Facebook has a wonderful little thing they are doing. They send you a notification every day about past posts you made on that day. I am finding it oddly revealing.
Today I had two posts I had made — in the format of what used to be called “notes” — about insurgent poetry my 11th grade students wrote in 2011. I remembered the poems as I read them, but I didn’t necessarily remember all the students. That is one of my greatest disappointments as a teacher — I only remember a select few every year. The rest wipe right out of my brain.
Insurgent poetry is part of Beat poetry, and the students grasped on to this concept quite well that year. In subsequent years I always remember we ran out of time before we got to it. This particular year is a gift, as it is basically the only year the students practiced this type of writing.
When I first read the poems, I was disappointed that I now teach much lower level students who cannot grasp the abstractness of insurgent or beat poetry. But then I realized — I have made poets of my kids this year. These students — some at barely a 1st grade reading level — are currently writing poems about children of the Holocaust. The harrowing stories of some of these children: hiding out in Christian homes, being left in the woods to fend for themselves, being lined up and massacred — are not the easiest thing to write about. But my students are making poetry: I Am poems and Eulogy poems and Mirror poems. They will start presenting those poems today.
In the Facebook Memory page I received today I also had a poem I wrote last year called “Gaps.” In the poem, I lamented not having filled all the gaps of my students, and how I feel every year I have fallen short.
Revisiting these poems, and thinking about where I stand today, I do not feel the gaps. I feel success. I have brought out the inner poets in the children I teach. They grasped right on to this project, as I knew they would. If they had been in a typical reading class, they probably would not have seen or written much poetry. I have made my mark.
I always feel if I get kids past the “I don’t know how to write poetry” or “I don’t get poetry” mark, I have done my job. Poetry is one of the most compact, abstract, metaphoric, and life-giving forms of writing. If I help them be unafraid to approach it, then their lives are richer.
Okay, enough patting myself on the back. I suppose there are still gaps. But this year, I am not going to beat myself up. Instead, I am going to celebrate.
Here is one of the poems from 2011 that I particularly like. It is a sutra, which is a type of prayer, but takes a very different approach to prayer. I have coupled it with the song “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons. Today, I am allowing myself to be on top of the world. I have made poets of generations of students. I need a day just to celebrate that!
Coyote and Road Runner (Sutra) by Chris
I am alone in this desert
to the warmth of sunrise,
and then the chills of sunset.
I watch and drool at the idea
of capturing you.
Sleepless nights, because I can
never shake you out of my mind.
When I do, I dream of having
you in my hands.
Then, disappointed. I awake to the
Reality of I have nothing.
Nothing but that same desire and
hunger of successfully beating
You — Road Runner
Finally standing above
You — World.