Category Archives: beauty

DAESH, Listen to this

Another kind of power: “. . . truth and love and hope abide . . . ”



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mapping reading and the ABCs of verbal art

A colleague showed me this site recently, and I am experimenting with it as a way to push and share this summer’s reading–summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

The site encourages me to read across the map, especially since I teach a high school sophomore class called World Literature.  I owe it to the students and myself and other global citizens to read widely.

Across literary genres and world regions, the human experience shines through.  It houses art, beauty and challenge–the ABCs of verbal art.

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On Being a Student: exposure + reflection = learning

As I have written previously in this series, my recent NEH experience differs significantly from that of my students during the “academic year.”  I applied and was accepted for two weeks of focused study.  I chose the subject, and I  devoted eight hours a day to this pursuit, not counting the preparatory reading before the course began.

By contrast, “my” students attend class for fifty minutes, except for the one eighty-minute block per week.  For most of the students, this class is one of seven they encounter in a day.

During my two weeks this summer, the leaders provided a wide array of material.  We were exposed to a rich range of primary and secondary sources, covering classical and modern poetry from as far west as Sierra Leone and Cordova and as far east as Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.  Because we read, heard and discussed so much, I feel the need to review and reflect on our handouts and my notes.  Without this process of reflection, much of what ran across my ears, eyes and mind will flow over the dam–like the water in the attached photograph from the north Georgia mountains.

This same photograph depicts the beauty of reflection.  Students, which includes me and those high schoolers with whom I work, need time to reflect.  What strikes me most about this picture and this process is the stillness.  The clearest reflection occurs when the water looks like glass, when the pond becomes a mirror.  Yes, we can digest valuable material by moving, performing and altering details of the subject matter–and this often works well, but this post focuses on reflection, rather than active re-working.  (One kind of re-working, for example, to which I am particularly partial when studying poetic traditions, is to compose original pieces in the spirit and/or form of those traditions.  In the context of the NEH work, the ghazal tradition comes first to mind.)

Finally, a reflective tool (reflective pool?) I invented several years ago.  Since then, students in my courses have used it to reveal–to themselves and me–the impact of their studies.  Why not use this same tool to reflect on my NEH work this summer?  According to the students’ “short writing rubric,” I will try to write according to these three criteria: clear, specific, developed.

long mtn pond








Regular Reflection Sheet



Name:_________________________________________   Date:



Associations (linking new information to existing knowledge)

What did you already know about this subject? What have you learned from our activities? Explain the connection between your previous knowledge and your new understanding.


Patterns (making patterns from these associations)

In considering your new understanding alongside everything we have studied so far, what patterns do you see?


Emotions (feelings about the new experience/information)

How do you feel about what we have been studying or doing? Please develop (explain) your response beyond a single statement.


Meaning (establishing personal meaning)

What personal relevance do our studies have for you? Or what personal relevance might they have? If none, please explain that response.



An enriched environment comes from matching teaching practice to nature of how the brain learns. It learns in six ways:

  1. By associating—e.g., in sensory cortex; it links new information to existing knowledge; it uses power of personal associations (cf. difference between learning as information and as transformation)
  2. By shaping associations into patterns (sometimes forcing patterns that do not exist?)
  3. Runs on emotions—limbic system works as a relevance detector
  4. Mostly beneath the level of awareness
  5. Learns through the body
  6. Makes meaning


(personal notes from “Teaching to the Teenage Brain” conference leader, Gessner Geyer, 25 July 2005, Sierra Nevada Mtns, CA)



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On Being a Student: Still Reflecting

long mtn pond

This picture reminds me that reflections are more true when the water is still.  Or maybe, I trust such reflections more than those blowing across a windy surface.  Windy waters also reflect their shores, but maybe I trust the quiet pond’s images more because they show me the leaves more precisely, more clearly.  In the quiet environments, I can devote energy to what’s being reflected rather than to how the reproduction is happening.  The still pond lets the reflection happen–by being central to the process without inserting itself.  It is both the medium and the background at the same time.

When reflecting on being a student, I’d like to stay still long enough to notice details of my experience–so that I am better equipped to appreciate the students’ learning experiences.  Time will tell.

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Reflecting Students in Novel-Journals



Since I am just starting to read several classes’ worth of student journals, I thought I would share the watercolor work on one of the journal covers.

For each of the five chapters in Gail Tsukiyama’s novel The Samurai’s Garden, students recorded passages, analyses and personal responses that focus on one character.  Their main goal was to see new sides of this character, as the light changed around him or her.

I am enjoying reading these journals even more than I expected.  The pace and tone of the novel, reinforced by this journal exercise,  encourage the students to slow down and reflect on slight developments of character.  I am happy to see how many can sustain such reflection over the course of the whole story.



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flying kites and writing essays

This morning my wife told me about the upcoming exhibit of Seamus Heaney materials at Emory University.  A kite will fly above the spiral staircase near the exhibit because the last poem in his last published book (Human Chain) features a kite.  The poem reminds me  of students who are learning to write for themselves, from themselves.  On their behalf, I have copied Heaney’s poem below.


After “L’Aquilone” by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)

Air from another life and time and place,

Pale blue heavenly air is supporting

A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon

All of us there trooped out

Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite

Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,

Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,

Lifts itself, goes with the wind until

It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle

Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower

climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet

And gazing face and heart of the kite flier

Until string breaks and–separate, elate–

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

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Growing Writers. Season 2 Episode 2. Voice and Variety

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July 11, 2013 · 9:31 am

homegrown haiku 6

beech tree

             Old, gnarly beech tree

                   Living through many winters

                             Showing golden leaves

This is a haiku of symbols–one in each line.  The main image comes from a large beech tree, which looks like the one in the attached photo.  We parked under this tree, while visiting my parents.  As with the previous haiku (#5), I wanted a noticeable nearby natural image.  This tree rises proudly in front of the “Manor House” near my parents’ new home.  It is about fifty feet tall and almost as wide.  It has deep purple leaves and a large gray trunk.  If my wife and I joined hands, trying to reach around the trunk with the free hand, we would not touch.  During the hot, humid  summer months, the big tree gives welcome shade all day.

This is also a harsher, more pragmatic and realistic haiku than the others so far.  Starting with the word “old,” it describes disfigurement and struggle.  Granted these initial descriptions end in “golden leaves,” but the poem’s rough start is undeniable.  Once I saw the strength of this old tree, amidst its gnarls and winters, I thought of a marriage’s lasting sixty years.  We know this takes persistence from both partners.  The last line of the poem, however, paints this commitment in gold.  In other words, loving and lasting marriages weather storms that bend branches, and those branches keep growing.  Line two echoes this growth with the word “living.”  The use of “winters” as a symbol of struggle reveals the writer’s life in areas where plants, animals and humans fight against the colder, darker days. This symbol also, incidentally, reflects my reading of a book called Black Elk Speaks, in which the Lakota medicine man who narrates the story asks, “What is one man to make much of his winters, even if they bend him like a heavy snow.”  At certain times of year, before winter, the leaves turn gold.  (Here, I used artistic license by changing this tree’s deep purple leaves to gold, for symbolic reasons.)  In this last line of the poem, I wanted to remind my parents, myself and others of this large tree’s  beautiful presence.  Yes, a close look reveals some crooked branches that have grown through strong winds and reached for sun.  On occasion, though, as during this anniversary weekend,  we step back and  reflect on its graceful grandeur.

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homegrown haiku 5

Tall tree overhead

              Trunks sprouting like fireworks

                             Green celebration

In this haiku I wanted to render a tree outside my parents’ new home.  This tree, which none of us could identify, grows just off their patio.  It rises about forty feet, or so.  Its leaves are a translucent emerald green, and this poem is one of several in the series meant to help them remember beauty that surrounds them.  The tree is in their yard and will likely be there for a long time, but I wanted to leave a reminder of what they had already told us they liked.  It seems presumptuous to write a poem that tries to give something, like an appreciation, that they already have.  I suppose that the poem shows, more than anything, my desire that they enjoy their new home.  Like most writing, these poems are meant for someone else, while meaning at least as much to the writer.  The first line of the poem begins with a suggestion of protection.   The tree is tall, and its leaves create a canopy overhead to help shield my parents from sun and rain.

The second line made me work hardest; I wanted to capture the shape and arc of the multiple trunks.  They grow from a tight beginning then flare out and up.  I don’t recall the images I tried, but I like this one, and my niece’s endorsement confirms my satisfaction with it.  I suspect that I like the fireworks image not only for its physical description, but also for its association with the celebratory event.

p.s. I have attached no images to this post because I found none that match this particular tree.  Readers will have to use the poem to imagine it.


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haiku meditation: vowel-consonant collaboration

Tumbling upstream

against the racing current–

a white downy seed.

–J. W. Hackett, Haiku Poetry: Volume Two

My favorite line is the first because of the “u” sound and its collaboration with the “mb” in “tumbling” and “p” in “upstream.”  These combinations repeat the darker gurgling sounds of creek currents–that sound that occasionally bubbles up from underneath, bringing to the surface nutrients that lie below.

Line two continues the mystery of what can “tumble” against such a current, in part because I imagine tumbling as a grounded movement involving traction, or a movement of powerful muscles like those of the salmon.

Line three belies the idea of traction because the unseen wind is sending the seed upstream.  The seed is tumbling against, but the “against” is nominal and abstract.  Yes, this dandelion seed is traveling in the opposite direction, but not  with any traction per se.  It skips, like the slender stone I used to throw across the stream behind my grandparents’ house.

Also, in this third and last line the impact of the “u” sound returns.  Whereas the grounded tumbling starts the poem, a whispy white featheriness ends it. The “wh” combines with a long “i,” and the “w” in “downy” repeats this slight consonant.  Like “i” in “white,” the long “e” in “seed” gives this line a higher, airier feel; it sings soprano to the first line’s base notes.  It lifts the poem out of its initial mystery, sending the seed to land who knows where.

Yes, the current of water is “racing,” yet the slight seed moves against it even so.


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