Mark Kerstetter whose blog The Bricoleur I admire tremendously, gave me this very prestigious award a week or two ago. Mark received the award himself from Linda at Leftbrainwave, a blog for 'proper writers'; I think if Linda knew that Mark has passed it on to me, she'd be sorely tempted to cashier him.
Mark's blog is a work of art, literally; not only does he write the most elegant prose, compose poetry that compares favourably to the best around the blogosphere, he is also a painter and sculptor. As if that weren't enough, I also consider him a philosopher, so how he came to think of me on this occasion is a mystery to me. Still, I hereby accept the award publicly and noisily, just in case he changes his mind.
Thank you Mark.
These things do not come without strings attached. I am meant to 'do something creative' in return for the honour. Well, therein lies the rub . . . .
However, Bonnie of Original Art Studio recently asked me, when it was that I first discovered poetry. It seems to me that poetry has been a part of my life forever, but Bonnie's prompt reminded me of a particular teacher at my Grammar School in Germany, who, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for awakening my interest in lyricism. Miss Baumgartner was a young woman teacher, not long out of university and training college, pretty raw and clumsy, a little abrasive and unnecessarily strict.
Sadly, nobody liked her much, the other teachers considered her lazy and arrogant, an opinion which soon filtered down to the pupils.
Strangely, I did not share the general dislike. Miss Baumgartner was not at all attractive, in spite of her slim figure and soulful brown eyes, her dark shoulder-length hair and white skin. It must have been her clothes, which were drab and dowdy. and her dour manner, which made her appear unlikeable.
Miss Baumgartner taught German, my mother tongue, and she had a great liking for, and understanding of, German literature and poetry. She was neither inspired nor inspiring, but, somehow, she spoke to me directly. Perhaps she realised that I was not as hostile or dismissive as almost everybody else in the class
was, perhaps I was someone to hold on to in her undoubted misery as a failing teacher; anyway, I did my essays diligently, learned the poems she set us and generally behaved well in her class.
Yet, without intending to do so, I succeeded in making her an object of ridicule on top of everything else.
I expect the same applies in all schools, wherever they may be, that pupils are called to the front of the class to recite a poem by heart. On one occasion, Miss Baumgartner allowed several of us to recite a poem of our own choosing; I was very pleased, I had just been given an anthology of black poetry in translation, probably the first in German ever. I was very proud of this book, read the poems over and over and had started to memorise some of them.
The poem I chose to recite was by Countée Cullen, called
For A Lady I Know
She even thinks that up in heaven
Her class lies late and snores
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
To do celestial chores.
The second I finished, there was a stunned silence, then loud, raucous laughter erupted, lasting for an eternity. I stood there, hoping for the earth to swallow me up, while Miss Baumgartner's face turned bright red. When the class was finally wiping the tears of laughter from its hateful collective eye, she turned to me angrily, saying : "you will go home, learn every word of Schiller's Glocke (an interminably long ballad) and recite it here at the next lesson".
The mother of one of my class mates was a teacher at our school. The episode did the rounds of the whole school, the teachers' common room included, within hours. I was the hero of the school. Miss Baumgartner had been made a fool of, "serve her right", was the general opinion.
I was mortified. I duly learned 'Die Glocke' and recited it, or part of it, during the next lesson. Miss Baumgartner interrupted me after several verses and I returned to my seat.
And then Miss Baumgartner did something unexpected: she pulled out from her bag a copy of 'Black Orpheus' , the very same anthology I so proudly owned. There were only two other pupils in the class, whose parents had a copy, but soon enough we were all reading and exploring black poetry from the Americas as well as Africa.
Miss Baumgartner mellowed, her dress sense improved by and by, she became less awkward in her manner and she won over a number of other pupils in her class. She forgave me almost immediately, no doubt she realised that I had committed an innocent blunder rather than a deliberate attempt to ridicule her.
She and I learned to recognise each other as kindred spirits and I enjoyed her lessons enormously.