Teachers Act Up!

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

Tag Archives: creative writing

Where o Where do the Posts Go?

Was the blog just a fad that I happened to hit? If only I had a twitter word limit or some kind of “get fit; go blog” challenge.  When writing gets in the way of writing, that’s a good thing I suppose.

The update is that this week I’m in the zone–working with the most fabulous, complicated, extraordinary group of students, creating a community of deep learning through poetry.  I ask myself, how did I get so lucky to be able to write, read, and teach poetry? How did I find the most generous and talented community of poets to call upon who graciously come to Athens every night to perform their poetry for a local audience.

This week feels so vital and special and I ask myself: self, how can you live more fully in this poetry spirit as often as possible? What is required to be present to art, to students, to personal growth, to community?

We write poems daily and I treat myself like a student in the course, giving myself the assignments I have written for them.  We come to class to delight one another with what poetry teaches us about what it means to be human, to say what hasn’t been said before.

I’m sure this poem will go through many more revisions, but I am so happy to play with language and see what it can teach me about an open heart.  In the spirit of sharing here and reigniting the blog, here’s a new draft (I’m having trouble maintaining the formatting, bear with me–using  * to figure out how to create stanza breaks)!

Don’t End A Sentence With A Preposition If You Don’t Need To

“Well, do you want anyone to come with?”

You, I mutter under breath

to my mother,


just like my fancy college roommate

who schooled me with

grammar and publishing houses

               that bore her family name.


But I knew Mom meant did I want her

to come with me–those pronouns

and their needy relationships while Mom taught


the importance of indirectness

like, “Whaddya wanna eat?” meant “I want Chinese”

or “Just lemme know in the morning” meant “I don’t

really care what time, I won’t be there.”


When I told her no, I didn’t need her to come with me,

she added, “Well, tell me where you’ll be at.”

Be, I muttered.  I’ll tell you where I’ll be, which meant


                 Don’t drive so fast.

                Don’t ask for more pain meds.

                Don’t take Grandma’s checks.

                Don’t say you’re taking food to Jenny

                when it’s for you, don’t


talk that way, don’t make mistakes

with grammar, don’t leave “me” out, don’t

come with me


which meant “do” but she didn’t get that, not really.

Visual Broadsides of Anne Waldman’s Poems

One of the greatest classroom rewards of merging “teacher” and “poet” identities is infusing instruction with surprise: infusing a poetic quality to assignments that lead the instructor and her students to end up in new, unanticipated spaces.  Kapow!  I learn endless pedagogy lessons from poets and then, lucky me, I adapt these lessons for my own use.  Recently, one of my poetry mentor-goddesses, Dorianne Laux, came to town and discussed her use of “visual broadsides” with students.  This assignment asks students to engage with a poet’s work under study in a visual manner–lifting the words from the poem and landing them in a new, perhaps three dimensional, visual/literary context.

Inspired by her facebook album of students’ work, I studied Anne Waldman’s poetry with my students this semester through both performance and visual broadsides.  I regret I did not video record their marvelous performances, but I do have photos of the broadsides. They are stunning works of art in response to art.

I am humbled by what I am learning alongside students in this class and that they rose above any expectations I might have set for the activity.  Thank you to these students for sharing their work.  Shortly I plan to match the slideshow picture order with the student-poet name. Meantime, see the show!

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