By your students you’ll be taught, Part II

It happens this way …

HV LibraryLast Wednesday we completed our third poetry class at Happy Valley Library. These classes were an experiment to see if any one in the local community would be interested in learning how to appreciate the beauty and intensity of poetic language.

To say I was jazzed by the students’ responses to the model poems we looked at would be an understatement. Then, add to all the poetic ground we covered, three wonderfully unexpected things happened:

  1. Three students emailed me poems based on the prompts I gave in class. Homework was not mandatory, but these folks were serious about upcycling their writing skills. Two were even brave enough to read their poems to the class.
  2. At the end of this final session, we did a 15-minute writing exercise. When I asked for volunteers to read, my 8th grade boy raised his hand. This was the first time in three weeks the class heard his voice and were blown away by what he wrote. (I found out later that he had never signed up for this class; he just showed up! What gutsiness in one so young!) Then an adult who said she has never read anything she’s written out loud astonished the group with her detailed description of a journey she took. Everyone agreed she had the basis for a very fine travel poem.
  3. Finally, I understood for the first time what T S. Eliot meant when he said, Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. Left-brained folks want to understand what the poet intended and try to wring the meaning out of a piece. That’s fine; but in intellectualizing a poem, we might miss what hits the heart before it hits the mind. As we experiences in class, some lines in some poems are just too astonishing to try to translate. We agreed with Robert Frost who said, Poetry is what gets lost in translation. Thanks to this class, I get that!

The group unanimously recommended we continue to meet if the Library will give us the space. They didn’t want to stop! Needless to say, this experiment was a success!

Green Book: a must-see

It happens this way …

index.aspxRarely does a movie touch, move, and delight me the way Green Book did last night. We picked up the library’s Blu-Ray copy and watched it in our favorite theater: our family room.

Based on a true story, the movie won best picture at this year’s Academy Awards as well as a slew of other awards for its actors and screenwriters. Admittedly, when I heard the plot – a burly Italian-American from NYC is hired to chauffeur a classically trained African-American pianist on a tour around the country, including the Deep South – I thought it was a bit contrived. How wrong could I be?

The relationship these men form as they get to know each other is transformational. In this age of heightened racism, the movie is a sweet reminder that we all are “the other” in some shape or form. It’s only when we open ourselves to the person underneath the gruff NYC accent or the perfectly-tailored tuxedo can we break down the barriers that keep us from embracing our common humanity.

I’ll say no more. Green Book speaks for itself. If you haven’t seen it, do.

By your students you’ll be taught

It happens this way …

Last Wednesday night, I taught the first of three poetry workshops at the beautiful Happy Valley Library. I had expected ten adults to show up, but, to my surprise, in walked an eighth grade boy and a high school sophomore girl.

The lad was sweet and shy and so brave to come to this class. The girl, originally from Romania, has only been in this country for three years. She spoke impeccable English and astonished all of us older folk with her insights into poetry. In fact, she was one of the most astute readers of the poems we discussed and made comments that I’d expect from grad students.

She reminded me of my only close encounter with writing poetry when I was a high school senior. Although we studied the genre, we were never asked to write it –except once. A là Charles Dickens, I wrote a short narrative poem about a poor boy finding a penny in the snow. When I got it back, the English teacher had red-inked it “Extremely maudlin.”

I had no idea what “maudlin” meant, but, after I looked it up, I never attempted to write a poem again until I was in my late 20s. The teacher was right, of course – the poem was over-the-top sentimental – but the lack of any positive encouragement sent me the message that I would never be a poet.

I have to keep reminding myself that the smallest word of encouragement or discouragement can make all the difference to anyone beginning a new venture –whether it’s writing, gardening, parenting, speaking in public, painting, whatever. Whether it’s an adult or youngster starting something new, everyone needs the affirmation that it’s all right to dabble, to splash around, to experiment, to find what works and doesn’t work for them. I need to remember that when I get the first poems from this class. I resolve not to be like my English teacher.