Saturday, 22 December 2012

Tasting the Glass

06:25:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , 2 comments

 by Ashley Lister

 As part of my job I sometimes teach poetry to people with learning difficulties.

Maybe that’s the wrong way of phrasing it. Teaching sounds like too grand a title for some of those classes. And learning difficulties sounds like a catchall misnomer that borders on being insulting. Also, with poetry, I firmly believe that you can’t teach poetry: you can only facilitate the education of poets.” However, if someone asks me what I do with my Thursday mornings, I usually say I’m teaching poetry to people with learning difficulties.

And the taste of each experience is truly satisfying.
Last week one learner, new to the class, decided he didn’t like me. In any other class, when a learner doesn’t like me, they might smile more with a grin that never touches the eyes. They might scowl when my back is turned. They might make harsh comments to their peers about my lack of professionalism, or my obvious absence of academic competence etc.

This learner simply fixed me with a glower and said, “I don’t like you.”

“You’re not the first person to say that this morning,” I said blithely, trying to make light of the social embarrassment. I gave him a winsome grin to show that I was unoffended by the remark.

“But I really don’t like you,” the learner insisted. “I think you should fuck off.”

It wasn’t particularly pleasant but the honesty was surprisingly refreshing. It was so refreshing I was tempted to do as he asked and simply fuck off.

In another class, as I struggled to explain the concept of considering opposites in poetry, I urged one learner to think of pertinent contrasts that might work for a piece of writing. “Think of extreme opposites,” I said, “such as black and white, night and day or home and…”

I left a pause for him to make a suggestion.

“Home and a gun,” he said obligingly.

In a different class another poet produced a beautiful sonnet called ‘Window Lickers’.

The term window lickers is a cruel pejorative aimed against those with learning difficulties. Because of his condition it was a term with which the learner was painfully familiar. The metre of the poem was flawless. The rhyme scheme was structured and orderly. The sentiment (that the ‘window lickers’ in the poem’s title are treated with scorn and contempt by the rest of society) was stunning in its eloquence and imagery.

In a lot of those classes the most important topics for many learners tend to fluctuate between conspiracy theories and religion. A more cynical writer might try to draw parallels between those two subjects. Personally, I figure that any writer producing material in which they are emotionally invested is a writer writing from the right place.

Conspiracy theories and religion might not fire my interests but as I said at the start of this blog, I’m not telling learners what to write: I’m facilitating the education of poets. And it really does produce the taste of satisfying poetry. 


vicky ellis said...

I love that you start with the assumption that your learners are already poets.

Great post :-)

Ashley R Lister said...

Of course they're already poets. Why else would they be in a poetry class? :-)