by Andrew Kreeger, English Department Chair
During the month of January, almost every student at Valor Christian High School will be committing a poem to heart as a part of the annual Poetry Out Loud tradition and competition. In a culture that often tells us that we are more like streams than reservoirs, what a refreshing opportunity this provides students to store up in their hearts these words full of beauty and inspiration.
That's really what a poem is too: an intentionally crafted collection of words written to connect, to encourage, to sympathize, to offer hope in a word that can so often seem full of darkness. Over the years, Poetry Out Loud poems have invited students to contemplate the power of forgiveness, the grandeur of god in nature, or the pain of losing a loved one too soon.
Personally, one of my favorite aspects of Poetry Out Loud is learning a new poem every year alongside my students. Last year, having just found out that my mom was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer, I spent time with a poem called “A Thank-You Note” in which the narrator thanks a friend for the set of pens that he gifted to the narrator’s daughter, despite the impending loss of his own son to cancer. “Such love is healing,” the narrator says and concludes with the hope that with the pens his daughter has received, she will make “a healing instrument.”
This year, in the wake of my mom’s passing, I have been spending time with Richard Wilbur’s poem called “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.” This poem discusses the desire to stay at home in bed rather than deal with mourning and despair. However, by the time it concludes, the poem moves from acknowledging this deep struggle to encouraging its reader to keep the difficult balance between desiring reprieve and engaging with the often burdensome realities of life.
In many ways, it echoes the Apostle Paul who writes the following in Philippians 2: For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me, you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.
How grateful I am that words (and ultimately God’s Word) are instruments of healing to me. Over these last months, I have needed encouragement to keep going amidst the grieving. Good poems like this remind us all that although our lives may be full of challenges of all kinds, we are not alone. Others have been through similar circumstances, others have felt the way we now feel, and these same people cheer us on, knowing that there is goodness, beauty, hope, and joy for us even amidst various trials and hardships.
It is good to carry these words in our hearts, and it is a gift to share them with one another. So when we engage as a community in Poetry Out Loud, our deepest hope is that out of the reservoir of our hearts, we can share good words that bless and edify and spur each other on further into the good life lived in Christ, the Word made flesh.
- Faith and Arts