Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bringing Poetry into Schools

For 50 years, bringing poetry into schools   BY KATIE WATTS

PETALUMA CORRESPONDENT

October 10, 2014, 2:11PM 

Maureen Hurley is a teacher poet with California Poets in the Schools, a collective of professional poets who bring literary craft into classrooms. This weekend they celebrated the group’s 50th anniversary with a conference at IONS retreat center in Petaluma, but before it began, Hurley took time to introduce the group and explain why and how they take poetry into classrooms.

What is the value of poetry?

Poetry allows us to examine our emotions and contemplate our thoughts. Doctor poet William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Wordsworth wrote, “Poetry is human emotion recollected in tranquility.” Not that there’s much by way of tranquility to be had during this day and age. In the process of recollection, poetry gives shape and form and meaning to those constantly chattering voices inside our heads, and renders them into an art form.

What can poetry accomplish that prose cannot?

Prose is to poetry as math is to music. You need both, but prose is analytical, expository and tends toward the utilitarian. Poetry is like dancing with words.

Poetry gives shape to our innermost feelings and presents them in a tangible art form that others can enjoy and get the Aha! epiphany. The ancient Greeks dubbed poetry the mother of all arts.

How does the Poets in the School program capture and hold a child’s interest?

Poets create a personalized, standards-based grade level curriculum and infuse it with magic and mystery, often marrying theatre, music and visual arts with the literary arts.

Through the immediacy and approachability of our lesson plans, we offer poems from the great body of literature, as well as peer student poems as models. It’s a mirroring process. We write our poems based on other poems.

Imagine being a student cut off from writing about your feelings and thoughts. With the current state curriculum standards, most student writing is expository, or fill in the dots, and there’s no room for creative self-expression.

Then imagine these wild poets who come along, take language, damsel it up and shake it all about. Suddenly that stuffy poetry is equal parts theater and soap-box pulpit, coupled with innermost feelings fueled by wild imagination. Suddenly it’s fun.

Most kids discover that writing their own poetry is liberating, especially those who traditionally don’t do well in school, or have trouble accessing the language arts curriculum.

Because there’s no right or wrong way to write poetry, it’s a place they can excel. Then, their poems are published in a school handout or a book, and suddenly poetry matters.

Why do you do this?

As a poet, I’m a role model. I can reach those kids who traditionally fall through the cracks and show them how they can access their minds. Poetry creates a powerful tool for change and self actualization.

A former student from Mark West School, who didn’t think poetry was important, called me up at midnight to read me a poem he had just written out of the blue.

If the program isn’t at my child’s school, how can I help bring it there?

The best way to get poetry into the schools is through a parent volunteer, the PTA or a teacher. There are numerous school and community funding sources that can be used to fund a poet’s residency. We are trained to work with teachers to locate and develop funding sources.

Contact Sonoma-Napa Area Coordinator Meg Hamill at megmariehamill@gmail.com, (415) 221-4201 or go to cpits.org.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Value of Poetry: Pure Gold



After I sent out a zany email to the Press Democrat to cover our upcoming California Poets in the Schools symposium, Voices of Gold, they decided to write a little feature on me instead. Oops. I became the news. Last time the PD did a story on me, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The next time I had something big and newsworthy, 9/11 happened—just as I was going out the door to the Marin Poetry Center reading, and the coffee table book I was promoting, Writing the Rails—Best Loved Train Stories (Black Dog & Leventhal), was remaindered before it was released. Third time's a charm? These are my soft notes. It will be interesting to see how it will be shaped. It has a Sonoma County slant as those are the newspaper demographics. It took me two days to write this—like a cat writing my way out of a paper bag. Of course, now that I've sent it in (too late now), I see all kinds of rough segues, errors, and bits in need of revision. It is what it is...


What is the value of poetry?

The doctor poet-William Carlos Williams wrote: 'It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Poetry allows us to examine our emotions and and contemplate our thoughts. Wordsworth scribed: “Poetry is human emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Not that there’s much by way of tranquillity to be had during this day and age. In the process of recollection, poetry gives shape and form and meaning to those constantly chattering voices inside our heads, and renders them into an art form.

What can poetry accomplish that prose cannot?

Prose is to poetry as math is to music—you need both—but prose is analytical, expository, and tends toward the utilitarian. Poetry is like dancing with words. Poetry gives shape to our innermost feelings, and presents them in a tangible art form that others can enjoy, and get the Aha! epiphany. The ancient Greeks dubbed poetry as the mother of all arts. During a poetry lesson on “If…,” one of my kindergarten students at San Miguel School stood up and proclaimed: “If I were king of the universe, I’d dance for a living.” He got the Aha! moment.

Ironically I hated the study of poetry when I was young, because I didn't get it. I have dyslexia—which was part of the problem. But I was looking at form versus content, or meaning. As a writer, I’m not a big fan of metered verse, though we tend to speak in iambic stress. It took me a long time to make that full circle—which is ironic in that I coach high school students to recite poetry for the Poetry Out Loud competition.

CPITS poets create a personalized a standards-based grade level curriculum (California history, the ancient world, water cycles, or health ed.,) and infuse it with magic and mystery, often marrying theatre, music and visual arts with the literary arts.

How does the CPITS program capture—and hold—a child’s interest?

Through the immediacy and approachability of our CPTS poetry lesson plans, we offer poems from the great body of literature, as well as peer student poems, as models. It’s a mirroring process. We write our own poems based on other poems. 

Imagine being a student cut off from writing about your feeling and thoughts. With the current state curriculum standards, most student writing is expository, or fill in the dots, and there’s no room for creative self-expression. Then imagine these wild poets who come along, they take language, they damsel it up and shake it all about. Suddenly that stuffy poetry is equal parts theater and soap-box pulpit, coupled with innermost feelings fueled by wild imagination—and suddenly it’s all fun.

Most kids discover that writing their own poetry is liberating—especially those kids who traditionally don’t do well in school, or have trouble accessing the language arts curriculum. Because there’s no right or wrong way to write poetry, it’s a place where they can excel. Then, their poems are published in a school handout or a book—and suddenly poetry matters.

Suddenly you’ve kids with a vested interest in getting every word right, and every simile and comma in its exact right place. It happens like that. I was teaching in a tough East Oakland inner-city school where a fifth grader, Franklin, my star poet, was expelled. As he cleared out his desk, he eavesdropped in on the poetry lesson. He put his stuff down, grabbed some paper out of the trash, and madly wrote an amazing stream of consciousness poem that was later published in our 2012 CPITS anthology, Turning into Stars.

I wish there was a CPITS residency offered when I was in school. Since CPITS was founded in 1964, it could’ve been technically possible. It would’ve changed my entire relationship with school and with poetry. About the time I began to write poetry, I was also diagnosed with dyslexia. There’s a reason why I had so much trouble in school, and why did I have to wait until I was 30 to discover that I loved to write?

When traditional education failed, poetry taught me to think, and I went on to write essays and arts grants—I had seven California Arts Council artist-in-residency grant at Mark West School in Santa Rosa. And I became a feature writer for the Sonoma County Stump as well as for the West Sonoma County Paper (now the North Bay Bohemian.) None of it would’ve happened if I hadn’t discovered poetry.  

The reason why I’m in the classroom, is that, as a poet, I’m a role model. I can reach those kids who traditionally fall through the cracks, and show them how they can access their minds. Poetry creates a powerful tool for change and self actualization. A former student from Mark West School, who didn’t think poetry was important, called me up at midnight to read me a poem he’d just written out of the blue. Scott Meisner was a 21-year-old college student with a MBA who finally got the Aha! moment when he realized that poetry matters.

If the program isn’t at my child’s school, how can I help bring it there?

The best way to get poetry into the schools is usually through a parent volunteer, the PTA, or a teacher. At Alexander Valley School, a teacher, Peggy Maddock, brought poetry to the school—and now first grade teacher Shannon Hausman continues the tradition. Since 1991, I’ve taught an entire generation of Alexander Valley kids poetry.

There are numerous school and community funding sources that can be utilized to fund a CPITS residency. We are trained to work with teachers to locate and develop funding sources: including specialized school funds—from gifted and talented, youth at risk, library funds, etc; to state and local arts education resources: the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, and the California Arts Council. We’ve become gifted grantwriters in the process.

During this time of dire funding for the arts, we’ve some great breaking news: thanks to a California Arts Council /Artists in Schools grant, Sonoma County CPITS poets will offer long-term, in-depth poetry writing residencies at four schools in Sonoma County. Contact the Sonoma-Napa CPITS Area Coordinator Meg Hamill, megmariehamill@gmail.com, or the San Francisco CPITS office info@CPITS.org, (415) 221-4201, for more information.

CPITS, a collective of professional poets who bring literary craft into classrooms statewide, is one of the nation’s oldest visiting writers program—and this weekend we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary October 10-12 at IONS Earthrise Retreat on the Sono-Marin border. If you’re an artist and want to work in the schools, or you’re a teacher interested in enriching your language arts curriculum, our CPITS Symposium, Voices of Gold, is an excellent resource and training ground. We’ve ten more spaces open for day-use folks, either Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday. Two more IONS rooms just opened up if they need to stay over. The view from the ridge is breathtaking and the food is fabulous.

Our keynote will be former California Poet Laureate Al Young. On Friday, an intensive “method writing” workshop will be led by Los Angeles poet and screenwriter Jack Grapes. The symposium will also features spoken word artist Josh Healey and visiting poets from around the state who will share proven strategies to deliver hands-on and out-loud poetry in schools.

If you’d like to become involved as a teacher, poet, donor or school, please find us on the web at www.cpits.org to help build the future for young writers in California. Statewide CPITS residencies reach more than 25,000 students, and trained CPITS poets offer time-tested teaching tools to enhance literacy, and foster creative problem solving and self-expression. Poetry workshops are held at public and private schools, juvenile hall, libraries, after-school programs, hospitals, multilingual settings and other community venues.

And if you can’t come to the symposium, you might want to order our inaugural CPITS lesson plan book, “Poetry Crossing: 50 Lessons for K-12 Classrooms.” Edited by former CPITS AC, Phyllis Meshalum of Sebastopol, it’s a large format ready-to-roll writing lesson ideas for all ages.



==================================

For follow up: Phyllis Meshulam meshalom@sonic.net
Sonoma County & Napa County CPITS Area Coordinator
Meg Hamill megmariehamill@gmail.com




PRESS RELEASE/ event for calendar listing

California Poets in the Schools 50th anniversary Symposium
Oct 10 to 12, at IONS Earthrise Retreat, Petaluma, CA

Dear Dan Taylor & Linda Castrone


Tthanks for the Facebook followup. Duly appreciated.

FYI: CPITS holds its annual workshops in northern and southern California ion alternate years. I've been a CPITS poet since 1979, and was Sonoma/Napa CPITS Area Coordinator for a decade (or was it 2?—I trained a lot of poets including Terry Ehret. Dana Lomax, Jane Hirshfield, and Arthur Dawson); after me Arthur Dawson was AC, then Phyllis Meshalum and now, Meg Hamill is the new Area Coordinator for Sonoma/Napa counties.

We've two books that will be released at the event as well: So I'll give you several bits/angles to choose from.


Two CPITS Poetry Books Hot off the Press: If the Sky Was My Heart, and Poetry Crossing: 50 + Lessons for 50 Years

I can send you a more formal press release in a bit—but I just wanted to get the info to you ASAP for calendar, etc. Hence the "we" slant. I've also included some graphics, and we've a photo release for Andy—the student—he's featured on our brochure. Any publicity you can give us would be most appreciated!

Maureen


# # #


Voices of Gold: California Poets in the Schools Celebrates 50 Years of Poetry, Oct. 10-12 at IONS Earthrise in Petaluma


NB: Katie Watts from The Press Democrat wrote: The press release is SO well-written, I have to congratulate you. After 20 years in journalism, I am a fan of great press releases and I see them so seldom. Thorough, funny, literate -- you are a calendar editor's dream come true. Here's my editor's comment on where we want to go with the five questions, included partly because I enjoy her sense of humor. The questions would focus on ways to create fabulous poetry, engender a love in children and the value of doing both. Hopefully s/he will wax poetic while also being concrete.


I replied: I used to work for the Sonoma County Stump, then The Paper (which morphed into the West Sonoma County Paper, then The Bohemian). I managed to make the grade past all the editors/owners, except the last one... Now a CPITS student of mine, Gabe Maline is the editor! So, I knew nothing when I joined the printed world, I was poetry editor at the Stump with Bliss Buys and Joe Leary. Simone Wilson—who knew how to write a press release was my partner in crime. I happened to have a camera. This harkens back in the days of upright typewriters.

When the Stump folded, we went to Nick Valentine and Elizabeth Poole and convinced them to take us on—we were so totally faking it. I continued on as a photographer and late shift PMT camera woman (Phil Osborne, a student of Ansel Adams, trained me). I still didn't know what I was doing behind the camera—I just did it.

Then Ron Sonenshine left me babysitting his Bodega beat while he was on vacation. All hell broke loose as my first story (page 1) was Suck Mud. The big illegal dredging controversy in Bodega Bay. I was in waaaay over my head with no snorkel—but managed to pull it off.

And Nick began to give me arts assignments. And that's how I learned to write—in the trenches. Scissors and gluestix were my best friends. I wouldn't have learned to write prose at all if it wasn't for poetry. I'm dyslexic—I shouldn't be able to write...but poetry led me to prose. I didn't know the difference between a noun and a verb...but I digress...

OK, so I'm procrastinating...




Ghosts of symposiums past:


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Two CPITS Poetry Books Hot off the Press: If the Sky Was My Heart, and Poetry Crossing: 50 + Lessons for 50 Years



IF THE SKY WAS MY HEART: SONOMA COUNTY STUDENTS WIN PUBLICATION HONORS

Sonoma County students sixth grader, Ryan Murgatroyd, 4th grader, Nicholas Voegels, and 3rd grader, Gemma Ahern, of Kenwood Elementary School; 6th grader, Eduardo Lopez, of Cali Calmécac Language Academy, in Windsor; 3rd grader, Gavin Rognlien, of Prestwood School; and the entire Fort Ross School Kindergarten-2nd grade class all have poems in the new poetry anthology, If the Sky Was My Heart, just released by California Poets in the Schools. The book features poetry by more than sixty students from around California, their poems were selected from among thousands of poems written during the past year.

Dawn After Sappho

A moment ago, gold-sandaled
dawn woke me up
with the voice of my mom.
She tells me to wake up
or the bus will leave me.
I get dressed and I put
on my golden-winged
sandals. I brush
my teeth and then
I grab my backpack
and go flying to
the bus stop.

Eduardo Lopez
Grade Six, Cali Calmécac Language Academy, 
Windsor, Sonoma County
Richard Meza, classroom teacher, 
Phyllis Meshulam, poet-teacher


If the Sky Was My Heart, edited by Blake More, also features poems by Sonoma County CPITS poets Arthur Dawson of Kenwood, Gwynn O’Gara (Sebastopol Poet Laureate), Phyllis Meshalum—both of Sebastopol; Jabez W. Churchill (Ukiah Poet Laureate), and Maureen Hurley. Other Sonoma County CPITS poets in the program include Molly Albracht-Sierra, Claire Drucker, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Jackie Hallerberg, Meg Hamill, Kyle Matthews, Blake More, and Kathleen Winters.

(The book title If the Sky Was My Heart, came from a poem by one of my 4th grade students Emily Mozzetti of Buri Buri School in South San Francisco. I also have a poem in the anthology, KINDLING).



POETRY CROSSING: 50 + LESSONS FOR 50 YEARS

Sebastopol's Phyllis Meshulam is the editor of another new CPITS book, Poetry Crossing: 50 + Lessons for 50 Years. It’s an anthology of teaching resources chock-full of 50 fabulous creative writing lesson plans, and contains a foreword by Susan Wooldridge, author of Poemcrazy. Said Phyllis: This book is filled with ready-to-go lessons for poets of all ages. It features model poems by award-winning poets and poets laureate, as well as student poems, and bilingual resources.”

Contributors with a California connection include former United States Poet Laureate Robert Hass along with Jane Hirshfield, Brenda Hillman, Ellen Bass, Juan Felipe Herrera, Al Young, Gary Snyder, Francisco Alarcón, David St. John, and other poets who have have donated their poems in order to further the mission of inspiring youth. Poetry Crossing makes tangible decades of CPITS creative writing pedagogy, aimed to stimulate the intellectual curiosity and creative problem-solving skills of today’s students.








A generic statewide press release in the works:

IF THE SKY WAS MY HEART: CALIFORNIA STUDENTS WIN PUBLICATION HONORS

California students from kindergarten to 12th grade are featured poets in the new poetry anthology, If the Sky Was My Heart, just released by California Poets in the Schools. The anthology features poetry by more than sixty students fromSan Diego to Del Norte counties—their poems were selected from among thousands of poems written during the past year.

Dawn After Sappho

A moment ago, gold-sandaled
dawn woke me up
with the voice of my mom.
She tells me to wake up
or the bus will leave me.
I get dressed and I put
on my golden-winged
sandals. I brush
my teeth and then
I grab my backpack
and go flying to
the bus stop.

Eduardo Lopez
Grade Six, Cali Calmécac Language Academy, 
Windsor, Sonoma County
Richard Meza, classroom teacher, 
Phyllis Meshulam, poet-teacher


The book title If the Sky Was My Heart, came from a poem by one of Maureen Hurley's 4th grade students Emily Mozzetti in South San Francisco.



If the Sky Was My Heart

If the sky was my heart
the birds would be my voice.
If the river could talk
it would tell me to swim
until the end of time.
If the wind was my breath
the sky would be my soul.
If our galaxy was a rollercoaster
there would be a line
running through the Milky Way.
If I was the sun
I would be the king of light.
If my heart were the world
it would be filled with love.

Emily Mozzetti
Grade Four, Buri Buri Elementary School,
South San Francisco, Sam Mateo County
Ms. Moussa, classroom teacher
Maureen Hurley, poet-teacher











If the Sky Was My Heart, edited by Blake More, also features poems by CPITS poet-teachers.






Saturday, October 4, 2014

INDIAN SUMMER

      —from a photo by Joy Harjo

During the dry heat of Indian summer,
toad families crawled out from their dens
along the earth bank above our house. 
Because they cried like babies, 
I put them in the wicker crib that 
corralled three generations of family. 
If I picked the toads up wrong 
or scared them, they'd pee on me,
gazing at me with gilt-rimmed eyes
the color of dry summer grass,
as I weighed their squat mossy
coolness in my grubby hands.
It was a time of little water, our spring,
reduced to a trickle, meant no baths,
our bodies became rough as toadskin.
What brought them out? Hunger? 
Thirst? Anticipation of rain?
I'd carefully place them back 
by their gopher hole burrows
not thinking of the water I'd stolen.
Little hogan earth dwellers, they'd tuck
back into the cool darkness,
waiting for a safer time to migrate
down to the creekbed and lay
their beaded strings of pale eggs.


Western toad, A. Boreas —Wiki



2nd draft: Late summer, the toads would come out. Because they cried, I put them in the old wicker baby crib that corralled three generations of children. If I picked the toads up wrong or scared them, they'd pee on me. It was a time of little water. What brought the toads out? Thirst? But I always put them back by their reclaimed gopher hole burrows. Little earth dwellers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS



Adrift.
By wind, and by sea
flotillas of Velella velella set sail
& the skin of the ocean is their home.
Offshore pelagic dreams will beach them
on distant shores where people will puzzle
over their cobalt mantles and glassine sails.
They will make odd metaphors and similes,
reducing them to jellyfish—or man-of-wars,
not realizing that their strange uniqueness
makes these small by-the-wind-sailors 
a singularity in the animal kingdom
that defies simple classification.
& they'll set sail into the void 
to lodge in the flotsam 
of the mind.




By-the wind-sailror, purple sail, sea-raft, little-sail, or the euphonious Valella valella —Wiki

This is from a Facebook rant, I fought ignorance, lost the battle, but won a poem.

Way back when, I took biology classes at College of Marin, we'd go out to the marine station in Bolinas and hang out—and when the Vellela velella were blown ashore, it was class time! My biology teacher waxed poetic about Velella velella's uniqueness and that they have no close relatives. They are a singularity. Aka By-the-wind-sailors, velella are hydrozoans, or rather, a hydroid polyp with only one species in the entire genus. They're very special and are vaguely jellyfish-like. Sort of...but that doesn't make them jellyfish. Same phylum, and class, that's about all. 


Velella velella family tree

Phylum: Cnidaria
Subphylum: Medusozoa
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Anthomedusae
Family: Porpitidae
Genus: Velella
Species: V. velella

Jellyfish family tree
Portuguese Man o War

Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Siphonophorae
Family: Physaliidae
Genus: Physalia
Species: P. physalis

Of course everybody on the Facebook post wanted to take the easy way out and just label the creatures as jellyfish. I guess it's too hard for some folks to say Velella velella. They float on top of the water. They can't submerge like jellyfish. The Greek name for jellyfish is cuplike. Velella velella are not cuplike at all. Sure, they're gelatinous on the underside but so are slugs, tunicates, and slime mold, as well as grape jelly sandwiches. Shall we call all grape jelly sandwiches jellyfish because they vaguely resembles jellyfish? Or call screws nails because they're similar in shape? Agh!


It was a losing battle. 


A more accurate write-up than Wiki, which has old, outdated info, is Velella velella By-the-wind sailor "biologist have examined the Velella as a single hydroid... The most striking aspect of the Velella velella is the direction of its sail, beacause it represents the direction the Velella is going and eventually to what shore it will arrive."

In “By the Wind” Sailors: Seasonal Velella beaching mystery solved, my old co-worker in the schools, Michael Ellis wrote:" It averages two inches across its flattened oval body and has a prominent sail. This flexible, triangular projection catches the wind and can move the animal quickly along the water even in a gentle zephyr. It is this remarkable ability that inspired early mariners to christen it the “By-the-wind Sailor.”

Velella is in the same phylum as anemones, corals, jellyfish and hydroids. It was once thought to be a colony of animals similar to the infamous Portuguese Man-of-War, but careful research has shown that it is a complicated individual rather than an assemblage of animals."

FIRST DRAFT:

By wind, and by sea they sail
the skin of the ocean is their home
Pelagic dreams drift to shore
where people puzzle over them
making poor metaphors
calling them jellies, not realizing
their uniqueness as they sail into the void.


Voices of Gold: California Poets in the Schools Celebrates 50 Years of Poetry, Oct. 10-12 at IONS Earthrise in Petaluma




Poets, teachers, poet-teachers, and plebeians who want to become poets in the schools: join us October 10 -12, for our 50th Anniversary celebration, Voices of Gold Symposium at IONS in Petaluma. If you haven’t yet marked this on your calendar, do it now. Good job! Now, if you can't attend the whole the weekend, then come for Saturday's fabulous festivities. You'll get to spend the day or the entire weekend participating in innovative writing workshops and partying like rockstars with kindred poets, of course.

Did we mention that many California poets laureates, and civic poets laureates are/were CPITS poets—including Jane Hirshfield, Celia Woloch, Molly Fisk, John Oliver Simon, and our latest California Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, have gone on to win huge accolades? Yep. Poetry is us. Jane Hirshfield credits CPITS as that “superb and still thriving program” that gave her first job as poet teacher; she said CPITS instils in young writers a passion for poetry, allows freedom of mind and offers the open-ended “writing invitation.”



LA poet-actor-playwrignt Jack Grapes, publisher of ONTHEBUS, will lead a deep writing intensive on Friday, Oct. 10. His Method Writing Approach teaches us to listen deep within ourselves. Celebrate and honor the elders of CPITS with a banquet, and welcome newcomers with special festivities.



Saturday, Oct. 11 former California Poet Laureate and CPITS board member, Al Young will give a keynote address, followed by four sets of workshops that embrace themes of poetry & sound, poetry & visual art/media, poetry & movement, and poetry performance—we'll be joined by special guests, performance poet-activists Josh Healey and Jason Bayani.

California poet teachers—from San Diego to Del Norte—will lead ab-fab workshops. CPITS workshop leaders include Amanda Chiado, Phyllis Meshulam, Karen K Lewis, Claire Blotter, Tree Bernstein, Jim Cartwright, Karen Benke, Dan Zev Levinson, Julie Hochfield, Prartho Sereno, DanaTeen Lomax, Blake More, Margo Perin, Kathy Evans and Sally Doyle.

More cool workshops on Sunday morning, including poetry & yoga, poetry & art—and don't forget to leave extra time to say those long goodbyes with newfound friends.

WHERE: at IONS Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma—right off Hwy 101, at San Antonio Creek. The beautiful campus is nestled in the Northern California foothills. You will dine on sumptuous organic meals while engaging in a multitude of interactive poetry workshops that will enhance your own writing or teaching in the classroom.

Please visit https://www.cpits.org/events.htm for registration information and complete workshop descriptions or contact Tina@cpits.org, better yet, just call Tina 415-221-1401 to register. See you there!

We also have great weekend commute special (Sat/Sun) $230; SaturDay Pass only $200—includes IONS' day use fee and abfab organic homegrown meals and snacks. No sleepovers. But two rooms are still available: contact TIna@cpits.org (415) 221-1401 ASAP.

To download the Voices of Gold brochure:
http://www.cpits.org/.../2014/CalPoetsFinalFlyerOct2014.pdf



ABOUT CALIFORNIA POETS IN THE SCHOOLS: Founded in 1964, California Poets in the Schools is one of the largest literary artists-in-residence programs in the nation. We encourage students throughout California to recognize and celebrate their creativity, intuition, and intellectual curiosity through the creative poetry writing process. We provide students with a multicultural community of published poets, specially trained to bring their experience and love for their craft into the classroom. CPITS serves 25,000 students annually in hundreds of public and private schools, juvenile halls, after-school programs, hospitals, and other community settings. We also partner with the California Arts Council to broadcast the Poetry Out Loud recitation program to high schools and audiences throughout the state. 2014 marks our 50th Anniversary of Poetry in California’s Classrooms!

California Poets In the Schools | 1333 Balboa Street, Suite 3 | SF CA
94118 | www.cpits.org
https://www.facebook.com/events/223260891209905/permalink/280199338849393




CPITS began as the Pegasus Project at San Francisco State in 1964 and is now active in more than 25 counties, reaching 26,000 students annually. Noted poets including Juan Felipe Herrera, Jane Hirshfield, Alison Luterman, Karen Benke, Opal Palmer Adisa, Richard Garcia, devorah major, Duane BigEagle, John Oliver Simon, Molly Fisk, and hundreds more have led workshops in K-12 classrooms, juvenile halls, hospitals and other community settings. In partnership with the California Arts Council, CPITS also delivers the national Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation program to high school students statewide.






Ghosts of symposiums past:

Write, Sing, and Move the Future Poetry Writing & Teaching Symposium 2013


Passing the Gift Forward, California Poets in the Schools Poetry & Writing Symposium 2012


California Poets in the Schools 47th Symposium  2011


California Poets in the Schools Science & Spirit Symposium 2010




Friday, September 19, 2014

Procrastination Syndrome


Yesterday, I was procrastinating over an important writing job I needed to finish, but kept putting off, so I read old blog posts instead. I meant to correct one small typo on a piece I'd written on St. Brendan in the Faroes Islands, and then just get on with it. Some 14 hours later, I was still at it, revising—hammer and tong. It occurred to me as I utterly destroyed my bloggy bit on St. Brendan, that:
a) I really, really should've saved a copy of the first draft, at present, it's unrecognizable, and 
2) The joy of writing is having the temerity to turn a piece into a dog's breakfast, knowing that eventually I'll have to rewrite my way out to the other side—having uncovered all kinds of connections that wouldn't otherwise have happened, had I played it "safe."

(Sheesh, I can't even think linearly within any given system: a), b). I had to change points mid-stream: a), 2). What's with that?) Oh look, shiny!

Out of destruction and chaos comes... But now I have to really fix the demolished post..it's all over the place.(Or at least hide it from the web crawlers). But I'm stalling. Again. Procrastination. Again. Shun's the operative word here.

So far, this morning, I've mopped the floor, organized my hair bands and postage stamps, shuffled piles of horizontal files, uncharacteristically hung up his clothes, I also uncharacteristically rearranged his closet, cleaned out old emails from three different accounts (not an easy thing as I'm an obsessive reader, and need to read everything before I delete it), I beheaded basil flowers, thus disturbing the leafhoppers.

I thought about those bugs, wondering how many of them we accidentally eat, without knowing it, and about making pesto with sunflower seeds because I'm fresh out of pine nuts and they're too expensive anyway. Pesto would the perfect last hurrah before summer's end. But I'm fresh out of garlic. Phew. Sidestepped that one.

Meanwhile, I've got one thoroughly garbled post that needs mending. Or nuking. And that other thing I was avoiding yesterday. And today as well. Apparently.

With that, I bring you, Dear Reader, a little distraction for our reading pleasure: an article from the Atlantic Monthly, on writers and procrastination!
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
The psychological origins of waiting (... and waiting, and waiting) to work. (Which is adapted from Megan McArdle's The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.)

See, I too am an inveterate procrastinator. This morning I posted Facebook messages to a classmate whom I hardly knew, and haven’t seen in at least four point five decades... we took a spin down an unpaved memory lane. I also marvelled with childhood friend Micaela who found a photo by Brett Weston, of her mother Rosalind Sharpe Wall, in Bixby Canyon. That's how I "met" that old classmate.

I talked like a pirate about John Malcovich's stunning role as Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach) in CrossBones—sadly cancelled after one season. I suggest that you watch all nine episodes today, it's international Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arr and avast, ye maties! Teach invented the pirate flag. I bet you didn't know that.

I even rewrote a Peter Piper tongue twister on Adair Lara's wall... If Peter piper (shouldn't that be a capital P, or should I use commas?) picked a peck of pickpocket-proof pants, was he peckish for pound notes? It's all her fault. She shouldn't have posted that cool Instagram photo. My mind was off and racing like the ponies at Golden Gate Fields. What about California Chrome, anyway?

Yes, I do procrastination quite well. Layers upon layers, embedded so deep, that I can no longer tell which particular task I'm avoiding. Or for what reason. And who among us doesn't suffer from "imposter syndrome"? I've been faking it for decades. So far, so good. Do you think they know?

I agree with that author Megan McArdle that among writers procrastination "is a peculiarly common occupational hazard." I wonder what other foibles writers use to distract themselves from themselves.

For example, I wonder if the incredibly prolific Maria Popova of Brain Pickings ever procrastinates? What is Adair Lara's particular, peculiar anti-writing vice? Besides posting photos of her new pickpocket-proof pants. 

I know Eugene O'Neill liked to sharpen a dozen no. 2 Ticonderoga pencils to weapons-grade perfection before he arranged them just so, on a dozen yellow legal-sized writing pads fanned out on the living room rug. By then, it was time for drinkies all around.

O'Neill did not view alcohol as a performance-inhibiting drug. Nor did Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Styron. When novelists sober up, they usually dry up. Drinking is good for inhibiting the "imposter syndrome." There are sober coffee-table books, fergawdsakes, on writers and their favorite tipple.


I was thinking that writers' procrastination tricks might make for an interesting Brain Pickings column, but knowing Maria, she's probably already covered it several times over while procrastinating over her latest post. How does she do it week after week?

However, I have a quibble with Megan McArdle who wrote that:
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class.
Not me! I really, really sucked at English. Speaking of grammar school, it could be that I'm dyslexic, or that Coach Harry Roche routinely threw erasers and chalk bits at kids who didn't have the right answer.
Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks.
Well, I do resemble that one—after I'd learned to read, that is. I stalled a couple years on that too. It wasn't until the end of third grade. I remember the day. I was so sick of seeing Spot run and Dick and Jane being such goody-two-shoes, that I read ahead the entire SRA reading library in self defense.

I read five years' worth of little glossy laminated folders on bats and echolocation, sonar, magma, and bee colonies within a year. Kids started calling me a walking encyclopedia, but I was never head of the class in anything—except art.

Mike Frank and Johnny Kaufman were great smart-asses, but they didn't become writers. They sucked at English, like me. They also had permanent eraser dust imprints on their foreheads. They never had the right answer. Former tennis pro Harry Roche had perfect aim. He never missed his shot. I was terrified that he'd find me out.

There were alternative procrastinational options. The drugs were pretty good in the 60s, and besides Janis Joplin lived on our road with Big Brother and the Holding Company, so we'd drop in for a spell, procrastinating over our homework. Home was a relative concept. As was homework.

What a long, strange trip it turned out to be. As in the Human Be-in with Timothy Leary. Yep, I was there. With my mom. Cutting school, procrastinating‚ again. My mom always said God Bless Timothy Leary as she tuned out. Those were the daze.

See, we all went to Lagunitas School District—that's LSD, for short. 'Splains a lot. Adair (Lara) Daly and her twin were in the smart kids' class. Harry didn't lob erasers at them. Adair automatically got A's in English classes. In college too. She was so good, she even ran off with my English teacher. Heady times. I barely passed English 1A. I was not a writer. Yet.

Yeah, Take another little piece of my heart. I became a writer at the age of 30, long after most kids graduated from grammar school. Can't exactly blame or credit any natural ability.

I got pissed off at Gary Snyder writing about my West Marin landscape all wrong and I took up poetry writing in self defense. David Bromige saw a spark in that divine chaos. And to his credit, he didn't interfere, he left me to it. I quipped: Would you trust a poet in your mouth? He said, Hey that's pretty good. Write it down. And so I did. One word led to another. So much for the imposter theory.

I was a stubborn bootstrap student, at best. But I did learn grammar AFTER I'd become a writer. It's vs its? Hadn't a clue, thanks to Harry Roche's missiles. But I did learn punctuation—eventually, through trial and error. I actually "hear punctuation." And I do like semicolons; em-lines are even better—all those dashes and interlocutions are written forms of procrastination all out of breath.

Deadlines are dreadlines. I am often paralyzed by the though of writing something that's for shit. But that doesn't seem to stop me. Failure is my middle name. But I keep at it. I can't claim that I find writing easy—that's why I do it. It's more like I can't help myself. It's an obsession, flip side of the procrastination coin. Or OCD.

When I write. I know fuck-all about "language, structure, and imagery. My mind wanders into distant meadows of thought. Gets lost on the forest of syntax (sin tax?), where the only way out is through. I've no idea what I've written —it's usually a wild sleigh-ride with no one holding the reins. I might get it, years later. Or not. But still I write.

Write on!

This post too, is a form of procrastination. I never did get those two writing jobs done. I rest my case. There's always another Monday.





The blog in question:
Sheep Islands: What about the sheep? Notes on the Voyage of St. Brendan

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tea vs Chai—if by Land, or Sea

I'm having me a nice cuppa Yorkshire tea in me hond.... But Yorkshire tea, which I discovered while housesitting Dave Hansen's flat in Amsterdam, is hard to come by in the US. I found a rare stash at the Petaluma Grocery Outlet and bought up a big flat of tea. Soon it will be gone.

Currently I'm stranded in a lost republic between teas (any old tea won't do—most of the organic designer teas are fancily packaged hogwash). My mainstay, Trader Joe's, changed its Irish Breakfast tea a while back, leaving me adrift in a vast sea of peaty mediocre teas. I have a drawer-full of straw-flavored teas that I periodically recycle into iced tea, which is more forgiving on the taste buds than hot tea.

T.J.'s new twin packs of Irish Breakfast tastes suspiciously like Tetley's English Breakfast teadust dregs. The round teabags also look suspiciously like Tetley's. I can't tell them apart. I miss the old square bags of Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast tea. It made for a good cuppa tea.

Besides, I have issues with the idea of English Breakfast—politically incorrect in our household—no matter how similar they are. I mean, can you really taste the difference between English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast teas?

At UC Berkeley's 1991 Celtic Colloquium Conference I was in charge of making the morning tea for our elevenses. I made real black tea, brewed in china pots—none of that tepid metallic urn water dumped into a mug with bagged tea that Americans are so fond of. 

Because the thirsty scholars were swilling tea (or free whiskey) faster than I could pour it, I opted for Tetley's bagged tea. A British scholar promptly dubbed the Tetley's tea as "chimp dust." 

When she saw my puzzled look, she explained that whatever was left over in the tea packing room, the cartoon chimps swept up afterwards and repackaged it as Tetley's. In other words, it wasn't the good stuff. But now, even the Tetley's chimp dust is also no longer as good as it used to be. 

I do like PG Tips, McGowan's, Lyons, or Barry's Irish Breakfast—when I can get it. But the tea's pricy and hard to get in bag form. T.J.'s Irish Breakfast tea was a real bargain at $2.99 a box. And it made a right good cuppa tae. OK, potta tae. I drink it by the potful.

I can hear you tea purists sniffing now: bagged tea? Unfortunately, I don't do mornings well. I'd need a strong cup of tea in order to make that pot of loose leave tea first thing in the morning—or I'd be in danger of scalding myself.

Morning tea should be nice and black. None of that pale amber stuff. Tea should be strong enough for mice to skittle across its surface. I guess salted yak butter tea qualifies. Never tried it. But milk and sugar will do.

So when someone posted a Facebook link to a blog, The Language of Food, about the origin of tea, I nearly swooned.  
 Tea if by Sea from The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. By Dan Jurafsky

We drink a lot of tea in San Francisco—I guess you should expect no less for a city originally named Yerba Buena, after a local wild herb in the mint family (Satureja douglasii) used as an herbal tea....
The Language of Food is a delightful romp through the history of tea. It focuses on real tea, not herbal tea, though tea itself is an herb—a fermented Camellia sinensis leaf native to north Burma and southwest China.

During the Shang Dynasty, tea, or t'u, was used medicinally. The Chinese character for tea is , originally written as  (pronounced t'u.) The earliest records of tea consumption date back to the 10th century BC, and Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong, ca. 2737 BC. A 3rd century AD, medical text by Hua Tuo, stated that: to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better. Bitter is better. With butter?

The Portuguese sailors introduced tea to Europe in the 16th c. In 1660, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II of England, brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Tea was not readily available to the masses in Britain until the 18th c,. so smuggling was rampant, and its importance led to the Boston Tea Party and led to the end of British dominion in America. The Brits should've just let everybody have their cuppa tae in the end.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Köhler's Medicinal Plants

When tea arrived to Europe by sea via the Portuguese in the 16th c., it was called chá. Somewhere along the line, it was changed to tea, probably by the Dutch. Tea is pronounced differently in various Chinese languages: chá in Mandarin; zo / dzo in Wu Chinese; or ta / te in Min Chinese. Other Chinese words for tea: jia, she, ming and chuan. (—Wiki). Dan Jurafsky follows a compelling linguistic thread to include the word chai traveling overland via the Mongolian to Persian route.

Jurafsky writes:
These tea words ("tea", "cha", "chai", "matcha", "laphet") are players in an unusual linguistic story, in which two differing pronunciations of a word reflect the two ways that Europe and Asia have traded over the last 500 years: by land or by sea.
Jurafsky goes to great lengths to prove that if tea arrived overland across the Eurasian Steppes (via the Silk Road), then it was called chai.
The very first written mention of tea in Europe in 1559 is as Chiai, with an -i, by the Venetian travel writer Ramusio describing the Persian traveler Chaggi Memet...
However, I do have a very minor linguistic quibble with the basic premise of the article tea by sea as the Portuguese sailors who brought it to Europe in the 16th c., called it chá. They definitely didn't go overland, and their Chinese contacts were strictly maritime.
The second group of languages describes tea with a word pronounced something like "tey"—the way our English word tea used to be pronounced. This group includes western European languages like French (thé), Spanish (té), Italian (tè), and Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Welsh, Irish, and Hungarian. And, mysteriously, the very much non-European languages Indonesian and Malay.
I'm not sure if I'm buying the linguistic aspect of the entire tea- vs chai- arrival theory. Both the T- and CH- sound are too closely related. It really comes down to a matter of spelling from two different languages (or dialects, depending upon which army), Southern Min (in Taiwan), vs. Cantonese. I am reminded of the H.L. Menkin quote: There is always an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. 
 
CH- is a modern Western orthographic approximation of a non-Latinate language system. Using modern Latinate orthography on an aural interpretation of a non Indo-European language family, is, at best, a slippery slope of an argument to convey pronunciation of the word tea. It depends on the listener/recorder's native language. 

For example, Manx and Irish are closely related dialects—you'd never know it, as English orthography was used to transcribe Manx, and Latin was used as the base language to convey Irish. 

In addition, in several IE languages, there are both soft and hard consonants: t/ch. What determines hard/soft (slender) sound is the vowel. Tea/chai. Also, Persian is an Indo-European language, like Hindi, not Turkic. "La" is another story altogether. 

I do love Dan Jurafsky's poetic statement: "chai if by land, tea if by sea." And it's probably more or less true. But it is a minor accentual difference. Like bags vs begs, or park/pahk in Boston. Or Ha ha ha vs Ja ja ja (same sound, different languages.)

What it really comes down to is this: the (Latinate-speaking) Portuguese traders of Hong Kong and Macao heard the word as chá, and the (Germanic-speaking) Dutch traders in Indonesia and Java heard it as tea.

Yes, in Irish, follows those "tey" rules, but that's a slender, or soft T sound, more like CHI. Full circle—except for the extra Persian case ending of -i, of course. But Jurafsky notes that extra i in cha-i is an alternative ending. "Persian nouns ending in long -â have alternative forms ending in -i." That makes it chaayi? In Ireland and Scotland, it's usually pronounced tae, as in the River Tay, not tea (tee).

So, how did the Persians really pronounce tea? Cha? (Wiki says the Persian چای is chay, derived from the Cantonese 茶 chá. So, chay rhymes with the Hibernio-English pronunciation of tae. Apparently the English word "tea" (tee), comes from Teochew Chinese "teeh".)

And of course, Starbuck's, in a rare tautological move, has chai tea on the menu—tea-tea. Like the River Avon (river-river), you might say something got lost in the translation.

Oops! My cup's emp-ty. Think I'll have another cuppa tea with me potta tae.

As my grannie would say: tea makes you pee.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams' Magic Mirror


The truth is, if anything, I'm probably addicted to laughter. —Robin Williams 1951-2014

It's really been upsetting reading the news with myriad gossip-mongers having a field day at Robin Williams' expense. Folks have been busy blaming Robin's turbulent drug-ridden past and/or a lack of money for his suicide.

According to his financial advisor, despite two divorces, Robin was not on shaky financial ground. He was solid. Royalties were coming in. He has three new movies about to be released. Income (or a lack thereof) wasn't the reason for his death.

Nor was vice the cause. His vices: he was clean from drugs having gone cold turkey since the day John Belushi died in 1982, and he was also sober for 20 years. Yes, Robin fell off the wagon in 2003 while on a movie set in Alaska, and when he began to fall off the barstool, with family intervention, he got back on the wagon in 2006—so he was eight years sober on round two.).

His vices didn't kill him; being bipolar is not a vice, it's an illness. Profound depression was the real enemy. I've seen what it did to my mother, the failed suicide attempts. When slitting his wrists failed, Robin hanged himself with his own belt, wedged over the top of the closet door. He could've saved himself, but death was the only escape route. The toxicology report is still out but I'm willing to bet it will come back clean.

Robin was also recovering from massive open heart surgery (2009), an operation that often leaves survivors profoundly depressed and suicidal. As if his plate wasn't full enough, we come to find out that he also suffered from early onset Parkinson's Disease, a neuro-degenerative disorder that affects balance, movement, and cadence; other symptoms include tremors, and facial paralysis.

One million Americans have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s; it affects as many as 10 million people worldwide. Men are more likely to get it than women. There is no cure. I wonder if Robin Williams had gotten a chance to talk to Michael J. Fox about his symptoms, if it would've made a difference? Or was being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease the final straw? With that prognosis hanging over his head, his future must have seemed like a bleak Godot.

Robin was a very prolific man, he's left behind a prodigious body of work with nearly 50 movies to his credit, and almost as many TV shows, not to mention comedy shows, and charitable work. In 1986 he helped found Comic Relief USA, raising $80 million for the homeless. He's won two Oscars Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Emmys, four Golden Globes, and five Grammy Awards.

His work literally defined who he was. Robin's very identity was wrapped up in his ability to mime and to mimic others. A man of a thousand voices and thousands of  characters. The magic mirror itself was shattered. And no amount of drugs or superglue could fix that.

RIP, Robin. You had the courage to dream big. You made your life spectacular. And we are all the better for it.

Oh, Captain, my Captain. 




There will be a one-minute worldwide standing ovation (preferably while standing on your desk or on your car roof) to celebrate the incomparable Robin Williams on Monday, August 18 at 1 PM, PST.