Poetry and Restraint: Teaching as T’Shuvah

Restraint. A poet’s restraint. A teacher’s.

The penultimate moment of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station”:

… Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
esso—so—so—so
to high-strung automobiles.

As I do with most poems assigned for class, I began our exploration of “Filling Station” by reading the poem aloud. But after that, instead of asking a question or two or however many it takes to get a discussion going, I took my seat, turned the poem over to the students, and told them that I would not guide or interfere with the discussion, at least not until late in the hour.

Restraint. That’s what I had to practice that day. Even when it meant letting a promising comment go undeveloped, maybe even undetected.

Practicing restraint, I listened, on the first of what turned out to be two full periods devoted to “Filling Station,” to their animated discussion. [Read more...]


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