Friday, April 23, 2010

poetry as a second language

First I must express right up top my gratitude to Kate Coombs at BookAunt, to Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect and to Gregory K. at Gotta Book for their generous and careful attention to my work during this month of poetry festivities. Apart from anything else, I just love the feeling of being part of this community! Thanks to all who make it be.
My classroom is a little community in itself: surrounded by books (since it used to be the Reading Specialist's headquarters), I am one of four teachers who use it daily. I arrive as another, exemplary "Reading Initiative" teacher is finishing with her second-graders, and as I'm wrapping up my first-grade teaching session at 12:30, two ESOL teachers are preparing to conduct their small groups (often simultaneously!). We do pretty well at sharing our slice of real estate, and all this eavesdropping on other teachers is very educational. It's had other influences, too, and tomorrow morning I'll take the ESOL Praxis exam to become certified to teach ESOL as well as general education.
Meanwhile, as our public charter school Founding Group prepares for a Q&A session with the school district's review panel, I come to the section in our application on provision for students who are speakers of English as an additional language. Here's the poem by Gregory Djanikian that opens this section:
How I Learned English

It was in an empty lot
Ringed by elms and fir and honeysuckle.
Bill Corson was pitching in his buckskin jacket,
Chuck Keller, fat even as a boy, was on first,
His t-shirt riding up over his gut,
Ron O’Neill, Jim, Dennis, were talking it up
In the field, a blue sky above them
Tipped with cirrus.

And there I was,
Just off the plane and plopped in the middle
Of Williamsport, Pa. and a neighborhood game,
Unnatural and without any moves,
My notions of baseball and America
Growing fuzzier each time I whiffed.

So it was not impossible that I,
Banished to the outfield and daydreaming
Of water, or a hotel in the mountains,
Would suddenly find myself in the path
Of a ball stung by Joe Barone.
I watched it closing in
Clean and untouched, transfixed
By its easy arc before it hit
My forehead with a thud.

I fell back,
Dazed, clutching my brow,
Groaning, “Oh my shin, oh my shin,”
And everybody peeled away from me
And dropped from laughter, and there we were,
All of us writhing on the ground for one reason
Or another.

Someone said “shin” again,
There was a wild stamping of hands on the ground,
A kicking of feet, and the fit
Of laughter overtook me too,
And that was important, as important
As Joe Barone asking me how I was
Through his tears, picking me up
And dusting me off with hands like swatters,
And though my head felt heavy,
I played on till dusk
Missing flies and pop-ups and grounders
And calling out in desperation things like
“Yours” and “take it,” but doing all right,
Tugging at my cap in just the right way,
Crouching low, my feet set.
“Hum baby” sweetly on my lips.
Why is it so hard for big school systems to allow that Play Is Learning?


  1. Hi, Heidi!

    There's something about baseball as a metaphor for boys' social lives -- right? Just checked out Bill Zavatsky's poem "Baseball" in "Poetry Speaks Who I Am" so it was fun to read another take.

  2. Great poem and I also liked your one line comment at the end.
    Good luck with your exam tomorrow!

  3. Great poem! And the title of your post today is great, too.

  4. Thank you for sharing this poem. The author is new to me and I always appreciate this sorts of introductions - how can I not feel at ease with a poet such as this? :)

  5. Hi Heidi,

    This poem is a hoot! And so true. I hung around international kids in college and we were always laughing about stuff.

    Good luck with ESOL exam tomorrow!

    Laura Evans

  6. This cracks me up! Just yesterday, my newest English learner, who's only been in the US for about a month (Korean, with a kick-butt electronic dictionary) was writing his "I Am From" poem. He wrote that he is from a flower and he's the seed that flew across the ocean to the USA. I asked him what kind of flower and he looked it up in Korean on his dictionary. I fell back laughing out loud when I saw DANDELION on the screen!!!!!! (It still makes me laugh!)

  7. Lovely poem - I love Djanikian!

  8. Loved his ability to capture the hilarity of the moment. Beautiful. Best wishes on your exam.


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