On Songs to Bike to 101-2D: “Tubthumping” and “A River Runs”


I’ve been feeling a general malaise this week (sometimes bordering on existential dread), and that has translated into slow rides on the bike–not a really good thing, with the MS ride coming up this Saturday, but better than not riding at all.

This morning, the clouds sat thick on the side of the mountain, one of those times the real weather mirrored the psychological weather:  how metaphorical!  I dragged myself out anyway, and the song I forced into my head was “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba.  Because anarchy!

Sadly, today in the humidity, it didn’t work.  I didn’t speed up.  I slowed down and found, instead, the song in my head was “A River Runs” by Oysterband.  Not a bad choice for my mental soundtrack, of course.  It’s a lovely song, and it’s by Oysterband.  So–I went with it.  Because if you’re not feeling anarchical, you might as well be kind to yourself.

Onward and upward!

P. S.   Ironically, last summer, because of the way the universe unwinds, I ended up riding around in the back of a car, in Hampshire, in the south of England, with John Jones, the lead singer for Oysterband, and Boff Whalley, the lead guitarist for Chumbawamba.  Wait, what?  Yeah, that happened.  And I was okay with it.

Boff Whalley

Boff Whalley

John Jones, rambling

John Jones, rambling

On Songs to Bike to 101–2C: Rosemary Lane by Bellowhead


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!

Songs to Bike to 101: 2B–Electric Light Orchestra, Fire on High


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.

Songs to Bike to 101: 2A–Merry Hell, Pendle Hill



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.

On Year 5: April’s Poems

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 Millaymillay

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

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

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

Louise Erdrich

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.

On Year 5: March’s Poems

Yeah.  Right.

Yeah. Right.

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

Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar

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)

Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland

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

Carl Little

Carl Little

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?

Send me more suggestions.  I want all the beautiful things.melting snow

On Year 5: February’s Poems

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

Margaret Atwood

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

Helen Hoyt

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.

Any favorite March poems out there?icicles

On Looking Out the Window

100_3172 Last night it snowed again.  When I looked out the window at my yard, buried–in places under six feet of snow–is it any wonder I wanted to be somewhere else?  And we all know where my heart goes.

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 100_3171looked 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.

100_3174I 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 & B100_3175 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.

100_3178Then 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 100_3177train 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.309390_4275918826177_119788821_n (1)


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.

Postscript 2:

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.100_3179

On Year 5: January’s Poems

wood pile

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

Debra Allbery

Debra Allbery

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

Heidy Steidlmayer

Heidy Steidlmayer

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.

Molly Fisk

Molly Fisk

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!

On Merry Hell

My friend Lesley is a fan of Merry Hell, a British band which claims it plays “folk rock with a punk attitude, indie ethos and Latino feel, plus [we’ve got] soul!”  That’s just about everything covered, I think.  However, Lesley first made me aware of them with the video for “The Ghost in our House,” which is decidedly weird.  That’s what attracted me.

Then came Christmas, and a fantastic present winged its way from Lesley in the UK to me:  the first two Merry Hell CDs. Blink…and You Miss It was released in 2011, followed by Head Full of Magic, Shoes Full of Rain a year and a half later.  I started with Blink… just to be chronological, and the Kettles and company had me from the get-go.  The first cut, “Drunken Serenade,” which was originally from the Tansads‘ final album (that 90’s band featured several current Merry Hell personnel), rocks out from the opening manic mandolin, through pounding drums and bass beneath the raspy and true vocals of Andrew Kettle.  Nothing decidedly weird there, just hard-driving music.

There are so many other great tracks on the disc that it’s difficult to single out any for particular attention.  “The Crooked Man,” a Virgina Kettle composition, is one extremely angry political song, with the white-collared criminal graphically “picking the flesh from our backbone.”  “One More Day” by contrast is a delightful bit, with a catchy refrain beautifully harmonized by Virginia and Andrew Kettle (brother- and sister-in-law, FYI), about missing someone–poignant and yet fun.  By far the most lovely song I’ve heard in quite some time–one that I’d die to have someone sing to me personally–is “Rosanna’s Song”:

The light that shines around you is like no otherMerry-Hell-CD-blink

Winter fire of January gold against the pale

And I’ve had the pleasure to go walking in your company

All along the hills of isle and dale

It’s a beautiful love song, and the first few times I played it I thought I’d cry.

On Head Full of Magic, Shoes Full of Rain, I found a number of musical winners as well–the kinds of songs that cement a band in place with a second CD.  “Rosanna, Let Me In” is a remarkable song, though its intent is obviously not to be as heart-breakingly beautiful as the eponymous Rosanna’s other gift.  “My Finest Hour” is a rousing complaint about the frustration of the speaker at being thwarted in his efforts to be alone with his girlfriend.  Then there’s the incredibly danceable “Iron Man,” again with the amazing driving voice of Andrew Kettle (and again, a Tansads favorite).  There are quieter moments on this CD as well:  Virginia and Andrew Kettle duet in “Emerald Green,” taking alternate verses, then coming together in harmony, for a waltz about a couple separated by war.

head-full-of-magic-final-coverI have the CDs in my car.  Since I originally played them on the computer, the songs are there as well.  I have not been anywhere since before Christmas without the accompaniment of Merry Hell.  They have taken up residence in my head–the vocal lines, for the most part, both male and female, melody and harmony.  It’s been a while since I’ve been so completely taken over by a band, and it’s both amazing and slightly uncomfortable (you try teaching Hamlet with “Drunken Serenade” as an internal soundtrack!).  I’m saving my pin money, because the next time I’m in the UK, I’m forcing Lesley to take me to a Merry Hell gig, as this is all her fault.

Postscript:  Some of the more rocking tunes are going to be great to have playing on my mental soundtrack come good weather, when I can get back out on that bike.  Songs to Bike to 101!


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