Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society (or at least check out what they’re doing).

I have been a member of the Pennsylvania Poetry Society for three years, but only recently attended a spring meeting.  This was such a fun experience, it prompted me to write this post, with 5 reasons to join PPS, Inc.

  1. The Pennsylvania Poetry Society holds two meetings each year with workshops for developing your inner poet.  These workshops provide time to talk with other poets, share work, and work with poets from throughout the state. The most recent workshop featured Dana Sauers. 
  2. Meeting people who are also interested in reading and writing poetry. From their twitter page: “Founded in 1949, the PPS assists its members in the development of their craft and fosters an intelligent appreciation of poetry.”
  3. The PPS also runs an annual contest with 17 categories.  Members have the opportunity to enter 3 of those 17 that non-members cannot. The winning poems are published each year.
  4. Joining this group allows can give you notice about many other contests, which they share on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Joining this group will help you if you’re trying to work on your own writing. Each newsletter (produced four times a year) provides a challenge for writing poetry, and there’s also an online publication each month, called Pennessence. There are plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself and publish your writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

Book Review: Up Late with The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

We’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before–in regard to his short stories and we mentioned he was married to Amanda Palmer when we reviewed her book, The Art of Asking.  But today what we review is a collection of non-fiction essays from the Great Gaiman, and this is unusual.  While he’s written a massive amount of non-fiction, this is the first collection of it in one place. The book is organized by topic (these are not the full section titles): Some Things I Believe; Some People I Have Known; Introductions; Films; On Comics; Music; Real Things.

What this book reads like is a conversation with your really smart friend who’s constantly recommending books and films and music and you wonder how in the world he knows all this stuff and you realize these are all the things he loves, the things he’s spent his lifetime with, and if you want something of quality, you should listen to his recommendations. While many of the authors and books he mentions I knew, there were plenty I didn’t and reading this helped me generate a reading list for multiple genres.

There are lovely passages readers and writers will underline, write down, turn back to for reassurance.  On why he left Journalism: “I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.” On why books are important: “Books are the way that the dead communicate with us.” On life: “Life does not obey genre rules.”

I found myself writing down much of what he wrote–not because it was so profound, but because it was so perfectly articulated.

  • “Our tales are always the fruit of our times.”
  • “I don’t write with answers in mind. I write to find out what I think about something.”
  • “The magic trick upon which all good fiction depends…there is room for things to mean more than they literally mean.”
  • “Most interesting art gets made by people who don’t know the rules, and have no idea that certain things simply aren’t done: so they do them. Transgress. Break things. Have too much fun.”
  • “Make mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong, too scared to do anything.”

If you’re looking for some useful short essays on writing, there are some gems in here you could use with your students. If you want a celebration of reading and writing to read for yourself, this volume is perfect. Also, if you come to our 2016 Conference in State College, PA on October 15 & 16, you will have a chance to win a copy of the book!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Goodreads Challenge: Balancing Reading & Writing in the New Year

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I resolve to balance my reading and my writing. In past years, I’ve made reading a priority, setting my Goodreads challenge at 75 or even 100 books for the year. This year, I’ve decided to make a moderate challenge for myself in the reading area so I can balance that out by doing more writing–poetry, professional writing, personal writing, and even some fiction.

One of the motivators for me was a recent tweet from the Boston Globe citing the likelihood of winning powerball (1 in 292 million) versus the likelihood of writing a NYT bestseller (1 in 221). I don’t need to write a bestseller, thank you very much, I’d just like to write something a few other people want to read.

So here’s to a new year filled with plenty of reading and writing opportunities!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Goodreads Challenge: Balancing Reading & Writing in the New Year

Friday Five: Reasons to use The Chronicles of Harris Burdick in class

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1. It works at any level. Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick was first published in 1984. My first exposure to it was my sixth grade teacher’s assignment. “Here is a book with pictures, titles, and the first line of a story. You now have to write the story.” I loved this idea so much, I remember writing more than one story for multiple pictures. The book stayed with me, and when I was teaching a summer writing course early in my career, I went and found the book and gave my students the same assignment.

2. You can use it for short stories as well as for writing assignments. Fast forward to 2011, when Lemony Snicket introduces this new book–with tales by 14 prominent authors who’d done just what I (and thousands of students) had done–they wrote stories based on the pictures and sentences. This collection includes stories from Sherman Alexie, Job Scieszka, Cory Doctorow, Stephen King, Lois Lowry and eight others. The topics range from spelling caterpillars, ghostly captains, and bewitched books. This delightful collection of short stories would work with all age groups–from young readers to adults, and the stories captivate and surprise the reader.

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3. There are some quotable moments: “Books have always been among my most trusted of friends. The best of them allow the mind to wanter wherever the author’s musings lead.” “Books have the ability to take the mind to strange places and in strange ways.”

4.You could examine the images as text. I am currently imagining using this with my students and assigning them to write an analysis of one of the images without reading the story–talking about tone and mood–and then discussing how visual images can be analyzed.

5. So many assignment options. I’m also considering having students take a picture and then offer the class collection of pictures to students, who will then write stories based on someone else’s students. Lots of angles for collaboration and community building. Plus, these stories and pictures are striking!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA Board

Friday Five: Reasons to use The Chronicles of Harris Burdick in class

Up Late with Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood


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Margaret Atwood is a literary goddess. If you haven’t read her most recent collection of short stories, Stone Mattress, move that to your number own spot on your to-reads list (recently reviewed here by Sarah Rito). Since I’d already read it (and reviewed it on WPSU), I went back to a book she wrote that I’d somehow missed: Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. This non-fiction book was exactly what I needed to read right now, although I hadn’t a clue when I began how relevant it would be. I’m going to write a longer review this week, because this book transports me back to graduate school, where I reveled in writing about books in the nerdiest of ways, and because this book also pushes me to think deeply about the practice of reading and writing–and I find writing about reading and writing allows me to come to a better understanding of both. So forgive me, dear reader, for this overly long review/love note to Atwood.

There are six chapters to this, including an Introduction and a Prologue. The Introduction, titled “Into the Labyrinth,” explains how the book came out of a series of lectures for the Empson Lectures at the University of Cambridge in 2000 (the book was published in 2002). In this, she shares the three questions most often posed to writers: “Who are you writing for? Why do you do it? Where does it come from?” The list of the motive of writing following these questions I plan to share with students in both my AP and CP classes–it is a list, to me, that serves as a reason for why we breathe, why we live, as well as why we write.

The Prologue is short and full of thanks to many people, but one thank you in particular is worth noting for me: “And to my teachers, including the inadvertent ones, as always.”

Chapter 1: “Orientation: Who do you think you are? What is ‘a writer,’ and how did I become one?” Like the rest of the chapters, this one begins with quotes by other writers about the topic at hand. Atwood, as usual, makes me feel small and unknowing–I only recognize the author of one of these quotes–Alice Munro. The rest of this chapter, though, allows me to know the young Margaret Atwood. She explains the childhood of writers “often contain…books and solitude, and my own childhood was right on track.” Once again, I identify with her (as I do with every protagonist I read) and she explains “I learned many things about the seedier side of life via the printed page.” However, I am reminded in this chapter that although I may have visions of being a writer, “everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger.”

Chapter 2: “Duplicity: The jekyll hand, the hyde hand, the slipper double: Why there are always two.” In this chapter I totally geeked out with the references to “Childe Roland” and Alice and Grimm brothers and Dickens and….well, let’s just say I felt less unworthy in this chapter because I knew most of the texts Atwood references. In fact, not only did I know them, but my AP kiddos are about to study Dorian Gray, which features prominently in this chapter and the rest of the book. My favorite quote from this chapter, though, is the last few lines: “The act of writing takes place at the moment when Alice passes through the mirror. At this one instant, the glass barrier between the doubles dissolves, and Alice is neither here nor there, neither art nor life, neither the one thing for the other, though at the same time she is allof these at once. At that moment time itself stops, and also stretches out, and both writer and reader have all the time not in the world.”

Chapter 3: “Dedication: The Great God Pen: Apollo vs. Mammon: at whose altar should the writer worship?” In this chapter, Atwood explains the issues with making money as an artist. Can you still be an artist when you make money? She writes:
“’The truth shall make you free,’ said Jesus.
‘Beauty is Truth, Truth, Beauty,”’said John Keats.
By the roots of the syllogism, if truth is beauty and the truth shall make you free, then beauty shall make you free, and since we are in favor of freedom, or have been off and on since it was extolled in the Romantic ago, we should devote ourselves to beauty-worship. And where is beauty–widely interpreted–more manifest than in Art?”

Chapter 4: “Temptation: Prospero, The Wizard of Oz, Mephisto & Co. Who waves the wand, pulls the strings, or signs the devil’s book? “Again, this chapter seemed to resonate with me since I just taught Dr. Faustus to my students. I read aloud the passage about writer as both Faustus and Mephistopheles. In this chapter, though, Atwood discusses the place where money and power “intersect” –the concept of “moral responsibility” and “social responsibility.” She writes of feminism as a female writer, and of responsibility as an artist and a writer. There’s a lovely little analysis of “Ars Poetica.” There’s also an short consideration of Prospero, from Shakespeare’s Tempest, which particularly intrigued me, as I recently read the ARC of Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow, where the main character’s name, Ariel, reminded me of Prospero’s enslaved spirit.

Chapter 5: “Communion: Nobody to Nobody: The eternal triangle: the writer, the reader, and the book as go-between.” Here, Atwood talks about books as messengers. She explains: “For every letter and every book, there is an intended reader, a true reader.” There’s a lovely reference/analysis of Bradbury’s “The Martian,” explaining how the reader functions in reference to this story. And the end of this chapter particularly struck me: “the ideal reader may prove to be anyone at all–any one at all–because the act of reading is just as singular–always–as the act of writing.”

Chapter 6: “Descent: Negotiating with the dead: Who makes the trip to the Underwold, and why?” This chapter, like others, references Hamlet, which makes me giddy, for some reason, every time I come across some kind of reference to that angsty young man. One of my favorite parts of this chapter is a plea to reconsider Santa Claus as a sort of visitor from the land of the dead. Atwood leaves us with the words of Ovid “But still, the fates will leave me my voice, and by my voice I shall be known.”

This text is dense with references to other writers and works upon whose shoulders Atwood stands upon. I found myself appreciating this more now than I might have had I read it twelve years ago when it was published, as I am a more mature reader, and a more widely read reader. This text is not for the faint of heart or for the shallow reader. It is, however, a celebration of writing and reading, and I highly recommend it for those other booknerds out there who want to feel as if they’re part of a club of other readers and writers.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA Board

Up Late with Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood