May 03, 2019

Mini Musings- The Muses Among Us

A few weeks ago our remarkable librarian, Ms. Novotny, and I meandered gleefully around campus in search of delightful nooks and crannies to place printed copies of our favorite poems. We envisioned unsuspecting students, families, and faculty having frequent surprise encounters with poetry throughout the month of April. What’s that in the stairway, by the baseboard? A poem! And that, soaring high on the wall above the Middle School lockers? Why, that’s “The Eagle” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, of course. We were having way too much fun.

I’ve experienced Poetry Month in a few school settings, and in no other did I find a community of students so willing and well-prepared to engage with the art form. As the clever former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins puts it, many schools set students up to want to “tie [a] poem to a chair with a rope/and torture a confession out of it.” I’ve sat in those classrooms, and may be guilty of requiring 10th grade students to figure out what a poem “means” at one point in my career. Clearly and thankfully, such a practice hasn’t happened in the McGillis community.

Since poetry is still a joyful experience for our students, numerous among them were eager to read poems over our intercom system each morning through the month of April. Yes, as T.S. Eliot’s quirky J. Alfred Prufrock did, we “dare[d] to disturb the universe” by interrupting the morning with a broadcast over an intercom. But “interrupt” is the wrong word. On the contrary, it seemed as though all fell quiet -- just for a moment -- to listen intently to a poem to start their days. I reveled in that silent appreciation for the written word.

In addition to finding poems randomly placed around the building and disturbing the universe, students in various grades were often reading poems and crafting original poetry in their classes throughout the month of April. Some poems were likely shared over dinner at home, and some will stay tucked away, as writing poetry can be a deeply personal and cathartic process as well. The 2nd grade even held a “poetry slam” at King’s English, and some students in the Middle School read their poems in a mini-slam in front of their peers last week.

I couldn’t help but think of our Essential Attributes while listening to Middle School students share their poems with a large audience. I was awestruck by their authenticity. Each poem bore its author’s personality and revealed that our students are “true to themselves” and to each other. Empathy and integrity were prominent features as well. Whether written through a humorous, historical, or heuristic lens, the poems indicated great care for and understanding of the human condition. Of course, poetry is also a process requiring curiosity and creativity, and each student dabbled with diction and explored complicated concepts. While the students are likely unaware, their poems serve as evidence that they are growing up in our wonderful Kehilah.

Kim Stafford, a writer and professor in Portland, wrote a beautiful book titled The Muses Among Us. He begins the book by stating: “This is a book about how writers of all kinds may honor the filaments of wisdom spoken by friends and strangers nearby, our local prophets who need our voices to report what they have half-discovered.” As we listen to and read poetry at McGillis, or create art or music at McGillis, or read at McGillis, I believe we are “honoring the filaments of wisdom”. We are simultaneously crafting our own poems and using our voices to “report” on the half-discoveries our students will continue to unearth. This happens on a daily basis in our community; Poetry month just gave me a nifty excuse to write about it.