Manifesto from the Muse


Poetry is not for the classroom

(Not only for the classroom.)

Poetry is for the campfire and the coffeehouse, for the hospital room and the night stand.

Poetry is not for the academics and it is not for the masses.

It is for you and me.

It is cultural glue, the echo between us and last week and last century and going back further to the “rosy-fingered dawn” of time itself.

Poetry is the shoulder we stand on to look out over the crowd. It tells us where we are, which way we are going, where we’ve been.

Read it. Speak it. Sing it.

Send it in a love letter.

Recite it to your mother-in-law.

Discuss it with your imaginary friends,                                                                                    and the real ones, too.

Pick an argument with the ghost of a dead poet. Give a dramatic speech to the phantom about how far he fell short of your expectations or how she broke your heart with beauty and “why oh why couldn’t you leave an instruction manual on how to write like that?”

Pick a poem and love it. Put it in a handsome frame next to your desk. Memorize its contours.

Learn it by heart.


Keep a worn out folded up copy in your pocket. Take it out when you’re on the commuter train. Unfold it slowly. Look up every few lines, out the window, at the passing farms, suburbs, former mill towns. Wonder how many other people in those towns may have loved your poem, too.

Keep several copies in your pocket. “Lose” them in public places.

Write poetry to your poem. Then give it away.

Or hate it. Shout at the offending verse. Knock it about the mealy-mouthed middle, if you must.

Get physical with the awful stuff – crumple it up and throw it on the floor. Then unfold it again, pressing all your anger out against those lines, wishing they were otherwise.

Love it or hate it.

But don’t leave it to the Teacher to tell you what it is supposed to mean.

And don’t leave it to the Sage to tell you how you’re supposed to feel about it.

Because you and I, we need more glue, more stuff to keep us stuck together in this ever shifting landscape.

Because the world needs stronger shoulders to stand on when it gets all wobbly.

Because you already know what it means to be human. You don’t need a classroom case study to analyze the human experience. You need a Poet to bear the weight of your mirror.


Whatever you do with Poetry, do not leave it in the classroom,

even if that’s where you found it. 


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

15 Replies to “Manifesto from the Muse”

  1. I spent 18 years teaching high school students to write poetry and my classroom was not ordinary nor did I consider myself an “English teacher.” I was the anti-English teacher and my room was a refuge for teenaged poets to escape from the prison of high school.
    I agree with you about keeping poetry out of the classroom but not out of my classroom. We loved it there.
    I started writing a memoir about my 18 year subversion of the public school system but started writing a novel instead.

  2. Carole, I salute you and all teachers who are instilling the love of poetry in those teenage refugees. I was one of them (refugees, that is). My main thing is not about keeping poetry out of the classroom as not leaving it in the classroom. Many are introduced to poets first in the classroom. If it’s not a great experience, they may not be inclined to take it with them. I’m glad to hear of your subversive tactics! 🙂

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