Saturday, April 23, 2011
My Beans of Maine
Reading The Beans of Egypt, Maine was very, very difficult for me. I'm in Peter Harris' "Teaching Poetry in Elementary Schools" class this semester, and I've been going in to Waterville elementary school classrooms twice a week to teach poetry to the kids there. I've enjoyed it immensely, but it's also been marked by some very intense moments that have absolutely set me back in my place and reminded me of the level of poverty and just daily tragedy that exists in some of these kids' lives. It comes out as artistic expression in the poetry they write in the very innocent way that only children have. They reveal things without realizing they're revealing; they let on to things that they don't know are secrets. I've found out accidentally about mom's violent boyfriend, dad's arrest, his abusive brother and her mom's debilitating unemployment. All this gets very heavy over time, but returning to the hill after a class can be very grounding. It's like I get back here and surround myself with all these enthusiastic, brilliant students and can't help but feel better.
But Beans really grounded me. The kids give me glimpses of what their home lives are like, but this novel put it all in your face. Who knows which of the little kids in my class go home to Beal Bean? To "big bean babies" or Roberta Bean? There are a few little girls that always give me hugs before I leave class at the end of the hour. There's a girl who always writes about kittens, no matter what the prompt. There's a boy who has a unnaturally expansive lexicon, yet always writes about very dark and violent topics. There's a painfully shy girl that just recently discovered that her writing can make people laugh. There's a boy who will not write anything, who just stares at me when I try to talk to him.
I don't know where these kids are going. I don't know if they're actually going anywhere at all. I don't know what they come home to, who washes their shirts or braids their hair.
I'm actually having a lot of trouble writing about this, so this will be sort of a short blog. It's just hard to suddenly realize what's actually going on, and maybe even harder to have no idea.