Thursday, April 24, 2014

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014

As part of National Poetry Month, the wonderfully creative poets and poetry lovers at the Academy of American Poets at annually hold a day called Poem in Your Pocket Day.

On this day, we are to slip a copy of a favorite poem into our pockets, pulling it out to share with friends, co-workers, etc. And while I do have a poem printed up to share with my Expository Essay class at today's ECII Class Day co-op meeting, I also want to pull this poem from my virtual pocket to share it with you all.

This poem was shared with me just yesterday--and wasn't at all the poem I had planned to share (I was leaning toward another offering by my favorite poet, e.e. cummings). A friend of mine who isn't the first person of whom I think when the term "poetry" comes to mind, heard this poem on NPR this week, found a copy, and e-mailed it to me. She's a gifted gardener, so I can see why this poem in particular would appeal to her; it is truly lovely...and thought-provoking as well, as all truly great poems are.

So here's the poem I will have in my pocket (or at least in my briefcase since my skirt has no pockets) throughout the day today:

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2014

~ Mary Oliver
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Wishing you all a wonderful day of sharing poetry...or perhaps having poetry shared with YOU!! 

Poetically yours,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy 450th Birthday, William Shakespeare!!

Okay, I will confess it right here in public:

Hi, my name is Susanne, and I am a Shakespeare Geek. 

I have the watch to prove it.

You see, it all started in my senior year at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, California. My English teacher, Bobbi Jordan, was teaching a one-semester English elective on Shakespeare.

That class changed my life.

We read the plays mostly aloud in class, Mrs. Jordan assigning parts (and keeping the choicest ones for herself, as she unashamedly announced on the first day of class). As Mrs. Jordan had spent her summers in college traveling as part of a Shakespearean troupe, she really knew her stuff. Occasionally she would drag some characters out of their seats and quickly block a scene as they read their parts from our well-worn Folger Library editions of the plays.

So instead of the normal Shakespearean fare that every college-prep high school student was forced to endure: Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet (in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, respectively), we read A Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, King Lear, Two Gentlemen of Verona, etc. Mrs. Jordan also took us on a field trip to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego to see a dress rehearsal of The Merry Wives of Windsor. (It helps when one's teacher knows the director!)

And we had quite the celebration for Shakespeare's birthday. During the first week of April, we all had to draw the name of a fellow student out of a hat and hand-craft a gift for that person to give them on Shakespeare's birthday. I remember embroidering the initials "M.A." on handkerchiefs as my gift to a very popular girl, and I still have the beribboned floral wreath headpiece that a shy young man (I don't remember his name, but can still envision his face) gave me. The wreath, rather faded and a little bedraggled, hangs on my mirror in our bedroom.

But it was the sheer joy in Mrs. Jordan's approach to the Bard that made me want to read more of his work. One of her assignments was for us to read a play NOT on our lists---one we had never read before--and write a response to it. I chose Measure for Measure which has been and remains my favorite Shakespeare play, period. I was thrilled to finally see in on stage at the Old Globe several years ago. Isabella's steadfastness of faith in the face of true evil inspires me--as well as her willingness to forgive when she senses the repentant heart behind the apology.

And thus started my love of Shakespeare and his works. I took Shakespeare classes at Point Loma Nazarene University from Dr. DeSaegher and Dr. Bennett, and then I retook the latter professor's Histories and Comedies class when Dr. Maxine Walker (then Crain) joined the department. My two partners-in-crime, Johanna and Vera, and I would huddle in the office of our department chair, Dr. Seamans, while he was on sabbatical, reading the plays aloud in parts as we prepared for class together. And after I received my Master of Arts in English and was teaching at PLNU, I was asked by Dr. Seamans to cover his Shakespeare class's discussion of Henry V as he had to be at a conference.

At Brave Writer, I somehow slipped into teaching Shakespeare each May--which is officially "Shakespeare Month" at Brave Writer. I now teach The Shakespeare Family Workshop course for families each spring (which is now in its third of five weeks), followed by a Literary Analysis course on one of Shakespeare's plays. This year we'll be taking on Romeo & Juliet which I have rather been avoiding since seeing a 4+ hour production at San Diego State University that was agony to behold. (We should have followed Dr. Seamans' example of escaping at intermission, especially as I heard my brother chanting "Die, Juliet, die" under his breath as the play came to its close--finally!!)

And in the 2014-2015 school year, I plan to teach a class at the ECII Class Day with Heritage Christian School called Discussing Shakespeare. The plan is to mirror Mrs. Jordan's class and over the course of the year, read eight plays: three comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice), two histories (Richard III, Henry V), and three tragedies (Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet). We'll focus on reading certain scenes in class, perhaps doing some scenes for the end-of-the-year opening, watching scenes from YouTube or DVD's, and just discussing the plays as a class--something that is rather lacking in most homeschools.

So, after all that, today is Shakespeare's 450th birthday!! As I posted to my Shakespeare Family Workshop, I have a few ideas for how we can celebrate:

So let’s celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week in our homes. Here are some ideas:

  • Perhaps gather around the table with scones and jam and some Earl Grey tea and read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud (you can find Shakespeare sonnet apps for your smart phone or check out this site: Shakespeare's sonnets),

  • Read some of Shakespeare’s famous monologues aloud dramatically, perhaps even in costume. Check this listing from on Shakespeare Monologues, featuring some of the best single-person speeches, one list for men and one for women: Try performing them for family members and/or friends or at a co-op!

  • Perform a Shakespeare scene as a puppet show or act out a scene in costume; either memorize parts or make copies of the scene for all the actors. Here are some scenes and scripts for kids from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.:

  • Watch your favorite Shakespeare play on film (mine is Kenneth Branagh'sMuch Ado About Nothing).  Check your local library or Netflix for some excellent titles, and the International Movie Database includes some helpful parents guides with advisory content for you along with ratings and information on most film versions.

  • For older kids, check out Michael Woods’ in-depth documentary In Search of Shakespeare which first aired on PBS in 2004. Both the DVD and the companion book should be readily available through most public libraries.

  • Better yet, see a live Shakespeare play as soon as possible. Check out college/university performances near you as they’re usually much less expensive than professional productions. 
So how are you going to celebrate the Bard's Birthday?? It isn't every day that the most famous writer in the English language turns 450, right? 

With warm regards from your friendly Shakespeare Geek,

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Is National Poetry Month!!

Yes, April is National Poetry Month!! 

Did you hear that?

We have an entire month dedicated to reading, writing, and basking in poetry!!

So where do we start?

2014 National Poetry Month Poster

The Academy of American Poets hosts all sorts of poetry fun at their site I worked ahead and ordered one of the free National Poetry Month posters (see image above) for our home school; I hung it up as soon as the clock struck midnight. Here's their page devoted to National Poetry Month. And they even have a National Poetry Month FAQ, so check it out!

It was through that I first started reading the Poem-A-Day e-mails which first started as a National Poetry Month treat (yes, only available in April) but has now been expanded to a year-round event. A free service, recipients receive a contemporary poem (usually published within the current year) on weekdays while weekends are reserved for classic poems, a.k.a. "old friends." You may sign up for this amazing gift of starting your day with poetry here: Poem-A-Day

In addition, started the annual celebration of Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day in which we are encouraged to tuck a favorite poem (written by us or by a favorite poet) into our pocket and share it with at least one other person during the course of our day. Which day? April 24 is the official Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, so prepare!! More information can be obtained on the page Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day

In 2013 as part of National Poetry Month, sponsored a Dear Poet Project in which students and teachers could write letters to some of the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. More about the project and some of the letters may be viewed here: 2013 Dear Poet Project. Although the project is not being extended to this year's celebration of National Poetry Month, a lesson plan has been designed for students in grades 7-10: Letters to Poets Lesson Plan.

Well, Robert Lee Brewer, editor of Poet's Market on the Writer's Digest website, is hosting the annual PAD (Poem A Day) Challenge in which he'll post a different prompt for each day in April, and everyone tosses their efforts into the ring. I took this challenge in 2010 and really enjoyed the process. This year there are a host of professional judges, plus a book of the best poems (as selected by said judges) will be published by Writer's Market, and a little journal-type books is also available with this year's prompts and "room to add your own" (see above image) is available already. It's a pretty cool opportunity, indeed. Here's the link: PAD Challenge Guidelines. And here's where participants will post their poems on the Writer's Digest site: Poetic Asides: PAD Challenge

I'm in an especially poetry-induced euphoria as I've spent the last week teaching poetry through Brave Writer's Playing with Poetry Family Workshop. In this four-week course, I taught the basics of poetry analysis and structure and how to read and truly enjoy poetry. Then we wrote the following types of poems: free verse including autobiographical and "I Am From..." free verse poems; visual poetry including shape poems, concrete poems, and acrostics; cinquains and diamante poems; the Japanese poetry forms of haiku and tanka; conventional poetry, including couplets, tercets (and terza rima), quatrains, and limericks; and finally alternative poetry which encompassed fragmented poems, "After..." poems, kennings, and then various types of "found" poems including black-out poems, highlighted poems, and book spine poems, among others.

While several of my own poems became part of the class, I wrote a new fragmented poem (a poem written entirely in sentence fragments--usually an editor's nightmare!) that I thought I'd share with you in honor of National Poetry Month. This is only a second draft, so I may go back through it later and revise certain lines:

when the world was newly-burnished,
as the sun ducked behind the rounded hills
suffusing the sky with rose and gold,
the hues ever darkening
before the night falls.

because creation is awash in peaceful activity
the lamb curling up beside the lion,
the rabbit teasing the fox,
nudging bushy tail with wiggling nose.
just before the evening coolness in which He strolls daily

admiring the beauty of His creativity,
no longer alone in the gloaming—
but enjoying the heartbeat of companionship at last.
when the pregnant hush comes,
suspending all in that fearful, frozen moment—

as the woman reaches up
into the forbidden, the deadly,
grasping the delectable fruit,
plucking it, admiring its golden rosiness in her palm--
ruining all as her teeth break the bitter skin.

~copyright 2014 by Susanne Barrett
All rights reserved. 

So I wish you all a wonderful celebration of National Poetry Month!! Please feel free to link to any special poems you've been writing or reading, and I'll share some of my favorite poems this month as well.

Poetically yours,


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