Teaching Poetry, and a Poem for NaPoWriMo

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tuesday was the one day this semester that I dedicated to poetry for my College Reading students, and it was a disaster. Most of our readings this semester have come from The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, which I think is a good text for students this age because the readings are chosen by students their own age. There is only one small section of poetry in the book, a group of poems responding to Arizona SB 1070 (the infamous immigration bill), and I assigned this section for Tuesday's class, thinking it would be a gentle introduction into poetry and also an opportunity to talk about current events and reinforce the importance of understanding the context/rhetorical situation of a text, which they've been resistant to all semester.

Since there was no quiz or blog post due this week, I was fully expecting that most of them wouldn't have completed the reading, but I wasn't expecting only one person in each class to have brought the book. How can we talk about poetry if you don't have the poems in front of you?! Needless to say, the class was dismissed early, but only after I assured them their days with poetry were not over, that I was replacing the final class on reading images with one on poetry instead. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this class, other than the exercises and discussion I had planned for Tuesday, but now I think I'm going to do something similar to what my friend Tawnysha did in her class yesterday.

In light of how I've been feeling about teaching poetry to college students this week, I thought this poem by former national poet laureate Billy Collins was appropriate.

"Introduction to Poetry"
By: Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 10: Oahu/Last Day in Hawai'i :-(

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Unlike most cruise vacations I've taken, which are basically over the moment the boat docks and we disembark, our Hawai'i trip had a little steam left so that we could say a proper farewell to our new favorite state. Thanks to Delta playing with our itinerary the previous few months, we weren't scheduled to fly out until around 5:30 p.m., which gave us nearly a whole day to hit some of the Oahu hot spots we'd missed during our first 2.5 days on the island.

We'd picked up tags so that we could be in one of the earliest groups to leave the ship (around 8:00, I think), and as usual, our color was called a little bit before our official time, but we were ready to go. We'd gotten up early, ensured that the remaining few items we'd kept with us were packed in my carry-on, and were having a quick breakfast at the buffet when our color was called. Since the majority of passengers had fought for later time slots, disembarkation was a breeze, and within five minutes we'd disembarked, gathered our bags, and were boarding the Thrifty shuttle waiting outside. (The nice thing about not entering international ports on this cruise: no customs/immigration.) On the way to Thrifty we stopped by the Princess dock to pick up a couple disembarking there; they'd flown to Tahiti and taken a twelve(?)-day cruise from there to Hawai'i, which might be the only other way I'd consider cruising Hawai'i. (Certainly not doing one of those ones from the West Coast.)

We'd reserved a full-sized car with Thrifty for the day to accommodate all our bags, but since we'd moved from high season to low (or moderate) in the course of a week, the price was half what we'd paid for a standard-size the week before. You can get your bags stored at the port terminal for a price, but we decided that wasn't really worth it for us, and Norwegian doesn't work with the airlines to transport bags early for you anymore. So we were stuck with the bags all day, but since it was just the two of us, there was plenty of room in the car and it wasn't an issue.

Our first destination was Kualoa Ranch, which we had missed on our first couple of days in Oahu. There is so much you can do at Kualoa--ATV tours, horseback riding, garden and beach tours--but what I wanted was a movie scene tour.

Dozens of movies and TV shows have been filmed (at least in part) at Kualoa, including Lost, Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Hawaii 5-0, and Godzilla. There are some all-day Lost tours (of Kualoa but not by Kualoa) that I would love to do, but we only had time for the basic movie tour Kualoa offers. It's a one-hour tour on an old school bus without windows, and it was by far the biggest tour we took the whole trip! (And super dusty. Our camera is still coated in dust.) Cori, our guide, entertained us with stories of how she came to the island, how prohibitively expensive it was to live there, of places we must visit while we were there, and of the ranch itself. Kualoa (all 4,000 acres of it) has been owned by the same family for over a hundred years, and every person who is born into that family owns a piece of it (or a stake in it at least). The property has everything--beaches, mountains, valleys, jungles--and is some of the most beautiful real estate on the island. How the family maintains it, of course, is through tours partially, but mainly through charging outrageous sums (to you and me, not to studio execs) for Hollywood to film there. Needless to say, the Morgan family, no matter how big it is, isn't hurting for money.

The movie tour only shows you a fraction of the property and of the places where studios have filmed, but our first stop was at a bunker used as one of the Dharma stations in Lost. (Just wish I could remember which one!) This is one of several old WWII bunkers on the estate, and this one also houses the movie "museum," framed posters of all the movies that have been filmed at Kualoa. We were given 10-15 minutes to tour the bunker, which is also home to the (very fake) submarine used in Lost!

Since we were two of the first people off the bus (which is how we were able to get those shots of the sub without ten people standing in front of it), we decided to clear out of the bunker well before time to reboard the bus in order to give the other people room to breathe. The bunker is right on a hill overlooking the ocean and you can see Chinaman's Hat from there, so we were perfectly content to hang around outside while we waited on the rest of the group to reconvene.

No Photoshop required. The colors are just that awesome!
Then we drove around the valley (where dozens of productions have filmed) and saw the hill where Hurley built his golf course, the dirt road Adam Sandler drove down when he saw Drew Barrymore's car broken down in 50 First Dates, and one of Godzilla's footprints, along with countless other locations.

Hurley's golf course
50 First Dates road
Godzilla footprint
The tour was just a taste of the beauty and history of Kualoa (at least for movie buffs like me), and I'd love to go back when I have a full day to spend there.

Since we were already on the far east side of the island, after the tour we decided to drive up to the North Shore to have lunch and watch the surfers. We wanted to see the Banzai Pipeline, but since that isn't a "real" location, we told Gypsy (what T.J. has named our GPS) to take us to Ehukai Beach Park. When we reached Haleiwa, the GPS directed us onto a narrow (basically one-lane) service road that ran parallel to the ocean.  Houses are packed close together here, so you can't really see the ocean, but you know it's there. The GPS was saying we were "there" even though we couldn't see any sign of a beach park, but there were cars parked all along the service road and people walking between houses to get to the beach, so we parked as soon as a space opened up and then took a cut-through between two houses. The beach on the other side was nice but didn't look like a beach park, and there were only a handful of people on the beach and a couple of (obviously amateur) surfers in the water. That's when we looked down the shore and saw where the crowd had gathered. Even though we were not prepared for a beach day, we hiked through the sand to the real Ehukai Beach Park, which was exactly what you'd think a beach park would be. It had a parking lot, picnic tables, etc., and a crowd had gathered (including a bank of photographers with telephoto lens) to watch a surf competition! That's right. How lucky were we that we just happened to show up right when a competition was about to begin!

Now, I know nothing about surfing, other than that it looks awesome when you do it right and especially in those colorful barrel photographs magazines are so fond of. But I have no idea how its scored, how long a heat lasts, who determines who gets what wave, etc. What I learned on our last day in Oahu is that it is a sport of patience. First we watched the surfers float around on the waves waiting for the heat to begin. Then when the horn signaled the first heat, we waited for the first surfer to take a wave. In our 30+ minutes of watching, we saw maybe three or four strong runs.

So surfing involves a lot of waiting around for something to happen, it being a sport that depends entirely on Mother Nature's cooperation and all. But what I really learned that day was that the locals love their surfing the way that Southerners love high school football and Canadians love hockey. The people who were sitting around me that day were mostly local, and they knew the surfers on the water. Knew them by name, could recognize them from 300 yards away, knew their moves and how they'd scored in the last competition. And they had their own telephoto lens cameras. These were hardcore surf fans.

It was growing late, though, and we still needed to get lunch and make a couple more stops, so we reluctantly left the competition during the first heat and walked back to the car. This time we walked through the beach park, which we realized connected to the service road. The beach parking lot was full, which is why so many other people had parked along the service road as well. The walk back was short, though, and once we'd dusted off the sand and climbed back into the car, we decided to backtrack a couple of minutes to have lunch at Ted's Bakery, which Cori had recommended on our tour that morning.

Ted's Bakery is one of those small places loved by locals and tourists alike. You can get good, cheap food there, everything from burgers to plate lunches, but the real reason people go is because of the pies, which are world-famous. I wish we could have brought one back with us, but it probably would have been a bit difficult to get it into our carry-ons. (And TSA probably would have thought it contained too much liquid anyway. :-P) Lunch there can be a bit...chaotic and intimidating for the first-timer. Its busy and crowded, with only a handful of small tables outside on the patio, which means if you are fortunate enough to find a bench at one, you will be sharing with at least one other family. (IF the families aren't rude tourists who spread out all their belongings so that no one else could sit there.) The line inside and non-existent space to wait for your food can be equally confusing, but once I chose what I wanted to eat, T.J. dealt with that while I waited for a bench at one of the tables to become available. We ended up eating with a local guy and his two little kids, which was really cool. He was originally from the Philly area, so we knew a lot of the same places, and we chatted about life in Oahu, why he'd moved there, and why he was never moving back Stateside. I felt sorry for all the tourists who'd refused to share their tables with locals, because they were really missing out on one of the most interesting parts of travel (at least to me): listening to other people's stories! 

After lunch, we began our journey back to Honolulu, although we had one more major stop to make: the Dole Plantation! One of the things I most wanted to see at Dole was the row of painted eucalyptus trees at the entrance. I'd first learned about these trees when I was researching the Road to Hana in Maui, and when we'd later decided not to do the drive, the trees were one of the main things I was disappointed we wouldn't see. Then I'd learned the Dole Plantation had the same trees, so I knew we had to stop there. And I'm so glad we did! The trees are gorgeous!

After taking countless pictures of the trees from every angle (and probably looking like idiots in the process), we finally made it inside. The store is huge, with every variety of pineapple-related treat you can imagine. We ended up with pineapple and pineapple/strawberry candy, pineapple crunch, and the magical mango-macadamia waffle mix I already discussed here, but it was hard to choose! There were so many yummy-looking local goodies to choose from. They had t-shirts and other souvenirs as well, which, looking back, we wished we'd bought. 

What we'd really come for (other than the trees), though, was a Dole Whip! There are only, to my knowledge, four places in the world to get a Dole Whip: the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Polynesian Resort, Disneyland, and the Dole Plantation. And now I've had one (or a half dozen) at every location! After purchasing our Dole Whips from the restaurant area at the back of the building, we took our already-melting soft serve out to the patio.

We texted a similar picture to my brother and cousin, who are Dole Whip aficionados like me, and my brother asked if it was better than the Disney version. Just as good! I replied. How can you improve upon perfection? The only thing that was better about this Dole Whip (which was magically good on its own) was that I was eating it under blue skies and palm trees in Hawaii on a gorgeous, sunny, warm day (not sitting on a  concrete block in Frontierland in the sweltering Florida heat). Can't beat that.

The Dole Whip was the perfect way to end our vacation. It, like sitting on Ke'e Beach at sunset, is one of my happiest memories from Hawai'i because it is also one of the simplest. 

Although I wished we had more time to explore the grounds or take on the infamous Dole maze, I was happy with the time we got to spend at the Plantation. It was a very relaxing, fun place to spend an hour, even if it was packed with people. We had a flight to catch, though, and a little shopping we still wanted to do, so after we finished our Dole Whips we headed back to Honolulu. 

Since shopping hadn't been a priority on this trip, there were several souvenirs I typically get when we travel that I'd failed to find in Hawaii, a t-shirt being one of them. I'd bought two sweatshirts (one in Kona and one at Mauna Loa Helicopters) but no t-shirts. We figured Hilo Hattie would be the place to get one, though, since they seemed to be the most ubiquitous souvenir shop around, with locations on every island and free shuttles to get there. T.J. really hadn't bought anything for himself the whole trip (other than the Iron Man shirt in Kona), and he was hoping to find something special to put in his office at work. We found the Honolulu location without problem (thanks to the GPS) and were surprised to find the parking lot nearly empty. I think a lot of bus tours must go there (judging from the parking) and that few tourists make it there on their own.

We were greeted at the door with shell leis, which was nice, and entered the store expecting it to be enormous and busy (based on the exterior), but, while it was big (like Big Lots big) it wasn't department store big, which is what it looked like from the outside. We were really disappointed in the t-shirt selection (unless you like t-shirts with embroidered flowers on the front, this is probably not the place for you), but we did find a few items to purchase: cheap calendars to give as souvenirs, a fridge magnet for my mom, an 11x14 copy of the vintage map we liked so much, a small piece of pottery for me, and a painted honu plate for T.J.'s office. 

Out at the car, we rearranged our luggage to accommodate all our new purchases, and then it was back to Thrifty and then on to the airport. Our Hawaiian honeymoon was over, and although it was sad to say good-bye to the islands we'd come to love, we knew that good-bye wasn't forever--that Hawai'i had become a part of us in a way that few places have, and that it's a place we will want to share again, at every new stage of our lives.


A NaPoWriMo Poem: Carol Ann Duffy's "Standing Female Nude"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Not a lot of time today to blog, as I just finished teaching and have student conferences all afternoon. But I did want to share another favorite poem today to inspire all those NaPoWriMoers out there!

I first discovered this poem in my Women's Literature class my senior year of college, and Carol Ann Duffy has been a favorite poet of mine ever since. I've been purposely vague about my own poetry-writing goals for April, but I'll give a hint: I'm working on a series that attempts to do something very similar to what this poem does. Without further ado...

"Standing Female Nude" (1985)
By: Carol Ann Duffy

Six hours like this for a few francs.
Belly nipple arse in the window light,
he drains the color from me. Further to the right,
Madame. And do try to be still.
I shall be represented analytically and hung
in great museums. The bourgeoisie will coo
at such an image of a river-whore. They call it Art.

Maybe. He is concerned with volume, space.
I with the next meal. You're getting thin,
Madame, this is not good. My breasts hang
slightly low, the studio is cold. In the tea-leaves
I can see the Queen of England gazing
on my shape. Magnificent, she murmurs,
moving on. It makes me laugh. His name

is Georges. They tell me he's a genius.
There are times he does not concentrate
and stiffens for my warmth.
He possesses me on canvas as he dips the brush
repeatedly into the paint. Little man,
you've not the money for the arts I sell.
Both poor, we make our living how we can.
I ask him Why do you do this? Because
I have to. There's no choice. Don't talk.
My smile confuses him. These artists
take themselves too seriously. At night I fill myself
with wine and dance around the bars. When it's finished
he shows me proudly, lights a cigarette. I say
Twelve francs and get my shawl. It does not look like me.


Reading Plath on the First Day of NaPoWriMo

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happy National Poetry Writing Month, everyone! Although I'm not brave enough to attempt this writing marathon (which asks you to write a poem a day for a month) myself, I greatly admire all my friends, writing acquaintances, and anyone else who will be participating this year. Even though I don't consider myself a poet, I have set some modest poetry-writing goals for the month, and I've decided to encourage those who are fighting the good fight of NaPoWriMo by posting favorite poems here on the blog. I can't promise a poem everyday, but I will try to post one at least every two or three.

First up is one of my favorite poems by Sylvia Plath. It's a poem that I spent a lot of time with a few years ago when I was taking a graduate course on "Poetic Materials," working on a seminar paper investigating the murky history of her collection Ariel, thinking a lot about authorial intention and editorial interference, and in particular Plath's tumultuous relationship with her husband and sometime editor/critic Ted Hughes. It's a poem that encompasses all of the elements I look for in poetry:  intense, precise imagery; just enough abstraction to allow the reader to make a personal connection or interpret the poem multiple ways; and a final line that knocks the air from my lungs.

"The Rabbit Catcher" (1962) from Ariel**
By: Sylvia Plath

It was a place of force--
The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,
Tearing off my voice, and the sea
Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead
Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.

I tasted the malignity of the gorse,
Its black spikes,
The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers.
They had an efficiency, a great beauty,
And were extravagant, like torture.

There was only one place to get to.
Simmering, perfumed,
The paths narrowed into the hollow.
And the snares almost effaced themselves---
Zeroes, shutting on nothing,

Set close, like birth pangs.
The absence of shrieks
Made a hole in the hot day, a vacancy.
The glassy light was a clear wall,
The thickets quiet.

I felt a still busyness, an intent.
I felt hands round a tea mug, dull, blunt,
Ringing the white china.
How they awaited him, those little deaths!
They waited like sweethearts. They excited him.

And we, too, had a relationship--
Tight wires between us,
Pegs too deep to uproot, and a mind like a ring
Sliding shut on some quick thing,
The constriction killing me also.

** This version comes from Plath's manuscript for Ariel, which was published posthumously. When Ted Hughes prepared the manuscript for publication, he left out this poem. It was later included in Winter Trees, but it wasn't restored to Ariel, its intended home, until the facsimile of Plath's manuscript was published in 2004 (Ariel: The Restored Edition).


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