Saved by Teaching (not for the first time)

Like most women I call friends, I am stricken with grief over the departure of Elizabeth Warren from the presidential race. Oh, sure I have lots of male friends who are upset and disappointed and had strongly supported her candidacy, but so many women are feeling utterly bereft. We are being told again that it’s not our time. At a time when change is urgently needed, we are being told that the person who is obviously by the far best equipped to accomplish that change is just not going to be the one. That the next president will be a white man in his seventies seems pretty inevitable now.

So it was with that heaviness in my heart that I prepared to teach my Methods of Teaching Writing course. The plan for that evening, written a couple of months ago was to have the students read Letter from a Birmingham Jail in class, annotate and discuss and have the students write their own responses. King’s letter addresses sympathetic white clergymen who have suggested that leaders of the Civil Rights movement be content to wait for gradual social change, rather than organize protests. King argues that people with power never give it up willingly, that the people who want their fair share of power must demand it in ways that are often disruptive and cause tension and discomfort.

Rereading the letter to prepare for class, I could not help but see it through the lens of recent events. I began highlighting and annotating the text, finally arriving at the idea that I would begin class by asking them to write in response to the question: When it is acceptable to create tension in others? Students wrote freely and discussed their ideas in small groups, then we came together to read Dr. King’s letter.

This is Just to Say (after William Carlos Williams)

This is Just to Say

That I have eaten the last of the Trader Joe’s

Dark Chocolate Orange Sticks

Which you were probably saving for dessert.

Forgive me.

They were so delicious.

Even the loose crumbs of chocolate coating

were a gift.

There has been so much 2020

Painting of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter sign at a protest march in the summer of 2020 (Google images)

This year has been…a lot. It has shouted itself in our faces relentlessly every single harrowing day. Through this era of strife, there have been moments that have allowed me to have hope that we will come through the fire and be better and stronger for it. Happy New Year to you all. May you have some hope and some joy every day of the coming year.

Here is an excerpt from Inquiry-Based Learning through the Creative Arts for Teachers and Teacher Educators, which I co-authored with Molly Sherman and was published this year by Palgrave MacMillan.

Teaching and Learning in the Upside Down – Amanda Gulla

For many teachers, working with traumatized students is part of what we have come to expect. In the Bronx, where I received the entirety of my K-12 education and have subsequently spent the majority of my teaching career, poverty and its concomitant ills are all too commonplace. For many students, school is a refuge where there are friends, caring adults, and comforting predictability, so the loss of daily close contact with that community—even for those in stable environments—can be somewhat traumatic. Within the City University of New York (CUNY), as in many public universities, a significant number of our students are the first in their families to pursue higher education. Their path to a degree is often long and winding, as their lives can be complicated and precarious.

A pandemic temporarily shuttering schools from kindergarten through university may seem like a singularity that we should all be able to put our heads down and simply get through. Nevertheless, the fact is that even under “normal” circumstances, we are almost always teaching traumatized students. Sometimes teachers themselves may be traumatized as well. Denny Taylor (2006) writes about teachers in places like Rwanda and post-Katrina New Orleans living in refugee camps or trailers alongside their students. When talking about the support teachers provided for children and their families, members of the community remarked “that’s what school people do,” and “Teachers know how to work with people. I honestly believe that we saved lives” (p. 13). But there is an emotional cost to all of this courage and generosity. Over the years as I have served as a program adviser, many novice teachers have sat in my office and wept, complaining of stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, scattered concentration, and poor health. This is partly due to the fact that even under “normal” circumstances teaching is an enormously challenging job, demanding that teachers attend to the intellectual and emotional well-being of students with a broad range of complex needs and backgrounds. A middle or high school teacher might be responsible for as many as 150 or more students in any one given school year. It is no wonder that the pressures of this job sometimes can seem unbearable. That is why it is so important as we prepare candidates by exposing them to content and methodology to help them build an effective teaching practice, that we also allow space for their humanity. This is not just about being kind, although the world could certainly use as much kindness as possible. Adopting a caring approach toward teacher candidates helps to create a space that frames teaching and learning as a shared human endeavor in which all participants have agency. Having a sense of agency helps students to take ownership of their learning.

Teaching, generally speaking, is an optimistic vocation, especially when our students face adversity and continue showing up every day. We teach because we believe that with committed and compassionate nurturing and guidance, the next generation will be equipped to build successful lives in a complex and sometimes hostile world. The more adversity our students face, the more it behooves us to look past a skills-based curriculum to include ideas and materials that help them to see themselves as thinkers and creators. Fully engaged teaching is a relationship that calls for empathy and an interest in one’s students’ voices and identities. There has been a substantial body of research documenting the essential role of caring in K-12 education. Noddings (2005) describes teaching as a “moral enterprise” (p. 12) that is concerned with students’ “full human growth.” This need to account for students’ humanity does not end with high school graduation. In her book Connected Teaching (2019), Harriet Schwartz advocates for a pedagogy in which college teachers engage students in ways that “express care and convey enthusiasm” (p. 33).

Academic advising in a teacher education program involves helping adult students cope with the challenges and tensions of managing their dual roles as teachers and students, alongside whatever other challenges their lives might bring. This semester in addition to being an adviser, I was teaching two methods seminars: a graduate capstone course in curriculum design and a course in methods of teaching writing that consisted of a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. Both classes were lively and intimate. Students seemed to feel comfortable incorporating their personal stories and beliefs into much of their writing, and were supportive and encouraging of each other. The pedagogical style of these methods classes can be described as experiential learning, which Dewey (1934) explains as “the large and generous blending of interests at the point where the mind comes in contact with the world” (p. 278). Integrating both language-based and non-language-based art forms into the curriculum of an English Education program places teacher candidates on a more even footing with their students who may be struggling readers, requiring that they attend closely to unfamiliar material and actively engage in a meaning-making process. The overlapping vocabularies of the various arts can help students gain a deeper understanding of the terminology of the Language Arts classroom. We can all recall standardized exams requiring multiple choice or short answers about tone and mood, symbolism and metaphor in the context of studying canonical works of literature. We can gain so much more depth of knowledge through prolonged shared inquiry into the experience of tone and the significance of metaphor in paintings, songs, poems, and films in addition to books. The syllabi of those two courses was carefully crafted around these beliefs and values, and usually that meant that we would all gather around a text or a work of art (some unpacking of what we mean by “texts” and “works of art” in the next chapter) and undertake an involved communal process of inquiry that includes discussion, artmaking, and reflection. 

Suddenly in the middle of the spring semester the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and our campus shut down. All students, faculty, and staff had to abruptly adapt to teaching, advising, and everything else online. My first question in preparing for this shift in my own teaching was how I could keep that energy alive when the only way we could gather was to view each other on our screens, in glitchy little rectangles surrounded by the distractions of home. For teacher candidates, participating in their own education while they were also teaching online was an exercise in being in two places at once, not fully present in either. I was new to teaching online; particularly teaching live classes via web-based meeting platforms.

Early on, I saw that the questions I needed to address were much broader and more urgent than how I might translate my syllabus full of workshop-oriented discussions and group activities into an online platform. Students were at best disoriented, at worst traumatized. Some found themselves living crammed cheek-by-jowl with family members or roommates who were now home all the time, taking up space and precious bandwidth needed for all of the Zooming and Googling required of them.  As the semester wore on, more and more students were losing family members or getting sick themselves. Businesses closed, people were frozen in place at home. As the poet Wallace Stevens (1954) might have noted, the house was quiet, but the world was most definitely not calm. Practically everyone was locked down in a state of anxiety.

All of our teacher candidates who had suddenly been thrust into the virtual world were contending with figuring out online platforms that were new to them and trying to make sure that both they and their students had access to the equipment they needed. At the same time, many of their students were in difficult situations themselves. Their parents were suddenly unemployed, or some parents were essential workers—doctors, nurses, EMTs, grocery or pharmacy clerks, postal carriers, delivery drivers. So many families whose lives may have been precarious to begin with found their situations upended.

I needed a metaphorical framing (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) to help me to grasp what we were living through, how I should be feeling, thinking, and acting, and how specifically to adapt my teaching to meet the moment. The philosopher Maxine Greene (1997) offers the understanding that, “A metaphor not only involves a reorientation of consciousness, it also enables us to cross divides, to make connections between ourselves and others, and to look through other eyes” (p. 391). Such metaphorical ways of naming experiences helps us to form a contextual understanding. We can think “I know what this is, I’ve seen it before.” Right away, I began thinking of the multiple layers of catastrophe consisting of the pandemic, the lockdown, the hidden danger to all, the grotesquely callous and incompetent reaction by the federal government, the bizarrely aggressive resistance in some parts of the country to taking measures designed to protect the vulnerable, as the “upside down.” The term “the upside down” comes from a science fiction television show called Stranger Things, and it describes an alternate universe in which everything appears as a distorted, sinister version of the world in which we live. It was a term I used initially only in my own mind, but then I heard others using it too. The “upside down” was our new zeitgeist. This metaphorical framing of living in the upside down helped me shift the priorities of the course to suit the moment. Having a metaphor helped me begin to understand how to think about what was going on, how so many people seemed to be feeling and behaving. For Anne McCrary Sullivan (2009), metaphors are about “tying the abstraction to the concrete things that make it possible to know in the body what it means” (p. 113). The understanding that we were living in “the upside down” provided some guidance on how to proceed–at least as far as accepting the fact that whatever this was, it was not our normal lives.

I found that I could not concentrate on anything for very long and noted shifts in my sleeping pattern. Even though I was safe and comfortable at home during this pandemic lockdown, I was not okay, and I quickly discovered that neither were most of my students. The best way to meet the moment, I thought, was with empathy, flexibility, and stability. Our classes would continue to meet via online meeting platforms at the same time and day as we had when we were on campus. We would stick to the original syllabus as much as possible (stability). Each class would begin with some check-in time, allowing students to talk about whatever they needed to, and I made myself available to students who needed to talk outside of class time. I would also make sure to keep the workload manageable and replace some of our class assignments with ones that acknowledged the realities of the moment (empathy). Several students reached out during the semester because they were ill, or a family member was hospitalized, or because they confided that they just could not break through their depression and anxiety that week. I told them not to worry about showing up to class, just make sure they checked in with me at least once a week and handed in the assignment when they felt able (flexibility).

Once we made a shift to online classes, there was a drop in average weekly attendance from 90% before the lockdown to about 60% during the lockdown. On the other hand, the rate of on-time submission of assignments went from 70% to 90%.  Students commented both anecdotally and in their written reflections that the shift in emphasis from formal study of lesson planning and curriculum study to writing that was more personal, reflective, and creative made the work feel manageable, and even enjoyable. One student remarked that she looked forward to the weekly assignments, and that they helped her to feel grounded.                                             

 Maxine Greene (2001) spoke of the power of art to heal, and the important role the arts must play in education at all levels if we truly value “wide awakeness” in our citizenry. She wrote of the social imagination, the “capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, in our schools” (1995, p. 5). That capacity moves people “to hold someone’s hand and act” (1998). To trudge forward with my syllabus of lesson plans and assessments suddenly made no sense to me. The only thing that really did make sense was to bring into the center of my teaching specific works of art that would act as an invitation or a provocation to help the students access their voices in this time of isolation and uncertainty.

While I was rethinking teaching, I felt the need to call upon my inner resources in order to be able to use my creative voice to process this unprecedented moment. I had always turned to poetry to make sense of difficult times. I wanted to read and write poems to heal myself, and to offer some balm to my students, which they might in turn offer to their own students.

From the very beginning of this period of isolation and shutdown I began thinking of Mary Oliver, whose poems live on my shelves and in my memory as old friends. It is her ability to explain the most universal aspects of the human experience through the lens of a wild animal, a shoreline, or a field of wildflowers that has always drawn me to her writing. Her thorough devotion to engaging the natural world in a dialogue illuminates universal aspects of the human experience through the power of metaphor. Her poem Wild Geese (1986, p. 111) had always been a favorite of mine, and now it played constantly on a loop in my mind, especially the line: You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.”

Each day I woke up and put on my quarantine uniform of soft, comfy gray pants, t-shirt, and hoodie; an outfit in which I felt like the human embodiment of fog. Never had I been so keenly aware of the sense of myself as a soft animal. I recalled an evening at dinner with a lively group of artists and educators at an academic conference, the kind of event that now seemed magically remote. I had been mocking myself for existing so much inside my head, that I sometimes had to remind myself that I had a body. Immediately, performance artist and scholar Celeste Snowber turned to me and said with a great sense of authority that I don’t have a body, I am a body. Now, while I struggled to find balance as the pandemic rocked our worlds, I was able to find some comfort in this astonishingly simple truth. I am a body. Words were failing me, so I would simply have to trust and allow my body to love what it loves, and to know what it knows.

I took Oliver’s gentle command personally, even literally. In its straightforward and simply worded permissions to opt out of some of life’s harsh restrictions, this poem carries a sense of possibility. If only we can learn to forgive ourselves and let go of some of our burdens, we might understand that we all have a place in “the family of things,” and take comfort in knowing that the world goes on.

Only suddenly, the world was not going on-at least not in its usual manner. From the perspective of someone like me, who was able to work from home in a safe and comfortable environment, this could be seen as a blessing within the catastrophe. What an unprecedented opportunity to be creative and productive! What an unheard-of gift of time! In reality, for the first few weeks, I was unable to sleep or concentrate. Even in my circumstances, tucked away with my beloved in a cozy cottage in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York with plenty of everything we needed, I had to acknowledge that the trauma of this pandemic was affecting me. The radio, newspapers, social media, all were wall-to-wall COVID-19. Everything else had ground to a halt. I thought constantly of the heart wrenching final line from another of Oliver’s poems, The Summer Day (1990)

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Thinking of that line as time ticked away, and the mere passing of time without any productivity from me apart from teaching my classes, advising my anxious and bewildered students, and doing basic household chores, left me in a state of mild despair. I ached to write, both because my heart and mind ached for the ecstatic feeling of capturing a moment with language and because my personal and professional identity is bound up with my verbal output. I would walk around the house repeating lines of Wild Geese quietly to myself, whispering, “You do not have to be good,” writing my own lines in between the lines of the poem, trying to hold a conversation with the poem as if Mary Oliver were speaking these words directly to me as I told her of my despair, hoping that she might help me make sense of it. This dialogue I was writing with Oliver’s poems was a way of trying to rouse myself back to consciousness and corral my own attention. These poems were medicine, and in order for this medicine to have its full healing effect I needed to fully engage by writing back to those lines that truly felt like lifelines. Here is the first draft of that dialogue poem:

What Will You Do With Your One Wild and Precious Quarantine? (an homage to Mary Oliver)

The soft animal of my body loves

to push its tangled head under the pillow,

dip into this unimaginable bounty of time.

Who among us hasn’t wished that we could

stop our spinning planet for a moment?

Just long enough to catch our breath.

Tell me about despair, yours…                                             

                                                            …I carry my breath and blood through death every day.

I’ll tell you about despair, mine…

                                                            …What if I never want to leave home again?

Now we pause long enough to see the hands and hearts,

the lungs and legs that move the engine that drives the world.

Let my dreams do all the excavating

layers of tasks to find at the bottom

this homely mundane beast

shuffling through rooms

touching objects in the proscribed universe

of things it is safe to touch.

We live inside snow globes.

We are beautiful when shaken.

Beginning with the images conjured up by “the soft animal of your body,” I wanted to commit to words the bodily manifestation of my emotional state. The knowledge of the grim reality of this deadly pandemic that the whole world was experiencing at once felt to me and many others who were tucked away at home like a surreal and endless snow day. I needed to sort out my confusion and dissonance, my shattered attention, through the vehicle of poetic inquiry. This need felt physical, as well as emotional and intellectual. Sullivan writes of the role of intuition in a poet’s work as “something biologically real, a cognitive process that arises from being finely attuned to the signals that our physiology delivers from unconscious perception” (2009, p. 112).

My intuition told me that I needed some structural support to get me started. Those kind and gentle lines of Oliver’s were just what I needed. Doing that bit of writing set me on a path back to my writer’s voice.

Maxine Greene often spoke and wrote of “lending a work of art one’s life” (2001, p. 128). This involves a reciprocal relationship, where one is not simply studying and cataloging the product of another person’s imagination, but engaging it in dialogue by “deeply noticing,” (Holzer, 2007) questioning, and artmaking. For Greene, to “engage imaginatively” with a work of art allows one to “discover possibilities in your own body, your own being” (2001, p. 80).

As I was struggling to do my work as a poet, I was also searching for a way to engage with my students that would feel meaningful, that would acknowledge the current realities while still being true to the learning goals set forth in the beginning of the semester. The realities those students faced varied quite a bit. Some were still teaching their middle or high school classes online, while perhaps also having to care for their own children or elderly parents. Some were at risk or had loved ones who were gravely ill, others were safe at home but dazed and depressed, and some lacked adequate technology to be able to teach or learn online. Because we had been engaging with works of art all semester, it made sense to figure out ways to continue in that mode with shifts in the logistics of presentation and discussion to adapt to our new circumstances.

Before our campus had shut down, the graduate students in the curriculum course had studied the paintings of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and the songs from Rhiannon Giddens’ album Freedom Highway, in which she performs songs she has written that give a voice to historical events from slavery through the civil rights movement. The class had written poems in response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project–a series of articles, essays, photographs, and poems that address the lasting impacts of slavery on American society. Meanwhile, the students in the writing methods course had just written epistles modeled on Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Having established the practice of inquiry through creative response, it now seemed time to cut through the multiple layers of distress by teaching them to engage in dialogue with images–some recognized works of art, some of their own creation. Even better would be for those who were teaching or would eventually become teachers to be able to guide their own students through this process that might offer them some clarity and perhaps even solace on the way to developing their skills as writers.

Iron Age Broch, Mousa Island, Shetland, UK (Scotland)

Brochs are iron age towers that are found only in Scotland. They appear to have been a kind of fortification when the community was under siege. These round towers that look unsettlingly like nuclear reactors had double walls with internal staircases. There were niches for food storage, hearths in the center, water storage areas. The one pictured above on Mousa Island is the best preserved one there is. Naturally, Ann and I had to visit when we found out there was a midnight ferry excursion to watch storm petrels nest in the ancient structure. The island is on the path of their commute from Antarctica, and they swoop in at midnight during the Simmer Dim because the predators can’t see them. The poem tells the story of our visit, and the treacherous walking on marshy ground during the Simmer Dim- that time of twilight that last well into the wee hours of the morning, when the ground is exactly the same color as the sky.

Mousa Boat Man and the Storm Petrels

  1. Mousa Boat Man

He speaks of the storm petrels in a hushed tone.

“Twenty-seven grams. Weight of a one-pound coin.”

His back to the dock where his ferry boat bobs,

eyes fixed on the long stretch of peaty bog

between us and the broch, the

Iron Age fortress, mysterious

tower of Norse legend.

Dark stone sentinel that

looms at the edge of this

lonely Shetland island.

Mousa boat man reaches into

the pocket of his wool trousers.

Artifact in a plastic sandwich bag

“The storm petrel flies

halfway around the world

on these wings.”

he makes an arc in the air with his

calloused fingertip

A perfect pair of peerie[1] black wings

passed around the sturdy walkers.

Storm petrels nest in the Mousa broch.

Round, windowless tower

raised high on the cliffs and

silhouetted against the sky.

Ancient tower of double

walls and secret passages.

Witness to the ages on this

misty northern island.

Mousa boat man says

“Take your time. See the birds.

They swoop under cover of dusk

past hungry raptors, into the broch.

Careful where you step.

They nest in the stairway”

II The Simmer Dim

Early in Shetland’s summer,

dusk comes at midnight.

In the simmer dim,

night holds its breath in liminal light.

Mousa boat man waits by the dock.

Ann and I head off with the sturdy walkers.

My job is to walk and to see.

Sky slowly dims, just

enough to match the ground.

I struggle along the path

etched by sheep into mud and rocks

along the cliff edge. Ann asks if I want to go on.

I say yes.

The last few feet a steep climb,

“I’ve got you,” she says,

pulls me up by the hand.

It is night but not night.

First moon since we’ve been here.

I realize how much I’ve missed it.

Storm petrels circle around the moon,

dive into the broch. Tiny winged missiles.

We crouch beneath the low-linteled entrance,

crawl into its skylit tower.

Ann climbs stone stairs that

rise like jagged teeth

between massive double walls.

I stay below, listen for

wings beating in the shadows.

The sun sinks lower, the

moon rises higher and

disappears in the mist.

In the simmer dim, faint light lingers

deep into the night.

Tonight, the wind has knives.

The ground is unforgiving.

It’s time to find our way back to the boat.

The going is slow. The

simmer dim won’t illuminate.

Ann lights our way with an iPhone.

No time to pause to

gain or regain footing.

III. Mousa Boat Man Waits at the Helm of his Ferry.

Into the half-light with a torch and a staff,

come two of the sturdy walkers

calling out, guiding us

away from the edge of the cliff

toward the dock.

One foot in front of the other.

A doctor once told me

a foot is just a bag of bones.

I place my bones gingerly

along the rain-slick path.

Fleece-wrapped walkers

huddle quietly on benches.

Straggling storm petrels

still dive toward the broch.

Mousa boat man says nothing.

He starts his engine and

turns away from Mousa island.

Ann starts the car.

We drive home to Scalloway, village

In the shadow of a ruined castle.

Porch light on the house

overlooking the harbor

Beth and Ian’s kitchen,

stories flow deep

into the simmer dim.

A dram of whisky.

A Tunnock’s teacake.

Amanda Nicole Gulla 2015

[1] Shetland dialect: diminutive

Thoughts on Toni Morrison’s Passing

Toni Morrison resides at the pinnacle of the arts and literature. There have been few people more capable of seeing the human condition with such clarity. Her characters live and breathe. She saw us. She saw into the dark corners of our history. It is worth remembering in this dark times, her peacefully passing from this world after a long life well lived right in the middle of multiple mass murders by vile racists, spurred on by the vile racist-in-chief. There is always someone who will try to crush your spirit. It is too easy to say “don’t let them.” We all have our breaking points. To be torn away from your family in a place you came to to seek asylum from the grave danger you faced at home, and be put into a cage without so much as a blanket or a toothbrush would be beyond the breaking point of most people. We need writers and artists who will bear witness to injustice and the resilient human spirit. We need them to give us language to understand what is happening and to imagine other possibilities. We need images to help us to see and understand the world and to relieve our grief with beauty. We need music to bring us together in anger, grief, or moments of joy. My good friend David Hyman, English Professor, said:
“When anyone asks me to justify the value of teaching literature in today’s world, ‘to make sure that Toni Morrison is read and discussed’ is as good an answer as I have.” I could not agree more. Artist are witnesses, and they help the rest of us to see, understand, remember, and make connections. Rest in peace and power.
I

Difficult, Beautiful Things

If you are interested in poetry and social justice, please check out this new book: Poetic Inquiry as Social Justice and Political Response, in which I have co-authored a chapter with the fabulous teacher Molly Sherman entitled Difficult Beautiful Things: Young Immigrant Writers Find Voice and Empowerment through Aesthetic Education and Poetry

Faulkner, Sandra L. and Cloud, Abigail (Eds.), Poetic Inquiry as Social Justice and Political Response, Vernon Press, 2019. Available at 24% discount using coupon CFC15385544F at https://vernonpress.com/book/710

Click on this link to see the cover of the book!

Seeking Contexts- blackout poetry

I have been seeing a lot of blackout poetry lately, which has led me to conclude that it is a distinctly subversive form of poetry. Really, a bit of creative manipulation and thievery. You take an original text, put light pencil squares around the words and phrases you select, ultimately blacking out all of the other words. Using this technique, you can either reinforce what the original text is saying, or refute it using its own words, or you can shine a light on a particular thing the text is saying. You can make the text argue for or against itself. Or both. Blackout poems can easily be made to contain both claims and counterclaims. But who cares about writing arguments? We came for the poetry! So please let me encourage you to take your favorite books- the ones you have learned so much from, the ones you are always quoting, the ones that are so full of ideas you seem to notice something new every time you reread them. Photocopy a bunch of pages out of those books, get yourself a Sharpie, and make some poems!

Here is a blackout poem made from Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, 
the Arts, and Social Change by Maxine Greene, copyright 1995 Jossey Bass)

 

Seeking Contexts

concepts
are currency
for national primacy

What sort of curriculum

has been called the “disuniting of America?”

such questions

on the lower
frequencies

take
for granted

efficiency/feed into claims schools can be manipulated to

comply and serve

From a distance they would never be

able to deal with

the intentionality of everyday life.

Worn-down, crowded urban classrooms

sudden shimmers

clattering corridors like the backstreets of ancient cities.

Puzzled eyes with all their flaws
view every act as a new beginning.

those without a sense of agency
seem alien

How is the teacher to cope with this?

Refusal.

 

Contemplating mortality: When death rhymes

This is one of those poems that demanded to be written. My father died this last March at the age of 90. He was a great dad, and he’d had a good life. One of the universal parts of the experience of losing a parent is going through their possessions and figuring out what to do with it all. My dad kept practically every document that crossed his path. It wasn’t until I’d taken on this job that I realized to what extent that was actually true. There was my mother’s elementary school diploma. Receipts from the $2 he’d borrowed and repaid from the Merchant Marines in 1947. Receipts from remittances my grandfather had sent back home to Italy in 1918, long before my father was even born. I was looking at multigenerational packrattery. It helped to explain my own issues with, let’s just call it an overabundance of paper in my life.

Of all of these boxes, bags, and piles of documents, the one that absolutely stopped me in my tracks was a small envelope that had the single word “cemetery” written across the front. It contained multiple copies of receipts for the cemetery plot my grandmother’s second husband bought in 1950. Grandpa died in 1972, and my grandmother died in 1985. They were both buried in that plot. There seemed to be very little risk that anyone would challenge their right to remain there. I felt reasonably certain that we could part with the receipts. But what really got to me was the accompanying photographs. I guess maybe it was the pride of finally owning a bit of real estate (Woody Allen’s character’s father in Love and Death running around with a small piece of turf inside his coat comes to mind). There were the two of them, Grandma and Grandpa, posing with their own gravestone. The image was jarring, and only grew more so as I studied it. Here is that photograph and the poem that grew out of it:

 

Henech and Lena Contemplate Eternity 

Henech & Lena stone

 

Behind winter bleak branches

across a narrow stretch of the Hudson River,

the low rise of the Taconic mountains looks down on Poughkeepsie,

which is where we are on this day in November, 1950.

Has there ever been a day that looked more November?

Looming in the foreground, this freshly engraved stone:

 

KLEIN

 

HENECH   LENA

 

space for dates underneath each name.

 

Henech’s left hand rests on their gravestone

loosely draped as on a comrade’s shoulder.

 

My father was their son-in-law and

faithful keeper of paper for all of the family ghosts.

I will never be able to ask him why

he would not let go of these documents

securing a place for the long-buried.

There they were, yellowed edges and age-blurred ink

in a tidy stack on dad’s work table

when he died, as if they represented

unfinished business in his unspooling memory.

 

I scooped them into a plastic bag and now here they are,

a small avalanche on my desk. This

tattered envelope marked “Cemetery” holds all records of the

transaction, and photographs to mark the day. In this one

 

Henech’s right hand loosely holds the brim of his

fedora which he might absent-mindedly let go to the wind

if his besotted gaze is any indication.

He smiles open-mouthed at Lena.

There is only Lena and their future eternal home.

 

Lena, in her fine plumed hat

rests fingertips on the stone’s rougher edge,

her gaze fixed on the distance.

She leans slightly forward as if to steady herself.

 

Having had the fortitude to emigrate

from Lodz after the Pogroms,

the good fortune to get out

before the Nazis,

she has made a home in America—

in the workaday, bustling Bronx for now, but

 

here in the valley of these unassuming mountains,

just far enough from the city for a cool evening breeze,

Henech and Lena’s hands touch the waiting stone.

Follow her gaze to the place

she goes

when she leaves her body.

 

I meet her there in dreams.

 

 

Aesthetic Inquiry: Teaching Under the Influence of Maxine Greene

This is an article that appeared in The High School Journal. I was invited for their 100th anniversary issue to write an article in response to one written by Maxine Greene in 1980, called Aesthetics and the Experience of the Arts: Toward Transformation, in which she argues for the importance of robust experiences in the arts as a means of developing critical thinking.

 

Aesthetic Inquiry: Teaching Under the Influence of Maxine Greene
Amanda Nicole Gulla
amanda.gulla@lehman.cuny.edu
In Aesthetics and the Experience of the Arts: Towards Transformations, Maxine
Greene speaks to the reader with passion and immediacy about the transformative
possibilities of aesthetic encounters with works of art. For Greene, works of art are not
to be passively experienced. They are to be “achieved” (Greene, 1980, p. 316). A
“certain stance” (p. 316) is required of us “if the sounds and the light are to become
available to consciousness” (p. 316). To take that stance of questioning and alertness, a
willingness to take the time to look more deeply and to see what is to be seen is to
understand what it is to “awaken to the ways in which the arts are grasped by human
consciousness (p. 317).” This awakening is the means through which art becomes a
force for transformation, opening the channels through which individuals are changed
by an encounter with a painting or a poem.
Fully grasping a work of art often requires curiosity, patience, and a willingness to
challenge oneself to extend one’s perceptions beyond the comfortable and familiar. In
many of her lectures and writing, Greene described the work involved in embracing
and fully apprehending a painting or a symphony as “lending a work of art your life.”
This notion suggests a reciprocal relationship between work of art and audience as
Greene writes:
In some fashion, as one attends, one lends the work one’s life. Or one brings it into the
world through a sometimes mysterious interpretive act in a space between oneself and
the stage or the wall or the text (2001, p. 128).
The work of art is not inert, and the person interacting with the art cannot be passive.
We learn to listen, to open ourselves to what the artist is telling us—this human being
transmitting a message across space and time—we apprehend a version of the subject
of the work that is mediated by the artist’s perception and voice. By taking the time to
look and look again and use language and gestures to describe what we observe, we
open ourselves further to grasp the work’s meaning.
This is what Greene describes as a “distinctive mode of literacy, an achieved capacity
to break with ordinary ways of seeing and hearing” (p. 319). Where teachers are engaged
in the pedagogy of aesthetic education, we see 21st Century classrooms come
alive through these kinds of interactions. In my own experience as a teacher and as a
staff developer, I have introduced students and teachers to the possibilities of aesthetic
education across the curriculum. In a seventh grade social studies class we used
Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs to put a human face on this distant historical
period. We asked the students to study the photographs and work in small groups to
annotate the images with observations and questions. After this activity the students
seemed to be deeply moved by the images and curious about the lives of the people in
them. We invited them to write poems based on the pictures. Instead of the usual
textbook approach to the Social Studies curriculum, these students were curious and
ã 2018 The University of North Carolina Press
1
eager to dive into their studies of American history. One soft-spoken girl named Sarah
gave voice to the battlefield itself in her poem:
I am the grass soaked in blood
The sky looking down on the field
Suddenly quiet
As the only thing moving is the
Smoke rising in the air.
In another example, a Bronx English Language Arts classroom in a high school for
newcomers, teenagers who were recent immigrants intensely studied Jacob Lawrence’s
Migration Series and wrote their own stories in response. In the midst of this unit of
study a boy named Andy jumped out of his chair and ran across the room with a book
of Lawrence’s paintings, eager to show his teacher an image of a young boy picking
cotton in a field stooping from the weight of his heavy basket. “This is me!” This
moment of lending his life to Lawrence’s paintings led Andy to write this poem about
his life in the Dominican Republic, picking crops in the hot sun while he longed to go
to school with his peers:
Working since I was a child in my uncle’s fields.
getting up when the sun rose and coming back when the sun was going down.
My heart throbbed with sadness because I could not get an education like my
friends
I could not have
the same opportunity as them.
Tired of
planting the field
weeding the field
carrying bananas in a bag bigger than me.
bending hundreds of times every day to get potatoes
feeling that my back is going to break
walking in shoes covered in mud
because we did not have a vehicle.
I went to school without books, both the school and I didn’t have any
and only one pencil
and a piece of paper,
walking into my class
with everybody looking at my broken shoes.
In these cases and many more, disadvantaged children are eager to lend works of art
their lives and respond with their own creative expressions. These are the kinds of
interactions that can lead students to read with more depth and write with more
confidence, yet they are still not taken nearly seriously enough in the culture of
schools—at least not in the schools that most American children attend. In 1980,
Maxine Greene proclaimed that “learning is forced down narrower and narrower
channels,” and that young people are “alienated from the appearances of the world,
distanced from their feelings, caught between sensory indulgence and a bored passivity”
(p. 318). Breaking through this passivity is not always easy. Even when some
teachers do attempt to bring some creativity and agency into the curriculum, students
themselves who have been acculturated into passivity can be difficult to engage. A girl
in a middle school classroom, when asked to write a response to an article about air
pollution commented that it didn’t matter to her, because she never went outside. Her
The High School Journal – Winter 2018
2
response, so deeply mired in the mundane, suggests a life that is fearfully closed off
from the imaginative world and stands in stark contrast to students in classrooms
where aesthetic encounters with works of art are encouraged.
Encounters with the arts have the power to “create occasions for new beginnings,”
leading to results that can be “unpredictable” (p. 316). Schools, like most bureaucracies,
prefer the measurable and the predictable. Since the 1980s the American education
system has devoted increasing resources to measuring competencies through
standardized testing and accountability measures (Ravitch, 2010, p. xxii.) Education
has been commodified, as Greene would say, as a single corporation owns the standardized
tests used to assess students and the text books used to prepare students for
those tests, as well as the exams used to certify teachers in many states. The value of
education in a democracy has been oversimplified to what the Common Core Standards
calls “college and career readiness” (http://www.corestandards.org/). Nowhere
in these standards is there any indication that the qualities of curiosity, creativity, or
collaboration are valued. The beliefs reflected in these standards are a continuation of
what Greene called “the preoccupation with ‘competencies’ and behavioral objectives”
(p. 318). Because school administrators tend to be so preoccupied with the
quantifiable, learning experiences full of “adventurousness linked to aesthetic encounters”
may be considered “subversive of the ends of schooling” (p. 318).
Greene continued throughout her life to advocate for meaningful and adventurous
encounters with the arts as a centerpiece of public education. In 2013, just a few
months before her death at the age of 96, she met with a class of English Education
graduate students from Lehman College, the Bronx campus of the City University of
New York, in her Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park on a rainy October
evening. “The most important aspect of learning is the child’s experience,” she said.
“A child is a person, a valuable person and each one offers their own horizons” (informal
communication). This belief in valuing the lived experiences of children
hearkens back to her urging that we “enable students to release responsive energies in
the face of actual works of art” (p. 320). To teach according to the principles of aesthetic
education is to recognize the potential for meaningful encounters with works of art to
release students’ imaginations and to help them find their voices.
What does it mean to integrate Maxine Greene’s philosophy of aesthetic education into
the workaday classroom? The practice of aesthetic education in contemporary schools
requires almost as much skill in justification and compromise as it does in drawing
insight and imagination out of students. Teachers are expected to explain how the
study of a dance or a painting aligns with the Common Core Standards. Those who
come to teaching from an artists’ perspective must learn how to interweave aesthetic
encounters with codified learning goals in academic subject areas. Classroom teachers
who take time to study a work of art that is not text-based may encounter resistance
from administrators who dismiss such work as lacking “rigor.” This view, according to
Greene, falsifies “the nature of the arts and their role in the human career” (p. 318). In
fact, teachers who incorporate engagement with works of art via guided discussion and
questioning as well as hands-on art-making experiences understand that the effort
required for students to achieve these works of art (p. 316) can ultimately serve to
develop students’ capacities to read, write, reason, and communicate. Greene references
Dewey, who writes of the necessity for apprenticeship in seeing through a microscope
as a biologist would or viewing landscapes as a geologist does (p. 321).
Similarly, learning to truly see what there is to be seen in a work of art or understand
universal themes in literature requires a kind of apprenticeship in observation.
Teaching Under the Influence of Maxine Greene
3
Teachers working in the mode of aesthetic education understand that particularly for
students who struggle with reading, images often provide opportunities for critical and
complex thought and language that help develop their literacy skills. By engaging in
prolonged inquiry around works of art and then having the opportunity to make their
own creative works, aesthetic inquiry leads students to find and channel their voices.
The ability to express themselves lends these young people a powerful sense of agency.
They begin to believe in themselves in ways they might not have thought possible
before. We have seen students transformed in tangible ways. They become better and
more confident writers. They read more deeply and make more complex connections
in their thinking. Fabilisa, a young woman at the newcomers’ high school, graduated
and went to the local community college and reported with pride being able to explain
the symbolism in a book to her classmates because she had learned to read beneath the
surface by first doing so with a painting.
In that same high school English Language Arts class of recent immigrants who were so
deeply engaged with Jacob Lawrence’s work, we started out by studying Frida Kahlo’s
painting Self Portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States. We
asked the students to describe what they noticed in the painting, and wrote their
observations down on large chart paper hung around the classroom. Then we had them
discuss their observations in small groups and had each group create their own chart of
questions the painting raised for them. While no formal data was gathered about student
performance before and after these experiences, students reported that this
practice of deep observation and questioning had helped them to see more in the texts
they were reading across subjects. Their writing showed marked improvement, and for
some, even their attendance improved as those who had habitually been late or truant
began coming to school early and staying late to work on their poems inspired by the
works of art they were studying in their English class.
In this class, a student who has had to leave her mother behind in the Dominican
Republic is finally able to express the ache of that loss in a poem because she has seen
something in the way Jacob Lawrence captured similar grief. Her classmates listen and
respond thoughtfully, and it is her first experience of feeling successful in school.
Another student in the same class who is from Bangladesh shares her own poem about
missing her mother and a connection is made between the two young women across
the boundaries of language and culture. Aesthetic encounters can sometimes serve to
make us feel less alone.
To teach under the influence of Maxine Greene is to be committed to helping students
understand how and why to attend deeply to their world. It is to nurture one’s
creativity and imagination in the face of “domesticating forces” and to be “resistant
to socialization and control” (p. 319). While there have been several cycles of educational
reform initiatives since 1980, school remains a primary site of domestication.
Learning is measured and quantified through seemingly endless rounds of
standardized tests, leading to a privileging of subjects with readily measurable
outcomes.
Amid the school reform talk, one rarely hears about the need for young people to
develop the capacities that are nurtured through encounters with the arts. There
may be some recognition that studying music enhances mathematical skills, or
sometimes there is a perfunctory attempt to “enrich” an academic unit of study with
the inclusion of some thematically related poems or images, but almost no attention
is paid to the art of paying attention that can be cultivated through aesthetic
The High School Journal – Winter 2018
4
education practices. Seldom is the work of art at the center of study in an “academic”
classroom.
Engagement with the arts can activate students’ imaginations to enable them to conceive
of other possible lives.When opportunities to participate in guided inquiry into works of
art are woven into the culture of schooling, we can begin to see what Greene describes as
aesthetic education, teaching what it means to “be responsive to new vistas and new
forms. . .to move students to fresh insight and awareness” (p. 317). Aesthetic education
as a philosophy is a movement that appears to be gaining more widespread attention,
with practitioners among teaching artists, teacher educators, and classroom teachers.
Teaching and learning through inquiry that consists of questions, discussion, and handson
exploration of the arts helps to cultivate the qualities of thought and attention that can
lead students to develop the habits of mind consistent with motivated lifelong learners.
This engagement with works of art through questioning and dialogue must also be
accompanied by hands-on art making, which is necessary to enable students to
“confront aesthetic objects with a quality of attention different from what they would
have been capable of if they had not themselves experimented and explored” (p. 319).
Giving students the opportunity to create their own works of art is an essential part of
the aesthetic experience. Not only does it create an opportunity for young people to
express themselves, it helps them to understand the power of symbol and metaphor as
the vehicle for that expression. Art making puts young people in touch with “the
artistic-aesthetic and the part it plays in the human experience” (p. 317).
This is a mode of teaching that focuses on the live transaction between the work of art
and a person. We teach students to approach a work of art with an open mind when we
begin the inquiry by asking “What do you notice?” This steers the discussion toward
observation and description and away from premature opinion and interpretation. The
goal is not to become an expert; it is to become awakened to possibilities. When we
bring students into an encounter with a Jackson Pollock painting our purpose is not to
talk about what we know about Abstract Expressionism. In an aesthetic education
context, we take the time to guide them to notice patterns in the movement of the paint.
We encourage them to sweep their arms to follow Pollock’s movements to have the
sensation of this unique and muscular approach to painting, and through this movement
we observe the deliberate choices the artist made, the rhythm, the way he danced
with paint. Through guided questioning and art making experiences, we teach students
to actively encounter the work, trying to empower students to see for themselves.
Aesthetic education encourages students to see more than can be seen at a cursory
glance. It requires something of learners. Reading literature or appreciating a work of
art is regarded as a transaction in which each fresh encounter holds the potential for
new perceptions and understandings. “The point of such activities,” Greene tells us,
“would be to make people see, to break with compartmentalized viewing, to take new
standpoints on the world” (p. 318). While many educators do recognize the potential
for these new ways of seeing and thinking to inform learning in a variety of positive
ways, those unfortunately do not seem to be values dearly held by any major education
policymakers in recent years. Arts programs in schools very often lack sufficient resources
in the form of time in the school day, space, and materials. Because the arts are
not among the subjects of standardized tests, they are given a low priority. Starving
these programs is an effective way to limit their reach and impact.
Aesthetics and the Experience of the Arts was written in 1980, just a few short years
after New York City’s Mayor had balanced the city budget through drastic cuts to
Teaching Under the Influence of Maxine Greene
5
schools, laying off many thousands of teachers and cutting “non-essential” services
like after-school arts programs that had served thousands of young people who lived
at or near the poverty line. Similarly, public schools all over the country—especially
those serving poor children—still suffer from a lack of education in the various arts.
Greene argues that education in the arts, when it exists at all, is viewed by many as
“self-indulgent play” rather than the means by which to develop essential cognitive
skills. This is unfortunately just as true today, although the tide may be turning as more
teachers engage in practices that allow works of art to be “vividly present,” and not
merely “set before the uninformed—to be admired from a distance” (p. 319).
It is encouraging thatMaxine Greene continues to be a powerful voice in teacher education.
Her work remains fresh and necessary, and educators continue to be introduced to her
writings. Those who knew her recall that she was always much more interested in questions
than in answers. She often held gatherings of friends, artists, and teachers at her
home. She sat by the window and in all seasons, would discuss the view of the street and
the park, the walkers, the runners, and the changing trees. Nick Sousanis and Daiyu
Suzuki, two of Greene’s doctoral students at Columbia University’s Teachers College,
created a comic called “To See…What She Saw.” This work, begun in collaboration with
Maxine and completed after her death, attempted to represent her philosophy in visual
form, using as a metaphor a large tree that grew outside her window. She had often
expressed a wish that she could draw that tree, as she discussed its form and its dynamic
and constantly changing nature.
In an interview with Teachers College Record, Sousanis said: “Maxine’s philosophy
isn’t something that would end with her. It’s something she would give to other people
and it would grow in its directions in them” (Sousanis, 2015). By its very nature,
aesthetic education is a practice that “grows in its directions” in the practitioner as we
learn to “teach what it means to pay heed to the appearances of things, to be responsive
to new vistas and new forms” (p. 317).
When we do see aesthetic education in practice it is most often in elementary schools or
among older students in the humanities—particularly in English classes. In these classes
our practice involves helping students “see themselves as encountering the art of imaginative
literature” (p. 318) rather than reading purely for information or analysis. That is
how we begin to lay the “necessary foundation for the development of aesthetic literacy.”
Aesthetic literacy is transformative as we begin to perceive in new ways, make new
connections, and continually ask questions. This new way of being does not end at the
schoolhouse door. Rather, to “be active in the world as a listener and a beholder” (p. 319)
is to challenge the limits of perceived reality and imagine new possibilities. To practice
aesthetic education is to be aware that we are in a constant state of becoming, and to
understand that there is always more to be seen and heard.
To enact the philosophy of aesthetic education is to bring students “in touchwith their own
perceived landscapes or that which might allow them to seek out their own imageries,
symbolisms, or expressive forms” (p. 318). The challenge is to persuade educational policy
makers that imagination and creative expression are important capacities for students to
develop. These capacities are not merely “ornamental or therapeutic.” They are necessary
“if persons are to be more than passive receptors, calculators and technicians” (p. 321).
This is not about turning all students into professional artists. It is about teaching people to
observe more, tomake connections between ideas, to see possibilities they would not have
imagined otherwise. Immersing young people in the aesthetic offers them nothing less than
an alternative to the anesthetic. When young people are educated in the qualities of
The High School Journal – Winter 2018
6
attention nurtured through aesthetic education they may begin to question the surface
appearance of their world. Aesthetic education places emphasis on the role of the imagination
in education. As Greene says, “imagination permits the seeing of resemblances” (p.
320). At a time when the world seems fixated on differences rather than resemblances, the
imagination can help to foster empathy and forge connections.
Our current political climate is polarized by fear and resentment, creating an environment
that leaves us subject to authoritarian tendencies. For our students in the newcomers’
high school, the aesthetic education workshops came during a time when
anti-immigrant rhetoric was becoming an increasingly prominent issue. Telling their
stories in response to the work of such artists as Frida Kahlo and Jacob Lawrence and the
poet George Ella Lyon whose poem “Where I’m From” is often used as a model for
students’ autobiographical poems was far more than an academic exercise. It took
courage for them to write about their experiences and share them with their classmates.
The students were so invested in finding their voices that they became willing to share
their work with the wider world. We produced an anthology of their writing, called
Nobody Knows the Stories of Others, titled after a line from one of the students’ poems.
This effort was a beginning, a drop in the ocean of challenges these young people would
face as they went forth into an increasingly hostile world, but the experience helped to
empower them to be more articulate and confident in their ability to take action. Beyond
their own experiences of self-expression, the students attended thoughtfully to each
other’s work and became a true community of learners. This was no mere exercise; these
high school students were truly writing their lives. Brandon’s poem in response to
Lyons’ “Where I’m From,” vividly depicts his experience as a young newcomer:
I am a broken toy
in the factory where I am from
and the last thing a factory needs
is another broken toy.
I am from a golden heart
that is too heavy for my body.
From delicate snowflakes hugging me
during the nights
and falling on the hard ice.
I am from the world of teenagers who can’t sleep at night
because we are afraid of the future.
I am from the dreamers who carry a will
that people left behind
and the ones who keep ghostly promises.
I am from the bright side of the moon
where my house is placed in the street
I am from far far away
where kids get scared in the park at night.
I am an astronaut lost in space with no more oxygen
I am from I don’t want to go to school
I don’t know these people! Or
They don’t know me.
I am from being late to school because
“the bus was late”
Teaching Under the Influence of Maxine Greene
7
but the reality is that I got lost in my thoughts
with my head in the clouds
and my feet on the ground.
I am from a stolen childhood
where I lost all my faith.
I am from asking “Can you tell me where I am from?”
moving from one place to another without
my own home.
I am from being lost in the storm
From two different timelines
stuck
in the past, living in the future.
I am from wishing to create a bright future
from a dark past.
I am from myself
and nowhere else.
Greene begins her article Aesthetics and the Experience of the Arts: Toward Transformations
by quoting W.H. Auden’s poem“In Memory of WB Yeats” in which he says “poetry
makes nothing happen” (p. 316). Poems and works of art themselves cannot change anything,
of course. It is the transactions, the live encounterswith poetry and otherworks of art
that bring about change by changing people. People are transformed when they “wrench
themselves from their submergence in the ordinary and live for a while in the imaginary
world” (p. 316). A truly well rounded education must include such opportunities ifwe are
to be able to see beyond the horizon to imagine better possibilities for our world.

 

Works Cited
Burgos, A. (2014). Untitled poem. in Nobody knows the stories of others. (Gulla, A., Sherman, M, eds.)
Anthology of student poems and artwork from Kingsbridge International High School, Bronx, N.Y.
Common Core State Standards http://www.corestandards.org/ Date Accessed 9/8/2017.
Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York, NY: Penguin & Company.
Greene, M. Aesthetics and the experience of the arts: Towards transformations. The High School Journal, Vol.
63, No. 8 (May, 1980). pp. 316–322.
Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute lectures on aesthetic education.
New York, NY, Teachers College Press.
Lawrence, J. (1941). Migration Series. Museum of Modern Art website. https://www.moma.org/interactives/
exhibitions/2015/onewayticket/ Date Accessed 9/8/2017.
Lyon, G.E. (1999). Where I’m from: Where poems come from. Spring, TX. Absey & Company.
Molina, B. (2014). “Where I’m From” in Nobody knows the stories of others. (Gulla, A., Sherman, M, eds.)
Anthology of student poems and artwork from Kingsbridge International High School, Bronx, N.Y.
Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great American school system. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Rilke, R. M. (2001). The poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. (A.S. Kline, trans.) Poetry In Translation www.
poetryintranslation.com. Date Accessed 12/21/2017.
Sousanis, N., Suzuki, D. (2015). Continuing a conversation with Maxine Greene in comics. Teachers College
Record Volume 117 Number 10, 2015, p. 1–6 http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18103, Date Accessed:
9/8/2017.
Sousanis, N., Suzuki, D. (2015). To see what she saw. http://spinweaveandcut.com/maxine-eugene/ Date
Accessed: 9/8/2017.
Tavares, S. (2004). Civil war battlefield. Unpublished student poem. Middle School 190. Bronx, NY.
The High School Journal – Winter 2018
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Poems from my Neolithic travels

For the past few years my wife Ann and I have been visiting Neolithic sites in the UK- from the remotest Scottish islands to England and Wales- sometimes on our own, and lately with our English and Welsh friends Carol and Owen, whom we met on Easter Island. So we’ve been traveling the world looking at very old giant mysterious stone things and we just can’t wait for the next adventure. This last visit was to the Welsh island of Anglesey, where Owen’s family has owned land since at least the 1500s. They have a beautiful rustic cottage in the midst of sheep roaming the hills. There are lots of Neolithic sites on Anglesey, and we had a wonderful time roaming around standing stones and burial cairns such as the one pictured below.

Here is a poem inspired a bit by some of the ancient sites in Anglesey, and a bit by a particular site called Maes Howe which we visited on our last trip to Orkney-. It is a structure built into a manmade hill- stone walls covered over with turf and a low stone-lined entrance, opening up into a large, rounded chamber tall enough to stand up inside, once you have crouched or crawled the length of the entryway to get there. It looks very similar to this one, which is in Anglesey. At Maes Howe, there is a moment in winter that everyone waits for- the sun aligns exactly with the entryway to the cairn and the inside is flooded with light. Here is a poem that is at least in part about that phenomenon, and imagining what it must have been like to witness as a Neolithic person and how seeing that stone chamber fill with light must have seemed like magic. It also made me think of being in a movie theater- a darkened chamber with a source of light and drama. 20160523_121613

Your Neolithic Life

On the day you are born

a storytelling of rooks

takes flight from the trees above your slate roof

over the low-linteled cairn whose walls

align to winter sun just for an hour’s

respite from endless cold and dark.

We raised these stones to capture the solstice—light

magic is the sacred seed of cinema.

Limestone awash from a single ray—the sun-

filled chamber promises that light will return

with or without you.

The wheel turns another click,

gravity pulls you a few inches closer to the core.

The midwinter sky settles around your shoulders,

in the creases of your palms, in your hair.

You crawl down the rock walled entryway and wait.