Poetry List For My Daughter – List #1

McK,

Here’s another one of those posts that I hope you may read when you are older. Hopefully, I will still be around, but if not, then here’s another way for us to acquaint ourselves with each other.

Poems. My favorite ones. And why they speak to me, not as a nerdy English teacher, but as a person – a father, husband, son, friend, teacher, and overall good guy.

Last summer, I constructed a list of books that I thought would be a library of what I thought best gave some semblance of me.

And now for poems.

The first ten are below. More to come.

W. H. Auden – “Funeral Blues”

It is an utterly sad poem. Auden’s partner died. Complete distress. There will be times that you may feel this way. You are never alone in that loneliness.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good

There is a movie called “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in which this poem is delivered as part of a eulogy of a man who lost his love. It is emotional.

 

Carl Sandberg  – “I Am the People, the Mob”

Sandberg has ties to North Carolina. I think of him as a common man’s poet, like a twentieth century Walt Whitman. He so understood the power of people. Watch those social movements closely and the resiliency of humans which is sometimes disguised as stubbornness.

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass. 

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? 

I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.

I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.

W. B. Yeats – “A Prayer For My Daughter”

He’s Irish and by far my favorite poet. He literally spanned three literary movements and helped revive Ireland through its myths and literary power. And he was an absolutely interesting bird. He actually had an operation to revive his sex drive that involved the testicles of a monkey. Not joking.

Yeats had children late in his life and this poem shows a little of the bond that a father can have with his only daughter.

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on.  There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise,
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
Out of the mouth of Plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

Walt Whitman “O Captain! My Captain!”

Whitman is a poet from the American Romanticism movement. Worked a lot with cadence. Read this poem and be reminded that learning should be an act of curiosity and that a classroom is not defined by four walls.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

e.e. cummings “Since feeling is first”

Simply fantastic. Words do not always have to be in order.

 

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers.  Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Billy Collins “Walking Across The Atlantic”

I heard Collins speak at UNC-Chapel Hill one evening. He answered a question for me about how teachers can get students to look at poetry. He said to just throw them into it and let them explore it from the inside out. He’s quirky. I like quirky.

I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.

Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

 

Gwendolyn Brooks “Speech to the Young”

Simply says it all with the line “Live in the along.”

Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
the sun-slappers,
the self-soilers,
the harmony-hushers,
“Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.

 

Ted Kooser  “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store”

I just like the poem.

In musty light, in the thin brown air
of damp carpet, doll heads and rust,
beneath long rows of sharp footfalls
like nails in a lid, an old man stands
trying on glasses, lifting each pair
from the box like a glittering fish
and holding it up to the light
of a dirty bulb. Near him, a heap
of enameled pans as white as skulls
looms in the catacomb shadows,
and old toilets with dry red throats
cough up bouquets of curtain rods.

You’ve seen him somewhere before.
He’s wearing the green leisure suit
you threw out with the garbage,
and the Christmas tie you hated,
and the ventilated wingtip shoes
you found in your father’s closet
and wore as a joke. And the glasses
which finally fit him, through which
he looks to see you looking back—
two mirrors which flash and glance—
are those through which one day
you too will look down over the years,
when you have grown old and thin
and no longer particular,
and the things you once thought
you were rid of forever
have taken you back in their arms.

Audre Lorde “Coal”

Power. Simply power. In a world that defines people by gender and race, this is power.

I
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a words, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book – buy and sign and tear apart –
and come whatever will all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Other know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me

Love is word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.

Mary Oliver “The Journey”

Hauntingly realistic.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

If You Dance With My Daughter, Leave Room for a Very Large Jesus Between You

Not every father gets to spend as much time with his kids as I do with the schedule I have as a teacher. Part of that reason is because my daughter, McK, attends the very school where I teach.

She’s a full-fledged teenager. Has her friends. Takes classes. Has her friends. Spends time on the phone. Has her friends. Does some binge-watching on Netflix. Has her friends.

And some of those friends are male.

When she was born (literally five minutes after she was born), my wife looked straight at me and told me that every man McK may ever consider dating, she would probably compare to me.

I am balding and a little heavier than I was. I imagine my daughter having an easier time making that comparison. But what my wife was really referring to was how I treat women and those whom I love and associate with.

McK looks like her mother. And while I can bemoan that fact because that means she will catch the eyes of many a boy, McK also talks to her mother. And I feel good about that.

But that won’t stop me from having this put on a poster in my room at school and in every classroom that McK takes a class in.

willferrel

 

And while I am still a teacher at her school, I will be on prom duty.

And I will be watching.

I said a LARGE JESUS!

A Letter to My Daughter – “Your Dad Is a Feminist”

McK,

First, I want to let you know that you are the most important woman in my life. Always will be.

Maybe society dictates that I should say your mother is the most important woman in my life, but she and I look at you and Malcolm as the most important woman and man in our lives. You two are our children and what a privilege it has been and will continue to be your parents.

Secondly, I want you to know that your father is a feminist, a rather unabashed one at that.

Now, before you think that others may scream that this is an unmanly stance to adopt, I want to make sure you understand what I mean by “feminist.” I mean that I believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities in our world.

In fact, to tell you the truth, I come by it rather naturally.

I was raised by two women (your grandmother and great-grandmother) after a divorce who were presented with obstacles because of their gender and the roles that they were “supposed” to play in society. They took me to all of my ball games and practices. They sent me to school. They taught me how to treat people.

I watched how my aunt and uncle raised two strong daughters.  You call them your “aunts” and they are both tough, independent, and resilient.

I am married to the strongest woman I know, your mother. I have learned more from her about how to treat other people than anyone. And she is the daughter of another strong woman.

They all have debunked gender myths and taught me that being a feminist is right and just and something that a strong man can and should be, especially if he is the father of a young lady in this world who is coming into her own and has the intelligence and the ability to see the world for what it is.

So when you see and hear things like what was leaked this past week about Donald Trump, I want you to understand that it is not right for someone to be that way toward you or other women.

women3

You can listen to the whole thing. No need to bleep words. You already know what they mean. You know their denotations, their connotations, and how tone of voice can alter the meaning of them.

And you are allowed to be enraged about it. You are allowed to be sickened by it. You are allowed to want to viscerally react to it.

I want you to know that there are a lot of people who think this way. When you go off to college, you will run into men (young and old) who do not value women in the same way that others do.

The case of Brock Turner, the ex-Stanford swimmer, serves as a reminder that entitlement can trump decency (pun intended).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/03/31/all-american-swimmer-found-guilty-of-sexually-assaulting-unconscious-woman-on-stanford-campus/

Even the judge in the case who only sentenced this rapist to a six month maximum sentence perpetuates the reality that people in power do not always have the best interests in mind for all people involved.

I can only hope that I as a father have set at least some sort of precedent on how you as a woman should expect to be treated by a man. And I hope that you talk to your mother about this. She knows, and because you are the most important woman in her life, she will tell you the truth and give you honest answers to questions you have every right to ask.

I promise you that I will try and do the same – honest answers to tough questions because we taught you to ask tough questions.

And please remember that there is a reason that I teach certain works of literature the way that I do. That’s because I want the young ladies in my class to realize that women have always been agents of change; they have been the constant, the backbone, the foundation for so many stories in a male-dominated society. In fact, I argue that some of our greatest male writers were feminists in their own right.

  • Think of Shakespeare’s Rosalind, Viola, Portia, and Imogen.
  • Think of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.
  • Think of Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne.
  • Think of Homer’s Penelope.
  • Think of Tolkien’s Eowyn.

The list goes on.

There are so many things that I want you to have, not least are a sense of self and self-worth. You do not have to accept being objectified or looked down upon because you are a woman.

And there are many other men who feel the way I do and gladly call themselves a feminist.

Oh, by the way, come January take a look at who is in the White House.

An Unsolicited Book List For My Daughter – In Case She Never Asks

Mck,

Your love of reading is one of the most endearing qualities that you possess, not because your father is an English teacher or that your mother is the most voracious reader I know, but because you are curious and allow yourself to listen with your eyes to the words of others.

You, your mother, and I could get lost in bookstores and never really be lost.

I believe that one of the ways that someone can really get to know someone else is to read the books that the other person finds important, whether for its literary merit, the connection to a story or person, the sheer enjoyment, or the intellectual pursuit.

For me, I read for a variety of reasons, but I also would like to think that I explore through books aspects of my life and learn from the experience of characters so that I may not have to repeat the mistakes they may have made.

Below is a list of books, collections, texts, and titles that I believe are worth reading. They are in no particular order. Some have little notes beside them. I simply list them alphabetically.

They can all be found among my possessions here in the house or in my room at school. They are yours for the taking.

Ask your mother the books she thinks you should read.

Ask your Uncle Mike also. It’s his fault that I started reading a lot in the first place.

Ask the English Department at West Forsyth High School. The number of discussions I have had with them about good books worth reading, rereading, and teaching are countless.

Here goes.

  1. A Confederacy of Dunces – a top five for me
  2. A Lesson Before Dying
  3. A Prayer For Owen Meany – get ready to laugh
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  5. All the Light We Cannot See
  6. All The Pretty Horses
  7. Amsterdam
  8. And the Band Played On – about eh rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s
  9. As I Lay Dying – has best chapter in American Lit – Ask Uncle Mike
  10. Atonement – Ian McEwan is one of my favorite writers – I buy his stuff in hardback
  11. Bel Canto
  12. Beloved
  13. Blood Done Sign My Name – Tim Tyson is a social warrior
  14. Blood Meridian – great scene with piss in it
  15. Cannery Row
  16. Canterbury Tales
  17. Crime and Punishment – reason I love this one – talk to Sabolcik bout this one
  18. Cutting For Stone – talk to Serang
  19. Death of a Salesman
  20. Devil in the White City – wow!
  21. Disgrace
  22. Dubliners
  23. Everything Is Illuminated
  24. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  25. Fahrenheit 451
  26. Fast Food Nation – one of the reasons I do a certain unit in AP Lang
  27. Frankenstein – don’t play God
  28. Freakonomics – makes you look at things differently
  29. Gulliver’s Travels
  30. Harry Potter Series
  31. Heart of Darkness
  32. I Am One of You Forever – about uncles
  33. Invisible Man – power
  34. Jane Eyre
  35. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell
  36. July’s People
  37. Le Morte D’Arthur – I used to follow Arthurian Legend quite a bit
  38. Les Miserables
  39. Maus
  40. Middlesex – best opening and closing of a book in the last twenty years – knew exactly where I was when I finished
  41. Moby Dick– Holy sh** what a book
  42. Never Let Me Go – the movie actually did it some justice
  43. Night
  44. Oedipus
  45. Of Mice and Men
  46. On the Road
  47. On Writing by Stephen King – read it in a bookstore then bought it afterwards
  48. Paradise Lost
  49. Possession
  50. Pride and Prejudice
  51. Ragtime
  52. Reign of Error – Ravitch is a hero
  53. Salt, Sugar, Fat
  54. Salvage the Bones
  55. Savage Inequalities
  56. Shakespeare – All of It – you know that
  57. Slaughterhouse Five
  58. The Adventure of Kavalier and Clay
  59. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  60. The Aeneid – Mandelbaum’s translation – you met him in a grocery store, said you were bright
  61. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  62. The Awakening
  63. The Bible
  64. The Brothers Karamazov – again ask Sabolcik
  65. The Catcher in the Rye
  66. The Chronicles of Narnia
  67. The Crucible
  68. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Might want you to consider a book about your brother
  69. The Divine Comedy – Actually, the Commedia – again Mandelbaum’s version
  70. The Great Gatsby – love teaching this book
  71. The Handmaid’s Tale
  72. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  73. The Interpreter of Maladies – Ask Serang
  74. The Life and Times of Michael K
  75. The Life of Pi
  76. The Lord of the Rings
  77. The Moviegoer – Walker Percy!
  78. The Odyssey
  79. The Old Man and the Sea
  80. The Plays of Eugene O’Neill
  81. The Poems of Carl Sandburg
  82. The Poems of Emily Dickinson
  83. The Poems of W.B. Yeats – all time periods
  84. The Poems of Walt Whitman
  85. The Road
  86. The Scarlet Letter – like it more the older I get
  87. The Screwtape Letters
  88. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry is my literary mancrush
  89. The Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  90. The Stories of Flannery O’Connor – She’s Georgian
  91. The Stories of Nathanial Hawthorne
  92. The Water I Wide – your dad is a teacher
  93. Their Eyes Were Watching God
  94. There are No Children Here
  95. Things Fall Apart
  96. To Kill a Mockingbird – you know how I feel about this one
  97. Waiting
  98. Where Men Win Glory
  99. Will in the World
  100. Writer’s Inc. – ask your Uncle Mike
  101. Zealot

The McVP – Musings About McKenzie, Malcolm’s Greatest Teacher

I have posted several times about being the parent of a child who happens to have Down Syndrome, but I would be remiss to mention that the most positive influence and his greatest teacher is his older sister, McKenzie.

We call her McK.

Malcolm calls her MAAAACKKKK!

She turned 14 today. And she starts high school in a month. And that means she will be going to school with me.

Mck6

Lucky us! Actually, lucky me. More actually, lucky Malcolm.

McK was five when Malcolm was born. They both have the same red hair and blue eyes, just like their stunningly beautiful mother. That’s right, I am the token bald guy living with the Ginger Brigade.

She makes special connections with people. She is intensely loyal and understands the nature of strong relationships. Her bond with her Grandpa Ed was one of the more special things for me to witness as a parent. Simply unconditional love.

Mck2

Never once have I heard McK complain that her brother had special needs and that she was not getting the attention that we have had as parents given Malcolm considering that he needed some extra help. In fact, I can say without a doubt, that McK is probably the biggest influence on Malcolm progressing as fast as he has. He walked before 18 months of age and was trying to imitate all of her actions.

She talked to him at night when he woke up screaming and crying. She helped him when he fell. She read stories to him, taught him to say words, and allowed him to be part of her every moment when he wanted. She makes him laugh. She soothes his fears. They still chase each other around the house.

Mck5

She is Malcolm’s MVP, or rather McVP.

He trusts her. And when she is around him, she trusts her instincts. It’s a connection – a sibling connection. They have the same DNA. In fact, they have more DNA between them than typical developing siblings.

Another aspect I really admire about McK is that she is her own person. She is artistic. Literally draws all of the time. When she isn’t drawing, she’s reading. Voraciously, like her mother. And when she is not doing that, she is writing. There are multiple stories she has written with fully developed characters and interesting plots. Some she has posted online and received hundreds of positive comments.

Mck4

A great conversationalist, all adults that she meets admire her ability to converse on so many subjects maturely. But what I really adore about her is her sense of humor. She’s hilarious, goofy, and fantastic with voices. She can sound like a cross between Hermione Granger and Adele.

And Malcolm adores her. And she adores Malcolm.

Except when he goes into her room and rearranges things without her knowing.

Mck3

That happens about eight times a day.

Happy Birthday McK. Harry Potter is fortunate to share a birthday with you.

Mck1