THIS BLOG IS NO LONGER OPERATIONAL. PLEASE ENJOY WHAT IS HERE, AND DO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WISH. NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW POET LAUREATE IS CATHY SMITH BOWERS. SHE WILL SOON HAVE HER OWN WEBSITE THROUGH THE NORTH CAROLINA ARTS COUNCIL SITE. I WILL BE SHIFTING MY ATTENTION TO HERE, WHERE I AM, (SEE SIDEBAR)USING IT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WRITERS WHOSE WORK DESERVES ATTENTION. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT ME THERE. For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE.
Go to http://www.yourdailypoem.com/, managed with finesse by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, who says, "Our intent is to make visitors to Your Daily Poem aware of the joy and diversity of poetry."
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Snow in August
After being named Poet Laureate, I began writing a monthly column titled "Language Matters." Here is one from last August.
SNOW IN AUGUST
Here it comes, the start of another school year, and August, as always, seems to be hotter than all the other summer months combined. When I was in school, we had no air-conditioning. We sweltered through classes, longing for the first hint of autumn in the air. No wonder, as I think about these first days of classes in our public schools, I want to forget about global warming. I want it to snow!
Imagine it, snow in August! What a sight through the classroom windows, as if the Muse herself were scattering snowflakes over the playground, calling to us. But what to do? There are lesson plans to work through; standardized tests students must be taught to pass; all sorts of schedules to follow. Where is the teacher able to take a class outside into the cascading crystals, letting the children catch them on their tongues like words to be tasted?
Because I’m a poet, I can indulge in such happy fantasies and make them so. I know that the reality is closer to what happened on the day of another snowfall—not in August but December. My daughter, recently graduated from college with a degree in English, was working as a reading tutor for second graders in nearby Fairview Elementary school. A book lover from babyhood, she was doing her best to share her love of reading with the children having difficulty with their reading skills. The work was challenging, all the more so because of the rigid class plans required. There was hardly any room for creativity, for the sheer joy of learning.
One morning snow began falling. The weatherman hadn’t predicted it, but there it was, as if by magic. The children were ecstatic. “Can’t we go play in the snow?” they begged. But there was no way the morning could be altered to let them go outside or even spend time at the windows, watching and wondering about snow and all the ways it makes the landscape change, the ways it calls to the imagination to sing and dance.
My daughter came home depressed, not an unusual occurrence those days. She had begun to find her work in the classroom frustrating. “Just think of what we could have done,” she mused. “How we could have broken free of the grind and gone running out into the snow, just as everybody wanted to do. Then, we could have had so much to talk and write about when we came back inside!”
These days teachers dare not let snow alter their lesson plans. Their careers depend on following the rules, teaching to the numerous tests, dealing with the growing burdens of bureaucratic expectations and demands. And that is why I wish for snow this August, an event so thrilling that no one dare be indifferent to it, casting lesson plans to the wind, letting the joy of learning lead the way outside. So, forgive me if, several months early, I begin to sing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
UPDATE: Below is a photo of our dog enjoying the snow. How can we encourage our students, not to mention ourselves, to experience the natural world, which feeds the imagination, upon which all future growth depends? How can we do that even as we sit in classrooms or around our dinner tables or stroll through our days, unwired, I hope, from cell phones and ipods? How can we let ourselves become as avid in our focus on the world around us as my silly dog Pooh is below? (Yes, she looked like a Pooh Bear when she was a pup.) Let me know. Send me some ideas, some poems, some images.
I've lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina since 1968, though I'm a native of SW Georgia. My paternal grandmother was born in the Blue Ridge, and I grew up wanting to live here. Where I am.
I've published five collections of poetry, the most recent 4 being with LSU Press, and have published poetry in magazines ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage. But I also hike, bang pots and pans around in my kitchen, and love several dogs who leave fur all over my carpets. I write poetry because it's my way of singing back to the world both within and without.