I’ll Burn My Syllabus

A pedagogy that cannot respond to change is at best a zombie pedagogy. Monday morning I came in to my office to learn that Seamus Heaney had died over the weekend. Because one of my goals in my Introduction to Literature is to present literature as a living tradition that is constantly moving, I decided to throw away my plan for the class that day and look at one of Heaney’s poems (“Follower”) instead.

Then, because many of my students had been asking how a poem is made, I wrote my own poem on Heaney’s death and went through it in class, explaining where the ideas had come from—how the first line was one of my first thoughts when I read the news (and how I tweeted it before thinking it could become part of a poem), how different parts came from different things I had done over the weekend and different associations I had with the dates (as well as something another instructor here said to me). I also talked to them about how I took phrases, and finally lines, from Heaney’s poetry and incorporated them into mine, and we talked about how some poets use others’ words to a much greater extent (because I would never want them to think that there’s only one way to make a poem).

It was a frightening thing to do, sharing a poem in the afternoon that I had only written that morning, but taking risks like that is the best way I know to build trust with my students and to encourage them to take risks, too.

A Memorial Poem for Seamus Heaney, from Another Archipelago

while I was floating in the Pacific, Seamus Heaney died
while I was floating with my too-squat pen
firmly lodged in my shoes
on the snag
on the shore,
Seamus Heaney died

while I was floating, I released
my hair, my memories of my Father
fishing on the other side
of the Pacific, hiking
with me alone of all three siblings
to the stone tower on Orcas Island

while I was floating, one day ahead
it was still the day my Father died
twelve years before in Seattle

and in Ireland, Seamus
Heaney died

and the next day I was floating too
at Enamanit
with a Senator and a Spanish Ambassador
—important men, and still it rained,
each drop reflected back up from waves
and gathering concentric
circles to itself—pocks on salt

—and when it ceased
I thought I didn’t have the words
for the sun caps on the waves
or the blues—cerulean, ultramarine, made-up verdimarine
wouldn’t do—and I still didn’t know Seamus Heaney had died

and Monday when I got online, I knew
the words had fled
English
with his life

—because Ireland’s rare sun
reveals greater seas
than snotgreen—

as the words for trust & love
fled my tongue a dozen years before
as I was floating

Seamus Heaney died

tonight, in the lagoon, I will float some more
at high watermark
and floodtide in the heart

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