Friday, August 29, 2014

School Poems

This week, for me and so many others, school was back in session. It was a fun week of classes (I always look forward to the start of the semester), full of promising energy and new faces and names. For those of you that teach/learn, hope that it is off to a wonderful start...

This got me thinking about poems about teaching and school. It's hard to write about teaching others to write--well, it's hard to do it well. Many teaching poems can wander into condescension, which is not a mode I enjoy reading.

There's the classic "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes...always a good choice. I tried my hand at this one, "Composition," a few years ago. And I really love David Gewanter's "English 1" --it's very poignant. Here's the poem (copied here without permission, only because it's available in its entirety here at Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and because it's a wonderful poem):

David Gewanter

FIRST, We tied to each other

NEXT, Coconuts for the swimming

THEN, The Boat-Soldiers shoot

MEANWHILE, Many dying

AND THEN, We swam with dead People

LATER, We get on the land

FINALLY, We left our dead Friends.

What grade does this exercise deserve?
Homework folded like a handkerchief,

a little book of tears, burns, escape--

And still I mark the blasphemies

of punctuation, common speech;

the English tune will help them live.

Rickety Hmong boy, flirting simply
with the loud girl from Managua--
I taught him how to ask her out,

taught her how to say no, nicely;
my accent and suburban decorums
are tidy and authoritative as

the checks I make for right answers
the rosy golf-clubs on the page.
By next year they'll talk their way

out of trouble instead of smiling
as they do hearing me drone Silent Night--
They join in, shy and hypnotized,

Saigon chemist, cowed Haitian, miming
the words I once told my music teacher
that Jews shouldn't sing: "Holy Infant."


What are your favorite poems about school? I'd love to hear your recommendations. 

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