Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan’t be gone long.—You come too.
There is a small stream that runs along the boundary of our yard and the wooded hill beyond. For now, it is hidden, silent under ice and snow. With the winter thaw and spring rains, it will come roaring back to life. Then, it will be all white water roiling over the edge of the lawn, which drops off suddenly into the sloping field below. We will hear it night and day through the walls of the house.
Before we lived here, I used to think the lines quoted above from Frost’s “The Pasture” were quaint. I now sense a hard-earned practicality behind them. If I fail to clean the dead leaves, branches and other debris from the spring, once those heavy rains come it will clog, back up and turn my entire yard into one muddy pond.
Neurologist and author Oliver Saks has written that all forms of illness or “dis-ease” result from some form of closing off. It can be a shutting down of systems, a failure of nutrients to pass through a cell wall, or the cutting off of feelings, desires or memories. We know we are at our happiest, healthiest and most productive when our intelligence, emotions, communications and creativity are their most open and free-flowing.
But it is not enough to merely clear the spring. The spring in our yard borders on a large earthen outcrop where a tall crabapple tree grows. Each spring its pink blossoms completely dominate the view. When we first moved there, after clearing the long neglected spring bed of its spongy layer of rotted leaves, I noticed the increased water flow was beginning to erode the outcrop and expose some of the tree’s roots. To save the tree, I gathered field stones and built a wall down one side of the creek-bed. It’s not enough to clear the spring; it must be tended over time.
Since 1992, the Dodge Poetry Program has been offering poetry exploration groups for New Jersey teachers. Called Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain, these sessions get their title from the understanding that, like the spring in Frost’s poem, the spring of our imaginative and creative centers requires tending. This can be particularly true for teachers with the increasing pressures put on them in these challenging times.
Led by Dodge Poets, regional poets who work with us in our Poetry-in-the- Schools Program and at the Festival, Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain invites teachers to reawaken their “beginner’s mind.” Many past participants have praised the refreshing and revitalizing experience of listening to and reading poetry in the supportive company of like-minded colleagues. Notice that Frost’s spring is not an internal one. Our creativity, too, is fed by many springs outside ourselves. Many of them come from the people we encounter.
Are you a New Jersey Teacher or know one who could benefit from some tending to their creative and imaginative lives? Online registration for the 2011 series begins Friday, February 4 at www.DodgePoetry.org.
While there may be occasions to compose what might be called “acts of language” during the series, Clearing the Spring, Tending the Founding is not a writing workshop and writing is not a requirement for participation. It also offers New Jersey Teachers the opportunity to earn up to 20 Professional Development Hours.
(Photo by Jon Roemer.)