At a Fork in the Road

Because April is National Poetry Month, I have a story I’d like to share with you this week.

A few months ago, my son and his fifth grade class were instructed to memorize Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Granted, it’s a famous poem with an important message.  But why did my son need to memorize it?  And in the fifth grade?  (I don’t think I read it until high school).  His teacher never explained the reason(s) behind her assignment or why this particular poem was chosen.

I worked with Ryan, as he learned the poem line-by-line.  I tried to take it a step further, talking to him about the poem and asking him questions his teacher wasn’t asking at school.  

“What does it mean to you?”  

“What do you think the poet is saying?”

We had a discussion about the poem and poetry in general – that, like many types of art, there isn’t always just one way to look at, read, or interpret a piece of art.

Ryan wasn’t overly impressed.  The poem became a chore.

And months later, his teacher must have forgotten about it, because Ryan’s class never was asked to recite the poem.

I fear that an experience like this may turn Ryan off from poetry.  Though I hope not.  These early experiences with art really do have so much power and influence over our later choices and our later opinions about what we like and don’t like, what we’re good at, and what we think we’re not-so-good at.

When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, my classroom teacher painted over one of my watercolors-in-progress, and after that, I never wanted to take an art class.  In fact, I never wanted to draw or paint again.  (To read more about it, click here and read my personal essay “Too often, teachers extinguish a student’s spark” that was published in the Christian Science Monitor back in 2004.) 

For now, Ryan and I talk about poetry in terms of song lyrics.  It’s fun and enjoyable and an organic way to learn – the way all learning can be.

 

In Praise of Poetry

The latest book in my “just read” pile is Jill Bialosky’s memoir Poetry Will Save Your Life.

I’m not a huge fan of poetry; a poem either speaks to me or it doesn’t, though I do have a (small) number of poems that touch my soul.  And there were several things I liked about this book that I wanted to share with you this week.

From a writer’s perspective, I thought the structure was so original.  The author shares a moment of time, a memory, an anecdote and then included a relevant poem.

From a book lover’s perspective, I thought the cover was beautiful (see the picture above) as were the front and end pages (see the picture below).

From a reader’s perspective, here are some of the passages I tagged as I read:

“A poem’s meaning alters by the associations, insights, and experience we bring to it.  A poem can do many things at once.  Like “The Road Not Taken,” it can challenge the reader intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally.  It can validate our experiences or cause us to question our beliefs.”

“Surely this is one of the reasons poetry enriches us.  A poem links us to a universe at once intimate and communal.  Poets and artists work in solitude and by intuition.  They have the same mission: to capture and fathom the reality beyond appearances, the world invisible to the eye.”

“I realize that through the artfulness of poetic form, one can trap experience and make it palpable to a reader.  A poem might be about what hurts, and most illuminating, the subject might be drawn from one’s own life.  A poem could be both personal and communal and save a person from the dark shadow of shame.”

“Poems often begin from a question, or a needling of something disturbing or provoking, sometimes even from ignorance.  From there a poet takes elements, either an image, a particular scene or landscape, a memory, maybe only an expression – and appeals to her unconscious, her place of unknowing in hopes that as words, phrases, and fragments take shape, like beads on a string, something original and exciting might evolve.”

Readers, what are your favorite poems?  Feel free to share in the comments section!