Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Poet, Pragmatist

When I picked Skylar up from school on Monday, she excitedly reported that she had won the district-wide poetry contest for her grade level. This isn't the first time. But it meant a lot more this time, given the dynamics of middle school.

You see, even though Skylar has done an amazing job of keeping her distance from the so-called "popular girls" while also fending off the jealousy of students in the gifted program -- she was only admitted this year, but is at the top of her class -- she still needs positive affirmation in her educational environment. And winning an award is one way to do it.

Yes, her fellow aspiring poets may resent her, but the majority of her schoolmates know that they aren't about to win a poetry contest and have respect for those who can. Especially the girls, who are so hard to impress at this age.

The best part was that Skylar was late for school that morning and missed the announcement, which meant that other students in her first-period class gave her the news. The impulse to congratulate is apparently stronger when one gets to be the bearer of good tidings.

Last year Skylar wrote some great poems for someone her age, but didn't win something for the first time since she started elementary school. The reason, as I surmised at the time, was partially that her writing had outgrown the context in which it was being evaluated and partially that her subject matter was too remote for the well-off Foothills of Tucson:
San Francisco

A crumpled mailbox stands
on a sunny Oakland street,
while the smoggy windows of a subway
block out views of the station,
ever in a hurry,
away from spray-painted fences
ripped by yowling Rotweilers,
away to the arches of the sunset,
away to all the alley cats slinking,
and skyscrapers tearing blue cotton,
away from the crumpled mailbox
on a sunny Oakland street.
Her poetry unit this year wasn't very long and happened when she was preoccupied and recovering from an illness. She did all her serious writing in a single evening, coming up with two poems she was happy with. The first, inspired by visiting my mother in the hospital, was my favorite and hers:

The Hospital

A crinkled mattress sighs
In the small hospital room
Over patients

They came and went
Some dying
Under the plastic sheets
Cheap as dime store bubblegum

Others escaped
The fluorescent tubes
To watch the sun
Bleach rooftops

And shove despair
Into the shadows,
Slinking away like a
Stray animal

Back to the hospital,
Pale as a scar,
The room
Where light
Might as well
Be darkness
Remembering her experience the previous year, however, she chose to submit the other poem she composed that evening, because it was about school:
My Walk Into School

My coat feels itchy
Clinging to me
An extra skin
I seize it

To protect me
From the rain splattering the pavement

I shuffle past
The cars
Stained with the shivering rain
Dull as the frowning sky

I shuffle down the crosswalk
dappled with wet freckles

Students walk
In front of the school
Staring at me
In my big, black coat

Their eyes drive me
Into a mental fishbowl
On display

The rain shrivels
When it bounces off my coat
But the stares seep right through
And dampen my spirits

I would rather blunder
Through a hurricane
Than have to make it
Past this crowd
Personally, I prefer the school poem she wrote last year, which has a more complicated nesting of tropes:

The swift girls and boys glide,
as an assortment of varied clichés,
while a lone drop of rain plops
in an ocean far away,
away from the whispering shore.
The ocean water from far away
slinks through a tap
at a department store,
where pencils and erasers are sorted
by their own pleasures,
a fraction of apples and oranges,
never knowing what lies
on the other side.
But I understand why the poem she wrote about her big, black coat won the district-wide award, even though I wish she could stretch herself without being punished. Thankfully, she feels the same way. Given the boost in confidence that winning this year provided, however, her pragmatic approach to the contest was clearly the correct one.
Tags: daughter, poetry

  • Weekend Update

    I frequently feel like writing something longer and sometimes writing it here. Unfortunately, my windows of opportunity these days are five minutes…

  • Hammer Time

    It is hard to be here. As I much as part of me wants to return, I clearly exhaust my will in other ways. But I can at least muster up the energy to…

  • Home and Away

    We're into the second half of my daughter's two-week backpacking trip in the High Sierra with Outward Bound. That's a big deal for both her and her…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.