And a Happy New Year!

We were actually stuck in traffic on our way to a New Year’s Eve dinner with friends. But while we sat, the city began a fireworks show. We watched it from our warm van through the Christmas lights draped on the trees in this part of downtown Omaha. It was perfection.

The scene also reminded me of the way we often view the New Year: through the sweet and nostalgic lens of the holidays. Just after the rush and crush of family gatherings and tables piled high with food, we get the chance to say, ah, yes, all things new. And new feels promising for me usually because old has been so sweet.

Sure, occasionally there are days we want to put behind us, as far behind us as possible, but usually we anticipate another year of goodness in most ways. The way a child believes six will be awesome because five had been the best yet. I hope that is how it goes for you. Luckily, the opposite is also true. Even if 2014 was a bust, 2015 could still be something entirely different. This is why we love a fresh start, a new morning.

Happy New Year!

Happy Christmas Season to You!

 

We’re getting all Christmasy around here. In our newish rental we have wood floors, so we decided for a real tree this year. The “fancy kind” Dan thought were only for the rich people! Turns out, if you buy shorter, even a Fraser Fir can be in the budget. We love it!

Hope your holidays are peaceful and full of only the best kind of surprises!

 

My Poetry Anthology: Blog Edition

I’m surprised I’m attempting this at all, but since I’ve heard the suggestion so many times, I decided I should at least get started on my own poetry anthology (or canon, as Katie calls it). In my anthology, I’m re-typing each of these poems into my own Word documents. Typing them out (or writing them by hand, as I’ve done in journals before) gives me a more physical sense of how the poems work. I imagine it might be sort of like copying a masterpiece painting just to get a sense of how the artist might have worked. Or even the way my grandpa once did a paint-by-number of the famous Last Supper painting.

(And since I have a draft of a new poem of my own due this week, I thought now would be the PERFECT time to get started on something else. So here you go, my poetry anthology, linked blog edition.)

I have to start with Billy Collins, even though I haven’t read much of his work besides this poem. “Introduction to Poetry” came to my attention just as I was teaching a unit on Biblical psalms. Teach something and you will learn more than all your students, and this class on poetry changed not just how I viewed literature but also the Bible (and that, of course, is another story). But I learned that responding to a poem as a poem is different than responding to a historical document or a letter. A poem requires and deserves a different approach. Collins’ poem explained that approach beautifully. So even before I was writing poems or studying poetry in an MFA program, I was learning about how to read poetry.

The next poem that changed my view of poetry was Rita Dove’s “Rosa.” This little poem moved me deeply with its sparse language and exact images, the way it said so much in only a few lines. I loved the way you had to know something about history to truly appreciate it and how it felt like giving respect to that history. I remember thinking it was probably out of my reach but that I hoped someday I could do something like that.

And then came Jane. I read Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems for the American women’s poetry course that changed the direction of my graduate degree. After the reading and writing that I did in that class, I transferred into the MFA program, abandoning my MA degree and all it’s research-y glory. So many of her poems “spoke to my condition,” as my professor says, but a single line from “Let Evening Come” seemed to speak the loudest. I wrote about it here.

Also during that poetry course, I became a fan of Betsy Sholl. She does the work of observing the natural world and also weaving in themes of faith in ways that are both artful and realistic. Many of her poems are beautiful, but this one from her most recent collection (and available here in a favorite journal) is gorgeous and haunting: “The Harrowing” addresses the suicide of a dear friend with such empathy. If you wanted someone to write a beautiful, fair, and complicated poem about you, you should ask Besty Sholl. She’d do it perfectly.

Somewhere along the way, I also discovered Wendell Berry and fell hard. “The Peace of Wild Things” stills me like a psalm. I wrote about it here.

In my MFA program, one of the repeated pieces of advice is to read widely. We’re encouraged to read from poets we know, poets we like, poets we don’t like, poets we want to emulate, poets we want to hate, etc. In all that reading, sometimes a poem just sticks with me. I find myself wanting to read it again, maybe out loud. Here are a few of my favorites (I expect I’ll add to this list often):

Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” (her “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore” is another one, among almost any of Bishop’s poems)

Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” – for adult children.

Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song” – for mamas, new and old.

Countee Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel”

 

 

 

 

 

October 2014: Exceeding Expectations

We pushed these sweet kids into a big transition this year: from private Christian education into large public schools in a more urban area of Omaha. And they’ve done great. The transition has not been without bumps, but it has been without catastrophe. For that we’re very thankful.

The kids have especially noticed little graces they had not expected: friends who talk about church, in-class stories that deal with issues of faith and its practice, a welcoming spirit, etc. All of them, whether in front of the whole school or in private notes home, have been recognized for their respectful, kind, and engaged behavior.

I’ve been grateful for teachers and administrators – across the board – who genuinely care for my kids’ well-being and emotional health. We’ve always had this going for us – as you would expect when you have your kids in school with your family and/or church friends – but in this new public setting we weren’t sure of how much personalized attention we would receive. Our public schools have exceeded our expectations, to say the least. (I’ll hopefully write more about this when time allows.)

I guess, in general, the transitional weather in our little world is much milder than I had expected. Happy Fall, friends!

The Eye of the Tiger

The school nurse called me the day before the all-school walk around the neighborhood (a fundraising event), “Do you think Claire will be up to it?” Claire is new at this school and with a diagnosis like cerebral palsy and the way her purple brace and slight limp sort of draw some attention to her physical limitations, I expect these kinds of questions. I’m thankful for the way she is being cared for and considered.

But this is the image of Claire as she was crossing the finish line and heard the lyrics of one of her favorite Katy Perry songs blasting from the music teacher’s sound system set up next to the piles of water bottles and fruits. Not even the last member of her class to come in.

So I’m glad I said, as I have so many times before, “Yes. Yes, I think she’s up to it.”