Mainewhile: Celebrate National Poetry Month

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Poetry and I have a complicated relationship.

As a child, I adored poems. I had a bookshelf stuffed with Shel Silverstein, and a mom who freely and frequently recited poetry – mostly Ogden Nash animal poems – as she moved throughout her day. It was more than just the rhyming stuff, though: Walt Whitman, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and the astounding Dylan Thomas were all regulars in the language of our home.

I loved poetry.

Then came high school. I was an outsider and I found that the level of drama and angst in general made me queasy – let alone the bad, bad poetry that went with it.

Then came college, where poems were treated with such mind-crushing seriousness, the weight of the words doubled by the intensity of delivery – you know, the kind where … sentences are … shot out … staccato style … with rising inflection … and pauses meant … to be … deep.

Poetry and I broke up.

The breakup was profound and complete. Books were packed away and the very idea was met with a sneer – until the moment when, completely out of the blue, I heard Billy Collins reading his poem, “The Lanyard.”

Do you know the poem? It’s worth looking up; YouTube even has video of him reading it. His work is so friendly. There is nothing “precious” or pretentious about it, yet it is deeply moving. I fell in love.

As with any new love, first you spend all your time focused on them, then their friends become your friends and you start spending time with them, too. Soon I was reading not only Collins, but other poets who shared his space, beautiful haikus, saucy limericks, and I even found myself once again sidling up to old, lost friends, dusting off my copy of Emily Dickinson to take just a tiny nibble, one poem at a time here and there. As an adult, I was making my peace with poetry, but still leery of too much at any one sitting.

This then was my framework as I contemplated lesson plans for the month. Because, yes, as an educator, I was going to have to not only “deal with” National Poetry Month, I was going to have to make friends with it. I was going to have to go deep.

I started by doing what I do when faced with any situation: research. Into the vaults of the National Poetry Society I dove. I read deep poems, silly poems, poems that rhymed, poems that did not, poems about war, poems about ice cream, poems I did not like, and poems that I adored. However, as always, in the moment the real work came not from me, but from the students themselves.

Not every student likes poetry. That’s OK. Not everyone likes pie, either. But everyone is having a chance to meet poetry, to understand it a bit better, and to realize it is there for them if they want it. For some students, that’s enough.

Others, however, truly find their voice within poetry. Billy Collins caught my heart, but watching elementary students discover a poem that speaks to them, or crafting their inner world into words, warms my soul. Meeting poetry anew through the experience of these students has been a gift.

This April, during National Poetry Month, may you find a poem that speaks to you.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

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