Just this past semester, I wrote on the front of one of my classes' folders: I HATE POETRY. It wasn't true, even then. Maybe it was the class, the professor, the specific poem that we were harassing as a group. Or rather, it was the way the professor was using the poem to harass us that made me write it in capital letters, to emphasize my disgust. That's the thing. Over the past years as a literature student, I've come to view poetry as a weapon scholars use to batter us intellectual fledglings into humble submission.
It makes me sad. So much so that a couple years ago, I wrote a research paper about ways to make poetry seem less intimidating in the classroom. Hoping that students and poetry can be friends, I decided that the microteaching that I have to deliver in a couple weeks ought to be about poetry. So I set out on the search to find the poem to incorporate into my lesson. I still haven't found a poem I want to "teach," but I have found my new favorite poet.
Introducing Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate and NY State Poet, and his poem "Thesaurus."
It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.
It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.
Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.
I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.
I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.
See, I don't hate poetry. Thank God, because this stuff makes me happy.
It was this passage from the poem "Reading Myself to Sleep" that had me at hello: "and the only movement in the night is the slight / swirl of curtains, the easy lift and fall of my breathing, / and the flap of pages as they turn in the wind of my hand." Aaaah.
So now I'm going to go put fresh sheets on my bed and read myself to sleep.