Monday, September 29, 2008

National Writing Project Research Finding

NWP 2008 Research Brief: Writing Project Professional Development for Teachers Yields Gains in Student Writing Achievement

Date: August 27, 2008

Summary: This Research Brief summarizes nine studies that examined the effects of NWP professional development programs on teacher practices and student writing achievement in schools and districts served by writing project sites. The results demonstrate positive effects on the writing achievement of students of writing project teachers across a range of grade levels, schools, and contexts.


In nine independent studies, in every measured attribute of writing, the improvement of students whose teachers participated in NWP professional development exceeded that of students whose teachers were not participants.
The studies took place in rural, urban, and suburban areas across the country and included students with diverse economic, language, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
Student results are strong and favorable in those aspects of writing for which the NWP is best known, such as development of ideas and organization.
Students in writing project classrooms made greater gains than their peers on writing conventions as well, suggesting that NWP professional development also helps teachers improve their students' basic skills.
The full four-page report is in a downloadable pdf file. Click here to go there now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jane Hirshfield

Recommended reading

The Writer's Chronicle
Poetry Beyond the Classroom
Jane Hirshfield
March/April 2003
In the late Winter/early Spring of 2003, The Writer's Chronicle published a wonderful essay by Jane Hirshfield. Please find it at the AWP site and enjoy a few minutes today with it.
Click to go to the citation of the poet. For a brief critical introduction to Ms. Hirshfield's poetry, including comments from the poet herself, go to the entry at The Poetry Foundation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Remembering Reginald Shepherd

The following was posted by Edward Byrne at his Blogger blog on Friday, September 12, 2008. With his permission, I post it here now:

Yesterday, as news about the death of Reginald Shepherd spread from one literary blog to another, I spent some time revisiting his prose and poetry. When I began writing posts for “One Poet’s Notes,” I had hoped to maintain a certain degree of serious study of poetry and poetics, even while striving to write pieces readers might find engaging and entertaining. Reginald Shepherd was one of the authors of critical commentary and personal essays on a regular poetry blog whose contributions to literary discourse I admired greatly and hoped to complement with my own offerings. Indeed, an article I posted to “One Poet’s Notes” in June of 2007 about the apparent demise of Parnassus specifically cited Shepherd’s work and his presence on the Internet as one of the online critics whose blog usually contained interesting perspectives or intelligent perceptions, helping to fill “the gap created by the absence of Parnassus” and the loss of book review sections in newspapers across the country. Reginald Shepherd’s blog was among those I have bookmarked and to which I have subscribed for immediate updates. Each time I received notice at my Google Reader page of a new entry on his blog, I looked forward to reading his words. Since Shepherd also discussed every aspect of his life with honesty and openness, all of his readers were aware of this poet’s serious health problems, as well as the ongoing pain or difficult medical procedures he endured. In fact, he was so frank in confiding with his readers that I am tempted to refer to Shepherd by his first name as any friend might do. However, I never had an opportunity for the good fortune of personally meeting with him. A little more than two weeks ago, Reginald Shepherd wrote again of his continuing health battle, beginning his August 26 blog post as follows:
I am in the hospital for the fourth time in the past five months, this time for excruciating abdominal pain that turned out to be due to a partial bowel obstruction which has still not cleared up. I have had a tube down my throat and have been unable to eat for over a week. I spend most of my days trying to sleep through the pain and nausea.

In the course of the various tests to try to determine the cause of the obstruction, my surgeon found several large masses on my liver which, after a blood test and a liver biopsy, have turned out to be a fast-growing resurgence of my colon cancer. Thus I am in the hospital cancer ward for the foreseeable future, starting chemotherapy again (it had been on hold during my assorted medical crises of the past few months), before I have had time to fully recover from my recent illnesses and surgeries.
Nevertheless, Reginald Shepherd continued in the post to present a marvelous excerpt from an essay on the poetry of Alvin Feinman that had been published in his recent book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx, released just this year by the University of Michigan Press. Shepherd characterized his commentary in the blog post as his “final tribute to my recently deceased mentor Alvin Feinman.” Sadly, that was the last post on Shepherd’s blog, and I now include reference of it to recommend it as part of my final tribute to him. Reginald Shepherd was first and foremost a poet. Besides the blog entries or numerous essays he produced, Shepherd and his work might be better appreciated through reading his five books of poetry: Fata Morgana (2007); Otherhood (2003); Wrong (1999); Angel, Interrupted (1996); and Some Are Drowning (1994). As a sample of his poetry and an invitation to further seek his writings, in which his voice continues and evidence of his remarkable life remains, I provide the following example from Fata Morgana:

If this world were mine, the stereo
starts, but can’t begin
to finish the phrase. I might survive
it, someone could add, but that
someone’s not here. She’s crowned
with laurel leaves, the place
where laurel leaves would be
if there were leaves, she’s not
medieval Florence, not
Blanche of Castile. Late March
keeps marching in old weather,
another slick of snow to trip
and fall into, another bank
of inconvenient fact. The sky
is made of paper and white reigns,
shredded paper pools into her afterlife,
insurance claims and hospital reports,
bills stamped “Deceased,” sign here
and here, a blank space where she
would have been. My sister
said We’ll have to find another

And this is how
loss looks, my life in black plastic
garbage bags, a blue polyester suit
a size too small. Mud music
as they packed her in
damp ground, it’s always raining
somewhere, in New Jersey,
while everyone was thinking about
fried chicken and potato salad,
caramel cake and lemonade.
Isn’t that a pretty dress
they put her in? She looks so
(Tammi Terrell
collapsed in Marvin Gaye’s arms
onstage. For two hundred points,
what was the song?) Trampled
beneath the procession, her music.

Pieces of sleep like pieces of shale
crumble through my four a.m.
(a flutter of gray that could be
rain), unable to read this thing
that calls itself the present.
She’s lost among the spaces
inside letters, moth light, moth wind,
a crumpled poem in place of love.

—Reginald Shepherd

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Denise Duhamel

Poet Denise Duhamel answers a question from a reader once a month at the Facebook group 'Fans of Denise Duhamel OR A Group of Duhalamites'.

This entry comes from a series that was begun by Dustin Brookshire. Visit Dustin's blog to read more from that series.

Christan Cannella asks, "What is the role of pop culture in your poems?"

Denise answers:

This is a great question, Christan. When I started writing poetry, I never used much pop culture in my work. I thought I "couldn't." But then came a pivotal moment: I was taking an undergraduate workshop with Thomas Lux who was looking at a poem of mine with bar of soap in it. The poem was about a craft I did as a child in which I pushed colored push pins into bars of soap to make faces-- eyes, noses, and mouths, with ribbon curled and pinned in as hair. No one really got my poem because bars of soap are usually square (and non head-like) and I found myself defending my poem saying the soap I used was oval, Dove soap. Then Lux asked why didn't I indicated that in the poem, which would have even given the poem more metaphorical layers. Up until then I really hadn't thought of utilizing name brands in poetry. Suddenly the world came alive with all the ways in which product brands could become great adjectives or simple nouns: Tide, Nikes, Cocoa Cris pies, Lexus, Revlon, Eggos...Later I would use such words in my poems to indicated time frames, settings (Americana) and so on. But it wasn't until I started writing about Barbie, the doll, for a book called KINKY, that I truly started exploring the cultural significance of pop.

Using Barbie dolls as muses, I was able to write political satire. I felt that when I tried to write about issues of gender and race head on, seriously, I would often become didactic. Barbie helped me avoid that impulse. I was pulled into Barbie's world when I wrote a poem about20Miss America in which Barbie surprisingly made a cameo appearance. Miss Americas are--like store mannequins and the Columbia pictures' logo--anywhere from 20-30 pounds thinner now than they were in the late fifties. A while later, I wrote about poem about watching my nieces play with Barbie. I was both fascinated and threatened by the image of Barbie, one of the endless examples of unrealistic body images for woman. But slowly, like a child playing with the doll, I began to write in Barbie's personna--sympathetically, trying to get at the rage and fears beyond her bland plastic countenance. She was, for me, a perfect vehicle for feminist issues. She smiles even when she's being poked, set on fire, or having her limbs pulled off. She literally can't stand on her own two feet without toppling over. Yet Barbie seems to have her own income and a number of prestigious postgraduate degrees as she's been a pilot, a doctor, and an astronaut. She is both the ultimate victim as well as the ultimate pioneer of resourcefulness.

Barbie is full of contradictions and dualities. For example, her body, in all its curvaceousness, is actually quite phallic. Barbie's cre ator, the late Jack Ryan, was also a missile designer. In Lucinda Ebersole's and Richard Peabody's anthology MONDO BARBIE, the writer Sparrow's "Barbie: A Memoir" describes Barbie has having "that attenuated airline look--Barbie resembled a stewardess and an airplane." Erica Rand opens her book BARBIE'S QUEER ACCESSORIES with a graphic description of a lesbian pornography spread from a 1989 issue of On our Backs in which Barbie is used as a dildo. In a short Barbie memoir called "├╝berdoll," Heidi Glenn describes her pre-teen friend's unorthodox use of Barbie--"Barbie didn't belong in there and at the same time I marveled at how her leg seemed to fit so perfectly in Elizabeth's pee-pee place." Barbie is, as what mothers knew back in the test markets of the late 50's, a grossly caricatured symbol of female sexuality. The Barbie doll has indeed become so sexualized that at Sierra Tucson, an Arizona substance abuse clinic, women in treatment for "sex addition" are required to lug around Barbies with them as a hideous reminder of their objectified sexual selves.