Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Favorite Anthology

All the Poetry Friday posts this week can be found at The Iris Chronicles with Karissa.

It’s been a long week, yet I am being renewed by attending our state’s annual Reading Conference.  Some days are better than other days as all of you know and I am happy to be able to do something different besides my regular job. 
If I cannot run off to a conference full of inspirational people and conversation and books, often I turn to a book that was gifted to me a few years ago by a colleague.  It is a poetry anthology titled Teaching With Fire, Poetry That Sustains The Courage To Teach, edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner.  Considering the year’s challenges to teachers and the newest steps to be taken with the common core standards, it seems that each teacher should be given this book, or at least a poem from it, for personal restoration when there happens one of THOSE days, sometimes weeks.  The book is organized into sections like Hearing The Call, Making Contact and Daring To Lead.  A brief essay from a teacher, sharing what makes the poem a special one in his or her life, prefaces each poem. 

As I browsed my copy of the book, I looked at the poems I had marked with sticky notes.  Three are from William Stafford, and those are the three I will share.  Each is one I love, and each connects to a personal story that makes me love it even more. 

     The first is The Way It Is, the whole of the poem found here.

          There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among
            things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
           People wonder about what you are pursuing.

When I moved out of the classroom a couple of years ago, my school held a party for me, and our head of school gave a speech of gratitude, something that was both lovely and a little embarrassing.  I had loved this poem for a long while, but he surprised me by using it as an example of my work.  It was such a compliment, and seemed magical that it was a favorite poem already.

       The second is You Reading This, Be Ready, all of which is found here.

            Starting here, what do you want to remember?
            How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
            What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
            sound from outside fills the air?

When I taught, I was one of the Advanced School teachers teaching the middle-school aged classes.  Each year the school, and my colleagues and I, held the important ceremony of Continuation for our students who were moving on to high school.  It is a rite of passage of great importance to the students at our school.  Each student gave a speech; every student in the school attends, as do immediate families, close neighbors, aunts and uncles, and so on.  And my colleagues and I also spoke.  Each year I began a search for just the right tone, the right theme, and for me, because of my love of poetry, the perfect poem.  And this poem fits a leaving so beautifully, and holding on to a moment of time so poignantly.  If you can imagine:  our Continuation is held in an old gymnasium, with high windows streaming in the sun, onto an old wooden floor. 

      And the third poem, Silver Star, the entirety is found here

To be a mountain, you have to climb alone
and accept all that rain and snow.  You have to look
far away when evening comes. 

When in the past I have taken students on long overnight trips, I made a big deal out of students finding poems and/or quotes to inspire all of us on our journey.  One year I used this poem for our inspiration.  We were not going to the mountains (we live in the Denver, Colorado area), but we were going to see Mount Hood from the air, and I knew it was an amazing experience when that large mountain began to come into view.  It felt as if Stafford had written the poem for Mount Hood, and additionally one can see the verse as a metaphor for strength.  As I researched this poem, I also found that it is one of the Methow River poems published on plaques along the river that runs from the heart of the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River.  In the year before Stafford died, he fulfilled a commission from some forest rangers who wished for better words for their interpretive signs.  Here is that wonderful story of some of Stafford’s last poems.
I realize I have only told you of the Stafford poems in this marvelous anthology.  There are others that I marked, and still others to be enjoyed, by such poets as Nikki Giovanni, Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, and Czeslaw Milosz.  If you are intrigued, please find a copy to browse, and find a poem that touches you in your own life, as these above have touched me.


  1. Gosh, Linda. I wish we could go to tea. I love this book too...and the poem "Fire" by Judy Brown. Thank you for this thoughtful post, so important at this critical time in education. I'm going to link to it from TPF Facebook page for my teacher friends. (Happy memoir poems!) a.

    1. Thanks Amy for linking. And-FYI- I have a couple of students who are writing poems. We'll see how they do?

  2. I think every day should be "poem in your pocket day" - for inspiration, fortitude, laughter, reflection, or whatever else one might need. Sounds like a wonderful anthology that I didn't know about. But now I do!

  3. These are wonderful, Linda. More poetry for me to print off and put in my speech poetry file. I sometimes feel like I owe you part of my coaching salary since you seem to do part of my work for me. Many times I copy the poems you share and put them away for my contest speech students who perform poetry. Thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Linda - I haven't seen it but will find it! My daughter an elementary ed major at Furman and this will be a perfect gift for her. (Wish I'd had it handy the couple of years I taught middle school!) I love the respect for students and for the teaching profession that shines through your writing.

  5. Thank you so much for this Linda. I have visted each poem and have read the story of Stafford's poems. And I am going to find that anthology at my library. Great way to begin a Friday.

  6. I love Stafford, and didn't know about this anthology. Will definitely look for it. Thanks for sharing all your wonderful experiences and insights about teaching :).

  7. "The Way It Is" really spoke to me this morning, especially these lines:
    Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
    You don’t ever let go of the thread.

    And, thank you for sharing the story of Stafford's river poems - the very concept of which sends chills down my spine. This would be glorious to share i my Lewis and Clark unit (next year!!). Thank you, Linda!

  8. This anthology looks it would be a great gift for a couple of teacher friends. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. I'm not in the classroom, but this book looks wonderful. My sister is a first-grade teacher. I'm going to have to look for this for her. Thank you!

  10. Like Jama, I love Stafford but didn't know about this anthology. Went right to the library to put it on hold - thanks! Sounds to me like your students are lucky to have such a wonderful teacher.

  11. Hi Linda, as soon as I read your post, I checked our online database to see if we have this book in our community library. I feel so bad that we don't!! We have Leading from within: poetry that sustains the courage to lead (also by Intrator and Scribner) - and Stories of the Courage to Teach (edited by Intrator) - but not this one. I am heartbroken. :( Will add this to the list of books I will be recommending to the Head of Singapore Book Council.

    I always always love your stories about teaching, and it reminded me that perhaps I should include a poem or two when I conclude my teaching sessions with our novice teachers in the institute. I am sure that it would likewise inspire them. I am now checking out Stafford poems and will see which ones would 'fire' them up best. Will also include a link to your post here. So beautiful. :)

  12. Oh wow! It's in my institution's library (it's not available in our community libraries which is a surprise) but we do have it at NIE (national institute of education), yay! will borrow within the day! :)

  13. I love this anthology. Thank you for reminding me about the perfection of the poems it contains. Thank you especially for these three from Stafford. Just what my heart needs.

    Happy CCIRA!

  14. I am so buying this anthology!! I LOVE "You REading This, Be Ready." And I read the story about the Methow River poems - how cool!

  15. That's a lovely poem and sounds like a great anthology.


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