Bri. Poet in the Heartland
Bri is one of the few bloggers I know personally. We met here:
Allegheny College. Gorgeous, right?
Graduates of the Class of 2003. Both English majors, both sorority members (different sororities though) but we actually weren't all that close. In a school with less than 2,000 students it's hard not to know everyone and we had common friends, but we ran in different circles. Though, truthfully, I always kind of wished we knew each other better back then. Another truth, the "pinning" ceremony that her future-husband performed was the best of our 4 years in college and as Allegheny prepares for a bicentennial, they should put it in the history books.
What else should you know about Bri?
Q1: What should readers know about you?
A: I love animals to point where it's a bit ridiculous. I have a dog, Kweli, a cat, Nimbus and two recently acquired Zebra Finches, Humphrey and Calliope. I can't watch those ASPCA commercials featuring Sarah McLaughlin without weeping. I break for geese, chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons. I spend a fortune on my pets, I donate to the World Wildlife Fund, The Humane Society and The ASPCA. Yeah, I may have a problem.
Q2: Why do you blog?
A: I blog because I am a writer. I've kept a journal for forever and I started writing letters, poems, and stories when I was in first grade. I just love writing and my blog is really an electronic journal of sorts, so that's why I like to keep up with it.
Q3: Can you recommend a great collection of poetry to readers?
A: My favorite poet of all time is Elizabeth Bishop. I admire her greatly and her poetry is the reason I write. Her meticulous attention to detail, her observers eye, her subjects, her struggles and her triumphs are truly remarkable. I'm going to pull a professor's trick and just recommend a few poems instead of an entire book. This is mostly because when I was a student, I found entire poetry collections a bit intimidating. The poems I would recommend are "Sestina," "The Moose," "The Fish," "Brazil," "In the Waiting Room," "One Art," "Sandpiper," and "At the Fishouses."
And so what better letter to write, from a poet who loves to teach and loves to learn, than a letter to her own college:
If you had asked me ten years ago as a graduating senior from a private liberal arts college what I knew about community colleges, I would have said absolutely nothing. However, this would not have been a true answer because I knew one thing about community colleges: I knew they were looked down upon. How did I know this? Because occasionally when I would tell people unfamiliar with Allegheny College where I went to school they would pause and then say, "Oh," you go to CCAC." CCAC stands for Community College of Allegheny County. The first few times this happened, I corrected the questioner but didn't think much of it. I didn't know anything about CCAC and I'm not a native of Pennsylvania, so whatever. They were confusing one school for another. Who cares, right? I was quickly set straight when the same mistake was made in the presence of a friend of mine from Pittsburgh. "No, no, no," she interjected quickly, "we go to Allegheny College not CCAC. That's a community college." Then she laughed and made a face, and I started to get the picture.
Flash forward four years and I'm graduating from my small liberal arts college to head to the great state of Texas for graduate school. It is while I am sweating away in this strange state, studying Heidegger and Hegel and wondering if I'm smart enough for grad school, that I learn I love teaching. I teach several sections of freshman composition and I am hooked. My students are young, they are diverse, they are hilarious and they are frustrating. It is hard work but I feel I've hit my stride. As I finish my MA, and prepare to head back east, I start to think about teaching jobs.
I arrive back in Pennsylvania in December in the middle of a blizzard, which is fitting. I enroll in a low-residency MFA program, I get back together with my now husband, and I realize that I'm going to end up moving out to Indianapolis. I start looking for adjunct teaching jobs at colleges in Indy and come across a posting for an adjunct English instructor at a community college. I apply Thursday, I am contacted the following Thursday and I am told I need to be in Indy the following Monday. I pack up my Nissan Sentra and once again, drive west.
I arrived at my community college close to five years ago and I'm preparing to start my eighth semester as a full time faculty member. I've learned a lot in my time teaching at this college, but the most important thing I've learned is that community colleges do not deserve to be looked down upon. They are doing hard, important and necessary work in our communities and they should be congratulated and celebrated for that work. Community colleges help people of all ages find their educational path. Sometimes these people are eighteen year old students who are not quite ready to leave home. Sometimes these people are thirty year old men and women who are taking on a second career or making a career change. Sometimes, and more often than not with the present economy, these people are making their way back from a job loss.
My students struggle. They have obstacles that I could not even begin to imagine when I was in college. They are single parents, they are first generation college students, they are victims of domestic violence, they are victims of childhood abuse, they are recovering addicts, they have been incarcerated, they have been homeless and/or jobless and they do not know what it is to be a student.
But they want to learn and I want to teach them.
So to my community college, thank you for taking a sheltered and naive twenty-three year old girl and showing her that she was wrong. That education is not only found in brick buildings covered in ivy and that students are not all eighteen years old with new laptops and cell phones. Education is diversity. You taught me that, and for that lesson, I am grateful.