Tag: Texas


Poet Can’t Answer Questions About Her Own Poem on Texas Standardized Test

It was brought to poet Sara Holbrook’s attention that one of her poems is used to test Texas students on a standardized test. Holbrook looked at the questions being asked. She can’t answer them.


Sara Holbrook

Sara Holbrook | Image Via Loganberry Books


It all started when an eighth grade teacher from Texas emailed Holbrook, asking her how many stanzas were in her poem. He needed to know in order for his students to answer practice questions. However, the poem wasn’t formatted correctly. The question was:




A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.
B) Ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happen
C) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays
D) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.


C) is allegedly the correct answer, but Holbrook is unconvinced. According to her, “I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.”


That isn’t offered as an answer because poetic interpretation can’t be broken down into multiple choice. You cannot discuss a poem as “either this or that is the case.” Instead, making meaning of a poem depends on a kind of spectrum of possibility. By putting the stanza break here, Holbrook could be trying to do this, but she could also be trying to do this. No serious reader of poetry sees anything as black and white. That’s the beauty, the point even, of poetry. No easy answers.


And for Holbrook, the WRITER of the poem in question, the answers are far from easy. Here is an excerpt of her poem “Midnight” and its corresponding question:


. . . And I meander to its rhythm,
flopping like a fish.
Why can’t I get to sleep?
Why can’t I get to sleep?


14. The poet uses a simile in lines 23 and 24 to reveal that the speaker —


F  wants to be outside G  cannot get comfortable H  does not like fishing J   might be having a dream


To do a proper analysis of any poem’s use of abstract imagery, an interpreter would need hundreds of words. Four brief choices on a scantron do not do justice to the spectrum of meaning that any metaphor creates.


Holbrook says, “I can’t answer the questions on my own poetry.” Neither can I. In your position, neither could anybody. Of course, the victim here isn’t Holbrook. The victims are the students and teachers expected to make sense of quantifying poetic interpretation. Not only is it impossible to decipher what the test maker thinks the correct answer is, it’s actively ruining poetry in young people. They’re being taught (to no fault of the teachers) that one’s reading of a poem is either right or wrong. To this I’d say pick up Gertrude Stein and tell me what exactly “A rose is a rose is a rose” means. There just isn’t one way to interpret poetry.


For Holbrook’s full thoughts on this calamity, click here.

THUG Banned

‘The Hate U Give’ Has Been Banned by this School District

Angie Thomas’s debut novel The Hate U Give has received widespread critical acclaim and sits (comfortably, for thirty-eight weeks) at the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list for young adult based-sellers. It also made the long-list for the National Book Award and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction. It’s even been optioned for a film adaptation. And last but certainly not least, it’s been banned from the Katy Independent School District, the public school system in the largest suburb of my hometown, Houston, Texas.


The novel, often shortened to THUG, tells the story of Starr Carter, a black teenager traversing two distinct worlds: the impoverished neighborhood she lives in and the affluent halls of the suburban prep school she attends in the “good part of town”. Then, a white police officer shoots and kills her best friend Khalil and our protagonist, Starr, is the only eyewitness. The incident becomes a national headline and the media of the book acts pretty much exactly like you’d expect: some blame the victim, others see it as a call to arms. 


The Hate U Give

Image via Amazon


Clearly inspired by real-life events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, the book unabashedly tackles issues of racism and police brutality. 


I’ve always had lingering disdain for Katy. One of many suburbs that surrounds Houston, Katy thinks it’s all that when it is really, really not. It undeniably blows, and so does this decision to ban the book. If I had to condense my feelings about this into three words, they would be “straight up bullshit.”


Angie Tomas shared the news of THUG‘s ban on Twitter:



Support for the book and the author was immediate and from all over, including teachers from the district that banned the book, who pledged to read and recommend the novel. 


Twitter user Abby Berner tweeted a call to action urging people to call the district office, claiming Superintendent Lance Hindt banned the book without conducting the normal review process, doing so in response to complaints from parents about the book’s “inappropriate language.”


Liz Lemon Oh Brother

Gif Via Tenor Keyboard


The book does include profanity, ranging from the typical four lettered shits and fucks that people don’t blink an eye at to the N word, which is the scapegoat the district is using to ban the book. But did they also ban To Kill a Mockingbird or any of the major Mark Twain books? I’d bet good money that they didn’t.


Thomas acknowledges the use of this language and empathizes with why Katy ISD might take issue with it, but she implored the educators to look past the language and focus on the message. Realistically, we all know what’s going on. Scrolling through related tweets suggests that the issue lies within thematically uncomfortable material AKA racism and police violence. 


Neither Superintendent Hindt or the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association has publicly commented on the matter, but Thomas shows no signs of discouragement. “I’m not bothered,” she said.


I am. Bothered and disappointed. 


Featured Image Via Instagram user @storiesforcoffee

Book Censorship

‘Where’s Waldo’ Among 15,000 Books Banned From Texas Prisons

If you are one of the more than 140,000 incarcerated people serving time in a Texas state prison, there are 15,000 books to which you are not allowed access, according to Paul Wright of the Human Rights Defense Center. This list is said to be growing exponentially, and once a book goes on it, it never comes off. Book banning has been exercised by authorities to prevent inmates from gaining access to certain information that they deem inflammatory or that they dislike, for decades. 


A Prisoner Browses the Bookshelf In a Texas Prison

Image Via chron.com


Some of the bizarre items on the list include Freakanomics, a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a collection of Leonardo DaVinci’s sketches, which are banned due to sexual content. Also included are novels by Langston Hughes, Noam Chomsky, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie for their use of the “n-word”. Dante’s Inferno and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple are also forbidden.


But the most recently published book to be banned is Dan Slater’s Wolf Boys:Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel, the story of two Texan boys who become assassins for the infamous Zetas Drug Cartel, because of the details provided inside that describe the correct packing of narcotics into a vehicle for smuggling purposes, content that breeds the idea of ‘illegal scheming’. This book is non-fiction. Both teenagers are currently housed in Texas prisons.


An annual event called Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read and literature that has been targeted by censors, brought this news to light. You might wonder who is in charge of making these decisions and hand selecting these books. According to Paul Wright who is also an editor of Prison Legal News which has been fighting censorship behind bars for over 25 years: 

In Texas, as in most states the judge and jury on a book’s fate is typically an anonymous mailroom clerk, who often don’t have high school diplomas. The bureaucratic system rubber stamps it from there.

Wright says federal prisons have even banned President Obama’s books. This paranoia stems from the inherent need to extinguish uncooperative behavior, which ‘apparently’ kicks off whilst reading the biographies of black leaders or about the inequities of our justice system.



Image Via SFGate.com


Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas prison system, said Slater’s book was banned because it violates the department’s rules about books that contain information regarding criminal schemes. It was banned from all Texas state prisoners before it was even published last month? It may be grim and violent, but it is a detailed and thoughtful look at American society and the war on drugs. Censoring books such as this strips an inmate of their constitutional rights and there have been countless lawsuits involving prison guards and inmates who were denied access to education.


Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Language Association’s office for Intellectual Freedom insists that “prisoners who read tend to behave better and rehabilitate sooner but prison officials care only about maintaining power and control. There is probably a new story every day like this [the banning of Wolf Boy.]


Wolf Boy

Image Via Audio Book Store


It’s not hard to see why certain books could be banned — books about lock picking or bomb making, for example. But when you’re not allowed to read books by Bob Dole, Harriet Beecher Stowe or Sojourner Truth, but you’re more than welcome to dig into Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf or David Duke’s My Awakening, questions arise.


“Texas is less rational than other states,” says Michelle Dillon, program coordinator of the Seattle-based non-profit Books to Prisoners. Although it’s a national problem, it is particularly bad in more conservative states in the south. 


You can get involved in forwarding books you no longer have use for to prisons all over the country through such charities as; NYC Books Through Bars. A full list of Book donating services is also available here for state specific charities.


Featured Image Via The Odyssey Online

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Talks Harvey Instead of Book Release on CNN


Rather than promote his latest book, Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution, Bernie spent most of his airtime on CBS This Morning stressing the importance of standing together as a nation, especially during this time of crisis in Houston and throughout the Gulf Coast. 


Bernie Sanders

Image Courtesy of CNN


“People don’t appreciate, unless you’re there, talking to the folks that have been impacted, what it means to lose the home that you lived in your whole life, that you lived in the day before. How are you going to rebuild it? Are you going to rebuild it? Where do you go?”


Sanders understands the struggle the citizens and Senators of Texas are experiencing; Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont in 2011, with damages totaling $730 million after 11 inches of rain. Houston has reported between 40 and 50 inches with more still to come.


“Look, it’s hard. Put yourself in the place of the Governor, preparing documentation. It has to be done efficiently, it has to be done rapidly. Now, right now, the immediate task is to make sure that we save lives, we protect people, that there are emergency shelters. The day after, that’s when we think about how to rebuild Houston. When you’re talking about bridges and roads and homes and people suffering, we have got to stand with the people.”


Released this morning and already a #1 Best Seller on Amazon, Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution is a political guide and call to arms for young adults in today’s America, regardless of political affiliation. 


Cover, Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution

Image Courtesy of Amazon


“Millions and millions of people are giving up on our democratic institutions,” he said. “They don’t vote, they don’t get involved, they don’t know how to get involved. And what I think we need as a nation is for tens of millions of people — young people, working people, people who historically have not been involved in the political struggle — to get involved.” 


Sanders is positive about the optimism within this generation and generations to come. “I have seen these young people stand together, it’s a beautiful generation of young people, and what we want to do is see them get involved in the political process. This book provides the tools to do that.” 


We don’t know what the future holds for us, but Sanders is confident the current American system needs reform “beyond the stagnant agendas of Democrat and Republican politicians to build an equitable future for all Americans – especially the younger generation that will inherit the consequences.”


Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution is the map you need to understand and navigate the United States’ current system of policy and government so you can affect change that reflects your values, whatever they may be.


Featured Image Courtesy of MSNBC

A young Hurricane Harvey Book Club Reader

Virtual Book Club Formed In Wake Of Hurricane Harvey


As Hurricane Harvey continues to put Houston and much of the Gulf Coast through the wringer, one woman is taking advantage of social media to bring solace to children fleeing the storm.


harvey book club reader

Image Courtesy of USA Today


Kathryn Butler Mills, a teacher from Columbus, Texas, was heartbroken at the sight of children sequestered away in bathrooms, pantries, and staircases while tornado warnings were in effect. “A reporter on our local news station said for all of us to remember that even when kids are putting on an brave face, they might still be scared on the inside,” she said.


harvey destruction

Image Courtesy of USA Today


In order to bring them a much needed distraction, Mills created the public Facebook group “Hurricane Harvey Book Club” Sunday afternoon. As of Tuesday, the group is 1,600 members and growing.


From their homes or temporary shelters, volunteer readers of all ages set up a camera, crack open a book, and read. Picture books appear to be the most popular genre as of late. 

Featured image courtesy of WUSA9.com.