Friday, April 10, 2009

Alan Feldman Writes with & About His Students

A while back I wrote that most American poets were teachers but did not write poems about teaching.  I posted "Class," a poem by Linda Bamber, who is an exception.  Linda thanked me and said, 'We're supposed to act as if we always want to be somewhere else beside the classroom, but teaching is a big part of my life.'

Since that post, I've been finding more poems about the poet's life in the classroom.  Here's one by Alan Feldman, author of the collection, A Sail to Great Island.  Alan said he wrote the poem in class as the students were working on their sestinas, and that it was his practice to write along with his students.  


I've told them it's a good form for obsessives.  Love
for example may preoccupy you, like a long illness
or a splinter you can't extract, or a joy
so huge it's like standing next to a blimp.  They are children
in this art, circling the big square seminar table.  I'm aging,
wearing out my seat.  In recent years, they've been flowing through
here as fast as water.

Oh sometimes, if the shade is up, I see a sky as blue as water
over their heads, while their heads are bowed in writing.  I love
the quiet then in the room.  I can almost hear them aging--
something they like, still since to them it's growth, not an illness.
As I get older, they look like adults recently fashioned from the children 
in some fifth grade class, their child-faces sheer joy

as they assume their beauty and distinction.  Well, I know for them
there isn't much joy
in school, they'd all rather be in or on the water
with iPods, towels, surfboards, digging in the sand like children,
though I'm sure if I asked them they'd say they love
the course.  After they're absent they even show me little notes for  
  non-serious illnesses
like mono and strep, nothing like the grave things they'll get when
  they're really aging.

So it's fun for me because as I'm aging
they keep appearing here like bubbles out of a spring.  Earth's joy
in its own improvisation.  More Kids!  More kids!  For better or ill.
None any more necessary or unnecessary than the rest of us.  Made  from water
and a few cents worth of minerals, and full of love
for the sweet forms of each other, something that leads to the begetting
  of new children

though not just yet!  No, here their heads are bent like children
taking a spelling test, their hair hanging down like curtains so you
  can't guess their ages,
their books satchels, soda cans, candy bar wrappers, the sprawl
  of Xeroxed papers I love
to hand out (so I can know I'm giving them something--oh joy!--
even if it's only paper).  Yes they could be underwater
they're concentrating so silently, as though the illness

of distractibility has been cured for everyone forever, that illness
that drowns out all but the obvious meaning of words.
  Well, Children
aren't fooled by the obvious.  They know the words are waiting  
  like water
to be played with.  If I look up now I can see the sky is aging
into the color of blue snow.  But the windows are wide open.
  And they seem to enjoy
writing while wearing their bright coats, not bothered by cold,
  safely in love

with the winter that won't mean (for them) illness or aging
but amazing changes as the ice melts to water, and their
 thoughts turn into waves of joy
as they turn away from being children, and find their own new
  words to tell us how angry they are, how much they love.

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