Friday, August 29, 2014

School Poems

This week, for me and so many others, school was back in session. It was a fun week of classes (I always look forward to the start of the semester), full of promising energy and new faces and names. For those of you that teach/learn, hope that it is off to a wonderful start...

This got me thinking about poems about teaching and school. It's hard to write about teaching others to write--well, it's hard to do it well. Many teaching poems can wander into condescension, which is not a mode I enjoy reading.

There's the classic "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes...always a good choice. I tried my hand at this one, "Composition," a few years ago. And I really love David Gewanter's "English 1" --it's very poignant. Here's the poem (copied here without permission, only because it's available in its entirety here at Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and because it's a wonderful poem):

David Gewanter

FIRST, We tied to each other

NEXT, Coconuts for the swimming

THEN, The Boat-Soldiers shoot

MEANWHILE, Many dying

AND THEN, We swam with dead People

LATER, We get on the land

FINALLY, We left our dead Friends.

What grade does this exercise deserve?
Homework folded like a handkerchief,

a little book of tears, burns, escape--

And still I mark the blasphemies

of punctuation, common speech;

the English tune will help them live.

Rickety Hmong boy, flirting simply
with the loud girl from Managua--
I taught him how to ask her out,

taught her how to say no, nicely;
my accent and suburban decorums
are tidy and authoritative as

the checks I make for right answers
the rosy golf-clubs on the page.
By next year they'll talk their way

out of trouble instead of smiling
as they do hearing me drone Silent Night--
They join in, shy and hypnotized,

Saigon chemist, cowed Haitian, miming
the words I once told my music teacher
that Jews shouldn't sing: "Holy Infant."


What are your favorite poems about school? I'd love to hear your recommendations. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slow Dance

Slow Dance

The dance is made from gestures toward satisfaction
that never fully satisfy

Falsetto to taffy-pull the time
and plaintive voice full of almost-love

Arms draped around necks and waists in the dark
and the leaning together of bodies

This can be said, and what can be said
is only euphemism

Everywhere there are bodies clanging together

there will one day be no bodies

Every body you give yourself to

will crumble

As with most things pleasure ends
That is how we come to know it

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Water Wings

Water Wings

Oh the overwhelming cuteness of humans
How a large number of us just agreed
without discussion that British Literature
should be referred to in nickname as Brit Lit
Every word can be shortened to carve out
its sweet heart When we fill plastic bags
with air and tie them to the small limbs
of beloved children so in water their body
remains at the surface Floaties we call them
Slipped on like strong orange muscles grasping
their arms outside the skin Translucent hands
of all who yearn only to protect this child

Tuesday, August 26, 2014



It’s not so much that time is money
but that money is a metaphor for time

We can slow its blur to a silver coin
A small flat circle Think of the penny

we flatten to a thin oval A penny made
by squishing a penny beyond its borders

An important quality of coins is
they should make a sound when dropped

and they should fit in the belly of
a plastic pig If you covet a thing

turn it over to read the meaning it has
been given It wants to be owned

It is brimming with your own desire
That’s why it ends in 99

Monday, August 25, 2014

It Has Learned to Feed Itself

It Has Learned to Feed Itself

This air plant never tires of clinging
to rock
It never thirsts

It only knows how to hang on
and to sort the invisible

This is water
This is food
That is the empty part of air
that we must not resent for lacking
what we need

The song of the air plant goes
Man, this cliff-face sure is cozy
and look what the wind wants to bring me