Tag Archives: John Berryman

A Journal of the Plague Year: #10

Are we having fun yet? That, in case there was any confusion, is a rhetorical question. We are not having fun on this Friday of Spring Break, 2020, the year of our plague. Are we bored? Some of us are bored. You know what they say, though? Whoever “they” are, I am told that they say that boredom is good for us. Out of boredom, often comes creativity and problem solving. The state of not knowing what to do often results in things being done. The Old Guy in me says, that’s what’s wrong with kids today! They don’t know how to be bored, surrounded, as they are, by a hundred and one distractions, a thousand different ways to be entertained, all immediate, all at their grimy little finger tips! To a certain degree, this is true. Maybe it’s wrong to generalize. Maybe there’s no maybe about it. As an educator, in every year, I find that there are always a decent number of young people who are not addicted to their devices, who are super creative, and who do not have grimy finger tips. When they are bored, they read, they write, they create, or they cozy up to their boredom like a lover. I wonder how they are all doing with all of this unstructured, unvaction-y, shelter-in-place time.

Soon, I will find out. Soon I will be back in touch somewhat with my students. In recent emails from our union president and from our district superintendent, we learn that on March 31st, we are all returning to work. Sort of. Although we are told we might be able to stop in to pick up materials we need from our classrooms, we won’t be returning officially to our buildings. We will work remotely. We will attend google hangouts, we will develop some kind of remote learning opportunities for our students, we will attend IEP meetings, PD meetings, PLC meetings, meetings about other acronyms and abbreviations, and we will log in our hours, a certain number of which will be mandatory. We will roll out some remote learning program for students within three days of our “return” to work. What I find fascinating and weird and oddly intriguing about this preparation for High School Remote, is that, as I understand it, students will be held harmless for all of it, meaning that none of the work they might do as a result of instruction and assignments given will be graded, recorded, or figured into a final mark for the semester. Part of me thinks, a ha! Here’s an opportunity for an experiment in an educational fantasy I have harbored throughout my career: the grade-less classroom! Another part of me is doubtful that students, out of desperation with their boredom, will flock to The Google to continue getting an education, you know, for its own sake. One can hope. One can only hope that they are THAT bored.

The dog is bored. She keeps bringing me her soggy, slobbery tennis ball to throw. And while we’re on the subject, today’s poem, happily, is about boredom. One of my favorite poems of all time, so much so, that I don’t need my reading glasses for it–because I have it committed to memory! John Berryman, #14 from the Dreamsongs.


Filed under Education, Poetry, Reportage, Teaching, The Plague Year

#281: Gin


This might be me in 9 days. 

Today, from napowrimo, the suggested prompt is to take a favorite poem and find a very specific, concrete noun in it. After choosing the word, put the original poem away and spend five minutes free-writing associations – other nouns, adjectives, etc. Then use the original word and the results of the free-writing as the building blocks for a new poem.

Perhaps my favorite poem of all time might be John Berryman’s “Dreamsong 14.” Here’s the line from which I will pull my concrete noun:

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a drag

And from this lovely line I will choose the word “gin.” I couldn’t begin to tell you why this particular word strikes my fancy at this time. #whole30.

Here’s a brainstorm on “gin.”

Gin rummy
Gin and tonic
Gin martini, dry, with an olive
Cotton gin
gin with a hard g, slang for going
or “one more ‘gin,” as in once more again
Sloe gin, Cold gin, the rock band Kiss
no drinking for 30 days
my first drink after 30 days
It’s day 21
Gin sounds like Jen or Jenny
Rhymes with din, fin, sin, begin
slight rhymes: men, been, ben, again,
john Berryman
the farmer’s market

Okay, enough of that. Let’s write a poem. Here’s an attempt at a formal structure that totally breaks down at the end. Sorry.


In 9 days I will be able to drink gin
according to some dietary regimen
that prescribes 30 days without sin,
at least of the alcoholic variety.

Who’s to say my first drink will be gin?
–as there are other choices, bourbon,
to be precise, a fave, gin coming in
a close second, a balance of dark and light.

It’s not like I’m counting down to gin.
I think I might live beyond 30 and again
another 30 without a drop of gin.
But this is not what I want.

I am looking forward, that’s all.
I don’t think that juniper brew,
that olive on a stick, that action
with the shaker and the dash

of vermouth could ever seem
to me a drag. Gin, like the tranquil
hills: Let there always be
comradeship between us.

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Filed under Poetry

#105: Life, Friends, Is A Golden Shovel and So Much Depends Upon (A Corruption and a Correction)

OMG.  The assignment today from NaPoWriMo was to do a clever little thing called a “golden shovel,” wherein you write a poem for which ALL of the ending words for each line of your poem are taken in total from some other famous poem–so that, a person reading your poem could read the original famous poem by reading only the last words in each line of yours!  Crazy.  Cool.  Thank you Terrence Hayes. But I spent a couple of hours on this baby and realized I had made a grave error!  But my grave error ended up being something kind of lovely.  I took my favorite poem of all time, John Berryman’s “14” from the book 77 Dream Songs, and instead of ending each line of my poem with all the words in Berryman’s poem (which would have taken forever), I used only the last word in each line of Berryman’s poem, and wrote my poem around those words.  But I also discovered I was copping the same form of the original Dream Song–a structure of three sestets, consistent in most all of the two hundred-plus Dream Songs by Berryman, and I was also copping the rhythmic aspects of the poem.  Additionally, there were a few other phrases or words stolen from the original. So I ended up with less of a golden shovel and more of a corruption–which is also a cool idea.  Take any famous poem or favorite poem and cross out about fifty percent or more of the words.  Fill in the blanks with your own words.  You end up learning about the various choices poets make–but also are able to mimic with your own words the structural and rhythmic moves of your favorite poet.  I liked this golden shovel assignment so much, I had to go back to it.  So here is my grand mistake. I recommend reading the original first:  John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”  Following my corruption, keep reading for the correction!

Life, Friends, is a Golden Shovel (A Corruption)

–after John Berryman

Life, friends, is a golden shovel, or at least, they tell me so.
It moves, and grows, reaches and yearns,
digs or scoops for that which we yearn,
and whatever it finds it lifts and carries, oh boy,
(unceasingly) only to reveal we’re bored
and we get no

Satisfaction.  Despite the treasures found, no
satisfaction, because we are too easily bored.
Neighbors watch me,
Students watch me, as I shovel them literature,
Friends watch me, appear to have minor gripes
but nothing like achilles,

with that whole tendon arrangement, watching me.
And sometimes the golden shovel becomes a drag
scooping up after the dog
after several days of neglect and inattention, away
goes all the debris and refuge and blind aspiration, leaving
some trail: tail, wag.


So Much Depends Upon (A Correction) 

–after William Carlos Williams 

I’m not so
blind, not so much
that anything depends
in any significant way upon
good or bad weather, a
catastrophe in tooth and claw, red,
carried away, as they say, in  a wheelbarrow,
for those who prefer their donuts lightly glazed,
or not.  I simply need someone to be with,
someone with whom I can dance in the rain,
holding five gallon buckets out for water
under a gray Oregon spring sky, beside
me through thickness, thinness, the
clouds all the while turning a white
blind eye to the cavorting barnyard chickens.


Filed under Poetry