Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Performing Poetry

As April's National Poetry Month celebrations draw to a close, my students and I will make sure that the month ends not with a whimper, but a bang (couldn't resist the nod to poet T.S. Eliot). Today we welcomed Montgomery County Poet Laureate David Escobar-Martin into our Creative Writing class. He shared a number of poems from his book Eden to a room full of snaps and appreciative nods. His lines, full of rhythm and sound, had us mesmerized. Rich with alliteration and full of figurative language, David opened up and shared not only his poetry but shared how he crafted his art. Students were able to ask questions and later collaborate with the poet on their own writing.

I find these experiences invaluable. I know that not every student sitting in our Creative Writing class will become a poet laureate, or for that matter, even come to love poetry. However, hearing a writer talk about his struggles, his failings, and his process are applicable not just to the writers in the room but to all.  This is the value of bringing the outside in.

In this past year, many of my students, from all academic experiences, have expressed frustration in what they are asked to do in the classroom. This is not the complaint you might anticipate. In fact, quite the opposite. Many students love that they are being asked to make connections. They are asked to connect the historical events that precipitated South Africa's apartheid with those that lead to Iran's revolution. These are higher-order thinking tasks. Instead, their frustration comes in not knowing what to do with this analysis. A number of students don't know what to do with what they are learning. They are frustrated in not knowing what to do with the higher-order tasks they love to solve. How does this parlay into a career? Into a passion?

So this is why I bring as many writers, editors, speakers, poets, professors, librarians, researchers, and people from all walks of life into our classroom. It is hard to grasp possibility without having a glimpse of how people outside the classroom are engaging in their passions.  I knew that I was going to be a teacher fairly early. I have a deep desire to work with young people, to pass on passion, to inspire questioning. But I also recognize how fortunate I am. I came to know my passion for teaching early in my life. This is not the case for all. So the more that I can do to bring possibility, to bring opportunity into my classroom, the more prepared my students might be for life after the classroom.

And hear David share not only his poetry but also his creative process today was inspiring.  He encouraged students as they wrote their tanka poetry, encouraged students to take the risk and share. In sharing our words, our creativity, and passion, we inspire others to do the same. What a fantastic way to bring National Poetry Month to a close!

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