A few years ago, when I was getting feedback from the students in my literature classes, they suggested that instead of studying poetry for a month at the end of the semester, that I spread it out over the semester. So I restructured my course, making every Friday poetry day. Fridays became a relaxed, informal day of class — we would talk about the poems I had assigned, of course, but students also often brought their own poems to read aloud and sometimes food. My students are not English majors — we don’t even have English majors at Small Green — and writing poetry is definitely a move out of the comfort zone for most of them.
This year, when I announced that Fridays would be poetry day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s been two years since I taught the course because I was on sabbatical last year. My classes are limited to 20 students, but they are students from all different programs on campus — from wildlife biology to landscape architecture to chemistry to paper science engineering. I figured it would take a while for them to get to know each other and be brave enough to share poetry they’d written.
So yesterday, while we were talking before class about horror movies, Sharon Olds, and J.D. Salinger, I was pleasantly surprised when the student who had walked in wearing a fuzzy winter hat with animal ears on it said, “I brought a poem of mine to read.” Another student, a young woman who had shown me a sad break-up poem, said, “Hey, I’ll read my poem if you read yours.” A third student, a young woman who wearing bright colored leg warmers, said, “I like the idea of poetry buddies!” She looked across the room at a fourth student who had brought a poem. “I’ll read mine if you read yours.”
So we began class with four students reading their poems and a lively discussion about why we write poetry, and whether or not poetry can raise environmental awareness enough to get people to change their actions. It’s going to be a good semester.