Are Poetry & Teaching One In The Same?

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contributed by Triber Glen Binger (@bingbangbooks)

Teaching is about showing someone where to look without telling them what to see. And I think that runs parallel with poetry.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote, “a writer always tries, I think, to be part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.”

That’s what we do. We’re born, we learn, and we pass it on. How we go about doing so is entirely up to us (and sometimes it’s not). Words can change the world.

A poet is one in the same a teacher. We try to assimilate some understanding of this crazy, chaotic world, and then pass it on to whomever is curious enough to look.

Think about the best teacher you've ever had. Then think about your favorite poet. What similarities do you feel? What memories come out to play?

The role of the poet and the teacher is to guide us down a path we seldom travel, showing us where to look, but not what to see or think. The two are nearly interchangeable.

Both can evoke an emotional Deja Vu at the very sound of a syllable.

Language is an art form just as learning. One’s understanding of self is the only way to comprehend others. And in order to build upon that, one must be open to seeing the roads seldom traveled. Human beings don’t grow by staying in their comfort zones. We grow by creating, manipulating, and absorbing.

We make art. We build skyscrapers. We fly spaceships. We lift others up so they can see where the light is coming from. We explore concepts, emotions, and behavior. We analyze the why and the how and the never-ending pursuit of finding purpose.

We then paint pictures with these memories so that those who read them might see more than we see. Words give us meaning. And different words mean different things to different people. Poetry should embrace that the same way teaching should.

You can show people a certain perspective but that doesn’t mean they have to believe it. You can’t force people to learn. Just like you can’t force people to believe what you believe. But you can help them see truth by presenting it in certain light. You can help them see truth by pouring yourself and your passion into your poetry. People respond to passion. They give you time if you give them yours. Teaching is the same. People are better at reading vibes than they give themselves credit for. Always check your chakras, friends.

Poetry is exploration. Poetry is teaching and deep thought. And as Joseph Joubert once said, “To teach is to learn twice.”

When I write poetry, I get to learn it twice. Just as you do.

Poetry teaches us how to ask questions. About things we know and things we don’t know.

If you open your mind and step outside the boxes of form, structure, mechanics and syntax, you just might find the answers you’re looking for. Human beings are narrative by nature. Our emotions have developed their own sense of communication and poetry gives us the opportunity to step into that light.

Teaching others AND teaching yourself.

You can teach people to notice the smallest and most beautiful things - wind ruffling grass like ocean waves. Or you can teach yourself to think deeply about topics as large and depressive as sexual abuse, suicide, or human trafficking.

Anything can teach you a lesson if you let it. If you look for it. All classrooms are different.

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.” - Galileo Galilei

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Some people think only alarm clocks wake them up. These same people have mindsets buried so far below the truth that they don’t realize poetry can too. All it takes is shaking the dirt loose to see what we really are. The roots are in our DNA.

People write poetry because they have something to say. Because they have something deep inside themselves that needs to manifest itself into the world. That burning desire to help make the world better, by highlighting the good or the bad or all the gray in between. People write to better understand things. For the same reason they read.

As poets, as writers, as artists, we feel this overwhelming pressure to help others see. To see the light, the dark, the empty space between particles of matter and how much they make a difference. How much one voice can help millions of eyes and ears.

But it is imperative that we remember we cannot tell our readers what to see. Only where to look.

I currently teach in middle school English and I always try (if there's time in the curriculum) to include a poetry unit near the end of school in June. The goal is to produce a chapbook collection by the end.

The kids love it because they get to experience a form of writing they aren't normally exposed to until high school or college. One that’s not included in nearly enough middle school curricula across the country.

But they really love it because they get to play with and express ideas that aren't generally discussed in the average American classroom. They get to explore these ideas with minimal restriction on form and structure and end up teaching themselves about some pretty deep content. And almost always, they discover a side of themselves they were unfamiliar with or did not even know they had within them. They learn from the act of writing poetry.

And I’m always sure to remind them at the end of the unit: “Poetry is so much more than just stringing together some simple words. There’s always more than meets the eye.”

Friends, the only thing stopping you from learning is you. The only thing stopping you from teaching is you. Write more poetry. Write more stories. Make more art. The world needs more learning how to learn. Creative discourse is the answer we need.

If words can change the world than surely thought must be the roots of progress.

With that, I’ll leave you the wisdom of Tupac Shakur — “I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

- Glen Binger, 2018


Connect with Glen on Twitter and Medium @glenbinger and on Instagram @bingbangbooks. He blogs at ONLY HUMAN and feel free to check out his newsletter. Thanks for reading, friends. Stay learning and enjoy!

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a special thank you to Glen for providing Tribe with this beautifully written article and giving us a look at poetry from a different perspective. I could not agree more with the message in this piece and your students are lucky to have a teacher as passionate about poetry and teaching as you are. I only wish I had a teacher like you when I was in high school and wanting to pursue writing as a career. Thank for influencing our youth with such positivity and realistic, usable knowledge. 

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love & light, 

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