Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | May 26, 2013

Another School Year Ends

kids leaving school

As I page through the Creative Writing final portfolios, checking off who’s handed them in by the deadline and crossing my fingers that I’ve gotten all 28, I find an envelope addressed to me.  It holds a letter from one of my students, one of the few smiling ones, a young woman who has struggled for four years to enjoy learning and who is sharing with me that Creative Writing finally gave her that chance.  She is considering majoring in language arts in college.

Notes like this can help make up for all the others – the students who plod through their days unengaged, unmotivated, and uncooperative.  It is getting worse each year, due to what I call a “demonic convergence:”  an economy that has largely robbed many teens of their dreams of college and success; and an invasion of ipads, ipods, iphones, and You Tube – devices which conspire to distract them from learning anything from a competing non-digital source.

youtubeIf you think I exaggerate, I implore you to come and observe my Creative Writing class of 28 seniors, even on the day before their final portfolios are due.  Watch me play Whack-a-Mole, getting them to put away their phones or click their computers or ipads back to their documents.  Yeah, some really thoughtful poetry can emerge when the student knows that his game of “God of War” or the text from his girlfriend (or Mom) or the highlight film of last night’s Bull’s game or that new You Tube video of the kid eating dog food and spitting it out is just one finger click away.

I was excited to start teaching Creative Writing two years ago.  I hoped to find eager students who’d catch my contagious love of words.  It took exactly one week for me to realize how deluded I was.  80% of the students in each of the four sections I’ve taught since then have been there because they saw it as the lowest hurdle to graduation.  And they were outspoken in sharing that with me.  How savvy of them.

Next year I’ll be going back to Contemporary Literature, a course I started but haven’t taught in a few years.  I’m looking forward to it.  At least in that class, when the kids get mopey and resistant, I can just tell them to take out whatever text we’re reading and dig in.  I won’t have to listen to the chorus of “I don’t know what to write” (despite the 15 models I’ve just given them) or “I left my story at home” (despite our use of Google docs, which is cloud-based), or “I’m not in the mood” (eye roll), or “I hate to write and I’m not creative.”  (Then why, pray tell, did you sign up for a course called Creative Writing??)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So thank you, dear grateful student in period 3, for your lovely note.  Your smiling face makes up for the surliness of so many of your classmates, especially the one who did not hand in a final portfolio despite our three weeks of class spent working on it.  He’ll have to take his grumpy, unmotivated self to summer school.

—–

Let it Matter

for all the story tellers

—–

Every so often I read about one of them:

jailed for burning down a church,

killed in a roll-over on an exit ramp,

lauded for writing a best-selling book.

All the others – thousands of them over

thirty years – have floated off into their lives

and been folded into the pockets of the world.

—–

Every so often I think about them, frozengrunge

at fifteen in ’88 or ’89, yellow Walkmen

or Bart Simpson folders in tow, slumped

with the weight of a father’s disapproval

or baby bump hidden under plaid flannel.

—–

Middle-aged now, who have they become?

What turmoils have they endured, what loves?

Do they ever think of their old classrooms

or how a steady stream of kids just like them

has flowed through the halls since they did?

—–

Do they ever think of the poem by Plathkids caesar

as they gaze fish-eyed into a mirror or

of Erdrich’s wounded brothers when

a red convertible cuts them off on their

way to work? At their final toga party

in the frat house at the U, did any

remember those old white sheets

tied with twine, or the gray plastic daggers,

Caesar’s blue Keds poking out from jeans

as he fell in slow motion near my desk,

groaning out his last three words?

—–

Does any of them still have, tucked away

in some closet or drawer, the book of poems

we bound with a plastic clasp, their names

proud beneath cliched confessions of

loneliness and longing and fearsome loss?

—–

~          ~          ~          ~

Let it matter, in the end, any small part of it:Hamlet_skull

the countless hours reading sonnets and odes,

ten thousand inky scrawls of “Good!”

and “What else?” in narrow margins;

or my voice echoing across the years with

the words of Hamlet, spent and broken

in the graveyard, imagining beggars

who dine on the bodies of kings.

—–

Oh, let it matter, the doubting and seeking,

the questioning of limits on our freedoms

as we watched Antigone enter her tomb

or Frankenstein flee his creature,

pondering how hubris may derail

the best intentions and how self-respect

is something else altogether.

—–

Let them remember those well-worn pagesAtticus Finch

when standing at crossroads, feeling

buoyed by Janie’s grit and Holden’s gall,

uplifted by the wisdom of Atticus or

unthinkable joy in the journals of Anne.

Among them, let it matter just enough

that the stories will be told yet again

to another befuddled kid in the hall who

is looking for answers no one can give,

except to point to the page and say,

with clarity and certainty, “Here.”

—–

—–


Responses

  1. I am sure your fierce love of the written word has made its impact on more students than you can imagine!


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