Archive for the ‘Professional Reading’ Category

Ending a cycle only to start a cycle

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BOOKS BOUGHT

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BOOKS READ

Simulations  by Jean Baudrillard

Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth

Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy (Penguin Classics)

It’s not been a good reading time.  I’m going through things pretty slowly.  And I’ve given up trying to write during the day.  I’m too stressed out.  The writing bug stings at night.  After 8 p.m., a switch goes off in my head and I’m suddenly reading to the exclusion of all else or writing to the exclusion of all else.  I’m going to stop fighting it and arrange my priorities around the fact that night time is the write time.

There is a mildly Gallic flavor to my current crop of pulp.

Graduate school has really expanded my reading repertoire.  If you read my post on Barthes “The Pleasure of the Text”, then you will know my feelings on swampy translations of French philosophical prose.  However, Baudrillard’s collection of translated notes that make up Simulations has qualities that TPoTT does not, specifically, continuity, organization, essay format, and better sentence structure.  You get more out of each paragraph without a lot of apologizing about how no equivalent phrases exist in English that would do justice to French subtleties.  The down side is that the phrasing is often clunky.  The information is solid gold, but it’s raw, rough gold.

Object Lessons probably has the most subtitles of any book that I’ve ever seen. “Object Lessons” – The PARIS REVIEW Presents “The Art of The Short Story.”

Another gift from the Academia fairies is reading about rhetoric.  Those Greeks had a word for EVERYTHING!  When you overuse conjunctions, there’s a word for that.  When you leave out conjunctions, there’s a word for that.  When you repeat words, there’s a word for that.  When you repeat phrases, there’s a DIFFERENT word for that.  This pattern of repetition that I’m doing here – there’s a word for that!  So, so bitchin’ rhetoric!

I have high hopes for Stylish Academic Writing. Wisely, Sword points out in her book that “[a]ny of the ‘smart sentencing’ principles outlined in this chapter can, of course, be temporarily suspended for rhetorical effect.” (p. 59.)

My graduate thesis is on Thomas Hardy’s poetry, and I’ve been working with poems from the Penguin collection.  Hardy poetry is wonderfully easy to read, and has great depth in spite of the light lyric feel of his work.  No wonder T. S. Eliot was annoyed by him.  It was like Salieri and Mozart.

Bowerstock’s From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition.  The cover made me buy it.  Also, I like reading essays.  (…said no teacher ever! LOL!)  However, I feel like I’ve been played.  I should know better than to buy these professional collections.  I want to get published.  Maybe I should just gather a handful of essays, slap a cute title on it and declare myself a high-end scholar.  It’s such a racket.  It’s like when you buy those romance story omnibuses and one story is awesome.  One story is so-so.  The rest are crap.  But you paid for five stories and only one of them gives you your money’s worth.  I hope this book won’t be like that. 

 

Anthologies – A Good Way to Sell Crap Stories

Button 3 (lefty/skinny)

RESUSITATING READING WILL RESUSITATE LEARNING: HOPE LIVES

Product Details

READICIDE  §  KELLY GALLAGHER

I’d had my eye on this book for a while before I bought it.  It is a rare design that has a blurb on the front.  And the blurb on the back is better!  A full-on,-fuck-off proper blurb (to quote Eddie Izzard and Guy Ritchie).  It has paragraphs and a bio, an excerpt from the foreward and even — wait for it — a BULLET LIST!  Now THAT is a well-fit blurb!  This book is published by Stenhouse, who, I’m learning, is one of the major publishers of books by educators for educators.  The others being Heinemann (incl. Boynton, Cook), and Longman (from Pearson).

Readicide is a thick, pervasive, spirit-crushing wave of deceptive practices.  READICIDE is a good book by a good writer.  Gallagher is a Teacher-Consultant out of California. His take on the reading situation in schools has legs — and teeth.  His street cred comes from the fact that he is a TC. So he’s done the research and the leg work.  Also, what he has experienced, I have experienced. As have many of my colleagues.  He’s telling it like it is. Solid!

This is a scary age we are entering where congress and other lower levels of policy-makers are looking for ways to stick it to teachers.  We are being held accountable for the failure of just about everyone.   Like we work alone. The outcome of all that finger-pointing? Pay cuts, lay-offs, hostile and paranoid work environments and students who can’t read because they have to practice testing all the time. Student who won’t read because they think reading is only for tests.  Administrators panicking because reading is stationary and the only “hands-on” is holding the book.  They don’t see it for what it is — all the action is going on in the mind. Surely that counts for something.  But that’s not an issue that will be settled here.

So READICIDE?  What’s in it for you?

Readicide is the excision of real time for plain ol’ reading.  Reading with a book in your hands and looking at the pages.  Reading where you tune the outside world out and concentrate on what’s going on in your head.  Reading where you are acting out scenes in your head, in case you have to deal with it later in real life.  Reading for enjoyment.

Reading for enjoyment!

Reading for ENJOYMENT!

Yeah, I went there.  Eat it.

Gallagher’s book is not just a compendium of complaints, it’s a book of solutions.  Every major complaint is coupled with ideas for solutions.  He even includes an index at the back of classroom-friendly books.  You don’t have to read it cover to cover.  Gallagher does a good job of keeping everything connected so you can read what you like, then come back later for more.

One of the best things about reading this book is that there’s lots of possible solutions.  The main thing is that you have to fight for time.  Fight for variety:  literature, job-specific documents, graphic novels, newspapers, magazines. It’s all reading, and with a touch of discernment, it’s all good. But students need uninterrupted time to concentrate.  Fight for consistency.  Yes, sadly, it is a fight.  But it’s worth it.  And it works.

Don’t even get me started on “writicide”!

BOOKS I’M USING TO TEACH POETRY

 

I walked away from this title, then came back to it. The other option I was considering was “Poetry Instruction Resources”. That’s pretty accurate, but I remembered that I’m not writing a lesson plan or a doctoral dissertation on curriculum and instruction (yet!?). This one that I stayed with? It’s as accurate as it is casual.

This year, I’m finally working with poetry in a satisfying way. It’s been fantastic so far. My students are writing poetry – and writing about poetry. In the same assignment even! You see, I’m not just teaching poetry, I’m teaching writing. Either one of those covers a lot of intellectual territory; together – wow, it’s a job and a half. There’s so much information that needs to be addressed, it’s hell trying to whittle it down to a couple of weeks work. That’s why the “write poetry/write about poetry” construct is, I believe, a sound one. Students are using both sides of their brain – enjoying and analyzing at the same time.

Teaching Composition: Background Readings (Bedford/St. Martin's Professional Resources)One of the books I’m drawing from a lot is TEACHING COMPOSITION: BACKGROUND READINGS, 3rd. ed. by T. R. Johnson. It’s a compilation of academic essays geared towards teacher development. It was recommended to me by my student teacher last spring. The writing is predictably dry, but the essays “help you acquire or broaden” your teaching mind. I’ve been able to put into immediate use two concepts: (1) James Slevin’s insistence that writing should be evidential (that is, writing should show where information came from, which I take to mean that writing should leave a research trail for a reader to follow), and (2) Guy Allen’s proposal that writing should be habitual in every class/subject to the point where students don’t even question the task anymore – “writing immersion”. I wrote a note to myself in the margin: writing immersion but it sounds like a rare luxury.

Well, I made writing immersion happen this semester! It wasn’t easy, but I made sure students had writing assignments every week. We are halfway through our poetry unit, and I designed it, like I mentioned in ¶1, where students write poetry and write about poetry. I haven’t been using any textbooks. I think I’ve outgrown them. I’ve been using real literature and outside sources.

Scholastic has a fantastic set of poetry books designed with children in mind. It’s called the Poetry for Young People series, and it highlights a broad spectrum of poets. The editions I have are Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman.

— ask if parent online ordering is available for your child’s class

ONCE UPON A POEM is a fantastic book I picked up at a conference. It’s not cheap, but it’s so beautiful and the collection of story poems so fun! It’s got Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman, Edward Lear’s The Owl and The Pussycat, Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, and Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. It’s beautifully illustrated on every page. Even the dedication, written by Roger McGough, is a poem. The boys, when I can get them to read a poem, like Brave Boy Rap, which is Tony Mitton’s rhythmic rendition of the legend of Theseus and the minotaur. It’s a blast!

This beast was called
The Minotaur
It lived beneath
A palace floor
Upon the nearby
Isle of Crete.
It stomped about on hooves, not feet.

Its head and shoulders
Were all bull.
It also had
A tail to pull.
The rest of it
Was muscle guy,
A real meanie –
True! No lie!

— A laugh riot!

 

Ruth Heller’s World of Language series has been one of my steadfast favorites for fifteen years. It’s good reading for my ESL students. Each volume, with its lush baroque illustrationsKites Sail High (Heller, Ruth, Ruth Heller World of Language.), concentrates on one part of speech. The cover is a good indication of how gorgeous the inside is. The entire book is one poem brimming with the words of which they speak.

I think there might be more, but these are the ones I have:

  1. UP, UP AND AWAY: A Book about Adverbs
  2. KITES SAIL HIGH: A Book about Verbs
  3. BEHIND THE MASK: A Book about Prepositions
  4. MANY LUSCIOUS LOLLIPOPS: A Book about Adjectives

clip_image004In the same vein as World of Language is the Words are Categorical series by Brian Cleary. The illustrations are a delight – adorably cartoony. The text rhymes very well, most of it organized into rhyming couplets. This is very good, again, for ESL students. But for my personal taste, I prefer Heller.

These are the ones I have:

1.  A LIME, A MIME, A POOL OF SLIME (nouns)

2.  STOP AND GO, YES AND NO (antonyms)

                                                      3.  STROLL AND WALK, BABBLE AND TALK (synonyms)

                                                      4.  QUIRKY, JERKY, EXTRA PERKY (adjectives)

                                                      5.  HOW MUCH CAN A BARE BEAR BEAR? (homonyms and homophones)

 

clip_image006Something I’ve cared a lot about from the beginning of my career is writing across the curriculum. To that end, I have literature that addresses not just literary perspectives, but other subjects, as well. I got these two great poem books from Scholastic that are about math: THE GRAPES OF MATH (heehee!) and MATH APPEAL, both by Greg Tang. clip_image008

There’s tons of resources for teaching poetry. April is National Poetry Month. (btw, Poets.org has not sent me my free poster and it’s been like a month already. WTF?) Poetry instruction should include some coverage of poetic language, i.e., analogies, similes, and metaphors. If you want to really “AP” your instruction, include some information of how most of our technical jargon for poetry comes from Greek. For example, thanks to www.poetry.org, I discovered that the greek word /poieo/ means “I create”. Perfect, yeah?

 

So, yeah, I’m also using this super fun book called I NEVER METAPHOR I DIDN’T LIKE. It’s a play on Will Rogers’ expression “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I love the “Goldwynist” treatment of the expression. Pure vaudeville.

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A caveat for the booklover: utterly useless, bollocking wank quotes on the back of the slipcover. Not that they aren’t clever, but save it for the book. How about a bit of justification for this collection of linguistic pop rocks? Seriously, a thousand jobless writers in New York – and you couldn’t pay one a few bob to write a paragraph? That’s just lazy. But the inside of the book is completely brill. The chapter titles are metaphors or similes or analogies. Magic! For the slow of synapse, the clever title has a subtitle which clarifies…

Chapter 8: Love Is an Exploding Cigar We Willingly Smoke (Love)

Oh, gee, thanks. I never would have figured that out – ever. I almost feel a bit churlish complaining about the off-key capitalization in the chapter titles.

Caveat #2: This is not a textbook. I’m only recommending it, but I’m not letting the students actually read it because it has a lot of adult content (Ch. 10, for example.) I simply picked some literary metaphors from the book to use in my metaphor lesson (Ch. 15).

A very sweet collection of literary-style poems is REFLECTIONS ON A GIFT OF WATERMELON PICKLE…And Other Modern Verse. The poems are by modern authors: Naoshi Koriyama, William Carlos Williams, Donald Justice, Miriam Hershenson. I must admit, I haven’t heard of most of these poets, but their work is simply yet beautifully crafted. The poem of the title is at the back. The poems come in different shapes and trochaic patterns, so it’s a delight to read. I got mine from Scholastic. Amazon has it available through sellers as it seems to be out of print. I’d try Scholastic first.

anita dore poetry0001 One of my absolute favorite poetry books is an anthology titled THE PREMIER BOOK OF MAJOR POETS. Hyperbolic title, I know. But it’s a top book. I’m on my second copy; the first one being in tatters from use. I don’t know what it is about this book, but it FEELS mine! It’s all American and English poets – -but the good ones. It’s arranged by themes, instead of literary periods, which is very useful. That being the case, you will find LeRoi Jones in between Percy Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The medieval “Cuckoo Song” and its acidic counterpoint “Ancient Music” by Ezra Pound. (Hilarious, btw!) There are three indexes: authors, titles, and first lines. There’s even a nice glossary of poetic terms. You probably could use this as a textbook, if tptb don’t have a problem with the Biblical poems. Cool!

I am glad they included passages from the Bible. It wouldn’t be fair to leave out “Song of Solomon” 2:8-17 with its life-affirming imagery: “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love…). Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (To everything there is a season). Psalm of David 8:1-9 (Oh Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!) Isaiah 2:4 (And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,…)

In a more modern vein, there is “We Shall Overcome”, originally a song of the West Virginia coal miners, then popularized by Joan Baez. There’s some spirituals, which sound quite peppy compared to the Brits’ weltschmertz-y “The World is Too Much With Us” or “When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be”, or even“The Hollow Men” by Eliot. And – check this out— “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel! This book is freaking BRILLIANT!

And, if you dare — if you are going to teach full-on poetry — include some of your own creations for study and discussion. Several of my poems were made available for group discussion. I didn’t tell the students I wrote the poems unless they asked, but really, it’s up to you. It was enlightening in a good way. Which brings me to my last point:

If you are going to teach poetry, you should write poetry.

 

Previous post on poetry

MIDDLE GROUND: The Magazine of Middle Level Education (NMSA)

 

clip_image001A publication of the National Middle School Association (www.mnsa.org)

This journal is magazine-style. It’s well-designed and easy to read – but not without its inconveniences. The artwork is strategically placed for good effect and doesn’t overpower the text. Even the pages with full color are wisely designed so that the text stands out. Good examples of well-balanced page design are pages 20-21 in the August 2009 issue and pages 10-13 in the August 2008 issue.

The covers feature a single child, usually in a classroom setting. I appreciate the nod to tolerance and equanimity wherein children on the cover represent various cultures. Articles have section headings, which I really like. I’m not a fan of using sans serif type for vast amounts of text, but the size of the text makes it fairly easy to read. Content is kept pretty tight. Not a wasted word nor a superfluous phrase. This leads me to why I enjoy reading this journal – the articles are informative, concise, descriptive, and they have useful side elements like lists, charts, pictures – cleverly integrated into the page design.

They also have one of the cleanest tables of contents that I’ve ever seen. Again – sans serif type, but small and bold, which works just fine. There’s a lot to describe, but I’d rather show you.

 

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Nice!

Not every issue is as good as August 2009. February 2008 had an article titled “Transitions: Smoothing the Way for Students and Parents”. The overall layout was good. Pale artwork on a white background. Standard sans serif font, useful section headings. But the text was too pale – more dark gray than black. In fact, the whole issue was like that. It got frustrating fast. Plus, it was crazy with ads, and in some places, it was difficult to tell the article from the ad copy.

On top of all that, the paper is excellent quality, so excellent, so slick, so glossy…too glossy, too slick, don’t read it under direct light or you’ll get cataracts – if you can hold on to it to begin with.

Some of my fav articles:

§ “Teaching Vocabulary: Work Smarter, Not Harder.” Wormeli, Rick. February 2008.

§ “Getting to Know You: Mixing It Up at Lunch”. Patersin, Jim. February 2008.

§ “Lifelong Study Strategies for Middle Grades Learners”. Misulis, Katherine. August 2009.

§ “Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leaders”. Beavers, Michelle. August 2009.

§ “Thinking Skills: The Board Game”. Bower, David. October 2007.

§ “Don’t Listen: Advice That May Kill Your Classroom”. October 2007.

§ “Taming The Tardies: Every Minute Counts”. October 2007. Sprick, Randy and Daniels, K.

§ “What’s in Your iPod? Mixing Music and Meaning”. Marcus, Jaime. August 2008.

§ “The ‘Absolutes’ of Vocabulary Instruction”. Wood, Karen and Harmon, Janis.

§ “Essential Questions: Mining for Understanding”. Dunbar, Folwell

§ February 2009: Incorporation art and music across the curriculum.

§ “News to Use” section in every issue.

I almost never read the editor’s note. The same with the executive director’s note. Just a personal choice. I haven’t analyzed why I flip through those pages with nary a glance. Although, now that I think about it, that type of audience-specific/location-specific writing might be a useful writing lesson.

You get your money’s worth out of this journal. One of its strengths is that is covers practices and techniques for all subjects. Philosophically, its content is strongly cross-curricular. Also, not only does it cover pedagogy, but offers helpful articles on professionalism, first-year survival and teacher retention, and not just administrative practices, but leadership by administration, teachers AND students. The ads aren’t too overwhelming, but they are loud and frequent.

 

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NCTE’s LANGUAGE ARTS: The Journal of the Elementary Section of the Natl. Council of Teachers of English

 

Even though the title says "Elementary", this journal easily applies all the way up to middle school.   

This is a good journal for exploring research in language and literacy.  Every month has a theme that is developed through research, lesson cycles, book reviews, samples of student work, and professional development opportunities.  It’s $25.00 per year plus the price of the membership.

Here’s a random selection of issues.  Articles from LANGUAGE ARTS are available for viewing at the www.ncte.org , but you have to be a member to access the full article. 

  • Learning through Inquiry (Jan. 2006)
  • Literacy and Inequity (Nov. 2005)
  • Visions of Possibility for Literacy (May 2006)
  • Literacy as Movement, Voice and Image (Nov. 2008)
  • Innovation and Integration (Jan. 2009)
  • Inquiries and Insights (July 2009)

Some buzz words do tend to pop up more than others.  "Literacy" is a popular guest at the buzz word tea party.  "Inquiry" is a favorite guest as well.  The Multis crash the party now and then: multimodal, multilingual, multicultural, multimedia.  There’s even poetry written by teachers! Sweet!  (A word I’d like to see more often is "innovation".)

Most of the articles follow a pattern of rhetoric that could use a bit of tightening up.  Some of the writing is a bit long-winded, but the page design makes up for it.  The page is a 3-column format with page numbers about 2 inches down the margin for easy reference.  There’s charts, drop quotes, italicized bits, bold-faced section titles, works cited and works referenced, as well as photos and indexes. 

I don’t care for the advertising, but I guess they have to pay the bills.  Ads are mostly for books and professional development opportunities.  One of the best reasons to get this journal is that it has book reviews of children’s/YA books and professional development books.  So if you don’t have time to read every single children’s book that comes out, this journal covers, easily, a half dozen books at a time.  You could read HORNBOOK, which is a magnificent publication in its scope, but with LANGUAGE ARTS, you get a lot of book reviews PLUS research, pedagogy, political issues, cultural issues… in a nutshell — the inquiry and the insight.

For members, the online issue has nice extras like blogs, book bargains, online seminars (These are fantastic! Try one!)  The beginning of the magazine details future issues AND gives you the lowdown on how to submit articles. NCTE/LA is not just for reading other people’s work, it’s for you who aspire to get your work published! 

 

OCTOBER 20, 2009

National Day on Writing

ONCE AND FUTURE CLASSICS: Reading between The Lines

Join us in Philadelphia this November!

 

NCTE’s LANGUAGE ARTS online 

NCTE’S ENGLISH JOURNAL

 

NCTE’S ENGLISH JOURNAL: A Journal of The Secondary Section of NCTE

NCTE: National Council of Teachers of English [www.ncte.org]

English Journal is a fantastic publication! I love it.  This is my favorite one, so that’s why I’m writing about it first.

Page for page, the articles are interesting, stick close to the theme of the issue, and offer methods and practices in clear language.  I don’t know if that’s a prerequisite for the journal, but the articles are easy to read.  It’s also a very well-designed journal.  Blocks of text are relieved by charts and drop quotes, section titles in boldface, end notes, and assorted "bits and bobs" such as "EJ 75 Years Ago".  Those reflection sections remind me of one of my favorite paradoxes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

NCTE also provides ENGLISH JOURNAL online, but you have to be a member to access the actual articles.  Middle (junior high/middle school) membership runs $40.00 plus the prices of the journals.  This one is $25.00 per year.

Every month, there’s a new theme.  One of my favorite issues is May 2006: Contexts for Teaching Grammar. This month’s theme (July 2009) is "For The Fun of It".  Topics range from lesson plans for immediate implementation to big picture issues like professional development (Nov. 2005).  The covers are often a treat, as well.  A sublime glass creation by Dale Chihuly, or a photo of a waterfall with colors so vivid you can feel the mist on your skin.  A playground with a jungle gym or a page from a hand-drawn manuscript.  And the articles are not the only resource.  Every one has a works cited list. The journal has its share of adverts.  They publish poetry, book reviews, and opportunities to participate in research.  The beginning of the journal has a page describing all the contributions they are accepting.  There are so many opportunities for teachers to contribute:  classroom practices, research, book reviews, photography, cartoons, poetry — that relate to the theme of the issue.  Don’t forget — as a teacher of English, you should be writing for yourself and for your profession.  Getting published is exciting and makes you marketable.

Every teacher of English/Language Arts/Writing/Creative Writing/Honors English, even Reading, should invest in this particular journal in order to be a better teacher and a better professional.

 

Click here for more Annual Convention information  Takes place in November the week before Thanksgiving.

  Start preparing your students to make their contributions to the Gallery.  Start a gallery for your community.

Click here to go to the NCTE Homepage

 

SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE 2

Product DetailsSONGBOOK by Nick Hornby (2003)

From “Born for Me” (Paul Westerberg)

…just a man who thinks and feels and loves and speaks in music.

How magical to be a musician. To look at some dots on paper

     And hear

           What is yet unheard.

How mesmerizing to be a writer. To look at some words on paper

     And envisage someone’s spirit.

How sublime to be a painter. To look at some brush strokes on canvas

     And witness

           The conscience of a community.

Without the creative urge, however it manifests itself, we are no different from telephones. Its importance cannot be overstated. A real writer “thinks and feels and loves and speaks” in prose or poetry. I would be happy for my students to do any two of those.

 

From “Frankie Teardrop”, “Ain’t That Enough” (Suicide, Teenage Fanclub) 

It’s a peculiarly modern phenomenon, this obsession with danger. And, in the end, it’s impossible not to conclude that it has been born out of peacetime and prosperity and overeducation.

Man, I am so down with this! Obsession with danger makes my job hell. It makes living where I live hell. It offers nothing, repairs nothing, solves nothing. It makes slaves of us all.

From a writer’s standpoint, these statements express so much, yet without bombast or melodrama.  Hornby shoots from the hip. Simple english simply stated. No wasted words.  Even “peculiarly”, while I don’t think it’s necessary, adds a uniquely English quality to his writing, so that it’s not just a writer expressing his opinion, it’s an English writer.  However, he does use one of Orwell’s traits of bad writing: what Orwell calls a “verbal false limb” — “impossible not to conclude that”.  In straight English, I think it means “the only conclusion that makes the most sense”.  This blip does not make him a bad writer.  Orwell himself has offered an out: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

 

From “Smoke” (Ben Folds Five)

…songwriting is an art distinct from poetry.

I can see that. One of the differences is execution.

…and you don’t have to be whoever writes the songs for Celine Dion…

That would be Aldo Nova – yeah, that one. I wish I WAS kidding!

…you can, if you’re brave, have a go at being Cole Porter, and aim for texture, detail, wit, and truth.

The same idea could apply to writing. Fortune and Venus favor the brave, after all.  Anyone can write pop pulp.  Barnes & Noble and Borders are full of it.  What they’re NOT full of, and neither is the New York Times Bestseller list, is books that contain that alchemical combination of “texture, detail, wit and truth”.  And you know why? Because that’s not what appeals to the masses.  We would be a very different country if Alexander Pope, Aristophanes, and Voltaire were on the bestseller lists regularly.

From “A Minor Incident” (Badly Drawn Boy)

My advice to young writers: Never begin a title with a preposition, because you will find that it is impossible to utter or to write any sentence pertaining to your creation without sounding as if you have an especially pitiable stutter.  “He wanted to talk to me about About a Boy.”  “What about About a Boy?”

I think this is hilarious!  Reading it looks funny.  Sounding it out in my head, it sounds funny.  Good advice.  But feel free to break this rule, if you think you can make it work.

 

current

*A nod to Stevie Wonder for the title.

**All of the songs and this book are available through major retailers.

SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE (I WISH I’D THOUGHT OF THAT) Part 1

BOOKS BOUGHT BOOKS READ
  • Great Plains/Ian Frazier
  • Gone to New York: Adventures in The City/Ian Frazier
  • Whispered Lies/Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Shakespeare Wrote for Money/Nick Hornby
  • Maverick/Lora Leigh
  • Songbook/Nick Hornby
  • The View from Saturday/Konigsburg

SONGBOOK:

Product DetailsI was reading a comment by a random person on the inter-web that stated that Nick Hornby has, essentially, terrible taste in music. On top of that, Clay Aiken has apologized for having an opinion about a singer, and a beauty queen got in trouble for having an opinion about same-sex marriage. Am I the only one who sees a pattern of media-centric fascism becoming more and more entrenched with every generation?  It looks like we won’t have to worry about politicians taking away our rights – the media is doing a grand job of it themselves.  The institution that harps on freedom of speech is the first to publicly flog people for it.  And c’mon, they don’t really care what the beauty queen’s opinion is.  They just want to market it.  And the fast, lazy way to do it is to make it sound like she’s done something wrong.  The American public is stupid enough to fall right in.

     But this is not about all that insanity.  My beef is with people who work so hard to make the banal and witless sound important.  I agree with random person about the bad taste, but what I’m annoyed about is that the person completely missed the point of SONGBOOK.  Missed it, even though Hornby mentions a few times what the book is and isn’t.  Random person probably thought the book was like one of those sad, asinine VH1 clip shows that they churn out so often.

     SONGBOOK is “Songs of Experience”.  You can’t tell someone that their experience is wrong. Unless you are someone who has a poor vocabulary.  I can’t stand Nelly Furtado, but reading about what her song does for him is what’s interesting. It’s what matters.  I haven’t heard most of the songs he writes about, but I’ve enjoyed reading how the songs, some against his will, have woven their melodies and guitar solos into his consciousness and created a personal tapestry.  (If he were to read this, he might have a groan or a giggle at how thickly I’m laying on this metaphor.)

     So, in a nutshell, if you give up on this book because you don’t like the songs, you’re lazy or ignorant or this was never your cup of tea to begin with.

     As a writer and a writing teacher/consultant, I like so many things about this book!  Is there another author who can be charming when they are swearing?  NH can get right salty, yet it never sounds gratuitous — no shock value at all.  But it is a charming surprise when it happens.  It’s like he grows impatient with polite English and just throws down an “F” bomb or some scat-related expression.  On him, it’s cute and funny.  I think he’s seen Blackadder.

     What follows are “bits and bobs” of prose writing that I like in the book .

From “Thunder Road” (Bruce Springsteen)

admiration is a very different thing from the kind of transference I’m talking about.  I’m talking about understanding – or at least feeling like I understand, the soul of both the work and its creator.  “This is me,” I wanted to say when I  read Tyler’s rich, sad, lovely novel.

When I first read this bit, I read it as a reader – taking in the words, the basic comprehension, then moving on.  The further I got through the book, my mind kept coming back to this.  With every chapter, it became truer and truer for me.  I started this blog based on my admiration of NH’s style and author persona.  His prose collections do for me what the songs in SONGBOOK did for him.

They lived in towns for losers, I told myself, and I, like Bruce, was pulling out of there to win.

I live in a town for losers.  Even the successful people are losers.  Soulless, sightless, simple, subsisting on arrogance and exploitation.  I got out for a while, then got pulled back in by the fickle finger of fate.

From “I’m Like A Bird” (Nelly Furtado)

Do you really deny yourselves the pleasure of mastering a tune…because you are afraid it might make you look as if you don’t know who Harold Bloom is?  Wow.  I’ll bet you’re fun at parties.

Ha!  He said the magic words – “Harold Bloom”.  This – the sentiment, is me.  ME.  The sarcasm – Classic ME. This is something I would say.  That’s practically an impression of ME. How does he do it!

From “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin)

…I have less time, less tolerance for bullshit, more interest in good taste, more confidence in my own judgment.

This Led Zeppelin song is the first one in the book that I actually like. Heartbreaker been a part of my life for so long, I don’t question its presenceHeee!  In this section, Hornby muses on the development of his musical taste.  From young and noise-oriented to mature and skill-oriented, he did not throw the baby out with the bath water.  His tastes became finer and even sophisticated, but unashamedly admits that sometimes…sometimes, only Zeppelin will do. 

I’m excited to read this bit because the same thing happened to me.  As a child, I was moderately interested in jazz and classical.  Starting in about high school, and especially from college on, I dined on classical music. (Classical cassettes were 3 for $10 back in the late 80s!)  I started listening to more jazz when I worked at H&B Recordings Direct.  One of the perks was getting free sample/promotional CDs and tapes of jazz artists!  I was in heaven!  As I listened to more, I began to have more confidence in my choices. I could argue my choices for and against and people would listen. Now, it’s become a habit to listen for pleasure and analysis at the same time – a skill I apply when listening to music AND reading.  That’s what this post is – pleasure and analysis (left brain and right brain activation).

From “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”, “Rain” (Bob Dylan, The Beatles)

“…the best music connects to the soul, not the brain…

As a teacher, we get some training in how the brain works.  The human brain likes patterns.  It likes repetition.  But we don’t talk about souls in teacher workshops.  Talking about engaging the soul of a student is verboten.  Education should connect to the soul as well as the brain. More sticking power.

This bit also reminds of a line from Much Ado About Nothing where Benedict has just listened to Don Pedro’s musicians sing a song out in the garden.  He says, “is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hail the souls from men’s bodies…”.  (That’s about 98% accurate.)  Similar wisdom unifying two men, centuries and philosophies apart.

It’s two different sensations when music engages your brain and your soul.  When it engages your soul, it’s possible to feel physical pain!  In 1986, after I got back from England, any song I would hear on the radio that had been on the radio in London would immediately transport me back to the Tube or my dorm room.  “Holding Back The Years”, “Lady in Red”, “Human” – they would leave me catatonic with misery as I felt my spirit being yanked out of me and back to Blighty.  When “Lady in Red” came on, I swear I could smell the Tube train again.  They’re not songs to be proud of liking.  Too schmaltzy.  Too pop-drek.  The only saving grace for “Holding Back The Years” is its heavy blues influence.  But they encapsulate my experience to such an extent that any other association is impossible and that’s why I love those songs.

From “You Had Time”, “I’ve Had It” (Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann)

Aimee Mann’s lyrics: Everyone I know is acting weird or way too cool / They hang out by the pool / So I just read a lot and ride my bike around the school.”  (“Ghost World”)

Ahhh, the song of the fringe dweller…so bittersweet, so torn, so enlightened.  The best thing about truly skilled songwriters is that they know how to make a powerful impact with a few well-chosen words.  This handful of lyrics represents the same kind of autobiographical endeavor Wordsworth cobbled in four volumes.  Songwriters would probably make great therapists. 

Wait…there’s more…

 

nightclub smilies

I’m not going to link all the song titles and artists since their work is readily available from any major retailer

(I love the mandala concept!)Product Details

Some Harold Bloom posts – just so you can see what the fuss is about.

 

THE EDUCATED CHILD — A PLAN OF ACTION FOR PARENTS

Product DetailsI was introduced to this book back in 2003 by my then principal.  He used it as a guidebook to make sure students were getting their educational needs met.  I agree with a lot of the principals in it because they are sound devices for intellectual development.  It’s not anti-modern, not anti-technology.  It’s a theoretical foundation to guide parents.  I am going to defend this book.

It’s a hefty hunk of idealism, not without its critics.  The author, William J. Bennet, is a former Secretary of Education. He was in the news some years back on account of his gambling addiction and other peccadilloes.  So he gambles. Does that mean he doesn’t know anything about how to educate children? Michael Jackson is a child molester.  His concerts sell out even though he has not been musically viable for over a decade now.  You can be a snob and turn your nose up at this guy and his book, but that would be stupid and ignorant.  A reviewer on www.amazon.com called Bennet, et. als. views "elitist".  So it’s elitist. So what?  It glorifies Western Civilization. er…that’s where we live, isn’t it?  It’s not anti-universal.  It’s pro-America and the literary culture that has brought us to where we are, for better or worse. 

One of the clear messages of this book is that parents should ask questions, be interested and active in their child’s education: learn to discern good from mediocre teachers, make them read, and read with them.  It provides helpful lists — not dogma — ADVICE.  You’re free to take it or not. You don’t even have to read the whole book from cover to cover.  Take from it what you need.  It’s a reference book, not a novel.  Parents should educate themselves in the education of their children.  As a parent, just like a classroom teacher, you can’t teach what you don’t know.  If you are afraid of mythology or philosophy, you might pass that fear on to your kids and that’s just wrong.  TEC is not just about making sure your child is educated enough to hold their own intellectually, it’s about active parenting. 

TEC provided me my professional mantra for teaching writing: Scribendo disces scribere: By writing, you learn to write. It underscores every lesson that I teach.  It has helped me be more conscientious about how and what I teach.  There is a problem with this philosophy, though.  It puts me completely and utterly at odds with the testing frenzy mentality that is strangling public school education.  TEC used to be what public school was like back before the data junkies took over everything.

When I finished reading the chapters on what 6th, 7th, and 8th graders should know, I felt a lot better about my ideas for teaching.  I’m an old-fashioned idealist where education is concerned, even though I love, love, love using technology.  This book validated many of my ideas.  Other books will come and go, glorifying, deifying, demonizing, and prophesy-ing, but this book is for educating human children. Not overstimulated, socially crippled, techno-fixated, test-taking trendoids.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE EDUCATED CHILD:

  • "You are your child’s most important teacher."
  • "Early Moral Training"
  • "Social Skills"
  • "Ten Signs of A Good School"
  • "How important is penmanship?"
  • "What is the place of Western Literature in the classroom?"
  • Questions to ask the teacher
  • Teaching core subjects at home
  • "Is memorization outdated?"

Children who are good readers in school tend to come from homes that are print-rich environments.  There’s newspapers, magazines, kiddie books, whatever.  They are within reach and they get discussed.  Good readers tend to come from parents who are readers.  When children see parents reading, talking about reading, shopping for books and magazines, it shows the child that that is an acceptable way to live.  They see it as normal and accept it mostly unquestioningly.  They don’t notice discrepancies until they come in contact with non-readers.  The reason for non-readers is the same, but in reverse.  Parents don’t read or they read garbage.  They don’t care about it, don’t talk about it, or worse — verbally nullify it. They might even ridicule the child if he/she shows an affinity towards reading.  (Those parents should be horsewhipped, btw.)

I was lucky. In my house, my parents had bookshelves in their closet. It was full of paperbacks, my dad’s college books, a set of Collier’s encyclopedias (remember those?) and mom’s high school yearbooks.  Every room in the house had books in it — bathroom and kitchen included.  And since our town was very boring and summers were long, guess what we did all day.  We sat looking at page after page of storybooks, dictionaries, the encyclopedias, comics, Readers’ Digest, my mom’s Harlequin romances and dad’s car and gun magazines — anything to pass the time.  When my siblings and I got to school, we could talk about anything you threw at us.  We were always in the highest reading level of our grade.  We lived "The Educated Child". My parents were on a first name basis with most of my teachers all during my school years.  They knew each other from high school.  I wasn’t thrilled about it as a kid, but it made me check my behavior more often than not.

That’s what this book is about.  Don’t raise ignorant children.  You ruin the environment when you do.  The ignorant, uneducated, and anti-intellectual damage society as a whole by their barbarism.  Don’t let "elitism" keep you from doing what’s right.  Don’t let the author’s human failings keep you from seeing the truth of his words.  Harold Bloom writes in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found: "Societal pressures and journalistic fashions may obscure these standards for a time, but …The mind always returns to its needs for beauty, truth, and insight."

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?

 

BACK IN BLOOM: SIFTING THRU THE WEEDY UNDERGROWTH OF POETRY READING

The Art of Reading PoetryHarold Bloom’s lunch meat-thin book (that I picked up for a song at Half-Price Books) is like an eyedropper of nitroglycerine. This amalgamation of observations and elucidations booms and reverberates with intellectual stimulation. It’s better than the average graduate dissertation at one-tenth the size.  I don’t know that reading poetry is an “art”.  Understanding poetry may be. This book certainly makes a case for it being art. Bloom’s writing style is an art form in itself. He’s read so much and it shows. I sense that in his more convoluted sentences, the ones with dashes and semi-colons, clauses within clauses and all manner of noun phrases, he’s still holding back information. His dry prose bleeds intent.

AoRP succeeds in explaining the cavalcade of “tropes” and image architecture that is poetic language. Teaching English itself is an extraordinary experience because the language is so flexible, so multi-purpose…so maneuverable! Teaching English poetry is like showing students how to build a Rube Goldberg — to create an elaborate simplicity.  It’s interesting that Bloom describes language as “concealed figuration”. I hear an echo of Orwell’s “Why I Write” when he explains how writing conceals intent and distorts the truth. In the case of poetry, language “exploits” using figures of speech. Take "exploit" how you will.

I feel sorry for people who live and think like cement wheels. Poetry is nothing to them. Not worth a second glance. A doorknob is more useful than an ode. People whose minds are like popcorn or flowers can be reached by poetry. This book, for all its good intentions, will probably not reach cement wheel people. Bloom’s sentences are too luxurious, his vocabulary too celestial. And….AND he does my absolute favorite Bloom-thing: he makes adjectives out of people’s names. Heehee! I love it! Blakeian, Yeatsian. Epic! Mozartean, Popean! Stop! You’re killing me!

One of the things I like best about the writing in this book is that in several instances, Bloom talks about poetry like it’s music. It’s an auditory treat. He uses the language of music to opine on Blake, Pope, and Milton. It’s a real pleasure to read. Another reader-friendly trait is that it all sounds like a lecture – but a good lecture, with lots of examples. Too many examples, probably. It’s a really, really thin book. If it was any thinner, it would have only one side. It’s thinner than Funny Jokes to Make You Popular by Franz Kafka. Whole pages are given to long poems and index of poems.

If you are afraid of poetry, this is a decent book. It’s thin. It’s not intimidating – until you open it and start reading. Then watch out. You’ll be blinded by the light (hey, that would make a great song title…).  If you are okay with poetry, beware of phrases like “a benign haunting in poetic tradition.” “Repressed reference is a defense against overinfluence.” Qoi? Then it’s so cute how he comes back down to earth: “I can chant Poe by the yard, from memory…”

“Arnoldian”! Woo-Hoo! THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!

The word “inevitability” shows up a lot. Since he paints poetry in musical terms, I take that to mean a “resolve” as in a musical resolve — when a melody comes back to the note where it started. Every image or figure that comes next should strike the reader as natural, inevitable. Not jar as jazz might. Although, if you jar and make it work, that is good poetry too. Maneuverability.

From reading all the shameless name-dropping throughout the book, I get the impression that Bloom read Critical Theory Since Plato, or more likely, has read everyone in it. It feels good to think of Longinus and Wimsatt, and Pope being quoted by Bloom. I feel connected to good ideas. It gives me perspective and that great feeling you get from riding the same wavelength with another mind, a mind I greatly admire.

April is National Poetry Month.

Related posts:

 

"Books are, let’s face it, better than anything else."

Nick Hornby~The Polysyllabic Spree

 

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