Follow Harriet on Twitter
Too Late, Spring/National Poetry Month
As the faculty sponsor of the literary magazine everywhere I’ve ever taught, I’ve lived out the same painful ritual every year. I beg for submissions from Opening Day on, only to be told the same thing by nearly every teacher I ask, “Nothing yet. But I’ll have lots of creative pieces come April.” I get the general association of spring and creativity—the warm breezes, the pulsating drum of insect hum, the obscene croaking of bullfrogs in nearby ponds, the gaudy colors of early flowers—but I don’t know why so many classrooms wait until the spring to try “creative writing.” ”Come spring, their minds are elsewhere,” some teachers say. (As if students are all fully engaged the other months. And does the corollary hold true: Fall and Winter months pair well with laborious, analytical writing?). Teachers of seniors are particularly despairing: “They have one foot out the door at this point in the year. Letting them write about whatever’s on their minds is the only way to hold their attention.”
Another culprit might be National Poetry Month. It comes nice and early on the regular calendar, but it’s awfully late in the academic year. Is August already taken? September? How about National Poetry Day? I nominate Wednesday (if we can wrest it away from the Prince Spaghetti company).
And it’s not just creative writing I’m talking about. The other day a colleague asked me for a short text that might help his class focus on the tension between fate and free will. When I suggested Gwendolyn Brooks’ “a song in the front yard,” my co-worker said, “That’s perfect. It’s also National Poetry Month.” I found myself thinking how lucky it was that he hadn’t used her up in February (Black History Month) or March (Women’s History Month). I know these official designations aren’t meant to be restrictive, but I think in some cases they carry more weight as prescription than they do as celebration.