The power of reading


This past week marked the start of my new Reading Program at Adare Primary School. In the span of 4 days I taught 23 classes with a total of 1,368 students, grades 1-8. Each class was held in the library so that students who’ve never held a book of fiction before would get a chance to read for an hour.

The plan (hope) is to repeat this program once every month. Grades 1-6 got an introduction to literature. We read some books aloud and then I passed out books for them to read independently. In the coming months we’ll have more focused readings…a day for fairytales, nonfiction, poetry, etc.

Grades 7 and 8 will be participating in a reading challenge. Anyone remember the BOOK IT! Program sponsored by Pizza Hut? Rewarding reading with pizza? Genius. So with that in mind, students will come in every month and read as many books as they can (and then answer the critical thinking questions I created for each book!), and the student from each class (there are 10 grade 7 and 8 classes) who reads the most/answers the most questions correctly will win a goodie bag at the end of the semester.

Goodie bags will include school supplies (most of which I’ve already been able to collect), games, and books. And that’s where you can help. After all, ’tis the season to be generous : ) You can buy a cheap, used book and ship it to Ethiopia FOR FREE – that’s over 7,700 miles if you’re in Minnesota! (Though of course you can ship from anywhere!)

If you’d like to help Adare Primary School Students, here’s what you do:

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Poetry craze

Don’t get me wrong…I’m still all about the fiction (nonfiction as well!), but lately, I’ve really been getting into poetry. Back in the US I didn’t read much of it, but now that I have more time on my hands, I have seriously been enjoying it. My favourite right now is W.S. Merwin, with gems like…

The Defeated
Beyond surprise, my ribs start up from the ground.
After I had sunk, the waters went down.
The horizon I was making for runs through my eyes.
It has woven its simple nest among my bones.

Noah’s Raven
Why should I have returned?
My knowledge would not fit into theirs.
I found untouched the desert of the unknown,
Big enough for my feet. It is my home.
It is always beyond them. The future
Splits the present with the echo of my voice.
Hoarse with fulfillment, I never made promises.

But I’ve been expanding beyond English writers and have been reading a lot of translated poetry as well. My current obsession is Two Lines: World Writing in Translation, a series I’ve mentioned in the past. They translate poetry/prose from around the world and publish both the original work and the English side by side. Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to learn Arabic so that I could read the originals of some of my favourite poems. Like…

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Butterfly Valley

As I continue to pack my life away, I keep stumbling upon these incredible things that I never even knew I had…so I decided to share my favourite thing that I’ve found so far, a poem. It was in a journal of translations that I bought at last year’s AWP Conference in Washington DC. The journal is called Two Lines: World Writing in Translation and features over 40 poems/stories in their original language, as well as their English translation. At AWP I fell in love with their 2009 volume titled Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, and I found it again while packing. I opened it up and the first poem I read was Butterfly Valley. It’s incredible. It was originally written by Sherko Bekes in Kurdish, and Choman Hardi translated it into English.

Where do you come from? They ask me—
the question transfiguring into a blackberry
that prompts my voice to bleed.
For the thousandth time, I name my flower.
Some nod after a moment,
as if, once, the wind had carried this past their ears.
But most suffocate in silence,
their necks an exclamation mark.

Vexed, from my pocket I take out a map.
A map crumpled like politics—
torn and sullied like the ethics of nation states.
I place my finger on my divided sun.
From here, from Noah’s ship I have come—
I was born by the snows of Mount Judi.

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