This morning, for the first -- but hopefully not only -- time in my as yet nascent poetic career, I was brought in to a creative writing class as a Guest Poet. Buh-dum-dum-chh. The invitation was extended by an esteemed lecturer in the English Department at Gadjah Mada University, who wished to share my poetry with her creative writing students and requested that I visit the class to address them on the subject. That's a fancy way of saying that last week, most likely over a Bintang, Emma asked me if I would mind letting her students read a few of my poems during their unit on poetry, and if I'd be interested in coming to her class to answer their questions. Since I'm always up for masquerading as legitimate in pretty much any regard, I said, why of course. It would be my pleasure.
As one might guess, it turned out to be totally and deeply and wonderfully my pleasure. I sent Emma a handful of poems from my senior thesis, of which she selected three to share with her creative writing class (for those who know the document, the poems were "Grazie," "Saying Goodbye to Aunt Michiyo," and "Before"). The students' assignment was to read the poems and think of questions to ask me, and Emma and I agreed it was a toss-up -- maybe they'd be into it, maybe they wouldn't. With college students, you really never know (and don't we know it). But wouldn't you know, they were into it. They were really into it, in a way that made the block of time from 9AM to 10AM this morning probably one of my favorite hours in Yogyakarta. No lie.
Their questions were smart, inquisitive, and heartfelt; everything from "There are many images of traveling in these poems -- what is the meaning of that for you?" to "Why do you choose poetry as your medium to write about your own experiences? Does it scare you to share such personal information with others?" Not only had they read the poems carefully and thought critically about them, but they were also clearly thinking about their own writing processes, and were viewing my visit to their class as an opportunity to see into a "real writer's" creative process and hopefully glean lessons they could integrate into their own. Of course, to sit in front of 30 students and get to talk about yourself for an hour would probably rock anyone's socks, but it was really a very exquisite sensation to realize that through the simple action of attaching five Word documents to an email to Emma, I had helped set in motion an experience that would wind up being -- as far as I could tell -- actually inspirational for a handful of young writers. Is there anything cooler than that?
As English majors, they've done their time poring over the classics, and they seemed delighted but baffled to be presented with poems that they could actually access, that actually spoke to them -- which baffled me. And also reminded me why teaching poetry is something maybe I might want to do in the future, if only for those moments, like today, when a student looks up and says, "But I understood this poem. I liked it. I got it. Is that really all there is to it?" And that is the message I tried to leave them with: Yes, my friends, that's really all there is to it. There is no secret meaning you didn't find behind the lines. Poetry is actually awesome. No lie.
At the end of the class, a few students came up to express how much they had enjoyed my poems, and to thank me for visiting their class ("No really guys, thank you"). The last was a shy girl who introduced herself and said, "I am not brave enough to speak in front of the class, but may I ask you a few questions?" And after her questions, she took out her notebook and said, "Could I ask you to sign this for me? I would just like to have your signature as a souvenir." And then I just about died. Seriously, my autograph? All I could think of was that this young Indonesian girl, probably an aspiring writer herself, had been so moved by a couple of my poems that she wanted me to sign her notebook. Now there's a moment I'll never forget for as long as I live. Check.
I kind of wished it wouldn't end, that the lovefest of poetry and mutual inspiration could go on and on, but of course it did and I had to go back to the real world of another hot Friday in Yogya. But I realized on my way home with Emma that a sizable portion of my best experiences here -- baby turtles as a gift, improvising a new version of my favorite board game, tagging along with my friend to her creative writing class -- have all been because of students. And that, really, is all there is to it. I like to say that teaching ESL, while fun, is not my life's calling -- and that's probably true -- but it sure has given me some unforgettable experiences (not to mention prime blog material). And since I'm not likely to be handing out a whole lot more autographs anytime soon, I'm going to relish this moment and expand my statement from a previous blog: not only do I have the best damn students in the whole damn school, but I'd go ahead and wager that students are the best damn part of this whole damn thing.
Jus alpukat, of course, clocking in at a close second place. Very close.