Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 14: Charles Rammelkamp on "Stealing Poetry"

Toward the end of Elisa Albo's charming classroom poem, "Stealing Poetry", in which students speculate on the motives of the person who stole the teacher's book. we get the sly observation that the thief may be attracted to "an apt turn of phrase, an ambiguous line break."

For the poem starts precisely with an ambiguous line break:

The teacher walks into class empty

The next line begins "handed". Somebody "has stolen her/poetry textbook" (another ambiguous line break, adding a frisson of suspense),  but the line stands by itself as a unit of meaning.  The teacher comes into class empty. It feels like it could be a spiritual or an existential condition.

Elisa Albo
Why is the teacher empty? Is this the old joke about the teacher being clueless without the answer book in hand? One senses she feels violated, as we all do when somebody steals something that belongs to us. Even if the book were simply lost or misplaced, it's still a loss.

But the theft quickly becomes a joke. The security guard wonders why anybody would steal poetry. And then the situation becomes "a teachable moment," as they say. We get a variety of guesses and speculation that reflect the perspectives of those who make them—a reed-thin student who waits tables at a nude bar, the housewife whose husband has left her, the former gang member, the lady who shops at Bloomingdale's, a religious student.

And by the end of the poem the teacher begins to feel whole again, to have recovered her equilibrium. The classmates have come together. They "open their books/and share their poems with her."

Unspoken but hovering over the whole poem is the question, what is the value of poetry? This poem is an answer. —Charles Rammelkamp

1 comment:

nlevinedesign said...

I haven't read the poem, but Charles's comments makes me want to. It is such a kind and adept reading.