Saturday, April 4, 2020

2020 Post #21 -- Words of Comfort

by Brett Vogelsinger

Since reading a poem is a daily ritual in my class, patterns develop in our poetry selections.  One of those patterns -- yes, a pattern students observe in much of the literature we read in English class -- is that writers often tackle dense, heavy, depressing topics.  Poetry is no exception.  And I would argue it is important to bring these types of poems to our students.

However, we also live in an age of crushing anxiety, and each year I see more students struggle to maintain their emotional health.  I want to be sure that English class, and particularly a routine that begins our class period most days, does not deliver a daily dose of doom.  Picture the Pavlovian effect of that for a moment:  Bell rings, gloomy poem emerges on the screen, discussion of humanity's darkest moments ensues. . . what might be the effect of that day after day after day on our students?

Derek Mahon's poem "Everything Is Going To Be All Right" interrupts this pattern when we need something to reassure, comfort, or uplift our class.  The poem does not ignore that the world is full of problems, just as English teachers do not, but it does remind us of the healing power of nature, of the importance of taking time to observe and notice, of cycles and hope and the potential to begin again.

Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard, a psychologist who specializes in childhood and adolescent anxiety, recently spoke to teachers in my school district about the science of hope.  She said that "teachers are ambassadors of hope."  If I am to be such a teacher, I must introduce my students to the power of words not just to identify problems and give them voice but also to explore solutions, find peace in the face of turmoil, and provide comfort when we feel lost.

So I leave you with Derek Mahon reading his own poem in a video, and a question to pair with this poem for students:  What brings you comfort in troubled times?

Further Reading:

Brett Vogelsinger is a ninth grade English teacher and NBCT at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA. He is the founding editor of Go Poems, facilitates his school's literary magazine, Sevenatenineand contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers.

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