To Teach A Poet

I’ve written elsewhere about my journey with poetry.  How I never loved it until I started to teach it.

These days, one of my greatest joys as a teacher is getting to teach poets.  Getting to read the beauty they craft from words and ink and the break of a line on a page.  Getting to catch a glimpse of the world they see when they open their eyes in the morning or close their eyes at night.

I have never been a poet — not really — and I don’t think I ever will be.  The beauty of narrative will always be the language of my heart.  But I fall more in love with the medium every year I teach it — every time I watch an artist discover that there exists within them a burning core of words.  A vision.  A brightness.

That they have something to say, and words with which to say it.

The following were taken from short answer questions on my Global Literature final exams.  They were created hastily and under pressure (as evidenced by the inconsistent punctuation).  Yet even so, in 17 syllables, many of them capture profound (and unique) truths about the texts read, and some do so while utilizing well-developed imagery and sophisticated enjambment.

I’m proud of these poets, these readers, these thinkers.  I’m proud of these kids.  And I’m thrilled that I get to teach some of them again next year.

Life of Pi (by far the most popular choice): 

Pi survives alone
In the lifeboat with Richard
But God is with him.  -M.R.

A boy of 3 faiths,
Stranded on sea with tiger,
No one believes him. -N.S.

Struggles in the sea,
Full of fear but not lonely–
Richard was with me. -J.H.K.

Pi almost lost hope
through fear, hunger, thirst and pain.
Then, he reached the shore. -J.J.

I’ve lost everything.
Hope grows thinner every day
I wait.  I watch, Pray.  -A.T.

Could this be a dream?
A tiger and a young boy.
What unlikely friends. -A.R.R.

Reading Life of Pi
was like a journey to me,
never-ending ‘ifs’. -G.O.

A boy all alone,
imagination was all
he ever had left.  -N.G.

The Mission: 

God sends Gabe to the falls.
Rodrigo joins after pain.
All is lost; light stays.  -R.C.

Things Fall Apart:

Okonkwo showed strength
His fear of weakness got the
Best of him. He died. -J.O.

I want to succeed.
I can’t be like my father.
In the end I was. -B.O.

The Alchemist:

He looks far and wide
The treasure that he must find,
in his heart it lies.  -N.M.

Not connected with a particular text, but needed to demonstrate hyperbole and personification:

Like a stoic mime
the rock sat atop the cliff
its ignorance, bliss.  -M.N.

the wind whistles through
the tress; like God would whistle,
loud; unforgiving. -R.C.

The rains have come here,
we hear the thunder screaming,
A sign, the world is dying. -N.S.

Agony screams.  Screams
Because her world is over.
Freedom is now queen.  -A.T.

The boat cried with fear
waves tall as mountains crashed down
we just wait and pray -J.A.

And one of my students wrote me a fairly long, utterly spontaneous “Ode to Global Lit.”  It began with this foreboding stanza:

Global Lit.  A class
full of homework and writing.
Where one can feel
the breath of death.
Where knees tremble like an earthquake
where fear can be made.

But ended with this one:

Well there is no class
like the Global Lit class
Where the teacher always,
Always laughs and smiles
and makes the class
smile with a laugh brighter
than the sun.
Thank you, Ms. Magnuson. -H.R.L.


4 thoughts on “To Teach A Poet

  1. Karith, I know you still wonder if teaching is the right thing for you. But GIRL! !! From what I’ve heard of your students you embody everything a good teacher is. Fun, dedicated, a deep love of your subject and students, but best of all instilling that love in your students. So maybe teaching isn’t the end game for you but I’m not going to listen to any more self doubt on the subject. Your an amazing teacher. Love you!

  2. I love this on so many different levels. I love that you are finding yourself as a teacher and owning both the art and science of the profession. I love the growing appreciation you have of poetry and the way that you encourage your students to express themselves in writing. I love the book choices you taught, and the way your students responded. I’m SO glad you have chosen to walk this difficult, frustrating, enjoyable and rewarding path. And I’m glad you are sharing with us your journey. Miss you!

    • Thanks so much, Becky, for all your continued encouragement. You’ve always helped me believe that I can do this (in His calling and His strength), even when I’ve really struggled to believe it myself (something that is still a daily walk of faith). Thank you so much for the kind of leader, and colleague, and friend you have been and continue to be — for always calling forth the best in the people around you.

  3. Pingback: End of the Year Haikus | InSearchOfWaking

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