Tuesday, June 04, 2019
Sunday, June 02, 2019
|Original hand-written copy of "O Captain, My Captain."|
At the end of each semester at Trine University, I take my students out into the courtyard for our “good-bye” as in Dead Poets Society. They all know it is coming as it is on the Syllabus and I speak of it frequently; yet when it is storming or snowing or sleeting, there is much complaining…of course! Actually I love it most of all when the weather is adverse!
I stand in the middle of them reciting their send-off with poetry. (And, no, it does not matter which class I teach…they all get the poetry.) I fling my arms out as I recite Shakespeare’s King Lear, “Blow winds, blow!” Or “I felt a funeral in my brain,” by Emily Dickinson. As I continue into my foray of poems, the students are polite, interested, and I think they know this moment will not come again. No moments ever come again. The last poem is Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain.” By this time, I am usually in tears. Maybe it is letting them go, or the wind that circles around in the courtyard, or even the snow or rain that pummels down on us. Or is it the moving words of the poetry?
Yesterday was the 200th birthday anniversary of Walt Whitman. How could I possibly let this go by without sharing words and thoughts about him? Do you know Whitman? His life? His poetry? You are about to find out! Listen in…
Whitman was born in West Hills, New York on May 31, 1819. He was the second child of eight into a family owning a large piece of land which was sold off. He watched his father struggle through the years with farming, carpentry and sundry other jobs. Whitman was plucked out of school at age 11 to help his family with the income. He was an office boy for a Brooklyn attorney. Interestingly enough, without an education, he became a teacher in Long Island at age 17, but, by now, knew journalism was his calling.
He left New York in 1848 to become editor of a small newspaper in New Orleans, the Crescent, but quit in less than three months and went home. He continued with odd jobs, all-the-while keeping a small notebook with his thoughts and ideas. In 1855 he self-published his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. It was a radical political piece at the time. (Note: in 1870 copies of the book sold at auction for $2. In 2014, a surviving copy sold for $305,000.)
The Civil War took a toll on Whitman. His brother, George, was wounded, and the nation was in disarray. Whitman volunteered his time visiting wounded soldiers. Record keeping in Washington, D.C. logged more than 80,000 patients. He wrote, O Captain, My Captain to eulogize Abraham Lincoln.
Whitman was one of America’s first democratic poets celebrating life in America. We learned, or at least heard this poem, in school, “I Sing of America.” The first line says, I hear America Singing, the varied carols I hear. Whitman knew it was his job, his responsibility as a poet to write about the fate of the nation and those forgotten. I think we could use a little Whitman today.
He was so popular in New York that they began to publish the status of his health on the front pages of The New York Times. They wrote what he ate, how he felt, what his physicians said about him. He died on March 26, 1892 leaving behind his expanded version of Leaves of Grass and so many other poems we all love. He is considered to be a groundbreaking poet of American Society on culture and politics.
I am ecstatic on this day of his anniversary. The sun is shining. My garden is growing. But what can I do, or should do, to celebrate and remember this poet in my own life?
After a long talk with a guy named Shaun in New York, and one click of the Etsy button, I am now the proud owner of a 1963 Emerald Green Smith Corona Sterling portable typewriter with an extra ribbon. This is a combination birthday present to myself and a celebration of poetry, and I will love it!
And you, my friend, will see me sitting on the square typing out poems for you. Stop by, let me write you a poem or let’s chat about anything.
Let’s keep America singing. It is our job. I will do my part…how about you?
Friday, May 10, 2019
Friday, March 29, 2019
You might think I am going to go on and on about my spring break. Well, I am. You might think I am going to go on and on about ukulele camp. Well, I am. But first let’s start with this: Plato once said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
I guess this quote sums it up rather nicely.
By 7 a.m. I am packed and ready to go. My clothes, phone and ukulele are neatly waiting by the front door for Carolyn to pick me up. She arrives and we fill her van with my necessities and I hop into the front. We stop for coffee and begin the drive to Midland, Michigan, for as I call it, ukulele camp.
This is our second camp, if you remember. Two years ago we attended camp in Indiana, but this one is different … more players, flash mob, mall concert, nonstop ukulele playing. There is a Western theme for this camp as is noticed by Carolyn’s bright pink cowgirl hat in the backseat. I forgot my hat, but tie a purple bandanna around my neck as we drive. I know I am excited and happy about this camp, but really, I have no idea.
We arrive by noon to check in, get our name tags and share in the meet and greet. In the background I hear the strains of ukulele chords as if the Philharmonic were warming up. We meander back into the large room and find folks decked out in their “git along little doggies” clothing. There are still two seats available in the second row next to a handsome cowboy named Larry. We introduce ourselves to Larry and find out he is a guitar player from Richmond. We sit down, put our music on the stands and tune our ukuleles. My heart is beating wildly as I realize I am part of this marvelous event. I look around at the 60-70 folks each wearing cowboy hats and bandannas. And then it begins.
Johnny Hunt, the leader of the pack and board member of the Folk Music Society of Midland, takes center stage and welcomes us. He goes over the agenda and we begin.
Ukulele in place, songs on the overhead, we commence singing and playing. I am smiling from ear to ear. I look at Carolyn and she is doing the same. Soon we rehearse for the flash mob at the mall. We will be playing and singing six songs without music in front of us. My eyes reflect the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. No way can I do this, but we pack up and meet everyone at the mall. Two by two we arrive in the center playing “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.”
I don’t know how, but I do it, and folks gather round to take photos and sing along. This is my very first flash mob, and I think how proud my grandchildren will be of me!
Mid-afternoon we are back singing and strumming ’til nightfall. My fingers are raw from playing, but do I care? It isn’t until 9 p.m. that we head over to our hotel. But no sleeping for us … oh no. The lobby is full of ukulele players. We throw our stuff onto the bed, grab our ukes and join in the fun ’til the wee hours. I think to myself that I am now a real musician!
The next day is exactly the same, except now we have lots of friends. On this day there is a mall concert, but we get to take our stands and our music. After a rehearsal we head on out to the mall and take our places. It is Saturday so the mall is full of shoppers with 60 ukulele players in the middle. We play and sing our hearts out under the direction of guest artist, Petey McCarty, but he doesn’t know “Cool Waters.” Our new friend, Larry, goes up to sing and direct. We cheer and holler for him.
The rest of the day is full of strumming and singing and again at the hotel into the night.
I don’t want it to be over. Really, I don’t. I lament leaving my new friends and this rich experience.
I think of Plato as we drive. “Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life.”
*First published in KPC Media News.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
|Every year I take Jessie's photo on the beach!!|
My sister, Jessie, calls to tell me our tickets are purchased and we will soon be on our way to visit our mom, Dick, and our Uncle Dean. We chat about our sister’s event knowing it is our once-a-year travel event. Not only do we get to visit our mom, but we have time to talk non-stop for four days. Before we hang up, she reminds me of a photo we have tucked away in a scrapbook somewhere. In the photo we were five and three and wearing matching sundresses. We were at the Toledo Zoo with our parents facing the monkey cages. Our dresses were tied with bows in the back and we were holding hands as if nothing in the world could bother us as long as we stuck together.
There are six siblings, but Jessie and I came first. The others came in two pairs of two also so everyone has at least one buddy close to their age. Families are not perfect and go through so many layers in life. I am just glad it is Jessie I have by my side.
Spring break arrives. My small suitcase is packed and tossed into my Jeep as I head out of town early before the sun appears. Ice and snow still decorate the landscape and my car thermometer shows me winter just won’t give up. I take the extra moment to drive around Miss Columbia. Stoic and proud she will wait for my return.
The chatter starts at the airport. We love our flight attendants and with a little extra chatting, we are awarded with extra cookies on our tray. We save them for our midnight snack at mom’s. We are on vacation so we don’t really care if there are cookie crumbs in the bed!!
Two flights and we are West Palm Beach. I am never, ever prepared for the change in weather. I know it will be warmer than northern Indiana. I know it will probably be hot. But I still bring along my wool socks and long sleeves. (Okay, I really don’t want to get a suntan, but seriously?)
Mom and Dick meet us with hearty greetings. They are happy to have us bounce into their lives, even if it is only once a year. (If you remember, they live in England!) We travel the palm tree-lined streets interspersed with azaleas, hibiscus, and everything else green and blooming. The scent is a bit intoxicating as I am still in the scent of winter and snow boots and wool mittens that really need a good scrub after this season.
Layer by layer, I finally peel off the winter garb and let the warm sun fill the winter voids. It is a nice lazy visit. We join in the condo experience of sitting out at the pool every day at 4:00. The folks at their condo give us a party. I guess we are the distinguished guests…at least for a day or so. As we sip on marguerites, it is as if snow and ice and long winters are a memory watching the sun dip behind extraordinary clouds.
Everyone packs up at dark on these late afternoon pool visits, but Jessie and I stay out to watch the stars and planets appear. Finally, we mosie back watching for alligators in the dark!
A beach walk, a visit with my favorite Uncle, shrimp at my favorite restaurant, and the visit comes to a close. There is never enough time to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done, and to hold close that which needs to be held close. For us, four days is all we have.
|Spending time with my Uncle Dean is always one of my favorite times!|
Another quick drive to the airport, and we are gone. Late aircrafts and delays hold us up for a few extra hours, but the truth is, I don’t mind at all. It gives me more time with Jessie so we can tell more stories. We drink coffee in West Palm Beach, we eat burgers in Atlanta. We sweet talk the flight attendants so we can go home with more cookies in our bags. And we talk nonstop. We finally reach home by midnight.
She takes me to my car, and it is freezing cold. How did I forget in four days? We hold hands and say goodbye.
I holler at her over the wind. “Til our next adventure!”
I drive home in the dark of midnight. One time around Miss Columbia, and I am home.