March 27:  Similes for Life Day

On this day in 1995, the film Forrest Gump won best picture at the 99th Academy Awards.  The movie was based on the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Winston Groom.  

Film poster with a white background and a park bench (facing away from the viewer) near the bottom. A man wearing a white suit is sitting on the right side of the bench and is looking to his left while resting his hands on both sides of him on the bench. A suitcase is sitting on the ground, and the man is wearing tennis shoes. At the top left of the image is the film's tagline and title and at the bottom is the release date and production credits.Groom grew up in Alabama, and many of his books, including Forrest Gump, draw on his experiences in Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1967.  Before Winston’s novel was adapted for the big screen, it was not a big seller; however, after the film came out in 1994, the book became a bestseller.  Winston’s 1988 novel Gone The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize (1).

Winston’s best-known character is the slow-witted southerner Forrest Gump, who faces his life with childlike innocence and optimism.  Almost as memorable as the character himself is his iconic simile — a quotation that became one of the most famous lines in movie history:  “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

Today’s Challenge:  Life is Like a Writing Assignment . . . .

What concrete noun presents the best figurative comparison for life?  Notice how each of the similes for life below follow the same basic formula.  Like Forrest Gump’s simile, they begin with a simple comparison, using “like” and a concrete noun.  Each writer then follows the comparison with elaboration, explaining how or why life is like the concrete noun.

Life is like a ten-speed bicycle.  Most of us have gears we never use. -Charles M. Schulz

Life is like a play; it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. -Seneca the Younger

Life is like a dog-sled team.  If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. -Lewis Grizzard

Write your own simile for life by brainstorming some possible concrete nouns. Use the list below to get you started.

a sandwich, a sandbox, a symphony, a slug, a salad, a game of checkers, a battle, a bruised banana, a lunchbox, a race, a book, a fire, an alphabet, a cat, a hammer

Feel free to modify your nouns with other words that make them more specific; for example, life might be a “relay race,” “a sprinting race,” or “long-distance race.”

Use the following template to help you construct your simile:

Life is like [concrete noun] _______; [Explain how, why, or under what circumstances life is like this] ______________.

Quotation of the Day:  Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving. -Albert Einstein

1-http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2527

March 26:  Dead Poet’s Day

On this day in 1892, American poet Walt Whitman died in his home in Camden, New Jersey.  Whitman was America’s first great poet, and today his poems live on, expressing one of the most distinctive and democratic of all American voices.   

Dead poets society.jpgWhitman was a pioneer of free verse, which abandons traditional poetic forms and meter.  Instead, free verse is inspired by the music, rhythm, and natural cadences of the human voice.  As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book A Poet’s Glossary, “The free-verse poem fits no mold; it has no pre-existent pattern.  The reader supplies the verbal speeds, intonations, emphasis.” (1)

Whitman published the first edition of his great work Leaves of Grass in 1855, and throughout his life he returned to the work editing poems in the collection and adding new ones.  When he lay dying at the age of 72, he received the final, ninth edition of Leaves of Grass.  Virtually every American poet of the 20th century, as well as many others around the world, was inspired by and influenced by Whitman’s poems.

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the English teacher Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) is also influenced by Whitman. In an inspirational short speech to his students, Mr. Keating explains why they read and study poetry:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer.  That you are here — that life exists, and you may contribute a verse.

Mr. Keating also asks his students to refer to him as “O Captain, My Captain,” an allusion to the poem Walt Whitman wrote after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The poem is an elegy, a funeral song or lament for death, and it is written as an extended metaphor where Lincoln is the ship captain who directed his ship of state safely through the stormy Civil War.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Dead Poet and Living Verse

Who are the greatest poets from the past?  Write an elegy or brief speech dedicated to the memory of a great poet from the past.  As you might expect, many such poets are referenced and quoted in the film Dead Poet Society, including Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Robert Frost — who, coincidentally, was born on this day in 1874. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is only one way to be prepared for death: to be sated. In the soul, in the heart, in the spirit, in the flesh. To the brim. -Henry De Montherlant

1-Hirsch, Edward.  A Poet’s Glossary.

2-The Academy of American Poets – Walt Whitman