I am back on campus two days per week, surprised at the way being here has lifted my spirits. I am in a new role (a return to academic development), in a new office (one building along), meeting some colleagues in person for the first time. My office plants have miraculously survived. Today I arrived early and enjoyed a coffee in the winter sun, while reading poetry from Kathleen Quinlan’s (2016) collection How Higher Education Feels. This poem, first published in This is so gay: LGBTIQ poets on the art of teaching (2013) struck a chord for the awkwardness of being new to teaching, and the power of poetry in the classroom:
School of Embodied Poetics by Nina Pick
When I first started teaching, I thought
my students could see my heart on my sleeve.
I thought they could read the footnotes of
a body splayed open as a book.
I felt embarrassed to have such a
visible heart; there was something shameful about
the whole goopy mess, its ungovernable pulsations,
its lightening blush. It seemed none of my students
had a heart like mine; their hearts were bundled
in their baggy sweatshirts like a packed lunch.
I stood up there on the first day and
dug my hands into my pockets, thinking I
could hide my heart and its waywardness.
I slumped my shoulders, faced
the blackboard, shouted from
behind the projection screen.
But wherever I stood, my heart sparked
like a disco ball, doing
its unmistakable kaleidoscope dance.
I went to my supervisor: I’m so
embarrassed, I said. I think my students
are judging me harshly. They’ve probably
never seen such a heart before.
She shuffled papers, looked at
the results of my classroom observation.
She said, Well, the best you can do
is be a role model. Maybe they’ve never had the chance
to learn about the heart. Try teaching it
the same way you teach grammar.
So I went back to class, and returned to
the living pulse of the text:
I glimpsed the luminous globe behind
the poem’s dark ribs, felt its warmth streaming
through form, through syntax, through meter’s
tangled orchard. I saw the poem as a latticework
interwoven with sun. Each sentence was
parsed by the light.
On the desks we drummed
the heartbeat of the iambs. My heart led an
orchestra of small flowers.
And here is the author reading it:
Nina Pick · School of Embodied Poetics, Audio Recording