Monday, July 30, 2007

Sometimes a pebble is just a pebble


”Don’t write about the pebbles. Write about a pebble.” Nancie Atwell, Lessons That Change Writers

Out of breath, I stumbled into room 326 this morning just as the professor was giving his morning greeting. Today began my journey in the course Teacher as Poet through the Pennsylvania Literature and Writing Project, a week long intensive study of the craft of writing and teaching poetry. An eight and half hour a day, week long course that I’ve been looking forward to all summer. It’s part of the reason I teach. I love being in the classroom, always have. As a 10, 15, 20-year-old student, I eagerly anticipated new classes, new books, new assignments, the energy and the creativity that is sparked by a good teacher, great literature, and a willing class.

With the formalities out of the way, we began this morning’s class with the above quote by Nancie Atwell, a quote that got me reflecting not only on how I teach writing, but about my own writing process as well. Like many emerging writers, I had a problem with generalities. I’d lift those large abstract clichés to unfound, existential, angst-driven glory. But thanks to some wonderful writing teachers, I’ve started to shift my attention to the particulars. In fact, now I find myself in quite the opposite predicament. I load my lonely pebble down with so many hefty adjectives, shackle it with so many prepositional phrases that it sinks to the bottom of my writing. That one lonely pebble, yoked with so many alliterative allusions, creative colors, protracted phrases, weighing it down. But I keep digging at the bottom, sifting through the silt, trying hard to unlodge the same old pebbles. Maybe it didn’t quite fit into one poem, so I’ll lug it into another, only to drown another poem.

I need to let the pebble be just a pebble.

So, below is the first draft of a poem that stemmed from this reflection, the need to let words, ideas breath on their own:

The Phone Call

Fumbling, faltering,
her mouth miles from the receiver,
it takes an anxious minute
for my name, the connection,
to get through the line.
Granddaughter,
soft sigh
of relieved recognition.

We do not talk often,
preferring to send letters
scrawled across the open spaces
fronts and backs of Hallmark greetings
extending to one sheet of pale pink,
then two.

I call
to say thank-you
for the birthday wish,
rhyme signed with Love,
Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Harry.
I cannot ask,
do not touch
the question of her memory,
the one left holding the line.


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