On Being Poetry Homework

I had the opportunity to chat with my former teacher, Suzanne Lummis, at the Café Solo celebration. It is always stimulating to talk shop with her, but in this case something she said really got my wheels spinning. She mentioned that she is currently using the Open Windows anthology in her introductory poetry classes. Because one of my poems is featured in that anthology, this means her students are reading my work very carefully as part of their studies. What greater satisfaction could a writer want than to know others are reading their work with care? Somewhere I heard the average amount of time spent admiring a painting in a gallery is something like six seconds. Likewise, it seems all too common that we leaf through poetry books in a quick and cursory way. I know I am guilty of this as well.

But for all my rhapsodizing on the positive implications of Suzanne teaching one of my poems, it suddenly occured to me: my art has been assigned as homework. The dreaded drudgery of academic life that prevents parties, curtails social interaction, and keeps you from remaining in college forever: is homework. The moment turned sour at the thought of someone having to read what I wrote.

Yet thankfully, I recall the moment during a lecture at Mt. St. Mary’s (so far my only, but still treasured, poetry teaching experience) when I had the privilege of introducing a young college student to Pablo Neruda. She read Amor, America out loud in Spanish, and I could see a deep chord had been struck in her psyche as she described her ancestral homeland through Neruda’s eyes. To think my own homage to Neruda anthologized in Open Windows might possibly have a chance in itself of connecting some future student to the great legacy of poetry–well, that washes the bad taste from my mouth at the thought that my work has now become homework.