|Sunrise over Mt, Rainier. View from the GKHS Library.|
Poetry seems to be the cure of the day for me. It is all I feel like reading these days. I keep picking up volumes of poems paging through them for some invisible fix. Maybe what I am really doing is allowing myself an excuse to cry. It seems like certain poems can turn on my waterworks better than just about anything.
Right now I am reading from a volume of poetry called Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach. Educators submitted their favorite poems with a brief explanation how a particular poem has helped them over the years. Many admit to having the poem taped to a desk or a wall near their desk. I smiled at that picture because I have several poems pinned to my bulletin board by my desk. The book's editors said that putting the collection together was a bit haunting since it was like witnessing a beautiful conversation between the men and women who teach our children and the greatest poets the world has ever known. The spooky thing is I do feel like these poets are talking to and understand me where I am right now.
In Lewis Buzbee's poem "Sunday, Tarzan in His Hammock" Tarzan speaks for me today when he wonders if it would be OK to take the day off from saving animals from being eaten. Sometimes teaching is so exhausting. Yet, at times I can really appreciate the sentiment expressed in the poem "Love in the Classroom---for my students", where the poet is suddenly bowled over by everything when his lesson on sentence fragments is interrupted by a kid playing a song on the old piano down the hall,
I sit down on my desk to wait,
and it hits me from nowhere---a sudden,
sweet, almost painful love of my students.
'Nevermind.' I want to cry out, 'It doesn't matter about fragments.'
I know that feeling. A week ago one of my students asked me, in front of the whole class, if I loved him (not liked him, but loved.) I was pretty frustrated with him at that second for being off-task but all the sudden it hit me what he was really asking, can I accept him even if he isn't perfect. "Yes, I do," I told him, "I love all of the students in this class, but that doesn't mean I don't think you are being a Pill right now." He smiled and said, "My grandmother thinks I'm a Pill, too." Ah, that sweet, almost painful kind of love I often feel for my students.
I am painfully aware that our world is changing and that students are having to run a gauntlet which has never been run before. That is why Walt Whitman's preface from Leaves of Grass seems so appropriate to remember,
...re-examine all you have been told at school or church or any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem.
I have a strong work ethic. When I moved out of the classroom into the library I made a conscious decision to be the kind of librarian I always wished I had at my school. Sometimes my job is easy but other days it is just darn hard work. For this reason I have always liked this poem, "To Be of Use" by Marge Piercy:
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight...
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again...
Lots and lots of days it does feel like I am straining to move forward in the muck. And I always appreciate it when I can work along another person who is also in the mud with me.
Mary Oliver, my favorite poet, reminded me today that what I really should be doing is something outside. I needed to stop with the pity party and listen to my inner wisdom. These words from her poem, "The Journey', caused me to stand up, clip the leash on the dog, and drag her outside for a walk.
...and there was a new voice,
which you slowly,
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world...
So out we strode for a walk and, lo and behold, while I was busy feeling melancholy Spring had arrived! The street trees are in full-flower, the daffodils have bloomed, and everything smelled wonderful. See poetry did help me today! It reminds me of Octavio Paz's poem, "After". In this poem the person does all kinds of horrible things to herself and to people who have reached out to help. Suddenly there is "the humid, tender, insistent onset of spring." Isn't that a refreshing moment?
Oh, one more poem. In case you are wondering what poem I have pinned to my bulletin board near my desk at work, it is this one, "The Witness" by Denise Levertov-
Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget to go down to the shore or a few yards
up to the road, on a clear day,
that witnessing presence.
We literally live in the shadow of a gorgeous mountain, Mt. Rainier. She is a large and beautiful presence in all of our lives. On a clear day I have a lovely view of her majesty right out the library windows. Yet some days I forget to look up and marvel. Today I remembered and she took my breath away.
Thanks for listening.
(Source: Teaching With Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach, edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner. Jossey-Bass Publishing, San Francisco. 2003.)