Parts of Speech

I am not a poet.

But, it is my particular curse to see most everything as a metaphor. A punished-by-the-gods paradox of my life.

I have not the poet’s finely calibrated ear for sound, where each syllable can play to the poem’s symphony of meaning. Within the many meaninged poem of the skilled poet, words, images, and ideas tease harmony with one another, rarely yielding, taut.

I have not the poet’s patience. As I write now, the poet’s patience is elusive, for blog and poem profess different allegiances to time.

And, I have not the poet’s tenuous W-2s. To be a poet, all in, is not easy.

Nevertheless, I am poetic. Life and school have taught me to be.

Gwendolyn Brooks told me I was, too. At least, that’s what I choose to believe. In 1999, I was delighted to receive an award from the Guild Complex in Chicago for a poem I entered into Gwendolyn Brooks’ annual contest. Twenty-five of us were feted and asked to read our poems to the audience. That August night, among so many hip hop leaning lovers, writers, and performers of ars poetica, was a highlight of my poetic life.

Recently, I came across that poem, “Linguistics” (copied below), and, fated as I am, began to re-read the poem as itself a metaphor. Not surprising perhaps, about teaching and learning. About how much pressure teachers can place on young people to be grown-up, expert nouns. With all due respect to nouns, we teachers can sometimes equate our effectiveness with whether or not expert nouns emerge from our courses.

And, this is dangerous.

We can want so desperately for young people to become expert nouns that we forget that our job is to help young people acquire adjective-level interests and skills.

In teaching, zealousness provokes as much danger as apathy: one too controlling, one not enough, both can disrespect the poetry in life each young person must make.

A teacher’s passion must find its symphony between the two, a lively space where the student experiences spirited guidance without the heavy expectations of a teacher’s personal agenda. The burden of these expectations, for the student to become something rather than to experience the qualities of something, can create resentment in the student. Resentment for the teacher, yes, but as importantly, for the critical skills the course should be designed to offer.

Neither zeal nor apathy, a teacher’s spirited guidance helps the young person to acquire, for example, poetic interests and skills — not pressure to be a poet.

Similarly, in science, to acquire scientific interests and skills — not pressure to be a scientist. In history, to acquire historical interests and appropriate skills — not pressure to be a historian. In math, to acquire interest and skills mathematical — not pressure to be a mathematician. In the fine and visual arts…

Under spirited guidance, young learners play in the spaces of expert nouns without feeling the pressure to become those nouns.

Then, as interests and skills tease one another toward greater meaning, toward the poetry each human life can make, who knows what expert nouns may emerge?

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve.
And I began playing with words.”

Gwendolyn Brooks


― a poetic blogger


Hip Hop

your op
to the
top of

the “arg”
about that — all about
your meaning

the constructed syntax
was yours
the lexicon

when syntax and
do not
one another
that is
Ips op

to a new


(“Parts of Speech” is dedicated to Mr. Katz,
the spirited guide of our second child through freshman Biology.)