Friday, April 18, 2008

Visiting Poet

I've just finished two days of a terrific school visit. This visit was like dessert. The school is Mount Saint Mary Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Watchung, NJ. The address is Rt. 22, a heavily traveled highway, so I expected something looking sort of like a factory. Big surprise. And the school isn't really on the highway. I turned off the highway, then drove up a long, winding, tree-lined side road and found the school situated on the top of a hill.

This is the main building, what I first saw as I approached the top of the hill. As you can see, it doesn't look anything like a factory.

As I entered the building, I saw immaculate marble floors and polished dark wood. Up a short stairway I found this lovely entryway.

Here is the main lobby. Not anything like any of the public schools I've visited. Real oriental carpets, brocade chairs and sofas.

To the right of the entryway I found this gorgeous living room. Those are two pianos at the end, each to the side of a harp. Students go here during free time to practice their music. I went here during my unscheduled time, and I visited one combined class in here.

Here's a close-up of the music end of the living room.

On the first day I visited 3 classes of 9th graders. On the second day I visited 4 classes of 9th graders. It was just so lovely to be with big kids again. Classes were all small and the girls were wonderful. I'd sent three poems ahead of my visit, and the girls had read them. So I began with a short reading of those poems. Then we had a Q&A. Great questions—how did you become a poet? who are your favorite poets? how did you develop your reading style? is everything in your poems true? how does it feel to see your own book in a bookstore? why do you write about fruits and vegetables?

After the Q&A I had the girls do a writing activity, followed by a reading of some of the drafts. I used 3 different activities so that the two teachers would be able to use two additional ones on their own.

Lunch each day was in the dining room, also very nice, carpeted, wood tables, nice choice of dishes—and free! A free lunch is a teacher perk in this school. Although teaching staff is all laypeople, there were many nuns as they run the school, serve in various capacities such as principal and bookstore manager, and live in the apartments upstairs.

It was a very friendly place and I loved it. I thank Karen Engelmeyer for arranging the visit. What a pleasure to be with a teacher who loves poetry and knows that there's a big difference between just reading the poems and having the poet in the building. It makes me quite happy to know that within two days something like 120 new poems were written by the girls of MSM.


  1. Hmm, sound great. By the way, what did you answer to "Why Do you write about fruits and vegetables?" I think that would make a good blog post...

  2. Good suggestion. Am putting that topic on the list for a future post.

  3. "Why do you write about fruits and vegetables?"

    "Because fourth-generation programming language references are harder to turn into metaphors"?

    No? Just me? Well, anyway...

    You seem to be having an amazing spring. Got any advice for stepping up my grammar school game to high school? I'm doing my first visit to the latter grades in a few weeks.

    PS: I'm with J9; tell more about your edibles. I'll reply with talk of physics. No. Just me?

  4. J9? Huh? You're already way over my head with your physics talk. I never moved beyond the erg. Re high school--do you mean getting high school jobs or finding appropriate prompts? The first I'm looking for more myself--hard to come by as teachers are so chained to the bell schedule. I've got lots of the latter
    but better regular email me for suggestions.


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