Friday, April 27, 2018

sooo imperfect

Friends, by a timely miracle, I find myself to be a part of a book I wish I had had as an 8th grader.  It may already have been too late for me then, 12 going on 14, younger than everyone else, striving to be fine, better than fine, perfectly fine as I understood was expected of me.

It was a hard facade to maintain, especially when it came to math; how could I possibly work in base 2 or 5 if I had no systemic understanding of base 10?  Luckily, I was told by the authorities that it didn't matter: I was a poet, not a mathematician.  But the striver in me knew that in order to be fine, better than fine, perfectly fine, I ought to be able to calculate in base 5.

But what if I had had Imperfect?  This anthology of poems about mistakes for middle schoolers, collected and edited by my friend Tabatha Yeatts, might have relieved me.  Instead of walking around cracked and "patched together unattractively with metal staples," I might have discovered kintsugi.  I might have found opportunities to acknowledge and mend my breaks beautifully.  You'd see my "precious scars" made of liquid silver, my pottery bowl full instead of leaking, leaking all the time.

Which poems might have spoken to me?  Surely the opening poem by Ruth Hersey, "Syllabus for Eighth Grade," would have let me know that falling off your chair was to be expected, that it would be normal to

experience rejection,
heartbreak,
elation,
humiliation:
some days, all before lunch.

I would have looked for tissues on the teacher's desk, and if there were none, perhaps I would have realized that something was wrong.

I might have learned that silliness, that "sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life," can helpfully include laughing, especially at yourself.  "Make a Mistake, For Goodness' Sake" by Charles Ghigna might have helped there, full of exhortations to be "wild and woolly...honest and fair," to

Just be yourself. Take care of your health
And don't listen to people like me.

And Margarita Engle would have helped me understand a little earlier in life that "since I'm smart" and brave enough to "ride a crowded bus all the way to downtown Havana," it doesn't mean I have any wisdom.  Better to let Perro the dog

...eat simple dishes
like boiled rice
with raw crickets
his favorite
treats.

And finally, perhaps having the anthology Imperfect would have demonstrated that we don't lose anything in making a sincere apology for our mistakes.  Michelle Heidenrich Barnes knows it:

closed door
between me and you
knocking

Humility heals whether the door opens or not.  I'm grateful to Tabatha for collecting the work of dear friends like Linda Mitchell (whose diamante sinuously converts "Mistake" into opportunity) and Catherine Flynn (whose "The Laws of Motion" captures perfectly he way middle school society works) and many others.  I'm enjoying returning to classic poets like Amy Lowell and Carl Sandburg.

I close, glorying in imperfection, with a familiar, mysterious favorite of mine, by Antonio Machado, which reveals how not-quite-certain I am that it's really okay to be broken-and-repaired:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt---marvelous error!---
that I had a beehive 
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

I guess that's because, as Ruth Hersey concludes,

nobody has ever mastered
the art of being thirteen
going on fourteen.
Or any other age, really.
We're all just figuring it out as we go along.


The round-up today is with Irene at Live Your Poem, where you can catch up with her ekphrastic project (ugly word for a beautiful thing) and with the Progressive Poem.  Also, thanks for checking out the progress of my 2nd-graders' own progressive poem in the previous posts.  We're flagging a little in the home stretch and would love to have your encouraging comments!

17 comments:

  1. I love this, Heidi! What an honest, heart-filled, kintsugi-decorated visit. Thank you!

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  2. I know. Striving despite the imperfections is a delicate balance. How easy should we be on ourselves? Acceptance is not resignation... just talking this through to myself this morning...I'm excited to get a copy. It may be in my mailbox, just haven't had time to get mail for a week.

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  3. Vampire vs. Venti made me laugh out loud--decoffinated, indeed. So wonderful to add some humor to the mix.

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  4. You've just described perfectly, Heidi — or very nearly, since none of us are perfect ;) — why this book should be in every classroom, school and public library, and on every bedside table of every 4th-9th grader! Thanks for including "Forgiveness" in your post, and thanks also for making me laugh out loud yesterday when I read "Vampire vs. Venti." Brilliant!

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  5. experience rejection,
    heartbreak,
    elation,
    humiliation:
    some days, all before lunch.

    Love these lines, and I'm so looking forward to reading this anthology.

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  6. I work with middle schoolers and I feel like you must have been there watching my kids. Such a hard, hard age. I have GOT to order this book this week! Thank you for this beautiful post!

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  7. <3 I love your review. I can't wait to get my copy!

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  8. What a beautiful celebration of mistakes and poetry! I know I wish I could have had this anthology. I will have to make do with from now on as I'm still figuring it out as I go along!

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  9. I have my copy, and have read and loved each part, Heidi. My students, too, would have loved and been helped by it. You've written a beautiful celebration of this book created first by Tabatha.

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  10. Just received my copy and am making my way through this wonderfully rich anthology. Love your review here, and Ruth's line, "We're all just figuring it out as we go along." Good luck with the wrap up for your students!

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  11. If I didn't already have this book on my to read list, it would be there now.
    After reading all the posts last week and yours today, I have been reflecting a lot on this quote by Leonard Cohen, "There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

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  12. This is such a beautiful post! I love how you shared bits and snippets and wove them into an incredible whole. I haven't had a chance to dive in, but will do so this weekend, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to it.

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  13. Oh, the angst, the pain, the humiliation of middle school. I love how you weaved this post together with snippets of poems from this wonderful collection.

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  14. Heidi, I love every word of your thoughtful and heartfelt review of Imperfect! I have been dipping in and out of its richness since my copy arrived. "We're all just figuring it out as we go along." These words bring as much comfort to me today as they would have given my very insecure 13 year old self. This book is a gift to everyone striving to be "perfectly fine" each day.

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  15. We're all just figuring it out, indeed! Thank you for this celebration of IMPERFECT... so many gems to help us feel okay, just the way we are. xo

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  16. Great review. I squealed when I got my copy, but haven't had time to dig in!

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  17. I love how Tabatha sprinkled quotes among the poetry. And how you've strung this necklace of gems from within the covers. I'm still reading my copy. I already feel like those words are healing a perfectionist crack in my heart.

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