Thursday, May 17, 2018

In case you didn't know, I am IMPERFECT


"Escape" by Amelia Whelan


Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

                    – Ralph Waldo Emerson


This Emerson quote is my favorite from Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes: An Anthology for Middle Schoolers, edited by Tabatha Yeatts. It's one of several that are scattered throughout the collection, interspersed with 70 poems by 50 poets (many of whom will be familiar to TLD readers). I'm honored to be among them.

Visit the Team Imperfect blog for purchasing links.
Not all of the poems in Imperfect are about life lessons. You'll find the full gamut—mistakes born from ignorance or naiveté; mistakes that lead to invention, pain, or laughter; silly and fanciful poems about mistake-making; poems about self-discovery and finding one's place in the world; and yes, poems about life lessons and how we move on from them. You'll also find a thoughtful introduction by Tabatha, and useful back matter about making good decisions, apologizing effectively, and a few poetic forms readers can try.

It's fantastic that this anthology addresses middle schoolers directly. Has anyone come out of those awkward, uncomfortable years unscathed? I know I didn't. I do hope teachers, parents, and other caregivers will recognize that this anthology will be helpful to more than just middle schoolers, however. Judging by my children's experiences, I'd say it more accurately spans 4th grade to 9th grade.

The take home here is to make sure Imperfect is ready and waiting for whenever it's needed—that moment when a child reaches out to a book, rather than a person, for private reassurance. Chances are, it will happen.

Reading numerous reviews that have popped up from week to week (I particularly enjoyed this interview with Tabatha), I've been deliberating over which of my Imperfect poems I'd like to share. The one I keep coming back to is "To the boy playing with his army men on the front lawn," but to be honest, I've been reluctant. It's the most personal of the three, by far. Mistakes are hard to confess to when they happen, but sometimes they're even difficult to own up to decades later! It's one thing to see my poem on the page, but another entirely to talk about it openly in a blog post. My reluctance is why I know I must.

TO THE BOY PLAYING WITH HIS ARMY
MEN ON THE FRONT LAWN:

They say that everyone is fighting some kind of battle,
but I have no good excuse for my surprise attack—
a ride-by on bicycle, words flung like a grenade.
I wanted to hear the pop of the pin,
taste the insult in my mouth,
feel my heart pound in the moments before the blast.
And then it was done.
(I couldn't take it back.)
I pedal away feeling like the enemy—
even to myself.

                    – Michelle Heidenrich Barnes

Part of the reason I've been reluctant to share this poem is because the backstory involves more than just myself.

It involves the victim, of course, but I can be fairly sure of protecting his anonymity since I don't even recall his name. If I replay the event in my mind (which I have, over and over), the words weren't all that demeaning. Despite him looking up when I passed, I'm not even sure he clearly heard what I said or thought much about it. He might have—I didn't stick around long enough to find out. But I know very well what I intended. It wasn't about the words. It was the fact that I spontaneously made a choice to hurt his feelings, and the cutting manner in which I put him down.

What makes this mistake particularly difficult to talk about is the fact that it also involves someone I love and care about—my brother. Four years my senior, we were never all that close growing up. We didn't even attend the same schools at the same time. But those who knew my family back then might recall that he struggled to find his place at school—he was teased and bullied. And, by the way, he played with miniature army men. Back then, lots of children grew up playing war. Still do, I imagine.

Jay Javier

Although my brother was not the direct victim of my ride-by attack, he was the indirect, unknowing victim. Ultimately this poem is about my own insecurity. Even though we never went to school together, when you grow up in a small suburb, word gets around among students. Especially students with siblings. And fear is a powerful motivator. Despite the fact that I did "fit in" socially, I was afraid that if I ever stuck up for my older brother, I would bear the consequences. So what did I do? In this instance, I took out my fear of being bullied on someone else. I became the bully. For someone who values compassion as highly as I do, this was a tough pill to swallow. I still feel the heartburn.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. (Not all bullying stories do.) My brother turned out fine despite his social struggles at school—something else that's incredibly important for middle schoolers to hear! He turned out better than fine, actually. I'm so proud of the way he's challenged himself throughout his life, his many notable achievements, the respect he garners from his peers, and his incredible ability to create opportunities for himself. Most of all, I'm proud to be his sister.

* * Enter to win a hardcover copy of Imperfect at The Children's Book Review. * * 


I know it doesn't seem fair (I haven't gotten around to writing mine yet either), but believe it or not, there's only one week to go before our wrap-up celebration of window poems! This week's featured ditties included work by Rebekah Hoeft, Donna JT Smith, Dianne Moritz, and Rosi Hollinbeck. Linda Mitchell, Linda Baie, and Jone Rush MacCulloch share poems today at their own blogs. Don't forget to leave your window poem on our May 2018 padlet!



Rebecca Herzog has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Sloth Reads, along with a fabulous review and giveaway of I'm Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith. (Yep. The same award-winning Lane Smith who illustrated this month's DMC featured book: a house that once was!)


36 comments:

  1. YAY! I'm imperfect right along with ya. Isn't it grand? This week I am tackling the'Window Poem" challenge at A Word Edgewise with a poem inspired by our Library of Congress Archives. I've got plans for this poem....that isn't quite finished. So, I'm not putting it up on the padlet. But, take a peek anyway.
    http://awordedgewiselindamitchell.blogspot.com/

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    1. Imperfectly grand, yes. ;) Thanks for posting your window poem today, Linda.

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  2. Regret is an awful thing, but it also provides fodder for the poet!

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  3. Amazing how those incidents live forever. In your heart, you had pain, or you wouldn't have carried that memory so long!

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  4. We do remember what we rue, and even a poem won't take it away, but the acknowledgement is a start, isn't it? My son still played with toys in Middle School, but hid in the basement, telling me not to let anyone know. The pressure to "be" like others is so strong. Your poem shows the hurt that's flung and it's true: "(I couldn't take it back.)" How lovely, Michelle, that you wrote this. Thanks for link. I'll post on the padlet, too.

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    1. Yep. It's a long way from caterpillar to butterfly when it comes to self-forgiveness. Thanks for your kind words, Linda.

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  5. Thank you for sharing. I have memories of mistakes I have made from when I was a child, and I am always a little surprised at the sting/shock/hurt that those memories can still conjure. Thank you for sharing a little piece of yourself here.

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    1. Me too, Rebecca. Letting go is a long process, I guess.

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  6. Appreciate your sharing the poem as well as your candid assessment of this incident. I was reminded of when my older brother and I "played war" as children. I was always reluctant, but he seemed to like it . . .

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    1. Playing war wasn't my cup of tea either, Jama, but I thought the article I linked to offered an interesting perspective.

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  7. Like most of us, I've been on both sides of your poem, Michelle -- perpetrator and victim of teasing. I still remember one moment during my preteen years when a cousin saw a couple of Barbies on the floor of my bedroom and laughed, "You still play with THOSE?" I mumbled, "Yeah...only when I'm really bored." (A lie, but I definitely played with them less often from that day forward!) It's good to be able to let go of painful incidents...but easier said than done!

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    1. Indeed, Jesse. Easier said than done. As a parent, it's tough to see it happen to our children, too!

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  8. A terrific poem, Michelle, and very brave of you to share this "imperfect" part of yourself. I, too, was bullied and was a bully sometimes. The worst moment I remember was when I yelled out the cheerleader's bus at 2 boys in chess club,
    trying to scare them, which I did. I should have known
    better. Later that year one of the boy's committed suicide and has an "in memoriam" in the hs year book. I still feel guilt all these years later.

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    1. Ugh. That's a tough one, Dianne. We hold so much on our shoulders. Hugs to you!

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  9. I cringed as I read this--two very specific bully moments that I still remember and regret. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. If we only knew then what we know now, right?

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  10. This story could be mine. I have a younger brother but all the same, I wasn't always the nicest sister. I remember a time when I said something really mean to a group of girls and even these long years after, I wish I could take it back. That's the trouble with shame. It sticks around. A great poem that middle schoolers will be able to relate to. I am happy to have a copy of this anthology.

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    1. I wonder if we would be the same people today if we hadn't made these mistakes, Margaret. Maybe our best growth comes from the process of making amends and moving on.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your imperfections with us, Michelle. It can be hard to come clean as a mistake-maker, but you have a lot of company! xo

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    1. So I see. :) Thanks to IMPERFECT for the opportunity to showcase my flaws. LOL

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  12. I suspect your poem will hit home with many. I know reading it brought back memories of hurt I caused and then regretted. Thank you for sharing it and the story behind it--such a brave example for all of us. And for once I added a poem for this month's challenge before the last week!

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  13. Ah, I just love the line "words flung like a grenade." This is such a great poem. Thanks for sharing it here.

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  14. Well, we aren't perfect, we've probably all hurt someone even if we didn't realize we did. Reflections are good and poems even better, for then our voice and action have an audience–thanks for sharing this strong, soul-searching poem Michelle, so much said with so few words.

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  15. Ugh. Unfortunately, my open mouth- insert foot issue didn't stop in childhood. I recently made a comment at a family dinner. I realized later that one of my siblings might have been hurt by the comment. I didn't mean it to be hurtful, but I didn't think before I said it. Thank goodness for grace. We all need a little of of it once in a while. Your poem is wonderful. Poetry can heal. Poetry can help us forgive others and also help us to forgive ourselves. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Like you say, Kimberly, grace goes a long way. I love the connection you've made between poetry and forgiveness.

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  16. What a powerful poem and reflections, Michelle. Like Rebekah wrote, I cringed when reading this, thinking of a specific incident of deliberate unkindness on my part. Bullying, really, if I'm coming clean. I admire your ability to take a painful memory and transform it into a moving, powerful poem. I also appreciate your sharing the context with us. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. If there's one thing I've learned from this blog post (and all of these heartfelt comments), it's that I shouldn't feel alone in my imperfection. Thanks, Molly.

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  17. Michelle, thank you for sharing your poem that is personal and reflective. Mistakes, imperfections, and misshaps all make us step back and say why. There are so many reasons for the whys and so many regrets. That is why writing becomes a great sounding board to recall & reflect. Can we redo? No, but we can try to do better. I plan on writing a window poem.

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    1. Yes, we can try to do better—a lifelong occupation, no doubt. Looking forward to your window poem, Carol!

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