Poetry Wednesday: “Theme for English B”

There’s been a lot of controversy brewing again, and again it involves race. Is America as free as we’ve always been taught? Is Colin Kaepernick a nuisance or a hero for refusing to stand during the national anthem? Is the hidden stanza of The Star Spangled Banner directly racist after all?

No matter where you stand on the controversy in the States right now, nearly everyone can agree that throughout America’s history minorities have not been given an equal voice. Please, let’s agree that race is still an issue in the U.S. and, I would say, in all our hearts because we fear what is different from us.Thus, I felt as though this Poetry Wednesday would be ideal to highlight a famous minority voice: Langston Hughes.

(February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "the negro was in vogue" which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue":

Langston Hughes, a Harlem, jazz poet in the early 20th century, embodies the difficult reality and identity of a black man. But he also comments on what makes America who she is: “That’s American. / Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that’s true!”

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

[Used from Poetry Foundation]

 

The Number One Rule for Developing a Deep Perpetual Ongoing Unceasing Unquenchable Insatiable Appetite for Books…

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

DON’T STOP READING!!!

Okay, okay. I know this is earth-shatteringly profound. But seriously, as cyclical a statement as this might seem (the way to develop a love for books is to keep reading but it’s difficult to keep reading without having a deep love of books), I’m learning how important this is. Here is my point: sometimes we challenge ourselves in what we read (as we should), but we hit a dry-spell. The gas runs out. We are weary (“even youths grow tired an weary”–Remember the Titans or The Bible, whichever you prefer). Netflix keeps looking more like a viable option to unwind. If this is you…QUICK! DON’T WASTE TIME…FIND A BOOK THAT REALLY APPEALS TO YOU OR DUST OFF AN OLD FAVORITE.

Keep pushing yourself in what you read…top shelf material. But if you’re reading game is getting a little dry then (to rip a Bible verse wildly out of context) REMEMBER YOUR FIRST LOVE! It’s okay to put something uninteresting down for just a little bit. I’m not suggesting that quitting halfway is a good, ongoing habit. I’m just saying that sometimes we  need a little LTLC (Literary Tender Loving CARE…duh!).

I remember once I was reading this extremely dense philosophy book and, even though I was theoretically really interested in its contents, it was actually boring me to tears. But I felt that if I was going to read, I needed to be reading that book. The problem: I stopped reading altogether! Don’t let that be you. Plus, I can almost guarantee, if you’ll keep yourself reading in general, you’ll find a greater ease and desire to return to that top shelf material. So spice up your reading life!

Finally, here’s my personal reading template to use or toss aside: always I am reading one piece of nonfiction and one piece of fiction. Naturally I finish fiction novels much quicker than nonfiction (this may not be true for everyone), but I’m always reading both. Additionally, I mix up my fiction. This isn’t a hard, fast rule, but I usually go no more than two or three books in a row of either literary classics or contemporary fiction or even pop fiction. I want to read the canonized classics to understand why good literature is good literature (some of my all-time favorite books are more than a hundred years old). But I also want to read new literary fiction (Pulitzer type material) as well as The Hunger Games and other “pop” novels (aside: we’ll often find that “pop” novels have as much depth as “literary masterpieces;” they simply appeal on a different level).

So what story do you need to return to in order to fan that reading flame?

by Zhen-Yang at DeviantArt.com

“Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl”

24OPINION-diptych-superJumbo
Anne Frank side-by-side with Rouwaida Hanoun, a Syrian 5-year-old wounded last week. (Getty Images)

I love how literature stirs the imagination, takes us to Fairy Land, Camelot, Narnia, Middle Earth, and beyond. And based on my own worldview, I don’t see these motifs as escapism but actually congruous with my own beliefs in a way (another discussion). Nevertheless, literature is also supposed to keep us right where we are  open our eyes to the harsh realities around us that we miss. For a long time I have been moved by WWII literature though I have yet to read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

A NY Times op-ed piece published yesterday by Nicholas Kristof entitled “Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl” is a poignant reminder that “History rhymes.” There is a world crisis  happening right now, but too often I’m stuck in the past reading about how horrific life once was. Kristof cites some of the fears for aiding or sheltering refugees, national security being chief among them. He attempts to abet those fears, but I think some of us need to rise above even that and understand that risk should not prevent aid.

Some day there will be new literature with the Syrian Refugee Crisis as its setting. Will I be able to say that I was part of the solution or part of the apathy?  Right now, regrettably, I’d have to say the latter.

HERE is a link with a list of organizations you can support. Let’s do something. Myself included. Oh, and if you haven’t already, check out this powerful video at the bottom.

[Teacher’s note: I thought this post might be especially helpful as a tie-in to current events when teaching material such as the Holocaust or Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, etc.] 

DREAM_SyrianRefugeesMap_0216_FINAL

Poetry Wednesday: “The Peace of Wild Things”

[Here is my first post entitled “Poetry Wednesday.” This is a pretty new blog to begin with, but this particular idea is fresh-outta-the-oven-new. I like the medium of poetry. I once heard someone describe dance as a pure art since dancers rarely get famous and the peak of a dancer’s life is so short (they’re bodies literally cannot handle the grind forever). So you know there’s something embedded in the soul that wills them to make art regardless of notoriety or even longevity. Similarly, I think of poetry as the purest form of writing because poets are so dedicated to their craft. They can’t NOT write poetry. You know this because poets, unlike serial novelists (potentially), can have no grand illusions of wealth/fame. It’s not that kind of field. But it’s important. I thought Wednesdays would be good since poetry has the power to lift us out of our stations and our weeks momentarily, to connect us with the heavens or to remind us of the hells… or all the in-betweens. That’s it for now.]

 

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I was first introduced to Wendell Berry by a friend. I haven’t ever sat down and simply read through his collection. I’ve probably read about thirty of his poems, though. I pick them up when I need something. I often find the peace of his writing, the nature-ness of it, is a balm and a quite spot. I want to share a diversity of poetry, but this is one of my favorite poems, a classic, and I knew it would fit rather well as the first on this blog.

A band whose music I enjoy titled an album after this very poem, listing Berry as an influence. They are called Paper Route, and I’ve added a song from that album which I think captures some of the essence of Berry’s writing.

#HappyWednesday #HappyHumpDay

The “American Dream” in a Cross-cultural Context

the-american-dream-is-over

“Has US literature woken from the American Dream?” is the name of a books blog article put out by The Guardian last year. The author recounts his perusal of an American art gallery in which he was “struck by this wilful avoidance of darker, pressing realities. Art preferred to revel in a certain pastoral romanticism that seemed to promise the limitless expansion of the American dream.” In the proceeding paragraph, though, he makes a different statement about American literature:

“Literature, on the other hand, has always taken a more complicated and occasionally far more direct, moralistic stance on the American dream in the face of everyday struggle – even, or especially, when that dream is packed in a moving truck, driven out of the city, and restaged in some sort of pastoral Eden. One could argue that the American dream is the subject of every American novel, a sort of blurry-eyed national obsession with having it all and coming out on top, or in the case of most plot-driven literature, the failures and breakdowns in that quasi-noble pursuit. I’ve asked a few voracious reader friends to name a book where the American dream is a happy one: most were stuck for an answer.”

This was a novel idea to me. Has American literature always had a nuanced and wary relationship with the American Dream (I’m visualizing an awkward middle school slow dance)? Because I think of the ideology as rather ubiquitous. Curious, I googled (PS, I love that this is a word now) “most famous american novels” and found this page. Granted, I realize the list is not official, but I do appreciate the reasonable diversity listed among the titles. Anyway, as I scanned the list, I realized that few if any of the works actually held a sentimental view of the American Dream. Obviously, minorities write about how the American Dream is oppressive (e.g. Silko), but even white dudes note at least that it’s hollow (e.g. Fitzgerald).

This year I’m teaching in San Salvador: today begins my second week. My eleventh grade classes are studying American Literature, and my objective is to begin by thinking critically about the American Dream ideology. This is an especially interesting goal since I’m teaching non-estadounidenses. So much American culture gets transmitted around the world–especially television, cinema, and music–and the allure is powerful. I’m thankful, however, that American Literature actually creates a platform to discuss the shortcomings of our fractured mythology.

Resources (Literature and Beyond)

Okay, so this is my first full week teaching…exhausting. But exhilarating as well! I’m blessed to teach what I love. And when you teach what you love, you LOVE finding great resources. I’m very fond of various teaching methods, especially visuals and those that increase interaction. Thus, I wanted to share (unashamedly hoping some of my students find this post) one of the neat tools I’ve come across: infographics from Course Hero. HERE is their Pinterest board, and HEREis their teaching resource website. We’re beginning to study Chaucer next week in my British Lit. class, so maybe someone will stumble upon this infographic before seeing it in class.

The Top and Bottom of My Wish List

imrs

My reading list is BIG… REAL BIG. And it’s always growing. At times I make the mistake of going out and buying a book as a way of adding it to my list even if I’m not ready at that exact moment to read it. Bad idea. Because by the time I get around to reading the book, something else has been added to my list, and it’s jumped to the top. I have lists in my head, lists on my computer, lists in the form of purchased books on my shelf. However, probably the most thorough and consistent list I have kept is on Amazon. Thanks Amazon…because I don’t always buy those books from your website; it’s just a handy way to catalog the books I’d like to read. So I thought it’d be fun to revisit my reading wish list and see how it’s evolved (or how it hasn’t). Thus, I will share my five oldest added books and my five most recently added books, none of which I have already read. Some of them represent areas that I already know a lot about and want to know more; others represent areas both of ignorance and fascination.

Oldest… (all added in 2010)

Newest… (all added in 2016)

 

So that does it! This has been an interesting experiment. Does anyone else want to share some of their list? Or add to mine with a good recommendation?

“What is Literature for?”

What-is-Literature-For

HERE is a wonderful video put together by The School of Life group. As in everything, we should not assume that our learners have answered the question: “Yes, but why is this important?” As a literature student and teacher, I know why I love my subject. But do my students? We need to help make that connection for them. If we really believe it’s important, let’s not assume.

In class we will be examining the importance of literature, but I do not have time (this year) to incorporate this video into my lesson plan. I wanted to post it, though, for any of my students or other teachers who might enjoy its content. Weighing in at just under 5 minutes, it’s a great tool to ignite this discussion: “What is literature for?”

 

Learning to Love to Read

The Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice:

*This is the first post. If you aren’t familiar with the purpose of the blog, please check out the page “Mr. Caleb” to learn more.

Like nearly everything in life, reading is a discipline. It takes time and practice to develop good reading skills. But for many people I know, there’s also that book (or series of books) that really made them fall in love with reading. For me, it was The Chronicles of Narnia. There’s something powerful about tapping into our imagination… something that I hope happens this year in our classes. Personally, I think a room full of books is magical and inspiring in and of itself. So click here to read Buzzfeed’s “The 30 Best Places To Be If You Love Books.”