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.