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Micro-Book Review: hist whist

hist whist
Written by e.e. cummings
Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1989
24 pages

If all-hallow's-eve could be summed up in two syllables, it would be e.e. cumming’s hist whist. Accompanied by taut illlustrations from Deborah Kogan Ray, this reinterpretation delivers a mouthful that we’ll be chewing on for some time.

The book is one of the most sensory works of art that I’ve come across in a while, and it’s also the most simplistic. It takes us through a cast of some of Halloween’s greatest: ghosts, witches with warts, toads, mice, and, to top it all off, devils. In that sense, it’s traditional in its subject, but there is nothing traditional about e.e. cumming’s approach. The writing is quick and playful, especially with its cadence, rhyme, and onomatopoeia, as in the following: “histwhist/ little ghostthings / tip-toe / twinkle-toe.” You have to see it on the page to fully appreciate the affect. It’s skintight. It’s an image of three ghosts in bed sheets hovering over a moonscape of blue, one with a bright, yellow circle of light. Minimalistic in both language and imagery, it strikes a sort of primeval cord that’s the basis of fear and really the basis of Halloween.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Q&A with 2013 Corrido Contest Third Place Winner: Iván J. Orellana

The Poetry Center recently sat down with Iván J. Orellana, third place winner of the 2013 Corrido Contest. Iván had great insight into the Corrido Contest process, from entering the contest, to practicing for the performance, to performing at the Concert and Awards Ceremony. Below is our Q&A with him. The deadline for this year's Corrido Contest is December 2nd at 5 p.m. For more details and to submit, please visit our website.

Q: In your wonderful corrido, "La Gloria," you write from the perspective of a man who leaves his pueblo, and his wife and children, in search of a better life in the United States. Can you talk more about how    you inhabited the voice of this narrator?

A: Well, first of all, I thank God I have not been through that experience in my life, but a person I admire, which is my father, did years ago. Although he did not leave a family behind, he made the dangerous journey, like many others. Another fact about this corrido is that I don't specify from which country the immigrant is coming from. I did this intentionally because the "immigrant" can be from any country, whether it's El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and the list goes on and on. To inhabit the voice of the narrator, I had to take the responsibility of a father; I had to think like one and act like one. So I made a fusion of stories my father told me and the result was "La Gloria.”

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Monday, October 28, 2013

From the Family Days Video Booth: Part 2

On September 28th, the Poetry Center opened its doors to celebrate the first Family Days of the Fall 2013 season.

For this "Pre-historic" themed Family Days, we welcomed a hoard of young time travelers, who took poetry into their own hands with a variety of fun and exciting activities: they  tapped out poetry on vintage typewriters, molded ancient fossil impressions, made early paper out of iron age materials, jammed at a stone age dance party, and added their voices to live songs and storytelling groups. They re-energized with snacks and dove right back in to our dress-up boxes, our bucket of leaves and petals, and our stacks of poetry.

We caught a few of these rare adventurers on camera as they passed through a curtain of vines and entered our video booth staffed by UA Honors students enrolled in a service learning course in partnership with the Poetry Center. Take a peek at one of the videos from our past Family Days! We'll be sure to post more of these videos, as we gear up for our next Family Days on Saturday, October 26th!

Looking to time travel at the Poetry Center? Join us at the next Family Days for "Ancient Civilizations" coming up on October 26th!!

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Thematic Reading List: Lil' Critters

Crickwing
Written and Illustrated by Janell Cannon
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005
48 pages

What happens when a crooked-winged cockroach, who moonlights as a skilled sculptor, gets bullied? Anything. Written by popular children’s author and illustrator, Janell Cannon, who’s famous for her book Stellaluna, Crickwing follows the journey of a little cockroach-fellow by the same name, who finds himself getting bullied by animals larger than him. In his angst, he starts to pick on animals—a colony of leaf-cutter ants, to be exact—who are smaller than him. This is a great book to read when discussing themes like bullying and friendship with youth. In addition to a strong and captivating story, Cannon’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. She creates such tactile images in her art—the monkey's fur actually seems soft to the touch; the green tree leaves look like they’re covered with a mossy fuzz. Youth and adults alike will be charmed by this story and its incredible illustrations.

 

 

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interview with 2013 Poetry Out Loud State Champion: Cassandra Valadez

The Poetry Out Loud season is right around the corner! Poetry Out Loud is a national program for high school teachers and students, which seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry – recitation and performance. The deadline for teachers to register their schools is October 18, 2013. With this in mind, Wordplay asked Matthew J. Conley--poet and teacher--to interview last Spring's 2013 Arizona Poetry Out Loud State Champion. A recent graduate of Sunnyside High School, after winning state, Cassandra represented Arizona at the Poetry Out Loud National Competition in Washington, D.C. Matthew J. Conley worked closely with Cassandra, coaching her from the school competition all the way to Nationals. Check out Matthew’s inspiring interview with Cassandra below. Enjoy!

MC: What was it like representing the state of Arizona at a national poetry competition?

CV: It was a complete pleasure. On the bus headed to the auditorium, I kept thinking about all the Arizona competitors, the time that they spent and passion they gave, and it was so awesome to be representing them. In Washington D.C., I received many text messages from my family, as well as random texts from people who were watching back home. I had just seen the article in the Arizona Daily Star, and I felt VERY connected to everyone. It was an honor, but a bittersweet one too, now that I’m moving to Oregon to go to college. If I could have one more year in Arizona Poetry Out Loud, I’d take it!

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thematic Reading List: Poetic Perspectives—Understanding Others

I teach ekphrastic writing for a lot of reasons—I work ekphastically myself, I think images are a quick entry point for those new to written words, and that visuals hold flexible attention spans longer. I also think that there’s something about ekphrastic writing that flexes new parts of the brain in considering multiple stimuli, and that ekphrasis is an exercise in fostering empathy.

I came to this thinking while researching the work of teaching artist Tony Blackhawk, who uses abstract art like that of Cy Twombly to lead his students in loose ekphrastic writing exercises. In “Third Mind,” Blackhawk quotes Nancy Gorrell, who used Ekphrastic writing to help students learn about history by “entering” into another perspective. In my own practice, I’ve asked students to write from the perspective of an object in a painting, or from the position of the artist creating it. I’ve found that this practice in “entering” from a different angle seems to offer students an open-mindedness and explorative quality in a creative space that then leaks into the larger world.

This reading list is about entering that very practice—one of stepping into another perspective, and inhabiting the life of an “other” by peeking into their daily life, and seeing where you relate. I’m of the opinion that empathy is one of the most important skills an artist can develop—it’s useful across genres and mediums—and that it’s also a significant life skill. Oftentimes, it’s through the eyes of others—a flowerpot, a three-legged dog, the kid with roller skates—that we first begin to understand the world, and more fully engage with it ourselves.

Crazy to be Alive in such a strange World: Poems About People 

selected by Nancy Larrick

 

This is a collection celebrating the details of individual, unique personalities. The collection’s titles reflect the variety of voices contained in one small volume (“Hey, this little kid gets roller skates.” “Well son, I’ll tell you.”), and its accompanying photographs provide the poetic portraits with a visual accompaniment of faces across generations and cultural backgrounds.

My Name Is...

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Juliet famously asks in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. And yet, we have these names. We're branded with names. Names we keep. Names we shift into nicknames. Names we discard. Names that we re-name, giving ourselves new names. Names are kind of funny, when you think about it. They're kind of serious when you think about it, too.

My full, complete, legal name is Allison Marie Leach. My parents named me Allison because they wanted to give me a name similar to my paternal grandmother's, which is Aldora. Her name was formed in a combination of her parents' names. Her Dad's name was "Al" and her Mom's name was "Dora."                   Al + Dora = Aldora. My wonderful grandmother. I love this story.

Aldora's nickname, dubbed by my older sister, Mary, is Gong-Gong Strawberry. She was given this moniker because she and my Grandpa grew strawberries in their green backyard in Missouri. And Gong-Gong? Who can explain. I don't even think Mary can recall. It was a name that she invented when she was a toddler; it was a name that was easier to say than "Grandma," or perhaps she just thought it more interesting and original. I tend to think the latter.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney

I was lucky enough to see and hear Seamus Heaney read before he died. Last March, at AWP in Boston, he was a keynote speaker, alongside fellow Nobel Prize-winner, Derek Walcott. I remember how witty they both were. I remember being astounded by their wisdom. I remember thinking: These two men are living legends.

Heaney was, of course, charming. Blame it on his Irish, sing-songy brogue; blame it on his happy eyes; blame it on that generous, hearty laugh. But when I think of Seamus Heaney, I think of a lullaby. After listening to the conversation and reading, I said to a friend, "I want Seamus Heaney to read me some bed time stories tonight." How lucky were his children to get lulled to sleep by that soothing voice.

This morning, after I found out that Heaney had passed, I looked up his reading on the Poetry Center's Voca archives. Heaney came to the Poetry Center on March 30, 1976, just two years after my parents graduated from high school. In the picture that was taken of him--outside of the old Poetry Center cottage--he has a curly, 70's-looking mess of thick hair. He looks sharp in dark clothing (such a poet!). He wears a dark button up long sleeved shirt, a dark blazer, dark pants, and a dark belt. And yet his expression is anything but dark; he has those same happy eyes.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Homage to my Hips

The poet Lucille Clifton prefaces one of her poems during a reading at the Poetry Center in 1975 with this: “I have days when I want to stay in the house all day because the world shouldn’t have to look at me.” She’s joking, of course, but her sentiment is one that I’m sure many people can identify with. Even now, as I type up this review, I’m thinking, “Jesus, I have some stocky, cottage cheese thighs.” It’s an ever circling conversation, argument that many people have with themselves. I can remember in high school and even now into my adulthood, hearing friends of mine blurt out the following about their bodies:

I hate my thin hair.

I hate my curly hair.

I hate my big thighs.

I hate my small boobs.

I hate my baby face.

I hate my hips.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Godzilla in Mexico

Though I’d never recommend the majority of his work to young students, Roberto Bolaño’s poem, “Godzilla in Mexico,” is a one-time exception. I stumbled across this poem, which appears in the collection, The Romantic Dogs, with great surprise, since Bolaño always has a fun time bashing poets in his fiction. It’s a startling poem, an apocalyptic vision of Mexico City under attack by poisoned air that soon kills a father and his son, who then seemingly awake and ask, “What are we?” It’s both childish and morbid. The kid is “watching / cartoons on TV” just before his father realizes they are “going to die.” This begs the question: How do we talk about death with youth? It’s usually a taboo subject to bring up with youth, but I think it’s a topic that’d be interesting to hear about from their perspective. The poem’s title alludes to Godzilla, something I remember watching as a kid, so it seems Bolaño is trying to equate death, a very serious subject, with something a little more monster-like, like something we’ve watched on TV, as the child does in the poem. With this in mind, consider the following prompts after reading the poem aloud:

1.       Bolaño sets the stage with a realistic setting (father and son watching cartoons) paired with a fantastical tone (the title, poisoned air, and the allusion to reincarnation). Use this combination of the mundane and the fantastic to create a setting for an imitation poem.

2.       To add to the above prompt, think back on a childhood memory between you and a parent and what emotions that evoked or still evoke now.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013
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