A Daily Dose of Poetry

The fear of miscomprehension has kept me a closeted reader of poetry. Still, I read a poem a day courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac. It is a ritual, a guilty pleasure, because it is seemingly unproductive. Like walking a quiet path. A guilty pleasure. I simply enjoy it. I soak up the words as I understand them at the moment. Connections arise and then release as I move on. Reading poetry is a gift to myself. And thanks to inspiring teacher-poets Mary Lee Hahn and Steve Peterson, I have two new sources, The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith and Poetry Unbound.

Today’s Slowdown comments from Smith made me feel as if perhaps I’m not alone in my approach. She spoke of how sometimes words in poetry are simply images that slide together, and that she does not always understand the meaning of poems she loves. To have permission to venture into poetry without judgment was a huge relief.

Knowing this, why not apply the same philosophy to our use of poetry in the classroom? Why not grant ourselves permission to read poetry without the pressure of academic understanding. To see poetry in the same light as we see the arts. I have been a teacher who always sought a lesson through poetry. Be it word knowledge or craft. I’ve always felt the need to justify its presence. But what if I let that go and simply let it be.  Maybe my planned purpose should simply be the gift of a poem a day. Just as I give myself. Read aloud, shared, and at times a mentor text to study. While I’m the kind of teacher who needs a plan, perhaps my plan should be to purposely have a space for poetry. Daily.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
this rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of the sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world


8 thoughts on “A Daily Dose of Poetry

  1. I love this line – To have permission to venture into poetry without judgment was a huge relief. I think it is such a helpful way to approach poetry (and the arts). I think we spend too much time trying to figure out the deeper meaning (and I often feel intimidated along the way) and we miss the beauty of the poem. I’m going to set myself a goal of reading more poetry.

  2. One of the blog posts I started writing during my long hiatus was about what I wanted–or thought I needed–to do with a poem. It was inspired by an 8th grade class that was reading Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire,” and I was aware that part of me wanted to, in Billy Collins’s words “tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.” It was totally not how I engage with poems and realizing I had that urge really stopped me in my tracks. So hard sometimes to stop being a teacher & instead just be a reader who relishes a word or a line like “The days are nouns: touch them.”

    • Thank you for the Billy Collin’s quote. That is exactly what I fear as a student and a teacher. This week I am going to start off poetry with the lens of noticing without judgment or “torture”. I’m excited simply to share and find out what a few words can conjure in my students!

  3. This is how Tom Romano began every class at the UNH Summer Institute for the multi-genre project. It’s how I discovered Marge Piercy’s “To Be of Use” and the lines: “The pitcher cries for water to carry/ and a person for work that is real.” I, too, begin each day with at least one poem. Today you added a beauty from Naomi Shihab Nye. Thanks.

  4. I love daily poetry from Writer’s Almanac and both of the podcasts. But this poem from NSN is new to me. I love it and want to save it and share it with kids, but reading poetry just makes me want to write poetry. It’s a drive I sometimes struggle with.

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