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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Night at Union Square

Moon rising as the sun sets.

Abstract at Union Square


Ads At Union Square

The Sir Francis Drake Hotel

San Francisco's 85 foot tree all lit up.

The moon - trying to become the tree topper.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Finessing Poetry

Over this Thanksgiving break, I've managed to get none of my teaching work accomplished, but I have worked on two poems that were quite fexing me. I am thankful for the break - for the poetry time, for being able to finesse what were rough drafts into pieces which, though not quite done, are worthy of being read aloud at an upcoming open reading. And I am thankful for the fellow writer (A) who gave me some excellent advice and some much-needed inspiration.

The second of the following poems I posted here a few weeks back, in its very rough form.

The Wheelbarrow and the Props Master
(for MJ and with thanks to A)

Somewhere along the coast,
an old wooden wheelbarrow stood
forlornly, yet hopefully, in some fallow field.
Standing in the mud and the muck,
with the light rain drizzling down upon it.
Waiting, patiently waiting
for the props master to discover it
load it into the back of a small pickup truck
with the rich, dark mud clinging
to its two rotting legs and its worn gritty tire
and place it center stage
the spotlight trained upon it.

Somewhere along the coast
a props master hunted
desperately, yet hopefully
in countryside feed and grain stores
and the little boutiques along Main Street
stuffed with quaint oddities
for an old wooden wheelbarrow.
Slogging through the rural lanes near the coast,
peeping into front and back yards,
she hoped to spot an old wooden wheelbarrow
neglected or perhaps filled with dirt and geraniums
that she might ask the owner the lend of.

So much depends on
this old wooden wheelbarrow
the props master fretted with the play but a few days away.

That night the props master
saw her wheelbarrow in her dreams
standing alone in a barren field
moonlight gleaming down upon it.
Setting forth down the road, eyes sharply trained on the wheelbarrow
she saw William Carlos Williams dressed in dingy white
sitting in the wet, dirty wheelbarrow as on a throne
his long legs sprawled out before him.
A can of red paint in one hand
a brush in the other
and he grinning like a ghost.

Nothing depends
on any wheelbarrow
he whispered in the props master’s ear.

In The Poet’s Tent at the Book Faire
(with thanks to A)

I am a polite member of the audience and even though
I am bored now with you and your poem
and my stomach is imagining what the sugar-fried doughnuts on-a-stick
might taste like - I did see a doughnut stand at the far end of the book stalls -
and the sun beckons me from outside the poet's tent at the book fair -
I am a polite member of the audience
sitting in the front row and will not interrupt your moment to leave.

But as I am no longer interested in your words
(though I am compelled to tell you
I thought most assuredly I would be)
I stare at the huge redwood tree outside the tent
in the center of the square
noticing the Christmas lights still nestled in its limbs
even though it is September.

I hear the low murmur of the crowd out in the square
as it peruses the book stalls
sounding almost like a cocktail party
except for the notes of ice clinking in glasses
which are absent with nothing to stand in their stead
and lead me to wish I had a drink in my hand.

And as you read
the heavily weighted, meaningful, ponderous
words of your poem
And with e-xact-ing e-nun-ci-a-shun

I scribble all these thoughts down
across the names of featured authors
in the small white spaces between lines
and along the grey margins of the program
for I forgot to bring a pad of paper,
and though I walked up and down the rows
of booksellers before I took my seat
none of the them
had a blank book to sell.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Grading Agony

At the beginning of each semester, I explain to students how I grade and what the typical essay grades in my courses are. I tell them that it's not unusual at all for students to fail their first college-level essay. I tell them that the most commonly-received essay grade in my course is a C and that's a fine grade. A C represents a competent, college-level essay. And yes, a C is average. Most of us, whether we like it or not, are average. That's just how it is. I do give Bs, and they are well-earned. But an A on an essay in my course is hard to earn. A is outstanding, stellar, extraordinary, and so of course, an A is a rarity.

But I often wonder if I grade too harshly. Am I, in my attempt to prepare my students for the next level up, demanding too much from them? Holding them to unrealistic standards? Students say I am tough and that it's nearly impossible to earn an A. And yet, I have given As in the past – but only when they are well-deserved.

This week, as I graded what is a pivotal paper in my course - a paper which, despite all other essay grades a student receives in my course, they must pass to pass the course - I agonized over my decisions. And I scrutinized my students as they workshopped their writing in class. Are they ready? Can I send them on to the next level confident that even if they struggle, they are competent at this basic level and capable of the challenge of the next? Am I grading too harshly? And as a result holding back students who really should be moving forward and at the same time, demoralizing them?

I received my answer in a an email on Friday from a former student - one who had my class last year and whom I advanced to the next level course, English 214. I can’t help myself folks, here's her email:

Hi Bird!
How's your semester going? As for me, this semester is bit more hectic than last. I'm doing lots of extra studying for my courses and working a part time job. But I wanted to let you know how things are going for me in English 214. On my first essay, I had to analyze the poem "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost and received an A! And I've continued to do well. Overall, 214 is not as difficult as I thought it would be - because of the difficult assignments you gave me last year. Those assignments prepared me for papers that I'm currently working on in 214. The only change for me in 214 is that I receive less in-class preparation than I did in your class. But with all the tools I learned in your course, I am fully equipped in the preparation of my essays. I just want to say thank you for believing in me and giving me the chance to prove I can make it through 214. I hope you have a wonderful semester and hope to hear from you soon!

On most days, I consider myself a competent, college-level teacher. If I were to grade myself on a daily basis, I would often give myself a C, and sometimes a B.

But I’m framing that student’s email. For this is gold – a student has given me that rarity of rarities: an A.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

For AB

crush of semester
brain is festering
students are messin'
with papers and grades

and all i want to do is
sit in the park and wear shades

stacks of papers on the living room floor
bleeding purple, green, and black
i just can't bear to look at them anymore
so I stuff them in my sack
and take them back

to the office.
but there is no solace
in the office
nothing but a harder chair
that makes me work at a feverish pitch
even though i want to play hookey and ditch
that last essay
which i finish with a flourish
and a sashay

only to see another stack
has taken its place
oh dear god - bring me fortitude to keep up the pace!

for after grading
there's an apartment to clean
must bring it to a sheen
for a party friday night
i hope i am not so worn out i look like a fright!