> Vu de Berkeley

Vu de Berkeley

Par |2017-12-30T12:28:00+00:00 11 janvier 2013|Catégories : Essais & Chroniques|

On Wednesday after­noons, I teach crea­tive wri­ting to young people. I car­ry my class sup­plies in a can­vas tote bag that sports the phrase “poe­try keeps” in a bur­gun­dy seri­fed font, once across the front and once across the back. There’s no desi­gn apart from the words, this phrase that reminds me of why I write and why I teach.

This fall, I have been tuto­ring two pre-teen Korean girls who moved to the United States  a few years ago. Each week, I incor­po­rate a poem into my les­son. We’re just embar­king on our jour­ney into American poe­try, most­ly from the last cen­tu­ry, and so far each girl has found some­thing that moved her.

We read through a few dif­ferent poets before I pul­led from my tote bag a voice that spoke to me when I was their age, Langston Hughes. After rea­ding “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” one of the girls lea­ned back in her chair, and loo­ked at me. “Whoa,” she said. I smi­led at her, “I know.” We had been tal­king about water­shed moments, life-chan­ging moments, those ins­tants, small and large, that change the way you think about some­thing. We had been tal­king about his­to­ry, about roots, and how expe­riences shape a per­son.

When I asked the youn­ger girl about the poem she has liked best so far, the ans­wer was Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” She said that she feels like that last line a lot of the time : And miles to go before I sleep. I am often sur­pri­sed by which poems connect with a student, but it’s my favo­rite per­so­nal chal­lenge to find the poem that will make them go, “Whoa.” I know by heart the first poem that made an impres­sion on me when I was a child : “Dreams” by Langston Hughes. It still car­ries depth and mea­ning for me, and it ope­ned the door to meta­phor and poe­tic lan­guage as a means of unders­tan­ding and expres­sion. There’s a poet out there for eve­ryone ; you just have to find the right poem at the right time.

In that way, rea­ding poe­try is an act of open­ness. When I browse the poe­try shelves of a books­tore, my fin­gers tingle with anti­ci­pa­tion. I open the book and my mind at the same time, loo­king for­ward to what I’ll find in the pages before me. Poetry is a place where there is no single right ans­wer ; it is a medi­ta­tive and ever-chan­ging space where people can take risks, dive into the unk­nown, or re-eva­luate the fami­liar. The grea­test reward in rea­ding poe­try is in the sense of dis­co­ve­ry it gives me. And when I teach a poem and see my stu­dents connect with the words of someone who lived and wrote decades before they were born, I am filled with awe and satis­fac­tion. Language holds power. It can bring people toge­ther.

Poetry keeps. It won’t spoil. You never lose it ; it will wait for you even if you neglect it for a while. There is always more to read, more to think about. When you dis­co­ver wri­ters who spark some­thing in you, their words enrich and change you. Poetry keeps me enga­ged in life, keeps me thin­king about how things work, what they mean. Poetry keeps people connec­ted through a means of dis­course that bridges dis­tance and time. Poetry keeps sto­ries alive ; it keeps pers­pec­tive in its lines, and it encou­rages ana­ly­sis. Poetry keeps explo­ra­tion in the eve­ry­day.

Every les­son is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to influence the kind of people my stu­dents will become. I hope that my stu­dents become people who pay atten­tion to the world around them, who pay atten­tion to lan­guage, who like to think things through, who don’t give up when some­thing is confu­sing or chal­len­ging, people who find satis­fac­tion in lear­ning and the explo­ra­tion of ideas. I hope that poe­try keeps brin­ging toge­ther wri­ters and rea­ders. May it keep won­der and dis­co­ve­ry present in our days.


Marissa Bell Toffoli

Marissa Bell Toffoli lives in Berkeley, California where she works as an edi­tor, poet, and crea­tive wri­ting tea­cher. She holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, where she focu­sed her work on poe­try. In 2011, TheWriteDeal publi­shed an e-chap­book of her poems, Under the Jacaranda. You can read her inter­views with authors at http://​word​swi​th​wri​ters​.com. When not rea­ding or wri­ting, Toffoli loves to tra­vel, and kick back wat­ching Bollywood movies.