November is a blustery month, a month of bruisy skies and moaning winds. A thousand years ago, when I was in sixth grade, in a classroom whose high windows looked over the gym roof at the empty gray skies, I remember the social studies teacher, Mr. York, saying how much he hated November, because it was the month between anything–it was the month of nothing. I’ve alway remembered that, and known that he’s right, and at the same time, known that he’s wrong. I feel such expectation in November. For me, it’s the month of wanting. I like November (and it might help that I’ve wanted two children into the world in this month–they were both due to be born in December, but that didn’t happen). Its mood suits me.
November 1, Friday: “November” by Thomas Hood (at the suggestion of the marvelous Jenny Doughty…the poem caused a boy in first period to tell me he’d lost the will to live)
November 4, Monday: ”Duck Blind” by Laban Carrick Hill (this one was for a boy in 3rd period who is always after hunting poems; ironically, he was absent from class)
November 5, Tuesday: “Keep Back the Dark” by Erica Jong
November 6, Wednesday: ”A Killing Frost” by Jay Parini
November 7, Thursday: ”Weather” by Ron Koertge
November 8, Friday: ”Poem,” by Russell Buker
November 11, Monday: Veterans’ Day–no school
November 12, Tuesday: “The Heron” by Jack Ridl
November 13, Wednesday: “Mushrooms” by Sylvia Plath (because a. This poem, in the Collected Poems, is dated November 13, 1959; b. I once witnessed my younger sister winning a speaking contest by reciting this one; and c. Antonio from period 3 and I were discussing mushrooms taking over the world.)
November 14, Thursday: ”Image on Ice” by Michael Macklin (from the issue of The Café Review dedicated to Michael)
November 15, Friday: “Morning” by Krista Lukas
November 18, Monday: “November for Beginners” by Rita Dove
November 19, Tuesday: “Crows in a Strong Wind” by Cornelius Eady
November 20, Wednesday: “Love Poem for Wednesday” by Sandra Beasley
November 21, Thursday: #49 by Emily Dickinson
November 22, Friday: ‘Olives” by Donald Hall
November 25, Monday: “Kind Thoughts” by Rosemary Starace (because it’s my daughters’ birthday, and I always read this beautiful poem for their birthday)
November 26, Tuesday: “Dusting” by Marilyn Nelson
November 27-30: Thanksgiving break–no school.
The days grow shorter, the nights grow longer. The air grows colder, and I abandon my sandals for socks and shoes. The boys in my classes are thinking about hunting–some of the girls are, too. From the windows of my classroom, I can see the leaves turn on the old maples between the school and Main Road; then I see those leaves fall, and the branches wave melancholy skeletal arms at the gun-metal sky. The kids begin to complain about how cold it is in the building; then, once the heat is turned on, they complain about how hot it is. No one is happy. Everyone is edgy. Change does that to people. Yet, here, in the fourth year of this poetry experiment, the poems appear every day: they are our classroom culture now. I cannot imagine beginning a class without one. The kids can’t either. Poetry for the win!
October 1, Tuesday: ”October” by Robert Frost
October 2, Wednesday: “Traveling through the Dark” by William Stafford
October 3, Thursday: “Early Thoughts of Winter” by Maxine Kumin
October 4, Friday: “Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier Than Students of Zen” by Gary Snyder
October 7, Monday: “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright (suggested, sort of, by the wonderful Jean Katzenbaum)
October 8, Tuesday: “Autumn” by T. E. Hulme
October 9, Wednesday: “My Autumn Leaves” by Bruce Weigl
October 10, Thursday: “Flathead Lake, October” by Geraldine Connolly
October 11: Friday: teacher workshop day–no school
October 14, Monday: Columbus Day–no school
October 15, Tuesday: “Neighbors in October” by David Baker
October 16, Wednesday: PSAT testing day
October 17, Thursday: ”Letter in October” by Ted Kooser
October 18, Friday: “Unharvested” by Robert Frost
October 21, Monday: “The Bear” by Jim Harrison
October 22, Tuesday: “Stars” by Christian Barter
October 23, Wednesday: ”Sans” by David Adams
October 24, Thursday: “Autumn” by Grace Paley
October 25, Friday: “Early Frost” by Scott Cairns
October 28, Monday: “The Geese” by Jane Mead
October 29, Tuesday: ”Baled Hay” by Robert Pack
October 30, Wednesday: “Pheasant” by Sylvia Plath
October 31, Thursday: “Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe (because one MUST read Poe on Halloween. One MUST.)
The month ends, dark and windy and cold. We go into November, which has to be the most atmospheric of months. If anyone has any atmospheric poems–or favorites of any kind–send them along. I welcome them.
The kids still think only dead people have written good poems. Frost and Poe lead the pack of favorites. Appropriate, I guess, in this month of Halloween.
It’s been a month since I saw Leo Moran and Anthony Thistlethwaite in Palmer, Massachusetts on the inaugural weekend of their U.S. tour. Since then, they’ve landed in venues in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, as well as several more in Massachusetts. Last night they came to One Longfellow Square in Portland.
I’d never been to the hall, though my partner-in-crime this time around, Michelle, frequents the place. It was she who chose our seats
in the balcony, where we could watch the show and eye the crowd: she said the sound was better up there. The house was full–the place seats around 200–and the audience, for the most part, were die-hard Saw Doctors fans; Michelle knew a large number of the attendees personally.
Leo and Anto did not disappoint. The show has evolved over the past four weeks: the stories have gotten tighter, the playlist has been reworked (though anyone familiar with Docs shows knows the playlist is never the same two nights running). The duo’s vocals have gotten stronger as they’ve ironed out any wrinkles, adding in and subtracting songs. Some things remained the same, though. ”Shamtown,” which I think is my favorite song of the show (and on the CD), still graced the first set. My way-cool sister will be pleased to know that the audience participation in “All Credit to the Credit Union” was still directed cheerfully by Anto. The story of high times with
Bob Dylan was still part of the schtick, though the telling had been expanded to included Leo’s brief imitations of the Eurythmics and Blondie, among others–and the story also now involved a dollar bill as a prop. Michelle’s favorite Dylan song, “Most of the Time,” still followed the telling of the evolved story.
As in Palmer, one of the most wonderful parts of the show was the showcasing of Anthony Thistlethwaite’s saxophone. In the small performance space, the sound swelled and sang and was magical, whether Anto was punctuating Leo’s vocals, or swooping out into crescendo-ing solos. Anto’s mandolin was also a joy (but I’m a sucker for a mandolin–everyone knows that). As always, the sheer energy Leo brought to the stage, with his leaping about, his comical facial expressions, and his wordplay with the audience, made that audience his from
One of Michelle’s friends at the show, Sparky, spoke about how he’d asked people what they expected from a Leo and Anto show: were they there hoping to see Saw Doctors material, or something different? Whatever the answer he received, the audience at One Longfellow Square got both: some Doc songs done differently (perhaps they way they were originally imagined), some different songs entirely. This is not a Saw Doctors show. But it’s well worth seeing. Twice, if you’re me–more than that, if you’re Michelle.
“Clare Island” closed the encore. The duo sang; the audience sang. Then Leo and Anto unplugged their amps and left the stage, still playing guitar and sax, and wandered through the room, up one row, under the balcony, and down the next row. Michelle’s choice of seats, especially then, was a good one.
Buy the CD. $10. As Leo said when shilling it at the show, it’s worth $8.50, but they don’t have any quarters. But he lies. It’s worth that extra $1.50. It has “Shamtown” on it, after all.
The bacon mac ‘n’ cheese at LFK across Longfellow Square is highly recommended. As is the breakfast stout, even at 6 in the evening. Just sayin’.
Of course, the school year actually started in August–doesn’t it always? So there’s a bonus poem. I faced the usual resistance among some of the kids who have never been in my class before: do we have to listen to every poem? Yes, I told them–every blasted one. That pretty much answers that question, came the reply. Yes. You have to listen. Hwæt, to quote the Beowulf Poet. Get used to it. Learn to like it. Learn to love it. At the very least, resistant young people, learn to expect it. Because I’m going to feed you poetry every day. It’s good for you. As sunlight is. As rain is. As oxygen is.
August 30, Friday: ”What We Are Here For” by Michael Macklin (from the dedicated summer issue of The Café Review)
September 2, Monday: Labor Day!
September 3, Tuesday: “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney (because his death is incredibly sad…so glad I got to see him at AWP last March!)
September 4, Wednesday: “Fireside” by Seamus Heaney
September 5, Thursday: “Aimless Love” by Billy Collins
September 6, Friday: “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost (because I’ve been getting Frost requests from students this week; and one boy recognized this poem from watching The Outsiders!)
September 9, Monday: “The School Bus” by Christian Barter (no matter how many times I read this, I love it)
September 10, Tuesday: “Anima Mundi” by Thomas D. Absher (from the Michael Macklin edition of The Café Review)
September 11, Wednesday: “A Monday in May” by Ted Kooser (even though it’s not Monday, and even though it’s not May…but it did rain overnight.)
September 12, Thursday: “A Thunderstorm” by Emily Dickinson (because they started here at 7:30 a.m.)
September 13, Friday: ”Ode to Barbecue” by Barbara Hamby (because I wanted to rollick the way into the weekend!)
September 16, Monday: ”Europa” by Dawn Potter
September 17, Tuesday: ”English Flavors” by Laure-Anne Bosselaar (because it’s about time for this one!)
September 18, Wednesday: “August Rain, After Haying” by Jane Kenyon
September 19, Thursday: “Plans” by Stuart Dischell
September 20, Friday: “Name of Horses” by Donald Hall (because it’s his birthday…and the poem made two girls in 7th period cry.)
September 23, Monday: “How It Is With Us, and How It Is With Them ” by Mary Oliver
September 24, Tuesday: “Green Canoe” by Jeffery Harrison
September 25, Wednesday: “Thorntrees” by Hayden Carruth
September 26, Thursday: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost
September 27, Friday: “A Drop Fell on the Apple Tree” by Emily Dickinson
September 30, Monday: ”For the Night” by Jane Kenyon
And thus begins the year. As always, if anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way. I have an outstanding request for hunting poems, by the way–so if anyone knows any of quality, I’d especially like them for some of my boys. Thanks for reading.
When my son Ben was 12, he came home from school one afternoon with a sad story. His teacher, Mrs. Sawyer, volunteered at the Bangor Humane Society, and told him of an old sad Border collie who had been surrendered. The dog, like Ben, was 12, and had lived in the same home all her life until she’d been turned over to the shelter. Mrs. Sawyer said the dog was depressed: didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to play. No one seemed to want to adopt her, as she was considered a “senior” dog, and was going deaf.
Ben, for all his craziness, has a sympathetic heart. Okay. He’s a sucker. And he knows that I am, too. He knew what would happen when he told me about Star.
It might have been a day or two later when I presented myself at the Humane Society and told them I wanted to meet Star. The attendant left me with her in the visiting room for a while, and in that time, Star rolled over, Star offered a paw to shake, Star acted like–like, well, a star. The attendant returned and said she’d never seen Star behave like that. Obviously, this dog knew a sucker as well as the rest of them. She came home with me that afternoon.
That was more than five years ago. Star took to the kids right away: they became her sheep. She herded them; she would cut between them and force them away from one another if she felt they were not behaving well. She liked Dewey, the beagle cross who is two years younger than she. She learned over time to put up with the cats, though she never really warmed to them. She had a curious habit of rolling onto her back, all four feet in the air, and bouncing across the floor on her spine. She loved going for walks, though of necessity those became shorter and shorter in recent years. She would plow up deep snow in the yard with her snout, searching for sheep so lost we’d never even had them. She grew steadily more and more deaf, until she could not/would not hear anything at all.
She was jealous about food, and would not share–Dewey could have leftovers. To make sure she didn’t have to share, she would lie down with her paws encircling the dinner dishes: Mine! She very rarely barked, and usually then, only at Dewey, to let him know who was boss. Yet, in her dog way, she liked him. She stayed close.
Since the winter, she’s been showing her age. Well, if a dog lives 7 years for every human year, she was well over a hundred, right? Her face had gone all white; her back legs had stiffened up. This past week, though, she was obviously failing. When she went outside, someone had to carry her back up the porch steps to come in. A meticulous dog, her grooming habits went by the board: despite my attempts to bathe and comb and clip her, her fur became matted. Sometimes she fell, especially when she was tired. It was time.
That didn’t make the trip this morning to the vet’s any easier, of course. I wrapped Star up in a fuzzy blanket; she’d lost so much weight I could just tuck her under one arm. The vet came out and gave her the injection where she was curled up in the back of the car. I kept my hand on her old white head. Rosalie stayed with me (you don’t have to do this alone, she said, and I love and admire that 15-year-old for her strength and compassion). Afterwards, we gave Star a proper burial in the back yard under the trees. Rosalie stood a little way off while I filled the grave, and then we put a big rock on top.
I think she had a good life with us. She held on to it long enough. ”You did a good job with her,” the vet said, when he patted me on the back before going inside again. I hope so. We tried.
Star is in her heaven now. May all be right in her world.
May. The last month of classes here at school, and one of the longest. Thus there are many days to read poems, and as I have been in a spring-y kind of mood (who wouldn’t be, after this crazy winter?) I’ve been stocking up on spring-y poems. Flowers, sunshine. Bring on the summer, please, and hurry.
May 1, Wednesday: ”In Perpetual Spring” by Amy Gerstler
May 2, Thursday: “A Final Affection” by Paul Zimmer
May 3, Friday: “To Daffodils” by Robert Herrick
May 6, Monday: “the trash men” by Charles Bukowski
May 7, Tuesday: “Last Spring” by Gottfried Benn
May 8, Wednesday: “May” by Jonathan Galassi
May 9, Thursday: ”Rain” by Kazim Ali
May 10, Friday: “Fog Horns” by David Mason
May 13, Monday: “Song in a Minor Key” by Dorothy Parker
May 14, Tuesday: “Iowa City to Boulder” by William Matthews
May 15, Wednesday: “To the Thawing Wind” by Robert Frost
May 16, Thursday: “First Fig” and “Second Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
May 17: Friday: ”Eyes” by William Matthews (mostly because my eyes hurt…but also because I too have a
soft spot for James Thurber.)
May 20, Monday: “May Song” by Wendell Berry
May 21, Tuesday: “The Bad Season Makes the Poet Sad” by Robert Herrick (because this morning I was a sad poet)
May 22, Wednesday: “Night Letter” by Stanley Kunitz (because I was still not quite over being sad)
May 23, Thursday: “The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently” by Thomas Lux (because this cool poem came across on the Wom-Po listserv)
May 24, Friday: “To a Daughter Leaving Home” by Linda Pastan
May 27, Monday: Memorial Day–no school.
May 29, Wednesday: “Flying” by Richard Wilbur
May 30, Thursday: “At Grass” by Philip Larkin (because I came across an excerpt of this poem in a novel, and I have girls in first period who are horse freaks)
May 31, Friday: “Silver-lined Heart” by Taylor Mali, because it’s the last day for seniors, and I’ve made this piece a tradition.
This year I have juniors, who have three days left of classes before their exams. I’m allowing them to choose their own daily poems next week.
I think every kid must have some sort of fantasy about castles. About living in one, about fighting for one, perhaps even about being held prisoner in one. Any kid who has ever seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang must have the castle of Neuschwanstein imprinted upon her imagination:
I had the great good fortune to grow up within a few miles of a castle. More or less. The tower of the Casco Castle Hotel, in South Freeport, was the only thing that remained when I was a kid, the main portion of the building having burned down in 1914. However, from the time we were old enough to ride bikes, we’d make our way from Grover’s Crossing and down toward the harbor, then veer off and climb the path up onto the granite ridge where the ruins remained.
In the after photo above, you can see the window at the bottom right where we’d scale the stones to enter. Once inside, it was possible to climb further, into the small chamber to the right. Howard, one of the nine Nichols kids from Grover’s Crossing, claims to have climbed up as far as the cross-shaped windows; and there were stories of people climbing higher, though I never saw them do it myself–there were even stories of people falling, and, as the kids whispered in awe, breaking every bone in their bodies. The castle tower was on private property, and we all were, of course, trespassing; the owner did not like it, on account (I know now) of insurance liability concerns, but we kids just thought he was being a jerk…because we were kids.
So that’s where my love affair with castles began, and of course my love is tinged with the romantic: I prefer my castles ruinous. Since then
I’ve been to castles in England and France–Windsor, for example, and Versailles–and breathtaking as those were, they were intact, and not exactly to my taste. Of course I loved exploring them (the parts open to the public, in any case), but always, in wandering about, I found so little left to the imagination.
How, after all, can one imagine being a knight in shining armor, or a feisty princess (none of those damsels in distress for me, thanks), when one is constantly followed around by security, are thoroughly frisked and scanned on entrance and shunted through the gift shop upon exit? Where’s the romance in that?
Which, I think, is why my favorite castle of all time is Tintagel, in North Cornwall. You want ruinous? This place is perfect. To get to the castle, you must take a footpath out of the village toward the Celtic Sea; once you’ve paid admission, you need to hike up another path to a bridge where you can turn left to climb a mountain of steps and explore the mainland side of the castle, or turn right, cross the bridge, then climb yet other stairs to the island side (these two parts of the castle were once one, before the tides wore through the cliffs and split them apart). Though I was there in July, on a brilliantly blue and sunny day, one of the only two National Trust people I saw told me that in February the wind blows off the sea so harshly that it’s impossible to stand up straight on the island. Imagine the cold and the loneliness then…and of course, that’s the keyword: imagine. So much more romantic to be able to imagine the way into stories about a ruinous castle, especially one that’s the legendary birthplace of that most romantic of kings, Arthur. Then, of course, there’s the imposing way this castle towers over the Haven, and dwarfs the village, back over its shoulders. This is a castle that is truly magical.
Not that I’ve entirely switched my allegiance from the ruinous castle of my childhood–not at all. How could I? Casco Castle is still the tower in my dreams. Now, however, that I am so much older, I give myself nightmares about climbing it. I did that? I must have been one stupid kid. I’m just grateful that I was not one of those fabled people who fell and broke every bone in my body.
People can still fall from the cliffs at Tintagel.
April is the cruelest month, and the coolest. April is, of course, celebrated as National Poetry Month. In April, just like Chaucer’s pilgrims, I always feel restless when the snow recedes and the flowers begin teasing, when the birds come back, when the mud oozes forth. In the poetic realm, I am not, by far, the only one. So many poems to choose from for April and for spring! And finally, on April 30, with temperatures reaching toward the 70′s, and the sun high enough in the sky to warm things…finally, finally…it really is spring, isn’t it?
April 1, Monday: ”Just Before April Came” by Carl Sandburg
April 2, Tuesday: ”Song of a Second April” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
April 3, Wednesday: “April Chores” by Jane Kenyon
April 5, Friday: “Dear One Absent This Long While” by Lisa Olstein (I’ve had a sad couple of weeks, and this piece has an incredibly sad beauty to it…I’m glad to have come across it.)
April 8, Monday: “It will be summer–eventually” by Emily Dickinson
April 9, Tuesday: “Spring Rain” by Matsuo Basho
April 10, Wednesday: “Spring Pools” by Robert Frost
April 11, Thursday: “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Robert Browning
April 12-19: April vacation–no school!
April 22, Monday: “Wash” by Jane Kenyon
April 23, Tuesday: Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare (because it’s his birthday and we’re celebrating!)
April 24, Wednesday:”The Snakes” by Mary Oliver
April 25, Thursday: “What to Do” by Hayden Carruth
April 26, Friday: “Ticket” by Meg Kearney
April 29, Monday: “A Sighting” by Connie Wanek
April 30, Tuesday: “Over the Land is April” by Rober Louis Stevenson
What a beautiful day to end with! Sunny, deep blue sky, buds the maples outside my classroom window, temperatures climbing toward the 70′s. The kind of day that brings a person hope.
March is the most difficult month in school: everyone is exhausted. Perhaps it’s because it’s winter’s last hurrah? However, it’s also, fortunately, the month when spring fights its way in, so there’s something to look forward to. Ah, and the advent of Daylight Savings Time, when it is lighter later in the afternoon. My list this month is, for the most part, hopeful, or at least leaning toward longer days, warmer temperatures, and perhaps even flowers. It’s how I keep the fire alive.
The poems by Christian Barter mid-month come from his new book, In Someone Else’s House, which he was kind enough to sign for me at AWP in Boston. The kids in first period selected “Heisenberg” primarily because they were amused (bemused?) at the intersection of poetry and science. Let them be!
So: poems. Hope you like ‘em.
March 1, Friday: ”A Birthday” by Christina Rosetti (because tomorrow is my son’s 17th)
March 4, Monday: ”Report from the West” by Tom Hennen
March 5, Tuesday: “Mud Season” by Jane Kenyon
March 6, Wednesday: “Down East News Item” by Maxine Kumin
March 7, Thursday: “The Notice that is called the Spring” by Emily Dickinson
March 8, Friday: “The Wind Sings Welcome in Early Spring” by Carl Sandburg
March 11, Monday: “Heisenberg” by Christian Barter
March 12, Tuesday: ”Stars” by Christian Barter
March 13, Wednesday: ”Twilight Comes” by Hayden Carruth
March 14 & 15: workshop days–no class
March 18, Monday: “Hawk’s Beauty” by Robert Peter Tristram Coffin (whose birthday it is today)
March 19, Tuesday: what? A snow day? Pffft.
March 20, Wednesday: what? ANOTHER snow day? And on the first day of spring? Pfffft.
March 21, Thursday: “Fiction” by Lisel Mueller
March 22, Friday: “A Light exists in Spring” by Emily Dickinson
March 25, Monday: “Morning” by Frederick Smock
March 26, Tuesday: ”The Sound of Trees” by Robert Frost (because it’s his birthday!)
March 27, Wednesday: “Everything is Going to Be All Right” by Derek Mahon (with thanks to Annie Deppe for the suggestion)
March 28, Thursday: ”Early Spring” by Rainer Maria Rilke
March 29, Friday: “Very Early Spring” by Katherine Mansfield
At the end of the month I received in the mail a lovely card from the poet Ellen Rachlin, thanking me for sharing her poem “Night Swim” last May. How wonderful! This is the contact I long for, that between people who share the love of the word. (Also, it’s good that I put up a new mailbox that week, just in time, to replace the one hit by the snowplow…)