Most of us were introduced to poetry in school. As a teacher, I hope it was a kind introduction, but there are many people whose introduction to poetry in school seems to have been unpleasant.
Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” is one that is often used to make a point about poetry in the classroom. The teacher asks the students to “take a poem / and hold it up to the light / like a color slide / or press an ear against its hive.” Though the teacher wants the students to simply enjoy the poem – “to waterski / across the surface of a poem / waving at the author’s name on the shore” – the students have been trained in school about how to read a poem, so they want to “tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it. / They begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.”
You may have more pleasant memories of your introduction to poetry or a good classroom encounter with poetry in a classroom. I can recall how Mrs. Cavico read and spoke about Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn” with such love and appreciation – and how she recognized that I “got it” while most of the class looked out the window at kids in gym class.
Having met her and heard her read and talk about writing, I imagine poet Naomi Shihab Nye would be a great teacher to have for poetry. In one of her poems, “The Young Poets of Winnipeg,”
scurried around a classroom papered with poems.
Even the ceiling, pink and orange quilts of phrase…
they introduced one another, perched on a tiny stage
to read their work, blessed their teacher who
encouraged them to stretch, wouldn’t let their parents
attend the reading because parents might criticize
These very confident young poets had not been taught to tie down a poem or beat it.
They knew their poems
were glorious, that second-graders could write better
than third or fourth, because of what happened
on down the road, the measuring sticks
that came out of nowhere, poking and channeling
For our September, back-to-school prompt, write a poem about poetry in school. I’m guessing we have positive and negative tales to tell, from our own experiences as students and teachers or from imagined classrooms.