Tag Archives: A poem a day for a month

Congratulations: You’ve Written Another 30 Poems. Now What?

May 1st and May 2nd I spent all day both days not writing a poem. I continued not writing poetry on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. It turns out, no poetry was written into the days and the week ahead, so that today, on the 10th of May, I have written not a single poem. Don’t get me wrong. After writing a poem every day for 30 days, it’s not like I’m tired of writing poetry (does anyone ever tire of doing the thing they want more than any other thing to do?). It’s just that I needed a break, a break, maybe, to write a paragraph, or a letter, or to dabble in fiction again, or to return to a project in progress, and to relieve the pressure (not that anyone’s holding their breath for it) of posting something to the blog every day for 30 days.

But wouldn’t you know it, I found another daily thing to do with words and pictures. If you’re a Facebook user, you may have noticed a recent spate of record album challenges. Musician and music fan that I am, I couldn’t let that one go. The rules are, typically, to post an album cover of a record that had a significant impact on your life–just the album cover, no comments, no explanation. Nominate a friend to play.

I bent the rules quite a bit. While I was nominated by a friend and was super willing to participate, I find somewhat distasteful the practice of nominating friends for things. They don’t need my nomination. If they’d been paying attention, surely this social media game would have been on their radar, and nobody really needs to be “chosen” to participate in a thing like this. Just do it, if you like, right? So I didn’t nominate anybody. And I didn’t post 10 records over ten days. I posted closer to 30 over 15 days. And I didn’t post just the album cover; I posted a selfie of me holding the album cover. And I didn’t forgo the commentary. I felt it might be interesting to see, for those who cared, some little explanation of how these particular records intersected with my life, why I loved them, how they influenced me, and why they matter. So I did that, too. It turned out to be kind of a cool little series, so don’t be surprised if a version of that Facebook activity makes its way on to the blog. Kind of a “light” version of an album listening project I started years ago and never finished because it was insanely hard. This may be the happy medium, the middle way, a sound compromise, to that crazy project.

Now what? Onward and upward. Here’s to music. It has saved my life.

I found these cool record boxes at Simple Wood Goods.

 

 

 

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#374: Ode for a Colleague Leaving

You are a force of nature,
a force to be reckoned with
in the best possible way;
students say they are afraid of you
and yet they love you, clearly.
What they fear, actually, is your
disappointment, not your
wrath; although, to be fair,
you can be wrathful–
I’ve seen it with my own eyes;
wrath, though, dealt fairly, evenly,
and always deserved.
You’ve made
miracles happen in that
theater, in that black box,
got young people to do miraculous,
funny, profound, silly,
scandalous, and controversial
things, and this grew them
beyond their own meager
capacities to comprehend,
but they will never forget
and will always be shaped by
the opportunities you gave them,
the coaching, the care,
the professionalism; you were
always raising the bar and
they always rose to the occasion.
And you have given our little
town its own theater company,
an embarrassment of riches.
You have been a friend to teachers,
a support, a confidant,
an ally, and you have thrown
glorious martini parties.
You and I have a history
unlike any I have shared
with another colleague: we were
classmates some 40 years ago
in the same building where we
have taught together now for
more than a decade.
And over these many years
I was George to your Rebecca,
Mercutio to your Juliet,
Bottom to your Titania,
and Capulet to your Nurse,
and every one of those moments
was a kind of watershed,
a peak experience, a time when
I felt in some real tangible way
how lucky I was to know you,
how lucky your students have been,
how lucky this community.
This is the second time I have
written you an ode. Please don’t
let it go to your head. But know this:
I don’t want you to leave. And somewhere
in my darkest thoughts I think that I
might not ever see you again.
You’re the psychologist, so tell
me what this means:
I had a dream that The Democratic
Republic of Congo deported
you back to the United States,
specifically back to Milwaukie.
I must confess I was not disappointed.
I don’t wish that for you, really.
What I wish is that, wherever you go,
you are valued, you are empowered,
you are an agent of change, you are at peace,
you are happy, and you are,
as you have always
been here in your hometown,
loved.   

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#372: Day 28 Hummingbird Haiku

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My sophomores, under the gentle tutelage of a wonderfully gifted student teacher, are distance learning about imagery, beyond the sort of rudimentary understanding that imagery is language that appeals to the senses, into a deeper knowledge that imagery plays on both the intellect and the emotions, that it is associative, that it often works best in juxtaposition to other images. So she’s having them write haiku. In my earlier experiences as a poet, a had a tendency to poo-poo the haiku, but in recent years I’ve come to a new appreciation, in part, because of a late, very late understanding of what we’re introducing to these 15 and 16 years olds now.  So, ignoring the Napowrimo prompt for today, and ignoring, as Robert Hass gives us permission to do, the traditional 5-7-5 syllable count, I give you: haiku.

I

Hummingbird makes a nest
in the tree above my hammock.
Ignores the feeder.

II

Hummingbird makes a
loud clicking sound;
wakes me from napping.

III

Birds chirp, warble, coo
in the back yard.
The Hummer has no song
but buzz and click.

IV

At my brother’s house,
a red-headed hummingbird
accompanies our reunion.

V

Hummingbird knows
nothing nor cares about
our troubles with Covid-19.

VI

I saw this mother bird
fight off a finch;
the nest, safekeeping.

 

 

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#371: Monday Review

 

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I’d give it two stars.
I’d say that so far, its performance
has been uneven, like it can’t decide
really what it wants to be.
Heavy rain early, then cloudy,
then a clearing, dry enough
for a dog walk, but too damn warm.
Muggy, almost. Monday has forgotten
that we live in the Pacific Northwest
where muggy, most often, is not a thing.
Monday has had most of April to blame
for its indecisiveness, its recalcitrance.
Additionally, Monday has been stingy,
has given me insufficient work to do.
It asks me to watch remotely my colleagues
remotely teaching here at the beginning
of this third week of remote learning.
Remote is a word I would use for Monday,
distant, aloof even, and kind of naughty.
Like a mistress, she’s asking me to do
things I probably shouldn’t be doing.
They don’t pay me to write poetry
or make music or watch funny animal
videos, but I may, by the time Monday
has ended, by the time Monday has
had her way, have done all of these things.
Even the haiku, the form my intern
is teaching right now to my distant
tenth graders, a few of which I should
be writing, is elusive on this Monday.
It’s early in the afternoon, so there’s
still time for this day to redeem itself,
but it will be a difficult feat to pull off,
having lost me pretty much already
in its meandering, its stupid weather,
and its temptations to put off until
tomorrow what might be done today.

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#370: Almanac Questionnaire

Almanac Questionnaire

Weather: It’s sunny and warm again, yes, again, yes, finally after three gray days. We’ve been spoiled a little by weather. Nature trying to soften us up.
Flora: The oak trees are leafing–I almost saw it happen. You have to be quick. There must be a moment, three o’clock in the morning, likely, when these giants burst open.
Architecture: 1931, an English Tudor; we are closing in on a decade.
Customs: This could very well be my 10th year of writing a poem every day in April.
Mammals/reptiles/fish: My next door neighbor has a Koi pond.
Childhood dream: A swing set. She made me take off her shoes.
Found on the Street: There are two flattened squirrel corpses in front of the house.
Export: I moved my entire music library to an external hard drive.
Graffiti: “Sorry about your wall!”
Lover: Mostly imaginary.
Conspiracy: Aliens have landed on this planet at some point in the earth’s 4.5 billion year time line, and there are living human beings who know about them.
Dress: Every day from here on out, it’s shorts and a t-shirt.
Hometown memory: My favorite record store has turned into a porno shop.
Notable person: Who is not notable? What is that Stafford line: some people are so dull you can never forget their names?
Outside my window, I find: the flower pots she’s planted, the back yard dog corral, truck in the driveway next to the garage, the mossy roof of the woodshed.
Today’s news headline: America Is Not Set Up For This.
Scrap from a letter: “Greetings friend! I’m writing this at 9 pm on a Saturday. I just finished a steak dinner and am curled up, a snifter of Dry Fly whiskey to one side and my cat Winston to the other.”
Animal from a myth: Today I learned that a Pooka is a shapeshifter and can take any form it chooses. Usually, it is seen in the form of a dog, rabbit, goat, goblin or even an old man. I prefer the image of a rabbit with ears like a German Shepherd. I might be Irish.
Story read to children at night: I read to my son from The Hobbit when he was a wee lad.
I walk three minutes down an alley and I find: finally, the dogs, having escaped from the yard and rampaged their way through the trailer park for seniors up the road. Some little old lady on one side of the alley, my son on the other. He scooped her up, the dog, that is.
I walk to the border and hear: that someone has drawn an imaginary line that goes for thousands of miles.
What I fear: I read yesterday that young people who showed no other symptoms were dying of strokes caused by COVID-19.
Picture on my city’s postcard: Red, red, red roses. A rose is a rose is a rose, Gertrude.

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The Pooka

 

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#367: For Its Own Sake

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Here’s a question.
What motivates a person to do a thing,
especially a thing that is purported to be
good for a person–let’s say, eat right,
exercise, learn an instrument, learn
an instrument well, dance, sing, paint,
or act well, and while we’re at it, add into the mix
all the academic endeavors:
write well, read well, understand
history, compute effectively, think
scientifically, abstractly, metaphorically,
not to mention the soft skills (a phrase
I hate), of building and fostering
strong and healthy relationships
to self and others?
Why would anyone do these,
all, admittedly, difficult things?
Our system of education is
designed to reward individuals for
doing these things with gold stars,
praise, and grades. We have conditioned
generations of students to do
purportedly good things for themselves
so that they can achieve a carrot
or avoid a stick. But we all know,
there are healthy people, musicians,
dancers, singers, painters, actors,
writers, historians, mathematicians,
scientists and philosophers who did
not get where they are because
they were afraid of the dunce cap
or the chair in the corner or the
C minus. They got good at their craft,
whatever that craft may have been,
because they wanted to, for its own
sake, because they knew it to be good
without anyone ever telling them
it was good. And here we are,
in Oregon, about to embark on
the grand experiment: learning
for the sake of learning. And we’re
doing it now, not because we have
had some grand epiphany about
the supremacy of intrinsic motivation,
but because we have no other
choice if we are to make the end
of the pandemic school year as
equitable and as fair as we can make it,
so as not to make a terrible situation
more heinous than it already is.
Some people will be helped
more than others or will grow
more than others, but no one will be
punished or hurt by frowny faces
and failures, and maybe, without
the kind of risk or peril they typically
experience in schools, they may plug in,
not because they have to,
but because they choose to,
because they see the value of the thing,
in this case learning, for its own sake.

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#348: On the Last Day of National Poetry Month, the American English Teacher Writes Several Minimalist Poems About Things He Finds in the Staff Lounge

Coffee

Made a single cup;
fuel needed after waking
at 4 in the morning.

Vinegar

There’s a bottle of balsamic
on the table, waiting to be
drizzled over someone’s
leftovers for lunch.

100 Hits

Here’s a copy of
Billboard’s Hottest
Hot 100 Hits, a gift to
the staff lounge
from an intern of mine
from two years ago.
His name was Chuck.

History Adoption

In an era that finds
the textbook mostly
obsolete, several choices
are on display on a table
in the staff lounge.

Vending Machines

Chips, candy, and soda.
Only one sugarless choice:
seltzer. These machines
keep humming.

Crap

There’s some crap in here
no one uses and no one wants:
desk organizers, empty binders,
old VHS tapes that Melanie left,
a 2016 copy of U.S. News &
World Report, the “Find the Best
Colleges for You” edition.

Who? 

Who will throw out the crap?
Who will clean the microwave?
It belongs to nobody.
It’s nobody’s business.

The Lounge

The principal before
the one before the one
we have now, maybe
15 years ago, bought
two burgundy love seats,
a matching chair, and
a coffee table that looks
like a box in order to
beautify the lounge
and make it  more
comfortable.

Dr. Rex Putnam Award

Candidate summaries. Please,
DO NOT REMOVE.

We Love You

in gigantic letters
taped up on the wall
from last year’s teacher
appreciation week,
maybe even from the
year before. It’s so hard
to keep track of the love.
We have to remind ourselves
by looking at this wall
every day.

 

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#347: A Prose Poem Meditation on the Penultimate Day of National Poetry Month by the American English Teacher in His Potentially Penultimate Professional Year, Ending in a Rhyming Couplet

Andrea Ngyuen

The natives are restless, the 9th graders are rowdy, won’t stop talking, interrupt almost every teacher phrase with chatter, and because my intern has the class, I am completely unruffled. It’s the penultimate day of National Poetry Month and this is my penultimate poem in prose in the April of my potentially penultimate school year as a classroom English teacher.

Over the last three days, I wrote three poems, each about travel, each ending with the same sentence. You are here. I’m reminded of that saying, wherever you go, there you are. Or the Player’s line in the Stoppard play, something like, every exit is an entrance somewhere else. Coming and going, with perfect equanimity, you are always, and I am always, right here.

After next school year, in this moment, I am almost certain that I will not be here. But uncertainty is a constant companion. I said, it feels like jumping off a cliff. Or standing on a cliff, and maybe I’m looking down at a precipitous drop or looking out on some astounding vista. It really depends on the moment. I prefer vistas to drop-offs. In this moment, I choose vistas.

I notice what this poem is doing. Without my being conscious of it, paragraphs are landing in this draft in nearly identical chunks of five lines, four that move all the way to the end of the margin, and one, the last line–two, three, and then four words long. Now, I am conscious of a pattern, and I am planning to end this stanza in prose with a short line of five carefully chosen words.

It all depends on the margins. Type this poem up in a Word document, or publish it on your blog, and things will shift. Our margins shift like this. The only margin that doesn’t shift is the first one–our births are non-negotiable; on this day, December 4, 1964, you were born. Our careers begin somewhere in the squishy regions of early adulthood, and, if we are lucky, very lucky, they end 30-some years later.

My brother worked over 40 years at a job he didn’t really like. His retirement at 62 or thereabouts was an escape. He said good riddance and walked away. And he walked away so late because there were no other options. Again, I have been stupidly lucky. Luckier, and not so lucky, as my father, who retired, like I hope to, at 55. He had full health care from the moment he left work.

But I have loved my job, and I don’t know that my father loved his. He never spoke about it. I could hardly even tell you now what it was that he did for a living. It was a government job and he worked downtown and once he took a computer class and brought home a bunch of punch cards. My son knows what I do simply by virtue of his being a student in a public school classroom. What your teacher does–that’s your Dad.

God, look at all of these books, file cabinets full of 30-years worth of handouts, lesson plans, readings, exams; check out all of this student generated art that I’ve never tossed, that quilt for The Color Purple, the portraits of the family from Geek Love, portraits of Virginia Woolf, the beautiful and huge broadside of William Stafford’s “Your Life”-the treasured haul of an English teacher’s career.

If I take all of this home my wife will murder me.
Health care will no longer be an issue, ironically.  

Abbey Nims

I don’t know who made this. A team of students. Circa 1995ish? 

 

Abbey Hayes

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#346: I Drove Through the Desert and Back Over a Mountain to Get Home

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I drove for three hours, through the desert and back over a mountain, to get home. Listening to XTC the whole way, I felt every twenty minutes or so tears of gratitude welling up, which I staved off, because I was driving at sixty-five miles per hour and singing along to every single song, neither activity conducive to weeping, even though I felt like weeping, even though I kind of wanted it.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home. Sometimes, you feel luckier than you deserve, you feel somehow unworthy of this kind of life, even with its bullshit struggles, even with its blights; these are your bullshit struggles and your blights, your insecurities and idiosyncratic hang-ups and disappointments, but you still feel lucky. You think about the people you love in your life and you want to cry for that richness. And you think about these strangers you just spent a weekend with, and you feel love for them too, and privileged and honored to know and serve them, and that makes you want to cry.

I drove through the desert and back over the mountain to get home, and I felt that way, stupid and lucky, flawed and happy, unworthy and honored, in awe and full of wonder for this life, on the verge of tears, while Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding sang to and with me, and every sign I saw along the drive said the same thing: You are here.

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#345: According to This Map

from The Atlas of Experience by Jean Klare

I have lived for a long time now in the country of Autumn, ruminating in the mountains near the capital city of Change, trying to see my way back into Summer. I know I’m going to hike my way through Somewhere on my way over the Plains of Solitude, and I may have to take a detour where Surrender falls between Ardour and Vulnerable, all three sleepy towns where no one knows my name. I understand the wind can be rough on the way to Enthusiasm, but I’m gonna make the trek down to the capital city of Growth. I hope to live there the rest of my life, but I think I would like to vacation on the Peninsula of Pleasure, see the sights at Happy, Rambling, Long Evenings, not to mention Monty Python. Someday if I have a really nice big boat, I could sail all the way around the continent from the Ocean of Peace into the Sea of Plenty, around Spring and in through the Sea of Possibilities, and I would try not to get stuck in Frozen Wastes, where the towns of Mockery, Indifference and Biting Sarcasm set their traps.

According to this map, I’m not lost, I’m just on the way. Wherever I am, I look up, and the signs say, You Are Here.

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