Old Time


April 26, 2013

I am winding my watch
because it is an old watch
and keeps old time, of which I am fond.
— Brooke Horvath, American poet and critic
“Winding My Watch”

(Dr. Horvath teaches at Kent State University A birth date for him, even an indication of which half of the twentieth century, has proven elusive. He has edited a book of poetry about baseball. That makes him good people for sure.)

As I reported at the start of this National Poetry Month project, I have most of my poetry books gathered and arranged alphabetically together on shelves, something I undertook in 2007 as something of a distraction when I was anxious about an upcoming trip. During that roundup, “I’d . . . pulled out all the “feathers” sticking out of the books, those strips of paper I’d torn for bookmarks (another good use for old absentee lists) now curled and yellowing, and replaced them with colorful Post-It flags.”

Many of those feathers had been placed during National Poetry Month in 1997. I was teaching several sections of American Literature then, and I wanted to introduce my students to poetry, both classic and contemporary, that went beyond what was available in our classroom text. The holdings in the school library were meager, but I checked them out for classroom use. To supplement, I brought in a lot of my own volumes. Students were to spend time with these books, reading here and there, and ultimately choosing a poem for a short written analysis. I cut up lots of absentee lists to make bookmarks for them. They wrote their names and their class period on the slips, and I copied the poems for them, so they could refer to them while they wrote their papers.

I remember that unit with great fondness, even though I got reprimanded by the principal for taking a genre approach rather than a chronological approach to poetry study (it was April — we should have been studying Unit Twelve: Modern Nonfiction; Unit Thirteen: Poetry in a Time of Diversity, was for May), as the department syllabus demanded, and for using texts that were not on the course reading list. In addition to all the reading and poetry talk, my students wrote poetry, much of it concrete poetry (poems in a shape that helped illustrate the theme) that they wrote on the white boards or printed on drawing paper that we hung about the room.

I left the classroom after the next year, and never conducted such a unit again. About a year after that, a guidance counselor called me. She had a student whose boyfriend talked a lot about how much he had liked that unit, about the book he read — it was all stories and poems about baseball, but he couldn’t remember the title. (Fielder’s Choice, edited by Jerome Holtzman). She wondered if I did, because she wanted to get it for him for Christmas. Teachers live for moments like that.

When I removed all the feathers of bookmarks a few years later, there were some left from that project. One was a tardy excuse with the name of a young woman whose mother (who had also been my student) had died a few years before. The poem she marked was about grieving for a mother. I found a few others that helped me remember individual students, made me recall what it is I still miss about the classroom.

This morning I opened the February 1997 issue of Poetry. There were no feathers sticking out if it, suggesting that I had not found an individual piece in it worth remembering. It was even possible, I knew, that I had not read any of them. As I paged through the book, however, I did find a marker. It was a torn scrap of a field trip list, and it had a boy’s name with an 8 beside it. It marked the poem I have quoted above.

I have to say, I do not remember this student. I looked him up in the school’s alumni directory, where he is listed as a member of the Class of 1998, with an address in California. He is part of an old time in my life, and though I can recall the energy that those days gave my life, I regret that I cannot recall his particular part in it. I hope he recalls the time fondly as well.


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