Learning by Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School


Learning by Heart brings together a unique and diverse collection of poems about the experience of school as seen through the eyes of America's best contemporary poets. These poets capture the educational process not only in the classroom but as it takes place in libraries and hallways, on playing fields and at dances. Alternately joyous and defiant, they demonstrate how it is that young people come to find their place in the world.

Most of the poems in this anthology were ...

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Learning by Heart brings together a unique and diverse collection of poems about the experience of school as seen through the eyes of America's best contemporary poets. These poets capture the educational process not only in the classroom but as it takes place in libraries and hallways, on playing fields and at dances. Alternately joyous and defiant, they demonstrate how it is that young people come to find their place in the world.

Most of the poems in this anthology were written between 1970 and 1995, a period that encompasses both the halcyon years of poets-in-the-schools programs and the primary and secondary school years of many of the poets included. Their poems define school in that most contemporary sense — “with a multitude of voices”—reflecting perspectives from African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and Native American as well as Anglo American backgrounds, from both public and private schools in rural and urban environments.

Learning by Heart offers a profound and timely statement about schools and learning as well as the role of art in education. Finally, these poems validate that most important lesson: even the most common of experiences is worthy of creative expression.

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Editorial Reviews

Revisiting school life is a common denominator for readers of all ages; reading poetry about these shared experiences makes the work excruciatingly meaningful. The editors of this collection of poetry about school examined over 700 contemporary American poems, selecting 135 from 100 poets. The editors sought poems that reflected personal past experiences with elementary and high school settings. Some of the poets included are widely known authors such as Paul Janeczko, Robert Bly, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Gary Snyder, and Mel Glenn. Others are new or never been published. Many have worked as poetsintheschools. Poems are grouped into seven sections. Within each section topics run the gamut from bullies to sex to Catholic schools. The poems describe teachers who were nuns, fools, heroes, beloved, beastly, and amazing, and cover adolescent concerns such as friendship, fear, hope, death, love, success, and failure. A list of poets, along with information about each writer, appears at the end of the book. The range of poetry in this collection is very good and some of the poems are spectacular. Readers will be inspired to dwell on their own school experiences and capture them forever in verse. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P J S (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 1999, University of Iowa Press, Ages 13 to 18, 228p, $29.95, $14.95 Trade pb. Reviewer: Bette Ammon
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877456636
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Editors' Note
Painting the North San Juan School 3
The School Children 5
Taking My Son to School 6
Schoolboys with Dog, Winter 7
Spring Glen Grammar School 8
Teacher 9
Home 11
Cruel Boys 12
Beginners 13
Our Room 16
Sunny Days 17
The Sandhills, Early Winter 18
Room 19, Eakin Elementary 20
Zimmer's Head Thudding against the Blackboard 21
Two-Room Schoolhouse 22
Hotel Nights with My Mother 24
The Sacred 25
Poet in Residence at a Country School 26
Letter to a Substitute Teacher 27
Waiting 29
Gee, You're So Beautiful That It's Starting to Rain 31
The Teacher Said 32
Raising Their Hands 33
School Buses 34
Diction 37
Learning in the First Grade 38
Persimmons 39
Spanish Lessons 42
Name Giveaway 43
Faggot 44
Definitions 46
The Spelling-Bee as Foreshadowing 47
Spelling 48
Yuba City School 49
Learning to Read 50
How Grammar School Is Changing 51
Penmanship 52
Catatonia: In a Classroom for the Slow to Learn 53
Rain 54
Reaching to a Sky of Soba 55
Advice to Young Writers 57
Ode 58
Learning Spanish 60
Lecciones de la Lengua, 1970 62
How My Father Learned English 63
The History Teacher 67
Nostalgia 68
Drill, 1957 69
Soul Make a Path through Shouting 70
Janes Avenue 72
Lunch 73
How Steel Shapes Our Lives: Grade Two, Arlington Elementary 74
Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963 76
Sunglasses: Air Raid Drill at Wildwood Elementary, November 22, 1963 77
Plum-Dark Humor 78
Spitting in the Leaves 79
Indian Boarding School: The Runaways 80
The Grade School I Attended Was Next to a Slaughterhouse 81
Busing 82
Bully 84
St. Peter Claver 85
Barbie Says Math Is Hard 86
A History of Sexual Preference 87
Day-Tripping 89
Fears of the Eighth Grade 91
Among Children 92
Autobiographia Literaria 97
Stayed Back 98
Schoolyard in April 99
Escape 100
Trouble with Math in a One-Room Country School 101
Recess 102
Beating up Billy Murphy in Fifth Grade 103
Saving the Crippled Boy 104
Catholics 105
The Beating 107
Sex Ed 108
Third Day of Spring 109
Directions for Resisting the SAT 110
The Truant Officer's Helper 111
God's Stopwatch 114
Field Trip to My First Time 117
Field Trip to the Mill 119
First Grade 123
The High School Band 124
First Practice 125
Homecoming 126
For the Cheerleaders of Garfield High 127
Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio 128
At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School 129
Hockey Season 130
The Pageant 131
In the Elementary School Choir 132
Junior High Dance 134
Going Full-Court 136
The School 138
Cheerleaders 139
When Your Father Is Also Your Wrestling Coach 141
Passing 143
Instruction 145
Stuart Rieger 146
The Supremes 149
Recess 150
What Saves Us 152
Class Reunion 153
Marcus Millsap: School Day Afternoon 155
Flash Cards 156
Pass/Fail 157
M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School 158
Bonfire 160
Dropout 162
Graduation Notes: for Mungu, Morani, Monica and Andrew and Crefield Seniors 163
Merle: Uncle Seagram 164
David Talamantez on the Last Day of Second Grade 166
The Nuns of Childhood: Two Views 171
Shapes, Vanishings 173
Execution 175
Dojo 176
Brother Alvin 178
Teaching 179
Childhood Ideogram 180
Gratitude to Old Teachers 182
School Days 183
The Thing You Must Remember 184
The Schoolroom on the Second Floor of the Knitting Mill 185
Schoolsville 186
Mrs. Krikorian 188
Drawing Hands 190
Zimmer in Grade School 191
The Boy in the Park 192
Mrs. Goldwasser 194
Mrs. Orton 195
Mr. Glusenkamp 196
Miss Goff 197
The Teacher 198
Notes on Contributors 199
Permissions 219
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