H. missed our big poetry reading, the one she’d practiced and practiced for. That surprised me. Her love of poetry is no secret around our school. On the other hand, I realized she might have stayed home out of fear. H. is militantly shy. Getting her to speak in class was one hurdle her other teachers and I patiently encouraged her over, and getting her to speak to larger groups in public has been an exponentially more serious struggle.
When I saw her next, H. said she’d been sick. Then she missed some more school. She told me she’d been throwing up. I knew what that meant. And soon she confirmed my suspicions. She’s pregnant again.
But we had another big project we were working on, and H. made it to school for enough days to finish it. My afternoon class, which turned out to be just six girls, interviewed each other about why poetry is important to them, then they recorded their interviews and learned to edit them using the computers. H. is good with computers and good with poetry, so this was a perfect fit.
I interviewed H. on tape, following the script she and her classmates had created. I read each question as it was written: What is your name? What have been your biggest challenges in life? When did you start writing poetry … But my favorite part of the recording is the tail end, when I abandoned the script altogether.
That’s a risky thing to have done with H. She doesn’t like surprises maybe even more than she dislikes talking in public — and even though it was just the two of us in my office-turned-recording-studio, she was conscious of the microphone propped up on the desk in front of her, and the countless potential listeners it represented.
“You mentioned you want to write a book of poems, is there anything more you want to say about that?” I asked.
Her eyes shot me an accusation. I’d tricked her into talking. I’d tricked her away from the script she’d rehearsed so carefully.
“Well,” she said, “I want to write poems that aren’t like anyone else’s.” Then, after a pause, “I hope someone notices me.”
We talked some more. Then, I closed the interview with one last question. “Is there anything else you want to say about poetry?” I asked.
H. thought for a long broadcast second. Finally, she summed everything up with three words: “I love it,” she said. And then, she and I began to laugh.
I’m inexplicably happy to have that moment recorded; the sound of our laughter, a wordless testimony to the joy of poetry. A haiku in sound.
photo by Aja Riggs