It was in Mrs. Goodwin’s English I class when I first learned about literature and poetry and a little about girls. I say a little because I was extremely shy and English was not my best subject, for girls or grades or otherwise.
At first, there were about 19 of us in my Freshman “English I” class but about 3 or 4 students changed their schedules the very first week which made us an even smaller group. Mrs. Goodwin rearranged the desk assignments and I ended up in the last row on the right side of the class room with three empty seats behind me. I felt like I was at "the end of the line" and I often read last. This was fine by me, did I say I was very, very shy? A girl I didn’t know sat to my left. Her name was Dottie and I had to look away whenever she glanced at me. She was very pretty. She tried to be friendly by asking for help often but I would usually say “I dunno” and look away.
English had always been one of my worse subjects in school and as 3rd period came each day I new I would skip reading assignments and book reports. But somehow Mrs. Goodwin made the class more interesting to me. Over the first few weeks, she opened me up and I even started helping Dottie more whenever she asked - which was every day.
Mrs. Goodwin liked poetry I quickly learned. About one month into the semester we began “Introduction to Literature” with several chapters on poetry. The basics were covered in the first week or so and I tried not to be bored. "A limerick rhymes on these lines...", "now write a sonnet with this rhyming pattern and …blah, blah, blegh".
The next chapter moved into reading the old, popular classics. One Thursday, Mrs. Goodwin passed out a small booklet of poems with Emerson, Longfellow, Dickinson, Frost, Poe and some others. She asked each of us to read one poem from each author and then we talked about what the poet was telling us. We talked about Annabel Lee and The Village Blacksmith and metaphor and emotion. I was completely intrigued . . . poetry always seemed like nursery rhymes to me until Mrs. Goodwin taught me. Our next assignment was to select a poem and write "what the poem says" or "how it makes you feel". She made this our homework so we had to share our “interpretation” the next day.
That night I read the first seven poems and turned the page to "The Bustle in the House" by Emily Dickinson. This poem captivated me - I read no further. When I was in 4th grade my mother died and I could remember the day when Dad told us kids like it was yesterday. Emily's words didn't rhyme well but they made me feel so connected to her poem and to that fateful day. I flipped open my binder and wrote what I felt and what the poem meant to me.
The next morning I got ready for school and worried that I wrote too much. I didn't want to read it in front of them - I was very shy. Then I worried that I wrote too little. Mrs. Goodwin didn't say how much to write - I didn't know! The morning went by too quick and I was walking into her class room with everybody else, still not sure what to do.
Then Mrs. Goodwin made it worse. Ten minutes into the hour she asked us to get our homework ready and said "Let's start over here today" walking to the front of my row! “Oh no! Only four in front of me - then its my turn!”, I told myself, “holy crap!!” I tried to listen to Karen go first - she chose The Mending Wall.
She said "the poem is telling me fences are good between neighbors, that they keep the neighbors stuff in his own yard".
"Thank you Karen!" Mrs. Goodwin said "How about you Roger".
"THAT WAS IT ??!!" I shouted at myself. She only read one sentence! I wrote a whole page! “Holy Crap !!”
Roger read two sentences for his "analysis" and Mrs. Goodwin happily moved to the next student. I sat there in dread as the seconds ticked by. "Mine sucks!" I told myself as I frantically opened my binder to write a new sentence and be ready. Anything to not have to read my feelings in front of everybody.
"Leray, please go ahead with yours" is what I heard in the next moment.
My head snapped up toward Mrs. Goodwin. She must have seen my panic and she came to my desk. I whispered to her "I wrote too much, can I just read the first part?" She looked at my page of pencil erasures and crossed out words and said "well I think this is just right - please go ahead and share with us, who did you chose to write about?"
She wasn‘t letting me out of this trap, so I sat up from my slouch, looked at the booklet and said out loud: "Emily Dickinson - The Bustle in the House".
- to be continued -