Last year I needed to find zen or I would die. My muscles were in such knots at the end of the school year my chiropractor prescribed regular massages, hot baths, and as many vacations as I could manage.
I went to New Hampshire.
Here I am again. This time I am at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching at the Frost Place in Franconia, a tiny little place where the air is clear and the nights are darker than I’ve experienced in a long time.
This conference is different: Only 14 participants this year. All focused on the art of poetry. Some are working poets. Most are working teachers. I heard about this conference on a Twitter chat, and since my return trip to the UNH Literacy Institute, which was already planned, happened to be on the calendar for next week, the stars aligned. I find myself here, staying at a gorgeous bed and breakfast listening to rain fall gently on the old but sturdy roof.
It is day four, and I’ve learned more about poetry and poets and revision and analysis than I learned in all the classes leading up to my degree in literature. Oh, to give this kind of learning to my students!
Here’s some highlights and why you will want to come to this place as soon as you are able:
1. Guest poet workshops. Iain Hailey Pollock visited first. He shared lessons from his classroom, his experiences as a writer, and the most engaging Poetry Death Match, a contest with one poem survivor. That evening Iain read his work. If you are not familiar with his poetry, order the collection Spit Back a Boy immediately. Next, Meg Kearney, poet and author of two YA novels in verse: The Secret of Me and The Girl in the Mirror, taught some creative writing activities with a selection of extended metaphor poems, and we wrote our own (or tried.) Meg read a piece she’d been asked to write about her evolution/revolution as a poet, which stung my heart — her hope and search for her birth mother, her raven dreams. So beautiful and haunting. When she read that evening my heart was on fire. I know why people fall in love with poems and poets.
2. Teacher presentations. Each day individuals have 20 minutes to share ideas. Might be something from their classrooms, something they are reading, some questions they just want to ask. Lisa from Indiana shared a packet with titles and descriptions of YA novels in verse. (Can you guess what the next shelf I’ll build in my classroom library?) Nicholas read an argument he wrote about the need to introduce students to contemporary, accessible poetry, before they meet the master, William Shakespeare. Michael shared a random word activity, and we all wrote random poems. Here’s mine:
(thunderstorm, mouse, moose, faster, shark)
Like a thunderstorm during a shark attack
my heart beat faster and then exploded
like a mouse with the soul of a bull moose.
I present tomorrow. Before I came I was nervous. Poetry was never my thing. Now, I am confident. A community can do that to a person.
3. (Although I haven’t done it yet) Each participant was challenged, just short of pressured, to read a poem tonight at the evening reading. Talk about scary and intimidating. The director Dawn Potter is a working poet. Read her poems and you will see why my knees are already shaking. Her collection of poems is Same Old Story. You will want to own it. And Teresa Carson’s My Crooked House, too. Teresa read on Sunday.
Encouraged and inspired by Teresa and Dawn’s work, and Meg’s awesome poem “Creed,” I wrote my own that I will share tonight. It’s modeled after Meg’s in form, but I only lifted three of her lines.
I believe in heaven and hell
although hell seems easier to believe in. I believe
writing is a key to knowledge earned
through paper and pen; I believe peanut M & Ms
are good for stress; I believe I am a petite
in a full-sized dress, which does not
make me weak, indulgent, brazen, or fat.
I believe “mother” is the greatest name
on the planet; I believe my hands
have the power to heal tho words
soothe wounds much swifter. I believe in dancing;
I believe in email; I believe in knocking on wood, we make our own luck,
and if I finally have the perfect hair day, it
will rain — not because I am vain, but
because life is often a pain. I believe in pain:
kidney stones, a grandma’s death, a small child’s heartache,
child birth, child birth, plus four more. I believe in the long tight
hugs of my friend Kenny who holds on like each moment is
the last. I believe in drinking the last can of Coke, and
it’s a good idea to hide the evidence. Holding grandbabies
is a blessing of the good life unless they live too far away.
I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, and
the foundation of my Faith rests on it. I believe in God, and if I pray enough,
everything is easier. Do you know He loves you? Do you know His son?
I believe the day my mother died her mom and dad were there to greet her,
and when I felt her squeeze my shoulder from
an earthlife away, I knew the spirit goes on living.
We never got to say goodbye. The disease robbed much more
than her words. I believe that’s why I have this ache
in my heart. Sometimes it’s a whisper. Sometimes it’s a
tornado. I believe I will miss my mother every day of my life.
I believe that holy scripture is the best kind of poetry. I believe
good teachers plan, great teachers plan with students, and if I’d only stop trying to
control everything I’d need less massage. I believe
fathers should be present; I believe plants are better gifts than flowers. I believe milk
should be pink on Valentine’s Day, and “There’s a Right Way to Live and
Be Happy,” Cowboy Stadium could have bought a billion books, and the best frozen custard
is in St. Louis. I believe in action movies, White Christmas, Michael Buble, and
Friday Night Football, and that my future grandchildren
are my guardian angels. I believe in the honest work of my children, and if you touch me
righthere, right here at my heart, you’ll feel the
wholeness of a mother’s love and the completeness in my marriage.
I have fallen in love with poetry. You, dear reader, should meet me at this conference at the Frost Place next year. Simply amazing.
I am blessed.