Today’s News: Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day!

… Look at

what passes for the new.

You will not find it there but in

despised poems.

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams

Were I still in the classroom teaching, today would be one of my favorites.  This is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” a fixture in the celebration of National Poetry Month and one that our entire school community, kindergarten through eighth grade, honored.  Teachers and students alike brought a poem to share in their pockets.  During lunch or in the hallways, any time, anywhere, anyone could be asked to share his or her poem —the early choices, Silverstein, Florian, Wong, and Prelutsky giving way to Frost, Dickinson, Hughes and Roethke.  Allan Wolf, poet and human being extraordinaire, joined us once, he who carries poems in the folds of his brain each and every day, and the students shared their poems with him, a gift returned.

At the recent Oregon Council of Teachers of English spring conference held in Ashland, one of the morning sessions offered was  “Poetry in Motion.”  The workshop blurb said we’d “participate in mindful movement, walk a poetry labyrinth and find poetry in the park.”    In the afternoon session, writer and teacher Steve Jones had us explore cumulative sentences, using punctuation and the breadth of phrases and clauses to tell a story—one sentence only!  I captured my magical morning this way:

Poetry in Motion

In a small grove on a hill, perched above the sleepy-eyed Ashland downtown, I choose a bench, my place to rest, and close my eyes, breathing in and out the pine-scented air, listening to rushing water, calling birds, barking dogs, retreating voices, as the poem, “The Way It Is,” fills the space, moving in me.

What the one-sentence summary obviates is my tears, the ones I can’t stem, at this particular choice, the poem I read during my son’s bar mitzvah.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

Sam celebrates his coming-of-age in the wake of September 11th.  Neither of his grandparents are able to attend the ceremony; his grandfather will die before he ever gets to see the recording we have made of this event.  It is easy to understand my reaction, the shell that cracks when this is the chosen one.

That is the power of poetry.

If I were still scurrying through those school hallways, I’d be carrying the poem that we were given to accompany us as we walked the labyrinth tucked away downtown.  It’s now folded inside my brain, there for me to open no matter what day it is:

When Meeting the other

Given arms, the sun 
would choose to grow many.
Having many narrow arms,
the sun would—at each limb’s end— 
flare into a palm and fingers,
into the curves made for reaching.

Extremities of flame, of shine.
Hands that carry enough 
heat and light to give away.

Be that sun. One small sun.

                       —Paulann Petersen


Kindle, Mountains and Rivers Press, 2008


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