Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Power of Poetry


Next week I start my Teacher as Poet course through the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP), and it has sent me rifling through the dog-earred pages of my poetry books. I’ve been flipping through a book that I received last semester as a gift for participating in some committee or other. Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach is a beautifully organized collection of poems and essays submitted by educators from around the nation. The day I received this book I very clearly remember nearly missing my bus stop on the way home as I was absorbed in its pages, chuckling at some of the teacher essays, tears hovering at the corners of my lashes reading others.

The first poem that I flipped to this afternoon was one submitted by Jim Burke. As he explains in the essay accompanying his submission of a Seamus Heaney poem, “Through words, through poetry, [the students] cure themselves for that one hour when their hopes and hearts rhyme, while I sit in the back, bearing witness to their voices, their lives, and all they have to say if we can only find the courage to listen.” I wish I had remembered flipping down the page on this poem. I wish I could now give it to my student who turned to me and sighed, “What does it matter? Teenagers don’t have power, anyway. We can’t change anything.” Poetry has power. I want to find ways to share that power with my students, to feed even the smallest spark of hope until it burns like a fire within them. Poetry has that power. So now I’m thinking about ways to add more poetry into my curriculum.

From “The Cure at Troy” by Seamus Heaney
Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing,
The utter self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
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