Monday, April 25, 2016



   On February 25th I underwent an operation to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes because an ultrasound had found growths on my ovaries. At the age of 69, doctors recommend complete removal. Before I went under I was told they would biopsy what they found, and go further, possibly doing a complete hysterectomy.  All completed in one session with complete anesthesia. I admit I was worried I might wake up midstream.  In fact, I didn't and did need not only a complete hysterectomy (cancer was found in both the ovaries as well as the uterus) but also removal of the omentum.  What the H is that?  
noun: omentum; plural noun: omenta

"a fold of peritoneum connecting the stomach with other abdominal organs."

I was told that in fact I had two kinds of cancer -- ovarian and uterine -- and would need chemo, radiation, and again chemo.  The ovarian was early stage 3, but the uterine was not easily determined -- it could be stage one, or it could be stage four.

   "Although ovarian cancer accounts for just 3% of all cancers in women, it’s the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths. Less than half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive more than 5 years. Early symptoms, including abdominal discomfort and bloating, often go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. Because there are no routine screening tests and few markers to identify groups with increased risk of ovarian cancers, most cases are found when they are beyond the point of curing. Age is one risk factor—more than half of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women over the age of 63. Heredity is another—10% to 15% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have one or more known genetic risk factors."

   I am assuming that I have to have both chemotherapy and radiation because I have two cancers. I will have a third chemo treatment on Wednesday. After this they will test me again - perhaps to see how successful the chemo has been?  Can they test for that? And then recommend which type of radiation to employ to destroy other types of cancer cells.  The radiation that was described to me sounds positively ghastly and impossible to describe in mixed company.  But the good thing is, radiation is much shorter at each sitting. Chemo takes five hours each time.

   Why did I title this "Getting Cancer Is Not Your Fault"?  Perhaps because the unfortunate part of my personal life is that I have both a sister and a daughter (and only one of each) who believe that my cancer is my own fault.  Had I been a better mother, a better sister, a better person in fact I wouldn't have contracted cancer. In some ways, I too believe this because my mother's sister died of ovarian cancer at the age of 50.  I should have been more vigilant in my own behalf.   I am finding many women have died of it, and some relatively young.  My sister claims she has gotten checked every year. Yet everyone admits THERE IS NO RELIABLE TEST FOR OVARIAN CANCER.  I WRITE THIS TOO BECAUSE I WANT WOMEN TO KNOW THAT THIS FORM OF CANCER IS NEARLY UNDETECTABLE.  WE NEED TO AGITATE TO GET MORE RESEARCH DONE.  I believe if men came down with this it's early detection would be solved! 

  Because of this I bristle when anyone tells me to THINK POSITIVELY, or STAY STRONG, YOU CAN FIGHT THIS.  To me this implies that I am TRULY at fault for my cancer, and that my will can win the fight against it.  This is highly UNLIKELY, and certainly not helpful. 
   My reference is BARBARA EHRENREICH - who wrote a wonderful book when she got breast cancer.  It is called Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining Our Country.  I hope not to offend anyone who truly believes in the power of positive thinking.  Most of what I have experienced in my life around this type of thinking is that ultimately it is pushed on us to serve the bourgeoisie. Oh yes - have I told you lately that I believe in socialism?  Really, I believe in small-c communism as well, and I always have (since I read C.Wright Mills in high school).    More recently we in this country have been subjected to "mindfulness"  - another claptrap theory of the bourgeoisie to keep us from questioning the absolutely HORRENDOUS ACTS the 1% are perpetrating on the 99%.     But here is something of what Ehrenreich says [paraphrased on her website] :       "Americans are a “positive” people—cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: this is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive, we are told, is the key to success and prosperity."

   "In this utterly original take on the American frame of mind, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the strange career of our sunny outlook from its origins as a marginal nineteenth-century healing technique to its enshrinement as a dominant, almost mandatory, cultural attitude. Evangelical mega-churches preach the good news that you only have to want something to get it, because God wants to “prosper” you. The medical profession prescribes positive thinking for its presumed health benefits. Academia has made room for new departments of “positive psychology” and the “science of happiness.” Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis.

   "With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out “negative” thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best—poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage."

    If you're not doing well it's because you sent out the wrong vibrations to the universe.  A secular religion. Diagnosis of breast cancer brought about her reaction to this philosophy - be positive, embrace your disease, you're going to come out of this a better person.  But she says, I didn't.  I came out nastier.  It doesn't boost your immune system.  It doesn't make you wealthier either.  Still have to get chemo - but think positively while you are getting it.  This is the opposite of what we should be telling people who have cancer.  WE SHOULD BE VALIDATING PEOPLES' FEARS!!!    Watch and listen to the interview with Ehrenreich on Democracy Now:


   "In “Bright-sided,” [Ehrenreich] traces the roots of the nation’s blithe sunniness to a reaction against Calvinist gloom and the limits of medical science in the first half of the 19th century. Starting with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, perhaps one of the first American New Age faith healers, she draws a line to Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; the psychologist William James; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Norman Vincent Peale, who published “The Power of Positive Thinking” in 1952; and the toothy television minister Joel Osteen, who preaches the gospel of prosperity."      

   "To Ms. Ehrenreich, the reliance on one’s personal disposition shifts attention from the larger social, political and economic forces behind poverty, unemployment and poor health care. “It can’t all be fixed by assertiveness training,” she said wryly."
Excerpt: ‘Bright-Sided’ (October 10, 2009)
Times Topics: Barbara Ehrenreich
The Sunday Book Review on ‘Bright-Sided’ (November 8, 2009)
Janet Maslin’s Review of ‘Bright-Sided’ (October 12, 2009)]

"Ms. Ehrenreich found that the more she listened, the surlier she became. All that shiny optimism, she said, was “like sitting in a warm bubble bath for too long.” Luckily she found other churlish comrades, scholars and doctors who were similarly skeptical of undimmed positivity. "

“We began to call ourselves the Negatives,” said Micki McGee, a sociologist at Fordham University and the author of “Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life.” The group would meet on occasion and discuss their research and the news of the day. The thread of positive thinking that runs through self-help culture says, “If you dream it and believe it, it becomes reality,” Professor McGee explained. “That kind of thinking contributes to the economic bubble that we just saw explode in enormous ways. Barbara’s take on it is very important.”

   I am not interested in arguing with anyone since this blog is simply meant to express how I feel.  I think there isn't very much you can say to someone who has just been presented with a near-death sentence, or certainly a very bleak outlook for the near future -- and a great deal of pain and suffering.  Chemotherapy is not a cakewalk.  Slowly your body begins to destroy itself to get rid of both good and bad cells that might cause you to die.  You feel significant amounts of pain particularly if you already had same.  I have arthritis all over my body -- I often have to take pain pills to sleep [meaning a few times a year].  I have sought many many alternative treatments for pain, including acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy, hundreds of dollars worth of natural supplements:  glucosamine, MSM, turmeric, Boswellia, and more.  I have spent too much money trying to lessen the pain I feel all the time, every day, and especially when the barometer is changing.  Also when it is cold - at least for Los Angeles, when cold might mean 65 degrees. That is enough to keep me from sleeping.   Chemotherapy has the unfortunate effect on me of more than quadrupling the amount of pain I feel, so I have to writhe in pain for at least a week after each treatment.  Worse than a bad flu, I can only lie in bed and hope for sleep.

   So if I am unable to keep a bright and cheery outlook, if I sometimes snap at people, or refuse to see others, I hope I will be forgiven.  This is a completely new journey for me, and I have no idea if I will be one of the 70% who die, or the 30% who don't.  Because of this, I might decide to throw away everything I own, cash in all my money, and go for an extended (as much as possible) visit to the museums of Europe.


National Ovarian Cancer Coalition -  
Barbara Ehrenreich - Bright-Sided --   
Author's Personal Forecast: Not Always Sunny, But Pleasantly Skeptical -  
American Cancer Society -  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016



   April is a busy month - celebrating many wonderful peoples and issues. One that is mostly ignored outside the school library community is School Library Month.  Sadly the statistics on school libraries are dismal.  In California we are absolute last place in funding our school libraries and yet we are the 8th largest economy in the world, on a scale with countries.  The disconnect that I have felt between these facts has never been adequately communicated, in my opinion.  One fact that has stood out to me is that we have about 500 school librarians state wide in California, while New York has had, at least in the past, 10,000.  We in fact have a larger number of schools and students than New York state.  Doesn't matter.  Literacy apparently has never been an important issue in the state of California.

   We in the library world have conducted hundreds of studies that prove the link between professionally staffed and well funded libraries and high scoring schools and districts.   While I am against testing in general, and hate that we are using test scores as the way to compare schools, the importance can't be missed -- we are not serving our schools.

A quote from the American Library Association -

"More than 60 education and library research studies have produced clear evidence that school library programs staffed by qualified school librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement.

Yet, many students are returning to school without a resource essential for success: a strong school library program lead by a certified school librarian."

Here is a quote from the ALA further explaining the situation - AND HIGHLIGHTING THE LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT.  There is no question that our district, the second largest in the country, is the worst off:
"Despite their important contributions to student success, school libraries and school library programs throughout the United States are in danger. As a result, many students aren’t developing all the skills they’ll need for success in college and their careers.

"The primary problem is money. Since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008, many districts have fewer tax dollars to spend. Cuts must be made. Unfortunately, in some districts, school libraries are seen as a “frill”—nice to have, but not essential to student learning. Some decision makers view the Internet and Worldwide Web or public libraries as replacements for school library programs guided by a certified school librarian in every school. The Internet and Web are not replacements for school libraries.

"School libraries are being closed or underfunded—often in districts with disadvantaged students who are most in need of strong school library programs led by a state-certified school librarian. When school libraries and school librarians are eliminated, students suffer. Districts large and small have reached a crisis. For example, in Los Angeles, “About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries are without librarians or aides, denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.” [1]
   THE INTERNET AND WEB ARE NOT REPLACEMENTS FOR SCHOOL LIBRARIES.  I need to highlight this -- we are in an age when in fact the need for professionals guiding students in research and critical thinking is more important than ever.  In fact our money goes to high stakes testing and computers on which we test the students.  STUDENTS DO NOT LEARN FROM TESTS NOR COMPUTERS.
   Here's a photo of what a good elementary school library should have:  story steps.  Students should be read to every day.  We know that many of our students in Los Angeles have no books nor internet at home, and no access to public libraries (or they are in dangerous neighborhoods).

    In Los Angeles Unified we do not have one professionally trained school librarian at the elementary level.  Many of our middle schools are also without a qualified person.   Fortunately we do have dedicated classified Library Aides (a truly ridiculous title as these people should at minimum be called Library Managers or Library Technologists) at most of our elementary schools.  But few of these schools have money to buy new books.  Our one way of raising money for books is to hold book fairs, but many of the schools use the money for PTA.  Even when there are some dedicated funds for the library, most of our Administrators use the money for other needs.

If for no other reason than providing all students with EQUAL ACCESS to information, I ask that you support school libraries today.  Write a letter, start a campaign -- OPT OUT OF TESTING, OPT INTO SCHOOL LIBRARIES -- but make sure that your child is getting library experience.

One more distress for all of us -- many districts are going to Charter Schools.  Charter schools never have libraries.  If they do, they never fund a qualified professional to run them.  Contrary to charters, public schools at least do what David Shannon says here - TEACH EVERY STUDENT, even the naughty ones!


American Association of School Libraries campaign 
School Libraries | I love libraries -   
Bleeding Libraries - 
School Libraries Impact Studies - 
Jesse Ramey on School Libraries Tell Our Story -- 
School Libraries Build Strong Students - 
L.A. Unified Libraries are forced to close -   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


      Do you know the names of any famous Arab Americans?  Tony Shalhoub comes to mind right away for me. Casey Kasem, my favorite DJ for many years.  Paula Abdul, Shakira, Salma Hayek, Shannon Elizabeth, Vince Vaughn are also of Arab descent. Other very famous folks for my generation are Danny Thomas, Ralph Nader, Khalil Gibran, and George Mitchell, Frank Zappa, F. Murray Abraham, James Abourezk, Edward Said, Sam Maloof, Naomi Shihab Nye, Christa MacAuliffe, Michael DeBakey, and many more were all influential in their fields of endeavor.
   Did you know:  "Detroit is home to the greatest number of Arab-Americans. There are approximately 403, 445 Arab-Americans living in Detroit."    

   In 1987 I was dating a man I had met at the preschool my daughter attended and where I was a teacher. He had been a tenant lawyer but was unable to make much money defending them, even though he won his cases.  So he became the after school teacher for our elementary school students whose parents couldn't pick them up until six o'clock or so.  In reality, he was an activist in the movements of the time brewing in Los Angeles - in particular Latin American and Palestinian issues, but including Puerto Rican Liberation and Leonard Peltier.  He had bright red hair, like my father's and he was irreverent, undisciplined (I thought - he wouldn't follow rules made by adults) and completely playful with the students in his charge.
   In January of 1987 my boyfriend, who borrowed my car, (remember, he had very little money) told me he was being followed. Shortly thereafter he received a phone call from Terminal Island jail from his friends Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, two Palestinians with whom he had intensely been working to spread the truth of the Palestinian cause.  They and four other Palestinian men, plus Khader's Kenyan wife had all been rounded up and taken to the island to be charged with what? terrorism?  illegal alienism?  [they were all legal except maybe one], what?  Remember, this was 1987, and who was President?  There is so much about this case that was blatantly illegal and false. In fact it was a preparation for the government's plan to round up Arab Americans and put them into internment (concentration) camps, as they had done the Japanese in WWII.

LA 8

   "In 1987, Hamide, Shehadeh, and six others were arrested by immigration authorities on charges that they were affiliated with the PFLP. The government claimed that they were deportable for being affiliated with a group that “advocated the doctrines of world communism,” which was a deportable offense under the McCarthy-era McCarran-Walter Act. Significantly, FBI Director William Webster testified before Congress that the eight “had not been found to have engaged themselves in terrorist activity.” After the McCarran-Walter Act was declared unconstitutional, the government continued to pursue deportation under other charges, including charges of providing material support to so-called terrorists." 
   Interestingly, my father had a very good friend who spent the majority of his legal lawyerly life trying to defeat the McCarran-Walter Act because it was easily the worst legislation to come out of the Cold War and affect all real liberties of American people. [Interesting aside, this friend had as his classmates the infamous Leopold and Loeb boys. His mother had urged him to be friends with them but he paid her no attention, finding them weak and uninteresting. Fortunately for him he showed a great deal of good sense.]    As I said, my husband was a tenant lawyer and didn't have the expertise required to defend the LA 8 as they came to be known. So he called all his activist friends, and formed The Committee for Justice for the LA8.  He worked day and night trying to find the best defense.  What was so horrendous were the tales of how these people were taken -- in front of their children and neighbors.  One man's child was in fact left alone in his house and he was only three years old.  Fortunately a neighbor took the child until the mother could be contacted. The stories of the government's misconduct are endless regarding this case.  My husband at the time was living in a court house of about six small houses, in a Latino neighborhood. Oddly enough he noticed that he had a neighbor who was white, who drove a car with Maryland license plates.  Sure enough, it was revealed the the LA8 and my husband as well were being spied on through the walls.  One LA8 member had the agent living right next door so they could listen in through the walls.
   A notable even that I'm not sure was publicized during the 20 years of this particular case was the fact that someone leaked a document to the committee that showed the government's plans to re-open the concentration and internments camps used in World War II in order to round up Arab Americans and people of Arab descent.  I wish that Democracy Now would add this to their current interest in the possibility of camps being reopened as I feel this part of the McCarran-Walter Act was never really struck down.
   My husband had to apologize to me later, because my family had been followed by the FBI from the time I was born in 1947 until about 1960 or so, and then again at various other occasions when my sister was in Cuba, or I went to live in Tanzania.  But I hadn't been bothered for about 15 years, especially since I had a child and was a single working mother. No time for misbehavior until this happened.
   The LA 8 case dragged on for twenty years, and my husband had dropped out once he had helped with fundraising, and hiring some of the best lawyers in the country. Notably the best was Leonard Weinglass - you can read about him here.   A true lawyer of the people, he was never arrogant or put himself above those that he knew cared as much as he did. He always treated my husband with the utmost respect.

Leonard Weinglass

   "Hamide and Shehadeh said they were relieved that the government's long pursuit of them was over.

   "My family and I feel a tremendous amount of relief," said Hamide, 52, after learning of the appeal board's decision. "After 20 years, the nightmare is finally over. I feel vindicated at long last," said the Chino Hills resident, who is in the coffee distribution business. "This is a victory not only for the L.A. 8 but for the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and for the rights of all immigrants."

   "Shehadeh, who is 50 and now lives in Oregon, said that although he was "extremely happy" to put the battle behind him, he had mixed emotions. "The government robbed us, and our families, of the best and most productive years of our lives. But we will continue . . . acting on our beliefs, loving our country and defending the Constitution," he said.

   "The government's decision to drop charges against Hamide and Shehadeh was "a victory for the 1st Amendment rights of all immigrants and a vindication of their clients' actions," the attorneys for the L.A. 8 said in a formal statement.

"This is a monumental victory . . . for all immigrants who want to be able to express their political views and support the lawful activities of organizations in their home countries fighting for social or political change," said San Francisco attorney Marc Van Der Hout of the National Lawyers Guild, who has worked on the case since its inception. The government's attempt to deport Hamide and Shehadeh "all these years marks another shameful period in our government's history of targeting certain groups of immigrants for their political beliefs and activities."

   "Georgetown University law professor David Cole, who also represented the two men for 20 years on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "We are overjoyed for our clients, who have spent 20 years fighting for the right to stay in this country and associate freely."

Khader and one of his children

Celebrating Arab American History Month:
A school resource - 
Arab American National Museum --
A quiz from The Progressive --
Center for Arab American Philanthropy -
Arab American History Month Facebook page - 
Department of Corrections -
Famous Arab Americans -
Documenting Arab American Achievements - 
Arab American Institute -
Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee   --
James Zogby - Arab American Institute - 
LA 8 Case - 
LA 8 on Democracy Now -
Electronic Intifada - 
David Cole on the LA 8 Case - 
Victory for LA 8 - 
Nicaraguan Contra testifies in Case against LA 8 - for the LA 8 - Leonard Weinglass' brilliance
Leonard Weinglass' Obituary -
Center for Constitutional Rights -
Final Two LA 8 Defendants Cleared -
Obituary of John Abt -

Friday, April 8, 2016


April 10th, 2014 Paul Thomas wrote a Blog: [I shamelessly copy this wonderful blog because I myself suffer from the "I hate poetry" disease that I believe was foisted upon me as a small child by two very critical parents and teachers who were too conformist. Thank you Paul for restoring love to the world.]

In Defense of Poetry: “Oh My Heart”

“No, no. You’ve got something the test and machines will never be able to measure: you’re artistic.   That’s one of the tragedies of our times, that no machine has ever been built that can recognize that quality, appreciate it, foster it, sympathize with it.”

Paul Proteus to his wife Anita in Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano

“So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens” is, essentially, a grammatical sentence in the English language. While the syntax is somewhat out of the norm, the diction is accessible to small children—the hardest word likely being “depends.” But “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams is much more than a sentence; it is a poem:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
A relatively simple English language sentence shaped into purposeful lines and stanzas becomes poetry. And like Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” it sparks in me a profoundly important response each time I read these poems: [Expletive], I wish I had written that.
It is the same awe and wonder that I felt as a shy and deeply self-conscious teenager when I bought, collected, and read comic books, marveling at the artwork I wish I had drawn.
Will we soon wake one morning to find the carcasses of poems washed up on the beach by the tsunami of the Common Core?
That question, especially during National Poetry Month, now haunts me more every day, notably because of the double-impending doom augured by the Common Core: the rise of nonfiction (and the concurrent erasing of poetry and fiction) from the ELA curriculum and the mantra-of-the-moment, “close reading” (the sheep’s clothing for that familiar old wolf New Criticism):
[Dead Poets Society excerpt at this point]
It seems we have come to a moment in the history of the US when we no longer even pretend to care about that which is the result of the human heart: Art.
And poetry, I contend, is the most human of the arts because—although it is quite challenging often to distinguish humans from other mammals—we have two attributes that do set us apart: our too-big brains and our faculty for language.
Poetry is the very human effort to utter order out of chaos, meaning out of the meaningless: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (Sylvia Plath“Daddy”).
[Paul Thomas speaks here about his first college classes in poetry. The professor introduces e.e. cummings]

[in Just-]

in Just- 
spring          when the world is mud- 
luscious the little 
lame balloonman 

whistles          far          and wee 

and eddieandbill come 
running from marbles and 
piracies and it's 

when the world is puddle-wonderful 

the queer 
old balloonman whistles 
far          and             wee 
and bettyandisbel come dancing 

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 




balloonMan          whistles 

Several years later, Emily Dickinson‘s Complete Poems would join my commitment to reading every poem by those poets who made me respond over and over: [Expletive], I wish I had written that.
But that introduction to cummings was more than a young and insecure man finding the poets he wanted to read; it was when I realized I am a poet.
Now, when the words “j was young&happy” come to me, I know there is work to do—I recognize the gift of poetry.
As a high school English teacher, I divided my academic year into quarters by genre/form: nonfiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels/ plays. The poetry quarter, when announced to students, initially received moans and even direct complaints: “I hate poetry.”
To be honest, that always broke my heart, crushed my soul. Life and school had already taken something very precious from these young people:
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew (“[anyone lived in a pretty how town],” e.e. cummings)
Gradually and then always, I taught poetry in conjunction with popular songs. Although my students in rural South Carolina were overwhelmingly country music fans, I focused my nine weeks of poetry on the songs of alternative group R.E.M.
For the record, that too elicited moans from students in those early days of exploring poetry (see that unit now on the blog “There’s time to teach”).
Concurrently, throughout my high school teaching career, students always gathered in my room during our long mid-morning break and lunch (much to the chagrin of administration). And almost always, we played music.
The epitome of that unspoken norm of my classroom was two students who, after I introduced them to The Violent Femmes, would close my door in order to dance and sing along with their songs.
Many of those students are in their 30s and 40s, but it is common for them to contact me—often on Facebook—and recall fondly R.E.M. and our poetry unit. Those days and years meant something to them that lingers, that matters in ways that cannot be measured.
I can still see and hear those two students dancing, singing, and laughing. It was an oasis of happiness in their days at school, an oasis of happiness in their lives.
e.e. cummings begins “since feeling is first,” and then adds:
my blood approves,
and kisses are 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….
And each year when my students and I examined this poem, we would discuss that cummings—in Andrew Marvell fashion—offers an argument that is profoundly unlike what parents, teachers, preachers, and politicians claim.
So I often paired this poem with Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” focusing on:
I was just guessing at numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart
Especially for teenagers, this question, this tension between heart and mind, mattered. Just as it recurs in the words of poets and musicians over decades, centuries.
Poetry, as with all art, is the expressed heart—that human quest to rise above our corporeal humanness:
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats)
I have loved a few people intensely. So deeply that my love, I believe, resides permanently in my bonesIf you read my poetry, you will recognize that motif, I am sure.
One such love is my daughter, and she now carries the next human who will add to that ache of being fully human—loving another beyond words.
And that, I contend, is poetry.
Poetry is not identifying iambic pentameter on a poetry test or discussing the nuances of enjambment in an analysis of a Dickinson poem.
Poems are not fodder for close reading.
Poetry is the ineluctable “Oh my heart” that comes from living fully in the moment of being human, the moment that draws us to words as well as inspires us toward words.
We read a poem, we listen to a song, and our hearts rise out of our eyes as tears.
That is poetry.
And like the picture books of our childhood, poetry must be a part of our learning, essential to our school days—each poem an oasis of happiness that “machines will never be able to measure.”
Will we soon wake one morning to find the carcasses of poems washed up on the beach by the tsunami of the Common Core?
Maybe the doomsayers are wrong, and maybe, just maybe, poetry will not be erased from our classrooms.
School with less poetry is school with less heart. School with no poetry is school with no heart.
Both are tragic mistakes because if school needs anything, it is more heart. And poetry? Oh my heart.

Monday, April 4, 2016


June 27, 1872 - February 9, 1906

   Paul Laurence Dunbar only lived 33 years but was the first nationally recognized African American poet.  A friend of Frederick Douglass, Douglass called him the most promising young "colored" man in America.

   Just a few of his poems.  Please check the links below for more.

A Negro Love Song

Seen my lady home las' night,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hel' huh han' an' sque'z it tight,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
Seen a light gleam f'om huh eye,
An' a smile go flittin' by —
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Hyeahd de win' blow thoo de pine,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Mockin'-bird was singin' fine,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
An' my hea't was beatin' so,
When I reached my lady's do',
Dat I could n't ba' to go —
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Put my ahm aroun' huh wais',
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Raised huh lips an' took a tase,
Jump back, honey, jump back.
Love me, honey, love me true?
Love me well ez I love you?
An' she answe'd, "'Cose I do"—
Jump back, honey, jump back.

Invitation to Love
Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or come when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it to rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome.

Little Brown Baby
Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
Come to yo' pappy an' set on his knee.
What you been doin', suh — makin' san' pies?
Look at dat bib — you's es du'ty ez me.
Look at dat mouf — dat's merlasses, I bet;
Come hyeah, Maria, an' wipe off his han's.
Bees gwine to ketch you an' eat you up yit,
Bein' so sticky an sweet — goodness lan's!

Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes,
Who's pappy's darlin' an' who's pappy's chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
Fu' to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
Whah did you git dem teef? My, you's a scamp!
Whah did dat dimple come f'om in yo' chin?
Pappy do' know you — I b'lieves you's a tramp;
Mammy, dis hyeah's some ol' straggler got in!

Let's th'ow him outen de do' in de san',
We do' want stragglers a-layin' 'roun' hyeah;
Let's gin him 'way to de big buggah-man;
I know he's hidin' erroun' hyeah right neah.
Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do',
Hyeah's a bad boy you kin have fu' to eat.
Mammy an' pappy do' want him no mo',
Swaller him down f'om his haid to his feet!

Dah, now, I t'ought dat you'd hug me up close.
Go back, ol' buggah, you sha'n't have dis boy.
He ain't no tramp, ner no straggler, of co'se;
He's pappy's pa'dner an' play-mate an' joy.
Come to you' pallet now — go to yo' res';
Wisht you could allus know ease an' cleah skies;
Wisht you could stay jes' a chile on my breas'—
Little brown baby wif spa'klin' eyes!

   "During the final ten years of his life, Dunbar wrote prolifically, turning out poetry, short stories, novels, lyrics, and a variety of narrative works. Although only 33 when he died, his legacy, most notably his dialect poetry, influenced many writers of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Regarded as one of the leading African American writers of the 20th century, Dunbar and his work continue to fuel academic debates. In recent years, new collections of his work have added more than 100 undiscovered or uncollected poetic and narrative works by Dunbar to the already large body of his writings. Taken in its entirety, Dunbar's extensive body of work provides a significant representation of African American life at the turn of the twentieth century."
Academy of American Poets - 
Poetry Foundation -
Life and Career -  
Special Collection & archives - Wright State Univ. - 

Saturday, April 2, 2016



   Terrible at poetry I always was.  I could memorize a line or two for a class in middle school. I could always remember lyrics to songs, which you might call poetry at times.  But as to the highbrow poets such as Emily Dickinson,  Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Rainer Maria Rilke, and higher, I wasn't very keen.  My mother loved poetry, wrote it and read it often.  I actually did write two poems of which I was proud - one about the lemon tree in my back yard, one about my fury at being bossed by a not so nice roommate in college.  They were both effective writings.  But I gave up, as I had given up on art when the art teacher in 2nd grade told me I couldn't paint, and proceeded to paint my picture for me. Imagine!
   There were poems that I did like at various times.  And I still own my copy of A Coney Island of the Mind which contains my favorite poem:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings
     This is clearly a 1950s poem - that speaks to the excesses of materialism that were so universal at the time.  Post World War II prosperity gave each family a home, each man a job, each woman a home to clean, or some such fiction.  It conjures up in my memory a series of videos produced to show how Freud was used to bring about the greatest greed fest in the world - the materialism and acquisitiveness, as well as control of the people of the United States.   "Part two explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses. Politicians and planners came to believe Freud's underlying premise that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires."

   I won't belabor the meaning. You can decide for yourselves.  But clearly I like message poetry.  I hope with this exploration into poetry to broaden my horizons a bit.