How did this happen? How could a high school student burdened by his share of challenges, angst, and fears, arrive at such a point? It takes a talented teacher, but it also takes poetry.
This quarter I am hoping one or two of my students will reach that same destination as Mrs. Van Wyhe’s passionate poet. I admit that I am unqualified for the job as poetry trailblazer, which portends poetic injustice. I know precious little about poetic devices. True, I do know how to distinguish a metaphor from a simile from hyperbole. And I could probably explain the difference between an oxymoron and your ordinary, run-of-the-mill moron. But if you insisted that I explain “enjambment,” I might say it describes the process of making jam, or what happens when you stick your toe into a tight place, and I might explain alliteration is the process by which one becomes illiterate. If you asked me to describe my favorite poetic “form,” I might say it’s sitting down with a pen and paper.
Ignorance is no excuse for inaction. This is my motto for life, which can be a particularly dangerous philosophy when applied to electrical work. And for better or worse, this is how I approach poetry –dang the devices, full speed ahead. I simply love poetry despite my deficit of mechanical devices. Every so often a poem expresses a sentiment that forces its way through the dark recesses of my reptilian brain, which makes me want to share it with others. Hopefully, by sharing poems that change how I look at the world, I can inspire the students to write.
Last week we read, The Farmer by W.D. Ehrhart. This elegant poem celebrates hope, hard work, and the importance of fighting for what the world might view as a lost cause. We could all use a little more Don Quixote in our lives. The students then wrote their own poems, using different occupations as metaphors for special qualities important in their lives. The effect was, quite simply, magic. Thank you Harold, Audrey, Alichia and Abbie for having the courage to share your poems with all of us. You brought warmth to our classroom, and touched all of us. Audrey, remember Mrs. Carlson’s reaction when she walked into our class while you were reading your poem. “Wow, did you write that?” she asked. “I thought that was a poem in a book.”
That’s the job of poetry: to rescue love, to push us forward, to make us look at the world in a new way, while forcing us to consider that there are others with whom we share a mystical bond connected by our words. In a society too obsessed with “practical skills,” poetry just might be the antidote that stirs something meaningful deep inside our students. It just might promote compassion, understanding, and a joy that those who refuse to engage their tumultuous thoughts will never experience. And perhaps, one day, these young poets will arrive at a very special destination and proclaim: “What would the world be like without poetry?”
Now, that would be poetic justice, indeed.