And what student responses to my poetry taught me
No, the title is not hyperbole. Just last week, a good friend of mine who is an educator reached out to me and asked me if they could teach one of my poems in their high school English class.
At first, I was shocked.
After all, I’m not published. I have a small following on social media. And nobody really knows my name as a writer.
Not yet, anyway.
But that didn’t stop my friend from advocating teaching my work in their class. They told me how they had been following my writing for some time now and had this idea brewing in the back of their head for a while.
I said yes...apprehensively.
Because in my head, there were still several anxieties: What if the students didn’t like my poetry? What if they didn’t resonate with it at all?
Or even worse: What if they didn’t understand it?
I remember what it was like to talk about poetry with my friends in high school. More often than not, they would talk about how they didn’t like the poetry we were being taught because it felt too complicated, the language too inaccessible, and the writing too foreign in its symbolic nature. A mountain too tall to climb.
However, despite all of those thoughts swirling in my head, I still said yes.
Because it still felt like the biggest honor.
My friend still thought that my writing was good enough to share.
And that meant the world to me.
However, all of my worries and anxieties dissipated when my friend got back to me with the results of their teaching session. And quite frankly, the responses I got were some of the most heartwarming, heartbreaking things I had ever read.
But before I tell you about what happened, I wanted to take a moment to let you know that I’ve started a free newsletter that you can subscribe to right now.
It’s called The Lindsay Letters, and it’s personally one of my favorite things to write outside of my poetry. It's sent out every Monday, and you can expect to read about things like obscure sorrows (Words like sonder, which refers to the realization that every person on the planet is the protagonist of their own story) to my latest movie recommendation (Right now it’sIt’s Puss in Boots, which I could probably write a whole essay on why it’s so good, you should check it out if you get a chance).
This week, the newsletter is a supplemental piece that talks about the poem that inspired my poem that was shared in my friend’s class. If you enjoy this blog post, I think you’ll also really enjoy the newsletter.
You can subscribe to it here:
Or by filling out the form on my homepage. I hope to see you there.
Anyway, back to the blog post.
I’m sure you’re wondering which poem my friend decided to share for their classes.
I didn’t know either until I got all the feedback.
The poem that they decided to share is titled “Grief is Love without a home”:
At first, she hid in the pockets
Of your favorite corduroy sweater.
The one worn only on special occasions.
But soon she got too big for that.
That’s when she started filling in
The cupboards and the shelves.
In the mornings, she’d sit on the spice rack.
At night, she’d be in the pantry.
This too, she outgrew.
Eventually, she began to feel like an old friend.
I’d find her in the closet
Hanging among the cardigans and henleys
The coats and the turtlenecks.
She’d cling to them like cigarette smoke
Woven into the fabric.
Eventually she began to find me when I was out.
She’d be at the park for picnics,
At the movie theaters in the adjacent seat.
She’d call shotgun on my way to work
And be asleep in the backseat on my way home.
She’d hold my hand on our evening walks
And be the first to greet me in the morning.
I Loved her, despite being heavy with her
Because she had nowhere else to go.
To give you some insight into my writing process for this poem, I wrote it shortly after a breakup.
In the poem, the speaker is struggling with the idea, the shadow, of the other person being everywhere, despite no longer being present in their life. That is why grief continues to show up in the mundane, ordinary tasks of the day-t0-day.
At first, it’s nothing but a painful reminder. However, over time, it becomes a part of the routine. It becomes loved where it may have been resented before. It finds a place in the heartbreak because it has nowhere else to go.
Grief is love without a home.
That was my relationship to the poem while I was writing it.
However, that was just my interpretation.
At the end of the day that my friend taught this poem to their students, they sent me a spreadsheet with a bunch of information, including the students’ names, their periods, and a few questions they answered about the poem.
The questions that were asked were as follows:
What is the definition of the word ‘pantry’?
What does the poet mean when they say, “she’d be in the pantry”?
What is one simile you found in the poem?
How hard was this poem to understand?
Simple questions, and questions you’d ask any high school student studying poetry. However, my friend also added one last question to the list:
What is a connection you make to this poem?
And this question, dear Reader, is what took me by surprise.
For the sake of privacy, I will not share any personal information but instead talk about some of the ideas I saw and realized while looking through the spreadsheet.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it is that grief comes from many, many different places. Some students talked about what it was like to lose a friend or a partner. Others talked about what it was like to lose a pet.
Some talked about what it was like to lose a sibling. Or a parent.
And the next thing I knew, I was crying at my desk at work.
Because some of these students, in their own vulnerabilities, chose to share what it felt like for them to go through a devastating loss. And they shared how they wouldn’t stand in kitchens because it reminded them of someone.
Or how they wouldn’t eat because it reminded them of someone.
Or how they couldn’t get out of bed because they were still sad about losing someone.
But there was also another thing that I noticed about the stories that they shared:
It was that, eventually, that feeling did pass.
With remarkable wisdom, students talked about overcoming these feelings of loss with time. About how clothing that once belonged to people they lost eventually made them smile instead of cry. How their love for the person they missed outgrew the grief of losing them.
Their responses made me recontextualize how I looked at my own writing.
It made me re-realize how personal yet universal the feeling of grief was. How even though I felt grief in a particular way, in a particular moment, the act of poetry translating raw emotions into words was enough to make someone else empathize and sit with their own feelings for a while.
One student in particular had my favorite response to the poem. They wrote about how reading the poem made them want to open up more with their emotions and not bottle them up so much.
If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know that I, too, am a work-in-progress when it comes to bottling my emotions and being more open and honest about them. But hearing about this young person sharing a similar goal, a healthy one, warmed my heart so much. If my poetry helped remind them about that goal, then maybe it could also serve as a gentle reminder to myself.
Because that is my favorite part about poetry:
When it is read, it no longer belongs to the writer. It belongs to the reader.
And there is something magical about when the words are translated from me to you. You take it and make it something personal. Something sacred, even. And that’s possibly the greatest gift you can give me as a writer.
So thank you to those students who read and responded to my poetry. Thank you to my friend who decided to teach it to their students. And thank you to you, dear Reader, for helping me continually learn and re-learn why I love writing so much.
If you’d like to respond to any of the things shared or written about in this blog post, please feel free to share your thoughts down below. I love reading and responding to you in the comments and having that dialogue.
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Until next time,