May 19:  Literacy Narrative Day

Black nationalist leader Malcolm X was born on this day in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Malcolm Little, he considered Little his slave name, so he replaced it with an X to represent the lost name of his African tribal ancestors.

Malcolm X in March 1964When he was 21 years old, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and received a ten-year sentence.  In prison, Malcolm transformed his life through voracious reading and study. He stopped using drugs and became a member of the Nation of Islam.  After his early-release from prison in 1952, Malcolm became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights, Malcolm advocated for racial equality.  However, unlike King’s tactics of nonviolent resistance, Malcolm promoted a more militant approach, saying “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Shortly before he died, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam.  While preparing to give a speech in New York, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

In his autobiography, Malcolm recounts the events that led to his education behind bars.  With time on his hands, he attempted to read but due to his limited vocabulary, he could comprehend few of the words on the page.  To remedy this he decided to study a dictionary. Beginning with the letter A, he read and copied by hand page after page and soon discovered that he was learning more than just vocabulary:  “With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia.”

As his knowledge base and vocabulary grew, Malcolm turned to other books beside the dictionary, reading in every free moment during the day, and well into the night by a small corridor light outside his jail cell.

Talking about his prison studies, Malcolm says:  

I never have been so truly free in my life. . . . the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive . . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Love Letter to Literacy

What are some memorable experiences that would be in your autobiography regarding your acquisition of literacy?  What do you remember about learning to read, about learning to write, and about being influenced by books?  Imagine you are writing your autobiography and that it must include a literacy narrative, that is a story of your experiences with learning to read and write.  Write about a specific incident from your life that is related to books, reading, or writing.  Also consider the people who have influenced your experiences with literacy. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1965

 

May 16: Biographer’s Day

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting between Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the landmark Dictionary of the English Language, and his biographer James Boswell (1740-1795) (See June 18:  Dictionary Day). The two men met in Davies’s London bookshop in 1763, and established a relationship that would allow Boswell to produce what is recognized as the greatest biography ever written: The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791.

James Boswell of Auchinleck.jpgThe word biography derives from the Greek (bio = life + graph = writing).

A number of words feature the graph root as it relates to writing. Here are words and definitions from English Vocabulary Quick Reference by Roger S. Crutchfield (1):

Autobiography: The story of one’s life written by oneself (auto-, self)

Autograph: Written or made with one’s own hand, as a signature (auto– self)

Bibliography: A list of writings (biblio– book)

Cacography: Illegible handwriting (caco, poor)

Cryptography: The art or science of writing and deciphering secret codes (crypto, secret)

Dysgraphia: Impairment of the ability to write (dys-, impaired)

Hagiography: Biographies written about saints (hagio, holy)

Lexicography: The branch of linguistics dealing with the writing or compiling of dictionaries (lex, word)

Orthography: Correct spelling (ortho, correct)

If you are a bit behind on your reading of biography, an excellent way to get caught up is to read the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. As the title suggests, this excellent book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. In addition, the authors created what they call the BioGraph System of ranking each of the 1,000 people. To lend some objectivity to their process, they created a list of five specific criteria and awarded points in each category. For example, number one on the list is Johannes Gutenberg with a score of 21,768 and number 1,000 is Andy Warhol with 1,000 points (2).

Criteria for Inclusion in the Top 1,000 People of the Millennium:

  1. Lasting Influence 10,000
  2. Effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world: 5,000
  3. Influence on contemporaries: 5,000
  4. Singularity of contribution: 3,000
  5. Charisma: 2,000

Today’s Challenge: Biomania

Who are at least ten people whose biography or autobiography you would like to read? Brainstorm the top ten people you would like to read about in a biography or autobiography.  Then, for your top person, write a brief biography that provides background details on who the person is and why you believe they lived an influential life.  Identify at least two key general principles that can be drawn from the individual’s life and applied to helping anyone live a fuller life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

May 7:  Dramatic Monologue Day

Today is the birthday of poet Robert Browning. Born in Camberwell, England in 1812, Browning was exposed to books at a young age. His father owned a collection of some 6,000 rare volumes, and Browning learned to share his father’s passion for literature, reading books in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish.

Robert Browning by Herbert Rose Barraud c1888.jpgBrowning wrote both poetry and drama, and his most influential innovation, the dramatic monologue, combined both.

The dramatic monologue is characterized as a poem with a single speaker with an implied listener or audience. The speaker is not the poet; instead, the poet takes on the persona (Latin for “mask’) of an imaginary character and brings that character alive solely through the words spoken.  A specific dramatic situation is important in the poem, as well as a tone that captures both the voice and the character of the speaker.

Perhaps the greatest of all dramatic monologues was one written by Browning in 1842 called “My Last Duchess.”  In the poem, set during the Italian Renaissance, Browning speaks in the persona of an arrogant, cold, and controlling duke who is in the process of negotiating the dowry for his next marriage.  Taking a break from the negotiations, he gives a tour to one of his future father-in-law’s envoys. The major focus of the duke’s remarks is on a portrait of his deceased wife, his “last duchess,” which he shows the envoy.  The major criticism he had with this duchess, as he explains to the envoy, is that she had “A heart . . . too soon made glad,/Too easily impressed.” Because she did not make her husband the sole focus of her universe and because she allowed herself to be moved by other persons and other things than her husband, he “gave commands” –a suggestion that he had her killed to open the door of opportunity for a new, less disagreeable wife.

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Today’s Challenge:  Grab Your Mask and Your Poetic License

What are some examples of dramatic situations a person might be in that would produce a dramatic monologue?  Try your hand at writing your own dramatic monologue. You can try to write it in verse if you want, but more importantly, try to capture the authentic voice of your narrator. In a dramatic monologue you can take on the voice of ANYONE, or anything, you desire. In other words, you take on a persona and use your poetic license to channel the voice of whomever you wish.

Before you begin writing, you’ll need four things:

  1. A specific character/narrator  
  2. A dramatic situation
  3. An attitude the speaker has toward the situation (tone)
  4. A listener or audience of the monologue

Before you commit to a single idea, do some brainstorming on possible combinations of the four elements. You can go for comedy or tragedy — a really good dramatic monologue might have elements of both.

Here are some examples:

  1. An angry teacher, complaining to her husband about her students’ lack of enthusiasm.
  2. A teenager pleading with his parents to allow him to get a tattoo.
  3. A desperate elderly salesman trying to persuade his boss not to fire him.
  4. An enthusiastic teenager trying to persuade her grandmother to get an iPod.
  5. A shocked postal worker calling the police to report a UFO sighting.
  6. A concerned father advising his son on how to approach the challenges of life.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Below is an example based on #6, with apologies to Rudyard Kipling:

HOW YOUR RACE IS RUN

If you can keep your head about you when everybody’s losing theirs

Step up to the starting line, and stare down your fears

Be ready for the gun as you start the race

Get out at a good strong pace

Don’t let the pack box you in.

Run your own race to win.

Whether you win or lose the race my son,

It matters more how your race is run

Will you run your race to win?

And when you fall down will pick yourself back up again?

You’ve  gotta make your own breaks in this human race

Three fingers pointing back in your face

Fill each minute with sixty seconds run.

You can’t stop the sun, but you can make him run.

Triumph and disaster are two imposters just the same,

Don’t spend your time looking for someone to blame.

Because the rain comes down and the way gets hard,

And it seems like you haven’t gotten very far

Push beyond the pain

Through the mud and the rain

Whether you win or lose the race my son

It matters more how your race is run

Try to see the world in your neighbor’s shoes

And whether you win or you lose

You’re not the only one who has a race to run

Do all you can to lend a helping hand

Pray to God each day

That He’ll light your way

Whether you win or lose the race my son

It matters more how your race is run

Quotation of the Day: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for? -Robert Browning

April 23:  Birth of the Bard Day

The greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare, was born on this day in 1564. He died on the same day 52 years later in 1616.

Besides the date of his birth and death, we know little about Shakespeare’s life. Here is a brief timeline of key events:

1564 Born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, 100 miles north of London

1582 Married to Anne Hathaway on November 28th

1583 Daughter Susanna is born

1585 Twins Judith and Hamnet are born

approx. 1591 Travels to London, works as an actor

1596 Eleven-year-old Hamnet dies

1513 Globe Theatre burns and Shakespeare retires to Stratford.

1616 Dies in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Shakespeare is clearly the most successful playwright who ever lived, but his influence reaches well beyond just his plays. His writing literally transformed the English language. If you want to see what the birth of the universe looked like you can read an account in Genesis, Chapter 1; if you want to see what the birth of words looks like, read the plays of Shakespeare.

According to linguist David Crystal, of the 17,677 words in the collected works of Shakespeare, approximately 1,700 (10%) can be identified as neologisms — that is invented words (1).

Here is a small sample of words first recorded in Shakespeare, according to David Crystal in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language:

accommodation, assassination, barefaced, countless, courtship, dislocate, dwindle, eventful, fancy-free, lack-luster, laughable, premeditated, submerged

In addition to individual words, there are countless common expressions that first appear in the works of Shakespeare:

There’s the rub from ‘Hamlet’

It’s Greek to me from ‘Julius Caesar’

At one fell swoop from ‘Macbeth’

Every inch a king from ‘King Lear’

Play fast and loose from ‘Love’s Labor Lost’

What’s in a name? from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Paint the lily from ‘King John’

Too much of a good thing from ‘As You Like It’

Give the devil his due from ‘I Henry IV’

Although we know few specifics about Shakespeare’s education, we can make some guesses based on what we know about education in the 16th century England.  According to writer Simon Callow, the main topic of study was grammar – not English grammar, but Latin grammar:

Grammar school was tough. . . .They didn’t study history, they didn’t study mathematics, they didn’t study geography, they didn’t study science.  They studied grammar, from dawn to dusk, six days a week, all the year round. Grammar – Latin grammar. They translated from Latin into English and from English into Latin. At school, ordinary conversation was in Latin; any boy caught speaking English was flogged. And they mastered the tropes of rhetoric, from antimetabole (where words are repeated in inverse order) to zeugma (where one verb looks after two nouns). This is the language of power and politics: of the law, of Parliament, of the court, and this is the world of which young Will and his fellow pupils would soon, it was hoped, be part.

Today’s Challenge:  A Novel Opening

Who are the most memorable characters from Shakespeare’s plays?  If you were to inhabit the mind of one of these characters, writing his or her story in first person, which character would you choose?  Select your favorite character from Shakespeare and re-imagine his or her story as if it were a novel written in first person by the character.  Write the opening 250 words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  From a selection of his other works, we might think him variously courtly, cerebral, metaphysical, melancholic, Machiavellian, neurotic, light hearted, loving, and much more. Shakespeare was of course all these things—as a writer. We hardly know what he was as a person. -Bill Bryson

1-Shakespeare’s Genius in Creating Words. https://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A76533195#back1

2-https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/shakespeares-childhood-and-education

 

April 16:  Counterargument Day

On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Having been jailed for demonstrating against the injustice of racial segregation in Birmingham, King read a public statement in the newspaper that criticized his activities in Birmingham.  The letter was signed by eight Alabama clergymen. It is this letter that moved King, a clergyman himself, to answer his critics. In the Letter from Birmingham Jail we have a classic example of counterargument in action.  Respectfully responding to his critics’ claims point by point, King’s letter remains one of the strongest rhetorical rebuttals ever written.

King begins his letter by answering the charge that he is an outsider.  He answers this charge by talking about his affiliation with Christian organizations in Birmingham and the fact that he was invited to come.  Most forcefully, however, he argues that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Among the several counterarguments presented by King, perhaps his strongest is his response to his critics’ claim that his demonstrations are “untimely.”

Notice in the following excerpt how King combines reason and emotion to pointedly rebut the claim that African-Americans should be patient and wait for justice:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

After King wrote his letter by hand, it was turned over to his assistants who typed it and disseminated it as an “open letter” (See February 3:  Open Letter Day).

As the power of King’s rebuttals demonstrate, it is important to consider counterclaims in any argument you make.  By anticipating and clearly stating the arguments that run counter to your claim, you show the reader that you are not blind to the arguments of others who think differently than you do.  By rebutting counterargument or conceding to points made by the opposing side, you demonstrate to your reader that your argument is not just an exercise in persuading an audience that you are right; instead, it demonstrates to your audience that you are someone who is legitimately seeking the truth.

Today’s Challenge:  Stake The Counterclaims

What are some possible objects that reasonable people might make to a position that you hold?  Brainstorm some issues that you feel strongly about and the claims that you would make about these issues.  Then, instead of building your case based on the reasons for your position, record the counterclaims. In other words, state your claim, and anticipate what reasons someone might give to disagree with your claim. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

April 7:  Review Day

On this day in 1967, Roger Ebert wrote his first movie review in the Chicago Sun Times.

Roger Ebert cropped.jpgEbert was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942.  While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was the editor of the college newspaper.  He began his professional career in journalism in 1966 as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times.  It was only a short time, however, before he began writing about movies. In the spring of 1967, he took the position as the Sun-Times movie critic, replacing Eleanor Keane.  Ebert’s first review was of the film Galia (1966).

Even though Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, his real fame came when he began to review movies on television. Ebert teamed with Gene Siskel, movie critic for the Chicago Tribune, to broadcast a local television show reviewing movies.  

In 1982, the local show moved to a national audience.  The format was simple: Two movie reviewers sitting in a theater talking about movies.  After showing a movie clip, Siskel and Ebert would discuss the movie, giving it either a “thumbs-up” or “thumb-down” review.  When the two critics disagreed, sparks flew. When the two critics agreed, giving “Two Thumbs Up, the film became a must-see movie for millions (1).

Today’s Challenge:  All Thumbs Up or Down?

What are some specific works of art or design — a movie, album, television show, video game, or product — you know enough about to review?  Select something you feel strongly about — either good or bad — and write a detailed review, explaining what specifically you like or dislike.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it. -Danielle Steel

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/film-critic-roger-ebert-born  

April 2:  Writing Marathon Day

On this day in 1951, Jack Kerouac began a 21-day writing marathon, producing a 120-foot typewritten scroll that would become his best-known work, On The Road.  In a letter to his friend, Neal Cassady, Kerouac described the process and product:   “Went fast because the road is fast… wrote whole thing on strip of paper 120 foot long (tracing paper that belonged to Cannastra.)–just rolled it through typewriter and in fact no paragraphs… rolled it out on floor and it looks like a road.”  The scroll contained 125,000 words, which means that Kerouac averaged approximately 6,000 words per day. On The Road was officially published in 1957(1).  The original scroll was purchased for $2.43 million by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, in 2002 (2).

OnTheRoad.jpgThe month of April also marks the anniversary of the first Olympic marathon, run in Athens, Greece on April 10, 1896. The origin of the word marathon comes from Greek legend. According to the story, a Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent as a messenger from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian army. As he approached Athens, having run a distance of nearly 25 miles, Pheidippides collapsed and died. He did not die, however, without completing his mission; with his last gasp he uttered “niki,” the Greek word for victory.

Incidentally, the word niki is derived from the name of the Greek goddess of victory: Nike – a name that would later become the trademark of a running shoe manufacturer in Oregon.

Today’s Challenge:  26 Topics Abecedarian Marathon

What are some topics you might use in a writing marathon?  A marathon is 26 miles, so come up with at least one topic that starts with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  Write out your list of topics in preparation for your next writing marathon. (Common Core Writing 5 – Production and Distribution)

Quotation of the Day:  If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.Emil Zatopek

1- https://vonquale.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/letter-jack-kerouac-to-neal-cassady/

2-http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2004/01/19/art_401525.shtml#.WSWbTvkrIdU

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

 

March 22:  Poetry 180 Day

Today is the birthday of American poet Billy Collins. He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003. Born in 1941 in Queens, New York, Collins didn’t publish his first book of poetry, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), until he was in his forties.

As poet laureate, Collins created a unique anthology to revive verse in American schools, called Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. With this program, Collins set out to end the notion that high school is “the place where poetry goes to die.” Instead, he wanted students to see that poetry was meant to be read for enjoyment, read aloud over the school intercom, and shared. In short, Collins hoped to “suggest to young people the notion that poetry can be a part of everyday life as well as a subject to be studied in the classroom” (1).

Collins published a second anthology of poems in 2005 so that readers can enjoy year-round poetry. It’s called: 180 More: Extraordinary Poems.

Today’s Challenge:   Poetry 365

What are some examples of great poems that are worth memorizing?  Brainstorm a list of great poems that are worthy of committing to memory.  These should be poems that are so good that you could recite them every day of the year and still appreciate their use of language.  Identify one specific poem that you believe that everyone should know. Explain your case for what makes this poem so special. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day:   The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. -Billy Collins

1- Collins, Billy.  Poetry 180:  A Turning Back to Poetry.  New York:  Random House, 2003.

 

March 12:  Analogy Day

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and politician Richard Steele (1672-1729). In 1709, Steele founded The Tatler, a newspaper that featured a new style of journalism. More than just reporting the news, The Tatler featured essays, reviews, gossip, and satire.

In the March 18, 1710 edition of The Tatler, Steele wrote a sentence to illustrate the benefits of literacy:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Steel’s analogy is perfect because reading is not just about retaining information; instead, it is about training your mind to lift more mental weight.  When you consistently lift weights in the gym, your muscles adapt, allowing you to lift more and more weight. Similarly, when you consistently read, your mind adapts, allowing you to lift and grapple with weightier ideas. Reading nourishes and strengthens the mind, giving you a mental six-pack of memory, imagination, logic, creativity, language, and knowledge.

Steele’s memorable and insightful sentence is a classic example of an analogy.  Analogies reflect the ways humans learn: trying to understand what we don’t know by comparing it to what we do know.  

Analogies are similar to metaphors and similes, but unlike similes and metaphors — which captivate us with surprising imagery, the primary purpose of an analogy is to explain via logical balance.  Analogies are also a bit more mathematical than similes and metaphors; in Greek analogia means “proportionate,” and a good analogy reveals a corresponding relationship between two pairs of things.  As Steele’s analogy illustrates, the basic formula for an analogy is: A is to B as C is to D.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an analogy to illustrate the way racial prejudice blinds us:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

To paraphrase King’s analogy, we might state it as follows:

Racial prejudice is to human love and brotherhood as fog and dark clouds are to seeing the beauty of the night sky.

The ability to think using analogies requires a high level of cognition.  It requires the thinker to synthesize complex concepts and to make parallel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.   

It is no wonder, then, that analogies have been used to measure intelligence. The Miller Analogies Test, for example, is a graduate school admissions test made up of analogy word problems.

An analogy word problem follows a predictable format:

A : B :: C : D (A is to B as C is to D)

Steele’s analogy would be stated:  READING : MIND :: EXERCISE : BODY.

Try this analogy word problem:

story : fable :: poem : _______

  1. poet
  2. novel
  3. rhyme
  4. sonnet

The key to solving these analogies is to identify the bridge idea that connects both pairs.  In the problem above, for example, if you understand that a “fable” is a type or genre of story, you will probably realize that the answer is D because a “sonnet” is a type or genre of “poem.”

When you are solving analogies, try writing your answer in the form of a balanced sentence, a sentence that has two parallel independent clauses, such as “A fable is a type of story; a sonnet is a type of poem.”  Doing this will allow you show your thinking by explicitly stating the bridge idea.

Try the following:

  1. puppy : litter :: soldier : (A. group B. war C. army D. battle)
  2. entomology : insects : : etymology : (A. birds B. words C. foods D. ants)
  3. Grendel : Beowulf :: Hydra : (A. Achilles B. Vulcan C. Atlas D. Hercules)
  4. adverb : sadly :: conjunction : (A. the B. none C. but D. happily)
  5. Mark Twain : Huckleberry Finn :: William Shakespeare : (A. Tom Sawyer B. Jim C. Hamlet D. Hester Prynne)

Today’s Challenge:   Four-part Formula for Framing Analogies

As Windex is to a clear, picturesque view so are analogies to clear writing.  What are some topics that you know well enough to explain to someone less knowledgeable?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you might explain using an analogy. Use the basic four-part formula:

As ________ is to __________, so ________ is to _________.

Examples:

As kindling is to fire so is brainstorming to creativity.

As weeding is to gardening, so is editing to writing.

As fast food is to the stomach, so is television to the mind.

As yeast is to bread, so is honesty to friendship.

As wood fuels a fire, so memory fuels the imagination.

As dancing is to walking, so dancing is to walking.

As the selection of bait is to fishing, so is audience analysis to public speaking.

Once you have written your complete analogy, follow it with some explanation that elaborates and expands the comparison.

Example Analogy with Explanation:

As the correct number of employees is to an effective business, so are the right number of words to effective writing.

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do. You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home. -Sigmund Freud