Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

max-salt-marsh-cover-site
This thirty-page book will be sold at cost in the United States. 

 From the Introduction

I met Max when he already had achieved a certain notoriety. It was incongruous to me that the peaceful, soft-spoken man I beheld could be the cause of controversy. But it was exactly his peaceful nature that gave rise to offense.

Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr. was Poet Laureate of Nassau Country, New York. This is the sort of honor that usually attracts little attention, outside the poetry community. But that’s not how things worked in Nassau County.

The County Legislature decided Max was not worthy to be Poet Laureate, because he had written a book about peace in a time of war.

Max’s nomination was rejected. This slight suggested that, not only did the bureaucrats know little about poetry, but they also had a poor understanding of poets.

The poetry community dismissed the dismissal. They crowned their laureate, who had earned his title through acclaim and accomplishment. Hence, Max, a quiet, slight figure with a steady gaze, became the center of controversy.

Max was my teacher. He led a group of Taproot writers. That’s what he called all of us, no matter our skill level: everyone was a poet and everyone was a writer. Over time, this proved true, to varying degrees, for those who persevered under his leadership.

Each voice in the group was given a moment in the spotlight, and each was respected. The only exceptions to this rule were when voices were raised in hatred or anger. Neither of these sentiments survived long in a group led by a man of peace.

Max held his sessions in the fall and spring. When time came to sign up for a session, I’d go down the first day I was allowed. His class was so popular that it might be oversubscribed and I’d be shut out. However, there was little danger of that. Though the door might be officially closed to late entrants, I can’t recall a time when Max turned someone away.

There was, for example, the day a distracted woman wandered into our room. None of us knew her. She was looking for another event and accidentally stumbled upon our class.

A chair was empty, so she sat down. She even joined in the discussion, as I recall. Max didn’t suggest that she was unwelcome, or in the wrong place. When she left, he didn’t chuckle derisively, as some might have been tempted to do. We took our lead from his behavior, as we always did.

That episode captured Max’s strength, and his character. He filled the room with grace, the grace of kindness and generosity. And he had the strength to enforce this environment, by example, and by instruction, when necessary.

I learned to write under Max’s tutelage. Before I entered his class, there was so much I didn’t know. He never let on, as I floundered in those early days. My confidence grew and his lessons took root. It is rare that I write a piece now, and Max’s hand is not on it.

There was a time when I had little patience for poetry. It seemed a self-indulgent art with little objective value. I still don’t write poetry, despite Max’s best efforts, but my ears, my eyes and my heart are open to it.

For the last few years I’ve been writing nonstop–books, blogs, reviews. There is a sense of time running out, but there’s more than that. Max helped me to find my voice and to develop the belief that I can do it, that my effort is valid.

Thank you, Max, for everything. You were an artist, a peacemaker and a teacher. You are missed.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient Greece: Book Review

poseidon-2
Poseidon, as drawn by Marie Briot, 1685

By Carole P. Roman

According to renowned psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980), young children go through an egocentric stage of development. At this time in their lives, they don’t have the ability to imagine experience from another point of view. The world is important only in so far as it relates to them. Piaget’s discovery is something most parents and teachers recognize and it is the principle at work in Carol Roman’s If You Were Me and Lived in….Ancient Greece. The book puts the child at the center of the Ancient Greek universe.

Concrete, realistic scenes carry the narrative forward. Children are invited to use their imagination and place themselves in various real-life situations. Each of these scenarios is accompanied by a vivid illustration.

If You Were Me and Lived in… Ancient Greece is not a long book, but it does manage to convey a trove of information. The marketplace, domestic life and even politics are covered. Some information will be startling, though not upsetting, to young children. Learning about the Greek system of slavery will certainly impress them. They might find it hard to believe that a person can be free, captured and then enslaved for life. Equally surprising may be the discussion about gender roles. Girls will no doubt protest when they learn how diminished their status would be, if they lived in Ancient Greece.

One aspect of Greek culture that is handled skillfully is the subject of gods. As children grow older they’ll probably be obliged to learn about Greek mythology. Familiarity with the most important of the gods will likely help them to sort the myriad personalities. Each god introduced by Ms. Roman is presented in the context of that deity’s role in society. Poseidon, for example, rules the sea, so shipping and trade are connected to him. And Heracles, known for extraordinary strength, is associated with a description of the Olympics.

If You Were Me and Lived in …Ancient Greece is beautifully illustrated. The book begins with an airplane ride and magically transports children to another time and place. It is a journey they will eagerly embrace. Be prepared to read this book many times, because it is bound to become a favorite.

An Invitation To Write, For ‘Non-Writers’

pen and paper
Try to see the blank page as an opportunity and not a challenge.

By A. G. Moore

You’re probably reading this essay because you want to improve your writing skills. That is the first and most important step on the path to good writing. The next step is easier.  Pick up your instrument of choice–a pen, a pencil, a keyboard–and start writing.

Writing is like speaking.  At first, when you begin–whether it’s a foreign language or your native language in the early years of life–speaking requires great effort. You struggle for the correct phrase. You stumble and make mistakes.  After a while, as you practice and use language on a daily basis, your speech becomes smoother. You think less about how you say something and more about what you want to say.  This is fluency.

Fluency is the goal in writing and is achieved in exactly the same way that it is accomplished in speech: practice.  The more frequently you write, the more fluent your writing becomes.  Once fluency is achieved, certain techniques and rules will help to make the writing more effective. These rules and techniques are easily mastered, but they won’t work unless you have something to use them on.  So write–anything.  Write what you’d like to say.  Worry about correctness later.

Organization, grammar, style–these will come with time. Think of the pieces you write as blocks of clay.  Each time you start out there is no shape, no form to the clay.  As you begin to mold you have an idea of what you would like to see at the end of your sculpting.  After the first cuts, the lump of clay won’t look like anything.  After a while, as you shape a crude form, you can go back with your chisel and refine your art.

That’s exactly what happens in most writing.

Of course, there are exceptions. There are brilliant masters who have a touch of genius.  Words pour from them as water does from a fountain. Most of us don’t have that gift. Most of us will settle for communicating effectively.  If that is your goal, then form an idea, sit in front of a blank page and begin to express your idea.  Once you have words on a page, once you have the rough clay crudely formed, you can use basic techniques to fashion a finished product.  Logic, grammar, style–these are just carefully targeted cuts in the clay.  They can be added and adjusted as the piece takes shape.

The more often you engage in the process of writing, the more fluent you will become. If you doubt this, think about the way you learned to speak. You’ll realize that the separation between the spoken word and the written word is merely a matter of perspective and familiarity. Both of these are in your control and really present no barrier at all.