126. The Hand: Mary Ruefle

This blog was inspired by Billy Collins’ attempt at bringing poetry back into the classroom, “Poetry 180”. The idea was the provide a “poem a day” that would move beyond the usual anthology-of-death lying dusty in the corners of high school English classrooms. I had bought it, inspired by the idea, but found that most of the poems were beyond–or too inappropriate–for my middle school students.

My search began.

Now, at Poem 126 I find myself returning to Collins for Ms. Ruefle’s poem “The Hand.”

I recommend “Poetry I80”. You can buy it here:

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
Buy This!

You can visit the Poetry 180 site, hosted by the Library of Congress. The entire list of poems is here.

I also suggest supporting Ms. Ruefle. You can buy her book “Cold Pluto” here. Her poem in the Poetry 180 site is here.

Let me also note that she is a fellow Vermonter, a bit of trivia that I found on her Wikipedia entry.

As for the poem, this should be a no-brainer prompt for students. How can they not put themselves in the place of this narrator?

Still, an interesting approach is a tad more positive. Imagine those students who do not know where this person is coming from? Instead of focusing on those students who are not engaged, what about those who always see the new school day as a new chance to learn and explore? Do they exist? Surely, there is some part of those wide-eyed kids in every student? If so, when? Then, how do we increase this feeling? Finally, how do we extend it to poetry?

Start with this poem.

The Hand
Mary Ruefle

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

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