Poem of the Week, by Jane Kenyon

If you’re interested in taking one of my one-day creative writing workshops this fall, you can check them out here.

In grad school my stories often came back with margin notes like Repetitive; you’ve used this word three times in two sentences and Transition needed here and Let the reader know how this was done or said, e.g., “she shrieked wildly.”

Me, internally: But I meant to use that word three times, and I see no need for transitions, and maybe you love adverbs but I don’t. These professors didn’t like my writing and I didn’t like theirs, so it was a relief when I took a workshop with someone who knew exactly what I was trying to do. Who admired my writing the way I admired his. Whose one or two sentence responses on the last page of my stories were all I needed.

My last semesters of grad school were completed via independent studies with this writer, except that they weren’t. I’d fill out the forms, he’d sign them, and then… I’d just take his workshop. Again.

It worked out great. When I read this stunning poem below those long-ago days of silent, fierce rebellion flashed over me.

Trouble with Math in a One-Room Country School, by Jane Kenyon

The others bent their heads and started in.
Confused, I asked my neighbor
to explain—a sturdy, bright-cheeked girl
who brought raw milk to school from her family’s
herd of Holsteins. Ann had a blue bookmark,
and on it Christ revealed his beating heart,
holding the flesh back with His wounded hand.
Ann understood division. . . .

Miss Moran sprang from her monumental desk
and led me roughly through the class
without a word. My shame was radical
as she propelled me past the cloakroom
to the furnace closet, where only the boys
were put, only the older ones at that.
The door swung briskly shut.

The warmth, the gloom, the smell
of sweeping compound clinging to the broom
soothed me. I found a bucket, turned it
upside down, and sat, hugging my knees.
I hummed a theme from Haydn that I knew
from my piano lessons. . . .
and hardened my heart against authority.
And then I heard her steps, her fingers
on the latch. She led me, blinking
and changed, back to the class.

For more information about Jane Kenyon, please click here.
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