Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

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My Hair–a Student Poem


Recently, my students read a poem where the eggs in a carton expressed terror at being removed by human hands and a Pablo Neruda poem about his socks–hand made, blue wool with a golden thread running through them.  Their assignment was to also write a 20 line poem about something ordinary which they love or appreciate. One student wrote about my hair.

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Student Poems: Dogs


The instructions:  write a poem about a pet or wild animal you love.  Most of the students wrote about their dogs.  Six more students requested I publish their dog poems.  Here are three:

 

Kimba

my name is Kimba

I am really fun

but be very careful I like cinnamon buns

I run and I play

I sleep everyday

I ride in the car

but not very far

I really hate cats

They remind me of rats

I need to lose weight

So I can relate

back to when I was tiny

I thought I was so mighty

Author:  Kayla Stephens

 

 

 

Sadie Mae

Sadie Mae is the best

Whatever she does, she makes a mess

She loves to play with all

especially her favorite ball

Sophie is her best friend

but their energy never ends

In the open pastures she runs wild

which gives her a big smile

In the middle of the bed she sprawls

sometimes you will see her crawl

Author:  Jake Kenedy

 

 

Baps

My name is Baps.  Milana

loves me I sleep on her

head so she can’t see

When Milana gets up I

have to get off When I

roll over I fall off

Milano needs me so does

Finley But beware of the

bird because he is my enemy

Be very careful we don’t get along

don’t put us together or he will

be gone.

Author:  Milana Evers

 

 

Student Poetry: Bunny and Pond


Another student submitted a pond poem today:

 

The Pond

cold, still water

moss covering the surface

catfish swimming around the banks

frogs croaking like an old car horn

 

This is my pond.

Author:  Harris Albracht

 

 

The following poem makes me laugh every time I read it:

 

Roger the Rabbit was an interesting rabbit

who had a eating habit

orange sour skittles were his favorite

He always savored it

He was white with black spots

And he slept lots

Rodger lived in a tree hosue

He was quiet as a mouse

Rodger is gone now

Thanks to the owl

He will be missed

But I am not very pissed

 

R.I.P.  Rodger the Rabbit

Author:  Jess Merrell

Pond and Wheelbarrow–Student Poems


This past week in my sophomore English class, the students read poems by Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams.  I gave them the assignment to write about either a pond or a wheelbarrow.  At first, they thought I had lost my mind.  However, several decided they would like their poems published on this blog.  The following are three poems the students asked me to publish:

The Pond

The frogs croak

quietly in the night

waiting for food

to come by.

 

The water shimmers

in the moonlight

like a lighthouse

to the ocean.

 

When you think of

the pond,

think of the beautiful

creatures that live

in it.

Author:  Ali Matthews

 

 

Pond

Sittin in a pond,

watching the frogs jump by,

the fish sing

bloop!  bloop!!  bloop!!

Author:  Skylee Isham

 

 

The Wheelbarrow

Behind my fence

sits a green wheel barrow.

 

It has been used many times,

but still looks brand new.

 

The wheelbarrow has sat through

all sorts of weather, and it

still works like a charm.

Author:  Taylor Shugart

 

A Litany of Thanks


I heard this poem by Max Coots recited on Sunday and saved it to share today.

 

Let us give thanks:

 

For generous friends…with hearts…and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are a silly as Brussel spouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;

For old friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;

And, finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life hereafter.

For all these we give thanks.

 

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You’re Gonna Eat That?!


This is the title of my newest book which currently resides at the designers for formatting, placing the photos in the correct place and position, making sure everything is just right.  The subtitle is:  Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends.  It includes family and travel stories, adventures, poems, and recipes. Here are a couple of food photos which will be in the book with recipes.

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Every Sunday until publication, I will post an update as to progress.  My goal is to have it available for purchase for Christmas presents for those who love food adventures.

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

Jen Payne’s New Book


Evidence of Flossing, WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND provides an unexpected metaphor for individual life, culture, and so much more. Nearly all the poems are accompanied with a photograph, often of trash in which lays a dental flosser (yes, one of those instruments with which you floss your teeth) with date and location.  Flossing is supposed to prevent anything from being left behind.  Hence, the title brings up an unusual play on words.

The first section Damage contains more than 20 poems which are a lament about much of modern life–mass shootings, the demise of wildlife, unpleasant changes.  One poem asks the question:  “Would God floss?”  In the second section, Contact, the poems focus on the natural world, walks in the city, the woods, beaches.  The third section, Connection, emphasizes the interconnectedness of everything, especially the relationships between humans and animals and nature.  There are poems about frogs, storms, birds.  One called Evidence of Fairies makes the reader feel the magic of old growth forests with moss and ancient trees.  In the footnote to another poem she discusses the fact that wolf spiders actually create songs to lure lovers. Then, toward the end, the Alice poems appear,  Alice as in “Alice in Wonderland”.  In my favorite poem Payne relates her encounter with a stranger picking oyster mushrooms near a path in the woods.

After reading the poems and comments in this book, I will never view flossing the same way again.  Will I find dental flossers now, something I never even previously thought about?  I use those long strings of floss not flossers.  Apparently the poems and flosser photos affected enough people that some sent Payne photos of flossers they saw here and there on the ground, some of which she has included in the book.

Even if I find no flossers, now I will certainly give a lot more thought to what I and others leave behind.

 

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About the author:  Jennifer Payne is the owner of Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company in Connecticut. She belongs to the Arts Council of Greater New Haven as well as several other arts and poetry organizations.  Her work has been featured in various publications, including The Aurorean, Six Sentences, and the Story Circle Network.  You can read some of her writing on her blog Random Acts of Writing.