〈My dream about teaching a poem writing class〉Becky Cheung

Last night, I dreamed about teaching a group of super attentive students to write narrative poems in a classroom. As a sort of warm-up, we constructed a narrative poem together on the blackboard to express our loves and hates. In the middle of the lesson, one of the students asked about my favourite poem, and very surprisingly, I recited the first stanza of Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful World written by William Brighty Rands; the only stanza I remembered. The whole class was laughing to death when I told them I forgot the rest of the poem. Opened my eyes, it was all just a dream.

I believe this dream has something to do with the gatherings I have had with former students recently. It was wonderful meeting these young people, who reminded me of lots of precious moments working as a teacher, teaching English through songs and lyrics, in the past.

M asked how I learnt to recite a poem in a way that aroused one’s deep emotion. I told her that listening to different renditions of the same song may help, but what was truly working wonders; stirring up one’s strong emotions, might be the power of poetic diction adopted by the writers. When using a song in the classroom, I always relied on the chemistry between the words and the music. Of course, creating a situation that connected my students with the lyrics was a must-do. 

M mentioned the song I used in one of the lessons. That was Butterfly, a beautiful song written and sung by Corinne Bailey Rae to compare her upbringing to the life of a butterfly, and her home to a chrysalis. I used the song to stimulate M and her classmates to talk about their relationship with their parents before getting them to read a story about mother-daughter relationship. I was thrilled to learn that M still remembered not only the song but also the key messages I tried to convey to her during the lesson.

E said she missed the poem writing lessons and asked how I learnt to write poems. I honestly told her that I was never assigned to write poems in English when I was in school. Those quick poems I did (usually with my students) on the blackboard were mainly for demonstrating how a poem could be created in a short time, and, more importantly, assuring my students of their potential of creative writing. I always tell them, “Everything Miss Cheung can do, you can do better.” To be frank, I am lucky to have taught in schools that filled with budding poets, whose talents and creativity always inspired/drove me to exert myself.

My first poem recital was done very informally in an English lesson when I was in Primary 5; a recital of Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful, World. I remember nothing about my recital but the good feeling after saying it and the resounding round of applause that followed me back to my seat. With such positive reinforcement given by my teacher and classmates that day, I went on reading more and more poems and lyrics. 

I guess I do have an innate passion for poems and lyrics. You can never imagine how much I was longing for my poem lessons that took place only every other Saturday when I was in primary school. The first poem I learnt to read was written by Robert Louis Stevenson thought I cannot remember the title of it. However, I do love his My Shadow a lot. I remember very well how I adapted some of the lines and added them to my composition, aiming at showing off the powerful words I learnt including “shining dew”, “make a fool of me”, “from heels to head” and “an arrant sleepyhead”. You can imagine what it is like seeing a primary school student writing these words in her writing. No wonder they worked miracles for me too! That was why getting my students to recite poems and then producing substitution poem became one of my favourite teaching activities. 

I woke up this morning, lying in bed savouring the memory of this pleasant dream to the full. Even when I was brushing my teeth, the first stanza of Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful World still came to my mind. In reality, that is not my favourite poem, but I know very well why it turned up in my dream. With all the precious memories of my teaching recalled by this dream as well as the positive comments given to my lessons by M, I should review all the plans and materials for teaching English through songs and lyrics that I have used, and conduct a workshop to share my passion with in-service teachers.