Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Crouching pencil, hidden word

This morning I asked my Creative Nonfiction students to read the poem "The Unwritten," W. S. Merwin's appreciation of the power of the pencil, which begins thus:
Inside this pencil
crouch words that have never been written
never been spoken
never been taught
Later, Merwin concludes
It could be that there's only one word
and it's all we need
it's here in this pencil
every pencil in the world
is like this.
And the next words out of my mouth ought to have been "Pick up your pencils and write," but who these days carries a pencil? Consider the pencil a metaphor for whatever writing implements students prefer: part of my task as a writing teacher is to encourage students to pick up their pencils and release the words hiding inside, because maybe they're hiding a story no one else can tell, a story that can change the world or at least make it more bearable.

"Every pencil in the world / is like this," says Merwin, but I would add every pen and every keyboard and every bit of voice-activated software. We who teach writing have a responsibility to put pencils in the hand of students and help them free the hidden words crouching within in the vain hope that someday, somewhere everyone will be able to pick up their pencils and write. 

(Or pens, as the case may be.)

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