Poetry and Technology: Mom, Dad and Me

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on teaching poetry and technology together. As one of the founders of the Media Poetry Studio summer camp for girls, I gave this answer.

The source of my interests in poetry and technology is the same – my parents’ influence in my early childhood – but my journey along the three paths of poetry, teaching and technology diverges in a twirling dance. My mother read me poetry from early childhood. She had poems by heart, and soon I did, too. One of my favorites was “Disobedience” by A. A. Milne. My mom wrote verse in cards to her nieces and nephews; she was an educated woman. My dad was a mathematician, an early pioneer in computer programming. He moved our family from Boston to Palo Alto, CA to join a computer company in the 1960s. He loved computers and the space program, and technology fascinated him in a way that was contagious. Both parents loved classical music, which was always playing in our house. I was encouraged to read and write, and I loved school as a girl. In many ways, mine was a fortunate childhood.

I published my first poem in the fifth grade, in the Palo Alto Times, a local paper. Encouraged to explore my own voice by my young idealistic teacher, I discovered an outlet for feelings that weren’t discussed at home. As much as my parents loved me, they also struggled, and, like so many families, we didn’t talk about how their pain – their real suffering – affected me. Unconsciously, I believe now, I learned that poetry was a place for invisible feelings to be allowed “out” in an acceptable way.

Someone poem cropped

This photo won’t turn right side up. I will keep trying.

My mom was the reader, the language lover. My dad was a computer nerd, one of the earliest, with genuine pocket protector and horn-rimmed glasses. So when I began seriously writing poetry in college, I assumed my mother had been my influence. In my father’s later years, however, after he retired, he started sending me little emails, almost every day, small observations about the world around him, what he felt, the things he noticed: birds at the feeder, the lilacs outside his window, how yummy his lunch was, how much he loved my mom. My dad, the technology freak, was the observant one, the one who listened to the tapping sounds the puzzle pieces made on the table. Creating computer code was his creative language. When my dad died, we discovered poems in his wallet that he’d been carrying for years.

(I have a great poem of my mom, dad, and me that I’m trying to find that should go here.)

My discovery of (and love for) teaching was also something of a surprise. In this blog post, “Why Teach Poetry” I talk about my circuitous path through literature, nursing, and poetry eventually to teaching. I have to confess, I’m really not a technology lover, myself, the way David and Erica are (David Perez and Erica Goss are the MPS founders). I like paper. I like pencils. But I love what they’re doing, and I appreciate that technology is critical to the future of the human race. My kids have helped me understand that, one an actress, the other a writer, both inseparable from their technology. And I think my dad would be thrilled beyond measure that I have the opportunity to combine poetry with technology. My mom (always a little afraid of my poetry, I think, or at least a little mystified) has recently found a new way to enjoy it – sitting in her house in Maine, she can watch and listen to me recite my poetry through the magic of her computer. Mom, Dad and me – still together with poetry through the wonders of the digital world.

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