Friday, December 27, 2013

Incarnadine by Mary Szybist: A Poetry Book Recommendation

So already, I write today to recommend Mary Szybist's National Book Award-winning collection of poetry, Incarnadine.  I first learned of this book through John Freeman's Boston Globe review of it and immediately added it to my holiday wish list.  The back of the book, in my opinion, gets it just right:

"Mary Szybist’s richly imagined encounters offer intimate spaces and stagings for experiences that are exploratory and sometimes explosive. Through the lens of an iconic moment, the Annunciation of an unsettling angel to a bodily young woman, Szybist describes the confusion and even terror of moments in which our longing for the spiritual may also be a longing for what is most fundamentally alien to us. In a world where we are so often asked to choose sides, to believe or not believe, to embrace or reject, Incarnadine offers lyrical and brilliantly inventive alternatives."

Viewed in terms of its dominant biblical motif, this book of poems invites us to imagine from so many viewpoints not only the encounter between Mary and Gabriel, but also the experience of Mary as she both anticipates and actually experiences the moment when "the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee."   But "invites" might not be nearly a strong enough word for what this book does:  through its varied forms; its allusions to and meditations on events, individuals, and groups past and present; and its use of imagery and perspective to create paradoxical voices and states of being, it just plain yanks us into the center of those extraordinary moments -- and other moments that disturb us and don't let go.

Check out these lines from "Knocking or Nothing":

     Knock me or nothing, the things of this world
     ring in me, shrill-gorged and shrewish,

     clicking their charms and their chains and their spouts.
     Let them.  Let the fans whirr.

     All the similar virgins must have emptied
     their flimsy pockets, and I
     was empty enough, 
     sugared and stretched on the unmown lawn,

     dumb as the frost-pink tongues
     of the unpruned roses.

     When you put your arms around me in that moment,    
     when you pulled me to you and leaned

     back, when you lifted me
     just a few inches, when you shook me

     hard then, had you ever heard
     such emptiness? (Szybist 62)**

Szybist's Mary is hardly meek and mild, hardly blandly submissive.  She's got edge, intelligence, and curiosity. I don't think I ever took the time to imagine the different tones of voice the biblical Mary might have used when she responded to Gabriel's announcement, "troubled at his saying," with her very sensible question, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Though she's relatively quick in the moments following to identify herself  as "the handmaid of the Lord," she's already thinking "how me" if not "why me." In Szybist's poem, she gets to to the "why me" -- and sounds hardly elated as she ponders the question.

As a former "Bible as Literature" teacher, I've always been fascinated by Mary -- and all of the biblical "go-to girls," the ones who move religious history forward and who, in my opinion, are chosen for their roles quite deliberately.  I've always loved that it's in the context of the woman-to-woman encounter of Mary and Elizabeth that Mary pours out her feelings and faith in the Magnificat, a prayer that is so significant to Christians and so Jewish in form, imagery, and spirit.  In 1994, when I visited the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem, I was so pleased to see six very important earlier biblical women -- Eve, Miriam, Jael, Judith, Ruth and Esther -- hovering above the life-sized statue of the "sleeping-in-death" Mary, courtesy of the mosaic-tiled domed ceiling above her.*** 

But don't be misled by how excited I can get about the connections between biblical texts and IncarnadineSzybist's focus on "annunciation" does not matter most as an amplification or interpretation of the biblical narrative. If Szybist's poetry, in the fashion of midrash, fills in scriptural blanks, it does so in order to move us, her readers, beyond the doctrinal, decreed, and narratively recognized and accepted to a more immediate, personal experience of the problems and possibilities of spirit and meaning in our own lives. The power of Incarnadine resides in the respectful yet inventive way Szybist makes use of an imagination-and-faith-stretching biblical moment as a stimulus for exploring, understanding, and perhaps even accepting her own spiritual emptiness and fullness, and, by extension, for motivating us to strive to encounter our own. 

But as I think of it, perhaps she wields that biblical story more as a catapult than a stimulus. We've entered a falling rock zone in Incarnadine: despite her craft and control, the steadiness of her beautiful language, the rocks hurling themselves onto our path are real, so we must pay attention to them. In "Entrances and Exits," the poet is examining a book of paintings in her office when the news of the day -- the rescue of an older woman who had been missing in the wilderness for two weeks and the death of Pavarotti -- collides with the unexpected visit of a friend's six-year-old daughter on the prowl for snacks.  These random events intertwine to inform the poet's response to Duccio's Annunciation.****  There is other news of the day at the heart of "So-and-So Descending from the Bridge"; you can listen to Szybist read it by watching the bottom video embedded in the National Book Award web site. Prepare to be haunted.

And so I leave you with a paragraph-stanza from one of the book's few prose poems, entitled "Gabriela at the Donkey Sanctuary":

     It's not enough to say the heart wants what it wants.  I think of the ravine, the 
     side dark with pines were we lounged through summer days, waiting for 
     something to happen; and of the nights, walking the long way home, the 
     stars so close they seemed to crown us.  Once, I asked for your favorite 
     feeling. You said hunger. It felt true then. It was as if we took the bit and bridle 
     from our mouths.  From that moment I told myself it was the not yet that I 
     wanted, the moving, the toward -- (Szybist 22)

If you read this book, listen to Mary Szybist read her poems, or read any of her poems in other places that they're published, I would love to hear your thoughts. 

*Szybist includes the text of Luke in her notes so we know that the King James version of Luke plays a major role in her thinking and writing.  I am writing about Mary's experience in the present rather than the past tense because I'm dealing with it more as an experience in religious literature than in religious history; no offense intended to those who view it as history.
** Szybist, Mary. Incarnadine. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2013. Print. 
*** Interesting that none of the matriarchs -- Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel -- make it onto the dome ceiling; interesting that most of the six portrayed are for all intents and purposes woman warriors who actively defend Israel against enemies that would destroy it.  The photo web address is <>.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Saving Mr. Banks": Thinking About The Stories Behind The Stories

So already, last Saturday at midday -- pretty much on a whim because I had known almost nothing about the movie until the day before -- I went to see Savings Mr. Banks at the Kendall Square Cinema. 

I went in part because it was the first day of school vacation, and seeing an early movie seemed like the perfect way to dismiss "ordinary time" and assert "holiday break time."  I also went because Emma Thompson portrays P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, and is receiving accolades for her performance. Having had Emma Thompson on the brain for many months, courtesy of Howard's End, it felt right to go see her being her masterful present-day actress self -- and to remember that she really isn't Margaret Schegel.

But what most compelled me were my wonderful childhood Mary Poppins-related memories.  First, there was the experience of actually going to the movie theater to see the movie.  On Christmas Eve in 1964, in typically "Jewish Christmas" fashion, "the cousins" (with parents) piled into one of the station wagons that were a fixture of our childhoods, and went to see Mary Poppins at the Gary Theater (pictured here* when another Julie Andrews blockbuster was playing)We came out of the theater as a jubilant mass of singing-and-dancing energy; the muffled silence that might have been created by the snow that had begun falling lightly didn't have a chance against our euphoric outpouring.

Second, there was life after the movie --  because seeing the movie was just the beginning of our love affair with Mary Poppins, courtesy of the joy that the movie had let us experience and the music that helped us hold on to it. As quickly as we could, we got -- and inhaled -- the Mary Poppins soundtrack. We must have played that album as many as ten times on many days, but my mother never complained:  I think she wanted to sing the songs, too.  

In all of this, I never thought once about reading any of the Travers books -- I'm not sure I even knew the books existed -- and no one ever suggested that I read them.  I also never thought about how the movie was made:  that some bunch of adults had created it with intentionality and care. But I would have gladly gone to see that movie every day. Maybe a lot of childhood** is about not worrying, and not needing to worry about the back-story.

After seeing Saving Mr. Banks last Saturday, I met up with a trio of friends and shared with them some of the above.  As we were talking about Mary Poppins, one of them who had read and loved all the Mary Poppins books long before the movie was made reported that when she first saw Mary Poppins, she had thought it was all wrong.  Among the movie's violations of the novels, she said, was the casting of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins:  Julie Andrews was pretty; Mary Poppins was not. My inner nine-year-old, feeling very much alive in my fifty-eight-year-old movie-going self, had never considered that someone might not have loved Mary Poppins. I was reminded of something one of my current students had said a few days earlier in class when we were talking about the difference between a film version of some novel and the novel itself: "It's like that apples-and-oranges thing. Film versions and the novels themselves just aren't the same thing.  When they're both good, they're still two really different good things with some connections between them." 

But we might be better off talking about apples and pears, not apples and oranges, if we're going to talk about Saving Mr. Banks. Because one of the first overt and mysterious things that Travers does in the movie is strip a lavish fresh fruit arrangement of its pears and dispose of them dramatically.  Though she acts on some kind of principle, we sense her desperation, take note, and develop a preliminary theory that negotiations around the evolving script and rights to Mary Poppins will be difficult if not maddening.  What soon becomes evident is that while Saving Mister Banks, as advertised, portrays the back-story of Mary Poppins the movie, that back-story cannot be separated from another powerful back-story with which all of the characters must ultimately contend -- the one behind Travers' Mary Poppins books.

But unlike the movie's characters -- Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creative team he has assembled to create a Mary Poppins script and score that will satisfy both Disney, Inc. and Travers -- we in the audience are privy to Travers' childhood memories.  We understand that Travers' journey to the crass, uncivilized outpost of Hollywood (and the abomination of Disneyland) and her ornery "engagement" in the collaborative combative/creative process that just might lead to a movie version of one of her beloved books are resurrecting her personal back-story. Travers has come to Hollywood with a problem:  she needs money -- but insists on having complete control over how the story of Mary Poppins will be told and understood; it can't be ruined. Herein lies the irony of it all:  as much as Travers haughtily asserts that she does and will control the Mary Poppins story, her enigmatic behavior suggests that her personal story is much in control of her. 

Probably because I had just finished teaching Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony in my AP Literature and Composition class, the stories of Travers' difficulties and Tayo's struggles connected in my mind. Mary Poppins didn't heal the world or completely liberate Travers from the emotions associated with her childhood, but I'm unwilling to say that it didn't do some kind of good.  Similarly, Tayo's efforts to complete the ceremony, the challenging process of bringing to a constructive conclusion a story begun long ago, minimally created a new phase of life for himself and his community based on his deeper understanding of his world and his place in it.

Silko talks about stories in the set of poems that opens the novel:

I will tell you something about stories.
[he said]
They aren't just for entertainment.
Don't be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.

You don't have anything 
if you don't have the stories.

I can't blame Ceremony's view of stories for the large number of tissues that I sniffled my way through at the Kendall Square Theater; I can explain them by saying that I was feeling for Travers who was mid-ceremony, strangely untethered and uncomfortably adrift in the tense space between two connected stories but needing to persevere in that space in order to get to the point that she could decide whether to permit Disney to make the Mary Poppins movie. Conflicting desires and contrary narratives create terrible loneliness when our lives are structured around them.  Sometimes we're carrying a destructive story that comforts us because it's familiar.  In theses instances, if we re-imagine it or hand it over to another, we risk a feeling of disorientation that is more frightening to us than the pain to which we've become habituated.  I sometimes think that when we first re-interpret a story we've long told ourselves, when we first imagine another way of making sense of it, especially a way that defines us more as victims than we were in our original interpretation -- or less as victims than we were in the original -- our feelings are so mixed! New villains, new heroes; no villains, no heroes:  all of these, even when our own liberation is for the first time in sight, make the child within us cry with loss -- or is it mourning rather than loss, since maybe that loss happened a long time ago?

Travers' situation led me to revisit some of the questions I raised in a blog post from last summer about why we do and don't share our important stories:
  • Do our stories feel especially private to us because they're so personally important? 
  • Do we fear that we can't do them justice in the telling? 
  • Dwe hold them back because they're precious to us -- but also still a little too mysterious to us to be shared just yet
  • Do we fear that others won't treat them as the precious things they are -- and might even jump in and assign them particular meanings that are more about who they are than who we are? 
Having just seen Saving Mr. Banks, I am now wondering if we sometimes don't share our stories for fear that in revisiting them ourselves, we'll need to understand them in a new way and perhaps even tell them differently, and we're not fully ready for those stories to change -- because that will mean we'll have to give up cherished notions of the roles we played in them -- and the persons we were then and are now.

Of course, Mary Poppins is fiction, not memoir, but from Travers' point of view, at least in some important ways, it's just as Chief Bromden says in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest “But it's the truth even if it didn't happen.” Thinking of Travers' decision to create a work of fiction with autobiographical influences rather than a memoir reminds me of a student I taught many years ago in "Reading and Writing on Human Values":  when it came time to write and share the spiritual autobiographies towards which all the semester's coursework led, she explained to me that she could only complete the assignment if she could write about a very significant life experience from a third-person limited omniscient point of view. Unlike Travers, she couldn't choose to make some of what was wrong right by employing some fictional techniques, but she could begin to grapple with the underlying realities of her own story in a way that afforded her some protection.

My relationship to Mary Poppins the movie has been completely, joyfully unexamined -- and I say that without any kind of regret. That said, I loved watching Saving Mr. Banks -- and  thinking for the last few days about stories, back-stories, and the efforts we make through stories to get and make things right and to know better ourselves.

** I suspect freedom from childhood worry is an early form of privilege.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unfolding and Becoming at The Newman Junior High School

So already, as my teacher days wind down, I find myself thinking a lot about my student days.  While I've always understood the critical role high school played in my development as a person and educator, only recently have I understood that my junior high school experiences may have been even more pivotal. I owe this realization to a number of long conversations with my very good junior-high-school-then-high-school friend Betsy Hoffman (now Betsy Sugameli). Sometimes Betsy's and my memories and interpretations align perfectly; other times, her recollections and perspectives fill in gaps and challenge my ideas about what we all were thinking and feeling back then.

In the late 1960's, Needham had two junior high schools, the Newman and the Pollard.  Since then, the Pollard Junior High School has become Needham's only middle school, the Pollard Middle School, while the Newman Junior High School has become an elementary school called simply the Newman School. I attended the Newman Junior High School for grades seven through nine, from September 1967 to June 1970.

The Newman School, pictured here, looks much like our junior high school did, except our school lacked the decorative murals you can discern on the right-hand side of this photograph.  What you can also see here is the front courtyard part of the school where we hung out after our school buses deposited us in front of the school each morning.  It was here where we processed the news that Martin Luther King had been killed, where two months later we processed the news that Bobby Kennedy had been killed -- and wondered who would die next, and where two years later we tried to understand why the National Guard had shot to kill at Kent State. This we did against the backdrop of the steady stream of images from the Vietnam War -- gruesome deaths and hollow-eyed, exhausted soldiers -- provided to us by the evening news and Life magazine. 

Still, most of the time, despite these moments of consciousness and confusion, we were just busy being early-adolescent kids with activities to participate in, homework to do, and subjects and teachers to study. 

So first for the subjects and then for the teachers. There were definitely some important learning firsts for me at the Newman that shaped me as a learner and teacher both.

The "new curriculum" that threatened to ruin my eighth-grade sanity was IPS, or Introductory Physical Science. I remember the turquoise book with its grid-lined cover -- the seventh edition, which I found online, still features  that graph-paper motif that warns students to expect that graphed experimental data will be central to their daily learning endeavors. And that was the problem:  an excellent memorizer, I had powered my way through school up to that point by my ability to swallow and regurgitate minutiae.  And now I was confronted by inquiry:  each chapter consisted of roughly six pages of reading followed by many more pages of problems; who had ever heard of a textbook with more problems than pages of facts that I could memorize?  Disoriented and displeased by this shift in the learning world order, I fretted over every lab.  But Mr. Soucy was always patient, always quietly excited about the science itself, and always there after school when I or anybody else wanted to stay late for extra help -- which was often.  I admit that to this day, I still become anxious when I walk by a science lab and recognize the familiar smell of the "Distillation of Wood" experiment, but I learned from that experience that I could learn in a new way.

Gym class was another place where I gained some learning confidence -- probably because my natural non-athleticism was a complete non-issue.* In seventh grade, our teachers wanted us to have positive, safe experiences of the gymnastics equipment that we were encountering for the first time and that called for new skills and new strengths.  I wasn't good at gymnastics, but I loved it -- how it felt to do it and what it looked like when it was done right.  Most importantly, I didn't fear it.  In fact, I was willing to try to do almost anything we were learning because I was always flanked by at least two "spotters" whom I trusted to guide me or break my fall if necessary. Junior high gym class taught me the importance of spotters no matter what one is trying to learn.  Consequently, as a teacher, I've always tried to create classrooms in which students grapple with new and intimidating learning experiences in the supportive company of spotters, peers stationed very nearby to help them take learning risks without fear of serious academic injury.

While I can't recall if the choral group I was in was part of the Newman's music curricular program or an extra-curricular activity, I can remember being electrified by Vincent Persichetti's choral setting of e.e. cummings' "Sam Was a Man."** It was my first experience of both hearing and singing anything that seemed to defy in the most haunting, arresting way every expectation my fourteen-year-old self had of what and how people could sing together beautifully and movingly.  I was so taken by the way the different parts combined, divided, and moved that I learned to play them on the piano at home*** just so I could figure out how the piece worked rhythmically and harmonically as parts and a whole.  So began my romance with twentieth-century (and now twenty-first-century) choral music. 

Meanwhile, math served up new computer-science-related learning experiences. As junior high school students, we were supposed to master flowcharting in preparation for learning FOCAL and BASIC, two computer languages, once we got to Needham High. So one of my math classmates and I became pretty proficient at creating flowcharts that potentially solved problems -- though not as proficient as we had hoped.  As the co-founders of the Female League of Nostril-Flairers (FLONF), we created a flowchart (not the one you're seeing here) to help the flair-challenged learn how to flair their nostrils so, as members of the organization, they could participate successfully in flairathons.  Unfortunately, those who couldn't flair got caught in an inescapable loop that relegated them, like Tantalos or Sisyphos, to an eternity of futile effort.

Our math teacher, and our other teachers, were aware of FLONF -- just as they were aware, we came to find out, that another one of my classmates had created a religion around herself, and even a temple to herself called "The Marthenon." When my classmates and I had our teachers sign our ninth-grade yearbooks -- I wish I could find Zodiaction! -- I realized how much they had been paying attention. Though I don't remember it verbatim, I still remember the gist of the comment written by Mrs. Helen Rees, my Western Civilization teacher:  You've started an organization; now go start a school.  It was the first time any adult had invited me to envision myself as an adult capable of doing something creative and important.

It seems important also to talk about the one harmful teacher we had amidst the numerous caring and competent ones, lest you think the Newman Junior High School was an educational utopia. Steve Seidel often talks about the "apprenticeship of observation" -- the kind of learning that people do simply by watching, analyzing, and reflecting; Howard Gardner talks about "tormentors" -- the people whose contribution to our development is their capacity to model and embody everything we don't want to be, and that we commit to not being. We learned important lessons from our "bad" teacher, too.

One of my English teachers, who will remain nameless, was that "tormentor." I was one of her favorites whom she "let" do certain tasks for her. For example, after arriving late to class, coffee cup in hand, Mrs. Tormentor routinely had me administer quizzes after saying to me in front of the class, "You give the quiz, since you'd probably get a 100 on it anyway." Whenever I whispered, my aforementioned friend Betsy was accused of disrupting the class.  But there were more even more strange and dangerous things going on. During our study of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Tormentor forbade the use of the word "rape" during class discussion, and regularly pronounced "Negro" as niggero. Luckily, Mrs. Tormentor was so consistently lazy, mean, and prejudiced (African-Americans were not the only group about whom she generalized while teaching literature) that our class was united in despising her. Years later when I ran into her in a lecture hall at Harvard, she quipped, "Well it's good to see that at least one of you amounted to something," confirming what we'd all always known:  that she had had nothing but contempt for us. 

But while Mrs. Tormentor had little interest in teaching us English and no interest in us, Mrs. Ruth Winters, our math teacher, loved math and loved us.  As a matter of fact, this blog post primarily exists because she has been much on my mind over the months -- probably because I recently realized that I must be about the same age she was when she was our teacher.  I now recognize that hers was the first class that I hoped my own classes might feel and be like. 

Though she was my math teacher in both eighth and ninth grades, I first became aware of Mrs. Winters when I was a seventh grader. She was tall and formidable as she monitored the first-floor hallway in between classes. Her loosely styled hair and white frilled blouses gave her an old-fashioned look that intimidated me. It wouldn't have occurred to me back then to describe a woman as handsome, but Mrs. Winters was.  At some later point when I was reading or rereading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I realized that some the language Huck uses to describe Charlotte Grangerford**** seemed just right for Mrs. Winters: "Then there was Miss Charlotte, she was twenty-five, and tall and proud and grand, but as good as she could be when she warn't stirred up; but when she was, she had a look that would make you wilt in your tracks, like her father."

But that was the great thing about Mrs. Winters, we quickly learned as her students:  she took no pleasure in making anybody wilt.  That hallway mask that silently commanded "Don't you dare run down this hall or even think about poking anybody" was replaced in the classroom by an easy, welcoming smile and a deep, ready laugh. Her eyes sparkled whether she was reporting on her progress making her daughter's wedding gown or explaining to us how the quadratic equation was derived and what it could be used for. Always the message about math was that it was hard, interesting, worthwhile, and do-able.  And born and raised in Kentucky, Mrs. Winters had memorable regionalisms to assure us that we could master the math at hand:  some techniques were "as easy as falling off a log backwards," while others were "like going around Kelly's barn -- and I knew Mr. Kelly."

There were two other things that happened during math class that had nothing to do with the learning of math content associated with Algebra I and Algebra II.   

The first involved two boys in our class who were regularly truant from school -- and who routinely got the highest marks on math tests. When B.B. and W.D. arrived on test days, they could easily prove while they were taking the test the theorems that the rest of us had been laboring over for the last two weeks, and they could also readily apply them. Mrs. Winters refused to fail them, despite what I now recognize must have been some administrative pressure: her job was to assess whether they had learned the math, she explained, and they had. It was important to her that we understand her thinking -- her belief that different students learned in different ways and that those ways needed to be acknowledged and respected.  Did she think there should be no consequences for the boys' truancy? No. But was a failing grade in math the right consequence? No.

The second involved several days in mid-June 1970.  At one point, Mrs. Winters announced that we had learned all the math we needed to learn for the school year, so we were going to play softball for the last few days of class.  Though I'm terrible at most sports, softball was by far my worst sport:  in sixth grade during our Presidential Fitness Tests, the legacy of JFK, I had thrown the softball the shortest distance of anybody in my class. But none of this mattered in June 1970:  we were going to spend an hour together for each of the next few days at the softball field that abutted the grounds of the high school with our real focus on simply being a group that had learned enough together and enjoyed being together.  Our softball skills didn't matter; our connections to one another did.

The spring of 1970 was an intense time.  On April 22, two weeks before the Kent State shootings, we celebrated the first Earth Day at the Newman by planting trees on the barren stretch of land between the softball field where my math class played in June and the grounds of the school. I like to go over to the Newman School every April during school vacation to check on those woods that we planted -- which you see here to the left. One year, I brought my mother with me, and she asked if I knew which tree was mine.  I told her I didn't know whether my little tree had survived to be among those standing and reaching toward the sky, but I still knew that I had helped to create those woods.

This year, I went over to check on the woods the day after the Boston Marathon bombings. It comforted me to be there. Things are different at the Newman School -- a daycare center abuts the area we forested, and several daycare teachers eyed me suspiciously because I seemed to be hanging around for no reason. Meanwhile, a series of nature trails have been added to the school grounds. So on that mild Tuesday morning, every sun-warmed pool was bursting with new green life.  In particular, skunk cabbage was blatantly and beautifully unfurling its leaves wherever I looked, reminding me how at this very same spot many years ago, I had been allowed and encouraged to unfold and bloom.  As a student at the Newman Junior High School, I overcame fears, developed new skills and knowledge, learned new ways to learn, was encouraged to imagine and act, and felt cared about.  It's so interesting to me that only recently have I realized how much my own values and commitments as an educator have been a direct reflection of my student experiences at the Newman Junior High School.

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* Gymnastic URL:  <>.
** The Cummings poem from Kennedy, Richard. Ed. E.E. Cummings Selected Poems. New York: Liveright, 1994. 58-59. Print.

rain or hail                                  heart was big
sam done                                   as the world aint square
the best he kin                           with room for the devil
till they digged his hole              and his angels too

:sam was a man                        yes,sir

stout as a bridge                       what may be better
rugged as a bear                      or what may be worse
slickern a weazel                      and what may be clover
how be you                               clover clover

(sun or snow)                           (nobody’ll know)

gone into what                          sam was a man
like all them kings                     grinned his grin
you read about                         done his chores
and on him sings                      laid him down.

a whippoorwill;                         Sleep well

*** "Sam Was a Man" music URL:  <> 
**** One of the original E.W. Kemble illustrations of the Shepherdson-Grangerford section of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.