I never loved poetry until I came to teach it.
Before this point, I could endure some of it but it mostly bored me to tears. I have, however, always loved Wordsworth and I think I am probably in love with the guy. A few years ago, I visited his cottage in the lakes and I felt at home; there was such peace and beauty.
Once in natural surroundings, I can prattle on about the tranquility of such places without anyone even needing to listen. I can see how Wordsworth would have written down such feelings to avoid endlessly trying to get someone else to understand how strongly he felt. There is a certain affinity between us.
I am often referred to as ‘quiet’ and as I have written before, I loathe this assessment of my personality. I’m a deep thinker and I struggle to communicate my thoughts and feelings unless I’m able to write it down. I at least need enough time to let the thoughts percolate in my mind before speaking. This isn’t in every situation. Once in a while, I come across people who I can connect with and I feel free to be ‘myself’. These people know who they are and they are the lucky few. Ordinarily, it is spaces and places that make me feel ‘myself.’ It is paintings, it is films, it is breathtaking views and it is writing. These things make me feel far more comfortable and free to be myself than most humans ever could.
Ah, so poetry… about that. The joy of poetry, I have discovered, is most definitely not in reading it but in performing it and speaking the words aloud. Last week, I decided to let my students write poetry. I asked them to note down words that could sum up the themes of their lives. I then asked them to create images that could match those themes and next, because I hadn’t really planned to do the lesson, I just let them write. I said I wanted five stanzas (although this was flexible if necessary) and I told them they had to apply what we had learnt whilst studying poetry so far. To be honest, I expected moans and groans within about 10 minutes because I certainly hadn’t scaffolded the lesson or prepared them enough for it.
What sits below this post are the poems that I was handed at the end of the lesson. These poems were analysed in class at the end of the week and it was great to have the poets present so they could confirm or deny assertions being made about their writing. We had some rather hilarious moments where we were discussing the deeper meanings of words or phrases and the poet sat there utterly baffled, insisting, “But I just wrote it that way. I didn’t mean that at all!” They are now utterly convinced that the authors we study in English would make the exact same disparaging remarks at our analysis of their works, given half the chance.
Before the laughter filled analysis ensued, the poems were performed by the poets themselves. It was on a voluntary basis as they had all chosen to write very honestly about their lives. Only two chose not to share. As soon as the first poem had been performed, they couldn’t wait to have a go themselves. Each student returned to their seat as enthusiastic applause and smiles filled the room. I felt a warm glow, the kind I imagine only teachers can feel. I was transported to that cottage in the lakes. The words I was hearing made me feel like myself and that’s when I felt like the luckiest person alive.
In day-to-day interactions, humans unnerve me and I generally don’t have the time for them. No offence! I would much prefer a solitary wander through the countryside or an art gallery than to interact with anyone.
What these words had done was speak to me in ways humans so often can’t. I am the luckiest person alive because I have a job where I get to spend time with a bunch of humans who somehow, despite much evidence to the contrary, manage to make me feel comfortable.
Poetry is written to be spoken aloud. It contains someone’s innermost thoughts that really must be shared. So I urge you, perform poetry wherever and whenever you can. You don’t know who you might make feel a little more like they belong to the world than they did.
Something I thought of: If any of you would like to explore these poems with your students, then we could do a Skype conversation with the ‘poet’ if you liked! This could be a good idea to get started between us all?
Here’s our ‘Poet Tree.’