Breathing Life into Words

As so many children go back to school, there’s been much discussion about it on the web. My days of sending children off are long gone but not the memories of their days in school. Combine that with some poetry discussions and one of those old school memories emerged. But I’ll get to that later. The truth is poetry surrounds us. From the the youngest of children’s books to the songs that we love to sing, there is poetry.

But for some reason, if you say poetry to most school-aged children, they will shriek, cover their ears, and close down their brains. Maybe because they’ve never been shown how much poetry touches their lives or how exciting it can be.

My daughter decided to whine one night at dinner about how boring it was to study Edgar Allan Poe. (OMG! Can you hear my deep sigh? I knew what was coming.) My husband almost jumped on the table. How could anyone call Poe boring? The man was a genius!

My daughter prepared to defend her position – she lost before she had a chance. My husband began to recite The Raven. Both our girls sat stunned at their father’s rendition.

The next day, my daughter told her English teacher that her dad loved Poe and could recite The Raven. The teacher asked if he’d do it for the class.  My husband said surely and then asked me if I’d get some black material and make him a grim reaper-sort-of hooded thing.  At seven o’clock, I’m running to the local hobby store to buy a few yards of black material. The next morning, he left for her school expecting to do his thing and go to work. The surprise was on him.

The teacher politely introduced him to the class. There he was in dress slacks and a white shirt, looking very much like a father who worked in an office. (He was a computer guru…um, developer/programmer.) As he donned his black (think pillowcase with arms and a hood – I had two hours to buy the material and make this) costume, he told them a wee bit about Poe. Then he started.IMG_9896

Low and slow he began to recite The Raven. He was such a darn thespian/clown. No one stirred. The whole high school classroom sat glued to his every word. And when he had finished he told them don’t just read it, READ it, breathe life into it. Get caught into the emotion of the words, because poetry is a form of expression, it will make you laugh, sing, cry, sway, dance, think, wonder, or fall in love.

He never did go to work that day. He was passed from one English teacher to another, each clamoring for him to recite The Raven to the students.  He wasn’t certain how many times he recited that poem, as he lost count along the way. But the effect was always the same.  To the students, this was just another dull piece of literature and Poe was just another boring author, until someone breathed life into it. To hear it with emotion, changed their perspective. (I can picture him flapping those long sleeves and making other dramatic moves. His voice rising and falling depending on the line.)

The teacher called at the end of the day to thank him and then called back much later to tell us that every class he had visited and changed. A noticeable change in attitude towards the classics and literature in general. They were seeing things with new eyes, looking for those sparks and ways to breathe life into it.

If you’ve not read The Raven recently, you’ll find it HERE. Take a moment and see if you can breathe life into it. Can you find the deep despair and torment of a man who has lost a lover? Writers write and good writers breathe life into what they are writing. Poe breathed life into what he wrote.

There are many greats in the arts. Some have done it with paint or stone, others with film, and some with words. Today there are plenty of talented writers who write poems or stories that touch something inside of us. Is there someone you love to read? Do you keep a few authors in your watch box and wait for their next book? Tell us your favorites.


4 Responses to Breathing Life into Words

  1. Lily Bishop says:

    This is a great story. My husband recently played some readings of The Raven that he found on YouTube, and our middle school kids were entranced. Sometimes I think that teachers forget that some poetry is meant to be heard, not read on paper.


    • E. Ayers says:

      Thanks, Lily. My husband was friendly but on a day-to-day basis, he was a quiet man. He also had acted in every school play while growing up and was an excellent musician so he did all the talent stuff. He had no problem being center stage. He had a blast reciting Poe to those kids. He knew he was opening their minds to history and literature.

      I never thought about it, but YouTube must be a great resource for homeschoolers and teachers. I used to joke that if they ever taught history by showing an epic movie, more people would enjoy it.


  2. fionamcgier says:

    I had the same experience with doing a long-term sub job where I had to teach the students a short story called, “The Yellow Room.” It’s from the beginning of the women’s rights movement, and it’s about a woman going insane from not fitting into the demands of her “role” in life. The dept. chair suggested I use a taped voice reading the story, because he told me the students always hate this one. I read it and it was easy to see why…almost no action. And true enough, the students were bored to tears, sometimes into actual naps, while I dutifully played the tapes to the bitter end. After that, they began to criticize me, telling me I shouldn’t have made them listen to that dumb story. I asked them if they understood what was happening, using some of the discussion questions in their book. None of them had any idea.

    Then I began to visually paint for them a picture of what had happened, telling it in my own words, explaining with graphic imagery, what the woman’s insanity led her to do. The students were horrified and spell-bound. Afterwards they told me they’d had no idea all of that was in the story. And most aced the follow-up quiz. Sometimes even having a story read aloud won’t do it…there must be a live person there to “connect” with the audience, to entrance them to enter the fictional world. That’s when the magic begins.


    • E. Ayers says:

      I remember that story. It was part of my college English. No one got it. Finally, I just sort of said, “Folks, it’s called postpartum depression.”

      They still got a blank look on their faces. Even the male professor looked at me with a strange look on his face. They may have had the reading skills to read it, but not the life experience to truly understand it. That was such a weird story, that it’s amazing that it’s considered classic.

      I wonder how many times English lit teachers wind up teaching history so that the students understand that so many things were actually political dissertations?


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