One impossible task as a teacher was always how to teach students to write poetry. The best moments always came from the student who did not think he or she could write poetry and then by the end of class had a completed poem. Sometimes the student would exclaim, “I wrote a poem! I never wrote a poem before. I didn’t know I could write a poem!”
Students who struggle with writing poetry have a mistaken idea that there is a magic formula to writing a poem. It has to rhyme. It has to be about nature or something “girly”. The key, I told them, is words on paper, images, a new way of looking at the world that no one else has ever seen. Never sacrifice meaning for the rhyme, I would tell them over and over because the rhyme is what they knew. We would use rhyming dictionaries to search for just the right rhyme, and those dictionaries became the most used book in writing class. I always wrote with my students, and inevitably I would end up with a poem. The poems I liked the best were the ones I wrote in the middle of the night, and those poems from class filled notebooks over the years, so no doubt some of those will appear here.
The following poem I wrote on 9/11/2001. On 9/11 teaching classes in any formal sense ended and shock filled our hearts as we turned on the television and watched events unfolding This year 9/11 will mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack. I have to admit that I have a slight obsession with angels. I’ll write more about that later, but on 9/11 the image of angels became the focus of my poem “AngelDance.”
Into the sinister silence of the night
A lone angel tiptoes above the ashes.
Lit by the ephemeral rays from above
She moves through the refuse
Stepping over black metal angled askew
Evil heavy upon the earth.
She rises gently with the wind
Touches sooty hands
Lifts drooping shoulders
Silences anguished cries
And fills hearts with hope
To soften a grief too great to name.
She dances in a rhythm
That is dirge-like, somber yet serene
Turning, arms uplifted in a pirouette of pain.
She never questions her task
As she moves gracefully through the rubble
In a world of a thousand cries.
The wind quickens to lift her up
Yet she lingers, reluctant to leave,
Uncertain of her success.
She gathers what she can in the circle of her arms,
Leaving behind God’s strength and his love.
Angel tears spilling into the arch of her body,
She finishes her dance of hope
and floats up between the silvery stars
Into the eternal blackness
To the expectant golden glow beyond.
–September 11, 2001
© Barbara Flass 2001.
Teachers and parents: Try this yourself or with your children/students: Write a free-verse poem using present tense verbs. Don’t rhyme it. Tell a story of something in nature you have seen, a single, emotional moment in time. Use a thesaurus to replace common, everyday words, especially the verbs. Work on adding alliteration, words in a series that start with the same sound (for example, “sl” or “t”).