Radio Diaries: Studying Poetry

Nov 14, 2017

When my granddaughters were about eight and ten, I offered to teach poetry as part of their homeschool curriculum. One afternoon a week we sat around my dining room table to read and write together.

It wasn’t long before Emmy asked, “Why are we reading more boy poets than girl poets?” A teachable moment. Because that’s what I studied in college, I explained. Literature written by white males and taught by white males.

We spent the next year studying African-American and Native American poetry. Followed by  Chinese, Japanese, Latin American. And lots of poetry by women.

For me, the best moments were when—after the discussion and laughter—we sat in quiet concentration with only the soft squeak of our pencils moving across the paper. Then we would read our work aloud, with no disclaimers, no apologies. At the end of each year, we memorized favorite poems and recited them to our captive audience of parents and grandparents.

Poem by poem, our lives had grown larger, our bond stronger. Edna St. Vincent Millay described this journey in her 1912 poem, Renascence, which brought her recognition at age 19, not much older than my granddaughters.

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky—
No higher than the soul is high.
       (lines 203-206)