Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More from Fremd

Writing is a team sport. I know we don't mostly think of it that way, but what is a piece of writing without an audience? This realization came back to me as I read at Fremd this week. Tony Romano, one of the English teachers at the school and a very soon (April) to be published novelist told me how he had just about given up on getting published had it not been for the caring support of his writer's group and friends, especially Henry Sampson and Maria Mungai. It reminded me how important those first readers are for any work that I create, how friends and family all have a role in every one of my published (or still in the drawer) pieces.

And then there is the first airing for poetry before a live audience. I took the opportunity at Fremd to read from two unpublished manuscripts I am very excited about. First the book of love poems written with Allan Wolf, working title Informally Yours. Those poems are mostly written in form (sonnets, villanelles, tankas). Then I switched to poems from another manuscript, Could It Happen Here?, poems for teens on serious world topics, rumors spawned by a school shooting, 911, the war in Iraq, genocide, pollution, suicide.

Would the HS kids go for modern sonnets? Would the ironic parts make them smile? Would the tragic poems bring an emotional response? It all seemed to work as I rehearsed the night before, but I did feel a flutter of panic right before I was introduced and was tempted to switch back to the tried and true. But I stuck with the program.

The audience was more than receptive, laughing and silently absorbing. It was an educational, rewarding, affirming experience for me. I came home with marks on the papers -- rhythmic edits I will make based on how the piece flowed off the page and through a microphone. But mostly I came home filled with the patience needed to continue through the submission and waiting part of the publishing equation.

Thanks to all my friends at Fremd. I know the teachers and booster club work hard on this event to bolster the student's writing skills. I hope they know how these events also benefit the writers.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ted Kooser at Fremd High

He says he was a geek in school -- not athletic or a band member. He thought he would become a poet to make himself stand out, carrying heavy books under his arm to enhance his biceps. He wore costumes. Finally after posing as a poet for some time, he decided he would actually try writing some poems. Now the immediate past U.S.Poet Laureate, we can all be glad that this was one kid who pursued his dream.

At 67 he grew up before television was served with dinner every night as a side dish. He was not distracted by gameboys and American Idol. He worked for over thirty years in the insurance industry, indulging and nurturing his writing habit every morning at 4:30 AM, before work. He is old enough to have over heard stories of the blizzard of 1888 and now to have written about them in short, first person narrative poems. He reads to us his valentines to the world, his snapshots of real life, a sensual poem about an ironing board, a poem with an empty purse. He likes poetry because he is a precise person and a poem is something that he can work to perfection, a piece of writing so tight that not a comma or word can be changed without diminishing the poem's impact.

So many who have achieved so much less have such a greater opinion of themselves. He is a compact man in khakis and a tweed jacket. His eyes are kind and searching, honestly looking for answers to questions. I told him that I love quoting from his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual in teacher workshops and he smiles and says he's glad. As a human being he is well crafted, like a fine poem. His perspective is deep and rich.

I felt honored to shake the square hand that has produced such fine poetry read today without an extra layer of dramatic interpretation. Pure words recited in a common conversational font.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Okay. I'm still obsessing. (see previous post) It's 4AM. My brain is balled up in a fist and I can't get it to relax.

This weekend Michael and I drove to Indiana University which is not in Indiana, it's in PA. We went to Dr. Lynn Alvine's birthday party -- which was lovely. Had a great dinner then breakfast and drove home. We traveled mostly state routes rather than the interstate, taking us through Youngstown. At one point we drove through just the kind of neighborhood that freeways were designed to help us fly over. Boarded up businesses, vacant homes drooling gutters with windows broken out and curtains flapping in the icy winds. Peeling paint and broken steps, trash for lawns and doors hanging loose -- each a metaphor for what once was secure and now has become unhinged.

This neighborhood is not unique to Youngstown, you can find one painfully like it in any major city, although the departure of jobs has hit NE Ohio hard in the bread basket.

How easily we overlook this evidence of our society's despair and accept it as part of the urban landscape. Abandoned buildings unclaimed by anything natural -- even the ground doesn't want them back. We drive by them on our way to the theater, passing by on our way to share dinners with friends. We look at their gape-toothed facades and hope the buildings are uninhabited, when we think about them at all. Mostly, we just slide past or more frequently fly over.

I am left tonight with the vision of those curtains flapping in surrender and wondering how we can possibly accept the presence of these places as part of us. And hoping (hoping) on this single digit night that all those structures are indeed uninhabited as I unclench and crawl into my warm bed.

Misguided, Misspent

Thirty misspent minutes. Running out the clock until 11PM, Michael and I watched a fraction of a blood dripping, roller coaster crashing, skin burning teen horror movie. Finishing up a couple last rows of knitting, putting the dogs out -- I wasn't really watching, it was just ON. But I couldn't get to sleep with those horrible images in my head. I was obsessing. All the literature says to move if you are sleepless in bed and obsessing. So, I moved to the computer in my office to read the news to clear my brain.

Bombings. 50% chance we cannot save the polar ice caps. Senate fights. Worst mistake in U.S. history. Troops lost to their families. Returning wounded are being neglected at Walter Reed. Even Brittany looked frightening. There was no humorous relief, only one horrifying image compounding the next. And then a story about some misguided IBM employee caught cruising an appropriate web site (he claims) to get images of Vietnam out of his head who is suing his former employer for firing him because he is addicted to the computer. He wants to be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act for his obsessive compulsive disorder. Eh?

And while I shook my head at the silliness of his lawsuit, I plunged into successive games of computer solitaire. One might say -- obsessively -- still trying to clear my head of horrifying images so I could get some sleep.

There is some kind of parallel to be drawn there, but I am too tired to figure it out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Too cold for gloves?

In Oxford, MI. In the middle of a major blizzard. Cold hands. I stop by the local K Mart to buy gloves. I am more than familiar with K Mart's stock of gloves stock. More than I should be. I bought my first pair of the season (black with fake fur and thinsulate lining) in early December. Lost those right away. Very quick. Even for me. Bought the second pair in late December. (blue with fake fur and thinsulate lining). So I went into K Mart to buy my third pair for the season and there were none. Not only were there no black or blue gloves (with or without fake fur lining) there were no warm gloves, only the little thin things with matching scarves made somewhere in China that doesn't know what mid-western cold is all about. So I crossed over to the men's department. No gloves AT ALL. Finally I found an employee -- usually more rare in large box stores than gloves in July. Or, make that gloves in February.

Where are the gloves?
There are these. (she points to the tissue paper gloves)
No, the gloves you had earlier in the season.
Like, ski gloves?
Yes. Ski gloves.
I just put them away. They are all in the back room in a shopping cart.
And the men's gloves?
All put away.
I know that you have to do what they tell you to do at the main headquarters, but has anyone looked outside? There's a blizzard.
She shrugged, sighed and said she had to make ready for spring goods. She also stepped out of her corporate ordered role and took mercy on my cold hands, leading me to the back room where I found yet another pair of blue gloves lined with fake fur and thinsulate. This time half price.

I felt as if I had rescued them from death row. Where do gloves go when bouquets of sleeveless tops arrive in all their pastel splendor? Well, one pair came back to the hotel with me. Saved, not by a blizzard but by a non-characteristic bout of assertiveness on my part and a little kindness on the part of the woman in the blue smock.

Doesn't it feel good to know we are revamping our schools to adhere to a business model? Like business knows what it is doing. Right. Sometimes it seems I am always working with (mostly) women who are working around some arbitrary, misinformed, ill thought out direction from some administration totally out of touch with the blizzards blowing and drifting about in the real world.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Williamsport, PA

Williamsport, PA is the birthplace of the Little League. Proudly smiling from the trophy case at Jackson Elementary was this snowman made of baseballs, the perfect metaphor for a baseball town in chilly February. I spent two days at Jackson -- one day with the students and one with the teachers. Warm and receptive, it was a great visit.
The day before I visited the kids at Stevens Elementary, and between the two schools, I feel like I made some real friends in Williamsport. Everyone was so nice there -- even the kids bagging groceries. Seriously. It's a great place.