Saturday, May 19, 2007

IRA Toronto

Once a year reading teachers from all over gather at the International Reading Association meeting -- this year in an attempt to fulfill its name, the conference was moved across the border to Toronto -- a town with great theater, efficient public transportation and terrific restaurants that just happens to be in Canada. I wish more people would have come, the number of attendees was way down. Was it the passport requirement? The fact that it was later in the year? The fear of the unknown?

Who knows. But I do know that those 200 or so who attended the 11th annual, newly revamped, IRA Poetry Olio were treated to a funny and poignant reading by two leading children's poets, Jane Yolen and Lee Bennett Hopkins. Only two people who have known one another for years could have pulled off the perfectly timed but totally unrehearsed, thoroughly delightful show. Surrounding them were other poets, but it was Jane's and Lee's performances that stole the show.

And I don't think that either one of them would classify themselves as performance poets, thereby confirming what we all know -- or should know -- anytime a poet gets in front of an audience with a poem in hand or in heart and recites it aloud, it is indeed a performance. No news to these two pros who have done more to entice kids into reading than anyone can measure with some 500 books between them.

Allan Wolf and I hosted the event while Micheal stage managed and Ginger West lent muscle and a calming influence. Joining us was Jim Blasingame in cowboy persona, always good for a hoot 'n holler. Them cowboy poets always know how to stir-rup the emotions and then rein them in at just the right time.

Lots of free books and door prizes. It was a grand night for all. See y'all next year in Atlanta where the featured poets will be (hopefully and if the creek don't rise) Ashley Bryant and Naomi Shihab Nye.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mother's Day Proclamation

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe, 1870

And sometimes they steal your heart . . .

It's that time of year when every kid, teacher, custodian and fraying folder starts crying RECESS. Summer break is breathing hot and heavy on the other side of June 1st and everyone wants to answer the call. Assemblies are restless, teachers are checking their watches and writing workshops slip (skip?)into silliness without even mentioning underwear.

And then there was James. He looked to be maybe 10, a carrot top neatly trimmed, narrow shoulders and a metronome rock. He sucked his fingers and rocked through the assembly and afterwards slid away from his aid to rush the table and grab my idle microphone. His aid came quickly and kindly, "no, no, James, that's not yours." She held his hand to lead him to the door of the gymnasium, pausing to talk to a teacher. James was straining at her hand, reaching toward the table. Rocking. I took the microphone over and put it in his moist fingers. He felt it all over, not grabbing, but insistent. After a minute, it was time to return to his class. I took the microphone back and he pointed to his heart, two quick taps and then pointed at the microphone, universal sign language for "give to me." The aid said, "you already held the microphone, James." He tapped his heart again and pointed. I held it out for him to stroke again.

His aid finally encouraged him out of the gym as others were coming in for the next show. James followed, lurching and rocking as she held his hand, one more longing look over his shoulder.

Totally non-verbal. Reaching for the magic of that voice maker microphone and taking my heart away in his pocket.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

and again . . .

Yesterday at an elementary school came this question from a fifth grader, "have you ever written a poem about the idiot president?"

Excuse me?

He smiled impishly. A few around him proclaimed the Bush to be the greatest president of all time (all time to a nine-year-old is a somewhat limited perspective.) Others laughed madly.

The fact that these elementary school kids even make a connection between poetry and politics is AMAZING given the degree to which all the poetry offered to them is homogenized almost past the point where one can recognize the writing genre. In elementary schools the poetry books are shelved with the joke books.

Today at another elementary when I was grilling the kids to name poets they know, one boy offered up the name Phyllis Wheatley. Accustomed to a constant stream of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky responses, that one stopped me dead.

Who did you say?

"Phyllis Wheatley. She was a slave . . ."

Sweetheart, I know who she is -- I just can't believe YOU do. Kudos to your teacher!

There are some significant poetry connections being made in Birmingham, MI. Very cool.