Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Grief and Art and Teaching

8.31. 14 Collage: A World of Risk and Randomness (M.A. Reilly)

I. When a Child Kills

I first read an account by Gregory Orr of the accidental shooting of his younger brother in the book, Poetry as Survival, that Matt Daly, a friend and colleague, loaned me.  In the text, Orr tells of a hunting accident that happened when he was 12 and killed his brother. The book is elegant as it is raw and Orr conveys how poetry helped him to (re)name his experiences, not in some complete and finished manner--but rather in bits and pieces he managed across years. He tells there that he has never healed.

Early in the text he writes:

Poetry as Survival, page 8

For Orr, Mrs. Irving's introduction to poetry, especially the lyric poem, offered him a powerful and lifelong means to begin to explicate feeling by naming. When we name we give meaning and in doing so we sometimes resituate what frightens, terrorizes, confounds and puzzles us. Poetry as Survival recounts Orr's journey connecting his experiences with the works of poets like Lawrence, Wordsworth and Keats--to name but a few.

II. Grief

In this Sunday's New York Times, Orr writes a powerful essay, When A Child Kills, recounting his trauma and linking it to the young nine-year-old girl who accidentally killed her instructor at a shooting range a week ago in Las Vegas. Orr concludes the essay by writing:

from New York Times, SR8, 8.31.14

III. Teaching and Art

I'd like to think that there is a Mrs. Irving waiting for the young girl from New Jersey next week when they each return to school.  A teacher who offers something in the way of art to help the little girl begin to move from silence to (re)naming her world. I'd like to think that next week when school opens here for most children, there are countless Mrs. Irving's waiting with poetry and art and open hands.

What teachers do matter in ways that cannot be calculated with neat and tidy rubrics or classroom observations. Teaching is an intimate act. Rubrics and the like are hopelessly incomplete as teaching is more often about love and sharing what is loved.  For Mrs. Irving, I imagine it was a powerful love of poetry that had her offering up poems to a young Gregory Orr and his classmates.  An offering that reshaped his life.

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