Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
with love in the loving cup,
whenever you're wrong, admit it;
whenever you're right, shut up.

- Ogden Nash

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I have never started a poem whose end I knew. Writing the poem is discovering.

Robert Frost, New York Times (7 Nov. 1955)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Success is the ONLY Option

On a poster in the hallway (and also in some classrooms) of an elementary school I'm visiting currently:

Success is the only option.
PSSA is here to stay.

Welcome to the public school machine. It's an industry. Desks in neat little rows, children writing and reciting only the facts and formulas the state wants to see on a test. I believe that schools need to be accountable for what they are providing in education, but not at the expense of respect for the intelligences that people possess other than the analytical.

PSSA stands for Pennsylvania Standard of School Assessment. In 1999, Pennsylvania adopted academic standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening and Mathematics. These standards identify what a student should know and be able to do at varying grade levels. School districts possess the freedom to design curriculum and instruction to ensure that students meet or exceed the standards' expectations.

Every Pennsylvania student in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 is assessed in reading and math. Every Pennsylvania student in grades 5, 8 and 11 is assessed in writing.

Most elementary schools I've visited hold homeroom PSSA study sessions. The homeroom teacher is usually accompanied by another teacher and they do some type of competitive math or spelling exercise. Earlier this year I witnessed the last half of a spelling game where those who couldn't spell were left standing at their desks and then berated by the teacher for not knowing the third and fourth level words that the other kids had mastered. I can't imagine starting my day of learning this way.

Individual student scores, provided only to their respective schools, can be used to assist teachers in identifying students who may be in need of additional educational opportunities, and school scores provide information to schools and districts for curriculum and instruction improvement discussions and planning.

In compliance with §4.51(b)(4) of the PA School Code the State Board of Education approved, "specific criteria for advanced, proficient, basic and below basic levels of performance."

By April after the tests are completed, the teachers and the kids are still showing signs of post-test stress and shock, and the posters and little acrostic "poems" the classes wrote on PSSA are still up in the hallways as a reminder:

Proficient Level
Study Hard
Standards of Academics
Advanced Readers

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

To Kutztown!

KU Hosting "Wordpainters" for National Poetry Month

Two poets who do "wordpainting" and digital poetry will read at Kutztown University Wednesday, April 9, at 5 p.m. at Kutztown University for National Poetry Month.

They are Jennifer Hill Kaucher, editor of Paper Kite Press Studio and Gallery, a Kingston, PA, studio devoted to creative writing and visual art, and Dan Waber, a visual-concrete-sound poet, multimedia artist, and publisher who makes his online home at logolalia.com.

Hill-Kaucher and Waber collaborate on a variety of print and digital poetry projects. Jennifer's four books of poetry include A Proper Dress, poems examining the role of women in regional Pennsylvania history. Dan's book Boys, A-Z: A Primer is an "x-raying" of the "y-chromosome zone" given that "all boys come disguised, especially from girls."

Refreshments will be be served starting at 4:30. Books by Hill-Kaucher and Waber will be for sale, and they will sign books following the reading.

This free event open to the public is co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the English Department, and Berks Bards as part of BardFest.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why I'm Not Jenn Kaucher

It's starting to crank me up a bit how people (some who know me well) refer to me as Jenn Kaucher. That's not my name. My name is Jennifer Hill-Kaucher. You can truncate my first name all you want - J. Hill-Kaucher, Jenn Hill-Kaucher, Jenny Hill-Kaucher, Je Hill-Kaucher, you get the picture. Don't take off the Hill. Hill is the birth name that was passed to me from my parents. I plan on doing good work in the world and giving them credit. When you take off the most important part of my name, it's like getting a doll with no head. Please don't be lazy and edit out the part of my name that matters most.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Trotsky's Chirp

This morning I started to record my two poems for The Chimaera. The editors said that it's an option to offer mp3 files, but it's one I wanted to try. I don't do much recording around here, and certainly don't have an acoustically sound set-up. I had to cover up the cockatiel to keep him from chirping while I recorded my two poems. "It's nighttime, Bananafish! Go to sleep while I speak these two poems, and then it will be morning again."

I think the poems are chirp-free.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Recently Read, Slightly Reviewed

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Loaned to me by my daughter Helen, and stamped on the inside with her school's address. As I read it I wondered how many germy fingers touched it before me. Why don't I think that of library books as much? Steinbeck sure knew how to do foreshadowing and character development. The morning after I finished the book, I kept thinking about it all and had many "aha!"moments. I loved Lennie in the very first pages, and knew it wasn't going to end well for him. I was right. Bugger. Now I have to put the book in the freezer.

Blue Ruby, Heather Thomas
A full-length collection of poems that float in and out of the political and the domestic. A language of wounds and cleaving. Not light, but infused with light, intelligence and beauty.

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers, Smith Magazine
Read it in an hour. Loved it. See two posts below.

Cherry Ames Army Nurse, Helen Watts
This is the book series I can't stay away from and I don't really want to admit to reading at the same time - sort of the same appeal the "bad boy" has for most women. In this 4th installment to the series, Cherry finds herself in the Army Corps of Nurses during WWII. Curiously, the mystery never starts until about three-quarters of the way through the Cherry Ames books. In this case, it's all about tropical fevers, bungling corpsmen, and the just-right serum. Parts read like an ad campaign for the war machine. I was really expecting Cherry or one of her pals to say "Gee, isn't the war just swell?"

I Marry You, John Ciardi
On loan from a student in a workshop I'm teaching, and wow am I grateful for the loan. I've put my friend Andrea on the search for a copy of this book for me. Ciardi had a hell of an ear - the music in each line is almost Shakespearean. I've been reading the poems aloud in the morning, after I write a bit. This particular collection of poems is personal too - at a time when revealing the personal wasn't fashionable in poetry. Twists of language, and the occasional word I don't know (delicious!).

Three Books I'm Working On Now:

How To Write A Movie In 21 Days, Viki King
Terminally perky "survival guide" that promises to give the aspiring screenwriter the shortest distance from blank page to completed script. I lost it for two weeks, and found it on my desk. So much for shortest distance.

Naming the World, Edited by Bret Anthony Johnston
Exercises for the creative writer. I tend to read these in spurts. Worth it for the advice of Tom Robbins alone.

Wakefield, Andrei Codrescu
A funny, deadly-serious and brilliant novel. Poor Wakefield has a year to prove to the Devil his authentic life, or it's curtains for him. Codrescu's Beelzebub is a fun and quirky character. Unfortunately, I put the book down and haven't picked it up so I could finish all of the above. (Yes, I put down Codrescu to read Cherry Ames!) I plan to get back to this book today.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Jenny's Procrastination of Taxation Schedule

I'm a poet. Is it worth taxing me? Well the government sure thinks so. Must be all those political poems I'm writing and distributing. Every year I put off the inevitable - adding up all the pathetic figures from my freelance poeming that lead to calling myself "self-employed." It's an awful lot of work to keep track of every single cent when every single cent doesn't add up to all that much, and then to be taxed on it further...well, it makes me scrunch up my face like a dehydrated apple. I know that all my taxes more than likely won't go into filling potholes or creating playgrounds. This makes me even more scrunchy.

So the yearly schedule of procrastination works this way:

  • Receive bank statements and miscellaneous income 1099's - don't open them, file in basket above desk. A nice metaphor all year long - taxes looming overhead.
  • File bunchy receipts in basket in a folder marked "receipts" until the folder practically bursts like a dandelion gone to seed.
  • Wait until April.

Today the unveiling of this past year's income and expenses began with opening everything.

  • I checked a friend's blog, nominated some witty writing for consideration on Boing Boing, and chatted with my sister in Japan while the cat sniffed the envelopes on the floor.
  • Coffee brewing followed.
  • Stapled bank statements and ordered them into consecutive months while singing along to "Aeroplane" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
  • I decided to brush my hair and put on makeup afterall - it might make me feel better about all of this.
  • Decision to blog about tax process - began blog.

  • Began highlighting of expenses. Is Meow Mix tax-deductible? No. Neither are other groceries. We should both start hunting.
  • Completed mileage report. Over 4000 miles traveled for poetry.
  • Lunch. Chicken salad made with half a mealy apple and onion. None of this is tax-deductible.
  • Can it be right that I made no income in February last year?
  • Correct.

  • Almond nibble. Number crunch.
  • Cash receipts completed in an Excel file. Missing one 1099 form.
  • Called "payer" who owes me the 1099. Also called the "payer" who owes me a paycheck for this past month's work. Was told by latter "payer" that if there's no "situation" I'll get paid in a few days. I paid $260 in gas and tolls to get to that job for the past month. There better be no "situation." I have to pay my taxes!
  • Took a break and reviewed my social security benefit statement. Did you know that if you die your family is eligible for a SPECIAL one-time only death benefit (which in my case wouldn't cover the heating bill)? What moron worded that? Last time I checked, when someone dies they only do it once. I've sat in a social security office waiting for answers after someone dies. It's not "special" nor is it a "benefit."
  • Began the arduous task of spreadsheeting all the 2007 disbursements all done by cross-referencing checkbook entries with bank statements and receipts. Twelve months worth. Woo.
  • Took daughter to softball game. A welcome break, but the weather is so nice I wanted to be outside too. I could use the walk.
  • Made dinner, was cranky, gave up on taxes for the day. Vowed to finish in the morning.
Today is another day of deductibles, but I hope to spend only a focused few hours on it before it's done and I can go outside and play. Ultimately, who cares? I made under 25K, I will likely owe about 2K, and the world will not stop turning as a result of any of the paperwork or whining.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A delicate, clinking trove

Smith Magazine's anthology of six-word memoirs "Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers" is a delicate, clinking trove of regret, happiness and reinvention. I ordered a copy a few weeks ago from Anthology, and spent about an hour on the sofa in the store reading through the collection. Ok, so I didn't sit on the toilet and read it - which is one of the descriptions that the Smith editors give for their book - "The most literary toilet reading you'll ever find."

The best review I can give for this book is that after reading it, I shared it with many people. We passed the book around in workshops, choosing the memoirs we like best to read, and then we tried our hand at fitting our lives into a six word phrase. I've found that writing them is as addicting as the 365 project character descriptions. You can't write just one, you begin to think in six-word phrases for everything - you want everything in your life to be so compact and neat. That's the appeal, for me anyway. Total control. The appeal to the reader is a keyhole peek into another's life.

Here's one of mine:

It's always in the other purse.

Now stop lolling around here, go read a few from the book, and then write some of your own.