“He Clasps the Crag with Crooked Hands…”

It may be hard to believe, but once upon a time, I disliked poetry. Most poems seemed a bit labour intensive to read  for the number of words involved, and unlike books they rarely told a story straight out. The latest offerings of kids’ poems were  repetitious and pointless (I don’t CARE if you like Alligator Pie – please just shut up!). Adults thought they were charming, of course.

Then, in Grade 6, everything changed. The school district decided there were too many kids in my school, and not enough in another school, so they did some rearranging. I ended up leaving the school where I was perfectly happy, and going to a new school I hated that had a much higher mean girls to nice girls ratio. It wasn’t a pleasant couple of years. Oddly enough, one of the mean girls just sent me a friend request on Facebook. Clearly she does not remember things quite the same way I do.

But there was one benefit to being at this particular school. We had an elderly English lady come to our class once in a while to read poetry with us. Classic poetry. Not the jingles in the latest bestseller. Not poems “for kids”. We read Edwin Arlington Robinson’s Richard Cory, and Tennyson’s The Eagle. “He clasps the crag with crooked hands,” we read aloud. Now that’s a poem that needs to be heard. Same with The Bugle Song: “Blow bugle blow, set the wild echoes flying, / Blow bugle; answer echoes, dying, dying, dying.”  I got shivers the first time I heard those lines. It’s repetitious, but that’s because it’s an echo, not a mind-numbingly stupid jingle. We took turns reading The Highwayman (fortunately some other kid was asked to read the verse with the word “breast” in it) and she explained what a “galleon” was. Tragically, the Highwayman and his girlfriend came to a violent end, but she figured we could handle it.  (We could.)

She also told us eerie stories, like the one about the Shop That Wasn’t There. She went into a shop once in London and bought an unusual antique, but when she went back a couple of days later, there was a different store in that exact spot, and had been in that spot for years. Nobody had heard of the antique shop. Was she just mistaken? She swore she wasn’t, but even if she was, it was a good story.

This lady was not paid to come to our class. She came because she loved poetry and she wanted children to love it, too.

Thanks, Mrs. M.

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~ by standupmimi on January 22, 2009.

2 Responses to ““He Clasps the Crag with Crooked Hands…””

  1. my most memorable teacher came much later in my life. I was in grade 12 and I had Mr. Rodan for English. He was very supportive and a real old hippy with long grey hair in a pony tail and an Inuit medallion that he got when visiting the far north.

    He let us write. He gave us things to write about then gushed over the results. It was always fun to show him assignments. I can’t remember any other teacher that I wanted to please more.

    I often worry about how we instruct our kids. The sorry state of education, particularly in America but also in Canada has me worrying about the future. I hope though that EVERYONE has at least one person in their educational world that they can remember, like you do, long after they’re gone from our presence.

    I really enjoyed this post. I love that she was a volunteer. I loved that she held a class of kids in her thrall as she showed them that rich field in their minds that poets and authors were more than happy to till.

    What a remarkable woman.

    • I had teachers who let me write, too, and actually seemed to enjoy what I had written. Others told me what to write and didn’t really appreciate the gore in my stories. Or they zeroed in on grammar and would tell me I couldn’t start a sentence with “and” (or “or”). How galling. I’m an artist, here! Not to mention they failed to notice I was using “and” that way deliberately, for impact. Doubly galling.

      I’m not sure what the state of education is like now, but I imagine there are teachers who foster imagination, as well as teachers stuck on hard facts and rules, who can’t see the story for the grammar, so to speak.

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