain.  My students are also from a very high poverty county, they understand not planning for the future when you only have enough for today.  The American Dream themes of migrant workers and immigrants are very similar to the way my students see success and their own goals and dreams.

I’m getting off track though.

Every Day is for The Thief by Teju Cole

One of the biggest things I like to teach my students is that you can only in very few cases teach history through race.  Right now, in a school that is truly the mosaic that America is, they are very in tune to the racial barriers set before them and around them.  They simultaneously try to break these barriers and keep them up, when it’s convenient or they’re pushed.  However, history is not viewed through the lens of race.  There is no collective “white history.”  We couldn’t teach “white history” if we wanted to.  Someone would always be an outlier.  There is no collective “black history.”  There is no story that fits all the people that were born with and without pigment.

It is difficult for my students to grasp this because they want to put all their eggs  in the African American history basket.  This history is and is still not quite grasping the total history although it is getting closer to history as geographical which is how we study it today.  The label “African American History Museum” (opening in July of 2015 in Washington DC) not only furthers the barriers between our collective American history, but it eliminates the idea that people should understand and acknowledge all of their mixed histories, American, African, Dominican Republic, Mexican, Puerto Rican, European (and that’s a butt load of histories in itself), Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Native American by tribe, etc.  I understand this is how history labels us, there must be a label for every questionnaire, every time someone asks, “So, where are you from?” some sort of answer.

Teju Cole @ NY Observer

It’s a complicated spectrum, made even more complicated by Teju Cole’s new book, Every Day is for the Thief.  In his book, which is more diary travelogue of life in Nigeria then it is fictional story (in fact there’s not much story at all other than the story of escape, or the story of corruption), Cole paints a picture of Nigeria that would cause Italian trained pickpockets to avoid the place.  Now I’m no expert on Nigeria, in fact, my knowledge of Nigeria is very limited, but the unveiling in this book, even fiction, made me disappointed.

I don’t care what anyone says, when there’s a work of fiction about a specific country, people still believe there’s truth in bits of the fiction even when they’re told otherwise.  My best friend Seth stayed on the Southern coast of Africa (where I’m not sure anymore) for a summer and he lived in a house where he had to barricade his host family into their section of the house and then barricade himself in the other section so that if thieves did target that house, they would only be able to get through to the kitchen and all else was guarded by metal latch and key.

Nigeria @ Global Education Center

This is the Nigeria that Cole writes about.

Police stand guard on roundabouts looking for reasons to stop motorists and be bribed from taking them in.  Teenage purse snatchers are burned alive in the market place.  Everyone is out for that extra dollar.  Gangs both serve the government and are killed in rounds by the government.  The face of Nigeria is a smile with a Jafar (Aladdin reference) rubbing his chin hair evilly behind it.  How can they make the fastest dime.  How can they swindle and sell.  What words do they put in the subject of an email to get someone’s uncle to wire money.  How much do the corruption signs cost that will never be looked in the eye.  This Nigeria is terrifying.  The people are no better, and around every corner is a thief who is serving a higher thief until the chain of command meets a man with fat pockets at the top with no need of the starving children snatching purses in the market.  Lose a finger in the third world, burned alive in a car tire in Nigeria.

Nigeria @ Wiki Commons

I can tell as I write this that I was moved while reading the book, but only due to subject matter, not due to voice, plot structure, or writing style.  Cole did not let the reader in.  Everything was at a distance.  This is a book about a man that walked around a country he knew he was allowed to leave and looked at the people who were not and wrote down his observations.  I could go to a mall and write this story. I couldn’t photograph the moving black and white pictures that close out chapters, but I could people-watch in order to find the lack of sincerity in the faces of everyday American people, the same way Cole put out a book judging the country where he was raised with a facade of fiction attached by a colon to the title.

This is no redemption story for Nigeria.  If this is the truth, it baffles me that this book has been out in Africa since 2007 and is just now reaching the US.  Wouldn’t a US citizen who likes to think of Africa as a hot bet of mischief be more inclined to read a book that proves it so, rather than a literate Nigeria who is facing his country everyday with hope at a new type of freedom. If the people of Nigeria are shopping at bookstores where the collection of King James is the most sought section, why would they choose to read about the scarred face of their own country.  This is the perception of a New Yorker, sizzling with his idea of what a good museum should hold only to find the ones in his home of Lagos are bad replicas of state visitor’s centers on the way through Virginia.  That’s what this book was, the way through, in all ways.

Lagos, Nigeria @ Wiki Commons

It was the way this man’s life took him through to a new world where everything glimmers (like we have no corruption in America or something).

It was the way through Nigeria in the eyes of a person who obviously is no longer attached to the people, the sights, or the ways of life.

It was the way through a market, a public transport station, a town without running water, a police barricaded roundabout.

It was the way through (and a cop out) to not writing a beautiful memoir that actually gripped the reader’s t-shirt at their chest and made them look at the non-bloody massacre that Nigeria has become. If you’re going to bash the country you were raised, do it through the truth, not through something masked as fiction and put on shelves for Americans to believe even though that dirty f-word is on the front.

Nigeria @ Ekoakete (Creative Commons)

If you’re going to teach me some history, teach it without guise, and without the informative tone of a textbook.  Tell me a story.  Make me curl up on the outside of your voice with my crossed legs and just listen.  History is after all just the story we tell ourselves, no matter what we label it or how that label defines us.  Maybe next year, I’ll get to teach history through the perspective of all the losers, and I’ll try to include Nigeria in that list since Teju Cole made it abundantly clear that this country of flaws and humanity has very few redeeming qualities.  Let me clear that I am not upset that there might be some truth about Nigeria in this book, I am upset that it was sold to me as fiction and not as truth if that’s the case. I am upset that this collection will define how Americans see Nigeria if it is all the discovery we try to make.  This truly makes me want to go interview the people myself and pass down their stories.

 


SPINE IPOETRA

Introducing: SPINE IPOETRA: a mini-series of free verse.

The Process

The Process

This process involves various books from my shelf (I’m sure my father is having a canniption just looking at this photo), one smelly cat named after Cheese, and this awful mauve carpeting that the previous owner put in and I can only reconcile by vacuuming obsessively.  I warn you: do not do this at home.  Especially, the smelly cat.

Now, without adieu, the series.  Keep in mind, this is a very professional series, meant to only be captured in some NYC gallery where they space each picture out seven feet and ask you to peer very closely at the minute details in order to get the full effect.  You are getting a sneak peek on this blog. This involves politely mumbling to the people who are already hovered around the picture so that you can squeeze through and get this fuller image.  However, this is not like a concert where you shove your way in and hope the artist falls into your open arms from some stage.  The artist, myself, is inevitably walking around holding a martini class, wearing respectable glasses without prescription, and smart shoes (loafers of some sort).  Do not worry about those stains on my pants, those came during creation.

Scene #1: Ode to Richard Wright’s Childhood

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Black Boy/ Where Are You Going/ Where Have You Been? / Saving Fish / from Drowning / Virgin Soul

Scene #2: Water Birth

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This Close / After / Floating in My Mother’s Palm / Becoming Me / The Lucky One

Scene #3: “The slut you are so bent on becoming” – Jamaica Kincaid

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Lust & Other Stories / Hotel Of The Saints / One Secret Thing / speak / Roar Softly (and carry a great lipstick)

That one had an e.e. vibe.

Scene #4: Southern Gal

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What Makes Us Southern/ Three Cups of Tea / Mississippi / The Same Sweet Girls / Unruly Women / Woman Hollering Creek / Switch Bitch

Scene #5: Adolescents 

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The First Days of School / Blonde / Having a Lovely Time/ Looking Around / Writing Down The Bones / Drinking The Rain

Scene #6: Memories Before Death

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Speak, Memory / bird by bird / Or Give Me Death

Scene #7: War

 

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The Things They Carried / INTO THE WILD / the Language of Flowers / THE THIRD ANGEL / The Autobiography of My Mother / V.o.i.c.e.s FROM THE MOON/ A Lesson Before Dying/ Surrender

Scene #8: Catholic School Girl (For my mom and her endless lectures.  There will be no last because I will continue on this tradition). 

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My Education / The Catholic Girl’s Guide to Sex / The Language of LOVE / The LAST LECTURE

Scene #9: Drowning in my own body (for my grandmother)

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We, THE DROWNED / The Darlings / the grandmothers / little beauties / On Borrowed Wings

Scene #10: The Odyssey As Told By Women

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Moo/ Monstress

Now it’s your turn: Create your own spine poetry for National Poetry Month and link back to my blog and I will share it at the bottom of this post.  CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES, COME ON!


Favorite Poetry Apps

Apps For THAT PHONE

Apps For THAT PHONE

I know the world is very concerned with selfies at the moment, especially group selfies because, are selfies really selfies if you have more than one person in the selfie.  (Real world question). Then, it’s not really your true self is it… because you’re faking it till you make it – with all those friends who don’t really know you read with a flashlight till 12:30 at night on school nights. Whoops.

Since we can’t seem to get away from our phones for even three seconds, or until our next Candy Crush life comes up, here are some apps that would honestly be a better use of your time.

Appoetry. I tried, really.  You can hashtag that. Maybe, Ipoetry, but then Samsung owners would be angry. Really though – Sam sung is a poem.

1. Fridge Poems

This is a free app at the app store and it’s almost brand spankin’ new.  I’m that person that pulls a dining room table chair up to the hosts fridge and moves the words around for probably the entire night.  Why do you have to talk to people, especially at parties where one fourth of the guests are sober and aggravated and the rest are trying to conduct themselves in a manner that we can’t tell their drooling a little bit from alcohol content.  Now, you don’t even have to leave your corner, wallflowers.  You can just download the Fridge Poems app and sit on those chairs that everyone puts up against the wall at their parties. They secretly want you to feel like it’s a high school gym and you’ve found a warm bleacher although that taffeta you chose to wear is still itching the back of your thighs.  You can have coffee so you’re still hyped, and you look like a cool hipster who can drink coffee at night and still celebrate with a slumber party.  Plus, with this app, you can change the color of your fridge, it never has to be cleaned, and any unholy moldy leftovers can stay stocked in the back for even longer. (Instant poetry app does the same thing, but costs $1.99.  With Instant poetry app, you can change the picture behind the poem to one of your own.  It’s almost like a broadside app. I’m just too cheap for all that).

Check me out, guys:

Fridge Poems App

Fridge Poems App

2. Notegraphy (from the creators of OMM Writer)

This isn’t necessarily a poetry app, but I use it to write my favorite quotes and then make myself look like I’m a typography designer on the side of you know, teaching with my hair on fire.  It makes quotes look really awesome. There are a ton of different designs.  If you’re sick of the old school way of highlighting, marking your page with those Post It notes that now come out of the highlighter, or you just want to carry the lines of poetry with you everywhere, this app is perfect.  You can share everything you create on Instagram.  I’m probably that annoying friend that talks about reading all the time on my Instagram and then takes hundreds of pictures of my face and outfits.  If you don’t know which friend of yours is that friend, then your that friend.

HECK YEA, TYPOGRAPHY BOSS.

HECK YEA, TYPOGRAPHY BOSS.

3. Poetry Daily

Poetry Daily is one of my favorite poetry reading apps.  I like it so much because it gives you current, contemporary poetry, not just Shakespeare or Whitman everyday.  Because of this handy dandy app, I discover new up and coming literary magazines, new up and coming poets, and just damn good poems.  It’s also really versatile.  I like narrative poetry, and really disturbing word choice, but this app forces me to branch out and read all types of poems; nature inspired, body inspired, steam of conscious, rhyming, form poetry, etc.  You can also decide if you want alerts on this app to remind you to read some freakin’ poems, people!

4. Poems By Heart (Penguin Classics)

I’m so going to ground my child with this app.  If we aren’t living in test tubes, hooked up to machines when I have children, I mean.  I know, I know, they say you shouldn’t force your child to write as punishment because then they’ll never like writing, but forcing your child to memorize poetry has to have some lovely benefits.  This way, the child can’t get off punishment until they’ve memorized a certain number of poems and performed them with gusto to their parents.  Can you tell I’ve never had children?  Right now, I just have my freshman, who I make sing “I’m a little teapot” if they come in late.  That’s the closest I can get.

Anyway, Poets By Heart is a poetry memorization tool.  It’s like learning spanish in the car sometimes.  You can listen to someone reading it in a male or female voice (that don’t sound like Brenda the GPS in your car) and then tap “Learn this.”  I think you really have to want to impress your friends with Shakespeare to get this app, but hey, I’m doing it, and I’m not crazy.

Poe Dancing

5. Poetreat

You can literally pick a rhyme scheme on this app and the app will remind you to stay within your rhyme scheme.  It’s a little fishy and has a few too many in-app purchases to make it really excellent, but it’s fun to write short little memoirs if you aren’t already addicted to the fridge app.  I like to write my first lines in Poetreat and then take it to the paper for the rest of the poem.  When I first saw this, I just really wished someone would create a Poe Dancing app where you could watch Edgar Allen Poe dance for two hours while you did your lesson plans.  Unfortunately, no one has created that yet.

Princess Porta Potty…because that’s a thing.

6. Portapoet

#hastagbadmarketingname

This is not to be confused with Porta Potty, or Porta Jon.  I know this site says there are bowel movements, but not today, friends.  This is the greeting cards of poetry apps.  You can share your short poems with friends, collaborate with other users, and save your poems within the app.  It does cost money at the app store, so you have to really read those negative reviews before you buy it.  You can read other porta poets on the app in the “browse” section so you don’t have to feel like you’re alone – on the toilet – writing poetry.  Don’t forget to wipe though, you might share something that you regret.

My favorite part, it counts your haiku for you so you’re right on the money when it comes to syllables.  Too bad your theme is not ever “all that.”

I know that these apps have some silly names, a bit are forced and some come with monetary value that you may not have, especially if you’re a poet full time.  Well, really just the traveling potty poems app.  However, ach of these apps has introduced me to new ways to study and write poetry and that’s all we need for National Poetry Month, that sweet introduction.  Then, we’re off.

For your viewing pleasure:

Poe Boy

Poe Searches

I tried teaching this once….

Last one, I promise:

Just wait for my favorite poetry memes day. Oh YES.

 

 


Poems: The Coming Together of Words Without All The Useless Bullshit

It’s NATIONAL POETRY MONTH.

This is cause for celebration.

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

Poetry Foundation National Poetry Month Posters

In my exuberance about National Poetry Month let me just explain to you why this is a cause for a giant party, that probably involves a lot of whiskey if we’re going to invite those fiction writers that DON’T stick their heads in ovens, coat themselves in blood from tuberculosis, jump from fifth floor buildings or straight off steamships after being beaten for making homosexual advances at a male crew member (because the world is not always tolerant or accepting), or lock themselves in the car in a two-door garage and die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Ah, poetry.  What a beautiful blooming thing.

It caused Anais Nin to allow women the opportunity to have flaws, jobs, and multiple partners.  Sylvia Plath successfully compared a man to a Nazi and put real measure behind the phrase, “Off with her head.”  Not only that, but she wrote a poem that remains forefront in my mind when I hear the name “Ariel” instead of that awful Disney movie.  Beware. Out of the ash/ I rise with my red hair/ and eat men like air.  (Sylvia Plath). Billy Collins got named America’s most well known poet, for the seven hundredth time.  Joseph Bathanti convinced locked up criminals to fashion knuckle ink.  The proper study of mankind if man. (Alexander Pope).  Poetry took Dr. Seuss from WWII cartoon artist to Mulberry Street, the Zoo, and Hopping on Pop.  The sidewalk never ended for Shel Silverstein although I didn’t want to play hopscotch anymore after I listened to his adult poetry. Tupac wrote a collection of roses growing from concrete that cause the thorns in my students to wither away. O Romeo, O Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo (Shakespeare) To this day, everyone is still confused about Shakespeare, and Hamlet doesn’t know whether to be, or not to be.  That really is the question though, isn’t it?

Without poetry, Emily Dickinson would have never gotten out of the attic.  The time has come/ the Walrus said,/ to talk of many things (Lewis Carroll). Zelda Fitzgerald might have actually saved herself from F. Scott.  Robert Frost might have taken the wrong road, and Gertrude Stein would not have any tender buttons, just cloth covered homemade buttons.  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold (Yeats). Milton wouldn’t have journeyed to hell, so we wouldn’t have either.  What you say, a frozen hell?  Not with a bang but a whimper (Eliot). Doesn’t that just open our minds.  Anis Mojgani wouldn’t have told us to shake the dust, stopping millions of teenagers from slicing their wrists open only to watch them drip.  There would be no petals on a wet black bough. None. Just people on a subway looking forlornly at the lights that alert them to the next coming train.  I would be searching for love in all the wrong places if I didn’t know that men would turn down immortality to be with mortal women, especially ones named Penelope.  That blind seer could tell a good story.

Poor Pablo, no odes.  Those lemons, those old, mismatched socks.  No women like cherry trees. Those odes hanging on my giant peach wall in my classroom made by students, one about their cat, gone.  Middle school love letters would be empty with just those simple boxes asking for simple check marks – no mystery, no guile, no Cummings. I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). Dinner parties full of white people in smart dresses would have no American dreams if it weren’t for Langston Hughes.  We might not even have jazz, and holy shit, that’s a blessing. I wouldn’t be able to ask Oscar Wilde to my dinner of dead people.  Longfellow would not look cheeky down on me from his above the bookcase post, Cisneros would not teach my students how to write about their homes, themselves, their language that is different from the world because it is their own. Smith wouldn’t have snapped her fingers and TOLD BUSH about his Katrina stain. Sir Walter Raleigh might not have become interested in one of the queen’s ladies in waiting and survived to run his now ranked city instead of losing his head over a woman.  He is a poet though, after all. And Sappho. What history museum would be complete without your sculpted head.

Poetry has given so much to the world.  It is not prose, it is a whole other animal.  Poetry gives voice to the concise, the words you can fit in your pocket that can kill just as easily as the final fight scene in Moby Dick, or that time that George kills Lennie in Of Mice and Men.  People have been trying to make the claim (for years) that poetry is dead, or dying.

See these traitors here:

*Washington Post Blasphemies

*The Daily (wrinkled) Beast

*Salon fought back, thus why they have Megan Mayhew Bergman as a feature writer.

*Flavorwire bringing the spice with a list, as per usual.  They’re the magazine at the grocery store that has to call their editor to figure out which kind of turkey to buy.

It’s very much alive.  Today, I gave my students 15 words from Jamaica Kincaid’s poem, “Girl.”  They claim it’s prose, but let’s be honest here, it’s written in one very complete sentence, only a poet could do that.  The day before yesterday, I gave them 15 words from “Exile,” by Julia Alvarez.  This lead to poems about deception, the country lifestyle of clotheslines and calloused hands, NYC, and the Domincan Republic.  Through poetry, I can show my students the world at large.  How it feels to be lost and how it feels to be found again.  Because somewhere in a stanza, the paragraph of the poem, as I teach it, there is a little white picket fence that speaks only to the things that they want to plant there.  Without metaphors (from epic poems told as stories in arenas) our brains would not work.  Our whole function as people comes from making comparisons.  An apple is an apple because it isn’t an orange.  A friend is a friend because they don’t act like __________.  My heart beats, small pebbles thrown at a window.

When children are learning to read, science has proven that rhyming works the best, especially for learning disabled children.  It is the gateway to vocabulary, to phonemes, and phonics.  Unlike novels, you can collect poems, you can memorize their ticks, where it’s best to pronounce words with deliberation, and where it’s best to shout.  You can own them.  You can take them in your month and bite down.  Poems, those little monsters inside of our head, the words we write on foggy windows, the napkin stories in small diners, the inside jokes, the graffiti artist’s last words, the small print inside our tennis shoes, the beginning of rap music, the way Vietnam passes on storytelling, the coming together of words without all the useless bullshit.

Welcome to National Poetry Month at Books & Bowel Movements, it’s going to be a

a. happy union

b. complete ruin

c. production from a curly-headed human

d. something to make you loosen (your pants)

e. a magic illusion

f. a tiny nuisance

(See, what I did there).

It will be: Poetry everyday. 


Newsday Tuesday

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Favorite Tweets:

(Sorry about the non-picture tweets.  My internet sucks sometimes. Thanks, Time Warner).

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Favorite Search Terms:

  • the man who walked between the towers book literacy: My FAVORITE children’s book to share with my high schoolers.
  • ricardo nuila’s dog bites: Can someone explain to me what this means?
  • short films on petticoat discipline: Is this a weird porn search or do these actually exist as manners classes?
  • spell to make him have a bowel movement while cheating with another woman: HOLY COW.  I’m a little scared of this search.

Book News:


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