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Poetry at The Frost Place: Don’t Stop Believing

The Frost Conference on Poetry and Teaching is over. Those who didn’t leave yesterday left today after the Teachers as Writers workshops. The hugs good-bye were those of life-long friends, sad to part, but a little eager to get on the way. The small community grew so quickly. Sharing a love of language will do that to people.

I pull into the Kinsman Inn where I have shared a roof and a home-sized breakfast every day this week with, as Margaret said, “The kindest people I have ever met;” and the gravel lot is full with the cars of total strangers. I walk inside and even Sue the innkeeper says it is not the same. We feel it. The magic of the week is over.

I never cared for poetry. Looking back I know that attitude stems from the way I was taught. I never experienced the simplicity of words that I’ve experienced here. Even when I’ve taught poetry in class, especially those two years with my G/T students, I tortured them with bad teaching. I’m embarrassed to say I gave them a packet, and we read through the poems ‘analyzing’ as we went, never stopping to just listen. Listening is the secret I learned this week, but the secret was never meant to be locked a way so no English teacher could find it. It’s not even a secret really. Poetry is art; art has to be experienced. A packet doesn’t offer that to anyone. I’ll argue no matter the content, but that is an topic for another day.

Imagine this scenario:  Each morning you walk into the small Frost barn. You pull out your pen and wait

At the evening poetry readings at Frost's barn, the audience is invited to turn around and appreciate the view. Inspirational.

At the evening poetry readings at Frost’s barn, the audience is invited to turn around and appreciate the view. Inspirational.

for the morning’s dictation. Alyssa slowly reads a poem in her soft con-alto, stopping every so often to state a word that is capitalized or where to place a comma or period. You listen, and you write. You focus on the voice, the words, the phrases — the silence created by the pauses. You fill the page with this focused thinking.

After everyone arrives, you welcome the morning, and Teresa opens Robert Frost’s notebook and shares a significant line. “I don’t change my watch every time I see a watch it differs from.” We talk about living in the discipline — not in the product. Dave with a voice to rival God himself finally speaks out:  “We do not live in a culture that embraces silences.” We all nod.

We talk about poetry and teaching and teaching poetry. Then we share presentations filled with classroom practice or philosophy. Again we discuss — “civil engagement,” as Dawn coined it. Our notebooks filled with ideas we can use to give our students similar experiences.

The most impressive thing? We talk to each other like poets.

And that is what needs to happen in the classroom. So often we teach poetry and reading and writing when we should be teaching poets and readers and writers. Of everything I’ve absorbed this week, and this is saying a lot, I believe this simple thing will make the most change in mine, and anyone’s, classroom. 

Today several of us sat around in a circle and shared original poems that we’d composed yesterday. The only instruction for feedback:  What are the possibilities? No critiques. No corrections. Just suggestions on how the poet could play with words.

“If you do not play, you will never know,” Dawn reminds us. Isn’t that the best revision strategy ever? Just play with words, phrases, stanzas, rhythm, structure.

I want my students to play. I want them to have a tiny bit of the silence I’ve experienced this week. I will have them practice dictation — a sure way to quiet the mind and prepare for inspiration. I will continue to allow choice in reading and writing topics, and we will play.

Nicholas told me he never read a book on his own until college, but now he has an MFA and a knack for words. I can’t help but wonder if his gift might have come quicker — not the long sidetrack he took to get here — if in all his English classes he had been spoken to like the poet he is. That is worth a thought. Or two.

Today when I left The Frost Place for the last time, I turned the opposite direction on the road. I’d not gone this way all week. The lane was longer, but the view quite the same. But God must have been the one to turn the wheel because as I came to the T in the road, there stood the stop sign telling me “Don’t STOP believing.”

Don’t STOP believing. Can it be any clearer?

I won’t. I found the seat of my soul, and it is steeped in poetry.

Here’s my poem from the writing time today. I imitated the structure of Hayden Carruth’s poem “Twilight Comes.”

Twilight comes to the busy town

As season’s start. The tree tops

brown with leaves, which colored

And began falling during the heat,

Are moving again, and crack

under the wind’s breath. The buildings

from their place across the highway

crowd close again, as if for a

threatening glare, and with malice

An exposition as the sun slips

low. It is my fiftieth year. Horns

blare out one by one with a clashing

dullness, like the unfelt prayer

in church. I hear the dogs barking

pushing their noises into my peace —

I touch — and clearly — I am quite certain —

tightening muscles; perhaps hot iron

on the right side under my shoulder

or unusable rope on a sea-stuck ship.

It’s true. My man is on the phone,

there inside the living room. Clients

will close soon. I crack my paining neck

And bow my eyes to study the dead

root-bound pot on the patio

in the shadows. I sigh. Then

sigh again, just because it’s true.

I am going to be old. Too soon.

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5 thoughts on “Poetry at The Frost Place: Don’t Stop Believing

  1. […] but I’ve never seen her with a brighter glow than when she talks about her experience at The Frost Place.  Their Conference on Poetry and Teaching is an amazing opportunity for teachers, readers, and […]

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  2. […] At The Frost Place, I listened and joined in conversations with working poets about language and their craft. My heart changed. I finally understood because I lived that language for a glorious week surrounded by these people with poetic souls and a view of the White Mountains smiling down on me. Oh, Franconia, NH. (Read about my experience here.) […]

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  3. Poetry Is | Two Voices, One Song July 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm Reply

    […] Poetry at The Frost Place: Don’t Stop Believing […]

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  4. Amber Counts (@mrscounts) June 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm Reply

    “Isn’t that the best revision strategy ever? Just play with words, phrases, stanzas, rhythm, structure.

    I want my students to play. I want them to have a tiny bit of the silence I’ve experienced this week. I will have them practice dictation — a sure way to quiet the mind and prepare for inspiration. I will continue to allow choice in reading and writing topics, and we will play.”

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful and powerful poem! I love the idea of crafting an entirely original and authentic piece based on a mentor text. I think this will remove a lot of the fear and resistance our students have toward writing poetry.

    The words you wrote above will resonate with me as I guide my students through discovery with poetry this year. I wish I could go back and stop myself from killing poetry with the TPCASTT method, etc.

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  5. Ruth June 29, 2014 at 11:53 am Reply

    Amy, you were a gift to us at this conference.

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