One Small Drop of Water: Poetry at the Cellular Level

puddle
photo from pixabay

“No more pleasant sight has met my eye than this of so many thousand of living creatures in one small drop of water.”
– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 17th century pioneer in microbiology

Last fall I did a poetry residency with a seventh grade science class. They were studying cellular structure and respiration followed by a unit on genetics and DNA. Their teacher and I discussed ways we could connect poetry and science with the students. We landed on the big idea of close observation, noticing deeply and seeing patterns—essential skills for both poets and scientists. We wanted the students to practice looking closely and describing what they saw in precise detail.

We asked them to consider the question:

What do we learn from looking closely? Continue reading One Small Drop of Water: Poetry at the Cellular Level

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Strange Paths

The_library_at_trinity_college

Even before I walked around every day with a massive research library in my pocket, I often looked things up. In the olden days, when I was working on a project, I’d hunker in library stacks for hours, lug home bags of books. My life was full of Post-its, torn off slips of paper, scrawled, sometimes indecipherable notes. I fondly recall sitting hunched in a carrel in my college library with books at my elbow, books at my feet. I liked finding notes or marginalia left by other readers who—months or years previous—had been curious about the same thing I was investigating at that moment. Continue reading Strange Paths

Forgive Me, But Now I Own Your World

photo by Terence Faircloth on flickr
photo by Terence Faircloth on flickr

My manuscript is out to six publishers, and now we wait to see what they have to say. In the meantime, what to post? I’ve started some fall teaching work and will have stories about those residencies down the road, but meanwhile, I’ve been meaning for some time to share a favorite student poem.

It was written in a third grade poetry class. We read William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say:”

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I asked students to write a poem, in the style of Williams if they wished, that apologized for something. Most students wrote poems like this one from Justin A: Continue reading Forgive Me, But Now I Own Your World

For I Will Consider My Cat Duncan

Duncan reclining

In late August I said goodbye to a very fine cat. Duncan lived with me for seventeen years, in three different apartments. baby duncanHe enjoyed drinking water from the bathroom sink tap and sitting on the edge of the tub when I was taking a bath. On a handful of occasions he actually jumped in, and, instead of splashing immediately back out, walked high-legged and stiff through water up to his undercarriage, investigating the situation. He formed a grudging bond with my pit bull mix, Levi (RIP) and an even more grudging bond with Mingus, a bedraggled black kitten who joined our household three years ago. MyPictureming and dunc

Duncan was fluffy and sweet, even in his dotage when he purred less often and developed the habit of staring into space and vocalizing loudly. He had a very elegant set of whiskers and a distinguished countenance.

handsome dunc

The poet Mary Oliver is known, among other things, for her beautiful writing on dogs. The poem “Her Grave” is one I often send to friends grieving the loss of a pooch. I thought perhaps she’d have something helpful to say about cats. And I found this: Continue reading For I Will Consider My Cat Duncan

In Which I Interview Jennifer Tseng about Writing a Novel

IMG_1996

I’m typing this on the Peter Pan bus, en route to Logan Airport after a sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard. While there, I read, to a lovely audience at the West Tisbury Library, an excerpt from The Saltwater Twin that chronicles my failed attempt at becoming a cheerleader and my lifelong quest for genuine good cheer. There were other storytellers, and there was coconut cake and prosecco. Also, I got to visit with my friend Jennifer Tseng who is a poet, a librarian at the West Tisbury Library and now a novelist to boot. I reviewed her debut novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness last month on The Island Review. I thought I’d like to interview her about the novel and her writing process…so without further ado, I give you Jennifer! Continue reading In Which I Interview Jennifer Tseng about Writing a Novel

Summer Reading, 2015

martha's vineyard jennifer

I’ve tried my hand at a book review. It’s up on a really cool site, theislandreview.com, which I stumbled across when I was looking up something about an island, real or imagined—probably Martha’s Vineyard, Hawaii, Avalon or Neverland. The book I reviewed, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng, was the perfect fit for the site, since it takes place on an unnamed island on the northern Atlantic seaboard of the U.S inspired by Martha’s Vineyard, an island dear to my own heart. Jennifer is a librarian and poet on Martha’s Vineyard. We met in college and stomped around Chicago together for a trimester, drinking espresso, eating samosas, reading feminist theory, writing poems and learning about gentrification and social justice. And thrifting!

My own book, which is undergoing yet another revision this spring, now begins with this passage: Continue reading Summer Reading, 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day

photo by Joshua Zamryki
photo by Joshua Zamryki

A poem I love by Billy Collins from his book Nine Horses.

Litany

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

 

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

Billy Collins