Another hot one on the Tour de Dixmont this morning, with little to no shade. The hills were killers–but I’ve never been a strong uphill rider anyway, though I can get some speed going down. Nevertheless, as I was slogging up the first mile to the cemetery, I realized that the song in my head today was “Rosemary Lane” by Bellowhead–another driving tune from the remarkable 11-piece band from the UK.
I don’t know whether it’s the driving nature of their music, or the fact that they’ve announced they’re quitting after next April, but Bellowhead plays in my head quite a bit. Ride to this one, kids!
Sometimes we go old school.
This morning, the Tour de Dixmont was quite hot; I was quite sore, having been installing metal roofing all week (just don’t ask, okay?). But the song in my head was an oldy-but-goody: “Fire on High” from ELO’s Face the Music. What a driving song. A person cannot ride slowly to this one. Not even up the mighty hills of Dixmont.
Play it, to quote the musician Jonathan Byrd, loud.
I get angry on hills, and I get slow.
So the playlist in my head obviously follows suit. I found this one on replay as I was slogging it up a particular cranky-making hill near the end of this morning’s Tour de Dixmont: “Pendle Hill” by Merry Hell, from Blink…and You Miss It.
I hope I was never as cruel as the schoolteacher of this song.
Happy National Poetry Month!
It’s also the first full month of spring, but it hasn’t really felt like it: April snow, April frost, April freeze. It’s been cold and miserable, for the most part. T. S. Eliot knew what he was talking about when he said it was the cruellest month.
April 1, Wednesday: “Spring” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
April 2, Thursday: “April Weather” by Edith Wyatt
April 3, Friday: “Full Moon” by Lisel Mueller (because there is one this weekend)
April 6, Monday:”Love Song in April” by Edith Klem
April 7, Tuesday: “A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now” by A. E. Houseman
April 8, Wednesday: “April” by Alicia Ostriker
April 9, Thursday: “Strewn” by Barbara Crooker
April 10, Friday: “April Snow” by Pearl Anderson
April 13, Monday: “To Daffodils” by Robert Herrick
April 14, Tuesday: “Little Exercise” by Elizabeth Bishop
April 15, Wednesday: sonnet # 44 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
April 16, Thursday: “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Robert Browning (because this is the one I always read before April vacation. I think I’ve forgotten the reason why by now, but a tradition is a tradition.
April 17-26: April vacation–no school.
April 27, Monday: “April Prayer” by Stuart Kestenbaum
April 28, Tuesday: “Spring Evening on Blind Mountain” by Louise Erdrich
April 29, Wednesday: “The Burning Kite” by Ouyang Jianghe
April 30, Thursday: “Willow” by Anna Akhmatova
I ended the month–and National Poetry Month–with a couple of poems in translation, just to throw something new and surprising into the mix. The Chinese poem, by Ouyang Jianghe, was really difficult for most of the students–but it was about time to make them think hard, and to think differently. Baby steps, as it were: at the beginning of the year, all the pieces were difficult. So now we raise the bar. And that’s a good thing.
This is the month which, proverbially, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. We’re waiting for that lamb. Snow, snow and more snow, and on days when there isn’t any snow falling, the temperatures are frigid. However, the first day of spring comes in March, and somehow that always makes people hope for the best. It can’t always be winter, can it? Though after this one, I don’t feel quite so certain.
March 2, Monday: “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti (because I always read this one on my son’s birthday)
March 3, Tuesday: “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” (372) by Emily Dickinson
March 4, Wednesday: “Snowfall” by Ravi Shankar (because it’s still snowing!)
March 5, Thursday: “How it Happens” by W. S. Merwin
March 6, Friday Teacher workshop–no class
March 9, Monday: Teacher workshop–no class
March 10, Tuesday: [The snow is melting] by Issa (because it is! Finally!)
March 11, Wednesday: “Late Winter” by Yvor Winters
March 12, Thursday: “A Daughter of Eve” by Christina Rossetti
March 13, Friday: “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon
March 16, Monday: “After the Winter” by Claude McKay (because spring will begin on Friday, and after this past snowy month, we need all the encouragement we can get)
March 17, Tuesday: “When You are Old” by William Butler Yeats (a lovely poem, by an Irishman for St. Patrick’s Day, chosen under advisement from Patricia H. Owens)
March 18, Wednesday: “The Lost Land” by Eavan Boland (another fantastic Irish poet)
March 19, Thursday: “Spring Follows Winter Once More” by Tom Hennen
March 20, Friday: “The Spring” by Thomas Carew (because, at least in terms of calendar, spring begins today)
March 23, Monday: “The Marriage in the Trees” by Stanley Plumley
March 24, Tuesday: “Splitting Wood in Winter” by Douglas Woodsum (because I just learned I will be reading with Doug at the Maine Poetry Express reading in Waterville on April 2)
March 25, Wednesday: “Vespers” by Theodore Enslin
March 26, Thursday: “In Early Spring” by Wellborn Hope
March 27, Friday: “March” by Richard Kenney
March 30, Monday: “Today” by Billy Collins
March 31, Tuesday: “Young Pine” by Carl Little
What a winter! It’s holding on desperately, despite the calendar, but in the way of all things, I think we’ve finally got it beaten. It will be a relief to get to April–and to National Poetry Month! Though here in our classroom, it’s always National Poetry Month, isn’t it?
It’s cold! There will be six more weeks of winter! And of course, ironically, Groundhog Day is marked by a snow day, because there’s a blizzard. Hardly any snow in January, and then things go absolutely crazy, weather-wise. Still, there are poems. And we read them!
February 2, Monday: snow day–no school
February 3, Tuesday: “February” by Margaret Atwood
February 4, Wednesday: “The Coyote” by Alan Feldman
February 5, Thursday: “February” by Jack Collom
February 6, Friday: “February” by Bill Christopherson
February 9, Monday: “Recitative” by A. E. Stallings (because this week I’m reading Valentine’s poems–why not?)
February 10, Tuesday: “Song” by D. H. Lawrence
February 11, Wednesday: “Tutto è Sciolto” by James Joyce
February 12, Thursday: “The Root” by Helen Hoyt
February 13, Friday: “Night of Love” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
February 16-20: February vacation–no school
February 23, Monday:”Late February” by Ted Kooser
February 24, Tuesday: “Ice Men” by James Longenbach
February 25, Wednesday: “Bleak Weather” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
February 26, Thursday: “Dreaming in Swedish” by Philip Levine (because his death, last week, made me very sad)
February 27, Friday: “She Walks in Beauty” by George Gordon, Lord Byron
So that’s February done. This year, despite its being the shortest month and having winter break in it to boot, February felt like the longest, because of the snow and bitter cold. Even today it’s not letting go without a snarl, treating us to sub-zero temperatures. Perhaps that’s why there are so many good poems about February: so we’ll have the words to keep us warm on the dark days. Still, March is coming, and with it, spring. There is hope.
That made me think of another window in particular: the big window of the bedroom I stayed in a couple of years ago, at the B & B on Grange Close in Goring-on-Thames. The view through that window stayed with me, because when I looked out on an incredibly rainy morning, there were three kids walking in the street below. Two girls and a boy, they were wearing school uniforms, laughing as they took turns leaning into a match in cupped hands, lighting their illicit smokes and blowing clouds into the miserable air. The sound of their laughter, overlaid on the hush of the steady rain, was what hung with me, long after they’d rounded the corner and were gone from sight.
I am an easily-frightened person. That morning, I had planned to do something really frightening: I was going into Goring proper, over the railway bridge and to a cafe on the banks of the river, to meet a group of seasoned walkers for a trek to Nettlebed. I knew none of them. I had seen their leader, John Jones, onstage with Oysterband, but that was as close as I had come. They had all walked with him before. I was a stranger in a strange town–hell, in a strange country–planning to go wandering across Oxfordshire with people I didn’t know. In the rain. Standing there in the B & B window, clutching the draperies in my sweaty palms, I was terrified.
I gave myself the coward’s way out. You don’t have to do this. After all, no one knew me, no one knew I was coming…so if I just didn’t, no one would be the wiser. Right? Right? So I stood there, listening to the pouring rain, watching the water run along the road where only the phantoms of the laughing kids remained. Because I didn’t dare. Because I was easily frightened.
Then I thought through all the plans I’d made for this particular England adventure. I’d been in London with friends. I’d been in Bromyard with friends. Then I’d made two nights’ reservation here in Goring, so I could do one day of this week-long walk with the Reluctant Ramblers before flying home. I could have backed out easily at this point, but how stupid would that have been?
So I left the window, and sat on the bed to tie up my walking shoes–new that summer, broken in for just this adventure. I threw on my rain jacket–my hat was missing–grabbed up my pack, and went out into the rain. Still frightened, but still going.
I was already soaked by the time I got to the meet-up point. So was everyone else, from their walk from the train station. They were cheery and especially welcoming: Steve and Lesley, Anne and Paul, the other Lesley, Tom, Colin, Lauren, Tim, Al, Stephen and Trish, Else, Kay, Jane, Helen, John–the lot of them. We turned left and headed up toward the Thames Path, and I had succeeded before the first muddy mile had been walked. I was there, and I was going. And it was good.
I’ve since walked with them again, last summer. I will join the Ramblers at every available opportunity from now on, because my heart follows them.
Even getting lost with these people was fun. At one point, we came out on a road, and the map indicated that the path ran through a briar patch. Anyone bring a machete? Paul asked. I told him the TSA wouldn’t allow me to bring mine on the plane. Then we thrashed straight through.
Back to school after the Christmas break, and the world is frozen and lonely and still. Spring is still a long way away, and somehow, we have to muddle through snow and sub-zero temperatures, through frozen pipes, through all the hard work required to keep the fires burning in the wood stoves.
Fortunately, at school, we don’t rely on wood fires. Still, the building is drafty, and not all the heat is distributed evenly throughout the different wings. I wear my mittens in class sometimes, and do not object if students wear coats and bring cups of hot chocolate. January is a long month, and just trying to stay warm enough is an adventure: trying to stay cheerful is sometimes an impossibility. Still, people write poems about January, about winter, about ice and snow, and we’ll read them when we find them. Here are some we’ve found:
January 5, Monday: “To the New Year” by W. S. Merwin
January 6, Tuesday: “Winter Love” by Linda Gregg
January 7, Wednesday: “Winter: Thirty Below with Sundogs” by Tom Hennen
January 8, Thursday: “Mailboxes in Late Winter” by Jeffrey Harrison
January 9, Friday: “Lines for Winter” by Dave Lucas
January 12, Monday: “In the Shed” by Mary Logue
January 13, Tuesday: “The Wood-Pile” by Robert Frost
January 14, Wednesday: “Walking Below Zero You Tell Yourself” by Debra Allbery
January 15, Thursday: ‘Tinnitus: Thin Rain Becoming Ice” by David Harsent
January 16, Friday: “Arrival” by Heidi Steidlmayer
January 19, Monday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day–not school
January 20, Tuesday: “Winter” by Billy Collins
January 21, Wednesday: “Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand
January 22, Thursday: “Winter Sun” by Molly Fisk
January 23, Friday: “Choices” by Tess Gallagher
January 26, Monday: “A Winter Night” by Robert Burns (because last night was Burns Night, and the NWS has posted a blizzard warning for Tuesday into Wednesday)
January 27, Tuesday: Blizzard day–no school.
January 28, Wednesday: “Snowfall” by Thom Gunn
January 29, Thursday:”January” (from “The Months”) by Linda Pastan
January 30, Friday: “Winter Landscape, with Rooks” by Sylvia Plath
And so January comes to a close, slowly but surely, in the midst of raging snow: Three snowstorms in the last week, but who’s counting? Have I ever mentioned how I hate winter? I hate it because it’s cold and hard and expensive, though occasionally starkly beautiful. Fortunately, there are multitudinous poems to get us through…and there are now only six more weeks until spring. We can make it.
P. S. As always, I’d be grateful for your suggestions for poems to get us through. Spring is coming! Keep the fire alive–and thanks!
Winter, to quote Eddard Stark, is coming.
There are so many poems about cold and snow and ice. Perhaps it’s simply the hunkering down we have to do in the storm that makes poets write that storm down. Imagine them, if you will, huddled next to the wood fire, blowing on cold hands before lifting the pen to make that first bold stroke on the blank page. Imagine them recreating the stark beauty. Imagine them. Because they are imagining you.
December 1, Monday: “Not Yet” by Jane Hirshfield
December 2, Tuesday: “The End” by Mark Strand
December 3, Wednesday: snow day–no school
December 4: Thursday: “Sonnet 97: How like a winter hath my absence been” by William Shakespeare
December 5: Friday: “White Eyes” by Mary Oliver
December 8, Monday: “This Winter Worse Than Most” by Madelyne Camrud
December 9, Tuesday: “At the Beginning of Winter” by Tom Hennan
December 10, Wednesday: “Snow Flakes” by Emily Dickinson
December 11, Thursday: “Glass Night” by Wesley McNair (This is a beautiful poem about treacherous ice–I have always loved it, and try to work it in at least once a year.)
December 12, Friday: “First Sight” by Philip Larkin
December 15, Monday: Sonnet 71 by William Shakespeare
December 16, Tuesday: “Winter Trees” by William Carlos Williams
December 17, Wednesday: “Fog” by Carl Sandburg (because this morning was incredibly thick with fog: I explained to the kids that it was sublimation, an idea they found rather interesting).
December 18, Thursday: “The Night of the Snowfall” by Mo H. Saidi (and last night there was quite a lot of snow!)
December 19, Friday: “Winter Solstice” by Hilda Morley (not until Sunday, I know, but there it is.)
December 22, Monday: “Winter Grace” by Patricia Fargnoli (This was a new poem to me, but how beautiful!)
December 23, Tuesday: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost (Because I got a request for a Christmas poem, and this one will do. It will always do.)
December 24-31: Christmas break–no school.
It’s been a long month. But a good one. Because there are poems. When you wake up in the dark early morning and think I don’t know if I can do this for another day–the poems keep you company. You crawl out from under the covers into the crystalline air and start looking for the beauty. Then you find it. And everything is okay. At least, that’s what I keep telling these kids. I hope they believe me.