Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Committed to Poetry or Was that Commentary of Poetry?

English: Former United States Poet<br /><br /> Laureate (2... Admit it–we like poetry
because for the most part it’s a quick commitment. Two to five
minutes we get our emotions stirred, we open up our imagery files,
and we tuck away a line to ruminate on.  This is not cynicism,
merely observation. We love, love, love poetry more than we love,
love, love short stories. At least, this is what I am beginning to
surmise as I dole out literary experiences to high school students.
Since I’ve been English literature teachering for the past
decade, I have discovered poetry is amazingly versatile in its
ability to stir up passion in students.  Students  run
the Richter scale of response of “Just hand me a dull spoon so I
can dig out my eyeball” (LOL–actual quote from a senior) to
“Poetry! I love poetry! Can we write our own poems!” (yet, another
true quote). There doesn’t seem to be much of the middle roading
when it comes to reading or writing poetry. Why is that, I wonder?
My students aren’t sure either.  Somewhere between Shel Silverstein and Shakespeare
sonnets the love of verse becomes irrevocably squashed.
I think Billy Collins presented oh so well:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s

and feel the walls for a light

I want them to

across the surface of a


waving at the author’s name on the


But all they
want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with

and torture a confession out of

They begin beating it with a

to find out what it really

Thank you,
Billy. I am trying to convert my rubber hose approach into one of
ski rope handles.
One of my goals as a teacher is to inject the love of
words into my students.  I want them to turn to poems like
they do to their tunes.  After all, song lyrics are mostly
poetry with infused music.  Once students realize that if they
actually unplugged their buds long enough to actually read
their play list lyrics out loud they will see all those
literary terms of assonance, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, simile,
allusion floating around.
I try not to have them beat the stuffing out of
poems.  I much prefer them waterski and wave in
acknowledgement as we launch out on poetry’s
waters.  Grooving on poetry is, I hope contagious. My
excitement at reading a really marvelous poem out loud causes me to
have physical reactions.  The other day I read Seamus Heaney‘s “Digging.”

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel P...

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


When I finished reading the poem
out loud I sucked in my breath and danced a bit in
place, so moved was I with Heaney’s wordsmithing.  My AP
students benignly tolerate my antics. I’m hoping my
unfettered appreciation will one day stir them  into
showing me their unabashed admiration.
Considering I had minimal
exposure to poetry during my own K-12 school days, and didn’t
really discover its merits until college, I am continually amazed
at its power to stir my emotions.  I valiantly want to pass on
this joy to my students and even before the Common Core required a
unit on poetry, I taught it anyway.
My commitment to poetry is my
commentary on how words artfully placed meaningfully lend a
dimension to our lives that makes us linger to inhale the
fragrance of as Coleridges states, “the best words in the best
Do you have
any poems that cause you to dance a bit in place when you read
them? Oh, do share.

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3 thoughts on “Committed to Poetry or Was that Commentary of Poetry?

  1. Luanne on said:

    Cornelius Eady’s “Victims of the Latest Dance Craze.”

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