Today was finals' day at my school. I tasked my AP Literature and Composition students with writing an on-demand poetry analysis. After the 40 minutes was up, one student came up to me and said, "I didn't write an essay. I wrote a poem. My grandfather was poet laureate of Wyoming, and today is the anniversary of his death, so I decided to write a poem to honor him."
Well, what do you say to that? I read the poem just as soon as the class cleared out. Here are the last few lines, "It is merely today that I feel an obligation to give you something real, to give you something he would be proud of. In his mind, the idea of teaching how to read and write poetry was appalling. In doing so, one inevitably loses their chance of producing something unabashedly raw and completely true to one’s self. So, here you have it, something true and from deep inside."
Even when I read it now it kind of brings tears to my eyes. Not because the student didn't do the assignment (because I will have to figure out what to do about that), not because l believe learning how to read and write poetry is appalling (because I don't think that. Not even a little), not because I am end-of-trimester exhausted (even though I am), but mostly because the idea of being "unabashedly raw and completely true to one's self" in the classroom really sings in my heart. I want this, yet I am not, cannot be, my completely, truly raw self in the classroom. That is a little too...raw...and feels like it might get me fired. I think it is very scary for my students to be truly themselves too. We are all slightly protected, sanitized versions of ourselves, which in many ways is right--we are in a workplace. However, to get to real writing, to be writers, we do have to be raw. We have to take risks and be willing to be our true, humble selves.
Some of us are better at it than others, anyway. I've never been the kind of person who could give a poem when asked for an essay, even if a poem what what I really felt like writing that day. I suppose I will continue to try to be as brave as I can be, and count the unexpected poems as blessings.