These Simple Joys, The Quiet Pains

It’s that time of year again—teaching time. Even in the hustle and bustle of my crazypants busy schedule, I love spending the many hours it takes to teach a successful poetry workshop. I’ve got a wonderful crew of students this go-round, and even at just the midpoint of the course I can easily say that—though my students are thriving—I’m the one who will gain the most from this class.

Having the opportunity to revisit many of my favorite poems and refresh my skills by teaching them to my workshop students is an absolute thrill. The simple joy of seeing one of their poems transform and evolve before my very eyes is one unlike any other. Before I started teaching these online poetry workshops, I’d always thought teaching wouldn’t really be my thing; I’ve seen so many great writers let their own work fizzle and fall by the wayside because their teaching duties eclipsed all other creative endeavors. I never want to let that happen to me—my creative outlets are far too precious to become the kind of thing I do when I have time. And perhaps teaching in some other format would be different, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that teaching in an online forum has had the complete opposite effect on my writing and creative energies.

This past week, our class focused on sound as meaning in poetry, working on what I like to refer to as the theory of poetry. Scansion describes the rhythms of poetry by dividing the lines into feet, marking the locations of stressed and unstressed syllables, and counting the syllables. Thus, when we describe the rhythm of a poem, we “scan” the poem and mark the stresses (/) and absences of stress (^) and count the number of feet.

Amidst the complex diagrams explaining scansion and prosody with fancy-pants poetic terms like hendecasyllabics, caesura, and stanzaic enjambment, my students wrote some rally thoughtful, musical poems. One of those poems affected me in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I suppose I should have expected to be a little extra emotionally raw in my grief, with Father’s Day approaching this weekend, but in the busyness of the last few weeks, I left myself unprepared. My student’s poem about wanting to bury her husband in a place where she could visit him, brought me back to wishing for the same things when my father passed away.

Though my father had made his wishes for cremation clear, after he died I longed for a traditional cemetery plot and burial for my father. I found myself wishing desperately for a place I could go, a place where he was, to grieve for him. When my family discussed the plans, my dad knew what he wanted for as his final resting place. He said to us, “Pick a night with a good sunset and face east, because the sun rises in the east and brings new life, represents the seasons.” He continued, pointing then to the small, private area where he wanted his ashes spread. “It’s the Native American way of life, it feels clean and healing, a need to embrace the possibility of the closure of life. The eagle is flying over us right now, look—it’s a messenger from God, a good omen.”

Before we drizzled his ashes there, I fantasized about a casket and a cemetery plot. Someplace traditional, someplace I could go. But of course I know now that it would always be better there in our private space than a graveyard next to 94 West could have been. I remembered paddling that October day to sprinkle his ashes into the water–the colors of the sunset, peak leaves twisting in the trees. The varied shades of green filling the space around the water in layers. The inverted reflection of the trees, shrubs, and grasses, darkened by the tint of the lake water.


Things have been a little rough lately; I hate to admit that, but it’s true. I’ve been quietly missing my dad more than ever, feeling far away from my family, wishing I could undo so many things that can never be undone, and dealing with the busiest schedule I’ve had in a while (which is really saying something since I almost always have too much on my plate). But reading my incredibly talented workshop student’s poem reminded me that even when I want something so bad, when I wish things were otherwise, even when I think I know what’s best or what should be, things always resolve one way or another. I make it through to the other side.

I’ve been suffering from terrible insomnia and awful nightmares. Again. Battling the demons of my past in my sleep to the point where I wake up bruised and sore, ribs and vertebrae out of place, multi-day migraines as bonus follow-ups. I’m exhausted and fed up, ready for a peaceful night of sleep and relief from the aches and pains. But even now, when I’m still so in it, I know that this is just another phase of my moving forward, that after this round I’ll be glad for the experience. I know that the only way for me to move through these rough patches is to open myself up to them, get out of the way while my psyche recalibrates. Kind of like hitting the reset button, I just have to hang in there and wait for things to reboot.

And in the meantime, I’m a-gonna keep on being me, enjoying the incredible people in my life and those simple joys I feel from helping other poets find their way. To keep walking through my struggles—as quietly or loudly as I please—until I can turn around and see it all behind me, far away in the distance.

One thought on “These Simple Joys, The Quiet Pains

  1. Teaching, at its best, incorporates many of these delicious moments of connection–ourselves with the students, certainly, but also ourselves with the surprising, ingenious ideas and writings we get to see our students produce, and the reactions they unexpectedly draw out of us. In ways, we gain as much as we give. That’s the main thing that keeps me in the classroom…

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