It’s a word that can elicit a collective yawn.
B o r i n g! Right?!
I mean, who chooses to sit down and read poetry.
Ten years ago, I had the dubious honour of teaching poetry to students in grades 7 and 11.
The prospect of such left me feeling nauseous, anxious and overwhelmed.
How the hell would I reach them?
My anxiety turned to excitement as I plotted my path … a path to show them they’d already experienced and loved poetry.
The 7th graders met this assertion with unconvinced eye-rolling.
I talked about American poet, Edgar Allen Poe, and specifically his poem, The Raven.
Cue glazed looks and fidgeting chairs as I opened my notebook and fired up the projector. Suddenly, images came to life and I had their undivided attention: The Simpsons!
Lisa Simpson’s introduction echoed in the classroom:
“The Raven. Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary …”
“Oh Miss! I know this one!” and “I’ve seen this Miss” and “I love this Miss”.
Peals of mirth. Mission accomplished.
I achieved new heights of cool as I shared that the narrator was “Darth Vader”, aka James Earl Jones. This taught me that context is important.
Poetry surreptitiously seeps into our consciousness.
The 11th graders were ripe for Beat Generation poet, Allen Ginsberg, and his anthemic, anti-establishment, political treatise, “America”. Ginsberg captured their imagination - a drinking, drug-taking, gay, political activist who used poetry to affect social change. Hearing their teacher say “fuck” in the name of art was grounds for genuine interest and amusement.
Then I read my poem “Offering”.
It was just over a year since my my mother died … it was hard to read. The room was still when I finished.
“I don’t get it?” … “What’s it about?” … “I don’t understand,” were the responses.
“That’s OK,” I responded. “Tell me how you felt?”
“Sad … depressed … uncomfortable”.
“Good,” I said. “Then you got it. Because that’s how I felt sitting in a sterile room … my mother having a blood transfusion to give her a bit of energy, as I tried to eat a spinach filo pastry. The sacred and mundane. My anger, sadness, fear, depression, discomfort. You got it!”
What followed was calm, comfortable silence. A quiet acknowledgement.
The next day, my Year 11 students brought their own poems to school. As a teacher - in any sphere - there’s no greater feeling than inspiring others to create, grow and contribute. To trust themselves and risk sharing with others.
When the time came to publish The Little Black Book of Verse, I consciously chose the word ‘verse’, as opposed to ‘poetry’ for a couple of reasons.
Verse flowed in the context of the title. But I also felt resistance to the word ‘poetry.’
No matter … for me, the poetic is synonymous with that which inspires and elevates.
I hope you find a nugget that speaks to you - and perhaps ignites your own poetic soul - within the pages of The Little Black Book of Verse.