Driving across the Buckman Bridge last week, I listened to one of my favorite songs on the radio. My husband plays the song on the guitar, so I know most of the words. Josh Turner’s song “Your Man“ is a ragtime sort of tune. I viewed it as a positive sign, hearing my favorite song and being uplifted as I went to a place where I hoped to do some uplifting myself.
As I drove across the bridge—it took me months to adjust to driving over 3 miles of water with a very low concrete wall on either side—I wondered what sort of class I’d be doing poetry with.
The J.E.B. Stuart Middle School students I met are in 8th grade advanced language arts—Joe Cramer is the teacher. The first thing I noticed about them was how they paid attention to the teacher. Joe introduced me and I began my presentation, asking them questions about poetry. Suddenly, a very big WONK WONK sound erupted.
Someone yelled, “Fire Drill,” and we proceeded outside. I worried a little because once you interrupt a presentation, the audience may lose interest, especially when it is a smack dab perfect April day, with a temperate breeze and enough spring fever to fill a hospital.
I needn’t have worried. Once we returned, we dialogued about poetry together and I read a few pieces from my new collection. I deliberately selected poems for all ages for my 2007 book Notes from a Florida Village. I peppered my talk with comments about my childhood, my desire to be a writer, and how I overcame a difficult upbringing to do what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted them to know they can do the same; this school is not in a well-heeled area.
They asked a number of questions—When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Do you ever write about your children? Do you write about your childhood? Do you ever have writer’s block?
The most amazing thing was the attention span. The class is full, and every student in the room gave me undivided attention. That’s a first. There was an exciting current of kinship in the room. These kids are in the 8th grade, and they know what a sonnet is, what a cinquain is, and they know their poets well. We talked about Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, and many more writers.
Joe Cramer is one incredible teacher. One of the projects they worked on is making a poetry anthology, not of their own work but of work by other poets. They type the poems, lay out the book and design it themselves. One book I looked at had the quality of a professional artist, and included both classical poets and modern ones.
I’ve extended an invitation to Joe to select two of his students for our Florida State Poetry Reading in Washington. I invited Joe to read too; he is a master writer of sonnets. Joe is one of the most dedicated teachers I’ve ever met where poetry and writing are concerned.
I went to J.E.B. Stuart to inspire. I came away inspired.
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Reminder of the week: Enter your poem in Poetry Spotlight 2 at The Writer online.