Wednesday, April 6, 2022

2022 Post #23 -- Golden Moment, Potent Ending

 by Brett Vogelsinger

When I first read Eve Ewing's poem "testify" on the Poem-a-Day email from, the bright optimism of the images at the heart of the poem, the friendly exchange between neighbors on a beautiful day, and the spiritual connotation of the word "testify" all left me enamored with the poem and encouraged by its words at the end of a particularly tough day of teaching. 

I shared it with two colleagues during our PLC time before sharing it with students, and found one of them brought an entirely different interpretation to the poem.  "All that repetition at the end . . . and then the last word, 'yet.' I find that ominous!" she said. 

On my first reading of the poem, I saw the conclusion of the poem as life-affirming, a sort of carpe diem, akin to the last few lines of Rudy Francisco's poem "Complainers."  But my colleague's reading complicated things.  And so did my students' reading of the poem. 

Most of them liked the poem but disliked the ending, finding the repetition neither life-affirming nor ominous but bothersome, without purpose.  "Oh, that much repetition is certainly not an accident.  Look at how the lines break.  Look at how much real estate this conclusion occupies. It matters.  This is purposeful!" I told them. We theorized about what that purpose might be. 

 Later, when I read it out loud in a professional development session after participants had a chance to read it silently, one teacher told me, "I pictured that part read much slower than you just read it," and when I reconceived the poem read with the ending at a different pace, it changed the poem again for me. 

Like all my favorite poems, this is a poem that gets more interesting each time I read it.  I feel like I understand it the first time, but then I keep understanding it more and differently as I read it again and hear how other people respond to it. 

And that is the lesson I share with this poem: that great poetry changes when you hold it to the light and look at it from different angles. There is not one path to understanding and interpreting it.  So if this poem is new to you too, don't overthink how to share it with students.  Just share it with them.  Ask what they like about it and what makes it different than other poems they have read.  Enjoy the authentic response and discussion that ensues, and enjoy how it shapes your own reading of this memorable poem.  

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, Sevenatenine, and contributes monthly posts at Moving Writers. Follow him on Twitter @theVogelman.

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