On Songs to Bike to 101 (pt III)



Sunday and Monday were rainy mornings–torrential rainy mornings.  This morning dawned bright and cool and windy, with crazy clouds scudding across a deep blue sky.  I made really good time:  it was perfect riding weather.


The song this morning, as I became aware of it at Simpson’s Corner on the Tour de Dixmont, was “Spirit of Dust” from Oysterband’s newest CD, Diamonds on the Water.  I have two versions of it on my iPod–a live version they performed on a radio show before the CD’s release, and the one on the CD itself.  It was the latter playing in my head, especially the ending, with John Jones and Rowan Godel playing off each other’s voices, and Alan Prosser’s counterpoint behind them both.

Here you go:

On Songs to Bike To 101 (pt. II)

bikeSometimes it’s a slower riding day, and the music that accompanies me in my head is slower, too.  And that’s okay.  Today’s song was “Friday Town” by the Saw Doctors–especially the intro by Leo Moran on his gorgeous white Gretsch.  Added bonus:  today is Friday.  Second added bonus:  in the video, Leo rides a bike.

Here you go.

On Songs to Bike To 101

Of course I don’t ride with earphones–that’s dangerous, if you can’t hear the traffic coming.  But of course, there’s always something playing in my head, and for biking, it’s a song that picks up the cadence of the pedaling.

Today I was feeling pretty sprightly on the Tour de Dixmont.  The song in my head was by Bellowhead:  “Roll the Woodpile Down.”  Especially that oboe.

Here you go.



On The Poetry Fence


acton scott image

At Acton Scott Museum and Working Farm, in Shropshire in the UK, the Poet in Residence this past year was Jean Atkin.

Jean Atkin

Jean Atkin

She led groups–many of them children–to meet the farm in poetry, and chronicled her adventures here.

One of her initiatives was The Poetry Fence, for which she solicited short pieces which evoked the farm–Acton Scott, another farm in Shropshire, another farm in the world.  At the behest of the expat poet Jenny Doughty, I submitted a short piece, which Jean was kind enough to include on the fence.

So.  A part of me on a fence on a farm in Shropshire.

Acton Scott Farm

Acton Scott Farm

There’s something symbolic there.

On Year 4: May’s Poems

spring flowers

The homestretch, the final month of the school year.  It’s been wet and squelchy, unsettled, cold.  The kids have been antsy and bad-tempered.  I’ve tried to give them poems that provided something warm and uplifting.  I’m not sure I was always successful–and quite frankly, this has been a year where the students have been really hard to reach.  But still:  we try.  And try some more.


May 1st, Thursday: “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy (because the poet Jenny Doughty suggested it)

May 2nd, Friday: “May” by Jonathan Galassi

May 5th, Monday: “Spell” by May Lewis

May 6th, Tuesday: “The Snake” by William Matthews

May 7th, Wednesday: “To Daffodils” by Robert Herrick

linda pastan

Linda Pastan

May 8th, Thursday: “Song in a Minor Key” by Dorothy Parker

May 9th, Friday: “The Figure on the Hill” by Jeffrey Harrison

May 12th, Monday: “My Dog Practices Geometry” by Cathryn Essinger

May 13th, Tuesday: “The Pasture” by Robert Frost

May 14th, Wednesday: “Spring” by Linda Pastan

May 15th, Thursday: “By the Front Door” by W. S. Merwin

May 16th, Friday: “I Dwell in Possibility–” (#466) by Emily Dickinson

May 19th, Monday: “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” by Walt Whitman

Donald Hall & Jane Kenyon

Donald Hall & Jane Kenyon

May 20th, Tuesday: “Heavy Summer Rain” by Jane Kenyon

May 21st, Wednesday: “Vita Nova” by Louise Glück

May 22nd, Thursday: “The Long Voyage” by Malcolm Cowley

May 23rd, Friday: “The Morning Porches” by Donald Hall

May 26th, Monday:  Memorial Day–no school

May 27th, Tuesday: “How to Regain Your Soul” by William Stafford


Maya Angelou

May 28th, Wednesday: “Limen” by Natasha Trethewey

May 29th, Thursday: “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou (because of her greatness:  that is all I can say)

May 30th, Friday: “Silver-Lined Heart” by Taylor Mali (because this is the poem is the one I always read on the final senior day)

And so ends the school year, and the fourth year of this poem-reading adventure.  The most pleasurable part of this four years is that the poem-a-day has become, truly, part of our classroom culture.  All because of a stray remark someone made at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching all those years ago.  Thanks to whoever made that remark.



On Year 4: April’s Poems

snowdrops1It’s National Poetry Month!

It’s also April, which is my favorite month, because it is the month of beginnings for me–when the world is finally free of winter (despite this year’s attempts to hold on), and when the flowers begin to show.  (My birthday’s in April, too, and I love  my birthday.)  I tried, this year, to choose poems that addressed the month specifically, or at least mentioned it.  Strangely, only one student seemed to notice what I was doing–and on the day before spring break, she gave me her own poem, entitled “April,” for my birthday.  That’s a win right there.

April 1, Tuesday:  “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins (though not actually an April poem, it seemed apropos to start off National Poetry Month).

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker

April 2, Wednesday: “April Midnight” by Arthur Symons

April 3, Thursday:  “April” by Alicia Ostriker

April 4, Friday: “Shiloh:  A Requiem (April 1862)” by Herman Melville  (This one was for Ian, my social studies/Civil War buddy down the hall.)

April 7, Monday: “Early Spring in the Field” by Tom Hennen

April 8, Tuesday: “Spring” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 9, Wednesday: “Spring” by Marjorie Wentworth

April 10, Thursday: “In Perpetual Spring” by Amy Gerstler

April 11, Friday: “Today” by Billy Collins

Amy Gerstler

Amy Gerstler

April 14, Monday:  “This Morning I Could Do/ A Thousand Things” by Robert Hedin

April 15, Tuesday: “Rain” by Peter Everwine

April 16, Wednesday:  “Spring Song” by Edith Wharton

April 17, Thursday: “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Robert Browning

April 18-27:  April vacation–no school.

April 28, Monday: “Morning” by Sara Teasdale

Heidi Mordhorst

Heidi Mordhorst

April 29, Tuesday: “April Gale”  by Heidi Mordhorst

April 30, Wednesday: “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold (just because I haven’t read it yet this year, and the first time I climbed Shakespeare Cliff was in April).

Next month:  May.  The end of this school year, and the end of my fourth year in this read-a-poem-a-day to the students (whether they like it or not!).  I hope some of you out there can send me some suggestions for pieces to make the school year go out with a bang.  Help me out?


dover beach

On Year 4: March’s Poems

iciclesMarch is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.  Right.  This year, March came in like a lion, stayed like a lion, and is going out complete with sleet and snow and–in the yard outside my classroom windows–still two feet of snow.  Blasted lion.  Spring ostensibly is here, or at least the calendar claims.  It’s been, to quote the Beatles, “a long cold lonely winter.”  Here’s hoping that it’s done its worst.


March 3, Monday:  “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti (because yesterday was my son’s birthday, and this is the poem I always read for him)

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti


March 4, Tuesday:  “Dear March–Come in” (1320) by Emily Dickinson

March 5, Wednesday: “Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself” by Wallace Stevens

March 6, Thursday: “Bright Star” by John Keats

March 7, Friday: “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

March 10, Monday: “Market Forecast” by Alexa Selph

March 11, Tuesday: “Evening in a Sugar Orchard” by Robert Frost (because a girl from 6th period wanted to read the poem today, and she wanted one that rhymed)

March 12, Wednesday: “Walking Alone in Winter” by Jane Kenyon

Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan

March 13, Thursday: snow day–no school

March 14, Friday: in-service day–no classes

March 17, Monday: in-service day–no classes

March 18, Tuesday: “This Poem…” by Elma Mitchell

March 19, Wednesday: “The Hinge of Spring” by Kay Ryan

March 20, Thursday: snow day–no school

March 21, Friday: “Spring Snow” by William Matthews

March 24, Monday: “Everyone Sang” by Siegfried Sassoon

March 25, Tuesday: “Osprey” by Billy Collins

March 26, Wednesday: “Blizzard” by LindaPastan


Jeffrey Harrison

March 27, Thursday: “Who Has Seen the Wind” by Christina Rosetti

March 28, Friday: “The Friday Night Fights” by Ronald Wallace

March 31, Monday: “To a Snake” by Jeffrey Harrison


Tomorrow is April.  Maybe if we’re lucky, the sun will be out and some of this foolish snow will melt away.  Flowers?  Buds?  Please?


On Year 4: February’s Poems

frozen waterfallDespite being the shortest month, and despite being a month in which we have a week’s vacation, February is always difficult.  Perhaps it’s the cold–and it has been very cold.  In any case, it is a month that always seems to inspire poets to write cold poems.  In its own dark way, February is inspirational.  That’s what being snowbound will do to a person, I guess.

So:  here are some selections for this month.

February 3, Monday:  “February Evening in New York“by Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov

February 4, Tuesday: “‘Make It New‘” by Alice Fulton

February 5, Wednesday: snow day–no school

February 6, Thursday: “Against the Evidence” by David Ignatow

February 7, Friday: “At the Toll Booth” by Marilyn Donnelly (because it takes place on the Maine Turnpike, which the students thought was interesting.  Poets drive on that?)

alice fulton

Alice Fulton

February 10, Monday: “Gratitude for Old Teachers” by Robert Bly

February 11, Tuesday: “Taking Down the Tree” by Jane Kenyon

February 12, Wednesday: “Into My Own” by Robert Frost (because it was suggested by my friend Jean’s daughter)

February 13, Thursday: “Snow Signs” by Charles Tomlinson

February 14, Friday: snow day–no school

Marina Tsvetaeva

February 17-21:  Winter vacation–no school.

February 24, Monday: “I am happy living simply” by Marina Tsvetaeva

February 25, Tuesday: “Inaction of Shoes” by Ron Padgett (because sometimes you just need to have a cheerful poem in the midst of all this darkness)

February 26, Wednesday: “Yard Sale” by George Bilgere (This poem caused a person in first period to exclaim spontaneously, “That’s really sad!”)

February 27, Thursday: “Snow-Flakes” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (because it’s his birthday!)

February 28, Friday: “Afternoon in February” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (because this will be the last one in this February, of course)

The good news is–spring comes next month.  Hope springs eternal, and all that. Send me some suggestions!

On Diamonds on the Water

Scan 5Oysterband fans have been waiting for this CD for a long time.  Some of us pre-ordered it months ago and have been waiting with anticipation for the February 17th release date:  some of us in the US were appalled to suddenly realize that February 17th was a postal holiday and we wouldn’t get it until the 18th!  However, it’s here.  It’s here!  And well worth waiting for.  It’s their first studio album–not counting Ragged Kingdom, their collaboration with June Tabor (2011)–in seven years.  And it’s magnificent.

(photo by Judith Barrows)

All the things which make fans love the Oysters are here:  the brilliant vocals of John Jones, frequently meshing with other members’ harmonies (and on this effort, Rowan Godel’s counterpoints); the multiple personalities of Alan Prosser’s guitars; the sometimes sweet, sometimes fierce lyricism of Ian Telfer’s fiddle; and the supportive punctuation of Dil Davies’ drumming.  (For those of us still saddened by the moving on of Ray Cooper and his cello and bass, Adrian Oxaal appears to take up some of that slack, and long-time producer Al Scott finally gets his place in the sun with full recognition of his contributions).  In addition:  brass.  Noticeably, French horn, which adds a particular fullness to some songs.

It’s difficult to decide which of these 12 tracks stand out most.  On first listen, “Spirit of Dust” seemed to be the favorite.  The wanderlust of the refrain

And I’ll take you with me if you’ve got the trust

Just say you will, I cannot say you must

for the angels left here long ago

and the spirit of dust just says

[ahhh...] now go

is reminiscent in a way of Meet You There‘s “Over the Water,” while the brilliant vocal twinings of John Jones and Rowan Godel–with the high tenor of Alan Prosser tying all together–harkens back to “Rise Above” from the album of the same name.  At the same time, Oysterband has taken these familiar ingredients and mixed them in a new way.

In their first collaborative recording with June Tabor, twenty-odd years ago, Oysterband incorporated brass into their rendition of “Dives and Lazarus”.  On two songs on this new CD, trumpet, euphonium and French horn make their presence felt.  The title track, “Diamonds on the Water,” features a masterful horn IMG_0269mix which at times is counterpoint to the vocals, and at times in the refrain, swoops in to build major-chord harmony with those vocals.  The beauty of that build is indescribable:  and to a brass player (such as myself), it’s a gift geared to take the breath away.  On “Call You Friend,” a spirited and darkly humorous Prosser song, the rollicking guitars give way to a mellow and full French horn in the bridge–and that in turn gives way to more of those wonderful vocal harmonies.

“Steal Away” is a lovely layered construction, slow and sweet and full.  The lyrics and John Jones’s voice are perfect complements to each other; he is at his best when he can stretch those slow vocal lines.

Let the stars be your friend

Through this lonely time and season

Always there like rhyme and reason

Planets fade as day begins

But the dark never ends.

It is at the chorus, though, where this song reaches its full effect. And it’s with its layers and layers of vocals that the song sweeps to a breathtaking end.

With each listen, this CD shifts and changes, with new details striking the ear.  This morning the favorite is “Palace of Memory,” another rollicking piece, with strangely dark lyrics:

Beneath the green grass the stone

Beneath the pretty flesh the bone

In the palace of memory

You lie, you lie alone

Always, Oysterband lyrics have a way of making the listener take a second look at things…but frequently, the music is what pulls people in first.  Here, as in the rest of this CD, Oysterband always surprises, and never disappoints.


There are far too many good things on this CD to mention them all.  The only advice I can really give is buy it and listen.  Over and over.  I’ve written this before, and probably will again:  this music is important.  This band is important.

Postscript 2:

I first heard “No Ordinary Girl” at the

Reluctant Ramblers–including Rowan Godel

Nettlebed Folk Club two summers ago, done by John Jones and the Reluctant Ramblers after the first day of the White Horses Walk.  Somewhere between then and now, the song has been (or so I have been told) “Telferized.”  On Diamonds on the Water, it is a song I both recognized–and didn’t quite.

Postscript 3:

This girl is going to see Oysterband at the Wickham Music Festival in August!  I cannot wait to hear songs from this album live.

For more adventures with Oysterband, see

“On Oysterband at the Algonquin Theater”

“On June Tabor and Oysterband: Ragged Kingdom”

“On Oysterband at Ferneham Hall”

“Off to Cape Breton for Oysterband”

On Year 4: January’s Poems

Happy New Year!

It’s cold.  Really cold.  Polar vortexes taking over and everything.  Pipes freezing.  Cars not starting.  Wind chills in the -30s.  And two and a half months until spring.  It’s hard to read, let alone write.  Still, there are cold poems out there for the harvesting, and I’ve been delivering them to the students.  Winter happens every year, after all, and we get through it as best we can.

So.  Poems:

January 2, Thursday: “To the New Year” by W. S. Merwin

January 3, Friday: “January” by Helen Hunt Jackson

January 6, Monday: Ice day–no school.

January 7, Tuesday: “This Inwardness, This Ice” by Christian Wiman

January 8, Wednesday:  “I Looked Up” by Mary Oliver

January 9, Thursday: “Snow” by Marcel Beyer

January 10, Friday: “The Snow Gets It” by Richard Price

Molly Fisk

Molly Fisk

January 13, Monday: “Now Winter Nights Enlarge” by Thomas Campion

January 14, Tuesday: “To the Quarry and Back” by Katia Kapovich

January 15, Wednesday: “History Lesson” by Natasha Trethewey (because twice yesterday people asked what a poet laureate was, so here’s a poem by the U.S. Poet Laureate)

Richard Jones

Richard Jones

January 16, Thursday: “Fog” by Carl Sandburg (because this morning was incredibly foggy)

January 17, Friday: “In Winter in the Woods Alone” by Robert Frost (because this poem was suggested by friends from The Frost Place)

January 20, Monday:  Martin Luther King Day–no school

January 21, Tuesday: “Rest” by Richard Jones

January 22, Wednesday through January 24, Friday: midterm exams.

Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey

January 27, Monday: “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

January 28, Tuesday: “‘Hope’ Is the Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson

January 29, Wednesday: “Winter Sun” by Molly Fisk

January 30, Thursday: “An Old Man’s Winter Night” by Robert Frost

January 31, Friday: “Out on the Flats” by Leonard Nathan

snowmanAnd that’s January.  Here’s to hoping February will moderate some.  It’s been a long winter already, and we still have 48 days left to go.


As always, poetry suggestions welcome.  Send ‘em along!



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