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.
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.
There’s something symbolic there.
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
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
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
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.
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).
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
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
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?
March 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)
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
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
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?
Despite 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
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?)
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
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)
Oysterband 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.
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 mix 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.
I first heard “No Ordinary Girl” at the
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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.
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
As always, poetry suggestions welcome. Send ‘em along!
December has been cold and snowy. It is snowing now as I write this, in fact, and is due to snow and sleet all weekend–but it’s no matter, as now it’s closing in on winter break. Fortunately, there’s something about snow that inspires poets: there are many many choices for snowy poems to read. And of course, we had to end with Robert Frost, a poem that they all already knew.
Oh, and before I forget? This month brought me a boy in sixth period who now, every day, asks if he can be the one who reads the poem at the beginning of class. As far as I’m concerned, this is a win of the first order.
And here they are:
December 2, Monday: “How It Is That the Snow” by Robert Haight
December 3, Tuesday: “December Notes” by Nancy McCleery
December 4, Wednesday: “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” by Emily Dickinson (for my friend Susan Phillips–one of the first non-family members I remember from my childhood–who died Tuesday morning. That’s left me confused.)
December 5, Thursday: “Somewhere or Other” by Christina Rossetti
December 6, Friday: “Ex Libris” by Eleanor Wilner
December 9, Monday: “I Looked Up” by Mary Oliver
December 10, Tuesday: “Winter” by Walter de la Mare
December 11, Wednesday: “Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams
December 12, Thursday: “Choices” by Tess Gallegher
December 13, Friday: “Blizzard” by William Carlos Williams
December 16, Monday: “To the Evening Star: Central Minnesota” by James Wright
December 17, Tuesday: “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost
December 18, Wednesday: “The Journey” by Mary Oliver
December 19, Thursday: “The Night of the Snowfall” by Mo H. Saidi
December 20, Friday: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
And now–vacation! Next poem on January 2, and if anyone wishes to make suggestions, they are more than welcome.
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.