Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Negotiating the Poet-Teacher Balance

I drafted yet another poem yesterday. The beat goes on, apparently. And it seems that I'm not the only Frost Place person to be in the zone. Since last Friday, four participants have either shared new drafts with me, asked for revision advice, told me they were writing furiously, or talked at length about poems they were reading. Given that several of these people do not feel comfortable calling themselves poets (or, I should say, have not previously thought of themselves that way), this is a momentous turn of events. Something large has happened, creatively.

The director of any program must attend to tricky points of balance. Her job is to facilitate the session in ways that make it most useful to the participants. She cannot take her own gaps and lacks into primary consideration. In other words, she has to behave like a teacher. In my case, the irony is that I'm leading a program that focuses on breaking teachers out of that mold: that is, the impulse to neglect their own inner lives for the sake of their students' inner lives. Metaphorically, you could say that I'm working to help our participants fill their own cups so that those cups will then overflow into the lives around them.

In the process, I sometimes find myself doing exactly what I'm attempting to keep the participants from doing: that is, I put my students first, put myself last. I say sometimes because I'm aware of what's going on. And when I can do so gracefully, I try to show them that habit and model how I work to shed it. My conference is all about trying to figure things out, to consider how to integrate our responsibilities with our ideals, to deal forthrightly with our own longing to create emotionally and intellectually satisfying work even as we support others' longing to do the same.

In the privacy of my own room, I am full of arrogance about my poetic vocation. I think such inner confidence is vital. If I don't love my own work, who will? And why should I bother trying to make something that I don't value? But in the act of teaching I dowse my light. That's important: no one wants an arrogant teacher. Still, I need to figure out a way to model the vitality of this private confidence without being pompous and self-aggrandizing. I want every one of my participants to go home aflame.


Ruth said...

Yes in so many way! I’ve always found it hard to write with my students who were younger than the ones most of the conference participants had because they needed such constant personal attention. But, I too have been working furiously on a rather lengthy poem. That white heat so many speak of hit me last weekend and I wrote for nearly an hour. It is all of a jumble and now needs rearranging, trimming, adding, settling and all those things necessary for this “hot mess” to become a poem. Finally I can say I write poetry.

Carlene Gadapee said...

I'm so grateful we've all gone home with our lamps lit...and they seem to be staying lit! This year's conference did not engender so many tears; this time, it really allowed us to engage and stay engaged with our creative selves. Amen to that. Thanks for all you do to shepherd us!