Monday, January 7, 2013

January 7th

I Belong There
by Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Carolyn Forché and Munir Akash

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
  her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a 
  single word: Home. 

rom Unfortunately, It Was Paradise by Mahmoud Darwish translated and Edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein. Copyright © 2003 by the Regents of the University of California.

Okay, I'm cheating on this one. It would take a lot of patience, digging, and direct instruction for my kids to get into this poem. But I love it. I feel like this would be one of those poems that I read aloud and get blank stares from all of the kids and then groans when I start pontificating about the power of words. 

It really is a beautiful poem about what home means, and what it means to belong to a place, and to the memories you have there. Having just left my childhood home in St. Louis and coming back to my (grown-up?) home in Austin, it's a subject really on my mind. 

January 6th

Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher

This is what I hear when I read this poem: the crackling of a fire and the creaking of a cold house. Blueblack cold, cracked hands, chronic angers. I'd read this poem aloud, then have students read along with me, to explore the ways that poets use sounds, rhythm, and alliteration to create imagery and to appeal to the five senses. I also think the theme of conflict between father and son is something that my kids could really latch onto -- that's something very sentient in their day-to-day lives.

January 5th

The Dawn

The New York dawn has
four columns of mud
and a hurricane of black doves
that paddle in putrescent waters.

The New York dawn grieves
along the immense stairways,
seeking amidst the groins
spikenards of fine-drawn anguish.

The dawn comes and no one receives it in his mouth,
for there no morn or hope is possible.
Occasionally, coins in furious swarms
perforate and devour abandoned children.

The first to come out understand in their bones
that there will be no paradise nor amours stripped of leaves:
they know they are going to the mud of figures and laws,
to artless games, to fruitless sweat.

The light is buried under chains and noises
in impudent challenge of rootless science.
Through the suburbs sleepless people stagger,
as though just delivered from a shipwreck of blood.
"The Dawn" by Federico García Lorca, from THE SELECTED POEMS OF FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA. Translated by Stephen Spender and J.L. Gili, copyright © 1955 by New Directions Publishing Corp.

Source: The Selected Poems of Federico Garc�a Lorca (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1955)
Although this would certainly be a challenging poem for middle school students, I've always thought it's a good idea to share poems from the range that's out there. I want them to see the possibilities, and explore language in ways they might not have been exposed to yet. Great examples of alliteration, personification, and metaphor worth going deep on. 

Plus, it's got that beautiful kind of morbid angst that middle schoolers just live in. Perfect for a dreary morning. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 4th

6 haiku
(for Elizabeth Catlett in Cuernavaca)

La Señora
making us remember
flesh and wind
O how you
help us catch
each other’s breath
a woman’s
arms climbing with
colored dreams
slides into the pool
hands kissing the water
i pick
up your breath and
remember me
your hands
humming hurricanes
of beauty.

Sanchez, Sonia, from her new book Morning Haiku. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.

A beautiful, non-traditional way to teach haiku, and the beauty of saying something very powerful with very few words.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 3rd

Apologies to All the People in Lebanon
by June Jordan

Dedicated to the 600,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.
I didn’t know and nobody told me and what   
could I do or say, anyway?

They said you shot the London Ambassador   
and when that wasn’t true   
they said so
They said you shelled their northern villages
and when U.N. forces reported that was not true
because your side of the cease-fire was holding
since more than a year before
they said so
They said they wanted simply to carve
a 25 mile buffer zone and then
they ravaged your
water supplies your electricity your
hospitals your schools your highways and byways all
the way north to Beirut because they said this
was their quest for peace
They blew up your homes and demolished the grocery
stores and blocked the Red Cross and took away doctors
to jail and they cluster-bombed girls and boys
whose bodies
swelled purple and black into twice the original size
and tore the buttocks from a four month old baby
and then
they said this was brilliant
military accomplishment and this was done
they said in the name of self-defense they said
that is the noblest concept
of mankind isn’t that obvious?
They said something about never again and then
they made close to one million human beings homeless
in less than three weeks and they killed or maimed
40,000 of your men and your women and your children

But I didn’t know and nobody told me and what
could I do or say, anyway?

They said they were victims. They said you were
They called      your apartments and gardens      guerrilla
They called      the screaming devastation   
that they created       the rubble.   
Then they told you to leave, didn’t they?

Didn’t you read the leaflets that they dropped   
from their hotshot fighter jets?   
They told you to go.   
One hundred and thirty-five thousand   
Palestinians in Beirut and why   
didn’t you take the hint?   
There was the Mediterranean: You   
could walk into the water and stay   
What was the problem?

I didn’t know and nobody told me and what   
could I do or say, anyway?

Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that   
for the bombs and the planes and the tanks   
that they used to massacre your family

But I am not an evil person   
The people of my country aren't so bad

You can expect but so much   
from those of us who have to pay taxes and watch   
American TV

You see my point;

I’m sorry.   
I really am sorry.
June Jordan, “Apologies to all the People in Lebanon” from Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The June M. Jordan Literary Trust. Used by permission of The June M. Jordan Literary Trust,
Source: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
    Right now, I'm reading a book entitled Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, about a young girl named Liyana who moves with her family from their home in St. Louis back to Jerusalem, her father's childhood home. I've been trying to find books that address current events, political issues, and social justice, but that talk about them from a child's/young adult's perspective. The book is very moving, and puts the Israel-Palestine conflict into very human terms. 
    This poem would be a great connector/extender to a group of older students having read Habibi in a book club. The structure is a little less accessible for the typical middle school student, but would pose a welcome challenge to advanced readers, or just students who really love poetry -- I promise they exist! 
    I've also been planning my units with a sense of showing students that writing (and yes, poetry!) has applications in the real world. This poem is a great example of a poet using her writing to express a political opinion, and to get readers to think differently about an issue. I would even use this poem in a unit on persuasion, while discussing the different tools writers and people can use when they are trying to change someone's mind. 

January 2nd

by Patricia Smith

Hurricanes, 2005
Arlene learned to dance backwards in heels that were too high.
Bret prayed for a shaggy mustache made of mud and hair.
Cindy just couldn’t keep her windy legs together.
Dennis never learned to swim.
Emily whispered her gusts into a thousand skins.
Franklin, farsighted and anxious, bumbled villages.
Gert spat her matronly name against a city’s flat face.
Harvey hurled a wailing child high.
Irene, the baby girl, threw pounding tantrums.
José liked the whip sound of slapping.
Lee just craved the whip.
Maria’s thunder skirts flew high when she danced.
Nate was mannered and practical. He stormed precisely.
Ophelia nibbled weirdly on the tips of depressions.
Philippe slept too late, flailing on a wronged ocean.
Rita was a vicious flirt. She woke Philippe with rumors.
Stan was born business, a gobbler of steel.
Tammy crooned country, getting the words all wrong.
Vince died before anyone could remember his name.
Wilma opened her maw wide, flashing rot.
None of them talked about Katrina.
She was their odd sister,
the blood dazzler.
Patricia Smith, “Siblings” from Blood Dazzler. Copyright © 2008 by Patricia Smith. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.

Source: Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008)
 This would be a great text to show students how to read just below the surface of a poem, how there are often codes and hidden meanings behind the words a poet uses. Also, to remind them that they have to read everything the poet puts on the page to understand what s/he is trying to say. The first time I read through, I skipped the italicized Hurricanes, 2005 and read the whole poem imagining it was about children, siblings, cousins. It wasn't until I reached the last stanza about Katrina that I started to realize the poem was about something else. 

Using this poem as the introduction to a unit themed around Hurricane Katrina would be a great hook to begin talking about the social justice implications of this tragedy. It's not entirely political, as lots of writing about Katrina is, so it's a little more accessible to start with.

Also, it would be great to read this poem and then have students practice using personification to describe weather, especially using strong, active verbs and vivid adjectives. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 1st

The Snow Fairy

by Claude McKay


Throughout the afternoon I watched them there, 
Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky, 
Whirling fantastic in the misty air, 
Contending fierce for space supremacy. 
And they flew down a mightier force at night, 
As though in heaven there was revolt and riot, 
And they, frail things had taken panic flight 
Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet. 
I went to bed and rose at early dawn 
To see them huddled together in a heap, 
Each merged into the other upon the lawn, 
Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep. 
The sun shone brightly on them half the day, 
By night they stealthily had stol'n away. 


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you 
Who came to me upon a winter's night, 
When snow-sprites round my attic window flew, 
Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light. 
My heart was like the weather when you came, 
The wanton winds were blowing loud and long; 
But you, with joy and passion all aflame, 
You danced and sang a lilting summer song. 
I made room for you in my little bed, 
Took covers from the closet fresh and warm, 
A downful pillow for your scented head, 
And lay down with you resting in my arm. 
You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day, 
The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

This felt like the perfect poem for a New Year's Day -- snow settling in on the front lawn, memories of the past year inescapable, but prepared to face whatever 2013 has to come. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, about melting snow and lost love -- not exactly the things that will make this New Year bright, I suppose -- but something about it gives me hope.

Although Claude McKay was writing during the Harlem Renaissance, which means some of the language is less accessible for middle schoolers (they always get stuck on things like "stol'n" and "ere"), I think all it will take is a few reads for them to get used to the flow of this writing and get to the meaning. This would be a great poem to use when extending conversations about how poets use metaphors.

List of Poets

Here's my current list of poets I'll be pulling from for this project!


Fadhil Al-Azzawi
Elizabeth Alexander
Agha Shahid Ali
Samih Al-Qasim
Maya Angelou


Jimmy Santiago Baca
Amiri Baraka
Gerald Barrax
Clara Barton
Edward Kamau Brathwaite
Gwendolyn Brooks
Derrick Weston Brown
Sterling Brown
Marilyn Buck
Linda Joy Burke


Aime Cesaire
Ching-In Chen
Lydia Maria Child
Frances Chung
Wanda Coleman
Jayne Cortez
Robert Creeley
Countee Cullen


Lam Thi My Da
Mahmoud Darwish
Kwame Dawes
Carolina Maria de Jesus
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Emily Dickinson
Linh Dinh
Rita Dove
Paul Laurence Dunbar


Martín Espada


Sesshu Foster
Robert Frost


Nikki Giovanni
Jaki Shelton Green


Alena Hairston
Suheir Hammad
Michael Harper
Robert Hayden
Kathleen Hellen
Essex Hemphill
Melanie Henderson
Juan Felipe Herrera
Nazim Hikmet
Joseph C. Holly
Cathy Park Hong
Langston Hughes


Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Habib Jalib
Qiu Jin
James Weldon Johnson
June Jordan


Myung Mi Kim
Carolyn Kizer
Nate Klug
Yusef Komunyakaa


Larissa Lai
Pinkie Gordon Lane
Li-Young Lee
Eleanor Lerman
Federico García Lorca

Audre Lorde
James Russell Lowell


Fred Marchant
Bernadette Mayer
Anthony McNeill
Tony Medina
Harryette Mullen


Howard Nemerov
Pablo Neruda
Duane Niatum
Naomi Shihab Nye


Jena Osman


Octavio Paz
Patrick Pearse
Leonard Peltier
Willie Perdomo
Craig Santos Perez
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Pedro Pietri


Fernando Quijano III


Barbara Jane Reyes
Yonis Reuf
Adrienne Rich
Yannis Ritsos
Jose Rizal
Artemio Rodriguez
Muriel Rukeyser


Raúl Salina
Sonia Sanchez
Carl Sandburg
Lydia H. Sigourney
Patricia Smith
Mark Strand


Rabindranath Tagore
Lorenzo Thomas
Truth Thomas
Natasha Trethewey


Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Ocean Vuong


Rosmarie Waldrop
Frances E. Watkins
Phyllis Wheatley
John Greenleaf Whittier
Walt Whitman
Shelley Anne Williams
Miller Williams
William Carlos Williams


John Yau