Friday, November 17, 2006

Toeing the Line

Okay, this is the start. I've been keeping a commonplace book—old-fashioned, pen-and-paper, analog style—for years, and recently Chris Watson, a colleague of mine, asked if I had ever considered keeping the commonplace book online in the form of a blog. He started an online commonplace book of his own last week, which I find I like a lot, so I'm going to try to get one going here myself.

Brief intro: I'm a high-school English teacher at Punahou School in Hawaii. Pauahi Hall, the building where I am typing this right now, is the large building to the left in the picture just above. The picture is actually a photograph of a part of a series of mosaic panels on the junior school side of the campus.

This is my 37th year of teaching, and my ninth at Punahou. I have particular interests in the teaching of reading, writing, and thinking. There is a web site I have created for my sophomore English class, and another which contains a lot of resources for Critical Thinking which I have developed at Punahou.

Perhaps the first poet I discovered on my own was William Stafford. I was a senior in high school in Fairfield, Connecticut, and working part-time in Parker's bookstore in the middle of town. It was a small store that sold mostly greeting cards and not many of those. Afternoons, I often had time to kill when nobody was in the store. One day I came across Stafford's book Allegiances and was at once taken with the way in which his quiet, non-assertive, meditative poems seemed to gather resonance as they moved forward. I've returned to his writing all my life. A year ago I found this poem and pasted on the inside cover of my the commonplace book I was just beginning at that time. It seemed like an auspicious start. It still does:

What's in My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

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