Mar. 29, 2009

Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders

by Gary Short

At recess a boy ran to me
with a pink rubber ball and asked
if I would kick it to him. He handed me the ball,
then turned and ran
and ran and ran, not turning back
until he was far out in the field.
I wasn't sure I could kick the ball
that far. But I tried,
launching a perfect and lucky kick.
The ball sailed in a beautiful arc
about eight stories high,
landed within a few feet of the 3rd grader
and took a big bounce off the hard playground dirt.
Pleased, I turned to enter the school building.
And then (I don't know where they came from
so quickly) I heard a rumbling behind me
full tilt. They were carrying pink balls and yellow balls
of different sizes, black and white checkered
soccer balls. They wanted me to kick for them.
And now this is a ritual—this is how we spend recess.
They stand in line, hand me the ball and run.
The balls rise like planets
and the 3rd graders
circle dizzily beneath the falling sky,
their arms outstretched.

"Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders" by Gary Short, from 10 Moons and 13 Horses. © University of Nevada Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Eugene McCarthy, (books by this author) born in Watkins, Minnesota (1916). He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1948 and went on to the Senate in 1958. He was one of first people to challenge Joseph McCarthy on the issue of hunting communists. Eugene McCarthy gave anti-war activists a voice in national politics when he campaigned against Lyndon Johnson for the presidency in 1968. He died on December 10, 2005.

Eugene McCarthy said: "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

It's the birthday of comedian Eric Idle, (books by this author) born in South Shields, England (1943). He's best known for his work with the comedy group Monty Python. His dad served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, but he died in a hitchhiking accident the year that the war ended. Eric's impoverished mother sent him to boarding school when the boy was seven years old. He said: "It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid to grow up in. I got used to dealing with groups of boys and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances and being smart and funny and subversive at the expense of authority. Perfect training for Python." To escape, he would crawl into bed and hide under the covers, listening to radio programs.

He got into Cambridge and joined the Footlights Club. He found work acting in a children's television show, "Do Not Adjust Your Set," and there he met several future Monty Python members.

Idle did a lot of the writing for Monty Python, and his sketches tended to have an obsession with language. One of his characters spoke in anagrams, and another character always said words in the wrong order. And he liked to mock the affected diction and inflections of television reporters and announcers. He composed some of Monty Python's songs, including "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

After Monty Python dispersed, Idle went to work on a BBC radio program in which he put on a variety show and performed nearly all the roles himself. He created a parody of the Beatles, "the Rutles," which became a cult hit. He produced a mockumentary film about the Rutles called "All You Need is Cash." Eric Idle is the author of several books, including Hello Sailor (1975), The Road to Mars (1998), and The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America (2005).

He said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show