Poetry at Work

I started blogging two years ago this month after polling three people I’d never met (and still hope to some day)–LL Barkat, Glynn Young and Laura Boggess. I found them via the online community of The High Calling network and reached out with my questions. Each of them is a gifted writer with their own unique style; each of them encouraged me to follow my passion to write. I was astonished by their kindness and am forever grateful. Since then,LL Barkat has left blogging to follow her passion to begin publishing and TS Poetry Press was born. Glynn is one of the first authors in the TS Poetry ‘Masters in Fine Living’ series.
When I first saw the title of Glynn Young’s newest book, “Poetry at Work” (TS Poetry Press), my only thought was, “I don’t go to work, I teach school.”
Of course, teaching school IS work—ahem! I am a substitute elementary school teacher now–but I don’t have an office, there are no cubicles or board meetings, no corporate setting that I could equate with my picture of Glynn’s work day world.
Instead, I read the title as “Poetry at Work (in me)”—like God’s word at work in me—changing me through its dynamic presence and power.
There is tremendous power in poetry to not only unite people in their love of the same words but to bring light to a gray, old world.
So maybe there was a connection?
I may not have a cubicle or an office, but there is a desk and a chair.  A place for a coffee cup and a pencil jar, a planner and notepad.
Stuff happens here. 
And there are meetings.  Oh, there are meetings, often taking on the tone of repetition and restlessness Young suggests, ‘same time, same people, almost always the same agenda.’ (p. 17 from the Introduction.)
I’ve been in public and private education for over 25 years and I am astonished each year to hear about a conference or a ruling or a system that declares itself to be ‘new’—except that we were discussing the very same approach/idea 25 years ago.
But back to the desk. In Chapter 3 “The Poetry of the Workspace”, Young writes, 
“Workspace is important…It’s the physical area where a person may spend years being creative, productive, 
and (to embrace the current buzz phrase) adding value.”
“Language is spoken and written in workspaces. Ideas are communicated—sometimes well, sometimes not.  
Conflicts and problems arise to be resolved, or are ignored and left to fester.  People are encouraged, reprimanded, lauded and belittled; people create and perform; people manage and survive and flourish and wither.” (pp. 31, 32).
Clearly there are similarities between a classroom and a cubicle. Many of these ‘office’ actions speak to the lives of teachers all across America.  There is plenty of work to do.
There is one way in which a primary teacher’s workspace is different than that of the rest of the working world.
Our plans and procedures immediately affect the lives of 25-30 very young children on a daily basis. Not to mention the runny noses and skinned knees and playground fights and lost lunches.  And one must give grades for performance and passing tests.  (Talk about conflicts and problems arising.)
We are expected to do an enormous amount of magic often with a very few resources—mainly time.
With all the educational requirements of the not-teaching that must be done–consuming precious time to impact the lives of these same young children–the life and joy can get sucked right out of the job.  What’s a person to do?
Look for the poetry.
While I cannot control the workspace I find myself in each day—and certainly less so when I’m in a different classroom each day—I can control my response to that space and pay attention.
At the end of each chapter in “Poetry at Work” Young has written a “poetic exercise.” Chapter Three’s assignment?
“Take a hard look at the space you work in.  
Consider its physical size, the sounds and the smells, 
the amount of natural light versus light fixtures. 
What is the most obvious thing about it?” (p. 33)
The phrase about light made me pause, as I realized that looking for the light is a theme, poetic if you will, that has permeated my life for the last several years, looking to and depending on the light to reveal truth, to warm, to make children shine.
Because of the freedom now afforded me in my ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ job, I have the privilege of leaving a little light wherever I go, (without worrying about whether I met the day’s Goals and Objectives.)  I just pack a few books of poems and stories.

Prior to Christmas break, I read “The Night Before Christmas” to a class of second graders who proclaimed, “Our teacher never reads to us—this is so fun!”
The week before in 2nd grade, it was Shel Silverstein’s, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout.” (All those lovely garbage words–we read just for the delight of it–no learning involved. No ‘find the alliteration’ busy work. Nothing.)
One week I tried a passage with some fifth graders from Caroline Kennedy’s new anthology “Poems to Learn by Heart” –‘Disobedience’ by A.A. Milne.  
“James, James, Morrison, Morrison, 
Weatherby, George Dupree
Took very good care of his mother 
tho’ he was only three.”  
Those beginning lines set a stage for the silliness that follows.  The class did not respond much, (you know 5th graders) but I knew they’d heard me.

It was clear the kids I read to had been robbed of the daily joy of simply hearing the beauty of words read aloud, the repetition and rhythm, the cadence, the sing-songy fun of picture-making that goes on in a young child’s head.  There is so much imagination stirred when one hears a poem and their teachers had no time for that. 

I would read to them even if it wasn’t in the Lesson Plans.

SO–I’m beginning a mini-revolution, if you will, in my workspace, by bucking the education trend. A subversive sharing of light, the privilege of spreading the power of poetry at work.

Will you join me?

Join us in the discussion over at Tweetspeak Poetry
of “Poetry at Work.”
Or at the very least, read the AA Milne poem ‘Disobedience’, above? You’ll like it-I promise.  
Or find a youngster and maybe join the subversive effort to re engage children in the love of poetry?

14 thoughts on “Poetry at Work

  1. What a wonderful way to apply Glynn's ideas to your own situation, Jody. Reading aloud is the best. My grandkids are read aloud to each night – at about age 11 or 12, they aren't as interested, but even then, they sometimes sneak in and listen as the younger one(s) are being read to. LOVE this. Thank you.


  2. Sandy, it's clear your new Poetry Dare is bringing beauty right into your already wonderful writing world. Next year Grace's class will ask for a command performance visit–maybe they'll bring some other kids with them. 🙂


  3. Last year Grace's teacher asked me to come in and talk to her 5th grade class about poetry. That so cracked me up. But I took my magnets and a handful of poems and the kids loved it. They loved listening. They loved creating their own.

    I wish I'd thought to look for poetry when I worked in nursing. I could write about them now, I suppose, but so many of those memories have faded. 😦


  4. You are in compliance with research-based instruction. Reading aloud to children has been proven to impact their development as independent readers. Plus it opens the door for some important life-lesson discussions. Read on, Jody!


  5. I'm still working on Glynn's book, Jody, but your words here make me want to drop everything and read! I'm at work (don't tell the boss) and hearing poetry in every nook and cranny today. It was my pleasure to invite you into the blogging world back then (has it really been two years??) and am delighted to call you my friend :). I do hope we are able to meet up one day.


  6. Hi, I am Nancy's friend Ethel – I have often been known to to drop a math lesson (especially if it is introducing a new concept) and read out loud or start a creative writing game – so much fun!!!


  7. This is terrific, Jody. And I think my friend Ethel (who often serves as a substitute teacher) might enjoy this little “Light Revolution” you've got going on 🙂

    Then again, I can't imagine her NOT reading to children.


  8. Wowsa! Love the new look! And I love your “revolution” to read aloud in the classroom! Jody your light is shining so brightly and the kids will always remember the teacher who read poetry to them! I'm cheering you on over here…maybe you could read us some poetry next time you vlog! Makes me want to break out some shel silverstein with my nieces and nephews…my sister just bought the “Poems to Learn by Heart.”
    Love ya- Kel off to join your revolution!


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