Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

You can get poems from the news.

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
― quotes from the famous American poet, William Carlos Williams

While one may not get the literal news from poetry, poets are often actively responding to the news around them through verse.  The pen, the keyboard, the performance microphone–these are some artists’ tools with which to navigate engagement in the public world. Sometimes the act of writing poetry can help one bear witness and bear the grief found in daily reports of the worst possible human behavior.  These are what I think about as I prepare a new poem this week alongside my students’ new poem drafts.  Responding to Theodore Roethke’s work as well as Larry Nassar’s abuse of young female athletes for decades, I use the poetry tools at my disposable to make artful sense of horrifying abuse and those who were complicit around him.


~after Roethke’s Dolor


I have known the dizzying rush of deep tissue

manipulations on my table; lean, muscular torsos,

young hips and barely breasts exposed, breathing

complaints of pain down sinewy calves through tiny

feet I lifted, like a god, to puckered cabin ceilings, teasing

ungloved fingers at ball and socket joints, measuring

downy beginnings with classic “thrust” techniques

to diagnose, reduce inflamation, prepare for the win.

And I’ve worn jackets in the team’s white satin, cock-

tails with coaches, university presidents, eager-to-please

parents begging for my time to poke and prod,

fill medal and trophy cases with gymnasts,

dancers, rowers, runners, swimmers, figure skaters.

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