Review of Nathan Graziano’s “Teaching Metaphors”
Natathan Graziano’s slim book, published by Sunnyoutside of Somerville, MA is simple on the surface. The poems are accessible, honest, and wide-ranging. It is divided into two
Parts: The Student Body and The Faculty. It could be read in or out of school; even as an assignment, the reading is compelling. Everyone will recognize him or herself in one or more of the poems. The poems bring us back, as if we were ghosts, walking the hallways of our own high school. Often the tone is cynical, and we ask ourselves, does Graziano reallike like teaching at all?
Consider “Monday Morning with Lazarus”
“…Hordes of nickel-eyed students/ drag heavy feet in a slow parade/ a procession of the condemned/ moving toward the school’s entrance/ the open mouth of the sepulcher…
Consider “Wrestling with Wallace Stevens.” Mr. G. the teacher wrestles with “The Explorer of the Ice Cream.” ‘Meanwhile my students read Kafka/ and hold the German
“following word left to right with limp eyes/ more interested in American Idol /than a good existential crisis/ I’ve yet to pin The emperor of Ice Cream/And they’re morphing into apathetic roaches.”
Graziano seems to have two levels of existence as a teacher. He writes in the preface to “The Student Body.” “In your more serious moods, you stand outside your classroom in your white shirt and to see yourself. Other times, you can see your own face in through the stream, wearing that dizzy glaze that has always belonged to you.”
The poems are written in an intermingling of these two voices. They are spare, spare no punches, and mostly concentrate on the problems of public education and the hopelessness of the students and many faculty members. The book takes a hard look at the educational system. It pictures teaches who care, teaches who burn out, students sleeping in class, a student who says, “I hate this class.”
One especially moving poem is “D is for DIPLOMA” which ends,
“The Teen Mother sighed as tears glazed/ her own marble eyes like dew on a crystal ball,
Pleading like she was freezing and I held fire.”
The poems are written for compassion for the experience andof each person, as if the poet, as a teacher, has the ability to separate his ego from the subjects he talks about, the students and faculty. He observes them without injecting his own personality.
It’s my guess that this ability to not take things personally, to separate his ego from students and faculty, is the secret of Graziano’s longevity as a teacher and success as a teacher. He gleans poetry from moments that might depress, anger, or pass by a less inspired teacher.
For example, in one poem, a student starts dancing in the middle of study hall. “ What the hell are you doing?” the teacher asks. “I’m dancing, Mr.G,” she says. He says,
“I watch her helpless from my desk, until the bass starts to beat in my head too.”
Written in colloquial low key language, “Teaching Metaphors”makes no barriers between the adult and the young person we all once were. Government officials: listen up.
Perceptive, approachable book.