Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lighting Fires With Educational Arson by Sarah Windisch

Language is one of the most powerful tools we have.

Look at the news right now for an example of what happens with it breaks down, when it offends, when it is wielded to harm another - whether purposefully or under the guise of information.

There’s a reason the pen is mightier than the sword.

I am a poet. The imposter syndrome is allowing me to tell you that, Friends of WeirdEd, to make a larger point this week. That point isn’t, “Go buy my book. It’s available at bit.ly/EdArson and everyone should read it because it’s very good.” (That is an extremely valid point, however, and you should.) [Ed. Note- go buy Sarah’s book, it’s real good.] The point is: a poet writes with an economy of words and a precision of language that is meant to create a universal understanding.

That’s the part you should picture meme, by the way: a poet writes with an economy of words and a precision of language that is meant to create a universal understanding.

I know, I know. So many people get turned off by poetry and the analysis foisted upon it that looks more at the construction and rhyme scheme than the beauty of the words. I mean, I’m glad you can tell the difference between a haiku and a cinquain, but in a short form like that, with such strict structures, why are those the most descriptive words that could possibly be chosen?

When Adelaide Crapsey (this one’s for you middle school teachers - I know you want to teach about this poet) says “frost-crisp’d” in November Night, how much better is that than “rattling” or “brown” or “autumn”?

Playing with language to find just the right word forces you to clarify what you think. It’s the compositional equivalent of listening to understand, not to reply. Slowing down. Making ideas clear and sharp. If you want to be understood - and this is the fundamental piece - and create understanding with another, there should be no static in your statements. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have room to learn and change and grow. It means that you say what you actually mean. You can explain it, but because of the precision of your words, you may not need to. And, because your ideas are crystalline, others can look through them to see their own beliefs and how they align or diverge.

Allow me to present an example from a book of poetry mentioned earlier, Educational Arson. (I hear it’s phenomenal and the author is very clever.) The poem that people want to talk to me most about is on page 43, under Blisters and Scars:

How will anyone ever know

You’ve tried if you cover up


Scratch out

Every bit of evidence

Whether it’s flattering

Or not?

Readers have applied this to their own lives, their lives as teachers, as students, to their students, they’ve read it to their students about trying. About failing. I never, out of all the poems in the book, would have guessed that this would be the one that resonated most. But look at the language. I’m going to blame it on “scratch out.” Scratch out an incorrect answer on the test. Scratch out “whore” in the bathroom because you tried to love the best way you knew how. Scratch out the feelings into your arms and legs because seeing your own blood is the only way you feel anything anymore. Then you cover it up. You hide it. Because it’s not flattering. But no one will ever know. Because you’re not saying anything at all. (Disclaimer: these are not my experiences, nor those of my readers that I know of - they are creations of my fertile, but probably accurate, imagination.)

That’s poetry analysis.

That’s precision of language.

That’s listening to understand.

That’s probably something that could help soothe our aches as humanity.

Struggle and play with language.

Tussle with it. 

Emerge victorious with

Confident vocabulary.

But words cannot be precious

They must be malleable

So that your ideas

Can be honed



And the pen remains


Than the



Sarah Windisch is a music teacher in North Idaho. She blogs at slwindisch.blogspot.com, and enjoys spouting off on Twitter @slwindisch. Her first book of poetry is called Educational Arson is available on Amazon for your reading pleasure.

No comments:

Post a Comment