Say a word and let it sit on the page, alone.
What does it mean? School taught me its definition. School taught me how to use it in a sentence. School taught me what it means. School taught me how to read it.
Beyond the necessary and important things that school taught me about this word, poetry taught me how to experience it.
I can experience the word with my senses and my imagination. I can look at all of the word's possibilities--close my eyes and see everything around it, smell the breeze that sways it in a field, hear the bird perching above it in a tree, and feel it spreading out with spring.
I can do that without an actual daffodil being anywhere near me. (Which is good because they actually make me sneeze a lot). EVERYONE can do these things. However, not everyone regularly does, especially within the walls of schools where we have to meet our standards and know the right answers to progress.
Within schools, there is so much to learn. There's so much to measure. There's so much to cover. It's no wonder more and more of our students develop anxiety at younger and younger ages. They can feel it too. Amidst all this, it seems impossible to prioritize something as unmeasurable as poetry.
But, here’s my argument.
My time spent imagining daffodil was never something that could get me a good grade. It was however, something that taught me how to engage in and think deeply about the world around me. It also taught me to value my imagination and my opinion. When someone asks me what I think today, I want to tell them, just ask my colleagues. I sincerely think that has to do, at least somewhat, with poetry.
When you regularly engage with poetry, you have to go through the process of reading a poem, forming an opinion, sharing it, and saying why. Or, you have to write a poem that reflects your experience in the world, share it, and say why. That practice of why is inherent in reading and writing. It is also a necessary ingredient in the creation of outspoken, opinionated and self-reliant people.
On my best days, I am that. And, I like to think that is due in large part to a regular engagement with poetry. Many of my school teachers brought poetry into the classroom. Thank you, teachers. While I can't remember all of them, I do remember Ms. Despres of Westborough, MA. She brought William Wordsworth's, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," into my fifth grade social studies class. We were supposed to memorize and recite the poem. I never could memorize the whole thing, but I remember trying, reading, and imagining.
April is National Poetry Month. I encourage all of you to read a poem with someone--your students, your friend, the void, your significant other. Experience it, and value your experience of it. Let it teach, or reteach, you how to form an opinion and share it with the world.
To celebrate Poetry Month, COMPAS is reaching into our archives and sharing poems written by students and older adults during COMPAS programs. We're posting a new one on the COMPAS Facebook page each day. Enjoy!
By COMPAS staff member, Julie Strand