Billy Collins, the Word Crafter

Blogged under writing by Tammy on Monday 18 October 2010 at 10:54 am


Last week, I went away for a few days to a conference for English teachers. I rarely travel, and while I was only away for a few days, it felt like I’d been away forever, as if I’d gone to another planet almost. Some of that is probably due to my lack of travel abilities. I’m just not that keen on it generally. However, some of this “other worldly feeling” was because I was literally in a world of English teachers, people of like mind who enjoy and appreciate word crafting. We were all together on a college campus, attending lectures, listening to panels, and networking with one another.

You wouldn’t think this is that big of a deal, but a teacher’s life tends to be surprisingly solitary when it comes to contact with other teachers. We go to class where there’s a room full of students, go back to our office and do our office hours, grade papers, create and prepare our curriculum, grade more papers, and that’s pretty much how the work day goes. If I happen to see another teacher, it is either a quick “hello” in a hallway or maybe (if I’m lucky) a 15 minute chat in one of our offices or we are at some boring meeting that doesn’t really allow us to chit-chat. We each have our own schedules to keep to, and so it’s pretty rare for all of us to “be” together even though we do work together.

At the conference, though, I actually got to hang out with six colleagues I work with as well as meet many others. I tend to prefer the “fly on the wall” routine when it comes to social mixes, so that part of the conference, admittedly, was the usual awkwardness for me, but even given that, I came away with an improved appreciation for my professional work.

A major highlight of the trip was an hour-long reading from the poet Billy Collins. I teach a few of his poems during the poetry section of my ENC1102 class. In fact, I start with his “Introduction to Poetry,” which students always enjoy. They “get” him, and this makes them feel less intimidated by poetry and more open to it during this section of the class.

One poem he read that evening was a particular favorite of mine. It is entitled “Schoolsville”, and if you know an English teacher, you should send him or her the link! He was exactly as I thought he would be too: funny, laid back, and (totally) charming!

Poets are very much like crafters in that they construct pleasant things. Instead of glitter, beads, or yarn, they craft with words. They play and create prototypes with these intangible items and then offer them up for us the enjoy.

The trip has not really changed my thoughts on traveling, but it did remind me of how rejuvenating it can be to spend real time (as in not virtual Internet time!) with 3-D people who enjoy what I enjoy and think similarly to the way I think.

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