Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

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Some thoughts on publishing poetry

It doesn’t matter. I say this and yet I do dedicate some small portion of time to what I call “Po-Biz”–the business of getting the poetry I write (because I must), into a more public sphere where I can call it art.

I have put some thoughts on this link.

https://www.smore.com/n3wr1-submitting-poetry-for-publication

I keep the eye on writing new and better poems, poems that I need to get through the collective trauma of our lives. And yet, if I am to take myself seriously as a poet, a maker of art, I must share these poems to see if they work and how they work in the larger world.

Making me art helps me to see beauty in what may otherwise be scary, record it, and share.

New poem draft for a found dog

“She’s nice so someone will want her”

A black stray, mangled with grey

sluff under a thin, black coat, rib

bones so pronounced under torso

one can imagine her already under

grounds she barely stands on. Hind leg

contorted, dragged two miles to follow me

home after I’d held her a plastic water cup.

People don’t always want what’s nice.

They want four legs, Labs or Retrievers.

Or they fall on hard times and are harder

on those below them. The dog’s second

full dish of food’s gone.  Her tail’s aflame,

screen whacking in wait while  our first

rescue pup spoons with me on the sofa,

certain of two meals a day, treats to sit. Stay.

Okay! chirped and he bounds the front yard

while the back’s closed with this homeless girl.

When I said we’d take her, soon, to animal control

I was startled by my son’s words, the same I wanted

to believe. But there’s not as much niceness

going around. We’re starved for it, the full

feeling so grand, you want to feed it

from your hand, bathe its soiled, sore paw,

scratch its kind head as she bows.

*To donate to “Cardi’s” amputation surgery costs, http://athenscaninerescue.com/donations/

Poetry is a Form of Research

New Interview Published in The Napkin Poetry Review:

“According to Dr. Melisa (Misha) Cahnmann-Taylor, poetry “can wiggle its way into so many lives and minds because of its unmarked visibility. Poems are small tastes of revolution that can pass.”  Here, she talks about how poetry can be used as a research tool, particularly in ethnography, and the creative value of bridging arts and sciences—where can quantitative research miss out or benefit from poetry? How can this cross-disciplinary mindset be incorporated into classrooms?” Link below.

https://www.napkinpoetryreview.org/poetry-is-a-form-of-research-interview-with-dr-melisa-misha-cahnmann-taylor

6 poemas en traducción; 6 translated poems!

http://www.revistaaltazor.cl/melisa-cahnmann-taylor-2/?fbclid=IwAR1Pbkomo_duwGK7zAzDieCSuRaSg6YtH2z1qSoKxAvT3T2-FYm5KqFwNyk

I feel so honored by these translations of my poems in Altazor. So many thanks to Mario Meléndez Muñoz, Khedija Gadhoum, and Helena Alonso.

Warning: Mushy Feelings About Being Translated into Spanish

***Warning***Changing Languages***You Must like Languages and the Speakers of Any Language to Continue onto this beautiful Spanish translation of my bio that I tried to do but was much improved by Helena Alonso and Khédija Gadhoum (mil gracias). Bio and then some thoughts on being translated (oh díos mio, what a feeling).

BIO.

Melisa “Misha” Cahnmann-Taylor, es profesora de educación, lengua y alfabetización en la Universidad de Georgia. Es autora del poemario Imperfect Tense, (White Point Press, 2016 https://www.amazon.com/Imperfect-Tense-Melisa-Cahnmann-Taylor-ebook/dp/B01HPA9RBA), y varios libros de investigación en el campo de educación, entre ellos: Teachers Act Up: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities Through Theatre (Teachers College Press, 2010); Arts-Based Research in Education(Routledge, 2008; 2018), y Enlivening Language Education through Drama & Improv (con publicación en curso en Routledge).  Es recipiente de cuatro becas de National Endowment for the Arts (NEA “Big Read”), El Premio Beckman para “Los profesores que inspiran cambios sociales”.  En poesía, ganó los Premios Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg y Anna Davidson, y una beca Fulbright de nueve meses, para investigar el tema del aprendizaje del español entre los adultos, en el estado de Oaxaca, México.  Es oradora en materia de pedagogía y desarrollo de lenguajes artísticos y consultora en lingüística,. Desde el 2005, se ha desempeñado como editora de la revista Anthropology & Humanism, y ha servido como jueza del concurso anual de poesía etnográfica. Actualmente es embajadora Fulbright de los EE.UU. Es graduada del programa MFA Low-Residency del New England College, y del programa de doctorado en educación lingüística de la Universidad de Pensilvania.  Sus poemas, ensayos y artículos sobre el aprendizaje de idiomas se encuentran en su blog: http://teachersactup.com

The above is the bio that two Spanish speakers helped me to write because even though I can (I think I can) communicate myself in Spanish, there’s a literary eloquence that I never acquired that these two women have. This after Khédija sent me the final translation of 6 of my poems. I read them outloud and I felt like a college student reading a Spanish literary text. It was so beautiful and the Spanish words were often so out of my reach, that I had to go to my own translation to confirm what I had originally written in English. This is not to say that I didn’t understand the Spanish–that’s not entirely true. What I couldn’t understand was how good a really good translator really is. Their combined efforts made me feel like I was reading a different person’s poem, but it was my poem–my ideas transformed by their artfulness in their first language. It’s a strange feeling of exhuberance as a bilingual–to feel seen and deeply understood from English to Spanish. I approximate this when speaking in my second tongue but I still feel so limited in my eloquence, my reach for words, and my intensions truly communicated fluently and personally.

I am so grateful to experience this feeling, one I don’t expect to be lucky enough to have often. Maybe like childbirth and owning my first rescue pup, this experience of having one’s poems translated into another language feels special, unforgettable. I don’t take this experience lightly. I feel the burden of how often I might wish for this level of bilingual expression and how so few of us ever achieve this feeling of self in a second or additional language.

Isn’t this the wish we have for all bilingual youth, to become themselves their own best translators? To interpret this experience to the rest of us so stuck in the habits of a single mother tongue that even years of study and practice later, we feel misunderstood.

Or maybe we are always misunderstood. Maybe the best we can do is to try to find the language to articulate through the limitations of any language. There comes a thrill when writing through a poem toward some newer understanding of what it means to be human, to feel as though you are both predator and prey caught in a web that will inevitable get knocked down.

You don’t know if anyone really gets you.

But maybe, in two languages, you have twice the opportunity to try to be understood.

Seat in the Shade Poetry Series 2020

These eleven educator poets have been working with me via Zoom all July to acquire the craft, practice, and possibility of poetry when teaching and learning language. Some of these poets are grappling with the uncertainty of online or face to face K-16+ instruction in the near future; others continue full time Ph.D. and/or graduate work; many do both: full time teachers and part-time graduate students. I marvel at how wide open our hearts and minds can be via online instruction. Sometimes fearful of being too personal or too specific in terms of diverse ages, genders, sexualities, races, countries and languages of origin, we say to one another: go deeper, go darker, give us the resonant details of experience.

And each poet has done so.

Tomorrow, Friday July 24, these poets get to sit back, relax and listen to two dynamic and experienced poets read from their work.

Then each teacher poet in the class will share the results of their poetic journeys with the public on July 29, Wednesday at 5pm by Zoom.

Press the button below to visit our website link.

I hope you can join us. I have learned so much from these fantastic individuals featured in the above events and I look forward to sharing this with you!

New COVID-19 poem draft. Trying to stay light and sane through language.

Nouning, March 2020

V. The process of turning verbs and adjectives into nouns, also called nominalization.

 

What an awesome

spread!

 

Said at weddings,

even funerals,

 

of butter,

gossip,

 

wings,

two facing

 

newspaper pages.

What spreads.

 

We said this

for uncountable

 

nouns: acres,

days, contagious

 

smiles, laundered

tablecloths,

 

for gaps

between sellers’

 

asks and buyers’

bids. When panic

 

emptied grocery

shelves, cancelled

 

parades, rain checked

games, invitations,

 

we were spread

thinner, worked

 

from home,

returned, gloved

 

and masked to old

fashioned

 

verbing so as

not to spread

 

too much

of ourselves

 

around.

To My Social Media Group Where Parents Complain about Lack of Leadership During the COVID outbreak

No one, no one, knows what to do in this situation. 
My communities online are remarking our leadership’s blunders in policy (changing from morning to afternoon), misspellings, grammar gaffs, missed curfew opportunities, misdirections.  Sometimes, I laugh.  Sometimes, I worry.  My wish now is that we’d all stop complaining about the lack of direction or uncertainty.
No one, no one, knows what to do in this situation. 
Everyone in my area and state (yours too?) are trying their best, Georgia style, for better and for worse.  Everyone also has self interest at stake. Everyone has questions. How can a small business person survive if no one is leaving their home for services or goods? How can those who need to work at home possibly continue to work if children are around and we must suddenly become full daycare providers and home-school educators? How are we going to get through this?
It’s so hard not to know what the plan is.  All the more difficult when our leaders are compromised at the very top, eschewing science and pandering to greed and ignorance. In light of this 1) lack of leadership or 2) leaders who are uncertain; 3) leaders who are compromised in intelligence or 4) by greed or 5) leaders who do “know better” but are following orders from above (#s 1-4), we all suffer.
This is why it is essential that we rethink leadership at every level.  This means me.  This means you.  We must lead like we wish to be lead, with patience, curiosity, compassion, and wisdom, in our homes and in our online forums.  Be the leader you wish were the one making decisions now at your school, workplace, city, state, nation.
We parents, who always have so much to complain about, need to lead our households in this new normal–how to give our kids stimulating tasks at home, what meaningful life information to teach them, what online tools are available, and how to keep ourselves fit and sane through this pandemic while trying to juggle any work we are lucky enough to still have  (I cannot overlook my great privilege now, still having paid work). We prepare for two weeks which will likely turn out to be a much longer ride. I am preparing to be home through May, maybe longer.  I am frightened.  I am unclear.
I wish all our current leaders, including leaders of our own homes, the greatest of wisdom and courage in these uncertain, “unchartered” (ha! amusing blunder!) times.
I am pleased my state suspended schools and primaries.  I am disappointed my own city government will not enforce (not yet) a curfew that I believe would be the necessary bad guy move.  But can we afford to support our local businesses if we require them to close?  Without an authoritarian regime, how do we enforce rules to keep us all safe and at home?
No one, no one, knows.  No one wants our town, city, state or nation to follow Italy’s example, multiplying speedily the disease because we were afraid to shut ourselves down.   But we will follow Italy in our towns and nation unless we act with speed to curtail our actions–the U.S./North America is just bigger than Italy, COVID’s spread will just take more time.
My husband, a great family leader, reminded us at our house meeting that previous generations have each had their great challenges: Vietnam(parents), World Wars (grandparents), the Great Depression (great grandparents). What have our generations had? Have we ever had that was like this? Global warfare where the bad guy is a fast spreading, deadly disease? No. Never. Never at this scale.  
Peer parents in despair, when you complain about our local leaders and local decisions, please consider being a leader at home and in your online communities.  Share good information, indications of positive action, ideas to support those who have less, activities to generate new thinking and thoughtful conversation at home.  Make us laugh! Help us see the flaws in our system and leadership decisions but also help us see opportunities.  Write to your leaders with these good ideas, float them to others to see if they stick.  The only hope we have is that this current pandemic can unify us all to be in this together, at our very best, against common enemies: greed, ignorance, disease, untimely death.
We are all online now, eating up news that zaps our spirit and energy.  Send someone a kindness, a query.  If they are too busy, they may not respond.  But you might just hit the right soft spot in someone else, reminding each other that the virtual world, in groups and in individual correspondence, can be a source of cynicism and fear mongering, but it can also be a source of strength and renewal too.

“Let’s not sugar coat manure”

Last night a graduate of Clarke Middle School, Nikema Stovall, stood up to ask us to stop speaking around issues of concern and to start speaking up for positive change.  He was with friends, a mom and grandmom, whose young son is repeatedly bullied.  He is afraid to ride the bus.  His struggles are real, recurring, and worrisome.  Ultimately, his mom said to do what he had to do and fight back.  This should not be any child’s school experience.  Because we were at the parents meeting yesterday we were able to meet and I was able to learn more about life from her perspective in the African American community.  She expressed a concern shared by many: we are not serious enough about discipline.  We are not impacting families’ enough to help them change and support children who are respectful in schools.

But the principal did not sugar coat the manure.  He bravely showed us the statistics of just how many “events” teachers have reported from August to February–over 800 incidents in more than a dozen different categories of misbehavior.  He shared with us how these events and students are disaggregated by race.  82% of all events reported concern the African American students* at the school; 92% if you count those identified as multiracial.  Let’s not sugar coat the manure, Nikema’s truthful words.

I feel lucky I was close enough to this family to hear their concerns, to know they are working with a district professional, Kecia, who is helping them plan talks with Black parents in our community.  “Do you want to come?” Yes, I said and gave them my number.  I would like to be the minority in the room, a room filled with Black parents who love their children and want to look at what’s happening.

Instead, we were sitting in a room mostly filled with white parents and over a dozen incredible teachers there to support their well respected principal.  The trigger was that our beloved band teacher quit suddenly, claiming this was about persistent underfunding of the music and arts programs as well as about the verbal and physical abuse he experienced from students on a regular basis in an overcrowded classroom.  This was just after an extraordinary band concert that left everyone in the audience amazed at what one man can do with that many students over the span of 6th to 8th grade, from “hot cross buns” to complicated ensemble pieces.   Many of us were there to grieve the sudden loss of a successful teacher.  Many of us were angry or fearful that what he said was true.  Could it be that we were willingly sending our kids to an underfunded, under resourced and dangerous place?

An entire team of teachers were there shaking their heads, no.  They were disappointed in their former colleague–they value the band teacher as a human, a friend.  But his message undermines their strengths, the entire school.  His public email of sudden resignation added fuel to the fire of distrust in public schools.  We wanted someone to be wrong, we wanted something to be fixed.  Why did the band teacher leave us like that? Real problems unmet? Maybe.  The principal, who is new to his position, said he had already discussed changes to add another teacher next year and reduce numbers.  No support for egregious discipline problems? Not true–the statistics show 100s of cases of disciplinary actions when teachers call for help.  Disincentives from the school and district to report discipline? Too few disciplinary options that don’t just prevent kids from learning (suspensions, expulsions)? There are layers of issues, some that can be addressed in the short or longer term and some are layered in a society still trying to figure out how to live fairly together in a system where cycles of privilege and poverty continue and the split widens.  Public schools may be the only places where we can still see and feel the split.

We puzzled over the statistics provided.  Why are so many of our African American pre-teens and new teens (how many students constitute the 82%* of cases?) experiencing disciplinary action at school? What are some answers?  Because of this meeting I got to meet and talk with a small number of African American members of my community.

Racism and teacher bias? A community overwhelmed by intergenerational poverty and the violence that can often accompany situations of desperation and need? Adolescence and changing bodies and problems no matter what race you are (Don’t I know it)? Single parent households? Subpar housing conditions? Limited work opportunities? One can quickly get overwhelmed by what’s underneath the sugar.

But even after we complained and grieved, I feel better after the meeting. I made new friends.  I have a new level of complicated understanding.  I was impressed by the many incredible teachers at the building well into the night to support their principal and listen to parents’ concerns.  I spent time with people with whom I might never otherwise engage.

I believe the healthy future depends on having many more conversations across different perspectives.  What is the principal experiencing? The teachers? Our kids–all kinds of kids? The parents, a diverse group of humans with different levels of affluence and worry.  I feel it is a civic responsibility to support public schools even if that means asking the hard questions and staying late to figure out what is in our control to change and what is beyond our control.  To name it and make peace with it, some of us with prayer.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

We are rich in diversity in my community but only if we live with it–sugar and manure, all of it.  This struggle laid bare will make us stronger.

*It is unclear to me how many students make up the different reported events–if 82% of the cases of disciplinary action represent a handful of students who repeatedly misbehave or many more than a handful.  This is a question for the administration.  Another questions is why all other students experience such low disciplinary action. A mother of an LGTBQIA student said her child is repeatedly the victim of bullying by white boys which goes unaddressed. The problems are complicated but can and are being addressed through a courageous new approach called “restorative justice.” One can see a trend that the disciplinary cases are going down each month as the school year progresses and the principal would ask of us: patience.  To see if the proactive practices they have just started will start to yield more positive effects.

Poems Published/Accepted 2019

I’ve learned that rejection is a part of the writer’s business.  If you are pleasing (accepted) some of the time, this is a sign that you’re on the path to finding an audience for your work. I keep learning not to take a reject personally.  But what to do when the acceptances roll in? Celebrate? Sigh of relief? Move on and wish for the bigger catch: the full manuscript publication? Today, I take stock and celebrate the poems published or in waiting to be published 2019-2020.

I hope they can cohere into my second poetry book and find a publisher, next step for the manuscript.  The book title keeps changing and is currently Gargling Stones.  Here are some poems that will be in this new book in the making:

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, Spring/Summer 2020). Am I really that Jewish? Poet Lore.https://www.poetlore.com/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, February 21, 2020). We’re Always in a Watershed. Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. http://www.borderlands.org/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, February 21, 2020). Artist’s Sacrifice. Swimm Every Day. https://www.swwim.org/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, January, 2020). Undocumented Pantoum. Journal of Latina Critical Feminism. https://www.facebook.com/journallcf/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, January, 2020). Simón Ghazal. Journal of Latina Critical Feminism. https://www.facebook.com/journallcf/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (In Press, January, 2020). Museum Says 75% of All American Comedians Were Jews in 1975. Anthropocene. https://www.anthropocenepoetry.org/

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) Congratulations Ghazal. James James Dickey Review.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019, published Jan 2020) Poetry Reading, Writer’s House Philadelphia. James Dickey Review.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019, published Jan 2020) “Pora Brought Sewing Needles to the Women’s March. James Dickey Review.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019, published Jan 2020) Activism Dolor. James Dickey Review. Distinguished lines online: https://www.facebook.com/james.review/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARBavs0dSKa9ztX4WdGo1YTVY01jSeWj5qOdhRrWSHcOGVrOgK6YnYvO_dEjFpBdrIfAM-C3BdTM-RUO

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019). US and Israeli Jews are bound.  Poetica Magazine. (Award Winner) https://www.poeticamagazine.com/2018-adrpaward-winners

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (trad. por América Invertida).  Anika says “We are eternal”/Anika dice, “Somos eternos” (76-77).  https://auladepoesia.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/amc3a9rica-invertida-4-def.pdf

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (trad. por América Invertida).  First Grade/Primer Grado (80-81).  https://auladepoesia.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/amc3a9rica-invertida-4-def.pdf

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (trad. por América Invertida).  Teaching Poetry in Georgia Schools/Enseñar poesía en las escuelas de Georgia (78-79).  https://auladepoesia.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/amc3a9rica-invertida-4-def.pdf

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) Sanctuary. Temple Times.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) ” Nothing’s more unfair than to judge the men of the past by the ideas of the present.” http://ninemile.org/ 6(2), 152.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) ” Pora’s Drought Song.” http://ninemile.org/ 6(2), 155.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) ” Would Pora have told?.” http://ninemile.org/ 6(2), 156.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) “Treatment.”  http://ninemile.org/ 6(2),157.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (May 2019) “Postpartum Depression.” www.sleetmagazine.com 11(1).

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) “How Do You Wrap a Poem.” www.sleetmagazine.com 11(1).

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019) “Tel Aviv University Economist Explains the Endowment Effect.” www.sleetmagazine.com 11(1).

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019). Jetlag Ghazal, Middle East to Southeast Georgia. So & So Magazine (issue 9).   < https://www.soandsopoetry.org/magazine>

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019). U.S. Embassy Officially Recognizes Jerusalem as its Capital. So & So Magazine (issue 9).  < https://www.soandsopoetry.org/magazine>

Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2019). US and Israeli Jews are Bound. So & So Magazine (issue 9).  < https://www.soandsopoetry.org/magazine>

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