For the last two days, my students have metaphorically sat at the feet of Robert “Bob” Okaji and learned and learned and learned some more. Last week, I gave them five poems and a handful of directions: what are the poems’ topics? What are the poems’ meanings? Why are those meanings important?
They broke up into small groups, clusters of four or five (for the most part). Several students hunched at their desks by themselves. In one class, I had a mini-board meeting. They lined up colored pens and colored pencils and dove headfirst into diction, symbols, metaphors, and language, such beautiful language that I would tie myself to the phonemes and feel myself lift like a kite.
I flitted from group to group, gave encouragement, a little insight. I saw a bridge where none existed. I confirmed analysis of the concept of zero and the importance of etymology. I left them alone to dig into worlds where scarecrows stood within fields and observed and lamented a world torn by religiously advocated and incited violence.
I stood at the edge of this great cosmic interplay and watched as they created constellations out of words and meaning out of emptiness. They found Buddhism, Nietzsche, existentialism, and life. Such beautiful life.
I once read a National Geographic article about Basho and his journey across Japan. In listening to Bob, today and yesterday, read his poetry to my students, I was reminded of the organic beauty of Basho, of this poet who wove together words and nature and imagery and braided them into these stained-glass masterpieces.
I sat at a desk and felt the swell of sounds, of Bob’s musical voice as he read poetry to us as though he were singing a lullaby. With the ebb and flow of each sound, the room shifted, hesitated, breathed when the poems ended.
The classes loved these workshops. They tried so hard to peg Bob into a meaning, into a statement that would confirm their ideas. Only several received potential confirmation, little nuggets that lifted their confidence. Most were told that their interpretations were valid, astute, intelligent. Not a gentle letting down. But a fabulous recognition of their insight.
We each of us have a deep reservoir of experiences and emotions which guide our interpretations. We see things in different ways that are unique to our perspectives and can make our sense of analytic sight individual and, at times, foreign and un-nerving. I love to look for sounds, look for how they tie into a background. It’s me and it’s how I see (or hear) things; it’s how I experience the world.
Today, my students sat at the feet of their Basho who guided them on a literary journey. They stood in the shadow of a sentient scarecrow. They were on a bridge that did and didn’t exist. They listened to the song of a coral snake. They learned. They taught. They spoke.
And when they weren’t speaking, they were listening to and learning from a master.
And me? I was in the back of the room, twisting my hands and dreaming of words.