Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
It began with Naomi Shihab Nye‘s Famous, Dead Poets Society, and O Captain, My Captain. These moments marked the beginnings of discovery, unraveling and unfolding. From ee cummings to Ani Di Franco, from Willliam Blake and William Shakespeare to William Carlos Williams, from Robert Frost to the Script, Coldplay and The Iliad, I hoped a deep romance would develop between my Grade 7 students and words. It’s not an easy trek to travel from the literal to the figurative. It’s a narrow and rocky path where they have to avoid jagged edges, bottomless ravines and bear traps because cliche’ is profanity and mixing awkward metaphors has a level in Dante’s Inferno. I recognize that it is challenging to describe a familiar feeling in a way that’s never been described before. To talk about love, loss, pain, fury, nature, identity, heritage, legacy, the future, relationships, family and forgiveness in an intimate and unique way, it can really leave one, at a loss for words. Well, I never said it was going to be a walk in the park (pardon the cliches).
the Grade 7 kids wowed me as they outdid themselves with their bodies of work. Through their use of words and their original pieces, through free verse, the sonnet and the intimidating villanelle, the kids dared to face who they are, reflected on the beauty that surrounds them, delved and danced with language to meaningfully articulate what’s in their young hearts and minds; what questions they are asking, the advice they want to give their future children, the idea of never ever giving up and providing an authentic voice to the fear and pain of failure and rejection. It was a steep climb amidst a lot of prose trying to be poetry, phrases pretending desperately to pass off as verse. But after their third poem (out of the seven they were to write for their portfolios), the kids were on a roll.
“Her beauty soothes a hostile beast,
his temper shatters a continent”
(winner couplet by A. Lilles from his poem, A Situation);
“There is no such thing as holy poop
we can say it a hundred times,
and still, we will not end up with poop that is holy
Bored isn’t a real word
there is only the inability to act
the decision to be dull
If we don’t have the daring to do something it will never be done,
it will become a ghost, and haunt you,
testing your backbone”
(an excerpt by N. Morris from her poem, Things I know to be true)
And another excerpt by S. Calubad from his poem, Revenge
“…revenge is far more rewarding than gold
Like nothing else in the world can bring.
is not a victory or a loss but
It is worth every step of the way,
even if it is a long cold road.
And don’t listen to other people who say
revenge is not worth it
Those people don’t know what it is
Forgiveness is for the noble
Forgetting is for the weak
Hate is a coward’s form of revenge
revenge is a river made of sweet honey
that may only last for a second …”
Frankly, there were so many stellar pieces, I wish I could upload them all and drown myself in imagery, alliteration, similes and metaphors. But of course that’s like a bazillion lines longer than the 24 Books of the Odyssey. (Exag.)
But really, that’s what I love about poetry. It doesn’t choose any batch or race or age or gender or season. So far, in the five years that I’ve taught this unit, the work the kids have produced never ceases to amaze everyone. What’s more important though, are the conversations they start with themselves, and the world, and the page, and the themselves they find and learn to love in the process – now, that’s priceless.
To celebrate their hard work, the kids and I plan an ala Dead Poets Society Poetry Fest. This batch’s poetry fest happened last Friday, early evening in the school auditorium. With a lot of people’s help, we were able to create our own cave. With twenty different types of blankets and pillows strewn on the auditorium floor, candles in glass containers and several emergency lamps wrapped in yellow cellophane, we set up a space fit for any aspiring poet to read his or her original work with pride. Their parents were invited and like voyeurs, they sat on chairs surrounding the inner circle of hungry young poets, with little flashlights, quietly reading the poetry fest packet, as the kids read their pieces aloud. Guest teachers, unexpected, and some reluctant readers, joined the inner circle on the floor and took their turn to read a verse close to their heart. Some read about their country, others read lines about loneliness, an original written by a boyfriend, another, the best birthday poem I had ever heard written by her daughter. Neruda, a popular choice, graced our event with his words thrice. It was awesome.
In the end, even if I had heard their poems a hundred times (during practice in class), that night it was like I was hearing them read their lines for the very first time. I cried when I heard “Eclipse” and ” Miscreation” and laughed aloud when I heard “For People Who Don’t Have Babies” and “I Love You Like Everyday Things.” I could picture every image described in “Emotions Alive” and felt comfort as one of the kids saw the beauty of “Failure.” I was moved by the different stories and ideas and dreams that slowly rose to the surface through the kids’ words and turn of phrase. It was truly magical and new and awe inspiring. Once again, poetry above all, didn’t let me down.
I was really glad to have been exactly where I was at 4:30 pm, Friday the 13th of 2011. It was exactly where I needed to be, enveloped by solemnity, surrounded by imagery and low light and the beauty of the spoken word. A perfect way to end a hard week. A perfect way to restore ones spirit to welcome two more.
grateful slice: The Beacon School Grade 7 Poetry Fest and reading poetry aloud; surviving the end of another school year and report card season.
I dedicate this post to our headmaster, Mr. Patrick Ritter ( a future entry on this man very soon.)