Slam Poem

This week my students had a poetry slam and I participated. This is the poem I shared/performed with them titled “Nerd.”

When I was a kid I won a medal
For reading two hundred books in the third grade
Cool, right?
You see, back when we were wild eyed children
peering at the grass and searching through it
to see if it held secrets, and rummaging
through cabinets trying to find a hidden
door to a secret world, only to find that box
of pop-tarts mom put high up so we wouldn’t
gorge ourselves on sugar,
well, being a nerd was alright.

Then something changed—
suddenly it was uncool to read and
in middle school I was meant to spend time
practicing N’Sync dance moves.
My friends would say that books made me look
like a geek and nobody wants to be friends
with a geek. Turns out I needed new friends,
because really I was led in a terrible direction
when they prompted me to tie my hair in
a fake-haired scrunchy,roll my shirt up
to expose my tummy, and put on
3 inch foam Spice Girls platforms.
I was 5’7 in the 7th grade and I looked ridiculous.

So in high school I decided to hang out in a different click,
because everyone has clicks in high school even if
they don’t like to admit, and I was deemed a punk and a nerd-
which was fine because I was no longer the “geeky giant”
with a man-shoulders and weird Next-Gen t-shirt that
I wore at least once a week—although it still made appearances.

Now I get called a nerd at least five times a week,
which is okay, because I am.
But I also see it being used to put kids down,
like it’s something terrible—a visible scar,
but it’s not an insult that could be hurled
or at least it shouldn’t be.

I’ve come to terms with what it means to be a nerd.
My nerdiness connects me to the world and
to something larger and less self-serving
than just myself. It connects me
to ideas and feelings and wonder
about where our world is going
and also where it has been
To me, being a nerd means I take time
to investigate the world around me
and that I form relationships
with others who also question
and think critically,
and most importantly have curiosity
about anything.

You see, being a nerd is never an insult,
but a point of pride and self-love
and I will go on being a nerd
because like bowties,
nerds are cool.

So take some time to pull those glazed over eyes
from the glare of a screen and examine what it means
to be a human being.
You see, I think it is a human strength that we
cannot fully understand our own existence.
In hundreds of years of good and bad guesses
music that pulls that heartstrings, literature that seeks
to define love and grief, as if it is possible, we have yet
to come up with a ‘right’ answer or an encyclopedia entry
on the perfect and purest form of humanity.
It is our vast complexity and trek for discovery
that really keep us going.

The minute we have all the answers—
solve every equation, predict every outcome,
analyze every emotion and idiosyncrasy
or worse, the minute we don’t care to seek,
is the minute humanity ceases to be unique.

So you don’t have to be a nerd about sci-fi or books,
You don’t even have to be a nerd about anything “nerdy”
but be a nerd about something–engage it,
because once you believe you have all the answers
life ceases to interest you—time
becomes a constraint sent to bind you
in infinite boredom, but you are bored
not because you have all the answers,
you are bored because you have ceased to look.

I may be a Trekkie and still aim for 200 books a year,
but that is simply what I chose to love.
That is simply how I discover and chart my world.
Pursue wonder and never stop searching
for that something that makes you passionate
and makes you feel something.
Because at the heart, being a nerd is not about what you love
but it is about the way you love it.

A Thought Continued

I was recently upset by the Gun Control initiative recently died in the Senate. I remembered the poem I wrote previously about my fear of guns and how strongly I dislike them. I decided to write a continuation of that thought and wrote past the first three stanzas of this poem. It works well as slam poetry, but I think it also translates on paper. This is not a condemnation of other viewpoints, but an expansion of my own.

Shooting Games

Somebody asked if I would like to shoot a gun
just for sport, a hobby out in the woods,
I froze.

I could barely muster up a No,
torn between feeling as though it were silly
to feel so antagonistic
but still the feeling in my stomach argued
with logic and I couldn’t bring myself to hold it
the cold barrel, heavy and metallic
and easily deadly, in my cold hands.
I could not imagine the feeling of power
and suffering and far too often
contained in something so small and toy like.

So I collected my words, uncomfortable,
waiting at the depth of my mouth, but stirring
in the pit of my heart and very calmly and politely said
“No, thank you. I’d rather not.”

You see, guns to me are not a sport,
but a family tragedy
where there is only a memory
of imagined gore
and unimagined fear.
An empty bench,
and a premature goodbye.

You see this week a gun control law failed,
and flailed in the arms of the senate
begging for the smallest of cautions
met with great resistance
and I can only cringe and ask
isn’t it worth the tiniest of measures
if just one time a shot
is stopped.

You see, this to me is not a great roadblock,
or even a steeping block to something bigger
but an almost meaningless precaution
taken to ease the pain of those of us
who have lost at the hands of those
wielding guns—see I am not naïve enough
to blame the gun, but I can blame it’s
overwhelming presence, and think
that maybe that small allowance
would give me small comfort when I think
of my father.

Because some days I sleep peacefully and restfully
without waking in a sweat, without seeing violence
under my eyelids, without cringing at images,
once indifferent but now unsettling.

Some days things are alright, but other days
I hold back the frenzy, like a shadow it follows me
sewn to my toes and mockingly dancing with pain
as it pokes at the back of my neck trying to get a rise.

No, I am not naïve enough to believe
that it’s the fault of the gun—I am all too aware
that the fault lies with the man holding it
thinking about ending life, isolated by
hatred, self-doubt, or unjustified motive.
I see a gun in the hands of someone giving up
on life and taking it by force
never mistaking a deadly weapon for
a water-filled harmless action.

So until then I will kindly decline to hold a gun,
something toy like and tragic in one
so often sold and easily bought and politely say
“No thank you, I’d rather not.”

It’s Allergy Time

Please pardon my lack of coffee cups, for it seems I have not been getting Starbucks for the three bucks out of pocket.

Being Ill

Sometimes getting out of bed
is like fighting Caesar’s army
when my nose is the Hoover Damn
and my ears filled with cotton
the head aching with anvil weight
pressing in full force on my temple’s gate.

Whoa is me, I dare say
when sickness strikes on holiday
work seems such a frightening fate
too far away and too rigorous to make
me rise from my goose-downed tomb
a curse much like exiting the womb

and yet I persist to put on pants
and a shirt in a rather clumsy dance
from horizontal to vertical is quite the task
as I make it to the chair and desk
and back to bed for it is far too much
and life is short and unjust and plain rough.

I think I will go back to bed
to hibernate allergy season to its grave
perhaps I shall wake when my stomach growls
and calls for me to fill it’s empty pit
but then that, I think, is asking quite a lot
from yours truly, Miss Allergy Fraught.

Inaugural Address

Today is history
in the making, I saw
eons of hate and injustice and judgment
and pain wrapped in a cage–
still banging wildly on the bars
but locked and tightly knit
with hope.

Hanging on the words of a man
hoisted by desire for change
despite voices calling for a fall
and a nation holding its breath
in the storm of what is to come
and the wreckage of what has been
our story.

For so long–shrinking pockets
and a war waged from fear and
inequality for people like me and
people different from me but
in ways so slight and immeasurable
when it comes to life and
the news ringing with gunfire
every night at eight.

Today I teared up listening
as a nation came together
and whispered a prayer of hope.

Coffee Cup Poem no.65

This Morning’s Thoughts

This morning I woke up
lesson in hand
armed with coffee
and ready to teach.
I look out on a morning
perfectly dreary
thinking of my warm classroom–
my second home.

On the drive my mind wanders
to students arriving
umbrellas and raincoats
wishing for a power outage–
today’s planned poetry lesson
may be a hard sell–
my mind is anticipation
and curiosity and hunger.
My classroom calms me
as I set down my things
and wait…

Bedtime stories turned insomnia cures

In my opinion, one of the most challenging things to do as an author is to create a work that is both appropriate and enjoyable for young readers, yet equally entertaining for adults. For adults this entertainment is not purely nostalgic, but genuine. These stories are plain and simple magic. They combine elements that capture a young person’s imagination and stimulate an adults. Since I think this is a great accomplishment for any author, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite books that I feel fit very neatly into this category.

1. Anything by Roald Dahl. Really. Take your pick. Here is the short list of some of my favorites/his most well known.

  • The BFG
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Matilda
  • The Witches

2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll
3. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
4. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
5. The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
6. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
7. Peter Pan, J.M. Berry
8. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie
9. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (Can’t forget the holiday spirit, now can we?)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (One of my sister’s favorites)
11. Watership Down, Richard Adams
12. The Giver, Lois Lowry

One of my favorites on this list is Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Rusdie (its sequal, Luka and the Fire of Life is equally entertaining). There is a wealth of history and culture in this book, and I would eventually like to incorporate in my curriculum. When High School Students are taught multi-cultual novels, they are often from a very short list of books in the cannon (India, if covered at all, is usually studied through the eyes of Kipling). Now, Rushdie is certainly in the canon, however when teachers decide to use one of his novels it is usually Midnight’s Children, which is an extraordinary undertaking for a HS student. Haroun offers a literary merit that should satisfy even the most enthusiastic clingers to the classics, and, most importantly, a story and characters that students can connect with and will root for. You can’t help but feel as if you’re carried along on a magic carpet and transported into a world where the Word and Stories not only have extraordinary power, but are valued by all. Not only is it fun, but it actually satisfies Common Core Standards too.

These are just a few in what is probably a list of many. My options are not terribly extensive considering the fact that I’m limited to books I’ve read both when I was younger and as an adult. I would love to hear some childhood favorites that you still pick off the bookshelf for a good read. Hopefully (although you are no longer a child or young adult) you can find enjoyment in reading some of these books. I know I certainly still do!

True war stories and soldiers’ luck

When I read that for our final essay in Literature & Violence one of the prompts was to write an essay “that offers an interpretation of violence based on your analysis of a personal experience,” I immediately connected two things: a story my father told about his time over in Germany as a tanker, and Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story”from his novel The Things They Carried. Unfortunately I can not write this essay for the course because the prompt also stipulates that it must make substantial reference to two works from the last fourth of the course and one from the first three sections (The last section is titled “Violent Intimacies” whereas war was towards the beginning of the semester.) In other words, connecting my dad’s story in any logical way to the last section of the course is a stretch.
However, I have this forum.
In “How to Tell a True War Story” the narrator conveys horrific and traumatic experiences of war in a manner that leans toward conveying their normalcy and insignificance. The fact that the events happened and that they are true is something stressed throughout the chapter. It is as if the narrator is saying “shit happens” or “that’s just the way it is.” Well, this struck me as similar to my father’s narration of some tanker stories. He said that he didn’t see much combat while patrolling the border between East and West Germany; furthermore, when he did see combat he did not see much death. Most of the deaths were accidents. Specifically, people getting run over. And to this he said, much like O’Brien’s Narrator, “Can’t dwell on it, move past it.”
The tone of my father’s stories and O’Brien’s are similar: both involve accidents resulting from soldiers fooling around and a death lacking enemy responsibility. In O’Brien’s story, two kids are playing hot potato with a grenade and one accidentally pulls the tab. In my father’s, two guys are horsing around in the back of a jeep, thrown out, and run over. Another story involves a collision between a Gama Goat and a Gore, which my dad was involved in. What is true in all of these cases is that the narrator of the story stresses that these things just happen, and when they do you just don’t think too much about it.
Two last quotes to wrap up. When I asked him about why he told these stories how he told them my father said: “When you tell a story, you tell it not to scare people, and you tell it because you look back and think ‘I was lucky’.” This particularly struck me, and I think it is something that O’Brien would agree with. For his narrator in a true war story, “there is not even a point, or else the point doesn’t hit you until twenty years later, in your sleep”. Well, perhaps the point, which the narrator admits to loosing, is that you were just lucky. Maybe you weren’t playing with a grenade out of boredom or rough-housing in the back of a jeep. Maybe the tire of a Gore didn’t roll over you. Maybe it is as simple as luck or, even more so, believing that it was luck.
Point being: War is a nasty business. Being a soldier is a tough business. These are just two similar takes on those two commonalities and experiences.
Otherwise, I highly recommend clicking on the link to the chapter from O’Brien’s book. I more strongly recommend buying the full text.

Better Late than Never

Alas, my return to blogging. This semester has been very busy and that is my excuse for not posting anything since my travels in London. However, the semester is drawing to an end and I’ve always practiced the slogan: the best procrastination is working to avoid work. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, besides not blogging (well, more likely the reason for…), I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve read and written for my academic term. (My favorite readings are starred, but that is not to say that the rest are not good reads.)

Book List:
  1. King Lear, William Shakespeare
  2. The Iliad, Homer
  3. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut*
  4. Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman*
  5. The Bluest Eye, Tony Morrison*
  6. Dubliners, James Joyce*
  7. How To Do Things With Words, J. L. Austin*
  8. Excitable Speech, Judith Butler
  9. Emma, Jane Austen
  10. Image-Music-Text, Roland Barthes
  11. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, Robin Dunbar*
  12. The Scandal of the Speaking Body, Shoshana Felman
  13. Forms and Meanings, Roger Chartier
  14. On Rhetoric, Aristotle
  15. With Pen and Voice: Anthology of Nineteenth-Century African American Women*
  16. Britain Yesterday and Today, Walter Arnstien
  17. Eminent Victorians, Lyntton Strachey*
  18. English Culture and the Decline of Industrial Spirit, Martin Wiener
Oh, and there is more in the form of short stories and essays:
  1. Wittgenstein, “Aspect and Image”
  2. J.L. Austin, “A Plea for Excuses”*
  3. Austin, “Three Ways to Spill Ink”
  4. Austin, “Performative Language”
  5. Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living”
  6. Searle, “Expressions, Meaning and Speech Acts”
  7. Culler, “Convention and Meaning”
  8. Jakobson, “Poetics and Linguistics”
  9. Simon Well, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force”
  10. Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Poems)
  11. Paul Fussell, “The Great War and Modern Memory”*
  12. George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”
  13. Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story” (highly recommend the whole book)*
  14. Primo Levi, “Survival in Auschwitz”
  15. Angela Carter, “The Company of Wolves” and “The Tiger’s Bride”*
  16. Edgar Allen Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “Berenice” and “Murder in the Rue Morgue”
  17. Ariel Dorfman, “The Tyranny of Terror”
  18. Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony”*
  19. Elaine Scarry, “The Body in Pain”
  20. Michel Foucault, “Discipline and Punish”
  21. Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation” and “A Good Man is Hard To Find”*
  22. Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
  23. Tobias Wolf, “Bullet in the Brain”*
  24. Ernest Hemingway, “A Way You’ll Never Be” and ” The Killers”*
  25. Joyce Carol Oates, “How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction”
My semester also features paper writing…

Total Papers: 40
Total Pages: 153
(About 4 pages per paper, however many of them were 2 page assignments, at least 2 were over 10 pages and one was 15.)

This is a semester in the life of an English Major. And to give a further idea of that life: this semester was one of the lighter work loads. Not that I am at all complaining; I love my major and I love reading and writing. It is this fact that perhaps make the semester seem light. Many, well most, of my readings were enjoyable. I actually hope that someone picks off this list and uses it as suggestions. After all, it is my goal to connivence everyone I meet to read at least one Flannery O’Connor story, if not all.