This past Thursday, I had one of those days that reminds me how hopeful the world can actually be. I spent the day at Oldfields School, in Glencoe, Maryland. Oldfields is a girls boarding school for students in grades 6 through twelve. I came as a Guest Poet, at the invitation of the chair of their English Department, Jillian Bledsoe, who is a fine poet in her own right.
Oldfields has been around since 1867, so they’ve collected some wisdom about educating girls. I found the students excited, honest, and eager to learn.
The day started with a tour of their grounds. Oldfields sits among several thickly wooded hills about 25 miles northwest of Baltimore. The buildings are simple and sturdy. Lots of white washed walls and dark wood.
At lunch, I gave a reading in a room just off their main dining room. Students came in with their lunch trays, sat and listened attentively and made some insightful comments. (The photograph above, by Jillian Bledsoe, is from that reading)
From the reading we went to a workshop for seventh graders. These students were pretty fired up to have a guest in their class. As seventh graders can be, they were a little silly, but showed great desire to find fresh ways to use description in their poems. They were asked to list descriptions about a peaceful place they know. Then, to write a letter poem to a person, place, historical event, or even a body part– they were mad at. They had to use the peaceful descriptions as they spoke to the person or place about their anger. The point being, to use uncommon descriptions so that an idea is shown fresh, in an unexpected way. Then, they shared their “pastiche” poems with me. They wrote “pastiche” poems using my three-poem series “Tryptich.” It’s always interesting to hear how others will create a poem from a set of poems I have written.
From this energetic gathering, I met with Oldfields literary magazine staff. This is a savvy group of older students, eleventh and twelfth graders, who asked lots of questions about how a literary journal succeeds. We started with the question: What do you want to hear people say about the journal after they read it? Then we got into the details of ordering the work in a literary magazine, new marketing ideas, various thoughts for a cover, sections– all the typical issues that arise when compiling a literary journal.
It was clear they had given these various ideas a good bit of thought. Their advisor and teacher, my host, Jillian Bledsoe, has them thinking like poets, like editors, and like readers. All of which are essential if one is to produce an effective literary magazine.
I was reminded of the influence a passionate and competent teacher can have in a classroom setting. Watching the relationship between my host, Jillian Bledsoe and the students, I could easily see the love, trust, and willingness to experiment — which are all needed to learn. She does great work there and her students are lucky to spend time with her.
Young people can be a deep well of hope and these young girls certainly were. Randomly, I have a couple of these events scheduled this month, so my hope-quotient will be high for a while. I’m grateful for the invitation that Jillian Bledsoe offered and hope to visit Oldfields again.