For some reason I found this sticker in a storage bin in our bathroom last night.
But if you need a pick-me-up right now, here’s a song right here:
I first came across the poetry of Stevie Smith when I was a teenager. Once again, I think it was in some collection of literature meant to be used in the classroom. I don’t remember if it was one from a class of mine, or if I came across it in some other way (the used bookstore obsession began early). I do know two things for certain. The poem of hers I first read was “Not Waving but Drowning,” and for the longest time I thought she was a man because I am a doofus and apparently learned nothing from Stevie Nicks. (Though, the book could have included some biographical information that might have cleared this up. JUST SAYIN’.)
More recently I discovered that she also illustrated many of her poems. This completely added to the appeal, since stylistically she keeps it simple, which I enjoy. Sometimes a doodle says more than a grand work of art (and sometimes a doodle IS a grand work of art). This is not to besmirch grand works of art. Everything has its place.
Anyway, while Not Waving but Drowning is her best known poem and it seems like I should go for a deep cut, sometimes you just have to play the hits. Here’s a scan of the poem (from The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith) with the illustration that was so dearly lacking from the version I first encountered.
I come from a family of teachers. As a kid, I had these two elderly aunts who had taught generations of people in their town. I spent a lot of time with them, and they had tons of cool old books, which I dug through eagerly. One of these books was called Along Story Trails, and I think it was a “reader” for a classroom. It had a wide variety of stuff in it – folktales, poetry, short stories, and abridged versions or excerpts from longer pieces, to name a few. It was where I first encountered Beowulf (an adaptation), Rikki Tikki Tavi (sparking a lifelong love of the mongoose), and this poem by William Carlos Williams, often referred to as “As the cat,” given that’s the first line.
What I love about this is the illustration (a cat, years before the internet!), and how it helps a young reader visualize the action in the poem, and how the words reflect the movement of the cat. This remains my favorite Williams poem. Note the “plum” jar, likely referring to another famous Williams poem.
Sadly, I lost my original copy of this book years ago, but was able to find another. I use it in school visits a lot to show how I came to be such a voracious reader. (I then show the comic books I read as a kid to point out that I didn’t just read fancy poetry, I read EVERYTHING.)
Happy Poetry Month! And don’t forget I’ll be on Boston Public Radio on WGBH radio for the MBTA Poetry News Quiz this Friday around 1:30. I’ll be facing off against Liam Day, who has written a book of poems about MBTA buses. Tune in!
Big things are happening! I’ll be a part of a MBTA Poetry News Quiz on Boston Public Radio on WGBH Radio on Friday, April 10th. The news quiz is on around 1:30. With any luck, I will have a collection of MBTA haikus ready then too (however, problems, as we all expected, are ongoing – this is going to end up being an epic collection). I’ll be facing off against Liam Day, who has written a book of poems about MBTA buses. You can stream it online, so tune in.
To kick off Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a found poem by Tuli Kupferberg off his album of found poems called No Deposit, No Return. There’s some hilarious stuff on there, some of it very NSFW, but I chose one called “Social Studies,” and you’ll figure out soon enough where it was taken from (click the words “Social Studies” back there to hear it).
And while we’re in the found poetry mood, here’s one of mine:
Hairy and slender
with slim fingers and black nails
the Capuchin monkey’s hands
are just right
a bottle of juice
My town paper did a nice story on me, and used some illustrations I did that were inspired by the ongoing train disaster.
Worth checking out, even if you live somewhere with reliable public transit.
I’ll be talking about my MBTA haikus on Under the Radar this Sunday, March 8th, on WGBH radio. That’s 89.7 in the Boston area, or you can stream via WGBH’s website. (Click “Radio” at the top, and then “Live Stream” on the left.) It’s on 6-7 pm EST.
(The title of this post is a reference to a Billy Bragg album that I am a fan of, which is in itself a reference to a poem. Round and round we go.)
And if you’d like to read more of my haikus, you can buy my 2011 Haiku-A-Day book here.
Boston.com did a nice story about my MBTA haiku coping mechanism. I’m not alone in my beef with the T.
Even if you’re not in the area, you may have heard about the winter Massachusetts has been having. We’ve been getting pounded relentlessly, and it’s caused the Boston-area transit system to be completely shut down several times. Even when it’s not shut down, it works less than great. In an effort to stay sane in the face of being constantly stuck on trains, I’ve begun to write haikus and tweet them at the MBTA. I’ve been collecting them at T’d Off Haikus, or if you want to watch them unfold in real time, you can follow me on Twitter (@erikpkraft). They predict it will be 30 days from the end of snow to get the system back up and running, and snow is forecast for tonight, so I’ve got at least another month to go with this.
You have one month to be awesome.
I did a school visit at Shaker Lane Elementary in Littleton, MA today. (Shakey is the Shaker Lane mascot. See what I did there?) I talked to the kindergartners and transitional classes, and they were a super enthusiastic and receptive bunch.
I tried to focus a bit on how much revision goes into writing, since one of the teachers had mentioned to me in an email that they were working on this idea in class. Luckily, I tend to revise like crazy, so I had a few things to say.
When you say, “Well, that’s it, thanks everyone,” and someone loudly yells, “That was AWESOME!” it tends to be a sign of a successful visit. Thanks, Shaker Lane!
Come on down to Mill No.5, 250 Jackson Street, Lowell MA and buy some stuff! This is an amazing space, and I’m super impressed with all the stuff people have for sale here.
The opening for Doodle was Friday night, and it was packed from start to finish. I was there for most of it, so this is not hearsay. Here I am posing in front of some of my pieces with my clearly exhausted son, who is wiped out by all the awesomeness.
The show runs until January 26th. Hours can be found here.
More pictures can be found on Doodle’s Facebook page.
A high point for me (there were many) was a person who works at a gynecologist’s office coming up to me and telling me how much she loved this comic:
I’ve got some pieces in an art show called Doodle, which “is a show on cartooning in all of its forms.” The image for the show was done by my friend Craig Bostick, and the show was curated by Jef Czekaj. I’m not sure I need to say much more, but if I do, just check out the website of the show. The opening is this Friday, January 8th, from 6-8pm, at the Nave Gallery Annex, 53 Chester Street, Somerville, MA (Davis Square, next to Redbones).
Here’s part of Craig’s image. Who doesn’t like cowboys? (You might even like him more if you see what he’s wearing.)
I like to tell my students that the more you critique other people’s stories, the better you’ll get at seeing areas of improvement in your own writing. I am a good example of this. Since I started teaching, I have picked up on things I see a lot of my students do, and then in turn I realized that these are often things I do myself. One thing I see a lot of is stories that start with a lot of description and telling you who the characters are and what they’re like. I understand the urge to do this. Starting a story is hard, so why not just get out who we’re dealing with here? I think that works when you’re writing an early draft. I say get as much out of your head as you can at once, so if you need to do a data dump as the opening, go for it. But when it’s time to revise, I think I can make a good argument to not open your story this way.
Let’s take a look at the opening of Charlotte’s Web, which many people (myself included) consider to be one of the great openings in literature.
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”
“I don’t see why he needs an axe,” continued Fern, who was only eight.
“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”
Look at how much information we get from this. We know Fern lives on a farm, (and not only that, a farm which has pigs), she is eight, her last name is Arable, and as we’ll see in a paragraph or two, she is very determined when she puts her mind to something. Now look at how a first draft of this might sound.
Fern Arable was an eight year old girl with a mind of her own. She enjoyed living on the farm with her parents where they raised pigs, sheep, and geese. She didn’t like it when animals were killed, especially for what she considered to be unjust reasons. One day as she and her mother were setting the table for breakfast, Fern looked out the window and saw her father walking across the yard with an axe.
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” Fern said to her mother.
Which one grabs your attention more? The one that puts you right into the action, right? Keep this in mind when revising. You only have so much time to grab a reader’s attention.
However, don’t worry about this when you’re writing. The problem I have run into with my well-developed critiquing muscles is that I recognize when I’m doing stuff I don’t want to be doing as I am doing it. Don’t get caught up in the urge to edit as you write. The ideas want out, let them get out. No one needs to see the early drafts. Then, when you go to revise, be like Papa with the axe, and do away with the words that get in the way.