The Only Thing That Matters

“Write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.”

—e.e. cummings

Poetry isn’t en vogue these days but it should be. I think we need it. I know I do. My guess is that most people don’t think they have much use for poetry – they don’t relate to it – they find it obscure or archaic. Perhaps it isn’t in our nature anymore. We’re too hurried and intellectual. Too focused on doing and being productive. En masse, it seems we’re too self-sufficient to need and to take what poetry offers. But I disagree.

I’m not one of those people. I’m not self sufficient enough, nor am I stable enough. I need poetry (among other things) to help keep my sanity, to find calm, and to see the other side of things. I regard poetry a fundamental part of my education in taking life on life’s terms and learning to love it – or at the very least, to survive it. When I hear a man has used a truck to run down families on a road in Nice, or about any one of the countless tragedies that takes place every day, I need something to help carry the weight. And poetry does. It can hold what we can’t. It can hold the unimaginable, the unendurable.

Poetry lives perfectly and powerfully juxtaposed the worst in the world and the worst in us. It contradicts the hate and violence that seem ubiquitous today, and challenges the vapid and rancorous parts of our selves, coaxing us to live an examined life.

So, in a world both harrowing and sublime, I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to consider this lifeline. Sift through the innumerable varieties of poetry and like everything else, take what you like and leave the rest. It’s not all uppity and esoteric and I assure you, if you search, you’ll find something that will transform you. Here are a few that have changed me. Enjoy…


Magdalene – The Seven Devils

By Marie Howe

The first was that I was very busy.
The second — I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.

The third — I worried.
The fourth — envy, disguised as compassion.
The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too — its face. And the ant — its bifurcated body.

Ok the first was that I was so busy.
The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street the house would blow up.
The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth — if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I touched the left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had 
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.

The seventh — I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive and I couldn’t stand it,

I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word — cheesecloth — to breath through that would trap it — whatever was inside everyone else that entered me when I breathed in

No. That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy. I had no time. How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it — distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate.

Ok. The first was that I could never get to the end of the list.

The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked when she was dying—her mouth wrenched into an O so as to take in as much air…
The sound she made — the gurgling sound — so loud we had to speak louder 
to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—
grocery shopping, crossing the street —

No, not the sound — it was her body’s hunger
finally evident. —what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath —that was the first devil.
It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you — if I told you — would understand any of this —


The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth


Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black

Oh, I kept the first for another day

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.       


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.        


I Felt a Funeral In My Brain

By Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, 

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading – treading – till it seemed 

That Sense was breaking through – 


And when they all were seated, 

A Service, like a Drum –

Kept beating – beating – till I thought 

My mind was going numb – 


And then I heard them lift a Box

And creak across my Soul 

With those same Boots of Lead, again,

Then Space – began to toll,


As all the Heavens were a Bell, 

And Being, but an Ear, 

And I, and Silence, some strange Race, 

Wrecked, solitary, here –


And then a Plank in Reason, broke, 

And I dropped down, and down – 

And hit a World, at every plunge, 

And Finished knowing – then –


Poetry resources:




Characteristics and Implications of Education within the Western, Capitalist System: Contradictions to Human Potential

The current structure and culture of our educational system is a function of the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution. Today, as a result of this increasingly archaic underpinning, the manner in which knowledge and education are structured within western, capitalist culture has profound effects on our educational system and subsequently on how students identify themselves, not only as learners within the school system, but also as individuals within society. The characteristics and subsequent implications of this model, which are contradictory to holistic human development, are systematically alienating scores of children by siphoning their creativity and preventing many of them from discovering and embracing their true potential. As global cultural and economic paradigms shift away from a dependence upon traditional labor/market relations, so must the system within which we educate those leading us into this unknown.


Historically, there have been a wide variety of human institutions, be they religious, political or otherwise that have existed to serve the political or economic elite. Neo-Marxist educational theorists hold that the educational system within the United States is one such institution, whose role is to culturally reproduce the dominant capitalist culture (Sarup, 2013).  This role is fulfilled in two ways. First and rather explicitly, studies suggest it is promulgated via the content of the curriculum provided to students via inaccurate or biased information within text books (e.g., Ashley & Jarratt-Ziemski, 1999).  Additionally, and in a much more insidious manner, elite political and economic structures are being supported and advanced within our educational system through what Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis refer to as the correspondence theory. According to this theory, the dynamics present within work environments are being replicated via the atmosphere and culture of schools and are subsequently teaching societal roles and the submissive characteristics deemed attractive to employers in addition to the curriculum (Bowles & Gintis, 2002).  Personality traits desired by employers and promulgated via the cultures of our schools include consistency, a willingness to follow orders, and the ability to delay gratification (Bowls & Gintis, 2002). Children move from class to class at the prompting of ringing bells and are batched according to age, as if this is the most important common factor. Students earn external rewards (grades) for their work rather than being intrinsically motivated and have very little, if any, say regarding what they are learning mimicking the capitalist workplace in the way workers are motivated by a paycheck and are alienated from the product of their labor (Bowles & Gintis, 2002).


There are three principles upon which human life and progress flourish, each of them being contradicted by the culture of education in this country (Robinson, 2009). First,  humans are naturally diverse. We each have different interests, different talents and different ways of doing the same thing. Despite the absolute certainty of this human characteristic, education today is based on uniformity and conformity rather than on diversity (Vidal, 2013). Knowledge and education are compartmentalized. Because our educational system was birthed to meet the demands of industrialism, there exists a narrow, hierarchical focus on science and math over disciplines of art, physical education and music. There isn’t a school on earth where art is taught as often and as systematically to children as math is. Expertise is an ever narrowing endeavor. The further one climbs up the educational ladder, the more acute her focus becomes. This narrowing and compartmentalization had a practical purpose at one time but with it has come a lack of ability to see the bigger picture – to see the interdisciplinary and interconnectedness of subjects, thoughts, and ideas (Vidal, 2012). This byproduct of our educational paradigm is dangerous and counterproductive to creating empowered, creative, and thoroughly intelligent citizens. Math and science are essential but they are nowhere near sufficient. We must give equal weight to art, physical education, and music, each of which speaks to parts of a child’s being that may otherwise lie untouched.


Humans are naturally curious. When engaged in something of great interest to them, an individual gains a sense that time is passing rapidly (Conti, 2011). This is the engine of achievement and if we can tap into something a child enjoys or finds interesting, they will learn almost on their own (Vidal, 2012). However, knowledge and instruction within our culture have been commoditized thus squelching any chance of entertaining curiosity. The international shift within the past thirty years towards standardized testing and, most recently, the invention of value-added measures are evidence of business models and paradigms being implemented within the educational system (Bowles & Gintis, 2002). Testing has its place but once again, has adverse consequences. The concept of being able to quantify the value of knowledge has led to a pedagogical approach within which teachers are the depositors or “subjects” of knowledge and education while students are merely “objects” or bystanders in their own educational journey (Freire, 2000). This is the reality of our educational system today and was coined “banking education” by Paulo Freire in his classic piece, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As a result, we have a culture of compliance rather than curiosity or imagination. We need to attribute great worth to the high art that is teaching and expect that instruction will be comprised of provoking, engaging and stimulating students to be active participants in the learning process.


Finally, humans are inherently creative. A longitudinal study was done within which 1600 kindergarten children were administered an assessment of divergent thinking, a fundamental aspect of the creative process (Land & Jarman, 1998).  Divergent thinking often involves thinking in analogies or in metaphors, thinking matrically, and being able to see many patterns of possibility (Vidal, 2013). The study aimed additionally to look at the effects of the educational system on a child’s capacity for divergent thinking over time, with increased exposure to the system. Upon first administration, 98% of the children obtained scores high enough to be classified creative genius. Five years later, at ages 8-10, 32% scored at the genius level. At final administration, ages 13-15, only 10% scored at this level. Given the same assessment, only 2% of 200,000 adults (all over 25) scored high enough to be classified creative genius. The outcome of this study implies two things. First, we are all born with immense creativity. And second, as we grow and become educated via our current system, this creativity leaves us (Land & Jarman, 1998).  “Small children are creative actors. The socialization process in modern societies does not enhance and develop their creativity. On the contrary, their creativity is discouraged in many ways” (Vidal, 2012).


During the 2009-2010 school year, 3.4 % of all high school students in the U.S. educational system dropped out (U.S. Department of Education). 511,468 kids felt disengaged and alienated enough to permanently removing themselves from the system. This of course, does not account for the unknown number of students who feel a similar apathy and don’t drop out – the scores of individuals sitting in class, uninterested and dispassionate who are simply existing, going through the motions, in an effort to ensure a prosperous future for themselves. However, the global cultural and economic paradigm shifts that have occurred within the past twenty years mean that graduating from our educational system no longer translates into  being absorbed into the labor market in the manner that it used to.  In 2011, according to  the Economic Policy Institute , there were 4.4 job seekers for every open job (Economic Policy Institute, 2011). These numbers and the general malaise with which generations of individuals are encountering their lives suggest that we are in a crisis.

The United States spends more money than most on education. We have smaller class sizes than most and each year hundreds of initiatives are authored whose aims are to help improve the education of our children. These efforts have proven inefficient as the problem is larger than can be remedied by an improvement in the current system. The problem is such that we need a revolution – a complete shift of paradigm to match those that are occurring within the global cultural and economic context. We need divergent thinkers. We need to view and embrace a purpose of education that encompasses more than the production of competent citizens that are able to contribute to a shifting cultural and economic system. We are in need of a system that is able to individualize instruction – fostering and encouraging any part of themselves an individual is drawn to discover and develop. We need to attribute a much higher status to the art of the teaching profession and we need a system that is able to devolve responsibility to the school level, as this is where learning occurs. Education today ought to engage and value a learner’s entire being and encourage the development of each individual’s strengths and abilities, not mine a subcomponent based upon what is deemed a worthy contributor to increasingly archaic cultural and economic paradigms.


“The one continuing purpose of education, since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being. Other statements of educational purpose have been widely accepted: to develop the intellect, to serve social needs, to contribute to the economy, to prepare students for a job or career, to promote a particular social or political system. These purposes offered are undesirably limited in scope, and in some instances they conflict with the broad purpose I have indicated; they imply a distorted human existence. The broader humanistic purpose includes all of them, and goes beyond them, for it seeks to encompass all the dimensions of human experience.”

-Arthur W. Foshay, “The Curriculum Matrix: Transcendence and Mathematics,” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision,

“Every child is born an artist. The problem is to remain one once they grow up.”

-Pablo Picasso