National Poetry Month with English Teacher Betsy McGee

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In celebration of April being National Poetry Month, English teacher Betsy McGee reflected on some of her favorite things about poetry and why she loves to read it and teach it. Take the opportunity this month to read and enjoy a poem that you love, or ask your friends (or teachers) for recommendations!

What is one of your favorite poems?

"Abou Ben Adhem" by Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Who is one of your favorite poets?

Mary Oliver

What do you love about poetry?

Betsy's Grandfather
Ms. McGee's Grandfather

What I love about poetry is that it's ready whenever you are. That sentiment is paraphrased from Eve Merriam's "How to Eat a Poem." My favorite poem I listed there was actually one of my grandfather's favorite poems. He was from the Greatest Generation—he volunteered for service and fought in WWII. He came back and went to school and then law school. My grandfather was hard of hearing in his later years, and he didn't talk much or tell lengthy stories like others in my family. But he was an incredible writer and he loved to read. He gifted me an anthology of poetry for my 17th birthday that included a very long, typed letter outlining his favorite poems. At the time, I didn't appreciate the gift. When he passed away, I was already teaching English in Boston. I opened the book and read his letter before traveling to Ohio for his funeral. I read his favorite poems—they had been waiting there and were ready for me. I was ready for them. At my grandfather's burial, there was a massive lightning storm, and a torrential downpour cut the graveside burial short. No one really got to say anything. After the rain stopped, my dad wanted to go back but didn't know what to do when we got there. So I read one of my grandfather's favorite poems, "Abou Ben Adhem," off of my iPhone. My favorite line from the poem perfectly captures my grandfather's legacy: "Abou spoke more low, / But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then, / Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

What do you hope your students can get from a study of poetry?

An understanding that poems are not puzzles to crack. They are pieces of literature that have been carefully crafted for them to connect to, to understand, to gain insight from, to revisit at times when they are ready for them. 

Betsy McGee Betsy McGee joined the English department at The Waterford School in 2017. She earned an M. Ed. in Secondary Education with a focus on English instruction from the Boston College Lynch School of Education. Prior to her studies at Boston College, Betsy graduated from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. At Bates, Betsy majored in Art History, played varsity lacrosse, and sang in an acapella group. Betsy decided to become an English teacher because she enjoys working with young people, loves stories, and had some really inspirational English teachers herself. 

Before moving to Utah, Betsy lived in Boston for seven years and taught English at Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts for three years. Betsy is a proud New Englander who hails from Connecticut and loves traveling to see her family in Maine. You can also count on her to loudly cheer for the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and Boston Bruins. Now that she lives in Utah, Betsy enjoys spending her free time camping in the desert, skiing in the Wasatch mountains, and mountain biking in Park City.