Friday, March 26, 2010


For the last unit of the year, the grade nine English teachers at The Koc School where I teach English, take their students through a six week long poetry unit, the culminating activity being an awards ceremony. This isn't just any awards ceremony, this is the Golden Rams, a spin off of the Oscars complete with the People's Choice Award and of course, an actual Golden Ram. Well, as you can see in the picture it is more of a silly sheep, spray painted gold, by me and the art teacher. Koc, by the way, means ram. The presenters, a male and female English teacher, dress to the nines. Mr. Fulton who has presented every year to date, dons a black tux, and the lady presenter, who changes each year, dresses in a decadent black feather boa and sparkly evening dress (I did it last year). It is great fun, with corny jokes to boot.

How do the grade nine students win the coveted Golden Ram? Well, they film and edit an animated poem. Essentially, the students choose a poem, analyze it, deconstruct it and figure out how to represent it visually. Billy Collins has some professionally filmed, and worthwhile watching, animated poems on youtube that you could check out if you are so inclined. In order to get the kids warmed up to working in groups and using film techniques, we set the grade nine students out on a scavenger hunt during lunch time. Their assignment is to film as many of the tasks as possible in a 40-minute period. The tasks include singing in a public space, doing leap frog, playing air hockey in the common area, serenading a teacher (though I think we took this out, it was awkward in some situations), capturing wild life, etc. So each spring we set loose 155 grade nine students to run amok on campus, with cameras in hand. It is quite a site, and a warning e-mail to the school community always precedes the event.

I am the unit leader this year for the poetry unit, and in preparation, I started reading a great book on teaching poetry to high school students titled Poetry of Place by Terry Hermsen . The author teaches poetry in unconventional ways in order to get students as excited and interested in poetry as their geeky English teachers are. One of the many ideas that he writes about that I will use is the poetry night hike. The grade nine boarders have no idea what is coming their way.

I am only a quarter way through, but already I have been inspired to write some of my own poetry, something I really don't do. However, I like to do the tasks myself that I will assign to my students, mainly because it helps me to work out any kinks, but it also gives me more insight into how to teach something. So yesterday, for my senior elective English class with a young lady who plays a 100-year-old harp and whose poetry writes circles around me, we headed outside into the brisk, new spring air. There I found inspiration to write four short poems, three of which are riddles. I shared my poems with the tux guy, and feeling inspired, he wrote one as well.

Let's see if you can guess the answers to the riddles. The first three are mine, then David's, then one published in the aforementioned poetry book written by a member of the Kuyukon tribe in Northern Canada.

Yellow-bellied clusters of white stars.

Cutting off heads, growling and gaining speed.

Snowy pale, delicate lace in a sea of green.

A congress of black robed
solicitors sit in high judgment
and squabble over the littering
of squawking students.

Far away, a fire flares up.

And for this one, the assignment is to just write about what you see before you. Very Zen.

Lesson in the Afternoon

Hop hop hopping,
picking through the green shoots and autumnal debris,
scarcely seen birds forage.
Like bells, tiny birds twinkle in the tree tops.
A blue lady appears,
beings silence, and disperse.

I will sign off with a couple lines from a gazal poem, written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, that I feel captures what spring is like in Istanbul this year.

It's still distant, but there are hints of springtime,
some flowers, aching to bloom, have torn open their collars.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Busy Times

I can tell from how Monday went that this week is going to be a long and busy one, so I am going to throw in the towel. In lieu of a proper post, here are some images from the boys' birthday celebration at the kres.

The good news is that in two weeks time, we will be overlooking Mesopotamia from a quaint little hotel in Mardin, where I hope it will be sunny and warm. And soon after that our good friends R and L will be here and in Syria visiting from Nova Scotia. After that, it is a downhill slide into summer vacation.

Until next time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Ali and Omer

March 16, 2006

Dear Ali and Omer,

Yesterday, the day before your birth,

I stepped into a room where your

mother lay, your father was sitting,

and Lorraine was also sitting.

I heard a beat, a rapid beat, no actually

two beats, one slightly echoing the other

and my feet moved, small steps to either side,

moving to the sound, your sound.

It was your tiny hearts beating, a

rhythm in the room, that we danced to

in the small tappings of our feet, in

our phrasing of conversation, our

gesture. It was your sound, your

separate hearts, their fast single

beats, their shifts in tempo, in

pitch, that defined our day,

surrounded us with the pulse of your life,

your lives. We talked, we drank tea, we

kissed and we hugged, and your parents

and you waited, hearts pumping

the blood of your lives, beating

as they must, waiting for the day,

for today, this day, your birth day,

when you will first see the world

you will take your first breaths

and cry your first cries as your tiny heartbeats

subtly shift to carry you forward

into and through this world of air

we will all inhabit together.

Roger Field

Saturday, March 6, 2010

April isn't the only cruel month

Wow. What a week that was. Even though I slept in until 7:00 today, and took a nap with the boys in the afternoon, I am not sure if that will do the trick. I don't know what made last week so long and tiring, because nothing out of the ordinary happened; no extra duties at work or long meetings.

Maybe it is March madness descending upon campus with the plants and trees budding green, yet the air remaining winter like. And even though I love cold and gray weather, I also look forward to the loamy smell of early spring, and slightly warmer days that are, at least here, the harbinger of spring in Istanbul. On a walk yesterday, we noticed the grass crowded and nearly bursting with beautiful white orchid flowers waiting to open wide their petals in celebration of the first warm ray of sun. Upon noticing them I said to Koray, "but it doesn't smell like spring." And it doesn't. It doesn't smell or feel like spring. I surely don't feel like spring. This lack of sprightliness is embodied by an avocado waiting patiently in the fridge to to be incorporated into a California roll. But I don't feel like cooking or eating cold foods just yet. Instead, I want to make bubbling sweet potato soup, cinnamony-warm rice pudding and carrot fritters; winter food.

It could be that I am forgetting what spring is like in Istanbul, since I feel like I am always too warm here. And maybe I go through this every spring, thinking that it is too cold for the trees to be budding and tulips to be breaking out of the wintry earth, when really, this is what early spring is like here. But seeing the dancing heads of daffodils in my neighbor's yard the other day stopped me dead in my tracks and made me think that the weather is just not right, that the natural balance is just slightly off.

Checking out the Besiktas fish market today, I was chilled to the bone, and found myself counting the minutes on the ferry ride back to our car. And I love the ferry. Sitting on the outside deck is something I do in all seasons, and always have since I arrived here. When we finally got home, for once I appreciated the powerful heating system in the lojmanlar, and after warming a mug of chocolate soy milk, I snuggled under our down comforter, accessorized with socks, a fleece, and a pashmina wrapped around my neck. This is winter behavior. But not really, because I felt hot all winter and slept with the windows open as much as Koray could stand it, usually clad only in a tank top and pajama bottoms (house pants). So I can't figure out what is going on other than my mind is having trouble navigating mother nature's mixed messages.

Koray just came in from fetching fresh bread from the firin (bakery) up the hill, and he reported that it was snowing. Snowing!

So, I will leave it at that and hope that the green, gold buds on the hydrangeas are a promise of warmer days.

I have posted some images from our visit to Ayasofya last weekend and the fish market from today. The purplish, beet looking things are purple carrots which turn a beautiful shade of deep purple when peeled and cut .