In her invitation to the bloggers today, Lainie quotes Kwame Alexander:

Words have the power to really help us take in the world around us, understand it, see it then be able to react to it, make it better, imagine it in a different way.-Kwame Alexander

qtd. in Two Writing Teachers blog

In my quest for what to write after a BIG weekend, I take Lainie’s cue. I relied on Kwame’s wisdom last Saturday when I presented at the Fall Conference I had been planning for the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE).

“Transformation: The Power of Poetry” opened with this:”If you want a student to be moved by poetry, then you must share poetry with which you (and they) connect on an emotional level.” (The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander)

The last concurrent session was my slot and at the end of the conference day. Board members were given those spots because we were committed to stay throughout. During lunch, a fellow end-of-day presenter said, “Well, each session has its challenges.” Ours would be having a crowd, as it was clear that many had already left by 1:50.

Here’s the thing: I have lots to say about almost anything teaching, BUT I am not a strong, relaxed presenter. I am working on it since I want to improve, and improvement begins with self-awareness. I struggle with parameters—what to leave in, what to take out? I want to do it all!

The end of the day though was a sweet spot for me. This conference I had agonized over for more than a year was successful. No, it wasn’t a huge crowd—people still hesitate to gather, online habits endure, and are still requiring a full weekend to recharge—but those who attended were enthusiastic and engaged, many of them training to become ELA teachers. The energy was palpable—and I was pumped.

I could, finally, relax. Presentation? Yup, I can. For the first time, I had real FUN with my group. Kwame had set up the discussion about reading and playing with poetry as consumers, then writing it as creators. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” let us share: reading our favorite lines aloud; reading together aloud in a chorus; acting out lines—which line am I?

We brainstormed abstract nouns and action verbs; we paired them to create personification. Confidence swaggered into the room/strutted up to the front/turned to face the crowd/scanned the faces /and smiled without breaking/a sweat.

Funny we chose confidence. It was the first time as a presenter I had actually felt it!

(Thanks to those wonderful committee members and attendees who made that day a success!)

Working Girl

Do you remember the scene from the 1988 movie, Working Girl? Melanie Griffith is trapped in an elevator with some corporate execs and questioned about how she came up with an ingenious idea that the evil Sigourney Weaver is claiming for her own.

“‘I thought—Trask…media…Trask…media.” She explains its origins. And the alchemy happens: two disparate ideas meet and gold is the result. My husband uses that phrase whenever lightning strikes, or anything that seems like lightning, in our daily lives.

I had a “Trask/media” moment yesterday as I, their substitute science teacher for the day, stood in front of a disengaged, dare I say resistant, class of sixth graders. I have been in this class before, know the teacher and respect his teaching.

But the slide show they are to complete, a review of reading they’ve been doing about cells, despite my best efforts to assist them reference their notes, the information they have at their fingertips, as I’ve been asked to do, is a non-starter for too many of them.

During third period, after first period disinterest, second period P.E. (don’t ask), I had a breather, a “prep”—time to closely read the texts they have annotated, and affixed to their interactive science notebooks.

I realize that this would be a perfect time for the poetry-writing strategies that I will be presenting at a workshop for the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) later this month.

Personification, anyone? “I am a cell./How can you tell?/ My DNA gives my identity away…”

…or maybe an epistle form? “Dear Prokaryote,/Just saying your name makes my heart beat fast./You with that cytoplasm floating free/ missing your mitochondria/ How jealous are you of Eukaryote?/ That sibling with the smart organelle.”

Even a found poem or blackout poetry would turn the students back to the text to look at it with new eyes. Poetry has such daily potential in every classroom.

Don’t get me started about the terrific examples of nature/science poetry available for those naysayers out there. Linda Rief’s new book, Whispering with Words, provides an extensive list to introduce and explore. Yes, it’s science, but it’s literacy, and too many kids don’t explore the connections. (I discovered this last weekend in Sapiens, an anthropology magazine, science—and mind-altering.)

There I am, knowing what I could be doing but turning away from that alchemy. This golden moment will pass me by because, as a substitute, I lack the power.

Each Moment

I’m not sure when I first learned of Suleika Jaouad and her pandemic project the “Isolation Journals,” it may have even been here during the March SOL blogging challenge, but I continue to receive her emails and store the gems she offers from a variety of creative souls in an email folder. When this Sunday letter arrives, I read it with amazement and some trepidation.

Suleika is, once again, going through cancer treatment recovery, as she was when I first “met” her and began the “…Journals” journey. When her memoir about survival and thrival, (I know it’s not a word, those red dots underscoring alert me, but if you know her, then survival definitely does not do her justice), Between Two Kingdoms finally was published in book form (the New York Times had been featuring her) I rushed to buy my copy.

In this week’s email subject line, “Reasons to Live through the Apocalypse,” she says, “…small joys have been my sustenance,” followed by, “I do want to make a distinction here between the practice of celebrating small joys and the culture of ‘toxic positivity,’ where we’re told to be ever-grateful, to always search for the silver linings, to put a positive spin on all experiences, even the profoundly tragic…” It’s difficult for me to reconcile what she does with her spirited, loving response to adversity and not view her as a paragon of—living.

This email features, prompt 192, features a poem from Nikita Gill, a list enumerating small joys, all in the dailiness of living, and stops me at every period. Each one takes leads me to a memory.

“Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse” by Nikita Gill

Sunrises. People you have still to meet and laugh with. Songs about love, peace, anger, and revolution. Walks in the woods. The smile you exchange with a stranger when you experience beauty accidentally together. Butterflies. Seeing your grandparents again. The moon in all her forms, whether half or full. Dogs. Birthdays and half-birthdays. That feeling of floating in love. Watching birds eat from bird feeders. The waves of happiness that follow the end of sadness. Brown eyes. Watching a boat cross an empty sea. Sunsets. Dipping your feet in the river. Balconies. Cake. The wind in your face when you roll the car window down on an open highway. Falling asleep to the sound of a steady heartbeat. Warm cups of tea on cold days. Hugs. Night skies. Art museums. Books filled with everything you do not yet know. Long conversations. Long-lost friends. Poetry.”

Her list invites us to do the same. Where does it take you?

When next Tuesday arrives, National Poetry Month will have ended, but with luck, we will still be here, living, fingers-crossed. Thanks, Suleika, for the reminder.