The Dream of a Common Language

I have always been a reluctant poetry teacher. April comes around and it’s National Poetry Month and I would slouch towards teaching enough poetry to keep my administrator off my back. I reluctantly put a poem in my pocket and I go through the motions like a good teacher should, but poetry is not my thing.

Unfortunately for me, high school students LOVE poetry. They love it. Go bonkers. They want all poetry all the time. It drove me nuts.

With these two conflicting opinions at odds, I have tried to figure out when and what made me *think* I am not a poetry person, and I can’t come up with any one event, experience, paper, or point in my academic or personal life that might lead to this poetry reluctance. I go on these personal vision quests often–trying to dig up a legitimate reason why I have an aversion to something, someone, an idea, a place–and many times I can find a referent to dissect in a way that says, “Oh, yeah, that’s why I think I am stupid at Math!” or “That’s why I thought I was a sucky writer for years and years!” but for poetry no real drama comes to mind. I must face the facts:  I have no real excuse for disliking poetry.

In fact, when I think of poetry I have very sweet memories. I remember my high school boyfriend’s chicken scratch handwriting that wrote Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” in the back of my senior yearbook and I can still recall the first line by heart: “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”. I remember my freshman composition class and a friend I made in it. He sent me Sharon Olds’s book of poems called The Gold Cell for Christmas. I just  pulled it off my shelf, and tucked inside its pages is a letter from him about a trip to New York City to visit his grandparents during December of 1993. He had carefully cut out the price of the book on the back cover (it was a gift, after all) so that a perfect rectangular shape remains in the upper left corner. I love that book; its contents and the sentiment with which it was sent. When I think of poetry, I remember coming across an Adrienne Rich book at Bull’s Head Bookshop on campus at UNC, picking it up, and opening to this poem amid some early adult dramatic relationship/breakup/ makeup/makeout confusing sequence of my life. I felt as if these lines from were written for me:


No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone

The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,

they happen in our lives like car crashes,

books that change us, neighborhoods

we move into and come to love.

(from The Dream of  A Common Language, 1978)

I immediately bought the book and tonight I pulled it off my shelf the day after Adrienne Rich’s death. As I look at the cover of this book now, really look at it for the first time, I realize the photograph is of a desk in a room overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Wow. A room of one’s own in Brooklyn–the dream I dreamed in my early twenties and made real in my mid-twenties when I moved here.  How had I not seen that before? Makes me wonder if this book was one of the many small subliminal magnetic pulls that landed me in New York City when I was 25. Yet another personal connection to this text.

I think I’ll revisit poetry this April. Since I am currently not teaching, I will use it as a month of study, a way to find a common language in the genre of poetry between my me and my students. I’ll keep you posted.

One thought on “The Dream of a Common Language

  1. Pingback: The Benefits of Re-reading: Poetry « readwriteteach

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