Jim Harrison: a brief recollection

 

Jim Harrison, author of 21 volumes of fiction,  14 books of poetry, a couple books of essays, a memoir, and a children’s book, died Saturday, March 23, at the age of 78. I was lucky to meet him twice. This is a recollection of one meeting. Forgive this rambling recollection. Death always sneaks up on us, an invisible wave in the night.

~~~~~~

Harrison is hands down my favorite poet. Like lightning he conducts a charge generated by the differing poles of earth and sky. He soars with his feet planted firmly on the ground. My kind of poet.

I imagine that in some ways being a fellow Michigander has something to do with my admiration for this man’s work, yet I know this explanation will not do. On a more basic level there is something elemental in our shared experience, a love of snakes, rivers, food, drink and all manor of wild life. 

I met Harrison while working as an assistant to a U.S. congressional candidate. The campaign would lose the election but the experience traveling around the upper half of the lower peninsula and the entire upper peninsula of my native Michigan taught me a lot about politics and human nature. I suggested a meeting between my candidate and Harrison — maybe he would contribute to our liberal cause — this wasn’t to be, yet the meeting was warm, cordial, with plenty of wine to drink.

We met at his cabin near Grand Marais in the fall of 1984. I was surprised by its small size and rustic condition. I thought an author of his stature would have more comfortable digs. I thought of him as a giant from reading his poetry. I did not yet know most poets go hungry. This was before his wide spread success, which came when his epic novela, Legends of the Fall, was made into a movie in the early ’90s.

He is a man whose imagination flowed in great curling leaps. I hear the rain drops on my dark window tonight and think what fodder Harrison would have made of them in his poetry. So much of his poetry feature water imagery: streams, rivers, oceans, our own watery bodies, and the patient tapping of the fingers of fate. He inspires us to think back and forth across our short, little, self-important lives for the earth-bound epiphanies seemingly but not out of reach. Harrison offered no sugar coat on our existence.

We met as the sun was beginning to cut the cool air of the morning. We sat at a plank table inside his spartan cabin. Jim sat looking outdoors. A quart bottle of wine between us from which he poured libations in small glasses. His wandering eye, lost in childhood scuffle, roamed as wide as he talked. He kept returning the conversation to the animals he was keeping an eye out for. As the conversation deepened between all three of us, I was unable to keep up with his rangy references from philosophers to scientists to oriental landscape painters. Yet all through the conversation he returned again and again to the animals — a bear and a coyote, in particular. Every time he turned the conversation around and up and over lesser things, namely politics of the day, he left me with the impression he was simultaneously working on a poem or piece of fiction. I remember he said, though I cannot recall his exactly his words, something to the effect, ‘That bitch coyote came by last night. She’s waiting out there beyond the edge of the woods.’ Obviously his muse of the day or week.

Gracious but unwilling to follow the drift of the conversation my candidate and I initially attempted to bring to him, he led us on a two hour journey of the heart and mind. When we left I realized I never met a man so inspired, so big-hearted, so radically honest with himself and others.

That day resounds like a bell in my memory. Though his literary references were off the charts of my newly minted bachelor of arts education, I saw in him the fruits of intense listening in the world inside and outside my head. Learning to see without reserve takes guts. He drove me deeper and to question more ruthlessly. He woke me up.

He stuck me that day, and at a subsequent chance meeting at a bar in Marquette, as a man deeply witnessing the foibles and profound depths of his own being. He inspired me to remain fixed on the struggle to witness the authentic in all experience, despite the depth of our own and our culture’s titanic deceptions, and to jettison what we can too often cavalierly brand as true. I left looking for that next image haunting me at the edge of the dark wood.

~~~~~~~

Larson’s Holstein Bull
by Jim Harrison

Death waits inside us for a door to open.
Death is patient as a dead cat.
Death is a doorknob made of flesh.
Death is that angelic farm girl
gored by the bull on her way home
from school, crossing the pasture
for a shortcut. In the seventh grade
she couldn’t read or write. She wasn’t a virgin.
She was “simpleminded,” we all said.
It was May, a time of lilacs and shooting stars.
She’s lived in my memory for sixty years.
Death steals everything except our stories.

 

 

 

 

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Good Friday Meditation

The elements of the Christian cross being both horizontal and vertical exist on a simple flat plane — lines intersecting along specific points on an x-y axis. As symbol it is incomplete, lacking a third dimension, imperfect.

 

Ruben's, The crucified Christ

Ruben’s Crucified Christ

This is not blasphemy or deficient Christology but rather a spiritual observation that human completeness, even that brought by the divine, requires something visible and invisible, an incarnation if you will, and the recognition that even God cannot save without the help of the numb solider who follows human orders obediently — “Crucify him”– and the perfect act of faith obedient to the divine will.

The cross represents the intersection of vertical and the horizontal, heaven and earth respectively. The man on it is intercessor, God and man — the necessary third dimension. A mystery necessary to inject the profane with eternal value. Even violence is tricked into playing into the hands of a glorious act that brings peace.

Sharing Poetry Is Caring

A while back, poet J.lynn Sheridan asked on her blog, Writing On The Sun, if poets did anything positive with our poetry in the past year. My knee jerk response was sure, of course. It kept me off the streets at night. I really mean this. Among other things, it keeps me from becoming a television boob, or taking up residence at the corner watering hole. Personally, both reading and writing poetry keeps me mentally agile, inquisitive, and gives me a focal point from which to see the world.

What else? What positives came out of my poetry last year?. Publicly, I’ve informally shared poems. I’ll reflected on poetry and words in general on this blog, passed along a few works in progress on my poetry blog, Fresh Bean Sprouts, and sent poems out to other poets and friends. I have not yet submitted a poem in a literary journal, something I plan doing this year. Until now I’ve never felt the necessity to submit poems. I am protective of my fragile inner space. I tremble at the idea of while composing I would succumb to a nagging whisper of a thought that a line or stanza might be changed to a certain journal’s liking. For me the greater challenge is not publishing but writing well. If someone might one day think a poem of mine is publishable that would be a bonus.

The question remains how can I know if I created anything positive? I recall a few of the bright days with others. One example occurred a few weeks ago. I read a short poem to my wife and my son. I had written a epigrammatic poem about our Pekinese’s regal manner. My wife smiled, said, “That’s nice. I like it.” My 17-year-old son, who prides himself on picking apart any idea, took issue with the poem’s claim that our dog had “views.” While the poem’s first reviews were mixed, the reading did result in a discussion of loyalty, poetic conceit, and freedom, which I consider a victory. The positive here was that my little creation got others, who do not normally read poetry, into a closer reading. They were confronted with a new creation that by its nature set off thoughts and feelings they would not have had otherwise. In its own way, this was a positive poetic event.

I can think of other positives. I wrote a short poem to a poet friend on Facebook in response to an artistic photo she posted. I was intrigued by the photo and inspired. She was tickled I wrote it and I think it served as validation for her burgeoning artistic skill with the camera. I write short poems on postcards and send them out via the Postcrossing Project, such as this one.

Today these few words
celebrate you and I
in a kind, kind of, embrace
half a world away.

I count these and others as positive points on my poetry scoreboard.

I also think of other’s poetry that I pass along. I do this all the time, sending poems to friends, family and acquaintances. It always gets a response, usually gratitude that I made the connection. All of us are astonished when we read another’s words that capture our thoughts or emotions so well, or lead us to new ways of seeing the world.

Returning to the purely personal, I can recount another positive. Every time I discover I cannot add (or subtract) anything to one of my poems, I make a hard copy and place it in my ‘ready for submission’ book. I know that I have created something I cannot improve on. This may take days, weeks, month, even years, but I know that I have put into it everything that I am. This gives me a sense of accomplishment, of triumph. Even if the poem should never be published until many years from now, even if panned by future critics, or even savored by only a few, either way I’m positive I’ve done all I can.

You can find my Pekinese poem here.

Next post: reading poetry to strangers in public.

Lightering Words

I made a notation on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary today under the “lighter” entry. I’ve liked this word ever since I first heard it working on the Alaskan coastal waters 20 years ago. Previously, I thought a lighter was kept in your pocket and was brought out to light a cigarette or start a fire to keep from freezing. Imagine that, it had another meaning, a meaning I was unaware of the first three decades of my life.

Barge

I used to pull 36-hour shifts for a barge company monitoring fuel transfers to and from barges on St. Michael Island on the Bering Sea. It was long, cold and anxious work. In a severe sleep-deprived state, you had to stay vigilant so as not to over fill and spill fuel oil, gasoline or highly volatile aviation fuel. If you fell asleep the other guys on the crew would tie your shoe laces to one another or do some other practical joke like scream fire!

Anyway, the managers at the time called moving the “product” from a super tanker 8 miles off shore by barge to the tank farm as “lightering.” The workers called this hell (sleeplessness, diesel fumes, ocean swells and the damp air black with mosquitoes) but it paid well. The word is forever seared into my memory, along with the amber light of the low hanging subarctic sun, and the a red bore tide — a wave of red seaweed advancing through the water like an alien invasion or earthly miracle, depending on your state of mind.

The word lighter came into English by way of the Dutch lichter or lichten meaning to unload.  The dictionary says the noun can refer to a large, flat- bottomed barge. (Our barges held 250,000 gallons fully loaded, leaving but a couple feet of freeboard.) The word is also a verb meaning to convey something by barge. I don’t know how the meaning of lighting cigarettes got mixed up with loading freight, an incendiary idea, but stranger things have happened in English etymology. 

The idea of conveyance is pretty much how lightering was used on the Western Alaskan coast. As I noted in the comment section of Merriam-Webster, we might say, “We’re going to lighter the fuel.” The word lighterage meant the loading, unloading, and the transport of cargo by barge. Each sense of the word logged some nautical miles in our speech.

What’s all this got to do with poetry. Well, I’m glad you let me ask this rhetorical question. All words with multiple meanings make good poetic fodder. If I say Yeats lightered words I mean he transported words into your soul and then out again into the world when you shared them. I’m also saying he unloaded his words into this great barge of the world and to this day we are still lightening them around.

Good poems are chocked full of words pregnant with meaning. Here is an example I just made up for the occasion.

The fly was loose in the room so I nonchalantly scrambled to shun the thing
before the buzzing guests knew what was loosed upon them. 

So what kind of fly was loose –a zipper, an insect, something else or all three? A poet will never tell. The verb might give an indication or perhaps not depending on where the rest of the poem might take the reader. Poet’s might be reluctant to tell for another reason. They may not want to dampen the chance the poem will lighter the reader to other destinations.

Ambigious word play can be fun, even profitable, but taken to extremes can be a bore and bore hole in a poem large enough to sink it. Even straight forward words, whose meaning is relatively fixed, can influence a poem’s meaning if played at just the right time. Poetry seduces, it says the right word at the right time, to surprise and delight with unexpected associations. Theodore Roethke uses one word to great effect in the first stanza of My Papa’s Waltz.

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

He “hung on like death.” Death seems out of place here. The poems opening seems to be about an intoxicated father and his son at horseplay. As we move our eyes through the third line our mind makes ready to hear “heck” or “hell.” Heck, this is the word we Michigan boys used a lot in the post World War II — Vietnam War era.  ‘I hung on like heck.’ Or. ‘I hung on like hell.’ Heck is a word I used instead of hell, a word I spoke in my grandmother’s house once and for which she washed my mouth out with soap. Roethke slipped in death to avoid the obvious and expected hell or heck, which echos the rhyme of the first line. This particular use causes us to breathe and hesitate, just a moment, before moving on. He’s controlling not only meaning here but motion and cadence. He is also creating depth or mass. Death is as close as one’s breath. The father’s breath could “make a small boy dizzy” and a single word could easily set off a drunk father to violence. We are close to death by breath and word. Donald Hall, American poet and critic, said poems are more like sculptures than paintings. He was critical of poems that loitered on the surface image — the photograph poem, the poem that forgets to breathe. Good poems have volume, depth and mass, created by the tension between the surface images, formal and informal diction, the cadence, and the artful use of line breaks, to name a few tools in the poet’s bag of tricks.

As we read these first lines we get time to squirrel away this word play in our brains while we dance through the rest of the poem. I won’t spoil the remainder of the poem for you, but I wanted to suggest that what poets do is more akin to lightering words around to give shape and substance to what is normally empty experience. We are all creatures of movement. Words, like our bodies, are busy moving from one place to another and we have our becoming in each moment of movement. Stop moving and you are dead or soon will be, like so many retired people who quickly decline.

I am bi-vocational (that should be a category on a census form) like the vast majority of poets. Currently, my government job title is Engineering Equipment Operator, which means I smartly operate dumb heavy equipment — god-sized  excavators and bulldozers. I’m also a poet and find myself at odds when filling out online profiles where occupation is the question. The first thing I write is Engineering Equipment Operator, (that’s where the money is and the government job title sounds so impressive), then a slash is made before turning to my other chosen vocation, poet.

The only problem is the term poet is rather a cliché and needs a makeover too, so recently I wrote, Word Lighterage Engineer. I figure this phrase will give some pause to the reader and hopefully cause them to pause and consider the word and why its there. Then they can decide if I am a certifiable eccentric or completely bonkers. Either way, they will find Word Lighterage Engineer a play on words. If sufficiently curious, they will discover this word has more than a few meanings when applied to a poet.

A poet moves words around and, at their best, offers a way out of predictable thinking. You could say, I enjoy swilling the milk of moonlight, surely the preferred intoxicant of poetry lovers everywhere. 

Word play anyone? Leave a note in the comments.

WRITERS TELL ALL BLOG HOP

A blog is supposed to be regular as those laxative commercials tell us we all should be. Alas, mine is not and needed a cathartic which fellow Wordsmither and beautiful super blogger Jan Sheridan supplied by nominating me for the “Writer’s Tell All Blog Hop.” Thanks Jan for remembering that I actually have a blog. It’s been a while.

The Hop asks writer’s to answer three questions and nominate three other bloggers. I nominate: Claudine JaboroMariya KolevaClaudette J. Young.

MY TELL ALL (WELL NOT ALL)

It’s been said that if you are afraid of what you are writing you are on the right track. I believe that if your story, poem or art work doesn’t break new ground you won’t see any growth. When every line, every sentence, hums with an electric charge and occasional jolt you are on your way. Under this kind of current any old clichés can be spun and their magnetic fields will gather and mix new alloys.

No doubt metal imagery has a currency with this writer whose head is recently bound back together with titanium screws following brain surgery.  Years ago I was a serious rock head banger now I’m simply a dull metal head.  My writing was on a hiatus for a time, since I wasn’t producing many intelligible words while on morphine and oxycodone.  And while my eyes are still half blind I can avoid looking at the screen to type and audio books can be purchased though I prefer, like a child, to be read to.

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

Since my head was opened with a knife, I’ve continued to write poems and even an essay on poetry called, Not Milking Goats In Moon Light. Here is an excerpt: 

Poetry is the way I stay connected with the wild soul. The magic of poetry is not having to pull on a hairy teat to imagine the rhythmic ting of blood-hot milk steaming in stainless steel on a cool night under a red ball moon larger than the world.  I only need a masterfully crafted poem to show me a connection to what is primal in us all – that deep and often scary life that lives unseen inside each and every one of us. 

I continue to edit a poetry book, Confessions of a Dog Handler, a mix of letter and line poems loosely drawn from my life as a long-distance dog musher.  I’m also writing an experimental series of haiku poems, tentatively called, Ten Times Ten Haikus. The idea is to see what sense and interesting non-sense can be made using ten sets of 12 words to create one hundred haikus. I’m currently up to eighty-plus. I call it word bending. Actually, it will enrage the grammarians among us. The idea came to me after listening to children, teens and those outside my social milieu use word combinations in grammatically incorrect ways that did not negate meaning but expanded it; out with the old, in with the new. I decided to hard-press words together to see what can be made fresh and vital. It is a way to loosen the mind from its weak and rotted moorings. I have four other collections of poems – general categories that await a theme and close editing. All in good time.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I don’t have the slightest idea of how to answer that question. It is safe to say, each day I sit down and wait, usually not long, and begin to write.  I prefer not to know where I’m going. I get more results having a certain yet general bearing. I tack like a sail boat into the wind. The other shore, the new land, is out to be discovered. When I silence my mind’s chatter I can hear what’s essential. There is always something out there on the sea or far down in the hold of my ship. Yesterday it was the robin at the base of the birch tree leaping up to peck insects not satisfied with the common fare on the ground. Today an idea from some deep recess of the mind – that the biblical figures of Sara and Agar is less an illustration of two historical peoples but a type of conflict in each person’s soul. There is always some motivation so the sails can be unfurled.

WHO ARE THE AUTHORS YOU MOST ADMIRE?

There are a bazillion, mostly poets, but if I must choose:

Jim Harrison: brawny, uncompromising, shameless, never dull, master of the modern novella (see Legends of the Fall (read the book than see the movie with Brad Pit and Julia Ormond)). A poet first and foremost, he began writing novels to stave off starvation after injuring himself bird hunting. His poems weren’t making any money (surprise) so a writer friend said why not try a novel. Since then his many novels, novellas and poetry books have won international acclaim. A native Michigander, twice I sat across from him at a table drinking wine and could not keep up drinking or thinking.  His imagination associated so wildly I thought he was either loony or making up poems as he spoke. Reading him made me realize what is possible as a writer, even one with a troubled soul.

Others I admire and never tire of reading: Ted Kooser, a plain speaking poet who creates painterly poems of people and places and events was U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-06 (read Delights And Shadows; Norman O. Brown, philosopher and author of probing meditations on the soul, theology, politics and liberation (read Love’s Body);  poet, essayist and novelist Czeslaw Milosz immigrated to the U.S. after WWll having survived the razing of the Warsaw ghetto (read his Collected works); American poet Walt Whitman whose Leaves of Grass opened up the line to admit the energy of the muscular American street in the mid-19th century; Gary Snyder, poet identified with the beats but transcended out of its pessimism early on with poems close to the land and a new way of living with it (read Turtle Island); Mary Oliver, an eternal optimist and observer of what is the ecstatic life (read her both volumes of her collected works; Denise Levertov is a master poet of the modern line and spiritual life energy (read Freeing of the Dust); Kabir and Rumi are ancient mystic poets who charted new regions of the human spirit we are only just now beginning to comprehend (read Coleman Barks translations of Rumi and Bly’s Kabir). There are novelists and non-fiction writers too: Walker Percy, John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Pat Frank” Alas Babylon, the first novel I ever read.

Postcard Poems: an experiment in form

The final challenge over at Khara House’s Our Lost Jungle was to create your own poetic form and write a poem or two using that form. In some ways this was a daunting challenge but after I gave it some thought I realized all poetry forms come out of some poetry writing. The daunting part was Khara, bless her heart, wanted us to write the form and fit the poem to it. I suppose it wouldn’t be a challenge to place the horse before the cart.

I am big on postcards (I’m postcardkris.blogspot.com) so this was a way to combine my lifelong postcard hobby and my poetry pursuits. I’ve written and collected a lot of postcards and written lots of poems on the backs of postcards but never thought of them as postcard poems per say.  This was an opportunity to set out on for some new territory.

Here are my postcard poetry form guidelines. There are seven of them. This seems like a lot but I wanted to incorporate all of Khara’s eight challenges.  If you want a simpler version skip down toward the bottom. I’ve summarized them there.

Postcard Poem

  1. A prose poem of not more than 36 words.(rule #5)
  2. Consists of three monostich sentences each of 12 words or less and 12 to 18 syllables. (rule #’s 1,5,6)
  3. The poem will contain, refer to or mention three elements: 1) some type of travel or destination or means of conveyance, 2) reveal a secret (personal, social or cultural, etc.,) or a humorous truth about yourself or someone else that the addressee does not know, and 3) be an ekphrasis, referring to a real or imagined image postcard image.  .  Here is a list of ekphrastic poetry. (rule #’s 3, 4,7)
  4. The first two sentences will be grammatically parallel; the third can be any structure. (rule #,4,7,8.
  5. Two of the sentences will have either an internal rhyme, alliteration or end rhyme. (rule #’s 2,6)
  6. There must be at least one figure of speech or trope (see list here), metonymy, metaphor, simile, personification, synecdoche, allegory, symbol (to name a few) in the poem. (#6,7)
  7.  Finally, the poem must be addressed to a person’s first name (real or imagined) and have a closing. (rule #8)

This may seem like a lot of rules (OK, I admit it is a lot of rules) but it is not so different than writing a postcard message. Hopefully, it will serve as a kind of literary echo of the normal postcard message. The rules should function to enhance the writing and bring forth something out of our poetry compost (Khara’s lost jungle) that may grow into a poem that blooms for us and may hold significance for readers in each season of our lives.

Simple version

If you don’t like these rules, try this. Write a poem of one and no more than three sentences of roughly equal length with a maximum of 36 words total that resembles a postcard greeting. Imagine writing to a loved one (or hated one) back home from an exotic (or boring location) and mention the image on the postcard you are writing on. Use colorful language (figures of speech: metaphor, simile, hyperbole. End with a short closing phrase and your first name (real or imagined). Include a closing phrase with your name if you wish.

The advantage of postcard poetry is that you never can run out of inspiration. All you need is a postcard and some imagination. Here is an example.

Julia,
Here’s Picasso’s two hands with flowers. You and I now know love is never that bright or simple.
I’ll sign the papers before we get to Vegas.
Don’t look back, Kris

Now, it’s your turn. Try your hand at a postcard poem. Let me know how it comes out.

Poet laureates help bring poetry to public schools

Poetry for the people

“Poetry is really for people. It’s not just for professors. It’s not just for poets. Poetry should be reaching a broad audience, maybe not everyone, but a broader audience.”  Dana Gioia — from the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf podcast.

Gioia was talking about the office of the U.S. Poet laureate and how that office has worked to bring poetry to more people. He was prompted to comment Natasha Tretheway’s appointment to the office this year. He had nothing but praise for her as a poet and her selection to the nation’s highest literary office. I hope she will be effective in promoting poetry in the public school with more innovative programs.

What Poet Laureates Do

Besides reading their own poetry once a year at a big shindig in Washington D.C. and adding to the archive of recorded poetry at the Library of Congress, each poet laureate initiates projects that they become known for. Gwendolyn Brooks promoted the writing of poetry with elementary school students. Billy Collins made poetry easily available to high students. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan’s created Poetry for the Mind, including a community college poetry contest. These are all great programs but more are needed. Hopefully, Natasha Trethewey’s appointment as poet laureate will continue this fine tradition.

Poetry in Public Schools

As a parent of children in public schools I can say we need a better way to get poetry in the hands and hearts of our students. From a parent and poet’s perspective, we need more and higher quality poetry programs so students can benefit from a vigorous literary education.

Schools need to get with it in terms of using poetry in the classroom. My son and daughter have seen little poetry in their schools. When they do a lot of it is sub par sing-song ditties or passionless, cliché ridden ballads guaranteed to steer students away from poetry. These texts tend to lower student expectations that poetry can provide a powerful culturally enriching activity. Text books seem to use poetry like fillers or something fun to drink so as to wash down the otherwise dry subject matter. The problem is the drink is sour.

My daughter’s ninth-grade English text-book throws in a few poems and follows them with the usual questions to put people to sleep. These do more damage by convincing the vast majority of students that poetry is simply an extension of science class where poems are simply frogs to be dissected to see what makes them tick. Of course, this is approach is backward. First you want students to like and enjoy poetry not kill it and pick over its bones. The fun is in the reading and reciting. Students own voices reading poems is enjoyable and brings the poems to life, even poems from centuries past.

Here’s some sample questions:

“How does the poet see himself in this poem?”

“Why does the poet use the term ________ to describe his experience?”

“What do you think the poet saying about contemporary america?”

Rolled eyes and snores from around the room. Questions like these will just about guarantee there will be no poets, let alone poetasters, coming from this class.

Reading poetry is a gas

The fun of poetry is in the reading and reciting. Students own voices bring poems to life, even poems from centuries past. With few exceptions, poems were made to be read. The meter of good poems brings them to life with the students own breathing. There is an intimate connection between the life of the student and the life of the poem. This is usually found in voiced recitation and is appreciated by an audience at a public reading. There is no substitute for this. No recording or pod cast can duplicate this social and cultural experience.

My son discovered this in the fourth-grade. Unfortunately, he will begin attending high school this fall but has only seen one poetry assignment in his entire school career. In the fourth-grade he was required to pick out a poem, memorize it and recite it in front of the class. He was then to ask the class if they had any questions about the poem and be able to discuss the poem and offer facts about the author.

He chose,  Lewis Carroll’s, “Crocodile,” a short poem that suited his tastes for dangerous animals and adventurous story themes. With this assignment I thought we were getting somewhere and we were. By memorizing it he learned a lot about the poem. The most valuable lesson was that he leaned that poems have hidden depths that only reveal themselves in reading and rereading to memorize. Things that didn’t come out on the first, second or third read came through on subsequent readings. He even looked up pictures of crocodiles to see if indeed they smile, as it says in the poem. It turned out, no surprise to me, the poem was true to life.

Not only did he learn poems were cool, he learned how to speak loudly and clearly in public. He could have learned this by reciting anything but the poem’s diction and meter helped him wrap his young tongue around some challenging vowel and consonant combinations. All this from looking and reading over one poem for a recitation.

What other teaching moment miracles would come if schools seriously taught poetry from kindergarten on up? I bet reading scores would soar, public speaking would improve and being conversant in complex social thought would well serve the student on entering the market place. Students would also become conversant in what makes a good poem.

I hope Natasha Trethewey will lobby the Department of Education, the National Education Association, the National Association of Teachers and any organization that has influence on curriculum development that using poetry as the meat and potatoes, not the side dishes, of English studies will reap great rewards for students. She could tell them the role poetry played in her life and education. She should tell them we need more poetry appreciation, recitation and writing in schools at every grade. I hope she will read them some of her fine poems. Maybe she can go on a reading tour to public high schools in each state. I’m sure she’ll come up with more imaginative ways to bring more poetry to more people. I just hope she does not forget our nation’s public schools.