Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"Storm Warnings" #SOL17

As I listened to the devastating news about Hurricane Harvey all weekend, Adrianne Rich's "Storm Warnings" spoke to me. Rich's layered lyric to an approaching storm parallels life's emotional storms. 

Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come onRegardless of prediction.

Radar image of Hurricane Harvey

I wanted my students to have a personal sense of both Harvey's impact as they recalled their own life storms. Often these national events feel far away, as does an approaching storm that suddenly slams our lives. The past few weeks, I've experienced and written about these emotional deluges. Only those who have lived through a natural disaster can begin to understand the challenges that confront Houston. 

Time in the hand is not control of time,...

I have friends in Houston. My college friend Susan has been sharing her experiences and personal history as a third generation Houstonian. My friend Erica embodies resilience as she fought the flooding of her home and worked to salvage cherished family heirlooms. She has ripped up carpeting and set up a FB page for guiding others in their classroom efforts to aide Harvey's victims.

My friend Ann, who retired a few years ago as our school media specialist and who now lives in Florida, is in Houston visiting her daughter Katy. I message Katy who has lived in Houston since 2008. My friend Dennis, whom I met virtually but with whom I've found a kindred spirit in our love of Shakespeare and political bent, has personal challenges as a caregiver that complicated riding out the storm.

As I checked in on my friends throughout Sunday, I remembered that my sister-in-law Lani has been working in Houston and traveling home to Oklahoma on the weekends. I texted my brother to see if Lani was in Houston during the storm and learned her apartment is in downtown Houston but that she is home in Broken Arrow.

Between foreseeing and averting change 
Lies all the mastery of elements 

My students often live day-to-day with little knowledge of current events, so I was not surprised when I learned most students had not heard about Harvey. I don't understand the self-imposed isolation that results in this "flat world" worldview, but I do know I can take the "teachable moment" and help fill in the gaps. This is why my AP Lit and Comp students and I read and discussed Storm Warnings" Monday afternoon.

This early experience with a complicated poem left my students silent, the way the eye of a hurricane offers false calm before unleashing its destructive forces. Similarly, my students felt the force of Rich's words, but they will need time to recover the poem's full meaning. 

This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

We ned poetry to steel our souls against the onslaught of 

Storm Warnings

*The poem in its entirety follows: 

Storm Warnings
-Adrienne Rich

The glass has been falling all the afternoon, 

And knowing better than the instrument
What winds are walking overhead, what zone
Of grey unrest is moving across the land,
I leave the book upon a pillowed chair
And walk from window to closed window, watching
Boughs strain against the sky

And think again, as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
Into this polar realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.

Between foreseeing and averting change 

Lies all the mastery of elements 
Which clocks and weatherglasses cannot alter. 
Time in the hand is not control of time, 
Nor shattered fragments of an instrument 
A proof against the wind; the wind will rise, 
We can only close the shutters.

I draw the curtains as the sky goes black 
And set a match to candles sheathed in glass 
Against the keyhole draught, the insistent whine 
Of weather through the unsealed aperture. 
This is our sole defense against the season; 
These are the things we have learned to do 
Who live in troubled regions.

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  1. I too have friends in Houston (lived there for 11 years)and spent yesterday and the day before checking on them. Thanks for sharing this poem with your students. Love your description of it as a layered lyric.

    1. Ramona, your heart must be breaking for your friends and for your Houston memories. 😪

  2. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, we are forced to confront the world view instead of hide from it. I still remember being 12 years old and my father waking me up to tell me we had no school...only because a hurricane was headed our way. Then the taping of the windows and putting up plywood over them. It was scary and I'll never forget it, but we came out okay. What the people in Texas and in other places who have been affected are feeling, especially those who are experiencing complete devastation, I can't even fathom, but my thoughts and prayers are definitely with them. Thank you for sharing this poem...such a great abstract piece that can totally be compared to this tangible hurricane; and thank you also for sharing your writing!