Friday, May 30, 2008
Richard Wright, author of Black Boy and Native Son, was also a brilliant poet. In the last two years of his life he wrote more than 4000 haiku. Haiku: This Other World is a collection of some of his best. I've taken three of my favorites from this site: Terebess Asia Online to share with you for Friday Poetry.
While crows are cawing,
Poppies are dutifully
Deepening their red.
A balmy spring wind
Reminding me of something
I cannot recall.
The sudden thunder
Startles the magnolias
To a deeper white.
Here are links for a biography of Wright, a list of his writings, essay on his haiku form called 'I am Nobody", and the wikipedia entry. Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, in the Spring 2008 issue of "The Crisis Magazine" (of the NAAPC, senior editor Jabari Asim) says of Wright,
"His success made Wright the first Black novelist to write a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, reach the bestseller lists and receive international recognition. The Mississippi native is generally regarded as African American literature's trailblazer - one of our first literary artists of major distinction."The centennial of Wright's birth (September 4, 1908) is being celebrated around the world this year. Julia Wright, his eldest daughter, speaks about it here at Chicken Bones and lists some of the events.
Friday Poetry this week is at Wild Rose Reader. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Feiffer has written A Room With a Zoo from the perspective of his eight year old daughter Julie. She desperately wants a dog but her parents won't let her get one until she is old enough to walk it by herself in the city.
"How old do you have to be?" I asked.
"Twelve," my father said.
"Eleven," my mother said.
"Eleven and a half," my father said.
"Ten," I said.
"Eleven," my father said.
"Ten and a half," my mother said.
That's when I got my good idea. "You don't have to walk a cat, do you?"
I could tell how really good the idea was by the expression on their faces. I could have counted up to a hundred before they said anything."
I liked how she casually mentions, in chapter 6, that she is adopted like her friend Natasha. Natasha is from Russia, not Tennessee like Julie, but they both want pets that their parents won't allow so they compare notes and strategies. A few chapters later Julie explains that she is "brown" and her parents are white. That's the only mention of her transracial adoption. The book is illustrated by charming drawings done by her dad, in which she looks like she has African American hair and facial features, so I had an idea that she was Black. I wondered about her family make up when I studied the drawings closely, trying to figure out if her older sister was Black too (she's not). After the first third of the book I had figured out that it was a mixed race family. I like finding a great story that includes that but isn't all about race and ethnicity as problems.
In her long term quest to own a dog Julie acquires two cats, a hamster, seven fish (one is big and ugly and eats all the little ones), a turtle and a visiting (sick) school rabbit. She doesn't like the first cat because it is sick and then mean and unsociable. She doesn't like the big, ugly, mean fish because he eats all her little fish. She thinks about getting rid of him but then decides against it.
"If I got rid of Oscar, then maybe I should be gotten rid of too. Since my parents would never do that and I was kind of Oscar's parent, how could I do it to him? You have to keep your child even when he's bad. So I had to keep Oscar and make myself forgive him."
There are really funny scenes when the kids have to do ballroom dancing on stage in front of their families and they break out in Ooga Booga dancing instead, and when the family drives to Massachusetts with a sick cat in the car. The best one is when Julie forgets to clean the fish tank and her dad tries to help her empty it into the tub to clean it. The fish is in the toilet and the hamster is loose with two cats chasing it when her father's back goes out and he is paralyzed on the bathroom floor. Reading this I was laughing out loud and keeping my children awake.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
There is something very sweet and touching about Millicent's naive brainiac point of view. At first I found her annoying in that show-off preachy way really smart kids have. After awhile I got used to her and started liking her. She prepares what she thinks is a hilarious inscription in Latin for the high school yearbook, but nobody asks for her autograph. The older kids accuse her of ruining the grading curve and Stanford, a boy her age whose mother is friends with her mother, scorns her for making the teachers think all Asians are brilliant. But when her mother starts acting funny in a sick and vulnerable way, clueless Millicent assumes she is dying of cancer instead of pregnant.
Millie really hates being forced to play volleyball. Her mother thinks it will give her a chance to make friends, and of course she is right. Millicent meets Emily, a girl who is happy to be her friend. Millicent thinks Emily won't discover how smart she is if Millicent hides her awards and doesn't tell the truth about what grade she is in at school. It never occurs to her that Emily might know she has a high IQ and just not care.
Emily turns out to be a really good friend. When Millicent and Stanford lie to her about their tutoring arrangement she finds out and gets really angry. Millicent has to figure out that Emily cares for more than an IQ score. She's based her friendship on a genuine liking of the total Millicent; a new thought for Millicent.
Although Millicent and Stanford are Asian and there are lots of family cultural Asian things in the story the book is not "about" being Asian. It's about kids who happen to be Asian as well as a lot of other things. Encounters with racism are woven into the story line in a way that enlightens us without weighing it down. For example, Stanford and Millicent, while usually bitterly resenting being thrown together, find a moment of shared relating when swapping stories of being told how Chinese kids should be or act. She says,
"Just today, when I ordered huevos rancheros (yum) at the Rogers College cafeteria, the cashier looked at me and said, "I didn't think you people liked that kind of food."
Nothing like being lumped in with a billion other people.
So I said to her, "Well, we can't eat rice all the time." She thought a moment and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right."
Stanford gets told my his grandmother that he ought to be more like that "nice, smart Chinese girl". "Can you imagine the humiliation of that?" he asks her, and yes, she can commiserate.
This is a great coming of age story for middle grade kids. Any student who is gifted and has struggled to find friends and fit in with the "normal" crowd will really appreciate seeing how Millicent navigates those waters. Yee has written two sequels from the points of view of the other major characters; Stanford and Emily.
Sample chapter at LisaYee.com
Book talk on Teacher Tube
Discussion guide at a library site
Other Blog Reviews (props to Sara's Hold Shelf for compiling this list of links of blog reviews)
- Big A little a (review of Emily Ebers, written by Kelly's daughter)
- Little Willow's interview with Lisa Yee
- Sara's Hold Shelf
Other interviews with Lisa listed at her website.
Monday, May 26, 2008
"I've changed the official name to Mixed Experience History Month because it's important to highlight not only Mixed individuals, but also important historical events in the Mixed experience. Also, this year, I will profile people who are not necessarily Mixed but who are involved in the Mixed experience. Look for profiles of accomplished people involved with the Mixed experience each weekday of the month--specifically focusing on important historical figures. "
The entries are very interesting and educational. I've learned about important people I knew very little about previously. In the past few weeks she's done:
- Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival June 12-14, 2008 Los Angeles
- Alexandre Dumas, author
- Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
- Frank Rudolph Crosswaith
- Gloria Anzaldúa
- Amanda America Dickson
- Vincent Oge
- Frederick Douglas
- Hiram Revels
- Homer Plessy
- Lillian Smith
- Sargent Johnson
- Edward M. Bannister
- Edmonia Lewis
- Wifredo Lam
- Mildred Loving
- Isamu Noguchi
- John James Audubon
Sunday, May 25, 2008
This week I put a new rosemary plant in a pot for the sunny side of the house. I had a nice one last summer but I failed to keep it healthy overwintering in the house. I just love rosemary and always keep trying to help one thrive. They do best outside in the summer.
I've also been enjoying my porch. I think it's ready for summer now.
I discovered that I can sit in my porch swing and relax while my youngest entertains himself in the cherry tree in the front yard. Happy times!
What's blooming in your garden today? Put a link to your garden post this week in the Mr. Linky below and we'll come see.
Friday, May 23, 2008
a poem by Kristin Prevallet
I am writing this letter just to inform you that the tide
It is a fickle tide,
one that has the presence of mind
to alter its course.
You may remember how just a year ago
many believed you to be illegitimate
(you still are).
Those were the days when your
slips of the tongue
were circulated as comic relief
when in reality
they weren't very funny.
After all, they revealed
your true feelings
like the clown with the innocent face
who sneers under his smile
while handing out glasses of water
laced with arsenic.
You're a prophet, George Bush,
every dangling modifier
and stumbling qualification
were just your way of telling the truth,
like how you accidentally predicted on
Dec. 18, 2000, during your first trip to Washington, DC
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot
easier. . .
just as long as I'm the dictator. . ."
read the rest of this poem here at Poets.org.
For some reason I am in the mood to
take a hard look at politics. It seems a good time to use one's voice.
Here's the last stanza of Prevalett's poem:
Poetry Friday is hosted at Becky's Book Reviews today, where she has some sad news about the death of Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman's youngest daughter. My heart breaks for them. I am glad Becky's poem is more hopeful than the one I chose for today... Where do you put your hope?If telling you these things is unpatriotic,
then poetry is unpatriotic,
and did I mention that I am a poet
paying attention to those winds,
and all those other clichés that poets and statesmen use
to move the people to embrace one cause or another.
I am a writer of propaganda,
and here are some lines of my poetry:
Beware, the images of the future are crouching
in the shadows of grief,
welcome to the next century,
the tide is turning,
you are not the elected sovereign of the world,
you are not the king of freedom,
we will defend our rights to be citizens of the world,
you can't take that away,
you can't take that away.
for Debunker Mentality,
for Boog City and
the 17th annual New Year's Day Marathon Reading, 2002
St. Mark's Church
New York City
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Sameera is Pakistani American, adopted by her Caucasian parents when she was three. She has a crush on an Indian boy named Bobby, whom she met in the previous book called First Daughter: Extreme Makeover. When Bobby's grandfather becomes seriously ill back in India he has to leave Washington to be with his family. He tells her he would like to get to know her better but he can't do it without his family's permission. He is afraid his grandfather will not approve because she is ethnically Muslim and they are Hindu. Sameera's family is Christian and her faith is important to her but she respects Bobby all the more because of his respect and love for his grandfather.
Sameera doesn't feel Muslim. Her parents raised her Christian and she has embraced that faith. She does understand herself to be "brown" and Pakistani, however, even when her mother doesn't seem to get that part of her. When Sameera lets us know she prefers to be called "Sameera", her Pakistani name, instead of the nickname "Sparrow" that her family uses, we see a little of her cross-culture heart. When Sameera speaks a few words of Urdu her mother says "You sound like the real thing" but Sameera thinks I am the real thing. This kind of adoption and cross-culture kid theme runs through out the book, along with references to racism and interracial dating. The older generation folks have more hangups about it, but even Miranda confesses at one point that she didn't expect a their white woman friend to think of their hot security detail male friend as a potential date until Sameera suggested it. These references throughout the book make it a bridge to conversations about race and ethnicity among readers, which is one of my favorite features.
Another interesting thread is that Sameera and her cousin Miranda have a thing they call the "Three Treasures". The theory is that you figure out the three most important qualities you want in a mate, look for a person with them, and then learn to ignore or tolerate whatever other habits they may have. They got the idea from a poem by Sara Teasdale called "Appraisal". Miranda's treasures are "Fun, Faith, and Family". Sameera posts the question on her blog to find out what her readers would chose. She wonders what Bobby's treasures are. By the end of the book she reveals that her treasures are Courage, Honesty, and Tenderness. I like how genuine the girls are about their faith and values. I like that Bobby is such a good person. I like how strong and healthy the family relationships in this book are, and how deeply the people connect. I love how Sameera and Miranda read poetry to each other and talk about how it reflects their lives.
I enjoyed reading the story but found myself feeling a little cynical about how mature and well balanced Sparrow is. Then I realized that I actually do know teenagers that are just like Sparrow and her friends. I think I've been trained by the media to think it's part of being a teenager and growing up to be rebellious and "bad" in order to establish independence from one's parents. But actually, becoming responsible and mature by making good decisions and handling oneself in a healthy, productive, ethical way is really what becoming an adult is all about. I've had students who lived like Sameera, showing respect to their parents by getting permission before dating. The guy I dated for three years of high school was like that in fact. My oldest son, who is now 20, was a nice teenager who liked hanging out with his family as much as his friends. I never had to worry what he was up to and I like the person he's turned out to be. Real teens are often just as nice as the characters in this book.
It might feel a little bit of a stretch to think of the President's daughter being so wholesome and genuine, but really I think that might be the old cynical media story muddying the waters. Most people are this good. It's nice to read a story that celebrates that! I highly recommend this book to kids in 5th grade and up.
Interview with Sparrow on Bildungsroman
Interview with Mitali on Big A, little a
Interview with Mitali on PaperTigers
Archimedes Forgets review
Monday, May 19, 2008
- fitness guidelines for kids from 6 -12
- guidelines for selecting equipment for popular sports
- detailed meal plans for good food that has kid-appeal
- guidelines for kids' exercise plans, with photos and details about warm up stretches, weight lifting, etc.
- advice for coaches and parent - coach partnerships
- guide to common injuries and their management
- key information about drugs and alcohol
- Q & A for the most common questions
My favorite chapters are the ones on what sports equipment you will need for different sports, the exercise guide, the descriptions and treatment for common injuries, and the meal plans. There are some yummy recipes using fresh, healthy ingredients put into diet plans in categories like "World Series Game" and "NBA Finals".
I highly recommend this book for families with kids and coaches working with kids in sports programs. Good, balanced advice in an easily accessed format.
The Monday Nonfiction round up is at Picture Book of the Day.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I potted my tomatoes yesterday. I don't have much sunny garden space because I love the shade so much myself. The best spot for tomatoes is on the sidewalk next to the kitchen door so I put them in pots every year. This year I have two Better Bush and two Cherry tomato plants.
I also grow rosemary, chive, parsley, thyme, basil and oregano because I love to cook with them. Fresh tomatoes and herbs are the best! Today is a church picnic and I am bringing gf pasta salad made with chives from my garden. I was thinking about trying cucumber and peppers this year but decided that since I am joining a CSA I'll get plenty of those on a weekly basis. I let the little boys plant some pumpkin seeds but I don't know if they'll get enough sun to grow many pumpkins.
I put pots of petunia and impatience all around the porch and patio.
I am not getting many iris buds this year, compaired to the wonderful display I had last year. I think the plants are too crowded and need to be divided. I put them in this bed five years ago and it's time to spread them out some more.
What's growing in your garden? Put a link to your latest garden post in Mr. Linky below and let's do a round up!
Friday, May 16, 2008
Fletcher shares his belief in poetry on his web page:
"Maybe you've heard before that poetry is magic, and it made you roll your eyes, but I believe it's true. Poetry matters. At the most important moments, when everyone else is silent, poetry rises to speak.
I wrote this book to help you write poems and to give practical ideas for making your poems sound the way you want them to sound. We're not going to smash poems up into the tiniest pieces. This book is about writing poetry, not analyzing it. I want this book to help you have more wonderful. moments in the poetry you write. I want you to feel the power of poetry. it's my hope that through this book you will discover lots of ways to make your poems shine, sing, soar..."
He fills his book with clever examples of poems he has wrestled with, grounded in stories of his family life with children and grandchildren. He also gives examples of poems written and revised by kids and other grown up poets. He says
"The three pillars of poetry are emotion, image, and music."His first three chapters elaborate on that, and the remaining sections of the book unpack the toolbox poets use to refine and revise their work. He closes by sharing ideas about how to "go public" with your poems.
Interspersed with these down to earth lessons are interviews with Kristine O'Connell George, J. Patrick Lewis and Janet Wong. I particularly enjoyed a poem Lewis shared from his then-soon-to-be published book called "Please Bury Me in the Library: Poems About Books and Reading". When asked what sort of writing tasks Lewis does on a regular basis (prewriting/brainstorming, etc.) he says "Communing with nature, keeping a journal, joining writers' workshops - all of these undoubtedly inspire the aspiring. I confess I don't do any of them." Ha!
When asked why she loves to write Janet Wong says "It only takes five minutes to write a good draft of a poem. I can jot down a first draft of a poem and then go and eat a bag of potato chips; come back and spend five minutes writing a second, different draft and go for a swim; write a third draft the next day or the next week, and so on. I write between ten and fifty drafts of most of my poems, and the hardest part is always having to choose the draft - or parts of a draft - I like best." I find that very encouraging!
One of the chapter opening quotes that really grabbed me is the one Fletcher put at the beginning of chapter six, 'Crafting Your Poem':
"The world is full of poets with languid wrenches who don't bother to take the last six turns on their bolts." -X.J. KennedyAh. Back to work now.
What book do you take with you when spring fever pulls you outside?
The Friday Poetry roundup is at Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
This month to Pay It Forward I am giving away my copies of That Baby CD and DVD reviewed last week. I drew names from the commenters on that post and the winners are....
windycindy wins the CD
Being Me wins the DVD
Congratulations! Send me your snail mail and I put them right in the post. For more Pay It Forward giveaways this month check out Overwhelmed!
flashing, exploding, smoldering -
a candle in a holey bucket on the ocean of sense.
Burning, drifting, arriving
friendless in tidal
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
- The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
- Each player answers the questions about themselves.
- At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
- Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
What were you doing five years ago?
- in April, May and June I was on maternity leave with my newly adopted second son :)
- unaware that I am celiac and still eating gluten (diagnosed 4 years ago)
- into birding, tai chi, knitting, reading and gardening (still true)
- oblivious to blogging and online forums (!)
- working as a library media specialist (my current job)
- teaching first grade
- working a paper route to save money to buy my first computer
- taking a summer class at the community college to learn about the Internet
- doing foster care for infants in the summer
- living in an apartment with my one and only son (he was 10 years old)
What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
- go to physical therapy
- faculty meeting after school
- work on final report cards
- work on curriculum mapping; catching up with this year's classes
- take a walk in the sunshine
- cheddar cheese and rice crackers
- strawberries and yogurt
- gf chocolate cookies
- gf rice chex
- m & ms or snickers bars
- buy long term care insurance for myself, my parents and my siblings
- put aside college money for my sons
- donate to charities and schools (I have a long list in mind)
- support John Edwards in his plan for cutting poverty in half in the next 10 years by investing in great daycare centers
- start a writer's retreat center for single moms, with on-site childcare and fully funded grants
What are five of your bad habits?
- leaving paperwork in stacks
- not balancing my checkbook
- slap-dash cleaning (ignoring the corners)
- grumbling and complaining
- thinking I can do more than is possible in the given time until suddenly I rush around in a panic and arrive late (is there one word for that?)
What are five places where you have lived?
- upstate NY
- Philadelphia & suburbs
- suburban Cleveland OH
- Daqing, China
- western PA
What are five jobs you've had?
- resident assistant in dorm
- waitress/restaurant help
- lawn mower repair shop counter person
What five people do you want to tag?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Lin sprinkles her stories about Pacy's school year, adjustment to losing her best friend due to a family move, and dealing with racism from her friends with little stories from her parent's growing up in Taiwan. She learns that the Chinese zodiac goes in a 12 year cycle with the year of the rat coming first because the animals had a race and the rat came in first by his cleverness. Thus the year of the rat is always counted as the first in a new cycle, and symbolizes a year of changes. Pacy starts out hopeful that her changes will be good ones.
She has to deal with the discomfort of realizing her friends are mistreating the new kid, a boy who has moved from Taiwan. His name is Dun-Wei but they call him "Dumb Way". Pacy doesn't want to be considered weird like him so she tries to distance herself from friendship with him even though her mother is kind to him and his mother. She understands what it is like to be an immigrant and she tries to make her daughter understand by telling them stories of her own adjustment. One time she was trying to buy the best meat at the best price in the grocery store and she bought canned cat food because she couldn't read the label.
Pacy feels sorry for Dun Wei but she doesn't want to be matched with him when her friends Becky and Charlotte play the match-up game, imagining who would make cute couples in their school.
"Suddenly, I felt like a flower wilting. Was it true? Was the only boy I'd ever be a cute couple with Dun-Wei? Would nobody else ever like me because I was Chinese? And I wasn't even really Chinese either! It wasn't fair! I felt angry - angry at Charlotte for saying it, and angry at Dun-Wei for being fresh off the boat, and angry at myself because I was Taiwanese."
Towards the end of the book Pacy finally stands up to Becky and tells her that she thinks it's mean to call him "Dumb Way".
"When I looked up, I saw Becky looking at me with her head cocked like a surprised pigeon. Slowly, she nodded.
"You're right," she said. "It is mean. I won't do it anymore."
"Thanks," I said, and it was as if the ice in my stomach had suddenly melted away.
I love that this friendly, engaging story has the depth to show a regular kid dealing with every day meanness and racism to find a satisfying, peaceful result. So often kids are left alone to process the bullying they encounter. Here's a story where a girl finds a way to stand up to it and her so-called friends grow beyond their pettiness to be better friends. Yay!
Pacy's family goes to her cousin's wedding and Pacy is very excited. She's disappointed when her little sister gets to be a flower girl and her older sister gets a brand new beautiful dress. Pacy has to wear Lissy's old hand me down dress. I can so relate to this! I am in the middle of two sisters and this scene could almost be written for me (except I'm not Chinese):
"I didn't like my dress. It was bright green, the color of steamed broccoli, with gold dragons all over it. It was Lissy's old dress that she grew out of. She had picked it for the dragons especially, but I thought dragons should be on boys' clothes, not a girl's dress. And I didn't think it was fair that I was the only one that had to wear an old dress to the wedding.
"My dress is old, too," Mom said, when I complained. Her dress was green-blue silk.
"That's not the same, " I said. "Yours doesn't count."
"Why not?" Mom asked, laughing.
"Because," I said, "You're Mom!"
I like how Grace always relates things to food. Her descriptions are either really yummy scents and visions or repulsive things you wouldn't want to get near like broccoli. A September chapter starts, "All too soon, like a cherry Popsicle on a hot day, the summer melted away." The voice in Lin's writing is so perfectly tuned to a child's perspective with the added depth of perspective over time. These books are highly recommended.
At Grace Lin's blog, she often talks about her books and her writing process.
A Year of Reading
Into the Wardrobe
100 Scope Notes
A Fuse # 8 Production
Interview with Grace Lin at Jama Rattigan's
May is Asian / Pacific American Heritage Month. Read about other books by or about Asian Americans at Fusion Stories and in these book lists:
Lee & Low books
New York Public Library "On-Lion"
Wild Rose Reader
Monday, May 12, 2008
Wheatley's published work is in the formal style of the day, focusing on patriotic, moral or religious themes. Poets were not expected to include personal experiences or feelings in their work. Richmond states, "Their job was to create dignified and formal expressions of universal experiences." Wheatley did it with profound skill and grace.
In 1774, after her book is well received in London and her continued slave status was criticized by British fans, the Wheatley family granted her freedom. She was 20 years old and had to begin to support herself. She worked hard to sell copies of her book and continued making speaking engagements while still living in the Wheatley family home. Susannah died in the same year. Phyllis began to speak out against slavery after Susannah died, with a letter published in the "Connecticut Gazette." In 1775 her first poem celebrating her African heritage was written, titled "Reply". It includes the lines,
"With native grace in spring's luxuriant reign,
Smiles the gay mead, and Eden blooms again,
The various bower, the tuneful flowing stream,
The soft retreats, the lovers' golden dream,
her soil spontaneous, yields exhaustless stores;
for Phoebus revels on her verdant shores."
When the American Revolution began she moved to Providence, RI, and was married in 1778. Her husband John Peters was disliked by some of her close friends and the remaining Wheatly family members, but was also spoken well of by some in the business world. He was a freeman who worked as a lawyer, businessman, grocer, barber, and "even a doctor." Richmond strives to present a fair picture of John Peters, citing tax records to show that the couple lived in an expensive house in a good neighborhood for at least part of their life together. Peter's financial situation seems to go up and down frequently and he may have been in debtor's prison when Phyllis died alone and in poverty in 1784. During her marriage she born three children, all of whom died in infancy, with the third one being buried next to her.
I enjoyed reading this biography and found it to show a complex woman living in an exciting time. Details of her life are enhanced by many graphics including black and white reproductions of painting of famous people such as George Washington and Ben Franklin (both on who she met and who spoke highly of her), posters and advertisements, maps, drawings of buildings and cities, and political cartoons. One draw back is that the whole book is in black and white. Today's young readers expect colorful illustrations and more graphics than text. There is a timeline and list of sources for further reading in the back.
You can read an excerpt or purchase the ebook here. Read more about Phyllis Wheatley at pbs.
The Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.
Friday, May 09, 2008
There never was a spring like this;
It is an echo, that repeats
My last year's song and next year's bliss.
I know, in spite of all men say
Of Beauty, you have felt her most.
Yea, even in your grave her way
Is laid. Poor, troubled, lyric ghost,
Spring never was so fair and dear
As Beauty makes her seem this year.
...read the rest here.
Countee Cullen was born in 1906, in Kentucky or Baltimore ( sources are unclear). He was left by his parents as an infant to be raised by his grandmother. She brought him to New York city when he was nine. He was adopted by a Methodist minister at her death in 1918. He was one of the few Black students in his high school and did very well in his studies, working for the paper and writing poetry at a young age. He graduated from New York University Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1926. He studied in Europe with a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928, then returning to New York City. He was a leading poet in the Harlem Renaissance. Over the course of his career he wrote volumes of poetry, a novel, a couple books for children and many works for the theater, as well as translating plays from the Greek. Early in his career he wrote about racism and racial themes, but later in his life embraced universal themes. He admired the Romantic poets, especially Keats, and often wrote in sonnet form. Read more about him here and here.
Edited to add: Liz Garton Scanlon posted about our joint Crown of Sonnets project at the back and forth project blog. That's a blog done by two friends who are posting about their collaboration in writing and publishing a children's book. On Fridays they post about other people's collaborative creative projects. What a thrill to see our sonnets featured there! Check it out.
Writer2be is doing the Friday Poetry round-up. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Check out the website and if you enter the coupon code “MotherTalk” when purchasing, you save 20% off on your entire order! From now until May 18th, all orders using the coupon code
“MotherTalk” will be entered in a drawing to win a new iPod nano.
I have a copy of the CD and a DVD to give away in my Pay It Forward giveaway this month. Just leave a comment here before May 15 and I'll draw two names as winners. Here's how Pay It Forward goes:
2) All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave me a comment on this post.
3) If you’re the lucky winner and you have your own blog I ask that you, in turn, host a drawing to give a book away for free to one of your readers. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating a book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.
4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button below to use on your own blog. Just let Overwhelmed know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!
I've been watching this story with great sadness. All the news reports say it's not only hard to get relief in to the people quickly, but the government is making it difficult for international aid organizations to send help. If you are wondering how you can contribute check out this blog: Network for Good. It has a list of aid agencies that are working to bring relief to the people of Myanmar. Read this page to find out how Network for Good operates, and go directly to the charity's home page if you would rather work that way. Here's another list of charities from the New York Times.
Read more news: "Myanmar's junta has given the U.S. military permission to fly in relief supplies for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis as a top U.S. diplomat warned that the death toll from a devastating cyclone could top 100,000."
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
I was only able to read the first couple chapters of shooting the moon in the morning, but then I thought about it all day at work. A soon as I got my little boys tucked in at night I grabbed it up again and read straight through to the ending.
Jamie is 12 and three quarters years old. Her brother TJ is five years older than her and signed up for the Army right after graduating high school. Her father is the Colonel and in charge of Fort Hood, Texas. In the beginning of the book everyone is gung-ho Army. Until TJ signs up and her dad starts acting like he'd rather his son went to college, that is. As the novel unfolds we start to see Jamie get a deeper understanding of her parents, herself and life in general.
She spends a lot of time volunteering at the rec center and makes friends with Private Hollister, the soldier on duty in the afternoons. They play hand after hand of gin rummy and talk. Jamie brags about her brother and Private Hollister introduces her to his ideas of what war is really about. When TJ starts sending rolls of film back from Viet Nam Jamie learns how to use the dark room and develops his photos. Her perspective changes as she sees his images.
Since I am so much into photography myself these days I found this aspect fascinating. When Jamie goes to eighth grade she joins the school paper and starts taking pictures as well as developing them. Her new friend Alice explains that photography is "the art of writing with light." I like that. She develops all TJ's pictures but she doesn't show them all to everyone. She is starting to realize that photographs reveal what we don't normally see, and often show what we don't want to see. She only shows her parents the happy ones of pretty girls and flowers. She only shows the other soldiers the ones they say they want to see; equipment or helicopters or wounded GIs, depending. She shows her neighbor girl friend all the ones of the moon, which TJ seems to favor shooting in all it's phases.
She remembers that before TJ had left for Viet Nam he sorted through all his old photos and showed her some he had taken of their parents.
"Look at this one of mom," he said, holding up a picture of my mother looking up from the book she was reading, Pride and Prejudice, her favorite novel of all time, her forehead furrowed with deep lines, as though they had drawn them on. Her expression was clearly saying, I get five minutes to myself all day, so you best back out of the room slowly and leave me be.
"That's not going to be her favorite picture in the world," I said. "I'd think twice before showing it to her."
"Yeah, maybe you're right." TJ put the photograph down on the floor and picked up another, this one of the Colonel getting out of the car after work. It was what they call a candid shot, which means the Colonel didn't know TJ was taking it. His face was halfway in the shadows of the carport, but the sunlight caught the shine of his polished boots. I was surprised by how tired he looked.
"When did you take that one?"
TJ shrugged. "A couple of weeks ago, I guess. He looks like an old man, huh? I guess that's another one not quite right for the family album."
I took the picture from TJ and examined it more closely. There were bags under the Colonel's eyes. He was carrying a briefcase, but by the slump of his shoulders, you'd think he was carrying a suitcase full of cement.
There was no doubt about it. The Colonel looked like a man who hated his job."
Jamie had described her father as loving the Army in the beginning of the book. He credited the Army for shaping his life and his father's life, giving them discipline, structure and support all their lives.
"Kids," he'd say, leaning back on the couch, his arms spread out wide, "I am a man of the world, full of knowledge and vision, a lover of international cuisine, an appreciator of fine art and good-looking women, and I have the United States Army to thank for this most excellent state of affairs."
But when his own son signs up and is sent to battle, he shows a different side. Jamie comes to understand something of the complexity of life when she watches her father's reaction and as she receives TJ's photographs of Viet Nam.
This is a really wonderful middle grade novel, highly recommended for boys and girls alike. You could use it as a discussion starter around the topics of family, war, and changing perspectives, an example of memoir writing and excellent dialog that moves the story along and reveals character traits, or to introduce comparisons of writing and the visual arts (photography). On the other hand, you could just curl up and enjoy reading it for the sheer pleasure of a great story.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Ellison was born in Oklahoma City in 1913 and died in 1994. He was trained in classical music and jazz. He attended Tuskegee Institute for music. He moved to New York to study sculpture and began to write after meeting Richard Wright and finding connections between music and writing. He worked for the Federal Writer's Project to research oral history during the 30s in New York and found it fascinating to hear the stories of African Americans that had come to New York from all over the country.
His most famous work is the Invisible Man. It tells the story of a Black man who struggles to define himself in the course of a lifetime fighting racism and abuse. Saul Bellow says about the novel,
"In our society Man Himself is idolized and publicly worshipped, but the single individual must hide himself underground and try to save his desires, his thoughts, his soul, in invisibility. He must return to himself, learning self-acceptance and rejecting all that threatens to deprive him of his manhood."
Although the main character is Black and faces the unique challenges of being African American, he is also universally human, facing the same challenges of humanity that everyone must face. Bishop says,
"Ellison's story explored issues never before discussed by a black writer. However, he has vigorously argued against interpreting it as simply a novel of racial protest. In creating a black hero with intellectual depth, he has transcended racial stereotypes. As his childhood belief in the Renaissance man would suggest, he was concerned with achieving a universal outlook on life, not a limited one."
Ellison worked all his life to develop rounded talents, studying music, sculpture, and writing, and travelling widely in performances and in the Merchant Marine. During the 60s, when Ellison was a well known writer and teaching at several colleges including Bard College, Rutgers University and Yale, he was popular with many people but criticised by some radical Black leaders. They thought he was too eager to cooperate with whites. When Ellison said he thought that Black culture had blended with European cultures in America they thought he was denying the strength and uniqueness of African American culture. Ellison saw his role as an artist offering a novel as "a raft of hope... that might help keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation's vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal." In art we have an opportunity to consider and visualize the world as it is and as it could be.
What intrigued me most in this particular biography, written for middle school and high school students, is the way the author presents Ellison's way of developing his own identity. Earlier in the book Bishop is describing how Ellison made the adjustment from his childhood life in Oklahoma to the more difficult environment in the deep South when he attended Tuskegee University in Alabama. He says,
"Fortunately for Ellison, he was "disciplined to endure the absurdities of both conscious and unconscious prejudice, to resist racial provocation and, before the ready violence of brutal policemen, railroad 'bulls,' and casual white citizens, to hold my peace and bide my time." But his stalwartness had a price."
I had to stop and think about that for a while. Given that later in his life he was considered by some to be too easily accommodating of whites, and recognizing the times he grew up in, I wonder if those traits are really beneficial in the long run. Maybe they were survival skills that kept him alive. I wonder if they still serve Black men and boys today. And I wonder what discipline Black young men are schooled in by family and community today. What do you think? If you've read the book The Invisible Man, what did you think of that? Is it still relevant today?
Picture Book of the Day has the Nonfiction roundup today.
Friday, May 02, 2008
This book is not only about wanting to be a mother and finding a way to do it on her own; it's about what it means to struggle with weight for a lifetime. Alex reached 275 pounds a couple years before she got pregnant. She came to a turning point when she decided to make drastic changes in her life in order to improve her health and become the person she wanted to be. She slim down through sheer hard work and determination, loosing 109 pounds in the next year. When she decided to have a child on her own she dreamed that she would be the perfect mother and that her child would not have the same burden with weight because would give her a better childhood than she had, protecting her daughter from the pain and lose that she had survived.
Her daughter Kaj is a charming, delightful, beautiful baby... but she's chubby. Alex notices people noticing this and it bothers her a lot. She realizes that her struggle with weight is affecting her daughter on many levels; in her biology, in her attitudes, in her habits and in her anxieties. The book is candid about all of her thoughts and feelings around weight, eating, exercising and body image. Even if you are not one who struggles with weight it is illuminating to observe how another woman deals with it. Everyone has something they struggle with on this level. It's encouraging to see how Alex faces her weakness and finds her strength.
It surprised me a bit that Alex got pregnant so easily, on the first try. For someone who had a really hard time getting pregnant that would be difficult to read, I imagine. I got pregnant on the first time too, without even wanting to, so it didn't seem unbelievable to me, but for other women that might be hard. For someone who has spent years in IV, lost babies or never had them at all that might be very triggering.
One of the other aspects that Alex is honest about is the process she goes through in choosing who will be the sperm donor. In the beginning, when she first decided to definitely go ahead and have a baby on her own, she asked a friend to be the sperm donor because she loved his family. His sister was her best friend since childhood, she spent holidays with the whole family, and she wanted her baby to be part of the family so she would be related to them too. They were Japanese American and she thought her child would be "astoundingly gorgeous half-Japanese, half-white." As soon as she sees the website for a Danish sperm bank, however, she become convinced that she needs to have a blond, blue-eye child that will match herself. She comes face to face with her desire to have a baby perfect in the eyes of the world.
"Looking at the image, I'm aware of a primal desire for one of those white, blonde babies. I see in my mind a photograph of my mother and me when I'm a year old. I'm pulling off her glasses and she has her head thrown back, she's laughing. I have blonde, curly hair like the baby in the photo, and my mother is happy, like the mother in the photo.
All thoughts of Ken, waiting for him, leave me for the moment.
Yet I'm uncomfortable with what feels like an egocentric and narcissistic longing. The white-haired baby. It brings to mind a feeling I've harbored since I was a teenager, growing up fat: Well, I may be fat…but at least I'm blonde.
We live in a world that undeniably values Caucasian, blue-eyed babies. As I sit here wanting one, myself, I wonder where my politics have gone: my belief in equality and the beauty of a multicultural universe.
"I just want the baby to look like me," I tell my coworker."
I appreciate how honest she is at this point, in sharing what she really thought and felt about her future child. Yet it deeply disappoints me. On many levels I can identify with the author. I am a single mom. I chose to become a mother (while single) three times; I have three sons. I know what it feels like to wonder about all the issues Alex faces. On this point I think she fell short. She did amazing work on herself to loose weight, to face her fears, to come to the decision to live the life she wanted without waiting for Prince Charming. In so many ways she grew past her fantasies and childish daydreams. When it comes to the race of her child she stays stuck.
When I was first pregnant I imagined I was carrying a little girl who would look just like me. I had a name for her, I daydreamed about what she would look like, I imagined people would tell her all her life that she looked just like me. The way people tell me I look just like my mother. After my son was born that bubble popped and it was a good thing. It freed me from carrying that daydream and burdening my child with my own identity. As he grew I had to come to terms with the fact that he looks a lot like his father. He walks, talks and acts like his father in ways I would rather not have to notice. That's a good thing for him and for me.
When Alex bought sperm to make herself the perfect baby she missed a great opportunity to get beyond her own image issues. Not only did she let racism trip her up, she let her weight, childhood abuse history and painful relationship issues continue to burden herself and her child. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with wanting your kids to look like you or to be the same ethnicity as yourself (Alex is Scandinavian). That's what usually happens for most people who have kids the old fashioned way. I 'm saying when you make a conscious choice about your child's sperm donor you have an opportunity to shed some of your baggage. Alex chose not to.
The main thrust of the book is about desperately wanting a baby and getting pregnant. The part of the book that I enjoyed and appreciated the most was the last section. Alex is honest in dealing with the actual nitty-gritty difficulty of parenting after the baby is born. She is so full of dreams and hopes before the baby comes it is a huge shock afterward, when she doesn't know how to keep the baby from screaming night and day. She is lost and alone, frustrated and sleep-deprived. She relies on friends and family to get through the first couple months and she often questions whether she's made a big mistake. She gets sick and scrambles for babysitters. She looks for daycare, is scandalized by how much it costs, and changes care providers when one is not doing a good job. That's all realistic from my experience. I know those feelings all too well.
I wish there was a whole 'nother book on life after the baby came because I think she could have said a lot more. What I kept thinking was I can't wait till she writes the next book about when her daughter Kaj gets to be two or three and she has another one. She has no idea how much harder it can get!
by: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
- EW feet within my garden go,
- New fingers stir the sod;
- A troubadour upon the elm
- Betrays the solitude.
We are planning to have the library painted and new carpets put in this summer. It's my job to pack the entire print collection to move it out of the way. Yikes! We are doing a hard weed (particularly of the reference section) in order not to pack books that are no longer a perfect fit for our collection. Today I found a somewhat worn copy of Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson in the "Discard" box. I rescued it for my own shelves. Above is one of my favorite short works for spring.
Friday Poetry is rounded up at Big A little a today. Enjoy!