Poetry Friday: Mindfulness and the Poet Joyce Sidman

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Much easier said than done.  Author/illustrator Bryan Collier once asked an audience if they had caught the color of the day that morning when they left the house. In other words, were they being mindful.

Winter has a reputation for being drab and gray. Sometimes a pristine blanket of white brightens the landscape, but too quickly it becomes trampled and dirty. Earlier this week, while driving to work (the one time of day I remember to be mindful), I was treated to a glorious pink sky. Joyce Sidman’s award-winning Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors immediately came to mind. She writes

“In the WINTER dawn

Pink blooms


over pastel hills.”

Isn’t that lovely? Pamela Zagarenski’s Caldecott-Honor winning illustrations perfectly complement Sidman’s beautifully crafted images.


Sidman’s mindfulness, her keen observation, is evident in every poem. Colors are personified as they change from season to season. Sidman’s imagery seems effortless, yet creates a sense of wonder that makes readers want to rush outside and drink in the beauty that surrounds them.

Teachers across the country have many questions about the place of poetry as they implement the CCSS. Can they even still teach poetry? Of course they can! Reading Literature Standard 4 states that students will “Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning and tone.” This begs to be addressed through poetry. Joyce Sidman’s work is a perfect place to start. Not only can students examine her figurative language and word choice, they can follow her example of mindfulness. Teaching students to view the world with awareness so they can gather their own ideas, seeds of writing to come, is just as critical as any skill listed in the standards.

Joyce Sidman’s work deserves a place in all classrooms. Indeed, the National Council of Teachers of English just named her the 2013 winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Read more about Red Sings from the Treetops and Sidman’s other books here. Congratulations, Joyce, and thank you for creating poems that remind us to always pay close attention to the world around us.

Auld Lang Syne–An Old Friend Not Forgotten

Halloween 1978I graduated from high school in 1978. This was the era of that old perfume commercial with the song: “I can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan.” When I arrived on the Orono campus of the University of Maine in September of that year, this was the very hazy vision I had of my future. And that is, for the most part, how it’s turned out. The route certainly hasn’t been direct, but 35 years later, here I am with my family and career.

That hazy vision of the future led me to the first friend I made at UMO (as we called it then). My favorite posters had made the journey from Connecticut with me, but any way to secure these to the walls had not. Fortunately, the girl across the hall had a little kit full of thumbtacks, nails, and other odds and ends. By another stroke of good fortune, she was kind, friendly, and generous, and shared her thumbtacks with me.

Over the next two years, we shared much more, and she was a bridesmaid in my wedding. When my first son was born, she was one of the first people I called. And despite the distance between Maine and Connecticut, her career-track life vs. my detour  at home with my kids, and the fact that telephones and snail mail were the only means of communication, we stayed close for the next ten years or so.

I last saw my friend in 1990 or 1991, when I met her in Boston for a Monet exhibit. Nothing in that visit led me to believe it would be our last. Even though our lives were very different, we spent the afternoon talking about our lives, and laughing at memories of our younger selves. We said goodbye as if we’d see each other again in a year or so, but would be in touch by phone or letter long before that.

And then, before, I knew it, more than a year had passed since I heard from her. My Christmas card was returned, the forwarding order expired. I called a mutual friend to see if she had a current address. She hadn’t had any recent contact either. I even tried locating her parents, but it seemed they had moved also.

More years passed with no word to anyone she had known at UMO. By now, the internet was ubiquitous, but somehow it never occurred to me to search for her. After 9/11, I scanned the New York Times daily for her name. Boston had been the last place I knew she lived, after all. Thankfully, her name wasn’t there, but it was as if she had vanished into thin air.

When my high school class was organizing our 25th reunion, I volunteered to locate addresses. As I sat at my computer one afternoon, it occurred to me to try and find my long-lost friend. Suddenly, there she was. A Very Important Person at a Very Important Company. There was even a picture! I was overjoyed. I wanted to phone her immediately. Because it was Sunday, I didn’t, but I did write her a letter and sent it to her work address. I didn’t expect a response immediately, but I did think she would respond.    Months went by. I even asked my cousin, who also works at a Very Important Company, if I’d breached some rule of etiquette. She didn’t think I had.

Friends come in and out of our lives every day. I know this. But somehow, my loss of this friend seems more personal. I’ve always had a nagging suspicion that my choice to stay home when my children were little or to be a teacher were unworthy, that I wasn’t good enough for her glamorous life. These thoughts come from my own insecurities and are completely unfair to her, but there they are.

I often I think of my friend at this time of year. Because any and all information is available every minute of they day, sometimes I Google her for the heck of it. She’s still at the same company, where she’s now an even more Important Person. But I haven’t tried to contact her again. Nor will I. I have my memories of the many happy times we spent together, and those are enough.