Reading Poetry Challenge, Stage One

Cover of "The Wellspring: Poems"

Cover of The Wellspring: Poems

During April, I challenged myself to read a poem every day, with care, with the intention of selecting four favorites at the end of the month and then reading the four books from whence they came. This was part of my general poetry month activities, but also a greater need I felt to immerse myself in poetry, to find inspiration in what I saw, for myself as a teacher, writer and lover of poetry.

If that last sentence resonates with you at all, I would highly recommend taking on a similar challenge, because I thoroughly enjoyed mine. At the end of the month, I ended up with nine poems I had starred as my favorites, all from the Knopf Doubleday poem-a-day emails, which really offered a treasure trove of wonderful poems. I winnowed those nine down to six, which offered a range of modern classic authors (Wallace Stevens) to contemporary poets like Deborah Digges. Even just reading through them again was a peaceful respite on a gray Sunday afternoon, at a stressful point in the school year, though the poems themselves are not particularly restful.

Settling on the final four was harder; I read more about each poet and thought about my own gaps in reading, read some sample poems and reviews and chose two relatively quickly. Then a colleague who had also gotten the Knopf emails came into my classroom one afternoon to share how much one of my favorites had also touched her, so I added the third title. Finally, I added the fourth because of the joyful tone of the poem I had liked, because who doesn’t need a little more joy?

Without further ado, here are the four books I’ll be reading for this challenge:

The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart: Poems, Deborah Digges
Selected Poems, Wallace Stevens
The Wellspring: Poems, Sharon Olds
Special Orders: Poems, Edward Hirsch

Upon further reflection and based on some of my choices, I don’t know that I’ll be able to do each book in a day, back-to-back, as Emily Gould did in her original challenge. I’ll review each book and post them, and then in a “stage two” entry, post about the experience of reading all four as the completion of my challenge. But like Laurie, I often read books of poetry in a more elongated way, so deadlines won’t apply as much here.



Filed under April Poetry Challenge, Poetry

Ripped from the Headlines (A Pair of Reviews)

Cover of "Room: A Novel"

Cover of Room: A Novel

Somehow a month has slipped by without me noticing that I haven’t been posting reviews; I’ve been posting about books, but not reviewing anything I’ve read. I’ve been doing a lot of “comfort reading” lately, I think, as the school year shifts into its manic closing gear, rereading books by authors I like instead of seeking out anything new.

But now that streak has come to an end. Like the last review I posted, I somehow ended up reading two books that both take horrific news stories as their starting place and then try to find their ways inside the minds of those involved. Both have unconventional narrators with distinct voice, and both are told with narrative techniques you don’t see everyday in modern fiction: the point-of-view of a five-year-old, the epistolary form most common a hundred years ago. Finally, both try to answer the unanswerable, and watch their characters try to construct their lives after major terrifying catastrophes.

Room: A Novel came out last year and quickly became a much-talked about book, for all the reasons I described above, but I think also because Donoghue not only conceived such a startling narrative structure, but she executed it brilliantly, in a novel that keeps you turning every page until it’s finished, but also lingers in your memory beyond the final scene. Jack, the five-year-old narrator, is a character for the ages, with a distinctive voice but also such a richly drawn persona. Jack and his Ma live in Room, where they have been kept prisoner for seven years by the man they call Old Nick, who kidnapped Ma when she was nineteen. The first half of the book takes place inside Room, and the second half after their Great Escape, showing their tentative reintegration into the world Jack has never known. The second half of the story is the one we in the general public often glimpse, like in the case of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, but never from the perspective of a child involved, and not in this detail.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.) is a novel from the viewpoint of Eva Khatchadourian, who is writing letters to her estranged husband about their son, Kevin, who killed eleven people in a school massacre. I first read about the books years ago in a blog post, but only picked it up this week. Unlike Room, I didn’t stay up all night to finish it, and while Kevin is a book I do think is well-done, it’s a pricklier, thornier book to really say you “like.” Eva is a a prickly character herself, and it is that sharpness that she questions about herself, whether it was a maternal failing on her part that created her son, a sociopathic monster. Eva knows she will never know “why,” just like Dylan Klebold’s mother will never know why, but of course, that doesn’t mean she can stop asking herself, her husband or her son. Kevin is a also a novel about maternal ambivalence, and whether it’s okay to say the things we all fear mothers really want to say: that we regret having our children, that we love one more than the other or our husbands better than our children. Instead, we are supposed to be super-moms, writing letters to our babies, not yelling at them or wishing we could escape. I think every mother can at least agree that we have those moments of terror where we fear we truly are bad mothers, and the horror of Kevin is that Eva has a staggering amount of evidence to say that yes, perhaps she is a horrible mother after all.

So if you want to torment yourself with what it means to actually think you might be a terrible mother, or with the horror of what might happen to your children some day, feel free to pick up both or either of these! But also, if you want some thought-provoking and amazing fiction, give either of these a try.

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Filed under reviews, Uncategorized

Poetry Hop: “Green”

Welcome to the first Sunday Poetry hop!. The poem I’ve featured is one that I read in April in a poem-a-day email, and it was one of the finalists for my poetry month reading challenge. I’ll be posting this week about which poets I’ll be delving into for that challenge, but am also happy to get a chance to introduce this poem to some new readers. The last two stanzas are just beautiful and really knocked me out: enjoy!


Amy Clampitt

These coastal bogs, before they settle
down to the annual
business of being green, show an
ambivalence, an overtone

halfway autumnal, half membranous
sheen of birth: what is
that cresset shivering all by itself
above the moss, the fallen duff—

a rowan? What is that gathering blush
of russet the underbrush
admits to—shadblow, its foliage
come of ungreen age?

The woods are full of this, the red
of an anticipated
afterglow that’s (as it were) begun
in gore, green that no more than

briefly intervenes. More brief
still is the whiff,
the rime, the dulcet powdering, just now,
of bloom that for a week or two

will turn the sullen boglands airy—
a look illusory
of orchards, but a reminder also
and no less of falling snow.

Petals fall, leaves hang on all
summer; chlorophyll,
growth, industry, are what they hang
on for. The relinquishing

of doing things, of being occupied
at all, comes hard:
the drifting, then the lying still.


Filed under Poetry

BTT: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Cover of "The Amazing Adventures of Kaval...

Cover via Amazon

If you could see one book turned into the perfect movie–one that would capture everything you love, the characters, the look, the feel, the story–what book would you choose?

My answer for this is also one of my favorite novels ever: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is beautifully written, but also has some scenes that just seem ready to leap onto the page, like the party at Rosa’s father’s house where we see her paintings for the first time and Salvador Dali almost drowns in his diving helmet. I’d love to see how they would bring the comic pages to life on the screen, maybe mixing animation and actors, and the trio of Sammy, Joe and Rosa would be parts of a lifetime for the right actors, not to mention Tracy Bacon, Rosa’s father, and Sammy and Rosa’s son.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure this will ever happen. For almost ten years now, the film has been in development hell, though some tantalizing scenes have been released. There are rumors about a version that would be released in 2012, but I’m not holding my breath until more definite details are made public.


Filed under Booking Through Thursday

Summer Reading Thoughts

Tolstoy death mask from the author's private c...

Image via Wikipedia

I make a summer reading list for myself every year, and while other books always sneak their way in, I find it really helpful to make plans for what I think will be nourishing or enriching during the summer, a time that is just as much about recharging as it is about taking time away.

So I try to mix in a few teaching books, but also books I read just for myself, not with a thought towards teaching, but just because I want to read them. This summer I’m rethinking how I teach grammar and vocabulary with my ninth graders, so I’ve got a vocabulary workbook on my list.  We usually end up reading more bedtime books with the girls over the summer too, since I’m not exhausted at the end of the day and we don’t need to worry about morning wake-up times. This year, I’ve already designated some of my challenge titles to be summer books, not for content, but because I’d like to be able to fully immerse myself in them. I’m thinking of shifting Vanity Fair to the summer for that reason; I’ve started, but am having trouble making headway just reading before bed.

So far, here are the titles I’m considering:

War and Peace , Tolstoy
Mendocino and Other Stories, Ann Packer
Teaching with Intention, Debbie Miller
Glencoe Language Arts Vocabulary Power Workbook Grade 9
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I’m sure I’ll update this list closer to actual summertime, shuffling some titles on and off the list, but when it’s been raining off and on for weeks, and it seems like summer will never come, it’s reassuring to make lists and dream of sunshine and heat.

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Filed under Favorites, Pensees on Reading, The Family That Reads, Uncategorized


The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award

Image via Wikipedia

The Pulitzer winners have been announced: how many have you read? I’ve only read Washington: A Life, which I LOVED, and this year, all the other winners looks really interesting as well, from fiction to nonfiction to poetry. I can easily see myself reading all the other four winners this year.

How about you? What have you read, what would you like to read?


Filed under Pensees on Reading

Menu Poems

Instead of talking today about what I’ve been reading, I’d like to offer you something delicious to read: menu poems!

The 2011 Menu Poems are here! Each year, Alimentum issues a call for menu poems and then distributes their choices in select NYC restaurants, as well as making them available on their websites. They also welcome authors and readers to film themselves reading the poems, which are available on their YouTube channel.

I’m a huge fan of public poetry projects, but this year, I’m especially excited about this one because my poem, “A Hint From Your Server,” was chosen to be a menu poem! So please spend your lunch break (if you have one), reading these menu poems–I hope you find them both tasty and nourishing.


Filed under Poetry