At the request of a few friends, I am posting a poem I wrote a few years ago. It brings together two important parts of my life–woodworking and teaching–that are eerily similar at times.
For my students
“I’ve never been good at English,” he says as we look over his
Essay, and he is right, the paragraphs
Run out, the word choice rough, the syntax warped, and each idea is
Misshapen, bent. (I bet he’s good at math.)
“Let’s start with content,” I begin, and ask him just precisely what
He means. “Now write it down.” He hesitates
Before he scribes his line, but he does. “Good,” I say, “and now you cut
Out everything that does not quite relate
To that.” He’s just beginning to see why his content is so slim,
But see he does, though not that I shape him.
A subtle, almost silent work, the shaping of all these shapers.
They think that they are learning just to write,
But they too are written, by parents, entertainers, all makers,
And all add pieces, some solid, some light,
Most brittle and unnecessary, so that when they reach this class
My work begins, as restoration must,
With tearing out the ill advice, the wrongheaded notions their last
Teachers put in, then sweeping up the dust,
And putting up the frame: the word, the sentence, paragraph, thesis—
The lumber, joints, sometimes the carcase, plans,
All elements of essays, but of human minds also pieces.
We teachers always hope that each young man
And woman that we teach will gain some skill, of course, get better at
Our craft, but further, that the craft will rouse
Some latent, deep-grained beauty of a soul finding order so that
Each will become a piece of some great house.
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