Nate Grazino's slim book, published by sunnyoutside of Somerville, MA is simple on the surface. These poems are accessible, honest, and wide-ranging. It is divided into two parts: " The Student Body"and "The Faculty." It could be read in school or out of school by students and faculty, and every one would recognize him or herself in one or many of the poems. It brings us back, as if we were ghosts walking the hallways of our own highschool.. In Graziano's school on Monday morning--
Monday Morning with Lazarus
"...Hords of nikel-eyed students
drag heavy feet in a slow parade,
a procession of the condemned
moving toward the school's entrance
the open mouth of the sepulcher...."
In Wrestling Wallace Stevens
Mr. G, the teacher, wrestles with 'a Wallace Steven's poem. It is important to him; he's searching for metaphors. He wants to teach English. But --
"meanwhile my students read Kafka
and play the German version of patty-cake
following words left to right, with limp eyes./
more interested in American Idol
than a good existential crisis./
I've yet to pin The Emporer of the Ice Cream
and they're morphing into apathetic roaches."
He seems to have two levels of existence as a teacher. He writes in the preface to "The Student Body" about his experience of being a teacher. "In your more serious moods, you stand outside your classroom in your white shirt and tie and fail to see yourself. Other times, you can see your own face in through the stream, wearing that dizzy glaze that has always belonged to you."
The poems are written in both voices. They are spare, spare no punches, and mostly concentrate on the problems of public education, and the hopelessness of the students. and many of the faculty.
In IV. Agenda from #3: Student Apathy'
"What can we do better?"asks the teacher
"How do we reach out to the students
who are failing and dropping
the second they turn sixteen years old?"
...The burnout speakes from his seat.'
'There's nothing you can do about it.
These kids are making life decisions
and decisions come with consequences.
We supposed to be teaching them
to be adults who can live in an adult world.
In the adult world, there is failure.'/
The teacher wrings her sweaty hands dry
" No," she say, "but someone has to care.
They're kids for chrissakes. Someone has to care."
The book takes a hard look at the educational system. It pictures teachers who care, teachers who burn out, students sleeping in class, a student who says, "I hate this class." One especially moving poem is "D is for DIPLOMA" which ends
"The Teen Mother sighed a tears glazed
her own brown marble eyes like dew on a crystal ball,
pleading like she was freezing and I held fire."
The poems are written with compassion for the experience of each person, as if Graziano as a teacher has the ability to separate his ego from the students and faculty, to observe them, and observe their lives, without taking anything personally. It's my guess that this is the ability that allows Graziano to keep on teaching, and to glean poetry from moments that might depress or anger or pass by a less inspired teacher.
For example, in one poem a student starts dancing in the middle of study hall. "What the hell are you doing," Graziano asks.
"I''m dancing, Mr. G,' she says...../I watch her helpless from my desk, until the bass starts to beat in my head too."
Written in colloquial low-key language, "Teaching Metaphors makes no barriars between the adult and the young person we all once were. Government officials who make educational budgets should read this book.