Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Old Poets of China: A Blog Hiatus

Photo by beardymonsta

A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and a colleague stopped to read me a poem. It's not every day that poetry happens out of the blue! It was a short poem, one of those slight Mary Oliver masterpieces that is barely there yet still finds a way to thunder through your brain with a resounding "yes!"

I've been thinking about that poem a lot recently. One of the best things about this summer was that I managed to stay offline about 50% of the time. At first, I felt a bit lost. I had nagging feelings that I could be missing something important, I could be dropping balls, or losing productivity. But after a while, a stillness settled in. My head cleared. I could focus. I finished writing the novel I'd been struggling with. I painted my office. I spent time with family. I planned out better lessons for my music students.

Clearly, there is a balance to be had. And while I strive to find it, I've decided to take a hiatus from my blog. I've been blogging every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past six years, and truthfully, it's hard to let go. I may come back. But for a little while at least, I want to spend some time in the pale mist. We'll see how that goes.

The Old Poets of China
by Mary Oliver

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Vacation: GOALS!

Singing Songs of the Civil War Era with the 5th graders of Stowe Elementary
Technically, we still have two days until June, but I've finished up my school programs with Stowe Elementary, we had a gorgeous Memorial Day weekend, the Bowdoin seniors are officially graduated, and it simply feels like summer. So I'm going to pack up my blog for the next three months and head outside. I'll try to keep in touch over Facebook and the like, but I hope to be offline more than on.

As usual, I have a lofty and possibly unattainable to-do list this summer:
  1. Finish writing my current novel-in-progress by the end of June.
  2. Write a rough draft of a new novel I've been outlining.
  3. Create a bird-friendly garden in the backyard.
  4. Paint my writing room.
  5. Track down "wish list songs" for each of my music students.
  6. Unpack at least some of the boxes that are still in the basement from our move last summer.
  7. Play music.
  8. Sing.
  9. Spend time with my siblings.
  10. Read.
  11. Try some adventurous cooking.
  12. Walk in the woods as often as humanly possible.
Does that list sound like heaven or what? Do you have similar lofty, restorative, fun goals for your summer? I'm sure as always, I'll get off track, frustrated, and bogged down at some point, and that's when I have to remind myself that life does not conform to goal sheets and lists. I suppose that should be my lucky #13: Be Flexible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hurrah for Lovely Maine

As part of my Songs of the Civil War Era school visits, I show the students how popular songs of the era often changed over time as people "borrowed" melodies and wrote new lyrics to suit their own agendas (a perfect example is "Bonnie Blue Flag," which I discussed during my Bowdoin College lecture/concert).

This spring, I've been visiting the fifth graders of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School. After I visited each class, I worked with a group of twenty-five students who put together a rallying song of their own, to the tune of "Bonnie Blue Flag." The students did a great job collaborating. In fact, they were able to brainstorm an idea, come up with five verses, rehearse, and record all in the two hours we had together! Pretty impressive!

You can read the lyrics on the broadside below (click on the image to zoom in). You can also listen to the HBS fifth graders sing their song in the Songwriting for Kids Listening Room.

Don't you think they did a terrific job sticking to the original rhythm and getting their agenda across loud and clear?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Maurice Sendak on Illustration

Last week, we said goodbye to Maurice Sendak. As a child and as an adult, I've always appreciated that Mr. Sendak never, ever, underestimated his audience. He expected children to read subtext and layers, to grasp and embrace story in a complex yet effortless way. In the below interview, he says as a writer for children,
" can count on an audience that is so intuitive by nature...they take it in like air."
Betsy Bird put together a round-up of Sendak tributes on her blog a Fuse #8 Production. You can listen to and read a number of past interviews with Sendak on Fresh Air and at the Horn Book. There are his recent, hilarious, outspoken interviews with Stephen Colbert (part one and part two).

The best tribute of all, of course, is simply to go pick up a Maurice Sendak book and read...take it in like air.

Maurice Sendak on Illustration

Friday, May 4, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: The Herons Have Hatched!

Okay, I admit I've been glued to Cornell's Great Blue Heron Webcam for a full month. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Five nestlings hatched last week, and the folks at Cornell say the tiny chicks will grow to be four feet tall within the next six weeks!

Ridiculously, after all the hours I spent watching Mom and Dad sit on the nest, I missed every single hatching (though I did get to watch Mom lay an egg, which was crazy). Chick #3 hatched when I stepped away for 30 minutes to go to the grocery store. I came home to a voicemail from my sister saying, "It's hatching! It's hatching! Where are you?"

Video: Great Blue Heron Egg #3 Hatch

Thankfully, the moment was captured on video (a sweet and hilarious video at that). I know we're not supposed to anthropomorphize, but their bedhead reminds me of the New Wave/Punk rockers in the early 80s.

Live feed: Cornell Lab Of Ornithology

Photo Screen Shot by phlegmmy

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marilyn Singer: Mirror Mirror, A Book of Reversible Verse

How did the last day of Poetry Month sneak up so fast? Quickly, before it's over, I wanted to recommend a fun book of poetry for kids: Marilyn Singer's Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse.

Each poem in this book looks at a fairy tale from two sides, flipping both the poem and the story upside down. Besides being fun, the reversed poems are perfect examples of how punctuation, line breaks, and rhythm are powerful tools that can change the meaning of a poem. The results are so surprising and fun, you'll immediately want to try writing one of your own.

The Doubtful Duckling
by Marilyn Singer
I'll turn into a swan.
No way
I'll stay
an ugly duckling,
stubby and gray.
Plain to see--
look at me.
A beauty I'll be.
A beauty I'll be?
Look at me---
plain to see, 
stubby and gray.
An ugly duckling
I'll stay.
No way
I'll turn into a swan

Friday, April 27, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary

Today I'm off to Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary to talk to 5th graders about Songs of the Civil War Era. Huzzah!

Yesterday, I had a great time with the classrooms of Ms. Bailey, Mrs. Belanger, Mrs. Brescia, and Mr. Kittredge. The students had great singing voices and offered a lot of terrific insights.

In one exercise, I have the students imagine they are slogging back to their tents after a long day at war. Tired, dirty, and possibly wounded, they try to get comfortable and go to sleep. Then someone on the campground (in this case, me) starts to sing,
We're tenting tonight on the old campground
Give us a song to cheer
Our weary hearts, a song of home
And friends we love so dear
Slowly, as the song goes on, people join in until we are all singing loudly together,
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight, tenting on the old campground
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight, tenting on the old campground
At the end of the song, I asked the students if singing the song changed how they felt. Some of the things I heard were:

"I felt less lonely."

"I thought of my family. Singing the song made me feel like I would get to see them again."

"I thought of all the people who died that I cared about."

"I felt stronger."

"I felt proud to fight for what I believe in."

Aren't those great responses? I love how music has the power to stir our souls, even 150 years after it was written.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

M. Ward: The First Time I Ran Away

A new Andrew Bird album AND a new solo album by M. Ward? This is my lucky spring!

To top things off, Joel Trussell, the same director who made the gorgeous music video for Chinese Translation, is back on board as well. He directed a new video for the first release of the album: "The First Time I Ran Away." M. Ward says in The Huffington Post:

"Between now and when I made 'Hold Time' there has been a lot of traveling which requires a lot of reckoning with what to leave behind and what to carry - material and otherwise - and thinking about what I want versus what I need, creatively and otherwise. I wanted to get a reflection of that on the album."
You can stream the whole album, A Wasteland Companion, on M. Ward's website.

M. Ward: The First Time I Ran Away

Monday, April 23, 2012

Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

I met so many nice people at the NESCBWI conference this weekend, and am ready to get down to work (as soon as I catch up on my sleep)! Here are a few notes I took at the conference that struck me as being applicable to both storytelling and life:

-Part of growing up is aligning desire with often say and do things that are the opposite of what they want (I'm pretty sure I still do this on a relatively regular basis!)

-Think: Does this FEED me or does it COST me?

-Instead of "what does my character want": "what does my character care about?"

-Write to your strengths, revise to your weakness.

-What would you do if you knew that failure was impossible?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Grab Bag Friday: Beanie Baby Hunger Games

This weekend, I'm lucky to be at the New England Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators conference. Which means three whole days to talk about writing and books! I've already been to a fun session called "Writing Camp for Grown-Ups" taught by Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan, and I'm looking forward to learning from great authors like Cynthia Lord, Kate Messner, and Linda Urban over the weekend.

In between today's sessions, though, I took a little time out for silliness and watched this fantastic video. Of course, it begs the question: Who did the Hunger Games better? Hollywood or the Beanie Babies? May the odds be ever in your favor!

Beanie Baby Hunger Games

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Doris Day: My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time

More Doris Day nostalgia. Here is one of my favorite Les Brown/Doris Day tunes. And check out the outfit on this album cover!

Doris Day: My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doris Day on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

It was Doris Day's 88th  birthday last week, which means April is filled with all kinds of fun Doris Day nostalgia. TCM is airing 28 of her movies (yes, my DVR is filling up quite nicely). And lucky for us, Ms. Day granted Terry Gross an interview to celebrate the occasion.

Doris Day has rarely been interviewed since she left Hollywood in 1968, and it was a treat to hear her talk about her life. She discusses the tragic accident that became the impetus for her singing career, the roles she played, songs she sang, and her second career as an animal activist.

What I found most striking is how much she seems to take everything in stride. Hit songs, blockbuster movies, 30 dogs living in her house. "I loved...doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked."

Doris Day on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Monday, April 9, 2012

Latern Review: Poetry Month Digital Broadsides

The Lantern Review is embarking on an interesting project for National Poetry Month. This month, they've paired designers with poets to create a series of free digital broadsides. Anyone can download them, print them, post them, or use them as desktop wallpaper. The Review is also posting a series of Pocket Broadsides on Tumblr.

This month, I'll be talking to ten different 5th grade classrooms about how broadsides were used to advertise songs during the Civil War Era. I love the concept of reviving the broadside format to spread poetry in the digital world!

Digital Broadside #1: Vanitas (poem by R. A. Villanuevas, design by Debbie Yee)

Pocket Broadside #1: Vanni Taing