Poetry Emergency

Just as two 13-year-old girls bounded up with a Welcome!

sign, so happy I would be reading poetry (and interrupting

Language Arts), the bell rang: Fire drill.

Students walked outside in an orderly fashion

arranged themselves in straight lines,

waited for the teacher to tell them it was safe.

They squirmed in conformity

while I flipped through a mess of papers

for the perfect poem.

When it was determined that all was well,

we returned to air-conditioning. Me, sweating

with fear to read a poem to middle schoolers.

Obviously, I read the wrong one

one that ran zigzag through

expectations for proper composition.

Sensing an emergency,

the teacher thanked me for coming

and ushered me out before the next bell rang.

The poem was Ted Kooser’s “Selecting a Reader.”


  1. That sounds like an “interesting” experience.

    I have to go tomorrow to talk about writing and poetry and read some of my poetry that I’m not sure 4th-graders will understand. At least the teacher reads my blog. And then she wants us to write a group poem. This should be interesting. 🙂

  2. You gotta be kiddin’! A fire drill??? All was pretty much lost right there. I, of course, had to look up both poet and poem. Why in the world was that choice problematic for the teacher? And why invite someone to talk about poetry if you’re going to dismiss their efforts like that? Grrrr. Somehow, I wanna be a mama bear for you right now.

    Have you seen the Billy Collins TED talk on his poems that have been animated? That last one he reads (which is not animated) made me think of you somehow. Kimberlee Conway Ireton has it up on her site this weekend.

  3. conformity
    killed the cat
    on it’s ninth life

    no more
    through curiously
    tall grass
    of playful bugs

  4. charitysingleton says

    Megan – I was hoping as I read that this was a “true story,” though when I got to the end, I was frustrated for you. Poetry can be so wild, so open, that you would think a teacher inviting a poet in to read poetry would have large, expansive expectations. I’m going to go Google that poem right now.

  5. Wow, what a day! And what a tragedy, to lose poetry in the hubbub…and have it devalued. Poets have to develop a thick skin, don’t they?

  6. Unbelievable. I’ve had a few poetry emergencies in my life, for sure, but they never ended with a closed book! I think you were the perfect reader to choose and i hope you get another chance.

  7. I would probably have been relieved…but that’s just me – not a big fan of public speaking/reading.

    Love Ted Kooser though – he’s a Nebraskan, I might add.

  8. Aw. Well, at least you got a poem out of it. Nothing is wasted for the poet, after all 🙂

  9. For some reason, I keep thinking that you read Billy Collins Introduction to Poetry to them (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/001.html).

    I love this poem, Megan. And that you went and did this.