“Poetry is a type of literature, or artistic writing, that attempts to stir a reader’s imagination or emotions. The poet does this by carefully choosing and arranging language for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.”
I am a poet. I am a poet a meaning maker a lover of language
I am in awe of the profound power of the tiniest words strung together
I am amazed at the pleasure I experience by crafting these simple poems. It is the meaning making that most enthralls and feeds me.
I’m struck by the realization that all my writing is about making meaning. It makes no difference if it is a poem, a note, an observation about a child in my classroom, or an entry in my journal. I work — so I’ve discovered — with the heart and soul of a poet, always looking for the beautiful and powerful meaning in every moment.
Poets, I’ve learned, sometimes notice and acknowledge meaning, and at other times we assign it — creating symbols in our own personal mythology. Part of my mythology involves fireflies. I love them. They always remind me of pleasant nights from my childhood, in my backyard, surrounded it seemed, by the dancing lights of the fireflies.
I was reminded of this the other day. My brother and I were on a late day hike, and as dusk fell, we walked past a field flush with fireflies. I was immediately transported back to those peaceful, awe and joy filled evenings of my youth. We stopped for a moment, and I put out my hand to once again trap one of those beautiful creatures. Amazingly, I got one on my first try.
When I returned home, I decided to speak the meaning of that moment, and the simple firefly, into existence and remembrance.
Fireflies and Messages
Flashes twinkle on and off in the darkness,
As I stand the darkness appears less dark
Is that shadow the flight of a firefly?
In anticipatory hope my hand glides through the lightened darkness
In a moment of intuition I gently close my hand hoping to seize that flash of light
Slowly I open my fingers and gaze within a firefly walks across my palm
We look at each other with recognition he has let himself be caught
Flashes twinkle, on and off in the palm of my hand
Light lit message delivered he lifts his wings and is gone ~M. James July 5, 2020
As you probably already know, I’m doing cancer treatment right now. It’s a difficult process during a difficult time for us as human beings. So, it’s not easy, in fact it’s pretty tough. But is it doable? Yes. And not as bad as it could be? Yes.
There really is so much good in this world — beautiful people, edifying messages, helpful caring behavior, and many wonderful things. But sometimes it’s hard to maintain my focus on them because the difficult, negative, concerning, and fearful stuff is so ridiculously loud.
So, what do I do? Among other things, I turn to possibility thinking, and creative thinking and doing. Lately my creative doing has been writing — in particular poetry and the stories I tell myself.
It’s amazing really, how deeply my thoughts and stories impact my emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. Do the words I choose, and the stories I tell, actually change my situation? Hmmm … that’s a tough question because they answer is no, and yes. Or perhaps to quote John Daly from the old What’s My Line show, “We’ll give you a qualified yes.”
What I mean is, even with all the positivity I can muster, even with all the real, beautiful, true things I notice and tell myself, there is currently still Covid, still unrest, and still cancer. However, and it’s a big however, the words I speak, and the stories I tell – to myself and others – make a difference. They make a difference in how I see things. They make a difference in how I react to things. And, they make a difference in how my body, mind, and spirit are able to manage the battles they are fighting.
I still remember working with my brother on his Strength Training for Fencers book. He wanted me to being able to power clean half my body weight. After laughing, I embraced the task. Much like now, it wasn’t easy. But, the ease of the task, and my experience of the weight on the bar, changed depending on what I said as I approached the task. When I approached it with an inner conversation of “yikes this is a lot of weight” I experienced it as such. When I coached myself through it differently “You’ve got this, it’s not that heavy” I had a completely different experience. As amazing, or unbelievable, as it may sound, the weight of the bar appeared to be less, and the task was easier, when I told myself it would be.
Our bodies and minds are incredible creations. They hear what we say, and act accordingly. There’s a doctor who suggests our brain is our second immune system. She suggests it isn’t our immune system that gives up first, but our brain. Our brain decides it’s hopeless and says, “We can’t do this.” Our immune system hearing it, says “Oh, we can’t do this? Ok.” and lays down its arms in defeat.
With all that in mind, I turned to the power of story — in particular written story through poetry. I found an online poetry workshop — or perhaps it found me — that has been perfect for my purpose.
Our first task was awe. Notice the things around us and be in awe of them — the big and the small, the extraordinary and the very ordinary. Our second task was making meaning. Find the things in our lives that mean something to us, remind us of something or someone, speak the truth to us, and then look even deeper, and articulate that meaning for ourselves and others.
Here are my poems. I used a photograph for the first poem’s illustration to show the detail and reality of my words. I sketched the illustration for the second poem — taking artistic liberty — so I could enhance the meaning. The orange pill really is quite tiny – not even 1/2 an inch long. It doesn’t say cancer crusher on it in real life – but wouldn’t it be fabulous if it did? And the plate is not covered with roses. But the story — the meaning — is about the shower of roses and blessing, and the power infused into that tiny orange cancer crushing pill.
I hope you enjoy the stories I tell. Perhaps even more so, I hope you are inspired and encouraged to write and tell your story. There really is power in the written word. Take the risk and write. You don’t have to share it with anyone but yourself. Perhaps you will, but either way, the power is there. It’s changing things with every letter written, and every word and sentence formed.
I am in Awe of My Silver Icon
I am in awe of my silver icon created by hands that love the Lord delivered by hands that love me
She stands surrounded by affirmations prayers and blank pages waiting to be filled
She is Queen Protectress and Amplifier of goodness and connection through time with great love to me ~M. James, June 30, 2020
Gather and Speak
Pink roses adorn the sides of my cup reminding me I’m not alone
Therese is letting fall a shower of roses from heaven itself
Her loving hands send graces as we gather at the altar and speak saints angels and me
A small orange pill rests in my hands I ask that it may be blessed
May its power be increased by the prayers love and presence gathered here
I set the pill reverently upon the pink rimmed plate
Then I speak to my beautiful body the house of my sacred spirit
Do not fear do not resist be brave
Embrace and welcome this little orange pill with joyful hope
Accept it as a gift and magnify its efficacy with your courageous participation ~M. James, July 2, 2020
Be in awe of everything. I love that! Be in awe of everything.
Be in awe of the amazing sky.
But also be in awe of the fork you use. Be in awe of the beautiful red tomato. Be in awe of the green tomato tops that dance like stars after they’ve dropped their weighty fruit. Be in awe of the cutting board, the kitchen counter, the floor, the house, the air, your breath, your very self. Be in awe of everything.
Being open to awe, inspiration, and wonder changes things. It transforms the way I think, what I notice, how I feel, how I interact with things and people, perhaps even how they interact with me.
I didn’t come up with the idea. I’m taking a poetry course with Jacquiline Suskine over at One Commune. Be in awe of everything is her title for Day 1. I haven’t listened to the talk yet. I will tomorrow.
For now I just want to sit, breathe, and be in awe.
Words are amazing things. They are beautiful alone and when strung together. I love the way plethora feels as I say it. When I string it together with possibilities, it encourages me to open my mind to a plethora of possibilities! I eagerly await a myriad of miracles. I am fierce — fantabulously fierce.
Words allow us to express our thoughts, feelings, understanding, and wonderings. That in and of itself makes words wonderful. But, beyond that, I find that words, used well, allow me to discover and give joy, reinforce or alter my feelings, and create new spaces for breath, life, and ease.
Poetry is not my usual creative jam. I’m intrigued by it. I enjoy the rhythm, and the way words are used to form incredible images. But, I don’t often indulge.
However, for some reason, a few years ago I started a poetry journal. I played and experimented. I pieced together words that encouraged life, joy, peace, breathing, and possibility.
I found that journal the other day, and was amazed at how much I need the words I wrote 8 years ago. Perhaps I will experiment again — there are many blank pages — but for now, I will simply share a few poems with you.
Two Magnet Poems:
Laughter is essential.
Tears are inevitable.
Life is good.
Possibility surrounds me.
I see possibilities.
They whisper to me.
"We can happen soon."
From every acorn regrowth.
Face everything and relax.
Flying eagles are radiant.
Fantabulous, easy, and remarkable.
Fun even amidst rainstorms.
Funky earrings are rockin'!
Fantastic embraces are relished.
Enjoy Every Moment
sing with the bluebirds
breathe between kisses
laugh in the sunshine
smell every flower
make many wishes
dance beneath the moon.
enjoy every moment.
A bit of alliteration — I love alliteration, I’m not sure why, but I find it so satisfying.
Super soft sunshine
pours perfect pretty patterns
in incredible intricacies
making mere movements
become beautiful bits
amazing abstract art
And then there are words, written on my body, in smooth, beautiful henna. These words mingle with my spirit, my actions — with my very self — and become a living poem.
Perhaps that will be my new poetry experiment – life, me, and relentless positivity.
My first Kindergartners are now 10th graders. Hard to believe, but true.
Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing one of them participate in the NJ Poetry Out Loud finals. She recited three poems. Each was filled with pauses, inflection, breath, emotion, and gestures, which drew me more deeply into the words and meaning of the poems.
My favorite was Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali. It’s a fun, and thought-provoking poem for an educator. An added sweetness was that I was introduced to it by my alumna!
If you’re unfamiliar with the poem, take a moment to go read it now. Especially if you’re an educator, read it — right now.
The whole thing is glorious. But, if you ask me, the most striking part is:
Let me teach like a Steinway, spinning slowly in April air, so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane. So on the edge of losing everything.
As I listened to my alumna recite the poem, I imagined the educator asking permission of her administrators, coordinators, and colleagues to allow her teach in this fashion. As I listened, I heard her imploring others to share her vision.
Later that day I read the poem to myself, and then aloud to others. I heard it differently. I’m not completely sure why.
Perhaps I heard it differently because it was my own voice that spoke the words. Or, perhaps it was because Mali’s words had been floating in my brain since the morning, somehow becoming my own.
“Let me teach like the Steinway …so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly dangling … let me teach like the new snow, falling.”
The word I heard, with soft, encouraging, invitation was me. It felt like a quiet manifesto.
Much like the piano movers I need to move my personal Steinways. My Steinways are lessons, ideas, inspiration, motivation, classroom culture, design experiences, creativity, and much more. Similar to the movers in the poem, occasionally, my eye-popping, jaw-dropping, risky, awesomeness has to hang out the window. Scary, but also a huge blessing, because, hanging out the window, others can see it, engage with it, and be excited by it.
First snow, falling, is nothing new, and yet each time it falls it feels new. The snow beckons all who notice it to come and look with long interested looks. It reworks the view out the window. It offers the opportunity for play, and the necessity of work. And, when examined closely, it reveals the marvels of each unique flake. That is a profound way to teach.
Yes. Let me teach like that Steinway — big, brave, bold, and fantabulous. Let me teach like snow falling — offering play and work, changing views, and surprisingly breathtaking wonders.
Never let it be said that creativity is purposeless! If you have ever thought that, or begin to think or say it now, bite your tongue! lol
Creativity has many joyous, important, and profound purposes in our lives and world. Not the least of which is the ability to express ourselves, sort through our thoughts and feelings, and emerge, a bit stronger, with more understanding, and possibly, a nice piece of creative work.
I have cancer. A rare form with a ridiculously long name — Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia (WM). It’s a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I used to joke that once I learned how to spell it, I should be granted a cure! lol
But, though I can spell it, I still have it. I’m doing great, but from time to time, I am a bit overwhelmed sharing my body with WM. And, sometimes even more overwhelming than sharing my body with it, is sharing my mind and spirit it.
A couple days ago, I had the idea to write a poem – in the hopes that it would help me pull my thoughts and emotions back from the edge, into a place of greater strength, joy, and positivity — really just a place that is more me.
For truly, I am strong, fierce, powerful, joy-filled, positive, awesome, and full of life! I am a warrior. My life is full of possibility.
Is anything undeniably impossible?
My spirit rebels at the suggestion that good things might be impossible.
Possibility surrounds me, and gives my soul joyous pause.
Of course, fear and doubt mingle in, at times rising to the top, obscuring joy and hope.
So much is unsure.
Success is not guaranteed, and solutions are not yet seen, found, created, done, or lived.
I breathe deep breaths, and fortify myself with these thoughts:
Be brave and stubborn. Believe all is possible.
Live as though success is inevitable, and your actions and thoughts encourage its coming.
Expect, and eagerly embrace, the awesomeness and miracles that surround, and are, you!
The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults. ~Loris Malaguzzi, Hundred Languages of Children
Bubbles are fascinating and afforded us several challenging and fun ways to explore and experience science, art, math, and language arts. There was a plethora of things to notice, marvel at, wonder about, investigate and enjoy!
… The variety of sizes. The delicate and yet strong nature of soap film walls. The colors and reflections that are captured in the bubbles. The many things that can be used as a bubble wand. Do heart-shaped wands make heart-shaped bubbles? The ways we feel when we blow bubbles. Should we blow slowly or quickly? Does that make a difference? Can we fill the room with bubbles if we use a window fan? The joy and sorrow felt as bubbles pop. The way the wind takes the bubbles as they leave the wand. The way the bubble solution feels, and sometimes tastes, as the bubbles pop close to our lips. Can we create bubbles from things other than store-bought bubble solution? How could we create bubbles in art? What colors are bubbles? Which words best describe bubbles and our experience?
Prior to starting I told the girls we would be scientists, authors, readers and artists, and that the process would take us several days. We experienced bubbles through our eyes, our ears, our brains and our bodies!
We did several read alouds.
I blew bubbles and the girls experienced them only with their eyes. What did the bubbles look like? How did they move?
They blew bubbles. Again, as scientists they tried to observe things about the bubbles, the process and each other.
We all blew bubbles, and just experienced the joy of bubbles – much laughing, movement and even some screaming!
We created bubble wands using various materials: pipe cleaners, plastic plant mesh, plastic water bottles, straws and string. We tested and observed each – Was it easy to make bubbles with them? Did they make big bubbles? Small bubbles? What shape were the bubbles? Did the bubbles mirror the shape of the wand?
After each experience the girls shared words and feelings, which I scribed onto a large piece of chart paper.
We ended up with three lists of words. We observed the lists: How many are in each? Which list has the most words? Which the fewest? Why? (We noticed that the words increased as we engaged more fully in each experience and grew in comfort with the process.) We used math strategies to add the lists together and come up with the grand total. We marveled at our abilities to describe our experiences. We used these lists to create our list poems.
I brainstormed many ways to create a frame for the list poems and finally decided (for ease and aesthetic reasons) to cut a frame to place over the girls paper as they stamped. The frame allowed them to stamp freely while maintaining a clear border for their list poem. I held the frame in place, as the girls used the cardboard tubes and ink pads to create their bubbles.
I was amazed and impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached their work. Each girl had her own particular process, but each was purposeful in her choice of tubes (various diameters) and placement of bubbles. My only instructions were to be sure to press straight down so as to get a good print (and not to fret if it was less than perfect, as that added to the uniqueness of each piece) to consider overlapping the bubbles at least a bit, and to not be afraid to overlap the frame.
I brought in some artist quality pencils to share with the girls. I talked about why I liked the pencils – great colors, nice feel in my hand, beautiful movement across the paper – and why I chose to share them with the girls – they are artists too and I thought they would enjoy using them. I asked them to take care of the pencils as they were special to me. The girls were fantastic with the pencils! They carefully chose the colors, replaced them in rainbow order, only sharpened them as much as necessary, shared them with each other, and really seemed to empowered by using them. (We ended up using them in free choice as well as other projects.)
After the ink dried, the girls worked diligently to fill in each full shape (not the partial bubbles around the edges). We discovered that the ink, though dry, sometimes transferred around the paper, so we used a paper towel to minimize movement. Thankfully any transferred ink erased easily.
Once finished with their art piece, the girls moved on to their list poems. The goal was to create a list poem and encircle the bubbles with the poem. (We read, observed and discussed poems from Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard prior to this project, and emulated the freedom Georgia showed in placing words on the page.) Each girl began by choosing 12 words from the class lists and writing them in the frame of her paper. If needed, she chose more words.
When everyone was finished – and it took some girls many days to do so – we shared our poems and art pieces with each other. Finally, we displayed them on the hall bulletin board, with black and white photos of each of us blowing bubbles as the border.