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Lessons Learned
by Chuck Baker
10/20/03
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--this article was published by the Canadian League of Poets in April, 2003

Lessons Learned

The question was simple enough, and one I'd been expecting: "Can you name some writers or poets whose work has influenced your writing . . . .Do you have a favourite author?" Yet, when Nathan Harms, editor at Utmost Christian Writers, asked me this in a recent interview, I thought long and hard before giving a reply.

There was Patrick Lane, a poet / professor I'd taken a Canadian Literature course from seventeen years ago, long before I ever knew anything about him or his work. He taught me the power of images that "stick in the brain."

There was Carl Leggo, a crazy Newfoundland poet I took a writing course from at UBC, while I was studying for a second diploma. His love for language and for putting the pen to paper inspired me to write more poetry that summer than I'd imagined possible. Often, he was right there in class with us, writing side by side.

Of course, I'd read Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones. Her disciplined approach to regular writing practice--like musicians playing the scale--taught me to write every day, and to feel comfortable writing garbage, entire notebooks full of it if necessary.

So what can I pass on to my students to inspire a love of poetry? The lessons of my teachers--write strong, write joyfully, write often. And as for my favourite writers? When I thought deeply about those whose work gives me the most pleasure, I knew just what to say: ". . . Rebecca Norman, Celine Chung, Pamela Yuen, Lisa Dojack, Jessica Marola, Shawn Agnew, and Shayn Solberg." If you haven't heard of them (yet), there's a reason. They're all currently grade eleven and twelve students of mine.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing students discover the world of words. The greatest action that we can take, as teachers, to inspire a love of verse, is to take our students' creativity outside the classroom. Talk about them as writers; show their work; encourage them to submit poetry to contests and journals.

Taking time to expand students' boundaries is the greatest gift we can give them. Even then, it falls short of the gift we receive--a deeper love and appreciation for the creative process, a deeper love for the power of poetry.

(approximately 385 words)


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