Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mentors, Poets, Students. Teachers: Guides Along the Way

"A master can tell you what she expects of you. A teacher awakens your own expectations."

                        Patricia Neal

OK, Ms. Neal, did say "he," but since I'm thinking about Madeline DeFrees and my talk tomorrow at Elliott Bay, I thought "she" was more appropriate. I've been in touch with other former students of Madeline's and there are some similar threads to our stories. No one describes Madeline as warm or fun. "no nonsense" comes up a good deal as does "intelligent." A few of us have commented on the fact that we didn't really appreciate Madeline until years later, sometimes decades later.

Here's something I wrote in my journal about Madeline when she was my Honors Thesis director in 1983.
"Madeline is not ego satisfying, but honest. I'm learning  lots of technique from Madeline -- but she gives little encouragement. Maybe that's supposed to make me work harder?"

I know with my students at Highline,  I am constantly trying to give encouragement and be honest at the same time. I want them to "get it" now -- not 20+ years from now. There is so much emphasis today in being warm and fuzzy -- not traits I am known for. Instead, the mentors that have taught me the most are the ones that I needed to think about after the time in the classroom was over. What I learned from Madeline and one or two others, stays with me today. It's present in the way I think about poetry, how I approach the writing, and the respect -- even love -- I try to extend to those who are also claiming a poet's life for their own.

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