Learning by Heart

Learning by Heart

Contemporary American Poetry about School
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246 pages, 6 x 9 inches
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“The most thoughtful—and scholastic—anthology of the season. ”—Publishers Weekly

“I would wager that you have forgotten 90% of the academic lessons you learned in school. I would also wager that you remember 100% of the lessons you learned about yourself—from your teachers and your classmates. And I am certain that whether you were teacher's pet or the pariah of the playground, you will find yourself in Learning by Heart, walking those familiar hallways, hiding in those familiar corners, wishing on stars and stepping over cracks in the sidewalk in front of your own school.”—LouAnne Johnson, author of Dangerous Minds

“I have spent many years among schoolchildren, but I have never written directly about it. I don't know if I'm eventually going to write about Mr. Baradone, my Hebrew teacher, or Miss Pickard, my seventh-grade teacher whom I fell madly in love with. In the meantime I will read this book with joy, savoring every wild dream, fear, confession, disappointment, nostalgia, embarrassment, and horror. A lovely book.”—Gerald Stern

“Maggie Anderson and David Hassler have done a fine job of editing Learning by Heart. They have selected strong poems by many of our best contemporary writers, and their thematic arrangement into sections is intelligent and revealing…By inviting us to remember our own and to envision others' experiences of school, Learning by Heart also provokes us to imagine how school might be different. The editors intend that the book find its way into schools and especially into teacher preparation classes. I hope it does.”—The National Writing Project Quarterly

Learning by Heart brings together a unique and diverse collection of poems about the experience of school as seen through the eyes of America's best contemporary poets. These poets capture the educational process not only in the classroom but as it takes place in libraries and hallways, on playing fields and at dances. Alternately joyous and defiant, they demonstrate how it is that young people come to find their place in the world.

Most of the poems in this anthology were written between 1970 and 1995, a period that encompasses both the halcyon years of poets-in-the-schools programs and the primary and secondary school years of many of the poets included. Their poems define school in that most contemporary sense — “with a multitude of voices”—reflecting perspectives from African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and Native American as well as Anglo American backgrounds, from both public and private schools in rural and urban environments.

Learning by Heart offers a profound and timely statement about schools and learning as well as the role of art in education. Finally, these poems validate that most important lesson: even the most common of experiences is worthy of creative expression.


Donald Hall
Audre Lorde
Mark Doty
Gary Snyder
Jane Kenyon
Li-Young Lee
Jorie Graham
Joyce Carol Oates
Louise Erdrich
Kyoko Mori
Frank O'hara
William Stafford
Sherman Alexie
Rita Dove


Letter To A Substitute Teacher

Gary Gildner

Dear Miss Miller,
You are someone
too sweet to sleep alone
and I can't help myself

sitting here hearing
your soft voice so
I must tell you
I like you

very much and would like
to know you better.
I know there is a difference
in our age and race

but we do have something
in common—You're a girl
and I'm a boy
and that is all

we need. Please
do not look at me
like I'm silly or sick
and most of all

please do not reject
my very first love
affair. If you do
not feel the same

as I do please
tell me how to forget
your unforgettable voice
that reminds me

of Larry the Duke's pet
birds in the morning,
your blue eyes like the
Blessed Virgin's,

your golden hair and your
nice red mouth. Please
give me some sign
of how you feel,

I would rather be hurt
than forgotten forever.
Sincerely yours,
The Boy in the Green Shirt.


Susan Murray

The window is open.
The smell of spring.
Like sweet grass
and barefoot running.

But we are all trapped in
the stillness of the classroom.

Why did this teacher
(Oh, he is such a tyrant!)
open the window?

We shall never learn now.
Our minds are distracted
expanding off
and out.

Directions For Resisting The SAT

Richard Hague

Do not believe in October or May
or in any Saturday morning with pencils.
Do not observe the rules of gravity,
commas, history.
Lie about numbers.
Blame your successes,
every one of them,
on rotten luck.
Resign all clubs and committees.
Go down with the ship—any ship.
Speak nothing like English.
Desire to live whole,
like an oyster or snail,
and follow no directions.
Listen to no one.

Make your mark on everything.

For The Cheerleaders Of Garfield High

Colleen J. McElroy

In pom-poms and perfume
They're picture perfect
Palm wine drinkers scream
As they spin and leap
Each motion set
For stop action
A flash of blackberry thigh
An arched neck
Lifting a satin chin
Then bursts of light
As they collapse
Giggling in rhyme
They take you back
To any hometown game
Backs like graceful strings
On a harp blend
And flow with their arms
Making music in space
Catching strains of the Sahara
They weave a cat's cradle
Of dreams, these girls
Who could wash rice
On a mud floor
Wearing mink.