April is the Coolest Month #NaPoMo

poetry-monthApril is National Poetry Month. As the Poet Laureate of Alameda, I’d like to invite you to crack open a poetry book and read one, just once, this month. Read an old favorite, like T.S. Eliot, perhaps, whose Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of the finest examples of 20th Century poetry (“Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table…”) – or maybe watch performance poets you’ll find on YouTube, like Suli Breaks’ “Why I Hate School but Love Education,” or Savanna Brown’s “What Guys Look for in Girls.” (No, seriously, GO WATCH.)

Poetry is dangerous, not weak or sappy. Poetry is powerful. It’s spoken or written truth.

Or read this and dismiss the entire topic. Why read a poem? Why should poetry matter, anyway? Elena Aquilar, an educator from Oakland, California, says that, “Poetry promotes literacy, builds community, and fosters emotional resilience. It can cross boundaries that little else can.” And she gives five good reasons why we need poetry in our lives.

  1. Poetry helps us know each other and build community. I saw this in action at Island High School’s poetry slam in October, when students reading poems about their lives were uplifted by the entire school listening, appreciating and applauding each individual’s work. Their poems rocked my world.
  2. When read aloud, poetry is rhythm and music and sounds and beats. Babies and toddlers may not speak yet, but they hear your words and learn from you. Nursery rhymes matter – they tell stories, show playful use of words; children learn rudiments of music and math from keeping a beat in a poem.
  3. Poetry opens venues for speaking and listening. It’s good for children and students of all ages to practice both speaking (reading aloud or memorizing), and hearing the words of other students, or other cultures, told in poetry. Rhyming poems are easier to remember than non-rhyming poems (they’re harder to write well, too!). I read some old favorite poems with the Trinity Seniors a few months ago and the elders listening spoke the lines they remembered along with me.
  4. Poetry has space for those learning a new language – English or other languages. A simple haiku (three lines of 17 syllables total) is a simple glimpse into nature, and a toddler can appreciate it, a kindergartner can write it, and an English language-learner can access it. Poetry is universal. Take a listen to the bilingual students at St. Joseph Notre Dame, who publish their works in English, Spanish and French, in their annual poetry journal, Prisms.
  5. Poetry opens the world to us. W.B. Yeats said this about poetry: “It is blood, imagination, intellect running together…It bids us to touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrink from all that is of the brain only.” (Italics mine.) Every time you “like” a Facebook meme featuring a line from Rumi, Maya Angelou, or Basho, you’re sharing poetry. You are opening yourself to a wider imagination, to the current of creativity that flows among us, unique to humans. You set your foot into the river of human experience.

(To read more of Aguilar’s thoughts on why poetry matters, read her article online at Edutopia, “Five Reasons Why We Need Poetry in Schools.” )

2015-02-04 19.07.12But doesn’t it sound boring? Go read a poem? Yawn…Worse than algebra! Worse than memorizing dates in history! Better, then, read along with me this month as I explore the poetry of four high schools and the students writing and reveling in the spoken and written word. I’ll be posting a feature every week in the Alameda Sun for the month of April – National Poetry Month.

If poetry isn’t for you, perhaps the almost-adults who are about to step into the world will enlighten you about how poetry matters to them. You like Alameda, don’t you? These students will help shine a light on the future we all share.

And by the way, it was T.S. Eliot who said that “April is the cruelest month” (The Wasteland), but I like my way better.


Julia Park Tracey is Alameda’s Poet Laureate. Follow her on Facebook at Facebook/AlamedaPoetLaureate. If you’d like her to visit your classroom or club, email julia.editrix@gmail.com.

not counting days

Last night I had my first food nightmare — I was trying to stir a pot with not enough beans and vegetables in it, and I remember adding some sliced green peppers and knowing it wouldn’t really help. There wasn’t enough, and no matter how much I kept stirring, it wasn’t enough. I awoke from this dream with a clenched feeling in my chest, an elevated heart rate and a feeling of doom. Ick. Not pleasant. I have anxiety dreams sometimes, but I can’t remember one about food, ever. Intriguing, because we’re not “really” on food stamps, we’re just playing a game. But the anxiety about not feeding the family was so intense. And when I look way back to when I was a single mom and had no food budget at all after the bills were paid, when they were paid, did not receive any public assistance but did go to the food bank — I did feel like that. But it was all the time, not just in a dream.

I posted a remark about my dream on Facebook this morning, and someone commented, “Only 5 days left.” This I know — there are actually six whole days counting today to get through before I can step off the challenge and order a coffee milkshake and a medium-rare steak. But I am resisting thinking that way. A person living on food stamps or other assistance can’t anticipate the end of the month as an end to his or her struggles. It gets a little better when the check arrives or the FS card is recharged electronically. But the ride doesn’t stop. So I am further challenging myself to continue to live in the moment about the food stamp challenge — to live each day according to the day’s food needs.

The struggle is moot if I hurry it along to its happy ending, where I pat myself on the back for what I’ve learned, and order my milkshake. So that’s where I am right now. I’m soaking in it.

The Mighty Pen
In other news, I just fired off a letter to the editor after some local person complained about the free lunch program for local kids. “Where’s my free lunch,” she asked. Here is my response, which I hope to see published in next week’s newspaper.

Don’t blame the poor

XXXX XXXX wants to know “why do we even have a free lunch program when we are always making cuts in other school programs?” (“I Want My Free Lunch,” June 24). For the record, the free school lunch program is funded by our federal (and sometimes also the state) government, specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No books, pencils, pupils or teachers are harmed in the serving of a free lunch to a hungry student. The AUSD school budget is not harmed, either.
In case your kids or neighbors are hungry this summer, the USDA is glad to feed them for free at Paden and Encinal schools, daily through July 16, except weekends and July 5. If Ms XXXXX or others have complaints about feeding Alameda children, they can complain to the USDA, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call 202-720-5964.
However, it seems unfair to take a slap at local hungry children when the core problem about school budgets lies in Sacramento, and here at home, where enough Alamedans voted against Measure E to torpedo our district. Don’t blame the poor for our bad political choices. 

Friday Menu
Breakfast: Ana: pastries (from bread site, free), coffee. Simone: breakfast bar, coffee. Patrick: oatmeal, hardboiled eggs, green tea. Julia: coffee, apricot.*
Snack: Julia: coffee, banana, toast with peanut butter.
Lunch: Ana: cheese/veggie sandwich on hamburger bun, carrot/celery sticks, chocolate chip cookies, leftover cheese crackers (of mysterious origin); Patrick: work meeting with lunch, $0; Julia: bread, butter, jam, nectarine, peach*; Simone: ?
Dinner: Simone: out; Julia, Ana, Patrick: chicken enchilada soup (leftover BBQ chicken, canned enchilada sauce, chopped tomatoes, onions); tortillas.

* Argh, all the fruit is going soft really fast. May have to make a cobbler this weekend and do without fresh fruit for the rest of the month.

the end, and the beginning

I think, I think Measure H passed — by 105 votes? That’s the last I heard, and we posted it to the Web but our story for tomorrow still says losing by one vote. At least we didn’t say it had totally lost in big letters. That’s a plus-one for us this week. However, there is a distinct disadvantage to a weekly cycle, mainly, that life goes on no matter when your press run is. So there we are.

Tonight our Mia comes in. Friday our Moni graduates. Our Ana got perfect attendance and a prize (tix to see the A’s) and a B average, which means she’s earned a TV in her room all summer. Our other ones are doing well, and so looking forward to summer. We’re down to one occasional sofa surfer, and that’s nice, but it feels quiet around here — if a houseful of 6 or 7 can be quiet, ever. But so it goes.

Just put a bunch of sliced apples on the dehydrator and whipped up a batch of cat food. Whipped up is an exaggeration — it bubbled in a crockpot all day and I just did the blenderizing and put it away. Ask me about this activity if you really want to know. I’m trying to pass the time until 10:30 when I leave for the airport. Not easy when I go to bed at 10 most nights. We’re going to Chico Saturday for my dear friend Catie’s wedding. Road trip! And we’ll do it the eco way, taking our own lunches and snacks and mugs and water.

The veggies are up and taking over. I seem to have more pumpkins than anything else and that is just not OK. I have one zucchini producing already and a crookneck squash right behind it. There are a couple of mystery squashes growing; my luck they will all turn out to be pumpkins. I also have a couple of gourds growing. Cukes, not so many. I think I have two, and they are very small and not blooming yet. I want lots of those but I may have blown that. May be too late. However, corn is a-coming in, 52 stalks so far and it’s about 3-4 inches high. Growing half an inch a day, it looks like. I also have an abondanza of tomatoes. If they all fruit, I have about a dozen bushes and will be swimming in red and yellow.

Grapes are coming along, though someone/something knocked a branch off. That is tres annoying. That’s months of growing, gone. I have some raspberries that will not likely bloom and fruit but I wanted it as much for the leaves for tea. So that’s actually OK. Any fruit is a bonus. Same goes for the strawberry patch — which is doing OK. We’ve lost some with hot spells and then chilly weather, but they are doing all right. I haven’t had much fruit, though. Raccoons? Maybe.

I thought I had finished putting the fourth grade’s poetry book together when I just realized that half the pages printed upside down. Damn! That’s a $50 loss in printing fees and I’ll have to go back and print it again. Before Friday! Such a bummer. Waste of paper, too. That’s all I have to say about that because I am so annoyed that I want to throw something. Grrrr!

And…looks like we’re not moving to the West End just yet. We are back on the market for another office. Other place didn’t work out, which is a serious bummer because I loved the space, the location, the cheerful color scheme, and all the potential. Sigh. We’re working with our good friend Kathy Moehring of WABA (West Alameda Biz Assn) to find us a better space. Watch for the announcement here…

And…had a great visit with my parents and Aunt Barbara over the weekend — truly fun and pleasant and good food and lots of laughing. Her only regret was that she didn’t get to see all the kids.

This begins to sound like a to-do-list in reverse. I-did-em-all, I guess you’d call it. Well, I did. And I’m justifiably tired but proud. What have you done lately? Drop a line and let us know.

Lesson recently learned: Get it in writing.

Another lesson recently learned: I’m happiest when I’m at home. And glad I have one.

Siete de Mayo

~ 7 ~

You heard nothing but silence from me during the Big Weekend, and the aftermath was deadlines, deadlines…so back at the keyboard again.

I was not feeling well (see prev entry) so did not make it to two Saturday events but we still had 10,000 guests coming over, well, maybe just 75 or so of our closest friends, so on with the show. We did indeed have that fiesta and it was FABU! Truly fun, with chips and salsa and guac coming out our ears, not literally — but all of it delicious — and then an astoundingly scrumptious array of potluck Mex fare. So yummy. Lots of new friends got to meet old friends, and we got to meet spouses and kids, and it was generally a ton of fun. The kids played air hockey, whiffle ball, croquet, boccie ball, and shot each other with Nerf darts ad nauseum. They also ran to good neighbor Laurie & Mark Wagner’s casa and played on their fantastical rope swing. It was generally and specifically a lot of pleasure for all. Erin and Jack had promised plate spinning and fire breathing but somehow we didn’t get that far down the list. Maybe at the 4th of July shindig in the works.

Sunday I lay in bed like a fat slug, recovering from hours of running around and pre/post clean-up, and did not do anything useful…I took a nap, then couldn’t sleep all night, instead watching hours of H&G TV…for which I paid dearly Monday when the deadlines hit the fan. Zzzzz…

But we got some good stories this week, with more to come next issue. That’s the fun thing about running a newspaper. You get to do it again the next week.

Also: Last night turned into a bake-a-thon. I made quiche for dinner, because the kids love it, and made the crust. Then, since the flour and measuring cups were already out, I thought I’d try mixing up the Amish Friendship Bread (from starter that I got from a Freecycle friend). But before I could start that, the Boy asked me to make “a giant cookie” for a new girl in his class, so we started mixing the dough. About 10 seconds into it he decided he had other fish to fry, so I ended up making the dough for a giant choco-chip cookie (about 9 inches across, yum) for his new friend, and as many smaller cookies as I could before the teens ate them and the dough from under my spoon. Then I mixed the Friendship Bread batter, popped that in the oven to have something homemade ready for Thursday’s Teacher Appreciation Day. And since it made two loaves of delicious apple-cinnamon bread, we started eating one for breakfast and it is so good. Can’t wait to make it again. The other loaf goes to school tomorrow with the Boy. The cookie went with him today but the new girl didn’t show. Teacher is holding onto the cookie for another day, til she arrives.

We knocked off early at the Sun today, since it was such a rush to press today. Our deadline is an hour earlier because the press is cutting its workforce — hard times everywhere, friends, and how it trickles down is that a shift of workers have lost their jobs and we have to work smarter, if not harder, on Wednesdays, to get the paper to press in time to get it printed before the end of the shift. No late deadlines, like we were able to do a few weeks ago when Gubernator came around. Ah well. Earlier is all right. It works out best to finish and be done with last week so we can go onto next week.

But it was a bit taxing today, and we all took off to enjoy a little sunshine before the cold wind kicked in again. (No real complaints about the weather, though — at least we have our lives and worldly goods, unlike those in the former Burma. At least we don’t have cyclones here, knock on wood.) I spent my afternoon catching up on watering the veggies and potted plants, doing a little collecting and planning for future events, and started considering how to make room for an art studio for the various projects we (I) have going on. I have Mr. Husband to thank for his brilliant consideration of the topic. He said he thought we could rearrange the (usually vacant) dining room and then we could work together in the same room. I think we can make it work. What a sweetheart! [~sending hugs his way~]

Tomorrow is a full day, with lots to do Friday, too, and catch-up on Saturday, big time. Sunday I am to be treated like a queen, and looking forward to it. Peel me a grape…;-)

Happy Wed-nes-day.

Double Duty

We said I would be posting photos from Tuesday’s media blitz for Measure H, and here they are. Just a few made it to print (see tomorrow’s Alameda Sun), but here are some other views from the day. All photos taken by me.

Many pix, but to clarify what is whom: 1. Ron Mooney confers with Becca Rosati before the rally begins. 2. Chipman Cougar Cadet Corps march into battle. 3. Elementary school students trash-talk budget cuts. 4. John Larrabe, ACI driver, has worked Alameda streets for two years. He says “Anytime you can help the children, it’s a good thing.” 5. Natalie Currid, 5, a kindergartner at Edison School and her handmade sign. The drawing is of her teacher. Natalie’s parents are very involved in the Measure H campaign (and Freecycle, too). 6. Lincoln Lions cheerleaders put in a good word for reviving middle school sports. 7. Both high school athletic directors received a $50,000 donation from Thomas Martz of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF), which included $20K from former Jet Dontrelle The D Train Willis (Did you know that he still holds Alameda Little League’s home run record, hitting 15 at the age of 12?). You can also see Frank Matarrese, Wilma Chan, BevJo, Kevin Lee and Patricia Sanders in the photo. Plus a giant novelty check. 8. Cougar Cadet Corps set the beat, while 9. the AHS steps filled with student-athletes. 10. Parents, teachers and kids lined the streets along the 4th of July parade route (Park, Otis and Webster) standing in trash cans and waving signs. Passing motorists showed their enthusiasm with honking horns. 11. One parent had an interesting opinion to offer the Terminator. 12. In the quiet aftermath, standout Encinal student leader Ian Merrifield took a phone call, dwarfed by the looming institution over him. I thought it made for an interesting contrast of student-vs.-beaurocracy. Or maybe that’s just me…Like the pix? I’ll keep doing this if y’all want more.