poetry as the antidote to terrorism

poet naomi shihab nye, in her letter to would-be terrorists, wrote

Poetry humanizes us in a way that news, or even religion, has a harder time doing.

I have been reading her books, in particular Honeybee and combing through my folders. I came across a link to a letter she published last January – – – Letter from Naomi Shihab Nye To Any Would-Be Terrorists — and she writes to any would-be terrorists:

Our hearts are broken, as yours may also feel broken in some ways we can’t understand, unless you tell us in words.  Killing people won’t tell us. We can’t read that message. Find another way to live.  Don’t expect others to be like you.  Read Rumi.  Read Arabic poetry. Poetry humanizes us in a way that news, or even religion, has a harder time doing. A great Arab scholar, Dr. Salma Jayyusi, said, “If we read one another, we won’t kill one another.”  Read American poetry.   Plant mint.  Find a friend who is so different from you, you can’t believe how much you have in common. Love them. Let them love you. Surprise people in gentle ways, as friends do. The rest of us will try harder too. Make our family proud.
naomi shihab nye

What if poets ruled the world?

New Classics

Jonda C. McNair, Assistant Professor of Reading at Clemson University, publishes I Never Knew… a terrific newsletter highlighting African American children’s literature. In her Fall 2008 issue (which you can get by emailing her) Dr. McNair invites readers to expand the definition of “children’s classics” to include more representation of diverse authors and texts, as follows:

It is my hope that teachers, teacher educators, parents, and others will broaden their definition of the term “classic” so as to represent all children with a diverse collection of books that will stand the test of time.

I’m currently reworking my classroom library and keeping McNair’s words in mind. I recently came across a box of old books (left by the teacher who occupied  my classroom before me) and to my delight I found copies of picture books by Lucille Clifton (like-new copy of Everett Anderson’s Goodbye) and John Steptoe, as well as several titles by Eloise Greenfield. My library also includes many of the newer titles mentioned in the newsletter, and my students and I agree that Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson is a “must” to be included on anybody’s list of new classics!


Addie's high school autograph book, January 1926

Addie's high school autograph book, January 1926

My grandmother, Adeline “Nana” Knowles, passed away early this morning. She would have celebrated her 98th birthday later this month, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. Among some of her treasured belongings I came across a little autograph book from her high school days.

Inside the album

Inside the album

The little book is chock filled with rhymes written in the most careful cursive penmanship. Her opening entry is as follows:

Go little album, far and near

To all my friends so fond and dear

That they may each write a page

For me to read in my old age.

Adeline V.  Flattery

January 26, 1926

To my knowledge, Nana had this little album close by until very recently. It is a gem, just as she was, and we will miss her.

Lifeboat for teaching

Digging for treasure in old notebooks!

Digging for treasure in old notebooks!

I’ve been rummaging through old notebooks and favorite texts as I prepare for the semester ahead with my students (preservice teachers). While leafing through my dog-eared copy of  Lucy Calkins’s The Art of Teaching Writing, my eyes fell on the following words: “To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential. It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, and design of those ideas.”

About 12 years ago, I attended my first summer writing institute at Columbia’s Teachers College. Katie Wood Ray (KWR) delivered a keynote address that echoes Calkins’s words and resonates to this day. KWR told a story of planning and preparing to do a week of writing work with a school on an island (maybe Jamaica?) and she talked about how she and a colleague thought long and hard about all the things they “needed” to bring with them in order to teach well. Her list included particular overheads and artifacts that she thought at the time were essential to her teaching of writing. By the time she finished packing, her bags were groaning from the load of “stuff” she decided she had to bring. When she got to the school, not only was there no overhead projector, there was no electricity! There were no books, and few –if any– of the supplies that we take for granted and think we can’t possibly teach without. She and her colleague had to rethink their whole itinerary and start from scratch. In the end, they realized they did not need most of what they had originally thought they couldn’t teach without.

KWR asked those of us in attendance, “What will you pack in your lifeboat for teaching?  You can’t take everything with you, so you have to think long and hard about what is most essential to your teaching.” Her question provoked us to reflect on how we would prioritize …. think about what’s most important and central to our teaching. It came down to the stories of our own lives, our own experiences, the literature that we read and was read to us, all those things that we know by heart, along with the strength of our convictions.

So … one of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep the “lifeboat for teaching” metaphor at the forefront of my planning and hold onto that  which is essential to impart meaningful instruction …. and let go of that which is not!

Poetry Friday


There’s an enormous comfort knowing
we all live under this same sky,
whether in New York or Dhaka,
we see the same sun and same moon.

When it is night in New York,
the sun shines in Dhaka,
but that doesn’t matter.
Flowers that blossom here in spring
are unknown in meadows of distant Bengal —
that too doesn’t matter.
There’s no rainy season here —
the peasant in Bengal welcomes the new crop
with homemade sweets
while here, winter brings mountains of snow.

No one here knows Grandmother’s hand-sewn quilt —
even that doesn’t matter.
There’s an enormous comfort knowing
we all live under this same sky.

The Hudson River freezes,
automobiles can’t move.
Slowly city workers will remove the snow.
The old lady next door won’t go to work —
it’s too cold.
Maybe my old mother far away
will also enter her kitchen late.
Naked trees in Central Park and Ramna Park
quiver with dreams of new life and love.

Fog hangs on the horizon —
suddenly New York, Broadway, and Times Square
look dimly like Dhaka, Buriganga, and Laxmi Bazaar.

Zia Hyder
Translated by Bhabani Sengupta with Naomi Shihab Nye

I shared this poem with my student teachers this summer (who, in turn, shared it with 4th graders), and came across it today as I was preparing course materials for the coming semester. It is from Naomi Shihab Nye’s beautiful anthology This Same Sky. Let’s hope for a peaceful year ahead.

Happy New Year!

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to work on my blog! I am hoping that I can incorporate my work with my students (preservice teachers and elementary children) and be more regular with my postings. Fingers crossed!

Vacation’s End

We’ve spent this week in central Vermont, enjoying early August days in a rustic cabin near a mountain edged lake. Days are spent reading and hiking, and swimming and reading. My husband and son both set upon reading Donald Hall’s intriguing collection of memoirs and essays called String Too Short to be Saved. Watching them enjoy the book reminded me of some of Hall’s other works, notably his poem “White Apples.”
(Listen to Donald Hall read his poem, below)

White Apples
by Donald Hall

when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
I sat up in bed

and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

White Apples

I remember listening to the radio a few years back, when Donald Hall was named that year’s Poet Laureate. He spoke specifically about this poem, and talked about his decisions on words he chose, taking into consideration the long and short vowel sounds and paying close attention to the sounds of the words. It was powerful stuff, and made a great impression.

I am teaching third grade this year, and while I don’t think we will take on “White Apples” I am certainly going to introduce my students to Donald Hall through his wonderful children’s book, Oxcart Man. Donald Hall is a national treasure, and I want my students to know who he is.

Poetry Friday Roundup

Sitting on my porch on a summer’s eve ….

Long summer days turn into late evening dinners and we sit on our back porch until it gets dark. We enjoy listening to the rustling in the bushes as the occasional possum makes its way through our yard. I was leafing through Knock at a Star and came across this poem by Deborah Chandra. It made me think about us, sitting on our back porch….

Porch Light

At night
the porch light
catches moths
and holds them,
in a tight
yellow fist.
Only when I
turn the switch
will it loosen
its hot

Deborah Chandra

Poetry Friday Roundup

Treasure within!

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. elementary school

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. elementary school

Well, I stopped by school to see my classroom for the first time today. It was very exciting! I spent the better part of the day sorting through books and organizing math manipulatives. I picked up my class list in the office, and made a few entries on my “to do” list.

While walking to my classroom, I was struck by the beautiful mosaics that adorn the hallways . It’s amazing what a difference real, student created art (under the expert guidance of local artist Jess Regelson) makes on an environment. They are all magnificent, but this one is especially fun with back to school in mind!:

Inspiration mosaic

Inspiration mosaic

I’m looking forward to the year ahead, but there is much to do between now and August 25th! Yikes, stripes!!

Lazy Sunday

Harry and Vincent on their chair

Harry and Vincent on their chair

It’s been one of those long, lazy Sunday afternoons in the middle of summer, and Harry and Vincent are just chillin’ on their favorite old chair. Vincent enjoys the view from the top of the back cushion, and Harry is content to lay across the seat and gaze at the floor. Not much else for a cat and dog to do on a Sunday in July!