My wonderful friend, colleague and travel companion, Andrea Slone once shared a magical poem with me as my first son was nearing his fourth birthday. The poem eloquently shares what I have always known and believed–we are all living our own story, writing our own verse, we are immersed in the literature of life. The poem ends with a startlingly simple and beautiful truth, while we live a poem of sorts through life, there was once a time in childhood when we were each “poetry itself.”
If you have visited before, you know that I am a lover of poetry. I have confessed my literary love affair with Billy Collins and will further confess to having bookshelves at home lined with the likes of Dickinson, Donne, Frost, Hughes, Poe, Rumi, Shakespeare and many other droppable names. Forgive me in advance…
I Once Dropped the Names of Poets
Careless indeed it was,
Frost was cold for months–
Talk about putting up a wall.
Hughes’ sunny disposition shriveled,
Donne kept ringing a bell,
(Guess the drop took its toll).
Poe kept giving me that tell-tale stare.
I have to confess that as they dropped
It was really quite a sight,
For as they fell, they all looked so free,
In fact no one seemed averse
To the idea of falling at all
Least of all Emily Dickinson,
(Whom I suspect was drunk on dew).
Anyway, they landed perfectly,
Billy Collins at his poet’s window on a Monday,
Shakespeare on a summer’s day beyond compare,
And Hughes on the banks of the Euphrates at sunset.
All but Rumi who landed only for a moment,
Then danced and whirled, and ascended into the sky
As the snow (and Frost) began to melt.
I think they have all forgiven me for dropping them.
They recently pitched in and gave money to Poe
Who went shopping and bought me a bird,
It is now perched above my door, and is a bit of a bore.
Will I ever drop these poets’ names again?
I might, because as they fell they were
Drop dead gorgeous.
Childish, I know but I can’t control myself. I love poems. I love poets. I have collections of many, and the autograph of one (Mr. Billy Collins) inside the cover of a coveted edition. I would be lying if I said that my heart didn’t skip a beat to the unstressed stressed cadence of iambic, and don’t even get me started on the pentameter. There is something about the unique perception of poets, their rhythm, their careful plucking of each ripe word that brings me to their pages, and turns back the pages of my story to when I was an awkward little girl with glasses sitting beneath a tree with my friend Shel Silverstein, delighting in the secret world of words at play.
Shel Silverstein invited me into this poetic world with the promise of “flax-golden tales to spin,” and other writers like C.S. Lewis opened the wardrobes of my mind, E.L. Konigsburg made me fall in love with art museums, the Met and NYC, and Judy Bloom (read incognito at the public library because she was banned from my parochial school) whispered in my ear and added to the intrigue of growing up girl. Thanks to the magical worlds created by writers I have always had a view of life as possibility, promise, adventure, and beauty. While no stranger to dark chapters of my own, through literature I am able to return to the world of wonder and see always with the eyes of a child.
Perhaps this youthful vision is the reason I love teaching so very much. As a teacher I get to exist in the world of the young year after year. I get to witness the moment of discovery of a student who falls in love with a writer, or who falls in love with words. I get to see the magic of a student who realizes that she can craft a piece of writing that is powerful and poetic. I get to partake in the excitement of a first-time reading of one of the world’s greatest stories, stories that I have often read ten or twenty times before but see again through a borrowed pair of eager eyes. Yes, I do hear childish gripes and grumbles at times, but within the sky blue, cloud-covered walls of B304 happiness and laughter are regularly at play, at least that is how I perceive it…
The state of great change in education at the present time truly has me seeing through awed eyes now. I am amazed at what we can do and see and hear. Amazed that at the click of my cursor I can hear T.S. Eliot’s measured voice reciting The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Amazed that my students and I can peek at the pages of the virtual Beowulf that dates to the century after 1000. Amazed that my students can each have a voice in our virtual discussions and they can contribute anytime anywhere. Amazed that I can follow a favorite author on twitter and he can follow me back (thank you Paulo Coelho)! I can barely contain my childish grin, and really, why would I want to? I am like a kid in a candy store, and what a treat for a teacher at year ten in career years, year thirty-six in year years.
Treats and grins are in steady supply at Turpin High School now as summer fast approaches, and I feel more a child each day. I cannot wait to spend the days taking discovery walks, splashing in the pool, strolling the art museum, perusing the shelves at our favorite bookstore, and having picnics and pajama parties with my three amazing children. Through their eyes I will see the wonder of the world anew. I will remember the limitlessness of the lives of little ones. I will appreciate the magic in the simple things and I will learn important life lessons from the three tiny teachers I tuck into bed each night and cover with kisses each summer morning. A word about these aforementioned tiny teachers:
Today I asked my eight year old son what would be his dream job in the future. His answers? 1) a scientist 2) teach people about gems and diamonds 3) bring other rocks to the Museum of Natural History in New York “because it would be cool to see all of the children looking at the rock you found” 4) an ice cream man “because kids give you money.” These answers are a great reminder for me, that the beautiful boy who stops to scrutinize seemingly insignificant rocks by the roadside when we walk through our village, and who fills his pockets and bookshelves with pebbles, rocks, and shells (some of which he sees fit to bestow with funny and/or bewildering names), is not seeing merely rocks, he is seeing magic, he is seeing beauty and he is seeing possibility. Summer lesson number one: all kids have the potential to contribute something wonderful to the world…and there is money to be made in ice cream!
My four year old went swimming last week for the first time of the year. He walked directly to edge of the pool without hesitation, and did a full flip into the water from standing position. When his head popped up and his brilliant blue eyes opened wide, he said, “That was sweet!” He likes to stand on his head with his legs against the wall too, because, “Everything looks so cool upside down.” Summer lesson number two: we might be pleasantly surprised if we are willing to forget our fears and consider a different point of view.
My one year old likes to climb. She climbs on everything–couches, chairs, the kitchen table, my husband’s Klipsch speakers. Her new favorite trick is to climb somewhere daunting and then call out, in a bit of a taunting voice, “Mama, danger!” She really enjoys dancing when she says this, if her chosen surface affords the appropriate dance platform. Summer lesson number three: if you scale great, even terrifying heights, don’t be shy about sharing it with those you love and celebrating a bit yourself.
I have worked hard to contribute to the world of teaching and learning this year, I have definitely stood on my metaphorical head to consider a new look at the world of education, and I have scaled some fairly great heights, not without danger. I am blissfully ready now to travel with my three little elves who will be my eyes and guides into the world of childhood this summer; the rock finder who is my gem, the fearless flipper for whom I am head over heels, and she who dances with danger and sends my heart soaring with a single smile. I can only imagine the adventures we will have and the stories we will tell!
So here it is, on the threshold of summer, dedicated to my kids who ARE poetry itself, to my husband, who makes my heart skip an iamb each time I see him, to my family who often make my life seem storied, to Andrea who is an artist and who gave me this poem and has given me so much more, to my colleagues who give me energy and inspiration, to the parents who provide such full of wonder students, and to my students, who let me look through their eyes each year and see the promise of a poem yet to be written. Happy summer, you are all poetry to me! This is Christopher Morley’s To A Child:
THE greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:
The poetry, innate, untold,
Of being only four years old.
Still young enough to be a part
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart,
Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree
And unselfconscious as the bee–
And yet with lovely reason skilled
Each day new paradise to build;
Elate explorer of each sense,
Without dismay, without pretense!
In your unstained transparent eyes
There is no conscience, no surprise:
Life’s queer conundrums you accept,
Your strange divinity still kept.
Being, that now absorbs you, all
Harmonious, unit, integral,
Will shred into perplexing bits,–
Oh, contradictions of the wits!
And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
May make you poet, too, in time–
But there were days, O tender elf,
When you were Poetry itself!