It's National Poetry Month.
It's my turn to post, and National Poetry Month is my topic.
I am the least qualified of the TA's to write about poetry.
I don't write poetry.
I don't read poetry (much).
Poetry intimidates me.
I don't understand most of it.
I am in awe of those who can take small moments, and turn them into a perfectly realized epiphany, complete with symbolism, metaphor and sometimes rhyme and meter.
Alas, I am not one of them.
What follows is in no way an indictment of teachers or teaching, past or present. I am just sharing how I came to fear poetry.
I had some Old School elementary teachers who believed that memorization was a way to exercise mental muscle. Every Friday, each student was required to deliver, from memory, a poem of at least eight lines (the longer the better). This showed up on my report card under the subject Oral Expression. Seriously.
I am a great memorizer, and memorizing something with rhyme and meter was as easy as turning on the TV. Not only were there the Friday Recitations, there were pieces the entire class was required to learn. The opening of "Hiawatha." "Paul Revere's Ride." All four verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner." (The other three don't scan nearly as well as the first.) I remember all of them. (To liven up college frat parties, I would recite "Hiawatha" in under a minute. A real party animal.)
Yeah, I loved poetry. Until I was asked to write it. For a grade. And it had to rhyme.
It was the only time I can recall hating a writing assignment. I couldn't rhyme. If it was haiku, I couldn't come up with the right number of syllables. I couldn't think in terms of "small moments." My mind was all about fiction. Big pictures. Epics.
In junior high, some warped being in the state office of curriculum decreed that seventh graders would spend six weeks with "The Courtship of Miles Standish" and eighth graders with "Evangeline." If there was anything worse than a short poem I didn't understand, it was a long, narrative poem that was BORING (to a twelve-year-old.) Somebody In Charge had a thing for Longfellow.
From "Evangeline," it was on to those pithy nuggets in my high school literature book. Amy Lowell's "Patterns." "Auto Wreck" by Karl Shapiro. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" still gives me nightmares. I didn't understand the metaphors. I couldn't see the symbolism. The words sat on the page, leering at me, refusing to yield their secrets. Never in my entire life, had I felt so incredibly dumb in a literature class.
I didn't get it. I just didn't get it!
I am pretty sure I was the only teenage girl who didn't write poetry. Novels, short stories, essays....yes. Poetry, no.
I have come to appreciate a few poets today. I love the work of my fellow TA's. I love the verse novels of Karen Hesse, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Ron Koertge, Nikki Grimes, Ellen Hopkins. I love them so much that I have been trying to write my own verse novel. For the last ten years.
I guess I am still intimidated by verse, rhyming or not. Maybe some day...
But for now, Happy Poetry Month!
Mary Ann Rodman