Poetry is one of the things I love best in the world — and no one ever taught poetry writing in school when I was a student; actually no one ever taught writing. They taught us a lot about grammar, and diagramming sentences, so perhaps that was the instruction. (Here’s a confession: I liked those things!) Then the teachers told us what to write, and they would mark up all the mistakes, of course. What I remember most about my own returned papers is this: “Very neat work, Marilyn.” Great.
We read a lot of poetry when I was in school, and I must have loved it, but I don’t remember falling in love with it, and I don’t remember writing any, except for the high school literary magazine, which was not part of a class. I mostly remember teachers asking us to analyze poems and what they really meant. And our answers had to match the teacher’s answer or we were wrong. There was only one answer. As I look back now, I am amazed that somehow I managed to love poems. I still have a few yellowed volumes of verse that I bought when I was in high school, so I must have read it on my own, even when it wasn’t assigned. When I could decide for myself what it meant.
I do not intend to bash my teachers; I actually think I had a great education in junior high and high school. Times were different way back then. I just don’t have specific memories that match my impressions.
I wonder what it was like for you, dear readers?
I think I discovered poetry and figured out how to write it on my own. I was still in junior high school when I decided to save all the poems I wrote, and I have quite a collection of awful verse, which does reveal my journey from there to here. Loving poetry was a force behind my decision to major in English in college, and when I began thinking about really becoming a teacher, the idea of getting to teach poetry was almost unbearably exciting. Maybe, I thought, just maybe there can be more than one answer!
I never have a bad day when I’m teaching poetry.
I’ve built a poetry unit over the years that I love. Every year I make notes for myself about how to do something better next year. This year I’m still thinking those things, what I could do to make it better, but of course those are the moments that give me a hiccup. This is the last time. And I don’t think I’m doing the best job of it ever, which disappoints me. I’m pushing the kids harder, going faster, and leaving out some things, as if it’s a last, desperate breath. Maybe it’s the realization that I’ll never make it perfect, that I’ll never be perfect at it.
On the other hand, my students are still writing poems that take my breath away. What more could I ask for?