Monday, July 7, 2014

Teachers Write

This year I am participating in an online "summer camp" of sorts called Teachers Write. To learn more about what that entails, check out Kate Messner's blog. On Mondays, Jo Knowles, author of Living with Jackie Chan and other novels, posts her Monday warm up, which you can find on her livejournal. I'll be responding to this Monday's prompt below.

First, though, I want to reflect on why participating in Teachers Write is important to me. As an English Language Arts teacher, I am constantly modelling writing for my students. There isn't an assignment I have given where I haven't created an exemplar myself to offer them. Especially during our unit on slam poetry, I push my students to write bravely and personally - to use writing as a way to connect deeply with others. To show my genuine interest in their brave personal writing, I share my poetry, hoping to demonstrate the power of being vulnerable on the page. Teachers Write is a way for me to practice that vulnerability and also a way to hone my own writing craft so as to better teach my students.

Monday's prompt

Our hearts open to things that we find beautiful. In so many works of fiction the conflict is messy and painful and wrenching - but there's beauty there as well. As a writer of poetry, primarily, I find I am often drawn to the messy, painful, and heart-wrenching moments in life. But, as Jo Knowles suggests, I also identify with the beauty of those messy moments.

One of the prominent themes in my poetry is mental illness. And while I write often about the disorienting feeling of swimming in a parka, I also write about the all encompassing beauty that comes with choosing survival. There is darkness in this world, but at once so much light, the light of choice and the glorious stark-naked beauty of silence in a thrumming world.

On Kate's blog today, she suggests ways to delve into place descriptions and invite readers to come, too. A recent poem of mine fits both the theme of finding beauty, and Kate's suggestion on hunting for interesting details that make a place memorable. Here's my revised poem, A Moment of Bravery.

A Moment of Bravery

an empty park bench
frozen tree-framed view of the river
my first day outside in months

iron fence posts offer stark black contrast to the bleached grasses
a plastic bag shivers and snaps against the fence
green paint peels thin off the cold wood seat

I wiggle my toes - tentative - sockless in my winter boots
below the song of traffic hum and dripping snowmelt
my heart beats legato

the sun like a gleaming penny reflects off snowbanks
filling my mouth with the taste of copper 
and blinding me

so I sit eyes closed
my lungs stretching open like butterfly wings
the cocoon of my ribs straining

I lean into Spring with my whole being
choosing in this moment
to live

Friday, July 4, 2014


It has been two long - very long - years since I have attempted blogging. As a teacher of English Language Arts, I am constantly writing - to model the process, to create exemplars, to show my students what it is like to put your voice on paper bravely. But, I have avoided blogging.

I'm not sure what it is about blogging. I write poetry regularly, I write in my journal, I write short stories and model descriptive paragraph writing, I write all variety of assignments and lesson plans and meeting notes and shopping lists and .... maybe I'm all out of words at the end of the day? 

Every year in September I start the year with blogging - with my students, I mean. Every Grade 7 and 8 student I teach gets a blog. They spend a week playing with their templates and creating welcome posts, and another few months writing public responses to things we've read in class and commenting on their peers' posts. 

And just like with my own blog, my student blogs fade. By January, we aren't blogging anymore. We're on to film studies and writing essays, and blogs are left on the shelf to gather dust. By June, the blogs are barely remembered. 

Except that, during my exit interviews with students, many of them bring up blogging as an exciting topic - a new skill they acquired this year, a form of writing they truly enjoyed. So, why is it so hard to keep up? Why do our blogs get lost and left behind every year?