Thursday, January 14, 2021

Poetry Friday -- A Poem for The Week After


A List of Things That Will Set You Free

– Joyce Sidman







A voice.

A touch.


Not caring.

Saying to yourself:

I am too old to do this.

I am too young to do this.

I am too smart to do this.

It’s not my fault.

It is my fault, and I will fix it.

I can do this.

(poem used in its entirety with Joyce Sidman's permission)

This is the poem I chose for our weekly poem this week. It was a poem that I needed in The Week After (which turned out to be another Week Of), and I was curious to see what my students would take from it.

On the first day, we dug into reactions and noticings, and they were stumped initially by the two halves of the poem. They noticed that the pairs in the first half seem to go together (except for caring/not caring), while the second half tells how to react to things. 

On the next day, when we read for meaning and craft, one student argued that the pairs of words in the first half in fact don't go together. I suggested that perhaps we could let the title of the poem help us think about the pairs, and that unlocked their thinking. Feet/wheels set us free by letting us go places; wind/sun set us free with happiness; words/music set us free with the ability to create; voice/touch set us free by making us feel better; caring/not caring set us free by giving us the choice to help. In the second half, each of the statements also set us free to choose, and that last one..."accepting that it's your fault frees you from guilt, and when you fix it, you are truly free."

As for Joyce Sidman's craft moves, they noticed the uniqueness of the spacing and the pairs of single words ("there are no unnecessary words"), and "the way it looks forces you to read it in a certain way."

For myself, I keep going back to those last three lines. Everything that's happened in our country a white liberal woman, what is my fault (or complicity)? How will I help to fix this rift in our country? And oh that last line, which exudes the confidence I don't really have, but into which I must lean.

Margaret has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Reflections on the Teche.


  1. Wow! I am impressed with the insights from your students. They must have a really smart teacher! Like you, I am struggling with the questions you raise in the last paragraph, especially How will I help fix this rift in our country?

  2. Love this poem, Mary Lee. Your students' thinking is insightful. And I agree, we all need some confidence to lean into.

  3. A rich and thought-provoking text to use for a close read, Mary Lee - and wonderful to hear the observations that were made. Courage, my friend.

  4. Mary Lee, thank you for the noticings, the questions and the craft talk. It's all craft, isn't it? This figuring out our place in what's happening? I've been a comfortable bystander for too long. I have met with resistance in my little world for the small actions I've taken. This poem is perfect for this week. Thank you for letting me be one of your students here.

  5. Thanks for sharing the way you and your students processed this poem. It's speaking to me and making me feel the tug of choices.

  6. Such an excellent choice, Mary Lee, for it so captures the swirling sense of futility mingled with responsibility and courage. Resonates deeply with me. The student analysis is magnificent as is your focus on the last three lines of Joyce's poem ...we all must examine our individual contributions to the collective whole. If we all ask "How will I help fix this rift in our country?" and seek it together... imagine the resurgence of confidence. Thank you, Mary Lee.

  7. Yes, I think a lot about who I am, a white liberal woman, and what is my place in what is wrong and in the fix going forward. Thank you for this thoughtful important post.

  8. And "Into which I must lean". I love how you're filling the discussions day by day, Mary Lee, not pushing for all at once, but letting the poem soak in. Yes, many, me included, must take the guilt and act because it matters.

  9. I love the way you explored this poem with students, and there is much to learn here from Joyce... we can all do something. xo

  10. Your choice of poem is inspired Mary Lee. The way you have been able to harness its energy and potential with your students is the essence of effective teaching. The talk, thinking and discussion; the close examination of craft, the returning to the poem all add to this learning experience being a gift. Congratulations!

  11. Such a powerful poem that you and your students embraced wholeheartedly–and such a good idea to digest it slowly. It seems as if it was written for today, but Joyce wrote it a while back in her book "What the Heart Knows."Thanks for sharing it, and keeping us focused on how we need to take a part in repairing what's not working.

  12. You're doing such important work with your students. It's really wonderful.

  13. What a wonderful poem to share here and with your students. And what a wonderful journey you took with them to explore it. I am a big fan of Joyce's poetry, although I wasn't familiar with this one. I appreciate your own question--and ask myself the same thing. Let me know if you figure out an answer.

  14. Wow--I love the insights of you and your students. And this glorious poem. Thanks, Mary Lee.

  15. Mary Lee, I am intrigued by your students' astuteness and your deep reflection. Many of us are perplexed by the divisiveness in our country and the lack of respect. Maybe we can resurrect the hashtag: #poemsofhope (Is that what we were using?) BTW: Franki wrote right back to me and gave me advice on how to rectify my NCTE proposal issue that I sent you at DM about.)

  16. Thank you for sharing your students reactions as they puzzled through Joyce's words. The poem reminds me of Tim Gunn's explanation of his phrase, "Make it work." When we face a problem, we learn from finding a solution, not by giving up (or passing the buck).


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