Sunday, April 12, 2015

Love What You Do; Share What You Love


"Poetry is, above all, an approach to the truth of feeling . . .. A fine poem will seize your imagination intellectually—that is, when you reach it, you will reach it intellectually too— but the way is through emotion, through what we call feeling." ~Muriel Rukeyser

It's April. In my world, that means it's time to hit the test prep--hard. In case you don't know me, or haven't read my bio, I teach AP Lit and IB English 12, both of which require high stakes testing at the beginning of May. Every year I re-evaluate the effectiveness of my instruction and my ability to adequately prepare my students to succeed on these exams. But I also try not to get too carried away. Are my students taking the highest level literature courses to learn how to take a test? Frankly, I hope not. But, I know that I have been, and continue to be, guilty of test-prep overload.

Facing my last unit before the AP Lit exam, I cringed as I pulled up my PowerPoint instructing students how to read a poem:

1. Read it out loud. 
2. Try to get a general idea about the meaning. 
3. Look for patterns. 
4. Scour that thing for every literary, sound, and structural technique the poet uses to create meaning. 5. In short, "tie the poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it" (Billy Collins, "Introduction to Poetry"). 

(There are 20 instructions. No joke).

Every year my students have entered the room on the first day of the poetry unit with trepidation, eye-rolling, and often downright defiance. They are literature students who do not like poetry. How is this possible? (Please see above list on how to read a poem).

I love what I do. My passion lies in working with my students and with my curriculum. But I don't love poetry because I've been taught to dissect it word by word, syllable by syllable. I don't love it because I know the definition of anapestic tetrameter (the meter utilized in the popular by "Twas the Night Before Christmas"). I love poetry because it speaks to me on a deep level--a level beyond my intellect. When my brain cannot accommodate paradox and ambiguity in words, I can understand poetic truth on an emotional level. Poetry touches me in the core of my humanity. It welcomes me into the beauty, fear, uncertainty, and even the ugliness of what it is to be human. It connects me to people and places far away, and it assures me that I'm not alone. And what do all teenagers need to know more than anything? That they're not alone. 

Poet Billy Collins says teachers install "poetry deflector shields" in high school. My PowerPoint is just such a shield. But this year, it remains in its folder, unopened. I'll share what I love. I'll give them the opportunity to understand for themselves what there is to love. I'll stand back while their eyes light up with understanding and connection. I'll celebrate the songs and poems they share with me--the very things that speak to them. Somewhere along the way, I'm certain we will discuss the sonnet form and iambic pentameter, and maybe that will get them a few more questions correct on the exam. But, ultimately, I hope they take with them the humanity expressed in good poetry, and not the idea that only the English teachers know what it means.

If you are interested in delving into poetry, here are the two pieces I selected for my introduction to poetry: "In a Week"--lyrics by Andrew Hozier Byrne (Hozier), and "Ghost House" by Robert Frost. Both consider what happens to us when we die. I recommend listening to "In a Week" while you read the lyrics. Drop me a note to let me know what you think. This generated so much discussion that by the third time I taught it, I had guests. Really...students not in my class who wanted to see what it was all about. 

4.12.15: Food For Thought

I learned something important last Sunday. I always knew that I had trigger foods, but I did not know how quickly and severely I would react. On Easter Sunday, I ate candy and dessert. Not nearly as much candy and dessert as I could have (or would have in the past), but enough. It made me irritable, tired, and HUNGRY when I shouldn't have been. Monday was a little rough, too, because I was still feeling that unnatural hunger. Luckily, I was back to normal on Tuesday, and I haven't felt that way since. It was a great wake-up call for me. I don't even want to start eating those trigger foods, because I know what they will do to me now. I ended the week well within my allotted Weight Watcher Points and had a good loss. 

4.12.15: The Stats

3.23.15: 37 lbs to lose
3.29.15: -4
4.4.15: +1 (34 lbs to lose)
4.12.14 -2.5 (31.5 lbs to lose)

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