Sunday, September 25, 2011

Much Too Young

Early this bright sunny morning,
     not far from a grassy field where kids played,
I learned of a boy’s death,
     just about thirteen, maybe one more.
All I could think, in a quiet awkward pause,
     much too young and way too soon.

There’s a photo of him, happy, with a grin;
     others by him laughing, all is good.
Part of the thousand words is joy,
     good friends, chilly night, warm faces.
How quick the picture became a tribute,
     much too young and way too soon.

Late this night I ponder much
     about the boy and his unfinished verse,
how the powerful play of life goes on
     and other actors’ incomplete scenes that
contributed to my fragmented lament
     much too young and way too soon.

For Jared, and for all my students 
    (some are with him), for Rob too.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Writing about poetry

"Be gone J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D!" says John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating is having his students read the introduction to poetry in the textbook. For the purpose of the movie, the passage is dull and the analysis of poetry sounds, as Mr. Keating put it, as if one was "laying pipe." Mr. Keating makes a good point, in that poetry is from the soul and should be tasted and experienced. And I agree, yet the craft of poetry should not be dismissed. To write an analysis of poetry, one must look at the components of the science and the art of poetry.

The science of poetry is the technique and tools of the author to create the poem and the voice of the poem. This is where the literary terms taught in classes come in: simile, metaphor, musical devices, rhyme patterns, imagery and structure. These are characteristics that set forms of poetry apart from other forms. Yet in this paradox of rules, poetry can break the rules. E. E. Cummings and Emily Dickinson are prime examples.

Because there are many great works that in no way resemble each other in structure of technique, defining poetry is difficult. However, the tie that binds poetry together is the essence that speaks to the reader or listener. That essence is “voice.” A voice communicates the literal and underlying messages of the speaker; it contains the relevance, the theme, and the soul of the poem. Thus, voice is the art of poetry.

Therefore, in writing an essay on poetry, the writer needs to build a thesis statement that reflects the art and/or science of poetry: Communication, Relevance, Voice, Imagery, Technique and Structure. The focus of the essay may depend on what the writer wants to write about or what has been assigned by an instructor. It can be just about the theme of the poem, it can be about the speaker and voice, or it can be about the literary devices the author uses. Whatever the case or combination, the writer needs to look at the component(s) and pull examples from the poem that illustrate it. To do this, I ask my students questions.

Communication. Does the poem communicate a subject? Does the poem communicate a theme? Jean Toomer wrote "Reaper". The subject of the poem is a reaper cutting grass that cuts a rat. The theme of the poem, upon looking into the tools of imagery suggests that death is mechanical and continual. These subject and theme can comprise the whole essay depending how detailed the analysis breaks down the words and phrases.

Relevance. Is the subject or theme relevant or important to the reader? Can the reader relate to it? Most high school students say that the subject of "Reaper" is not relevant to them because they do not cut grass or work on a farm, yet the theme can be identifiable to them because they have dealt with death in some form.

Voice. Who is the speaker? Based on the words, what can you tell me about the speaker? What is the speaker’s tone? What is the speaker’s attitude or emotions? As with communication and relevance, voice is a major component that makes up the art of poetry. The voice gives us insight into the character of the speaker and the message and motivation of the character.

Imagery. What pictures are drawn? What senses are given pictures? How does imagery illustrate and communicate the speaker's voice and message? What
colors are used? How does the alliteration add to the sound of the poem? Imagery is the construction of “pictures” for any of the five senses These questions lead to metaphor, symbolism, concrete nouns, musical devices and word choice.

Technique and Structure. Does the chosen structure assist the poet in communicating the theme? How does the repetition of a line add to the voice of the speaker? In other words, what does the writer do to enhance the poem and make the above components work together? Technique and structure choice overlap. From this component comes the author’s preferred style. It can take us from Dickinson’s poetry of phrases to the metered rhyme pattern that adds a lyrical effect to Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus" and its tragic tale.

These six components work together in a good poem no matter the poet and the poem. So, when writing an essay on poetry, look at Communication, Relevance, Voice, Imagery, Technique and Structure to guide the construction of the thesis statement. This understanding of the art and science of poetry leads to infinite number of good essays where the essay can delve into the intricacies of what gave life to the body of work, what made the blood flow in the veins and what gave breath to the voice. In other words, what made it real. And one can write an essay that respects the soul of the poem and the mind of the poet.

Final Bow

She steps from the left
onto the dim stage,
 stray glitter scattered
                  looks dusty

Pausing, she looks to the house,
Empty, quiet, echoing applause

It was her last dance.

She sets down her bag
that contains
Toe shoes, clickety tap shoes
and worn black leather jazz shoes
a water bottle
sequins, lace, tights in a tumble rainbow
                  of costumes.

And her dance book
                                    a ribbon from the ballet slipper
                                                       of a remembered cousin
                                    a dried flower from her first recital
                                                      years ago
                                    a scarf from the her first solo,
                                                      pink and frayed
                                    a poem from a teacher
                                                      about a dancer

Sashay, toe, toe, swivel…

She giggles
                   remembering her the time
                   she crashed into the palm tree oasis backdrop

                  an entourage of jazz, ballet, hip hop, soft shoe and tap
                                    partner together in a finale

Ending with her center stage
                  Arm extended straight
                  Chin high,
                                                      A chapter over.

With grace, beauty and life,
                  Her had swings from high
                                    Arcing in perfect symmetry,
A single tear dances down her cheek
                  and she takes her
final bow.

Monday, August 8, 2011


            crashes the stage, before the full dark house
brandishing life and place in the split second
before words are spoken and action moves.
The actor thrills in this singular flash of stillness and bursting energy.

            takes the audience to the soul of the character
            revealing fears, joys, the drama of living;
            solitary or with all lights ablaze, the story breaths.
            The actor thrives in the grace of words and movement dancing.

            gasps in darkness, inhales, a splashes light on actors
            as applause roars, cheers, cries and sings bringing all
            in the house together in the triumph of telling the tale.
            The actor drinks this moment of nourishment,
                                                                 accomplishment and revelry.

            sighs in its solitary moment behind closed doors;
            its tired beam canters just a bit off center stage.
            buzzes, slow and aching, it straightens proud and eager.
            The actor connects with the light; together they create life.

This poem can be found in Wordz, a collection of poems for graduating high school students.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some of My Boys

Goofy, gangly and grinning,
some of my boys that sat in my classes
have not only enlisted,
but have been sent overseas
into the war, into harm’s way.

I see them on leave
or on a digital picture
grinning, maybe gangly still,
but goofy no more
due to the war, due to harm’s way.

“Hey, Mr. Sura,” they say,
“remember when..”
“…and you smiled and said...”
We were a brotherhood of goofy and grinning
before the war, before harm’s way.

My son reads and watches
about soldiers, brotherhood, honor and death
while he is goofy, gangly and grinning in life.
He has heroes, the boys I know,
in the war, in harm’s way.

He makes me proud that he cares.
He respects their call and their risk
while he and his high school buds
stumble around goofy and grinning,
away from war, away from harm.

And my goofy, gangly, grinning boys
stand watch afar and keep my son safe.
They say, “We got him covered, Mr. Sura.
“Your wife and daughter too.
For them, no war, nor harm’s way.”

All I am left to say is
“Love you guys,”
in my goofy, gangly, grinning way.
“Come home safe
from the war, from harm’s way.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bailey's Moon

No world wide trip
or big house with a large tub.
The kid’s pool has patches
and the yard looks like hell.

Yet, I try to tap out a few words
in the low moonlight
hoping that some day I can
just give you more.

And just when I feel I have lost
when my shoulders slump.
You, my angel, my wonderful,
say “I love you.”

Those words hold belief and strength.
I roll my shoulders and sigh,
cinch the knot and ready the rope.
Swirling it, I go to lasso Bailey’s Moon.

To Heidi, for 21 years and more.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

In The Box

In the box is
                  a few books, some files,
                                    a pen and some pencils;
                  There’s a coffee cup,
                                    one of many throughout the years;
                  some odds and ends,
                                    a half empty aspirin bottle
                  and a bag of M & Ms of an unknown year,
                                                      A copy of a test from long ago
                                    and a few photos.

But also in the box
                   is a legacy of teaching.

Yes, inside is a trail of headaches,
                  sighs, budget cuts, drop outs,
                                    sick days and missing staff.

But , deep inside are
                  the  faces of many students and teachers,
                                    smiling, enriched, going forward
                  because you gave a damn about them.
                  the high fives of the kids who finally got it;
                                    the hugs from the kids that needed a hero;
the thanks of fellow teachers  who needed a
shoulder, mentor and coach;
                  and the nodding smile of a principal
                                    knowing your legacy for the school.

The box is quite full,
                  overflowing with your triumph of being
                                    all a teacher can be.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Building Block

I have a big black of wood on my desk. I have plane to carve things into the black of wood, but that will come about. A lot of students ask about that block of wood and why it is there. Here's the answer.

Building Block

Here’s this block
Take it.
It’s a building block.

The heart is my love
            Notice that it is cut deep into the block.
The D is the dreams for you
            Dream and do.
The infinity symbol is the number of times
            You try before giving up.
The L is for the word Look,
            Look and learn,
                        A lot.
The book means read
            That’s it, just read.
The last side is blank
            It’s for you.
                        Make your own mark.

Here’s this block.
Take it.
It’s a building block.

- Christopher R. Sura

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rockin' Robin

The morning birds of song and news
flicker into our home and enlighten our day.
They broadcast sincerely, eyes bright and wide,
            things that matter and help us on our way.
Yes, into our lives, they do become a part;
            even on our court, basketball they did play.

There’s the sporty blue jay, anchor of the crew;
            of Lions, Tigers and Wings, he does like to sing.
Perched and chipper, the young red cardinal
            tells of the clouds or sun the day will bring.
Live on a fun feature, the Big Boy mockingbird
            grins as he shows wonderful Northland things.
Other news birds do visit and join the chorus
            when our crew vacations or mends a wing.

Which brings me to the lady among the gents,
            the spritely songbird, Rockin Robyn, with love.
She sings loud and clear, strong and steady,
            a proud and colorful bird so unlike the little dove.
I recall the day with chin held high and deep breath
            She told of us her story, her fear and faith above.
Her story of cancer belongs to many sisters,
            and like them, the illness she stoically did shove.

Now, a year and more has past, in health she works.
            Friends, family and northern Michigan does smile.
With a pink ribbon, she remembers those lost and
            champions the fight, a true survivor of the trial.
Our Rockin Robyn rocks in the treetops all day long
             Singing every woman’s song with much love, grace and style.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lennie and George

And in the moment between
The lead and iron weighing his hand
And his finger tightening
On cold hard sliver of metal,
Their life flashed before the muzzle.

They had struggled on farms and ranches,
And journeyed miles on dusty roads.
They laughed at simple things
And cared for the happy things of
Puppies, rabbits and each other.

He, the giant beyond his own strength,
Rambunctious, joyous, yet tragic,
Brought forth the final act of a friend
Desperate to save, doomed to kill.
The best true, helpless friends can do.