The following was written by Jane Beal:
Poetry is passed from one generation to the next because it is taught.
In general, teaching gets a bad rap because it can be done and sadly, is often done in a way that sucks all life out of the subject. Hence the adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” and Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”:
“When I heard the learn’d astronomer
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”
Yes, I must agree with Whitman: many times, seeing the stars with my own eyes is a much more beautiful and agreeable experience than listening to someone else drone on about them. But good teaching is not about lecturing, however much teachers or students may think we learn from lectures. Good teaching invites listeners to experience, for themselves, whatever is being taught. The teaching of poetry needs to be like that if it is to be real to the souls of young poets and lovers of poetry.
Simply put, people encounter poetry through teaching. Sometimes the teachers are professors or parents, books or songs. The world is full of poetry teachers! And people encounter poetry–they hear it, they read it–sometimes like a comforting grandparent or an old friend, sometimes like an new lover (so exciting!) who becomes a dear, familiar love with the passing of years, sometimes like a stranger passing by in the street. But poetry, unlike most strangers on city streets in America, actually wants to be known. Therefore, it must be shared. The good teaching of poetry is a way of sharing poetry that is deeply meaningful.
In the pages offered here, there are some invitations to poetry through teaching. Use them as you wish!
Excerpted from The Poetry Place accessed 7/30/08.
Here's hoping you will embrace poetry and make it part of your life.