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Old News: April 2002

Inkburns Goes for the Gold

April 30, 2002

A special request for Inkburns readers: If you like the site (and we hope you do), please consider voting for Inkburns in the Webby Awards. According to the award site: "The Webby Awards is the leading international honor for achievement in technology and creativity." See for yourself at .

The competition is quite stiff, but we at Inkburns have never shrunk from a challenge. We're going for the Print & Zines category. This is a write-in campaign (Inkburns wasn't nominated), and we need your help. Voting continues until June 7, 2002....

To vote:

  1. Go to
  2. Register. (You must give them your name and e-mail, but the rest of the information is optional.)
  3. Select the Print & Zines category.
  4. Write in the name "Inkburns" and URL "".
  5. Tell anyone else who might also want to vote.
  6. Accept the hearty thanks of the Inkburns editorial staff.

Even if we don't win, being listed as a vote-getting site would offer welcome publicity and make a few more people aware of Inkburns. So please take a moment to write Inkburns in. Thanks!

Turning the World Into a Library

April 13, 2002

On a trip to San Francisco in 1998, I mistakenly left a hardcover copy of Bridget Jones's Diary on the plane with two envelopes inside: my credit card payment and my rent payment, both stamped and ready to mail. I was still in the airport when I realized I wasn't carrying as much as I should have been and ran back to the gate, but no one could tell me where my book and envelopes had gone. I had finished the book on the flight so it was no great loss, but the idea of destroying my credit rating in one fast move was troubling. I fretted through the week-long trip.

But I needn't have worried: Whoever found the book must have dropped the envelopes in the mail because the payments were deposited on time. I don't know what happened to the book though. Did the finder read it, or did he drop it in a Lost and Found box? Did someone else take it home later, or has it sat in a bin at SFO for years? Where is it now?

I'd like to think that a bored airplane maintenance worker found the book, was intrigued by the cover image or recognized the title from the summer hype, and read it, enjoying it as I did.

See the books I've read on my Bookshelf at
Recently I learned of a website that takes the idea of anonymous book-sharing seriously. The site is You register a book on the site, label it with a Bookcrossing ID number, and leave it somewhere to be found or give it to a friend to read. The finder or receiver sees the ID number, logs into the Bookcrossing site to say the book is found, reads the book and writes a comment or two, and then leaves the book somewhere else to continue the cycle. The whole experience is free, except of course for giving away books to the Bookcrossing world. I think of it as a donation to greater literacy.

Read and Release at
I've registered a few books and am waiting, not as patiently as one might hope, for someone to find them. Today I decided the spot I left two of them wasn't prominent enough, so I moved them. But, more than I look forward to reading what others think of the books I left, I am waiting to spot a book myself, in a dentist's office or the lobby of a municipal building. I look forward to wandering a world of thoughtfully-left books.

Back in Time

April 8, 2002

Last week I went back to 7th grade. More precisely, I was a guest speaker for five 7th grade English classes. My high school English teacher, Mr. Antognoli, invited me to talk with his classes at Neshannock High School about poetry.

There were two ironies in the situation. First, the worst grade I received in high school was from Mr. Antognoli. In 9th grade English, I had refused to do my poetry homework. I can't recall all the details, but I believe that the first poem we were to analyze was by John Donne, something like "The Good-morrow." ("I wonder by my troth, what thou and I / Did, till we loved? were we not wean'd till then? / But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?")

At the time I was into more modern authors like Kurt Vonnegut, and I found this poetry stuff so far from my taste and sense of the world that I simple ignored the assignment. As the semester wore on it became a point of honor not to do anything involving poetry. Eventually I gave in—I'm not such a big fan of honor for honor's sake, plus I didn't want to fail outright—and I handed in the long-overdue poetry homework just before the semester ended. The memory has haunted me, a foolish rebellion that I didn't even hold firm to.

Mr. Antognoli, or Dave—I get to call him Dave, now that I'm not a student, but I find it just about impossible—didn't remember any of this until I reminded him.

The second irony was that when I was in junior high, I missed several months of 7th grade. That February I was involved in a sledding accident that cracked my hip and pelvis. I lay entombed in a bodycast from ribs to toes for six weeks, and cruised around the first floor of my house in a wheelchair for six more. I healed in time to return to school before the end of the school year, but I never fully recovered from the sense that everything important and interesting at school had happened while I was away.

Of my school memories, those of 7th grade have been the darkest for me. The cliques of friends and the straggling outsiders; the trauma of not "going with" anyone (or worse, being asked to go with someone, panicking, and finding myself explaining to that someone that we couldn't date because I was too tall for him); the dreaded Presidential Fitness test, which I simply couldn't pass; the desire to fit in. I have long felt that I never quite managed that year, that it was like a missing piece of my life puzzle.

And yet I arrived one bright April morning to talk with five 7th grade classes about sestinas. I chose sestinas because, as longtime visitors to Inkburns know, I enjoy the intricacies of the sestina form, the echoes of the key words, the lyricality of the staged repetition. (You can find more about sestinas here.)

I did worry that a poetic form created by 12th century French troubadors might not appeal to American junior high school students—my own John Donne experience came back in a rush. But Mr. A had OKed my discussion plan, and I had a couple of choice, modern poems to cover: "The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina" by Miller Williams and "Nani" by Alberto Rios (which I'm not able to link to online; you can find it in The Making of a Poem).

And my classes went very well.

The students themselves were quite attentive. The fact that Mr. Antognoli was present, that I wasn't a full-fledged substitute teacher, may have had something to do with it. But the students answered the questions I posed with only a little prodding and we talked through the basics of the sestina form and the meanings of the poems.

Each class discovered something unique about the poems. One student interpreted the mint in "Nani" as after-dinner mints, because the narrator was feeling full. I hadn't read it that way myself, but I liked the alternative viewpoint. Kids laughed at the image of wrinkles speaking and described how their own grandmothers feed them the minute they arrive for a visit. We talked about cliches and why "serving the ants" packs more of a punch than "feeding the worms."

The key point that Mr. Antognoli made and the poems demonstrated was that poetry can capture and communicate emotions and ideas that are difficult to articulate. Each reading of the two poems yielded new insights; by the time I'd read them aloud to the fifth class, I saw anew how the form and images reinforced the content, how the six key words for each poem captured the main sentiment.

I left wanting to try writing another sestina, to use what I'd discovered. More than that, though, I left feeling a little closer to wholeness. I'd worried that I didn't know enough about poetry to teach anyone, but found that I could share what I did know with others and help them discover elements that appealed to them. I'd sweated that I wouldn't know how to relate to 12 and 13-year-old students, but discovered that they're just like anyone, anxious to figure out what's going on and how they can get through a day (or a poetry class).

Spending a day as a guest speaker didn't make up for my John Donne mutiny or those missing months of junior high, but it did help me see that I didn't need to.

Thinking of writing a sestina? Please share it on the Inkboard.