Dr. Anna Bachman Barter has been selected as Visitation's new Director of Upper School. She will join Visitation on August 1.
The View From Vis Blog
For the past few years, Visitation produced a blog that frequently featured the school’s faculty and staff. For the 2016-2017 school year, the Visitation blog will be authored by Visitation’s faculty and staff, who will share their ideas, advice, memories and musings with our broader community. We hope you enjoy this new blog, which has been dubbed “The View from Vis."
As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.
April is National Poetry Month, and at Visitation, many of our faculty, staff and students find ways to commemorate this month through reading, writing and sharing poems. In addition, you likely have seen the poems that adorn our school's driveway, an effort by some cross-divisional faculty to inspire and beautify our lives. In this month's blog post, Nicole Sutton, who teaches English in the Upper School, invites all of us to find ways to beautify our communication through poetry.
Over the two decades I have been teaching, I have utilized poetry to help my students write more clearly, effectively and powerfully. I'm not talking about that abstract, post-Modern stuff that makes us scratch our heads and wonder why poetry is so unbelievably difficult to understand (although that's sometimes what makes it so enjoyable). I mean specifically that beautifully compact, lyrical form of expression that communicates succinctly what we wish we could say ourselves.
The power of poetry to inspire better writing really comes down to this formula: strong ideas or strong emotions + imagery + rhythm = effective communication. And this is why I think poetry is so vital to young writers. Teenagers are full of strong emotions! They live in superlatives and universal statements; their tenuous grasp of reality is constantly changing and growing, and this is perhaps why insecurities rage. Teenagers need an outlet for their emotions—sports, the arts, music—really anything that helps them channel their energies in a healthy way. I offer up poetry, and I think the people over there in Sweden who hand out Nobel Awards agree with me, else why would they have doled out dozens of Nobel Prizes in Literature to poets over the past 115 years? Each prize was awarded to an individual who, through words, was able to bring readers awareness, new horizons, empathy, compassion, imagination, clarity of thought – and to fashion for humanity the "drama of existence" (a comment made by the Nobel committee regarding the work of Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka in 1986).
I can fashion the drama of existence with my words alone? Yes I can. And so can you. Imagine the effect of borrowing key poetic devices, such as metaphor and personification, and applying them to our everyday thinking and writing. We might use more specific words that add color and clarity to our thoughts instead of falling back on those clichéd banalities: "nice" and "okay" and "amazing." We might reconfigure our sentences and try out new verbs, adding spice and diversity to our emails. Heck, we might even be able to express ourselves without an emoji.
Poetry, though, does even more than this business about communication: poetry encourages empathy. In fact, this year, I am asking my ninth-grade students to gain empathy through poetry. They will choose a poem from one of our famous American poets, someone whose experience seems so completely out of touch with their own, and they will analyze this poem, discovering its theme and then transforming that theme into something relevant and personal. Consider George Moses Horton's "On Liberty and Slavery"; this slave-born poet composed poetry before he could write, eventually publishing his poems and earning enough money to purchase his time from his master when he failed to purchase his freedom.
Oh, Heaven! and is there no relief
This side the silent grave—
To soothe the pain—to quell the grief
And anguish of a slave?
I know very little about the life of a slave on a tobacco plantation, of the pain and the missingness Horton experienced over the 68 years he was a slave. But I was at my father's side when cancer overtook his body and he shuffled off this mortal coil for the heavenly realm. He, I believe, experienced something akin to a life of bondage. His twelve-year battle with cancer, ending only when his heart finally gave out and he was free at last, showed me what it must have felt to be a slave: your body no longer your own, your days filled with "hardship, toil and pain," freedom coming only with death, "oh, blest asylum—heavenly balm!" And this personal connection helps me understand George Moses Horton and the life of a slave with more empathy.
Each April, we are given 30 days to spend time with and learn to love verbal art. I encourage you to discover the poetry in the world around you, to think more poetically, to convey your ideas through images that more clearly articulate your intentions to your audience, to listen to the rhythm of your words and so concern yourself with others that you choose to make life more interesting simply by expressing yourself with variety. In fact, why don't you go a step further and take a poet on a date? I recommend Robert Frost with a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly night, William Carlos Williams after a rain, W.B. Yeats with a glass of wine at twilight, and Wallace Stevens for quiet summer afternoons. Join Maya Angelou at a Greenwich Village café, stroll a New York City street with Dorothy Parker, hand-in-hand, and stay up past midnight, drinking coffee with Billy Collins.
When you read the words of these men and women, may you be filled with a sense of wonder and inspiration; may you absorb the blessing of beautiful language and put my formula to work—strong ideas or strong emotions + imagery + rhythm—in order to achieve a more poetic kind of communication this month.
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