On the Feeble Attempt to Teach Beauty By Heather Altfeld


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Recently, I had occasion to attend a poetry reading at a local charter school.  The children were exuberant, eager to read their new poems to the audience—so new, in fact, that some of the poems were still being composed as the kids walked up to the stage.  There were twelve readers, cute and endearing as the day is long.  Their poems were sweet and silly and tender and sad.  Strikingly, though, while they were engaged in the process of composing poems, it became apparent that they had not actually read any poetry at all.  This is not meant to be disparaging, simply factual; it was confirmed by the children themselves in an after-reading conversation—many of them had read four or five poems, if that, in their schooling career, just as many had only read a handful of haiku (remember we had to that one day in fifth grade? one remarked to another as we chatted).  They had been offered time and space and encouragement to compose, a rare and important treat.  But their school experience didn’t lend itself to developing an ear for the rhythms of poetry, or an eye for how it looks on the page, or a sense of what a poem can do to a reader.  A lot of “outbreath” without “inbreath.” This is a good school, mind you.  Parents have been known to lie, cheat, and steal to outgame the admission lottery. Continue reading