Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poetry Through the Ages

Big assembly on Friday: Grades 3-8.

When Principal Milissa Dachisen showed me the schedule week before last (had I agreed to that? Had I (gasp) even suggested it? What was I thinking???), I kind of gulped. I admit it. I was afraid. We were going to write on Monday and Friday and have a show the last hour of the day. In between were three other schools. What if the writers forgot their poems on Friday? What if the eighth graders laughed at the little ones. What if the third graders had no patience for 8th grade angst? What if kids were afraid to read with all the other ages watching? And on top of it, my entire digestive system had exploded with a nasty flu bug. What if I wasn't up to the task?

But, if there is one thing I have learned about school visits, it is that the author can show no fear. Fear makes the audience twitch. Fear constricts the throat and the writing instrument. Worst. Fear is contagious.

But as the week progressed, once again I was reminded that poetry isn't just for one age group or another. Look at these lines borrowed from several third grade New Year's Resolution poems posted in the hallway. I see that the teacher had the students write these based on my poem "Angry," which ends with the lines "Can't you see, there's no one else to blame but me." What the writers and teachers probably didn't realize is that these third grade poems read just like the self-talk I gave myself this morning (substitute a workout for the part about basketball and gymnastics).

Do chores.
Play basketball.
Neat handwriting.
Study hard.
Go green.
Try surfing.
Learn gymnastics.
Sleep better.
Paint more.
Make friends.
Get healthy.
More recess.

Okay, the wish to try surfing is simply metaphorical for a poet living in OH in the winter, but the wish to try new things is spot on. On Tuesday of that week (did I mention the part about being sick?) Principal Audrey Wallock invited her mother to share the poetry day at Kennedy School.
Pearl is 87 years young and still writing. She read me a poem about WWI, about her grand children, about being a mother. She cheerfully acted as a visual aid to explain to the kids that poetry is a hobby that doesn't wear out with age. I sincerely hope I did not make her sick.

Here I am with Matthew Stone (picture taken by his mom, Michele, my savior for the week.) Matthew is a third grader at Jefferson School. Hard to explain how helpful Michele and her family were to me that week. Many many thanks. I've heard rumors that I DID make Matthew's brother Kevin sick. Soooooo sorry.

A poetry day at a school is only supposed to make one thing contagious and that is not fear and NOT the flu. It's words. And despite the subzero weather and other unnatural impediments, by Friday afternoon, it was apparent that words had caught fire. The principals even jumped in with their own poems composed just for the occasion. How's that for positive modeling! We barely had time to squeeze in all the poets at the mike, each performing to thunderous applause. The local newspaper even came to report on the event. Many thanks to Kelly, Michele and Milissa for making this such a successful week.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Within the next week you will receive an unexpected gift"

Oh, yeah.  The world is exploding, the stock market is sending out depth charges, and I'm going to be HOW old in 2009?  Right. THIS is the year I am going to start believing in fortune cookies.  I lost my voice on the New Jersey turnpike somewhere between Kean University and Kelly's house, I have about 40 assemblies to perform next week -- why would I think?  Who would believe?
And yet.
And still.
The workshop at Kean went great.  See the teachers above perform a questioning poem about a hurricane.  The vendor sold out of my books and the predicted snow storm did not smother or strand me in Hoboken.  And even if I do have a lot of assemblies next week and my voice is on hot tea life support, at least I have work when too many don't.  Life isn't exactly on cruise control, but it could be worse.  
It has been.
I know how bad it can be.
2008 was it.
And (but?) even if this is a new year.  Even if we are getting a leader in the White House to replace a buffoon.  Even if I haven't lost my color enhanced hair and I still have most of my teeth or at least replacement parts that I don't have to put in a glass beside the bed -- a fortune cookie? 

I have checked my credit card statement 15 times.  Heinens, Sunoco, Borders, Target -- all the usual suspects -- and still no $150 change fee from Continental?

Change fees.  A predatory practice.  Skyway robbery.  Outside, $10 in computer time.  No paperwork required.  Meanspirited mischief created by the airline industry in exchange for the joy of leaving travelers stranded without their toothbrushes.

Airlines, which are allowed to hold passengers hostage on tarmacs and scrambling for seats after flights have been cancelled think it is perfectly fair to charge the very same passengers $150 if they decide to leave on Thursday instead of Wednesday.  Airlines do not play fair and paying change fees makes me want to spit poison darts. 

So, when I came home from the Chinese restaurant last Thursday with the fortune in my pocket and cashew chicken on my breath, sat down to the computer, and changed a ticket from NJ to GA and it went through WITHOUT A CHANGE FEE, I thought there had been some kind of mistake.  
A computer glitch.  
Surely . . .

It has been 3 days.  No fee has posted.

Could it be?  
An unexpected gift foretold by a cookie stuffer?  

Maybe not too late to start believing in magic?

Here's lookin' at you!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." Mark Twain

The publishing world is in scale down mode, near to lockdown. Editors and production people are loosing their jobs and major players are not accepting any manuscripts. I suspect this means manuscripts by lesser known authors than say Stephen King, which leaves 99% of authors in a funk.

It's important to remember that before there were big publishing houses with armies of skinny, young editors (all dressed in black mini skirts, black tights and black eyeliner), writers still got their words into the hands of readers. Mark Twain, among many others, sold his books in advance by subscription, eschewing the elite Eastern literati, who after snubbing him still are amazingly enough in control of the market today, almost two hundred years later. These gatekeepers are instructed with formulas for publishing success -- formulas that grant people like Sarah Palin $7Million advances. Any entity that publishes a book ghost written and published inside of six weeks by a guy called Joe the Plumber who is neither named Joe or a plumber doesn't really care about books or even trees for that matter and as far as I'm concerned, deserves to go out of business.

Hugh McQuire in his recent blog: What if the book business collapses points out that maybe the implosion the pubishing industry is experiencing is not all bad. I tend to agree with him. The whole trend toward mega publishers and mega bookstores that allot precious little space for experimental or quirky is scary. Not only does it make my teeth itch, it is bad business since us word consumers have spent the last decade getting all finicky about our entertainment tastes. It's hard to even remember those pre-remote control days when 90% of TV sets were tuned in on Monday nights to the same I Love Lucy episode -- we've diversified as consumers just as the burdens of big publishing sought to support itself on a narrowing field of blockbusters.

Facebook tells me what my relatives are up to and I care a whole lot more about them than celebrity news. Blogs keep me up-to-date on my friends' opinions, which are more important to me than ANYthing Andy Rooney ever focused a biased eye on. I read the news outlets I want to read blissfully ignoring what's on Fox. I download only the songs I want instead of buying an entire album and Amazon tells me what books I'll like based on what I've ordered in the past -- kind of like those old-fashioned, user friendly bookstore owners who found themselves displaced by Clay Akins and expresso machines in the nineties.

If I really like something -- I subscribe to it online, a system that kind of rhymes with Mark Twain.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New You! 2009

Out of the mouths of babes. Sara Kelly has the typical repertoire of songs for a two year old: Twinkle Twinkle, a dozen Wiggles tunes, the Pick Up song (sort of spooky, sing two notes of it and she starts to pick up toys robotically) and Happy Birthday. Kelly took this video and our best guess is that SK blended the phrase Happy New Year with Happy Birthday to You to come up with Happy New You. The best!

I've been overwhelmed by life and lately the blog has been a casualty -- long blog breaks just mean there is too much to talk about and then I get overwhelmed with trying to prioritize what is the most important to write about, which all goes back to the importance of taking LIFE and journaling one day at a time. For instance, I failed to post how much I loved NCTE because I had failed to post how much I liked the Lesley University Literacy Conference in Providence and because of that I neglected Thanksgiving, the new puppy, and then all the work Allan Wolf and I did staging More than Friends and how much we appreciated Mia's direction and Ginger's hospitality and before I knew it it was Christmas and we were running around delivering presents and then oh yeah, there was the trip to DC and visiting Kelly and Co. and Scott Holbrook's wedding and Aunt Sophie broke her hip but now she is doing great and Debbie gave me a couple of water color classes (see above) and how could I write about one of those things without writing about them all and who had time for that in the month of December?

Luckily, it is finally January. The driveway is frozen, at least for the time being. Frost is languishing in the corners of the windows and with 2009 barely 10 hours old, nothing is overdue. Finally a new year, I mean a New You. My first New You act will be to clean my office. The second will be to not neglect my blog.