Friday, November 30, 2007

Alligators, alligators, alligators
Just go there metaphorically
and I'll see you below in a minute.

Thanks to everyone in the writing group last night for
confiding your insecurity and reluctance
and exposing your brilliance, wit and poetry
and making me feel so much less alone
and more alive
also the laughing was good.

I've sent in my manifesto for my December 14 reading. The one I didn't send went like this:

Artist Manifesto

This is just
to say
there never is
a perfect time to write
so I have to do it now
even though I don’t want to
I’m not good enough
my pen is out of ink
and I have a fever
and chilblains.


Boy do I like the word "AND" and the run-on sentence. Check out Gertrude Stein's "Paris France" and know I'm in excellent company. Of course she's writing in a child voice. I worry I mostly write in a child's voice also, but big whoop. Keep writing. That is also my poetry manifesto. Amen.

Right now I am supposed to be packing. Who is supposing I am packing you ask? Two friends who are arriving at my house this morning so we can carpool to the train to take us to Portland where I guess it might be snowing. I am sitting here on assignment, my own assignment, I have pledged better dilligence and to stop already with the discouragement and just jazz away at the keyboard and f**k em if they can't take a joke. I'll be happier. It's obvious I'm never going to be any kind of productive in a USA sense (cue flags not fiddles) or for that matter in an instrumental sense (now cue violins, pianos, congas and recorders. an odd assortment but I've played them all and am going for accuracy here.) What the heck was I driving at? I guess that I have to quit with the worrying about my worth and just do what I do - write and cut and paste and read and work with kids to say it's okay to dork around with creative stuff. I want me for a teacher actually because in the classroom dang it I am convincing and convinced that this life I advocate is worthwhile. I hate the word and concept worthwhile. We're all rooting in the turquise mud its just that some of us are wearing Keens and some of us are wearing Manolos and some of us are barefoot and there's that and again, which I really really like. I also like the word really and the word so and the word anyway. I like to write anyway as anyways, which I think is hilariously funny.

Here is an edit of my poem I wrote in 6th grade last week:

Eulogy for Mesopotamia

O once magnanimous land,
irrigation pushed
history's heavy plow
through muscled soil
steady dowry for generations
stylus cut metronome
free-writing language
altered earth carrying
civilization into mist
as silt lifts skyward,
topsoil gone to myth.

My daughter says she is often disappointed at how dull people are who she's met through IMing - she imagines the attitudinal slant she would put on phrases like "LOL" and discovers lots of folks are happy to exist on the boring straight ahead level. I hate IMing though it has made introducing the game Acronymble in school much easier because the kids know zillions of acronyms now.
I am all over the map as I ready (or delay readying) to go south a bit on the map.

Two books on my must-read list:
Set this House on Fire by Matt Ruff
Where the Sea Used to Be by Rick Bass

Have you seen Darjeeling Limited yet? Ah
Wes Anderson Wes Anderson Wes Anderson.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thinking about an artist manifesto instead of preparing to teach

Two days more, counting today, with the eighth and sixth graders. Today we're revising. I'll bring my bucket'o thesauri and my handouts. Some of the eighth graders will bring their vast aleoli wiggling lungs and some will bring their quiet writing selves. All the sixth graders will wiggle. And write. Meanwhile I will think about what I believe as an artist. Not what I believe as a teaching artist or a teacher or a mother or a wife or a homeowner or a gardener or driver or political being or coxswain. What does my artist believe?

Joy exists in, among, between, under, inside and through words.
It doesn't matter if I'm good or published or part of a movement when I am inside my work.
What is beside the point is the point.
The truth lies in the gaps.
Seek and ye will find diddly squat, keep writing.
Read, read, read, read, read, read.
Write, write, write, write, write, write.
You won't always know art when you see it, keep writing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sheffer Crossword Puzzle for Thursday, November 8

Pass the pita, mash the yam. Byte
me. Ono bounced like Roo above
Lennon's sour mood. Kid, whose egos
ache indigo? Elaine's?
Ooh, but OTB means nothing - B for
Boys? Can't, he says, take me anywhere. So much ado, wacka doo. Moo cows moo, we ail
like redcoats surrendering arms.
age like eons, ebb like tides,
eat halves, stare at menus, myopic.
What brings you to Erie?
The lei speaks to my ulna.
Where was art last noon?
Sigh and measure sag in dynes.

Today at School and more

Today I taught the Pantoum form. Kids began with their "My Name" poems from yesterday, their homework notes if they had them and the handout with hundreds of icons radiating out mandala style from a central giant word YOU to make pantoums. All three classes got the pattern and got to work. Here are a couple of the pantoums:
Glorious soldier
that’s what my name means
nice and cool on a hot day
comforting and warm on a cold nite

that’s what my name means,
my name is sometimes angry, but
comforting and warm on a cold nite
my name is sometimes sad

my names is sometimes angry
my name is dumb once I think too much
my name is sometimes sad
but I love my name

my name is dumb once I think too much
nice and cool on a hot day
but I love my name
Glorious soldier
My name makes me famous
it is pure and will never get old
it has no regrets
my name is always being talked about
it is pure and will never get old
my name is a fairytale story with a happy ending
my name is always being talked about
it will never break a promise
my name is a fairytale with a happy ending
my name is rock -- it will never be broken
it will never break a promise
it echoes through your mouth just so it can be heard
my name is a rock and will never be broken
it has no regret
it echoes through your mouth -- just so it can be heard
my name makes me famous

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I've just spent too many minutes looking through a bunch of stock images of middle school online. Lord it is entirely too easy to waste time pretending to do something using the internet. The site is sorta hilarious, with such photo titles as "Asian teacher with middle school students", "African American woman teacher with middle school students," etc. And what is my theme?

Today at School with the 8th and 6th graders
by Laura Gamache

At the end of my teaching, MK and I discussed the student who had the cell phone AND digital recording device up his right sleeve in class. When I had engaged him in brief conversation, he being new to me (not at school this week till today) I asked if he had notebook paper. Yes, he did. I asked if he had a pen. Yes, he did. I asked if he was left handed (since his sweatshirt sleeve was wrapped over his right hand. No he was right handed. How can you write? I asked. The girl across the table, who he had recently whacked in the wrist with a calculator, said he had a cellphone up his sleeve. I asked for it. He refused. I tattled to the teacher who took him into the hall and had him take everything out of his pockets, and confiscated his cellphone, digital recorder and some little toys. She says he cannot read or write. The kid was sharp, calling out hilarious acronymble solutions which I encouraged him to write down. I noticed he did not, which had me suspicious he couldn't write. MK said his mom thinks MK is singling her kid out for bad treatment. MK thinks that recorder is to document possible MK singling out of the kid, whose little kid, dorky glassed self radiates hostility. Lordy. As we were talking, MK said, "Are you wearing two different earrings?" I felt my ears and yes I was unintentionally wearing a yellow beach glass dangly in my left ear, a silver heart with large red something stone in my right. I laughed. I'd had about five minutes at home to eat something and change from crew layers and layers into school attire. I was especially rushed since I had promised to meet the person from my arts organization who was coming to observe my teaching in the office before class which meant I needed to allow more time for photocopying. Photocopying is my rhythmic zone out from day to day poet/coxswain to teaching poet. I love choosing colored paper from the office stash and walking into the copier generated warmth of the copy room where nobody ever seems to be but me. I love entering the "1234" code and pushing "ID", and I love the photocopying choices - 1 to 2 sided, 2 to 2 sided, paper drawer #. I even love the jammed paper alerts which force me to open the door shown on the front of the copier and clear paper by pushing down on the levers and pulling out drawers as the copier instructs me. Inside the copier is a warren of possible paper jam locations, very Rube Goldberg, and entirely solvable provided you are not late for class.

Today's lesson began, after Acronymble of course, with having six students read the six paragraphs of the "My Name" chapter of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. In my first class one of the kids read HOMS this summer in Spanish. He's bringing it to school for me to borrow. Ya-hoo! Another thing I love is how middle school students, even my second group of squirrely chatty 8th graders, quiet and listen when their peers read. We talked a bit about the chapter, and then I read them a poem written a few years ago by a then-8th grader at another school:

My Name

My name tugs at your shoelaces
it springs out of your mouth faster than a shotgun
listen sharp or you'll miss it
My name is a hero of the stars
It is a bright light, breaking up the darkness
My name won't make you trip
But if you fall, it will help you up again
My name is mischievous like a fox
It will sneak up on you when you least expect it
My name will laugh when you tell a joke
It will make you happy when you're feeling down
My name is Batman
Or at least, it is his bat symbol searchlight
My name is like a happy summer
It is warm with a cool breeze upon entering your ears
My name is like the feeling when your foot falls asleep
It actually kind of feels good
My name is not meant to be whispered
It's meant to be screamed!


Yowsa, but that is one personified, metaphorically, sensorally alive piece of writing! Between that and the Chinese zodiac I put next to it on the back of the page with the chapter from HOMS, the kids had lots to work with to begin their "My Name" pieces. Lots of them found great directions to go, and some shared with the group. My focus in that last group is to get other voices than the six always-talkers up in front of the room. Successful today!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Monday

So anyways I taught today. A class of 8th graders, a class of 6th graders and a class of 8th graders. The last class could not would not stop chattering. They come straight from gym and ordinarily I found out from the teacher during the uprising they have a half hour of SSR (sustained silent reading - so weird and funny that 13 year olds have the idea this is torturous.) I said I'd like to have them return to their usual routine after she (the teacher, M.K.) told me they really settle down during that time. Why didn't she tell me this before? I have an idea it's because at the planning meeting (8 or 9 teachers plus me so the one on one was a bit on the lighter side,) there seemed to be a drive to get me in and out with no breaks, have me push through quickly. I can understand their reasoning, but I'm going to dig having 30 minutes breather after two classes and before this one that did not gel at all on the first day and which I'll need to do a bit of remedial work with towards our community and group project.

Well, sheesh, the group project is the 8th grade class project which is (and here I hope you have the image of the mirror image inside the mirror image inside, etc.) based on Georgia Ella Lyons' poem, "Where I'm From." "Where I'm From" is a fine poem but has become a nearly universal poetry prompt in middle school so that say for example today a girl said, "oh I did that last year." I remember being in middle school. If you have done a thing, a sonnet or a book report or an algebra proof, you have done that thing and have no further interest in exploring another facet of that project, your mindset being, "Next!" cuz you're 13 and damn you have lots of new things to get to.

I am not entirely sure what the teachers meant when they said to me, "We want you to do that "Where I'm From" project. I do not hit up one poem for multiple sessions and have decided to keep my own counsel on my approach. I'm taking it as a broad theme. I read the poem to them today along with a poem I wrote influenced by it which felt badly in need of music as I read it to them. I veered mightily off course and read them my poem in my own made up language along with the translation. In both 8th grade classes a boy in the back right corner asked, "How did you do that?" about the translating piece which I thought was an interesting question. The first class I waved my arm and made a "psst, pffft" response, but I tried to answer the second boy. I realized I had gone too far when he put his head down on his desk.

After I read WIF to the first class a boy said, "she never said where she comes from!" And she didn't tell us where geographically she came from so his question let me open the topic of what she did tell us and the topic of being poetry sleuths trying to discover what a poet is doing so we can copy and move forward or "embrace and extend" which is business lingo, at least coming from Jim.

I felt back in the saddle after the first two classes but the third class wore me down and sored up my throat since I mistakenly attempted to talk (yell) over them which everyone who has ever worked with eighth graders knows is an invitation for them to get louder. They got louder and louder. At one point I said, "Do you know what your job is at this age?" One of the boys said, "To be quiet?" I said, "well yeah, but I mean developmentally," which was kinda passive aggressive because kids never want to think of themselves as incomplete evolving beings. Then I said, "At your age, your job is to bond with your peers," and then I paused and said, "and you guys are really got at your job!" and then asked them to can it anyway. I said, "Just for these few minutes, while I'm meeting each of you, you can decorate your file folder, write your secret name inside your name plate or pass notes to each other, just don't talk. They talked. Loudly. This was a test. MK was stepping in ineffectually every few minutes to tell them to be quiet, then I would step in ineffectually to make my plea and it just wound up and up and up ridiculously. Even so, several kids got up and read their poems to the group at the end. The rules for the poems were: write a poem in a made up language with no words in any language you know, the poem has to be at least three lines long and has to have at least four made up words per line, and it cannot make any sense whatsoever. I wrote this in my notebook which I'd set so the document camera would display its image on the screen for all to see. One boy asked, "What does the poem have to be about?" "You can't make it be about anything," I said. "I can't rhyme," another kid said. "Don't rhyme," I said. "Oh!" both boys set to writing.

The eighth graders come in sizes from four feet tall and 80 skinny pounds to 5'11" and a lumbering 200 or so pounds. Some of them look 10 and others look 18. Standing outside the door waiting for MK to come unlock it, I was in the shorter third of the class, which I forget when I only work with 6th graders.

I returned to the 6th grade classroom of a teacher, SM, I worked happily with last year. One girl came up to me before class and said, "I'm going to be your biggest fan!" We had a blast in there, everyone including SM writing own language poems of twice plus the length of the 8th grade assignment. 8th graders are far more easily exhausted than 6th graders. SM, who lived in Russia for a couple of years, read her poem along with several kids. Hers had a slavic growl to it.

The sky is blue above and through the branches of the big alders across the alley above the white house of my urban chicken farmer neighbors. Light falls on my three orange pumpkins which I will soon pitch into the yard. The first year we lived here I had the most fortuitous lovely pumpkin vines that grew pumpkins all through the landscape in a charmingly haphazard way as though I'd orchestrated the composition. I tried the year after that to orchestrate a composition but as you already must know nothing of beauty came of that. Now I pitch the pumpkins onto the hillside once they begin to sink into themselves and pretend not to hope.

Thanks to no more daylight savings time we had light on us for rowing practice this morning. When we loaded into the boat I could see the expression on the face of the stroke, and expressions not to mention faces and oars of the other rowers and oh yes out on the water, buoys! My eight which according to the regatta central website will row together for Head of the Lake this Sunday, November 11, went out with Eleanor. I haven't gone out with only Eleanor before and was a tad nervous. Before Head of the Charles we were out in the fracking dark one morning and, after I'd run my two seat's oar into a buoy, Eleanor said, "You are not taking into account the oars sticking out from the boat," which I let lie. The fact was I had not seen the buoy in the dark. I was fit for glasses soon afterwards. Eleanor said quite gruffly that morning after I thanked her for her help with wind direction, and other things, "Your crew has to be able to trust you." She was right of course but not very kind about it. This morning as I came up on the inside of a visible buoy I had my eye on, Eleanor said, "It looks like you're going to hit that buoy." I said, "I've got lots of room. Trust me." I did have lots of room. There was a bit of rower chat in the boat. Perhaps my little head will be popped off the next time I goof up.