Poem In Your Pocket Day (4/24)

Just in time for “Poem In Your Pocket Day,” here’s a poem by Nancy Carroll, from her recently released chapbook, Night Walks, (Yak Press, 2014). Feel free to clip this poem, carry it around in your pocket, and share it!Image


Falling In Love With Language

It was the venerable W. H. Auden who said, “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” We could, therefore, find ourselves lost in a “chicken-or-egg” conundrum: does being in love with language make you a poet? Or does being a poet make you fall in love with language? But that would be an unproductive use of our time. Rather, I wish to answer another, more practical question posed to me in earnest by one of my English-teacher colleagues at a recent seminar: How do we make our students fall in love with language, too?

When faced with this very question early on in my career as a high school English teacher, the only thing I could come up with by way of a solution to this dilemma was to take a crack at creating the same types of situations and experiences for them that made me fall in love with language myself when I was a high school student. In other words, the English classroom environment I fostered had to serve as a sort of “petri dish” where playing with words and experimenting with language was not only accepted, but welcomed and even expected.

As a high school student, my friends and I first became intrigued with the language’s facility for innuendo, punning, and double entendre. Witty word-play became the norm, and many a “battle,” or friendly competition of tossing repartee around in the halls between classes and during after-school practices ensued. My fondest memories of all the little “in jokes” we shared persist even to this day. So, my answer to the question my colleague brings up is this: I think we must take every opportunity we can to engage students in word-play. I think any and every attempt at witticism should be rewarded, and that innuendo, punning, and double entendre should be made to feel at home in our classrooms. I think our own love of language should always be on display.

It is in the spirit of encouraging this kind of word-play that throughout the years, I have penned vocabulary lessons for my students. The results are tallied in What’s That Word? – A Fun Way to Build Vocabulary (Yak Press, 2012), which presents the collected lessons in a fully-illustrated workbook of fun and entertaining vocabulary activities that is chock-full of verbal jousting, and available from these sources:
Yak Press
• amazon.com

September Haiku

Surface Tension

Book Review: Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis

Becoming JudasBecoming Judas by Nicelle Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hypothetically, do you prefer compassion squarely pegged, or unconventionally rendered? If your answer is, “squarely pegged,” then Becoming Judas, Nicelle Davis’ second full-length book of poems, invites closer inspection and warrants your consideration; if “unconventionally rendered” more suits your style, then this is the book for you. A fascinating foray into iconographic studies, Becoming Judas examines, interprets, questions, challenges, and re-invents the iconography of as unlikely a conflagration as one can envision — a trio of characters (still) shrouded in enduring myth: Judas, the “betrayer,” Jesus, the “betrayed (?)” and John Lennon, who imaginably stands in for “everyman.”

Contemplate for a moment if you will, the Pietá: a persistent motif and one of the most revered icons in all Christendom, which depicts a sorrowful mother cradling the dead body of her adult son. Stripped of its classic interpretation as the Virgin Mary embracing Jesus’ frame, we are left with the image of a woman, any woman, grieving over the corpse of a man, any man. In one of the most novel conceits for a poem I’ve ever encountered, Ms. Davis offers up “The Woman Who Cut Judas Down” which presents us instead with a Pietá for Judas: “This body strung/ from a branch could be anyone―/ even hers.” Looking toward our commonalities, rather than expounding on our differences, even Judas had a mother, as we all do; which suggests that whatever his “sins,” may have been, even Judas deserves a Pietá.

Another poem in the collection, “Flash: Leibovitz’s Photo of John and Yoko,” studies a type of image, the Polaroid, to explain the culture it originated in, rather than the other way around. The poet aptly describes the composition of the famed photograph, and delivers with it this account: “Together they have survived each other…His legs, bent into inverted V’s, encase/ her torso. Captured: the sight of a man becoming a shrine.” What we are looking at in Becoming Judas, then, is the content of the images, through the artistic lens of the poet’s sensibilities, as she queries aloud our insatiable need, “to conceive an understanding/ of what all this suffering is for.”

Although the majority of the poems contained herein remain accessible, (like the two previously discussed) a few are necessarily difficult, both in terms of intellectual rigor and emotional content. The images are compelling, but hard to look at. Nonetheless, like witnesses passing by a collision in heavy traffic, or viewing televised war coverage, we also cannot bring ourselves to look away. I read right through Becoming JudasBook Bite_cropped in one sitting, as I could not put down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found it, including the “difficult” poems, entirely worth the effort. The imagery is spectacular. And if that weren’t enough already, the pencil drawings contributed by Cheryl Gross, and the inventive use of line breaks and white space to create “concrete” poems (that form images of their own on the page) deliver value-added bonus features. I heartily recommend this book.

View all my reviews



In celebration of Pi Day, here’s a Pi ku

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Poem in a Bottle


"Steerage" Anne Yale, 2009. Brushed air.

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