Gertrude was my piano teacher and I thought she was a million years old. Had Gertrude told me she’d kept a pet dinosaur as a child, I would not have been surprised.
During my piano lessons, Gertrude often made me cry.
Perhaps I was partially to blame, having not practiced my lesson as diligently as might be wished. Or at all. But once Gertrude reached her threshold of frustration, my tears soon followed. She’d walk me out to her kitchen and make me drink a glass of cranberry juice to try to settle me down. And man, I hated cranberry juice.
Gertrude did not instill in me a love for the piano.
Since accepting the dare to read a poem a day, I’ve been thinking about former teachers in my life and their attempts to teach me poetry. To be honest, I had to think long and hard.
I remember hearing about the fog which crept in on little cat feet, and about the wind which neither you nor I can see. And I remember copying poems, either from the chalkboard at the front of the room or from my English textbook.
At my desk in second grade, I placed either one or two slender fingers next to the margin on my ruled penmanship tablet in order to indent my lines properly. I’m not sure I had any idea why certain lines were indented the space of one finger and others two, but I knew my teacher would take points off if I didn’t copy my lines just so.
My second grade teacher didn’t seem to have much room for poetry in her life.
I asked a few of my teacher friends to look at their English textbooks and tell me how they handled poetry, if at all. Some said their primary texts didn’t contain a section on poetry, but they had supplemental materials which included exercises on reading and writing poems. Another described a literature text which included a sampling of poetry in each unit. A composition text contained poetry-writing prompts and applications such as the use of verb forms and tenses in a poem.
These descriptions match up with what I remember of my elementary and middle school experiences. I’m sure my teachers covered poetry because it was there in the textbook. My fellow classmates and I perhaps listened to a poem as it was read and answered questions from our workbooks. Maybe we took a stab at rhyming a few lines or constructing a haiku.
But I don’t remember hearing about why poetry mattered or why we should bother with it, except to get through it and move on to the next chapter.
And there didn’t seem to be much love.
When we began this project, I admitted poetry scares me. Others who have stopped by have admitted this as well. I’m wondering if it had something to do with how it was taught.
Is it possible poetry can’t or shouldn’t be taught? I’m starting to think poetry is a relationship one should be invited into by someone who loves it.
Megan Willome has been my companion on this journey. In the next update on this experiment of reading a poem a day, she’ll share what she told me about how her relationship with poetry came to be. But I’m wondering, for those of you who also love poetry, how did you come to love it?
Follow the rest of Nancy and Megan’s journey in Operation Poetry Dare:
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