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27 April 2015


The Day 27 NaPoWriMo prompt: "And today’s prompt – optional, as always — comes to us from Vince Gotera. It’s the hay(na)ku). Created by the poet Eileen Tabios and named by Vince, the hay(na)ku is a variant on the haiku. A hay(na)ku consists of a three-line stanza, where the first line has one word, the second line has two words, and the third line has three words. You can write just one, or chain several together into a longer poem. For example, you could write a hay(na)ku sonnet, like the one that Vince himself wrote back during NaPoWriMo 2012!"

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight."

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge: "For today’s prompt, write a monster poem. There are the usual suspects: zombies, vampires, werewolves, and mummies. But monsters can take any form and terrorize a variety of victims. So have fun playing around with this one, because we’ve only got a few days of April left."

The hay(na)ku leaves me uninspired this morning (there is so much more to haiku than syllables)? The poem about a person close to me would have to be about Gary? And the monster . . . ? 


The newest member, not yet 
here, coiled up and growing up,
near ready to come down to earth—
a boy, a new child, the next one
preparing to make his space within
the family. We wonder: red hair 
or dark eyes and long fingers,
a furious energy, perfect pitch, 
blinding smile, a way of seeing
past what is said to what is meant?
Will you run fast, dance, create,
sing, count in your head? 
Something else? What new 
energy or pattern will you
weave into this life? Hero
or suspect—small, this new
person will arrive in the next
weeks and declare himself—
and we wait to discover 
who he becomes. 

26 April 2015


Examination of a Witch (1853) by T. H. Matteson, inspired by the Salem trials in the Peabody Essex Museum
The Day 26 NaPoWriMo prompt: "And now, for our prompt (optional, as always). Our last two prompts have been squarely in the silly zone – this one should give some scope to both the serious-minded and the silly among you. Today, I challenge you to write a persona poem – a poem in the voice of someone else. Your persona could be a mythological or fictional character, a historical figure, or even an inanimate object. Need some examples? Check out this persona-poem-themed issue of Poemeleon from a few years back."

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Choose a word or phrase you find yourself saying often (e.g. like, totally, hate, really, kind of) and write a poem using it as much as possible, turning it over and over, repositioning it, extending it, playing with its uses and the parts of speech into which it can be shaped."

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge: "For today’s prompt, write a water poem. Life depends upon water, so there are any number of ways to write this prompt. A few thoughts that jump to mind include pollution, rising water levels, hurricanes, fracking, and more."

All three of these prompts were tempting to me, but my persona was already notes on my desktop about the witch hunts in the seventeenth century. I wanted to write my own version of the accused in Salem, about the women who were not counted. I have resented since I was a teenager the hero-worship of John Proctor by Arthur Miller, who was preparing to break up his own marriage (two children) in order to marry Marilyn Monroe when he wrote The Crucible. Like John Proctor, Miller had his own agenda. In Miller's play, Proctor blames his wife for his affair with the much younger servant. In reality, Proctor was 60, his wife twenty years younger, and his servant was more than forty years his junior, whom he threatened and likely beat. Proctor was not a particularly good man, but wealthy, entitled, violent and unkind. The girls and women in this story are the ones demonized and the ones who mostly died. I might have written from the POV of this third wife, Elizabeth, but chose the younger voice, Mary Warren, who vanished from history after the trials:

After the Salem Trial, 1699
          "Such was the darkness of the day,
          and so great the lamentations of the afflicted,
          that we walked in the clouds
          and could not see our way."
          —Examiner John Hale, 1695

I could say I am sorry for my crimes.
I did so once. I sought peace like Luther
and then recanted. Now there is only my pet
to keep me company. Though my people
never keep dogs as pets, Genever is mine,
the companion who has been true to me
throughout this entire adventure. It was she
who howled that first night when he touched me
and then had me. There is Ruth in the Bible
who lay at the feet of her dead husband’s brother
and thus committed him to her.

When we read that passage I heard the mothers
discuss it. And Mrs Pope even laughed,
which was indecent and she paid, of course,
later on when we named her and she was taken.
But she admitted her flaw, and begged
forgiveness. Tituba delivered us from sin,
and she too was spared.

But Master Proctor would never bind himself
to error. He was a man who believed every
act was his by right. Should he sneeze,
he offered the world an extra breath.
And it’s true his sneezes could be heard
all over the house, after haying or in the first
chill of winter. Pregnant, he called me
whore, though who but he had made me so?
I had no choice, being only a servant of his house.

We move each day and Gen must walk
just as I do, though she has passed me in age.
I am still young and she is old. I am small
and willing. But she is large and hard
of hearing. As a pup she would move
to the edge of the warmth and lick
and lick her white feet, keeping them
snowy as my collar. But now this is more
than she has strength for. She is dying
and I do not know how soon I will be able
to join her. I am not ready to be gone
from life, though I could not tell you why
I wish to stay. The fault is much my own,
my misfortune is proof of decision made
by my birth. My will is free, but determined.
How can it be that I regret my sinful choices
but must suffer in the hereafter?

Abigail and Elizabeth made their
place. I made my choice to leave,
but some choices were made for me
and none of mine. I did not choose
to work in the Proctor house.
I did not put dead babies into Goody
Proctor’s womb and I did not forbid him
the marriage bed. This was his wife’s
doing, but only he was the cause. I
no longer blame another woman,
as some, for failing in her duty. I saw
one babe come into the air and die, and I
would not wait to see four as she did.
How his wife survived those years
is beyond my ken. How she held him off 

is also beyond what I could do, 
beyond Abigail and his other wives. 
I would blame someone else,
but there is only myself at fault
for dissembling. Like a common dog,
in hope he would be kind,

I went begging to my master. 
And he denied.

25 April 2015


The Day 25 NaPoWriMo hopes it: "And now for our prompt (optional, as always)! It’s the weekend, so I’d thought we might go with something short and just a bit (or a lot) silly – the Clerihew. These are rhymed, humorous quatrains involving a specific person’s name. You can write about celebrities, famous people from history, even your mom (hopefully she’s got a good name for rhyming with)." [added as soon as it arrived, close to 7am]

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Write a letter to a scene or a landscape you pass through today."

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge: "For today’s prompt, write a 'last straw' poem. Everyone encounters situations in which they decide they’re not going to take it anymore (whatever 'it' happens to be). It could be a loud noise, an abusive partner, someone taking the Pop Tart but not throwing the box away, or whatever. Write about the moment, the aftermath, or take an unexpected path to your poem."

I waited for well over an hour for NaPoWriMo to post their prompt and gave up. I would probably have chosen to write to the land, but instead:

The Last Straw

Was it the yelling? The boy
who reads my blog and finds 
himself here? Was it the sore 
throat instead of the subject?
Was it wanting time to write
and run on the beach, 
and finding I did not have
it? The last straw, the one
that broke me? I am not

broken, this back is still
strong. Today I go dancing
with the author of that essay
smarter classes emulate
and the less ambitious
fail to read for structure.
Was that it? Failure
of curiosity? It was not
the emails or questions,
not even the ones asked
fourteen times. It was not
those weary expectations,
grading and homework,
or even the test—it has
not happened yet. Most

of what I want has not
happened yet. My coffee
is cold, the bit left 
in my cup. I will heat
it back and drink.

24 April 2015


The first of the ten cards in the Rorschach test . . . The images themselves are only one component of the test, whose focus is the analysis of the perception of the images. [not what you see in the shapes, but how you respond and what part you focus on]—from Wikipedia

“For every complex problem there is an answer 
that is clear, simple, and wrong.”—H. L. Mencken

The Day 24 NaPoWriMo hopes it: "will provide you with a bit of Friday fun. Today, I challenge you to write a parody or satire based on a famous poem. It can be long or short, rhymed or not. But take a favorite (or unfavorite) poem of the past, and see if you can’t re-write it on humorous, mocking, or sharp-witted lines. You can use your poem to make fun of the original (in the vein of a parody), or turn the form and manner of the original into a vehicle for making points about something else (more of a satire—though the dividing lines get rather confused and thin at times)."

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Open a book that you're reading to any page. On this page are the materials you have at your disposal to make a poem. Circle words and phrases that strike you, as well as words with which you're not familiar or are overly familiar. Use the words on this page to make a new literary object. Repeat words as you see fit, but do not add any other material." This is another "found poem" relying on random text to provide the trigger.

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge suggests we "'Tell It to the (blank),' replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write the poem. Possible titles include: 'Tell It to the Hand,' 'Tell It to the Judge,' 'Tell It to the Six-Foot Bunny Rabbit,' and so on."

My target is a poem that used to hang on my grandmother's wall:
        —Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree. 

My version is closer to home (maybe a little hyperbole, but that's what parody is about):


I think that we shall never best
A challenge crueler than this test.

The test with hungry questions fold
Your skills and wisdom out to the cold;

A test that offers questions fair,
But offers no right answer there;

A test that realizes rejection
and school reformers' expectation

That children's failure rate defined,
allows failed schools to thus be fined.

These tests might seem to bring attack,
But only Pearson makes SBAC. 

23 April 2015


From the Day 23 NaPoWriMo: "Today, I challenge you to take a chance, literally. Find a deck of cards (regular playing cards, tarot cards, uno cards, cards from your 'Cards Against Humanity' deck – whatever), shuffle it, and take a card – any card! Now, begin free-writing based on the card you’ve chosen. Keep going without stopping for five minutes. Then take what you’ve written and make a poem from it. (Hat tip to Amy McDaniel for the idea!)"

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Choose a poem that you are in the process of revising. Create a map of that poem, paying attention to the gradation of its landscape, its realities and abstractions, its landmarks, the spacial relationships among its features. Use the map to guide a revision of the initial work." This is a great revision strategy. It works extremely well for memoir, and also for fiction.

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge suggests we "write a location poem. Location could be physical–like the laundromat, a public park, a glacier, flying saucer, etc. Or location could be emotional, psychological, metaphysical, or some other kind of word that ends in -al. Or surprise everyone!"

Packing Up My Classroom

On two walls are the fables my students wrote 

this year. Nearly every one revised to perfection—
a rarity these days when too often they or I give up 
before we're done with fixing point of view slips 
and verb tense. The window blind was always broken, 
but once my class and I figured out how to adjust 
the brightness of the new projector, it doesn't matter 
so much. I have postcards in an eye-level row 
no one has examined closely since September. 
(Maybe it's time to add secret messages about age. 
Perhaps I am in danger of becoming a cute old lady. 
Too often students look at old photos of me, declare 
they do not recognize their teacher at age 22 or 45 
because I "was beautiful!" back then, and for the record, 
I never was, but my husband still believes I am.
Three shelves are empty of books sent home, fourteen
still to go. The malfunctioning heater will remain. 
Four file cabinets are mostly cleared. My successor 
might want what's left—the stacks of magazines,
the literary journals. Rumor is she plans to carry on 
the fall project. She will be sorry and glad—it's more 
work than she knows. The Dell can rot, the printer 
still needs toner, and the chair was third-hand trash 
when I inherited it a decade ago. I won't miss them. 
But last night in the Library—which I skipped
my writing group to attend—students asked me, one 
after another, how to do things clearly explained 
on a handout, in class, and from class experience—
and though I complain, that is what I will miss. 

22 April 2015


Nine days left of the 30-day challenge, counting today. And I am not writing my poem. Yet.

I found a lot of posts this morning on FB about education and testing. When I was a child, I was a good test-taker, but as an adult, I am one of those who has mixed feelings about the reliability of tests. I have known smarter people than myself who did badly on the sort of test big business is offering our students. I have taken classes with people who knew the material better than I did who did not do as well I I did on such tests. I have no experience the other way around—someone less smart or knowledgable doing better than I do.

If the test says you are doing well, you probably are.

The tests provide data—as I am being continuously reminded. That's a good thing, I suppose. But there is overwhelming evidence that test data is less reliable than what we already have—classroom grades.

It might identify a brilliant mind that fails to do well in school. Yes, that happens. Three of my students who were poor-to-barely-adequate students were awarded entry to college and scholarships to pay for their education purely on the basis of high test scores. All three were expelled for poor grades within a year. Two went to community college, figured out how to study and pass classes, and returned to the university that had expelled them.

A test might identify a student with severe handicaps and even what those handicaps are. Sometimes pressure from parents or teachers for a student to do well are so enormous that grades reflect that desire instead of actual student success. Sometimes people in charge are unwilling to admit that a student is incapable despite that overwhelming evidence, especially when parents themselves are not willing to hear this news—what should not be news but perfectly evident to anyone willing to see. Maybe the test results, if we were allowed to share them, would provide that reality?

But there are problems with the tests. 

Some tests contain built in bias, usually in favor of white, upper class students. Most test designers recognize the danger and work hard to eliminate bias. Many tests show far less bias than they did thirty years ago—that is, these objective tests are more objective than they used to be. 

Tests cause stress, and often test results cause even more, especially when students find their test results give them bad news. They react as if their test score equals who they are as people—which for young students is often how they feel. 

Tests are expensive. Companies such as Pearson expect to gain billions from testing in the next decade. That company alone completed the research that said what should be learned, wrote the textbooks to teach that curriculum (I have a sample set in my room. We use the back covers as cutting boards in my Design class first period.), created the tests to judge whether the students learned the curriculum, and if they failed, own the GED which offers an alternative route to high school graduation—another test. The tests and scoring the test costs money that might otherwise be spent on, say, a field trip to OMSI or to see Macbeth. Is the test of more benefit to the student than the field trip? I'd say no. 

Tests require defined facilities. During testing, schools are supposed to sit students far apart or in carrels, but very few schools have these facilities so we make do; students must have a computer, and this is something most schools can provide for some fraction of their students at a time; and headphones, which my school had to purchase; and proctors. With 102 students and three computer labs and a set of compatible tablets, it might sound straight forward. But we do not have 102 computers that work and the ones we have are spread out in several rooms. We have only 30 pairs of expensive headphones. We have met several times trying to figure out how to complete testing legally, practically, efficiently, and with minimal disruption to education. This is more money, too, of course. 

Tests do not measure everything. They often fail to measure qualities, skills, and knowledge that society values. As one example, there's been a good deal in the news lately that creativity may trump mechanics even in engineering. Increasingly, the need is not for mechanical skill but for innovation. (I cannot explain why this seems to be "new" to some people.) Creativity used to be one of the most notable features of students coming out of American schools. Call it something trendy: thinking out of the box? While some school systems focused on the "best and brightest" and emphasized testing, the United States in the middle of the last century looked for creative answers to problems. And we found them. 

These days this has changed. While tests ensure that all children are measured in the same way, they also ensure that all students succeed and fail the tests in the same way. Surely, we can see why that might be a problem. 

The assumption that one person or organization has the right to establish what matters for an entire culture is not new. There have been philosopher-kings and elected governments that assumed they knew best. Most of us think we know better, and it's probably fortunate that most of us have only a limited sphere of influence. E.D. Hirsch Jr. wrote Cultural Literacy to define what every American should know about our culture. Where was Sojourner Truth on his list of essentials? Her absence assured me that I didn't need to pay much attention to his claim to knowing what matters. Would you want me in charge, deciding for everyone what matters most and what does not? I wouldn't. 

I have for most of my life done my best for my students. I have become good at my job. I try to prepare them for life as compassionate and reasoning people. The other day I made students cry—they were overburdened and miraculously forgave me—and then just two days ago I created a new assignment and failed to read it over—such a foolish mistake—and yesterday I drove myself to school and realized why Gary drives me to and from school so often these days—I find it hard to leave the building on my own. 

Teaching to the test. There are things I could do, more ways to teach to the test. But I do not value what the test measures, not enough, not the manner of testing, its validity, or its usefulness. Someone else will have to come along behind and do that work. It will not be me. 

. . . and now for my self-assigned chore:

From the Day 22 NaPoWriMo: "Today is Earth Day, so I would like to challenge you to write a 'pastoral' poem. Traditionally, pastoral poems involved various shepherdesses and shepherds talking about love and fields, but yours can really just be a poem that engages with nature. One great way of going about this is simply to take a look outside your window, or take a walk around a local park. What’s happening in the yard and the trees? What’s blooming and what’s taking flight?"

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Make a list of the names of your family members and friends. Use all of them to create a poem. Try writing a tiny letter to each name, using free association to link each name with another word, or describing each briefly as if it were a character or object."

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge suggests we "Two for Tuesday Prompts! Write one, write the other, and/or write both! Write an optimistic poem. The glass is half full. Write a pessimistic poem. The glass is half empty."

The Test of Our Passing

I awake early, the sweat pouring, 
wetting skin and the roots of my hair 
prickling. I could list their names, explain
why each one wakens me too early.
I will not. If I could rise from bed
and shower—if I could sit for hours
with no place to go but only watch 
the ocean in its endless voyage 
onshore and back, on and back, perhaps
all this worry would evaporate, 
like the sweat that dampens my nightgown. 
It was my mother's gown. I wonder 
now if she lay awake in the night
worrying about all our futures.
She claimed we never misbehaved 
or needed punishment as children. 
Was she being ironic? Was she
remembering only how much love
she felt for my brother and myself? 
Perhaps when we were small her worries 
ventured only to cavities, cuts, 
and splinters, the ordinary risks 
of childhood when her life was simpler: 
serving dinner, laundry and bath time? 
When did she begin to fret about 
our income, marriages, the purpose
of our existence? She had regrets.
I wonder if she found those other 
concerns only later, troubling ones 
I turn over in my sweaty hands. 
The future and our past. The manner 
of our passing. Dark outside my window.

21 April 2015


When you sit down to write, tell 
the truth from one moment to the next 
and see where it takes you.
—David Mamet

Today's prompts lean toward found poems. Another method is to cut up individual words on slips of paper and draw them randomly in order to make a poem.

From the Day 21 NaPoWriMo: "Our prompt for today (optional, as always) is an old favorite – the erasure! This involves taking a pre-existing text and blacking out or erasing words, while leaving the placement of the remaining words intact. I’ve been working on an erasure project that involves an old guide to rose-growing. Here’s an example of an original page, side-by-side with my “erased” page" see above 

From 2009 Poets & Writers: "Print out a poem—yours or another writer’s—double spaced. Above each word write another word that is similar in spelling or meaning, until you have the makings of new lines above each existing line. Revise these into a finished poem."

The Writer's Digest 2014 PAD Challenge suggests we "write a “back to basics” poem. For me, back to the basics means jumping to the fundamentals. Maybe it’s me re-learning (or practicing) fundamentals–like running or writing–but it could also be a child learning how to tie his shoestrings, which can be a unique experience for both the child and the adult trying to give instructions and advice. Back to basics could also be re-setting a state of mind or getting back into a routine. In a way, spring is a season that gets back to the basics."

NaPoWriMo is doing well by me, so what I know . . .

I wanted to work off Treasure Island, and the words "flotsam and jetsam," but I couldn't find that text when I search them in Robert Louis Stevenson's writing. Instead I found his essays and a page or so led me to:

The Progress of Conversation

Talk should mass experience—

flotsam and jetsam of minds—
the material proper to humanity.
Fiction and experience intersect
and illuminate our hearts,
brighten spirits, housed
in voices, in face and in change.
All characters call upon each
famous hue of humanity: Ideas
change hands and ground our
reason. Come! Begin discussion,
worry thoughts like bones—
only human art speaks
to the weather of our souls.

Stevenson's essays are so rich in metaphor that my biggest struggle was to create my own that were as strong as what I found on the page. I tried failed to do that. At least I managed not to steal. The text I worked from was found at Project Gutenberg.

My first attempt: "I am writing this story [because these] things happened to me. Years ago when my father [died] I did not cry until weeks passed. I remember, as if a large man burst [through my] door—carried [from the] sea, as if ragged and black across my [days]. A white scar across [my eyes] and I was blind."

I write this story because these 
things happened to me. Years ago 
my father died and I did not cry until 
weeks passed. I remember, as if many 
men burst through my door—carried 
from the sea, raging ragged and black 
across my days. A white scar bleeding 

my eyes, and I am blind.

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