A Choice



(photo by Eric Levine)

Poets.org suggests Lucille Clifton’s “blessing the boats”   for Monday’s “Teach This Poem” offering, so the drafting I’ve done for today’s Slice will have to wait.  The nearer April approaches, the more excited I get.  Yes, it may have been called “the cruelest month” by T.S. Eliot, but I beg to differ.  It’s National Poetry Month, and I CELEBRATE!  This year will be the first in decades that I won’t be asking my students to pick a “poster poem,” designing it so that the art represents what they see/feel/otherwise experience—the reason they chose the poem manifest.

Two years ago, Charlie chose “blessing the boats;”  no other student had ever selected it before.  It’s absolutely perfect for them, too, for the school community rests in the cradle of the Atlantic and the Manasquan River.  I approve his choice, affirming that Clifton’s words are certainly “wall-worthy.”  Charlie is one of my favorites (yes, we have them) because in a sea of sometimes-crazy at the end of the day, he manages to be a leader without being a prig.  He is respected by peers and teachers alike, one of the still-waters-run-deep kids you think about even after they’ve left your class.

What he isn’t  is an artist, so when I unroll the poster he has quietly left in the hubbub that is homeroom,  I am dumbstruck.  It is truly a work of art, ready to be framed!  I begin displaying it to my homeroom kids; I want them to see what quality work looks like.  “Hey, Ms. Emerson, you know Charlie’s mom did that, right?  She’s an artist, a real one.”  The printing however, is all Charlie, those less-than-perfectly aligned letters, the inconsistent spacing, but he’s kept the line integrity, correct spelling, the lack of capitals and punctuation.  He has honored Clifton’s poem, and my requirements.  He has not done the art.

I relate this anecdote to my husband, and he asks if that’s fair, that Charlie had his mom do the art.  The answer is complicated.  I value the poem selection and reflection first and foremost.  I have told the students that if their works shows effort, it doesn’t have to be perfect— “pleasing to the eye” and “your best effort” the phrases I’ve used.

It’s the last block, Charlie’s; the kids will present their posters, their poems.  Some have memorized them.  The speaking part is tough for many of these adolescents even though we practice frequently.  Charlie is quiet by nature, and I have not gotten to speak to him, that I remember as I call his name, and he steps up front, displaying his poster.  “Hey, Charlie, did your mom do that?”

Charlie calmly waits a beat, then “confesses.”  “My mom did the art.  I did the poem.  I wanted it to be the best it could be.”  Here’s the thing.  He owns it, doesn’t he?  He’s done the real work, the poem obviously speaking to him, and he has asked his mom to help. His earnestness, imagining Charlie’s plea, that he cared enough when so many care so little, is enough.

That satisfies the kids, his honesty, and it satisfies me, too: “and may you in your innocence/sail through this to that.”

8 thoughts on “A Choice”

  1. I enjoyed everything about your post….the beautiful picture so appropriate to the topic, the amazing poem (I LOVE Lucille Clifton’s poetry!), and the compelling story about Charlie’s project. I will be adding your blog to my Feedly feed!

    1. I am flattered. First of all, I had visited your blog before and read and thoroughly enjoyed the posts about Sunday morning breakfast and your eldest turning 37. Today I read them all. We have much that connects us. You are a retired teacher, but “far from old;” I absolutely feel the same. You write about creating videos “for the world to see,” and I’m doing the same. You completed your tech training while teaching (you high school, me eighth grade and freshman composition at a community college). I am adding YOUR blog to my Reader. I should have done it before. I can’t wait for what’s next. Thank you.

      1. I just now found your reply when I accidentally clicked on the bell in the top right corner of the page! I am so pleased that we have connected through this month’s challenge. I have already added your blog to my Feedly feed as well.

  2. This is so good. For starters.. Your picture made me think of some photos I took last March in Ecuador in a small fishing village. I need to get them out and pair them with Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing the Boats.” Your story of Charlie and his project is so good… the story and the crafting of it. Making choices like the one you made is at the heart of true teaching — individualized, differentiated, student-focused, and all those other buzz words.

    1. Thanks, Alice. Your praise makes my day! Reply with your blog address. I’d like to read your “slice.”

  3. Your post really made me think. The world is so rarely black and white. I’m glad that Charlie owned what he did and did not do. It’s wonderful that this poem spoke to him in such a way as to want the best art to represent it.

    1. That’s what I thought, but certainly another person might have looked at it another way. I guess the trick is to be able to justify our decisions and be consistent, always something to work toward for me!

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