Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hamlet at the Workshop

“A little more than kin and less than kind.”

The Elsinorian air around him full of poetic pronouncements,
            straining against their iambic boxes
            and his misguided promise to a ghost in the woods.

He never follows directions.
He doesn’t know that he needs a clear tragic flaw.
He never learns from Sophocles
            how to model the evils of overstepping his bounds.
He has sworn away all bounds,
forever living in the “goodly frame”
            of the eloquent stage in his mind.

The father whose airy armor demands revenge
            is trumped by the un-poetic cruelty of murder.
The would-be father-in-law suffocates on the figurative air he can’t seem to breath,
            mocked by this Danish drop-out at every turn.

The young prince flees the love he desperately seeks.
He is cruel to be kind to be cruel.
Best friends gone, mother a betrayer or, worse, ignorant,
            only the pedantic comrade left,
            not even a shadow of the Protean hero he follows so helplessly.

Pirates, gravediggers, swordfights, staged murders,
            secrets behind every curtain,
            the readers’ eyes widen at every new surprise.

Every 21st century teenager gets Hamlet,
            the comedy, the sarcasm, the hatred of boundaries,
            the chameleon moodiness of him – even though he is a 400-year-old ghost.

So I smile when the workshop leader, addressing 30 teachers, pronounces,
            “All stories fit into this 4 step pattern,”
            proudly pointing to a list of plot devices on a large computer screen,
            the bullet-listness of them demanding self-evident agreement.
My fellow teachers are actually writing this down.

I imagine Hamlet sitting next to me, twirling his quill sarcastically, that smirk on his face.
I wonder how long it would have taken him to get up, push his chair in,
            and walk out of the conference room and into the lobby
            for the illumination of a hot coffee and an ironic Danish.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Snow Day

I was watching the weather report earlier today and was enjoying the precision with which the meteorologists predicted the forecast.  I imagined my snow day tomorrow and wondered what the meteorologists would predict about how I would spend my time.

“Chance of precipitation – 87%.”

Chance of a day off from school tomorrow – 100%.
Chance of me cooking ‘snow-day bacon’ and French toast – 98%.
Chance of my son wanting to build a sledding path, regardless of 
     temperature, wind, or personal safety.
Chance of my daughter and I enjoying our homemade chicken, lemon, 
     orzo soup – 97%.
Chance of reading over 200 pages tomorrow – 34%.
Chance of a lengthy list of domestic projects courtesy of my wife – 96%.
Chance of me lovingly reminding my wife that the French toast 
     and bacon breakfast as well as the homemade soup dinner 
     should liberate me from other chores – 87%.
Chance of my wife given me her stock look of disapproval – 77%.
Chance of playing Monopoly with my son– 68%.
Chance of expending 74% of my mental energy on limiting my son’s screen 
     time – 74%.
Chance of Facebook being littered with thoughtless clichés about snow – 
Chance of my sarcastic response to the aforementioned clichés, 
     reminding my 672 “friends” that snow in New England 
     isn’t a novelty nor should we obsess about bread and milk – 86%.
Chance of me wondering to myself at Hanneford - - "Why bread and milk?
     Has the weather report infected the region 
     with a French-toast-fetish?" – 71%
Chance of me loving the fact that I just invented the phrase 
      “French-toast-fetish” in this poem – 100%.
Chance of the local weather being on TV constantly, creating 
      an ironic ‘white’ noise – 66%.
Chance of my smiling at the sound of Dean Olson’s voice
      tonight as she cancels school for the next 2 days, 
      barely hiding her glee - - 86%.
Chance of cabin fever infecting my home by Wednesday night 
      so that every glance or gesture is interpreted 
      as an invasion of personal space – 89%.

“Chance of precipitation – 87%.”


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Lesson Plan"

Some teacher friends and I were recently discussing our first year teaching.  How utterly bad we were! Last week I attended a writing conference during which we were told to write an apology poem.  Recalling my earlier conversation with my colleagues, I chose to write an apology to my first English class back in 1997.

I’m always afraid of my first English class showing up on my doorstep.

The most peaceful place I had ever been was on the fourth floor
of the Mullen Library at Catholic University.
My only worry was getting Keats just right
amid the dusty silence of stacks of first editions
and unread dissertations.
Back in 1997 though there was no peace,
just a sea of hormonal 14-year-old boys
quoting South Park with scholarly precision.

I’d forgotten until now how lost I was at the front of that class,
ignorant of the fact that I didn’t need all the answers,
that the perfect lesson plan had nothing to do
with helping kids enjoy Juliet’s strength,
Scrooge’s conversion, or the powerful voices
laying dormant in their teenage pens.

I come from a long line of people who had no time to read,
waitress-matriarchs, unit managers at the General Electric’s gear plant,
fire-fighters who worked two jobs to make ends meet.
My relatives would have been uncomfortable sitting in my first classroom.
My grandfather’s thick Polish frame would have chaffed at the edge
of the tiny desk - he preferred to read on his couch,
biographies of Patton and MacArthur.
His big blue eyes would have rolled at my stupid presentations
on nouns and narrative voice.
My two grandmothers would have left the classroom
the minute I told them they couldn’t smoke.
They’d all be proud I had a job that required a tie.

If I had only realized that my first class, and every class after,
was just a group of people discussing books
and discovering who they were with a pen.

I’d like to tell them I’m sorry - Chris Ritchie, Ben Martin,
Andrew Goodwin, Paul Tortorici, Chris Ferguson,
and the rest of my first class.
I didn’t know how to be 23 and be a real teacher.
I’m sorry I didn’t listen more rather than just try to be smart.

And I’m sorry I didn’t know how to get out of the way.