Poetry: Natural Selection

Aloe polyphylla Schönland ex Pillans
Photo Credit: brewbooks via Compfight

I’ve been packing my classroom for a move to fifth grade next year. That means a change in buildings and leaving the colleagues that I have worked with for the last 9 years. True, in a small school district like ours, we’ll still see each other, but this will be a change.

And as school has let out, I’ve had some delightful outdoor work to get the home place ready for summer. Weeding, digging, scything, planting, pruning, trimming are all about bringing plants under some kind of control, which they are not inclined to do on their own.

Both moving and my outdoor work made me think about my attempt to control and alter the world around me, to strive for (impose?) my order and my design. Which brought me to this poem.

Natural Selection

What is a weed?
you ask. Which is
a good question to pose
as you sort plants
in the garden. For instance,
this flaxen flower
brimming with beetles
amongst the beans?
Or this oak seedling
whose earnest taproot
has pierced its bronzed shell
to dive deep into the earth.
It would outlast you
by many lifetimes,
would over the years
transform the strawberries
into a forest. Is a weed
simply something you pull now
while you still have a chance?

Steve Peterson, 2014



Chalk-a-bration — Poems on the Sidewalk

To celebrate the beginning of the end of the year (snow days this winter made the end last a good, long time!), our school had a celebration of poetry (dubbed a chalk-a-bration by teacher Betsy Hubbard). Our building principal contacted business owners who agreed to allow children to write poems on the sidewalk in front of their businesses.

It was a lot of fun!

Several business owners came out to greet us, smile, and take photos of the children at work. The children had a wonderful time, too.

As you can see, it was a beautiful, sunny day.

We decided that the children could either write poems themselves, or find some in books that I showed them this year. These poems really reflect their varied interests, but all show just a little part of their heart.

Many, many chose to write poems of their own creation.











What fun.

From Clay, back to Clay

This weekend I had a chance to go back in time, to reacquaint myself with my past life as a potter and also with some old, old friends. To return to clay. Elemental. Clay work was a passion I had for more than a decade. A serious passion. But work and other life events caused me to gradually leave. I don’t remember a day I decided not to make pots anymore; but one day I looked back and saw that I hadn’t made any.

Can it be that’s the way some important things leave a life, not with a bang, but a whimper?

Clay people, especially wood-fire clay people, are a special breed. Maybe it’s the fact that no wood-fired potter can make stuff by himself. Scrounging fire-brick, building kilns, gathering wood, loading and firing the kiln, the unloading and clean-up often require a community of support. There’s no way for a wood-fired potter to be an island. There’s a sense of community, and a shared sense of all for one, one for all. Maybe, also, it’s the connectedness to the Earth: fire, water, air, earth. Clay people have always welcomed me.

So, when my friend, Ken (who is a brother from a different mother), asked that I attend a clay workshop taught by him and a couple of his old friends, I decided to do it even though my hands haven’t been covered in clay for over three years.

It was great to spend time with Ken out near the fire, which was contained by a monster anagama dragon kiln. If you’ve never been near a big dragon kiln and have a chance, take it. The old Japanese potters talk about the kiln as alive. Late at night, the fire gleams through the portals and the kiln slowly inhales and exhales thick smoke. It’s easy to feel as if you have entered a sacred place where the inanimate animates. And there’s a brotherhood in that.


Ken (L) and me (R)

Ken was right, it was wonderful to meet his friend, Joy Brown. Her spirit was quiet and full.


Joy demonstrated a paddle form technique.

And there were other potters, too. We who like to get our hands dirty spent the weekend together talking, laughing, bs’ing, and quietly pushing clay around.


Over 400 lbs of clay and many hands.

As we fed the fire last night, standing quietly under a nearly full moon, Ken said something that stuck with me: Isn’t it strange, he said, that potters spend so much time trying to reverse the processes of the Earth. That’s all we’re doing, the same thing the Earth does constantly. Time and water and wind break rocks down into clay. Potters melt clay to make rocks. It’s a cycle. Which lead to this haiku that I carved into the mural:

hands and flame change mountains worn small by water-- the Earth's heart, reborn

hands and flame change
mountains worn small by water–
the Earth’s heart, reborn

Poem: 14 March

Well, I hope you are not too tired of these poems. But if you are, just click through! Forget them! I’m having too much fun to stop. More about the classroom later. Something about math.

14 March, 2014
10:08 PM. Clear sky. Dog breathes heavily nearby.

Redolent is an interesting word.
It reminds me of something indescribable,
on the tip of my tongue, like the
day’s last warmth wafting from cooling mud,
or the sound of melt water
rushing in the creek. Why? I can’t really
say, but somewhere in that word lies an
early spring evening under the turning stars
as the eastern sky relinquishes its last
cerulean, a slab of oak freshly opened,
the ting of the axe, the low hoot
of a barred owl across the valley.

–Steve Peterson

UPDATE: Just playing around with the podcast version of this poem to see what it sounds like.


Poem: 12 March

I’ve been writing a poem a day using Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks as a mentor. This is connected to an experiment to use my daily life as a source for regular writing. Here’s an image, in poetry form, from this morning.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll use this practice for my teaching, but, I suppose, to the extent that the teacher’s soul is important to the teaching, maybe I’m already using it.

12 March
6:50 AM. Clearing skies. North wind.

Corn stubble soldiers
guard the hilltop from
the retreating snow. Rows
march downward growing
taller, bolder with each victory.
The high ground, reclaimed overnight,
shows dark, while in the valleys,
still deep with blizzard drifts,
winter gathers, holds firm.

–Steve Peterson

Poem: 9 March

Photo Credit: Chrismatos ♥Too busy, sorry via Compfight

I love Ted Kooser’s book of short poems, Winter Morning Walks. He wrote them on the back of postcards and sent them to his friend, Jim Harrison. After treatment for cancer, Kooser lost track of the source of his poetry. He found it again on the road, in the morning, by opening his eyes and his heart. I’m struck by how these poems all contain a strong image and, as is Kooser’s style, they reach to touch something beyond and deep inside.

Kooser has inspired me to write a poem a day; I’ll use his book as a mentor for my writing. I’m hoping to see where the images of my day bring me, and I’ll share a few poems as the weeks go by.

9 March

7:20 AM
14° F. Rising sun peeks under clouds. SW wind, 10mph.

In a brush pile
cleared last year,
left to dry then burn,
a flash of scarlet
at the tip of a branch
bobbing. Balanced.

A song pierces then floats,
lifts, plunges,

stitching this morning —
still filled with old snow,
the remains of a
winter’s ice and wind —
to the day that
opens above.

– Steve Peterson

My 101st Post: a (re)Birthday of Sorts


steve peterson

steve peterson

I just realized that the last post was my 100th since I started this blog in October 2012. This is a good time to reflect. Interestingly, that post deals with some of the same subject matter as the first post — the insanity of posting predetermined “learning goals” for all of our day — a post that I never published because I was nervous about what others might think.

The symmetry seems significant. First, the fact that I’m still struggling with this issue now for at least two years shows either how intractable the problem is, how unable I am to effectively deal with it, or…something else that I haven’t imagined. Yet, the fact is, this blog has allowed me to identify and explore the ideas that seem most important to me, to my life “inside the dog” where it is sometimes too dark to read the story of our shared life of learning. I had hoped to use this blog to flick on a reading lamp. And, while sometimes the chandelier inside contains a rather dim bulb :), the light sure has helped me see better.

Second, the fact that I can talk about these concerns now while earlier I was silent means that I have begun to find a voice, my voice. I do not pretend to have all of the answers, or even to know all of the questions, but this blog has helped me become a better, more articulate thinker. Writing just does that for me. It helps me think by giving me words. As a result, not only can I say what I think, I can also know what I think. Writing is magical. It calls forth ideas like a silkworm spins silk.

Finally, this blog has put me in contact with other thinkers whose ideas (and spirit) have meant so very much to me. I’m thinking especially of

  • Vicki Vinton (To Make a Prairie), whose weekly posts always range far beyond the subject of reading and into the joys of real learning. Much of what I have been thinking about here has benefited from conversation with Vicki and her marvelous band of readers, from Vicki’s insightful thinking about learning and what readers really do, and, well, from the generous spirit that glows in the words of her blog;
  • the dynamic duo of Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris (Burkins & Yaris) whose explorations of the Common Core model for me what true inquiry looks, sounds, and feels like, and whose prose takes on the feel of poetry, whose partnership in blogging helps me see what collaboration at its best can become;
  • Mary Lee Hahn and Franki Sibberson (A Year of Reading), another dynamic duo whose blog has informed and enlightened me for longer than any other (though I just started commenting on it about a year ago.) I love their consistent, insistent sharing of their ongoing learning and their creative souls. Here’s to you, Mary Lee, for your poems and your mosaics and your student-made videos and…And to you, Franki, for your inquiry and your technology and for sharing your classroom journey. And to both of you for some powerfully wonderful book reviews!;
  • Julieanne Harmatz (To Read, To Write, To Be), a new friend-across-a-distance whose writing about her classroom contains such clarity and grace, whose stories of classroom celebration are poignant and always generous of spirit, whose descriptions contain the kernel of what learning can be, even within the confines of a school-day classroom;
  • Fran McVeigh (Resource – Full) another new friend, a fellow Iowan who I’ve never met in person but whose comments on others’ blog posts are impressive and thoughtful, for her immense base of knowledge and passion for learning and teaching, for her unflagging willingness to share all that she knows with others.

There are so many others whose work has inspired me, though they do not really know it; folks like Kevin Hodgson, Paul Solarz, Michael Doyle, Christopher Danielson, Bill Ferriter, and many more.

So, to the first 100, it’s a wrap. I will see what the next year brings. Cheers.

Poetry and Photos — An Icicle Hangs (#WalkMyWorld)

With the cold and snow we’ve had some days off school lately, which means that I have a bit more time to write and take some photographs.  Here’s a couple photos from yesterday’s AM trip to gather wood for the wood stove and ash pail emptying.

I’m happy to be trying to tell some kind of story about my daily world for the #WalkMyWorld project. It’s been fun to see what others do and it’s been great to make it one of my “jobs” to slow down enough to see where I’m placing my feet on this journey. On a related note, I’ve also taken a tentative step into the wonderful world that is the National Writing Project iAnthology. So far, that has extended only as far as the Photo Fridays Challenge.

Here are some photos from yesterday morning. The poem these images inspired follows them.

This strange structure was formed by sheets of snow sliding partway off the roof, then refreezing and melting over a series of very cold, but sunny, days.

This strange structure was formed by sheets of snow sliding partway off the roof, then refreezing and melting over a series of very cold, but sunny, days.

I was struck by how the light tails down the length of the icicle far into the darkness.

I was struck by how the light tails down the length of the icicle far into the darkness.


An Icicle Hangs

An icicle hangs from the eaves,
a witness this silent morning
to the amber dawn
gathered in its glassy surface,
a luminescent vessel contains
the tentative warmth
of this new day.

What luck to have glanced

from the near chore
of gathering firewood
to catch amidst the far dark
this flash of liquid light,
frozen for a moment,
caught between solid
earth and an opening sky.

–Steve Peterson, 2014



#walkmyworld — Sunrise from the Hill


Yesterday, the cold was an eagle’s beak, the wind it’s talons. My cheeks? My nose? The liver of Prometheus. But even this sharpness didn’t stop the sun from rising over the hill across the valley during the morning dog walk, hills that are my Stonehenge for the changing seasons. Inexorably the light returns.

For more about the #walkmyworld project, check out this link at NWP Digital Is. I’m excited to give it a try.

Poetry: Two Tanka for Thanksgiving

Do you ever get so caught up in the moment(s) that you forget how to listen? How to see? A couple days off have been good for my soul. The way out of myself has often been through praise, through giving thanks, so this is an appropriate time to stick my head out of my clam shell and look around.

Here are a couple kinda-sorta tanka written in the spirit of thanksgiving for having been there to notice. You might call them danke tanka, if you were a little bit corny. 🙂

Winter Mist
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Evan Leeson via Compfight

near the river’s bend
bare willows kneel, supple
under the azure sky —
a poem squeaks quietly
on rusty hinges.


cold gray morning fog —
through the frosted branches
a crow chortles
exhorting his sagging heart
to sing along.