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I've followed this substack for a long time, but never made a comment. But I wanted to share how writing a poem can be an act of mutual healing in violent spaces. I teach in a trailer school in Baltimore with teens who are in very challenging neighborhoods, and one way we work out disagreements when they happen is for them to write a poem together about their differences -- make it one poem even if it contains disagreement. I do lots of other writing with them, but this one has led to lots of openness. A few weeks ago one team then used the erasure technique to make the poem, in their words "take out the hate but leave the hurt."

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What amazing work you are doing with these young people!

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This is incredible. What a powerful and truthful process and what an offering to give these young people.

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What a beautiful example of poems as teachers. Thank you for sharing with us. ❤️

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Love this! Thank you!

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Oh. My. This struck such a chord. Thank you. This comment taught me as much s as the poem!

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I have much appreciated all the feedback. I am never sure, when I put things in the substack, whether they go to the commenter or the whole group. Technology and I have a forced liminal existence. I have learned so much from working with these kids. This is only my second year at it - very different from my life as a college professor for 20 years - but I wanted to be "in" the experience rather than just teaching its theories. I am very much feeling my way. I have learned to look at the body in front of me regardless of what theory says is needed. I have learned that letting them write their way into themselves works (1) to get them to write at all, which is my job at this school, and (2) to let them surprise me and themselves with their amazing insights. I have learned that there is exquisite beauty in the most dire places. I have learned another language for love, really. Thanks for the feedback!

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"I have learned to look at the body in front of me regardless of what the theory says is needed."

Thank you

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Thank you for your beautiful work _/l\_

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founding

How beautiful, how powerful. Thank you for this, Thomasin.

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Oh Thomasin: This an erasure, too. Take out the hate but leave the hurt. Bless you and thank you for your work. The hard hard work of healing. And hate seems so much easier. I think your wise learners have taught us all something as we discuss inflammatory issues. The back and forth hate I hear in so many comments especially around Gaza and Israel misses the point your writers are telling us: Leave out the hate but leave the hurt.

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I am so looking forward to these episodes. I always try to incorporate art into the classes that I teach, especially when the classes don’t directly deal with art— it affords students a chance to re-orient themselves to new sets of experiences, to apply past learning to new contexts, to embody their knowledge and experiences.

But poetry is so my wheelhouse , and it is such a challenge for me to discuss. I don’t really know how to analyze or interpret it. Maybe it’s a fear of feeling like I need the answers before I pose the questions, and as Pádraig wrote, poetry isn’t here to give us the answers.

So I’ll throw a question back to the Substack crew: how would you introduce poetry in a non-poetry class?

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I also like Billy Collins’ poem, “Introduction to Poetry.”

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

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Bwha I love this. Thanks for the recommendation. It is fascinating to probe the metaphors and similes that Collins is using here and picture exactly how a listener is supposed to enact them. Or not.

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I really like Billy Collins. His poem "The Names" written in response to 9/11 while he was poet laureate for the US is a good one for analysis. I was always in awe of what points of interest and understanding my students could within its lines. I also adore his poem "The Lanyard," perfect reading for reflecting on motherhood. :)

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Thanks for your question, Jonathan. I had taught a “loss, grief, and healing” course and a “social justice” course for high school juniors and seniors. On the first day of each course, I gave an assignment by inviting each student to explore and find a poem (they could also write their own poem) that in some way spoke to them. In the next class, I collected each poem. Then, for the next few weeks we’d begin each class with a student reciting their poem. As you might imagine, the poems were an eclectic mix — often intriguing, revelatory, poignant, insightful. It was a good way to start each class.

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I like this plan. When a teacher asks students to interpret a poem, it can be too intimidating. When a student picks a poem that spoke to them, they already have an interpretation. Sharing it with the class allows a discussion and other interpretations. Many students are turned off by poetry by the mistaken notion that a a poem has one correct meaning.

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Every poem reaches out in different words and ways to readers. Put a poem on a piece of paper with margins and have the students write their questions in the open space around the poem. Mark it up together as you find its literary devices like alliteration. Read it multiple times and out loud in different reader's voices. Discuss different ways of viewing it and its parts since a poem is a prism of points of view. Write a paragraph about something loved and turn it into a poem by breaking lines and using enjambment. I love the workshop of poetry!

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Thank you for reminding me to perform close analysis in conjunction with and auditory recitation. And having multiple students read the poem! Yes.

In terms of the workshop of poetry, I just finished a collection of poems from Hong Kong written by anonymous and semi anonymous protesters. The editors sometimes took social media post or anecdotes and distilled the essence of them down into short stanza prose poems. Having students do a similar exercise, maybe with a piece of analytic writing, would be really fun and rewarding.

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Could you post details. Really interested in this.

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YEEESSSS!!! Reading your own poem aloud is SUCH a different experience than just hearing it in your head. I am a big crier, I talk about it all the time, but I can write a poem and read it and have no tears. When I read it aloud, it really gets inside and I cry nearly every time! XO

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Hi Jonathan. I’m no expert but I have considered that when we grasp messages indirectly through our own interpretation, we draw inferences which are deep and affective, similarly to artistic juxtapositions with form and color-wrought emotions. You might introduce the power of parables as an example of teaching through symbolism. Or read a poem and ask your students what they think the poet is actually saying even though what he/she writes is not explicit. The fun is in aaahha … maybe this! Or that! Poems speak indirectly. Sometimes even in their silences, line breaks, or arrangement, ideas and reflections arise that are powerful; as in what you feel after watching an incredible movie, sitting quietly to take it in — the stunned interpretation of beautiful compositions . . . just like your art.

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“we grasp messages indirectly through our own interpretation, we draw inferences which are deep and affective, similarly to artistic juxtapositions with form and color-wrought emotions.”

Yes thank you for this. Having students bring themselves to a piece of art, no less than a work of nonfiction, requires acknowledging what got us to that point. It also means investigating how things got on the page and why they were or might have been placed there.

Actually, this is something I’m really fascinated with: the role of intention in interpretation. But that is a whole other pugilistic post. :-)

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Yes sometimes just place a poem into the aural landscape without explanation or direction, just let it be there to think with along the way. This shows slow accretion of learning on the learner's terms

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@ Jonathan Auyer I use poetry as another example of how stories and truths are told. Simply saying, "Here is a poem about .... written by ..... ; it deals with the subject matter we're discussing in a completely different way, but there are also similarities. Let's read it together and talk about what we see and hear." Use the form as an opportunity to learn about perspective and also as a compare/contrast vehicle. Most vital, this process encourages higher level thinking skills.

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Oh, Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan! I adore you, my friend!! I LOVE that you teach art, even when the class doesn't have to do with art. That is maybe the most beautiful thing you could do because whatever your students learn, doing art gives them a change to express how they feel about what they learned and it may come out in ways even they didn't anticipate. Art is so useful for looking inward!! And helping to know yourself and how you look at things. In other words, it helps you learn about your emotional and spiritual self, too. And yet, it gets cut from schools. Ugh! So thank you for incorporating it.

You don't have to know how to analyze or interpret poetry. It is a very subjective thing for every single person. You don't need to know any answers with it. In fact, if you shared poetry with your class, you would get a behind the mirrors peek at every student who answered what that poem meant to them. Poetry, like any other art, touches parts of ourselves sometimes even we didn't know or see before. I think it does it in a different way than paintings because that is visual, but with poetry, you are getting words. You are trying to imagine what the poet was thinking and, at the same time, hopefully, noticing what you are feeling. I would start with asking students to read and notice what they feel first, without thinking too much about what the poem is saying. Because when they read it again, that will all be lost - how they felt. Good luck!! And keep us posted :-) XO

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Yes! "I would start with asking students to read and notice what they feel first. The way I ask this is to ask for heartback! Not feedback.

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Dear Jonathon: You have helped create a gorgeous thread! Have you come across Taylor Mali's Metaphor Dice! Now that's a way to get kids excited. His dice have three colours. Red, blue and white. The red dice have abstract words. The big thoughts. The other colours adjectives and nouns. You can create your own "big words" to throw against against the other two colours. And he has a recent book that came out with poems based on the metaphors the dice helped create. I work with men and women in recovery from alcohol and drug disorders. The poems they write out of the blue based on me sharing three or four poems is remarkable. Many of these folks have not encountered a poem in years. The Collins poem below says it all. No need to analyze. I ask my clients for "heartback" not feedback! How did that poem land for you. What lines or words spoke to your emotional experience as a human being.

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Listening to and reading "A Word on Statistics" by Wislawa Szymborska, if I am going to be honest, I am humbled by the way I see myself in some of her less-than-stellar statistical groupings. She wields her measurements mostly with objective observation, but thankfully, along the way she tempers them with a bit of handicap and learning curve: "led to error / by youth (which passes)" and "plus or minus" and how she'd "like to be / wrong" about some of her stats. Overall, her words encourage me to look at others with compassion, but there is that frightful bit of being left wondering how some can show such inhumanity to their fellow human beings.

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Much gratitude; I so look forward to learning from, being challenged by and being comforted by sharing with all of you the poems this week. Today for me is a both/and day: the second anniversary of my husband's death and Mother's Day. Whatever else poems on conflict are they are both/and: beautiful and painful.

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❤️

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Yes, “both/and”. Bittersweet. Thanks for your thoughts!

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Outstanding. And heartbreakingly timely. The urgency for ceasefire and peace has not felt so strong from me a long while. And, while protest and action to raise our voices with others, use our bodies and every means to bring an end to the slaughter is paramount, I do believe that long-term peace can only be achieved through dialogue, one beautiful example of which is the way that Poetry Unbound has exemplified. Pádraig, your commentary is always simultaneously provocative, evocative, and soothing (and more).

My first thought on Szymborska's “A Word on Statistics,” was, more or less, what you implied: with which of these stats do i include myself and from which do i exclude myself? The numbers I take as mischievous nonsense that mocks our obeisance to the metrics of scientific knowledge and urges us beyond what science can know (and I'm a huge fan of the scientific method so intend no aspersions), to what we can only know in dialogue with each other. I am totally with you about poetry not "giving answers." I see all poems as contributions to dialogue within which we respond to the poem and each other, and, in so doing, create not only better knowledge but a better world.

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To paraphrase Wm Butler Yeats, Some argue with others which makes them politicians. Those who argue with themselves are poets.

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What a beautiful and playful reminder of the complexities of humans. I am struck by the groups missing from this list; the opposites of the ones she lists. Why guide us softly past being cruel instead of poking us with a sharp tack of being kind always? Why only ninety-nine are worth of empathy - not one hundred? Are we withholding it from ourselves as we see ourselves in her various categories and realize we fall short? To end on death is fitting as a reminder of do you want to be in the groups you identified with or is there some other way of being.

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Dearest Padraig, you are such a gift to me (and yes, the world). That should not be in parentheses. But yes, you are a blessing for me and the world. This is mother's day, and I am recently a motherless mother. Lstening to this morning's poem offering from you moved me so deeply. I shared it on my FB page, but by way of introduction to it I wrote something, which reminded me of a song from a retreat with Ram Dass I went to in 1991 when I was deep in grief about the war we -- the USA -- were waging in Iraq, and that night he had Chris Williamson, a singer-songwriter (another form of poet, yes?) who sang a song, which because it's Mother's Day and I recently wrote a poem about her dying which included grief for Gaza and Israel, not because I wanted to write a political poem but because, both/and. anyway. It's a lot. Here's what I just now wrote on my FB page: This gift is from Padraig O'Tuama. I'm the delivery person. I once heard a singer introduce a song and she said this line about "not looking a gift horse in the mouth". I'd heard it somewhere before but didn't know the meaning, and still don't but it came back to me because I was thinking that my posting this is a gift to you, if you're willing to accept my gift, if you don't look this gift horse in the mouth, if you will accept it.

The gift is from Padraig, the gift is a series of poems as teachers, and this poet today, Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012). I'd never heard this poem before. The series will be for five days Monday to Friday this week, though clearly it starts today with this poem. The poem is a gift, the series, I know will be a gift, because what is a gift if it is not our ability to speak with each other, hear each other, hold our suffering, and try to find a lighted way to end suffering that is effective and kind and generous? Otherwise, what are we doing here? Please listen. Please contemplate with me.

He's calling this series Poems as Teachers. In grief and hope, love, g. and here's the song from Chris Williamsom, which also feels like it's about Gaza and Israel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnGlaTM5OKU

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Chris Williamson is also part of my journey mothering and relinquishing mothering. "In the best interest of the children so many strings have been tied to their wings . . . " Is a song that helped me grieve. I would like to see what you wrote to honour her passing.

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I love how this poem normalizes and creates community. There are others who are like me, like you, like someone. Living in constant fear, capable of happiness, mortal. Except for the one who is not worthy of empathy. I wonder who that person is, and why they are not.

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Hello Pádraig and fellow sojourners. Perhaps the issue that politicians and despots have is that poetry often asks questions about the realities of existence that challenge their behavior. Poetry allows us to imagine what could be while we struggle with the challenges of the real world.

Happy Mother's Day!

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I am struggling to get at the significance of poetry. Yet, I believe it is significant. I believe that for the poet, it is often his or her bold attempt to give something (a gift) and, for the listener/reader to receive something (a treasure found). Yes, I see poetry as a most intimate exchange. Poetry can break open the truth in a splendid way, sometimes being difficult to receive, sometimes being easy to receive.

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After listening and reading Szymborska’s “A Word on Statistics” I agree that it has a light (non-accusatory) tone that does make me think about whether or where I fit in those categories. More, it made me think about the casual, questionable ‘statistics’ thrown out by politicians and influencers and talking heads — ‘everyone/everybody knows’ ‘lots of people’ ‘nobody.’ It takes an awareness to hear them because they are so common in sound bites.

Also, a sense that ‘statistics’ can be likened to polls. I am skeptical about polls, conducted by phone (I don’t answer unknown numbers, do you?), and of questionable size (158 million votes in 2020, vs. poll sample sizes), and where an answer can mean opposing things (both ‘not far enough’ and ‘too far’). So the poems reminds me of that saying ‘You can make statistics say anything.’

I know my reaction itself is not poetic, but it helps me to identify where to find the heart of matters.

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Considering those activists and/or mystics who have addressed suffering and violence will often lead us to their poetry, even though they may not be considered poets…Thich Nhat Hanh immediately comes to mind, but of course there are many more. I’m sure others here can name some of their favorites, and I also expect to hear more as episodes unfold.

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Thanks Padraig, what a wonderful poem to kick off this series. It made me question, ‘am I that way, where do I fit?’ This brought me to a place of sadness but then a place of laughter. Totally enjoyable while totally thought provoking.

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For me, there is a strong, even vital connection between poetry and the sacred, angst and ecstasy. Poetry, like art, like music, can speak in and to conflict in abstract or real terms from a divine spirit of truth, sometimes hard to bear.

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Hello from Australia!

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