Saturday, April 07, 2012

On Teaching Poetry

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Do you agree?
As a teacher, I greatly desire for my students to "catch" my enthusiasm for poetry. It can be disappointing when they look bored or stare blankly at my best efforts to share a literary favorite. I know better than to take it too personally; I just keep on reading a poem everyday and have confidence that as I sow beautiful words, some are bound to take root.

 The wait is worth it. When I witness that "spark" from page to pupil, I inwardly rejoice! The late John Ciardi, whom some knew as "Mr. Poet", expresses it perfectly: 

"I don't think it is possible to teach anything until the teacher has elicited some enthusiasm. That is where teaching begins. As far as poetry is concerned, the job is not simple, but it reduces to one thing. Somehow the student has to be led to read a poem, to put it down, and to say, "Wow!"  From that point on he is teachable, but until that excitement has been elicited, until that response has been there, no teaching is possible. You may train, you may discipline, you may cause poems to be memorized by unexcited people, but only the excited can learn." ~ Ciardi himself: fifteen essays in the reading, writing, and teaching of poetry

Enthusiasm. Now that is a God word.  The archaic en + theos means inspired by God.  The second member of the trinity is called "The Word" in the gospel of John. And that whoosh! of enthusiasm that transpires between written word and student is an evidence that we humans bear His image. How mysterious this transfer, and what a privilege I have as a teacher to witness the edges of His ways.


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