Upon arriving at college, I immediately looked forward to the second half of my college experience – the two years in which my learning would mostly take place in small, discussion-based classes. However, on our unexpected switch to e-learning, I felt overwhelmed. The intimacy promised by my imagined future seemed elusive, my Zoom fatigue seemed intimidating, and I didn’t anticipate any change in attitude.
Despite my own prospects, a poetry class in the spring of my third year taught by English teacher Mark Edmundson sparked a more promising prospect, and it is these little triumphs that sustain my emotional and academic enthusiasm. I was immediately struck by the modern poetry we studied, but more so by the lead voice that guided us to his heart – Edmundson rehabilitated my love for learning, and my bi-weekly poetry talks became an antidote inspiring to the paralyzing numbness of virtual classrooms.
Edmundson started our last class of the year as he had done before each class – with a question seemingly unrelated to the poetic homework of that day. That day, he asked each of his students to share their most memorable moments from the class, and the wide variety of responses were inspiring.
When it was my turn, my response was immediate – the moments of our class’s slowed-down sharing had defined my experience of his class. I recognized that Edmundson’s curiosity towards our individual feelings and opinions was unmatched, and his dedication served both to unite his students and reconcile our hidden desire to remain virtually engaged.
Now, as the first semester of my fourth year takes place in this joyfully odd stage of in-person learning, I’m grateful to take another class with Edmundson. His daily questions continue to color my understanding of the course content – although these questions may seem straightforward, the intentions behind them are carefully crafted. When asked, Edmundson explained, “I ask a question… they engage people’s emotions… your feelings engage, even to a small extent,” and I couldn’t help but wonder. why other teachers don’t tactfully evoke such empathy in their own approaches.
“What is your favorite flower?” or “What game did you like to play when you were a kid?” »Advance academic discussion in unfamiliar but constructive ways. I remember my answers to these aforementioned questions but, more specifically, I remember my classmates’ answers and the silent bonds we formed as a result.
In explaining the reasoning behind their favorite flower, for example, each student would make references to their homes, families, and times in their past and present that helped dictate the meaning of their response. While this 15-minute personal reflection period reduced the time allotted for our discussions of the poets themselves, our collective sense of the meaning of poetry was unintentionally enhanced. Simply put, Edmundson never underestimated the power of intellectual victories generated by these unconventional questions – examples that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
As I reflect on my own answers to her questions, I am inherently drawn inward – I am compelled to understand poetry through an external and internal lens. Engaging in the language of poetry changes more than my sense of contemporary literature – it increases my sense of how I move around the world. While this realization may seem hyperbolic, I consider his poetry class to be a designated moment of personal reflection – it feels like writing an imaginary journal.
During a heated discussion of Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” in a recent class, Edmundson’s reflection on the relationship between a poet and his poetry echoed my reading experience. Edmundson quoted 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats as saying: “When I have an argument with the world, I write an essay. When I have an argument with myself, I write a poem. While I may not be writing poetry for this course, reading it has had a similar effect on me: the poems we read and the conclusions Edmundson leads us to contribute to a wider understanding.
As this exciting school year begins, I encourage instructors and individuals to take note of Edmundson’s book – academically rewarding and individually valuable results can change a semester or someone’s life for the better. Thank you, Edmundson, for helping us achieve tangible meaning in such a sweet and poetic way. If only you could see the curious smiles hidden under our masks.
Willa Hancock is Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]