Thursday, April 26, 2012

Everything I Know I Learned from Miss D

In honor of "Poem in your Pocket Day" I wanted to write about one of my first experiences with poetry. And for me, that meant Miss D.

Miss D was not my first exposure to poetry. I guess that would be nursery rhymes, and my Dad, who taught me "Gooey Looey." Don't know that one? It has something to do with a worm on the railroad tracks. (Eeeew! Gooey Looey!)

Nor was Miss D the best English teacher I ever had. That would be Mrs. Kaplan, who taught me about the value of a good ending--and I think of her every time I write one. (Hmmm. Maybe another post there?)In fact, Miss D was a little eccentric and short-tempered. She lived alone and it was not unusual for her to come in with her dress unzipped and ask someone in her homeroom to zip her up first thing in the morning. She was a little hard of hearing and I think her vision was going, too. This made it really easy to cheat on her tests. Boldly. I mean like turning around and asking, "Hey what's the answer to number ten?" That boldly.

But, God love her, she loved poetry. She taught the sophomore unit on poetry. This was my first exposure to real literary poetry, and her enthusiasm could be contagious. More than once she would recite a poem with tears in her eyes. That didn't go over well with a bunch of cynical teenagers, but we all remembered. I saw first-hand the power of the written word and, for me at least, the message took root.

Once she asked us to choose a favorite poem to share with the class. For some, this was an onerous task, and I could hear the groans and grumbles, even if Miss D couldn't. I found Robert Bly's deliciously quiet Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter. According to the Library of Congress, this is about "the joy of being alone." Yep, that was me.

This poem spoke to me. About cool silence and the privilege of being alone long enough to hear one's own thoughts. Its brevity was appealing, and taught me how to paint a scene and a mood in just a few brushstokes, something I'm still learning to do. I'm not sure I would have found it if it hadn't been for Miss D's prompting.

Today, that poem will be in my pocket.

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