For her honors English class, Haley has to put together an illustrated anthology of some of her famous poems. I pointed her towards poets.org, which is an awesome resource full of American poets and some of their poems, arranged by topic (if you wish) to make things easier and less overwhelming. I also told her I'd share some of the poems I used when I was teaching poetry.
Even though I was an idealistic first-time teacher, I wasn't so silly as to think that the majority of my students would like poetry. In fact, I made sure to teach poetry to all of my classes because one of my goals as a teacher was to help students learn that poetry isn't scary or necessarily hard. It requires you to think and, most importantly, to feel, but its reputation of being difficult and unfathomable is one I was determined to break.
So I collected poems I thought my students would like. I looked for accessible poems, topics that related to their lives, imagery that was especially visual. I wanted them to experience poems that moved them---that made they feel something they wouldn't have any other way. I don't know if I managed to do that or not. Probably I just came across as that crazy poetry-loving weirdo of a teacher my students had to suffer through an entire 90-minuted period with.
Last night I pulled out my old poetry lesson plans, looking for some poems to share with Haley. As I re-read ideas and thoughts I'd tried to express and revisited poems I had forgotten, I realized that even if I failed at teaching them anything other than the fact that real people read poetry (well, if they were capable of seeing their English teacher as a "real person), I succeeded in some small way. Because, you know, I did find some pretty good poems to share with them. I taught them to think about what writing might mean to them as individuals, not the oft-spouted concept of "what the poet was trying to say here." (As if the poet failed at saying what she meant.) I showed them poems that make immediate visual images and then tied those pictures to how they might have felt. And, in my blathering and ecstatic way, I taught them (I desperately hope) that even if you don't understand it, if a poem makes you feel something then it is a poem that you relate to.
All of which has reminded me that I haven't been sharing as much poetry on my blog as I had originally intended. While I'm not, obviously, teaching anymore, I still have this wish: that more people might love poetry. That I could share what I know about poems: some you'll never, ever understand or even love, but others can, if you let them, change you; that understanding isn't always the point; that beauty in language is sometimes its own excuse. And that the moment when a phrase hits you and you realize I've been wanting to say that exact thing my whole life but didn't know how? Well, that moment is the best part about poems.
Take this poem, for example, which I meant to share in October but didn't:
Those fallen leaves, pale supplicants,
have much to teach us of surrender,
how, wrapped in autumn's incense
they unfurl their flags to the wind
Every year I want to kneel in damp soil
and say farewell to blessed things:
the swift geese as they shout each to each
above the treetops, the white nicotinia
at my door, still releasing its fragrance
against the chill of evening,
the memory of a much-loved hand the last day I held it
There was early morning light rich as silk,
the flash of late fireflies
amidst the cedar,
cows' tails whisking in the amber fields,
the chiaroscuro of a moth's wing
Goodbye, brief lives,
ablaze with tenderness;
today the glory of the leaves
is enough, for I am learning anew
to release all I cannot hold,
these moments of luminous grace
saying Here and here is beauty,
here grief: this is the way to come home
Oh. That ending—and today, the last day of November when the wind is grabbing, at last, the last dead leaves from my sycamores and that is enough to make me notice what is luminously graceful.
I know myself. I know I don't share poetry on my blog because there's that voice saying "no one really cares, no one is interested, right now whomever is reading this is rolling her eyes because you sound like a stuck-up, pretentious know-it-all" and I listen. But today the other voice is stronger, the one that knows that here and here is beauty and that by beauty we find a sort of home, so I am giving it its vocal range, its space to speak.
And I might just do it much more often.