Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our Youngest Writer: Agnes Yang

I often ask my youngest students to respond to a book we are reading together. This response is from Agnes Yang, a seventh grade student at Shaker Junior High School. Her brief essay illustrates the timeless power of the science fiction doomsday tale, Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury that depicts a society in which books are condemned-- actually burned-- by "Firemen". This riveting novel has sparked much writing, and Agnes's response answers the following question about the hero of the novel, Montag, and Clarisse, a young rebel who is liquidated:

How does Clarisse help Montag become more fully human?

          In the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Clarisse helps Montag by letting him realize that he's not being himself as a human but is a person controlled by his society. She does this by having a conversation with him about how people don't realize or observe what's around them. For example, she tells Montag that sometimes drivers don't know what grass or flowers are. Also, when she tells him that there is a man on the moon, Montag realizes that he hasn't looked up in a long time. These actions of Clarisse make Montag think back about himself and rethink if he is truly happy about his job and his life.

          Clarisse also warns Montag about what's happening in reality by comparing the past time to the present time. She says that she is worried about the children of her own age killing each other and not taking responsibility unlike the time in which her uncle's grandfather lived. She also tells him that firemen used to put fires out instead of starting them to burn books. This is when Montag starts to think about how people would feel when their houses and books are burnt down and leads him to take one of the books to read. Clarisse is the one who encourages him to be truly himself and think or feel however he wants to think.

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Agnes enjoys helping others and smiling to make people feel better. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


I'm looking forward to teaching a poetry class at the Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center in April and May, 2015. The four-session class will feature four traditional poetic forms that students will learn by understanding their patterns. Each week I will introduce a new form and a writing prompt designed to illuminate it. Students shall have an opportunity to understand and practice the villanelle, the pantoum, the sonnet, and the very short tanka. 

Writers will discover that although these names may sound new or daunting, the patterns inherent in each form can help them create the best work they have ever produced! We are planning an adventurous course with gentle sharing and easy models to follow.

We will also start with some ice breakers to help students think like poets. The following poem (with Spanish original) by the Mexican poet, Alberto Forcada, is an example of one that pushes the imagination to new heights.


The trees are birds bewitched.
They can't lift their feet from the ground.                                                                                  
Again and again they beat their wings
furiously, pluck at their feathers, weep.

How can I break this spell?
What words should I say?

How many times must I kiss them?



Los árboles son pájaros hechizados.
No pueden despegar la pata del suelo.

Una y otra vez aletean con furia.
Se arrancan las plumas, sollozan.

Cómo romper el maleficio?
Qué palabras deberé pronunciar?

Cuántas veces tendré que besarlos?

Thursday, January 22, 2015


            I, for one, love reading about the magic and majesty of winter. Deep in frigid January I glance outside to white on white, pale sky dipping into snow on a twelve degree day. I don’t love winter, but I am one of the strange breed who prefers this season to the months of dripping humidity. And so it was with great pleasure that I came upon the gorgeous photographs by Evgenia Arbugaeva in Orion magazine of a town surrounded by tundra, where the average temperature in January is -29 degrees Fahrenheit.    

            Journeying to the far-north Russian town of Tiksi on the Arctic Ocean where she grew up until she was eight years old, Arbugaeva wanted to recapture the enchanted memories she had of a childhood before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her photographic journey really came to life when she befriended a young girl, Tanya, who served as her model in this place of desolation and wonder. There is Tanya with her husky dog on the first day of summer, wearing her red boots and trapped on an ice floe. There she is, running on the snow after school past a wreck of an enormous, yellow cement block building. In another photo Tanya skips stones from a rusty barge; in another she creates an eerie shadow on an old brick house. There is her uncle Vanya ice fishing, and in another the glory of a place where for sixty-seven consecutive days in winter the sun does not rise but the Aurora Borealis turns on its violet, green and yellow lights.

            These polar photographs took my breath away, perhaps because I sometimes believe that I live in the frozen tundra, even as climate change shakes the earth and weird events separate winter into cold and warm days. I cherish the days when my Orion magazine arrives in my mailbox, bringing me beauties such as these eleven photographs from the far north land. .