O-Pioneers-9780553213584[1]

 

Besides teaching at Goddard, I teach at Sheridan College, a small community college in Sheridan, Wyoming.  Every once in a while we get an amazing student.   T. is one of the student-consultants in our writing center. He is a music major who is an excellent percussionist, but he has suddenly discovered literature. He comes to my American Literature class simply because he wants to. He is not signed up for the class and will get no credit, but he does the reading and comes to class. He is planning on doing the final project simply because he has suddenly discovered that he loves it.  The first novel we read in this class was Willa Cather’s O! Pioneers. T. loved the book and often stopped in my office to ask me about a character or about a passage. His joy in the discovery process lit up the room.

Most students do not do this stuff, and so I do not think it is coincidental that I have written four poems in the last two weeks after a drought that lasted a year.  While I have had other good students, T.’s deep engagement in our reading and discussion has spurred my own thinking, and my own feeling. He has, of course, pushed me to think more deeply about the book, but his engagement has also pushed me to think about and engage in the writing work I love. As we read and talked about Cather’s writing, I finally began thinking in images again.  I had been trying to write a poem about the animal prints I see in my yard when I come out in the morning after a fresh snow, the invisible traffic of the night, and time after time, over the last year the poem never happened. Then this week, it came to me as a sonnet. I was so out of practice that I used a rhyming dictionary, but the sonnet works nonetheless. For the most part, it came smoothly and easily, and I knew I had slipped back into the place where I find poems or poems find me.

The point here is that I do not think we ever write in a vacuum. I am grateful to (and for) T. Someday, if he doesn’t disappear out of my life, I might tell him how grateful I am, but now, as young 21 year-old, he probably could not comprehend that these interactions, these joyous moments around literature, are as important for me as they are for him, and that because of them, poetry has come back to me.

 

Jane Wohl