Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Awards And Other Follies

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.


  1. Congratulations, Friko, on your award. I'm sure it is well deserved.

    I enjoyed your story about your English teacher, and it brought back memories of an English teacher that I had in high school. But for the love and attention of that woman, I would have never become the lover of literature that I am today. A single person of modest circumstances can often change the course of thousands of young lives.

    Have a great day.

  2. I think the award is well deserved. and what a great story to go with it.

  3. Friko - I'm chuffed to bits for you having your award.Well done! That was such a sad story - just shows how someone can be misunderstood. I'm sure she realised your blunder was totally innocent and found a much needed alibi in you!

  4. Well deserved award and I really enjoyed the teacher/pupil story! Ah, those were the days, when you could make students learn poetry ... these days it's a foreign concept. I did try with a class and got them to learn 'Daffodils' - that went down quite well, so I think I'll have another go.

  5. What a delightful story - and congratulations on receipt of the well-deserved award

  6. Award well deserved. The story reminds me of the movie: An Education - at least that's what I think it was called.

  7. I love your story of Miss Baumgartner--and, of course, you've told as only an award winner would! She reminds me of my English teacher Miss Morgan, also roundly mocked by others, but who engaged me in poetry in a way no one else ever did. So, I think I know something of what you mean when you say "somehow, she spoke to me directly." To think that Miss Baumgarten pulled out the poetry book you'd read from and began to teach from it, how marvelous! It seems that you were able to speak directly to her, as well.

  8. Friko, of course you deserve many awards for your writing and for encouraging your readers to think a bit.

    I thank you for the beautiful award you have granted your teacher Miss Baumgartner. Perhaps we all have at least one teacher along our education paths that really did touch our very being and help us to become the adult we still strive to become.


  9. Congrats dear Friko on that award, so well deserved.
    And you story had such a wonderful ending - and still goes on here...

  10. Did you ever get a chance, as an adult, to tell Miss Baumgartner how she inspired you? [though uninspiring herself...] Great story!

  11. Thanks, Miss Baumgartner

    Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral

  12. Molly voiced my thought. Too often those great teachers do not realize just how much they influenced us.
    Makes me wish I had found my favorite English teacher to let her know.

  13. I've always loved that little poem.

  14. Congratulations on the award - well-deserved!
    I enjoyed your story very much, mostly because of what it reveals about a young Friko...empathetic, original and even a little pragmatic, if I might be so bold as to make assumptions.

  15. Wonderful story and well deserved
    award, Friko dearest.
    The only award I ever received
    was Putz of the Week from Woody Allen.
    Actally that is not true. I received
    a Best Actor award in high school
    in 1962, and I was the Outstanding
    Recruit in US Navy boot camp in 1966.

    Anyway, it is Wednesday, and the crowds
    are gathering over at Willow Manor for
    Tess' third annual affair. I am popping in
    and out, and though I took Carrie-Anne
    Moss to the party, I am saving a waltz
    for you dear lady. Join us soon.,

  16. My goodness, folks, it is in fact
    Thursday, and that is the true
    date of the Willow Manor Ball.
    My apologies for my CRS,
    and hope to see many of
    you at the reverie.

  17. Congratulations on your well deserved reward. That was a compelling story and so descriptive I could see all the action. My literature teacher was Sr. Stella Marie, a Dominican nun and our librarian. She was also my voice teacher for speeches and compositions I had to deliver. Oh so many years ago.

  18. The rare student who actually cares (in this case about poetry) must make it all worthwhile for teachers like Miss Baumgartner.

    Thanks for that story and for your very kind words - I wish I was a sculptor! Maybe a sculptor of language....

  19. You should be flattered and happy as the award is well-deserved. Maybe someday I will actually spend some time 'really writing' rather than typing in my blog.

  20. Well deserved award!

    Love your tale though very sad at times. Interesting how those moments later can enfold into something so different, positive.

  21. I agree; well deserved award. Congratulations, Friko. And thanks for the story about Miss B. It reminds me of several teachers I had; both the good ones (several) and the not-so-good. Interesting memories. Thanks again for the inspiration and the occasion to think back.

  22. In answer to your question a few days ago...not that is not my house. It is a lighthouse on one of the southern most tips of Maryland.

  23. Great story.

    And with your eloquence, wit, thoughtfulness and writing-you are surely well deserving of the award.


  24. das "Award" hast Du Dir wirklich verdient, keine Frage! Ich freue mich! Wie bescheiden Du bist..!
    Wenn ich dies alles so lese hier, komme ich langsam zu der Ueberzeugung dass Du Dein Leben verfilmen könntest und es würde ein sehr interessanter Film werden!

  25. A charming little poem. I always enjoy reading your reminiscences.

  26. Glad to see that you're not SO modest and self-effacing that you didn't even mention this award at all, as it is well-deserved IMHO.

    Thank god you made it up to Miss Baumgartner. I was afraid the story was going to go the way of 'going home that night she was hit by a bus that witnesses say she didn't see because she was sobbing into her handkerchief.'


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