April 12, 2016

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Source Poems: "The Way It Is"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Our guest blogger for today's source poem is educator and poet Linda Baie, who blogs at Teacher Dance.

Linda Baie
The Way It Is
By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Read the rest of the poem here.

 I believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet I also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder. David Moranis

When I consider my source poem, the back-story holds the meaning that connects later. My life with poetry began early, in a grandparents’ home where I lived until I was five. My father was killed in WWII in the Pacific theater, and my mother and I lived with her parents until I was five. Both my father’s and my mother’s parents were avid readers, and time with them in early childhood set my path toward loving poetry.
            Before I could read, they all read to me. I was the only grandchild in both families until I went to school. Everyone wanted to read to me! My mother was an artist, wrote and illustrated stories for me. One grandfather loved Shakespeare. No matter that I was young, he still shared the poems, the plays, about the life of Shakespeare with me. A grandmother was a pianist and taught me the poetry of song. I learned the music of the classics, but also hymns, the words of Stephen Foster, the carols of Christmas. When I visited my father’s parents for weeks in the summers, the first thing we did was visit their library, to gather piles of books, including poetry.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.”

My early life held the beginning connections to poetry, in different voices sure, but all with certain favorites that they shared. Later in school I remember teachers reading poems to us, memorizing for performances and finally, in college, I had the pleasure of working with John Neihardt, Missouri’s poet laureate, in a summer poetry class.
When I became a teacher, of first graders, I wanted to teach them to read, to love reading, and poetry too. My ‘go to’ book then was AA Milne’s When I Was Very Young and When We Were Six. My love of poetry started as a young child, and has continued both personally and in my passion to bring this love to students.
There is this poem taped to my desk lamp. I taught middle-school gifted students, a mixed group, for over 20 years at the school where I am now the literacy coach. There was a long list of priorities in teaching, but one of them was the importance of creating and keeping a community. Sharing “like” things in a mixture of unique preferences helped us become family, a group, a knit community.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.”

For community building, I have used certain poems for the class, and one of those poems that I held dear was William Stafford’s “The Way It Is.” It would be shared, we would discuss it, what we thought about it and why it might help us as a group. In other conversations, it became a mentor text for voice. When we wrote, students and I referred to it, wishing we could meet this man who wrote so clearly. Of course, we met him in other poems too, and followed along with Naomi Shihab Nye, a student of his, whose poems also touched us. We discussed connections, how paths cross and re-cross, fade away, return again. And we illustrated those paths in artistic responses. The poem became important to each class, is important to me still.
Loving a poem is not new to me and there are others I love, too. And serendipity sometimes makes me shiver. Certain of my colleagues and I exchange Christmas gifts, and one year friends gifted me with the book Teaching With Fire, edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, an anthology of poems that are important “source” poems for teachers. On page fifteen, there is the Stafford poem again. Finally, when I left the classroom three years ago, the school gave a party in celebration of my years in the classroom, and several of my colleagues spoke about me, to me. It was a pleasure hearing those words, every one. But the surprise, the serendipity that happened is that my head of school, speaking of my time at the school, my work with students and colleagues, ended with a poem he thought defined me. And that poem was “The Way It Is.” I was shocked and a little teary. The thread continues, and with this poem especially, my strong
connection to poetry remains.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.”

The poem in its entirety can be found at Goodreads, here. And I have written a poem in response.

Holding On

People wonder how to proceed,
when a boulder lies on the road.
I tell them I hold fast onto the thread;
those who are tangled there with me help.
They heave me over and in turn I pull them along.
The filament unwinds sometimes and loosens.
Sometimes wind blows it askew.
It wants re-winding.
A gentle tug and I’ve re-wound,
for me, for family, for friends.
Keeping the strand strong while everyone winds together
makes it easier to climb over that next boulder.

 Linda Baie © All Rights Reserved

William Stafford
Visit the William Stafford Archives online.
Linda Baie is a long time teacher of middle school students at a K-8 independent school for the gifted in Denver, Colorado. She is now the school’s literacy coach. She has a wonderful family, including three terrific grandchildren. Passions are reading, writing and being outdoors. She blogs at and tweets @LBaie. She is working hard on writing, sending a few poems to see if they might be published, participates in a writing group, and has been to one poetry workshop, with plans for another. She is holding onto the thread.

Previous posts in this series:
Diane Mayr on a haiku by Basho


Margaret Simon said...

I have a connection to William Stafford and Naomi Shihab Nye as well. Both have held my hand along the way. This Stafford poem is so perfect for the lives we lead connecting one to another. Your poetic response rings true with me, those threads together climbing the boulder. Thanks for sharing yourself in so many ways. You were all over the place this week!

Linda B said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Margaret. The poem, like others by Stafford and Nye, is important to me as you see. Yes, it was a busy online week!

Ruth said...

Wow! That serendipity gave me goosebumps!

Linda B said...

Thank you, Ruth-me, too!

BJ Lee said...

Really really nice,Linda - both the source poem and your poem!

Linda B said...

Thank you, B.j. I'm glad you liked them both.

Diane Mayr said...

Lovely post, Linda. I love hearing the backstory. Each hand that touches the thread leave its scent behind. You can be the bloodhound for us!

Linda B said...

Thanks Diane, lovely, and loving, thought. I do remember...

skanny17 said...

I love your story and your poem, Linda. I echo so many of the thoughts already mentioned in the comments. I am so taken with your principal reading from your source poem at the celebration of your classroom career. It must have been an amazing moment. And I love how poetry and words have been part of your life for so long. I really did not know the Stafford poem but did know the Naomi Shihab Nye one. Thank you for introducing me. I can see why the thread that connects so many of us is a strong metaphor for you. You are such a generous and supportive online friend to so many. So interested and involved. I am happy to have met you this way and so appreciate how I was able to reach out to you a year or so ago when I needed to find someone I could ask for a reaction to a poem. And you so generously grabbed onto my thread! Thank you, Linda.

Linda B said...

Janet, thank you for all your response, & you are always welcome to mine. I'm happy to introduce you to a new poem, and love having you be part of my thread as well. It is an enjoyable experience reading the words of so many wonderfully creative poets every day.

Renee LaTulippe said...

So beautiful, Linda. I have never read this poem, and now it will stay with me. I see why you and your students wanted to meet this man who speaks so clearly! And so wisely. The reading of the poem at your good-bye party is one of those inexplicable, inspiring -- serendipitous, as you say! -- and unforgettable life moments. Thank you for sharing your story. I am touched.

Linda B said...

Thank you Renee. It makes me happy that I shared a poem that is new to you.

Tara said...

I love the way your story unfolded, Linda - the thread was clearer to see. You had such a rich connection to the power of poetry, and I see it's roots in all the poetry you create. What a gift, that thread!

Tabatha said...

You made me tear up, Linda! Beautiful post.

Linda B said...

Thank you Tara and Tabatha. I'm glad you enjoyed reading!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Linda, thank you for sharing this thread with us. I'm not surprised special poems appear on your path when needed. You possess a rare sensibility in the way you greet life - unflinching but open to loveliness and wonder. I always learn from you!

Linda B said...

Thank you Robin, I appreciate your sweet words. Being open to loveliness and wonder is something important, you are right.