Ruby Poet in Residence: Linda Ann Schofield
Posted by Elizabeth Bemis Feb 18 2013, 12:01 am
It is my great pleasure to introduce not only the 2012 Ohio Poet of the Year, but also my mother, Linda Ann Schofield (and Ruby poet-in-residence, at least for today). I thought it might be fun to talk about the process of taking stories and turning them into poems. Most of us spend our lives taking a snippet of an idea and turning it into a 90,000 word cohesive novel and she does the exact opposite.
Her book, Psalms of the Hood, is a collection of Poems that tells the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes uplifting stories of my younger sister, Katie’s, time teaching in an inner city school. When Katie began relating some of the struggles her students faced, Mom felt compelled to share in the best way she knew how and part of that process included pairing excerpts from the Book of Psalms.
I’ve also brought along Katie, to answer some questions about the stories behind Psalms of the Hood. Sara Kathleen Roark (Katie to the family, Sara to most everyone else) began teaching Social Studies in 2006 at a “last-chance” charter school for students, aged 16-21 who, because of age or other circumstances were not able to function in traditional schools. Many of her students were gang affiliated, had police records and came from truly heartbreaking family situations. She has a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and a Master’s Degree in Education (with an Intervention Specialty), and currently works as an Intervention Specialist at an elementary school in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Which is your favorite of the poems in the collection and why?
Linda: A Safe Place to Cry. I think it best illustrates the agony of some of these kids’ lives… and also it shows that there was someplace safe that Katie’s kids could go for support.
A Safe Place to Cry
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Babies cry; men don’t.
At least that’s what you’re told,
what you tell yourselves.
But what if your friend is shot
while waiting for the bus
to take him to graduation?
What if the only answer
your girlfriend has to your baby
What if you receive a phone call
that a rival gang banger is gunning for your best friend
and you get there just in time to see him shot?
What if on your eighteenth birthday
your mom hands you your clothes
in a black plastic bag and says, “You’re on your own.”?
Where do you go when life is unbearable,
when no matter how hard you push
down the anger and sorrow
it pushes right back up again?
You go to Mrs. R.’s classroom
where she lets you put your head
on her shoulder even though
you’re 6’5” and she’s 5’4”
or you’re black and she’s white
or you’re a gang banger and she’s never
even had a parking ticket,
and you cry.
Katie, which is your favorite… and why?
Katie: It is hard to choose just one, for me they aren’t poems they are stories about kids that I loved as my own; they were my gift for being a teacher. Choosing a favorite poem feels like choosing a favorite student. I guess if I had to choose one it would be “Teacher” because it represents what I was trying to accomplish, giving them a safe haven for a short period of time, so they could recharge and be stronger when they left. I tried to give them the knowledge and the hope to be better, better students, and better citizens. I knew they were more than capable I just wanted them to know they were able.
What man can live and not see death,
or save himself from the power of the grave.
She’s his drug of choice.
When school is impossible,
he walks into her classroom,
scrunches into a seat
in the far back corner
until she’s free.
She sits beside him;
he leans into her, arm-to-arm.
She asks him how he’s doing:
how school’s going:
if he needs to talk about anything:
She’d like to believe her presence helps,
but knowing his history, his affiliation,
He’s one of those she tenderly calls
her baby bunny gang bangers.
Will he, at best, quit school
before he graduates?
Will he land in jail
for a serious offense,
or just for being black?
Or worse, will she see his name
spread across the front page
as his life spreads
across the pavement.
What’s your process for turning an idea into a poem?
Linda: For this particular project, there were three ways the poems were written. The majority of the poems began as an event my daughter told me about, I then expanded that idea and put it in poetic form. I believe there were several poems that were written almost exactly as they happened, such as Hiding Place. Finally, there were those that were entirely made up. One of those was One Block Shy. Katie read all of my poems to answer the questions: “Is this the way it happened?” for the poems that were completely true and “Could it have happened this way?” for those poems that were either partially true or were completely fictional.
Katie, What does it feel like to be the subject of this kind of work?
Katie: The book gives me a lot more credit than I deserve. My students inspire me every day, I feel so incredible lucky they allowed me to be part of their lives. I still have kids call or email to let me know they are doing okay, working, taking care of their families, going to college. This is on them, they are accomplishing their goals and it makes me so proud. I have been blessed to work in a field where I do what I love, where I have worked and continue to work with amazing professionals who give their all to kids that aren’t their own, for a society that does not appreciate or recognize until they are caught doing something wrong.
How has your poetry (and the way you approach writing) changed over the years?
When I got serious about my writing, I wrote what I thought people would like or that might win at contests, or be published. Eventually, as I discovered my own voice, I felt comfortable about writing what I thought was valuable no matter what others thought. Psalms of the Hood is the result of that change.
Is there a lot of revision in poetry? How does your revision process differ from your new writing process?
Poetry, like (I presume) fiction and non-fiction, involves a great deal of revision. I’ve found that spending years revising the poems in the manuscript, it’s now very difficult for me to get back to writing original work.
Linda will be giving away a copy of Psalms of the Hood in print or ebook to one lucky commenter.
2012 Ohio Poet of the Year, Linda Ann Schofield has lived most of her life in western Ohio. She earned her B.A. in English from California State University Los Angeles, an M.Ed. from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and an M.A. with a creative thesis from the Ohio State University where she had the good fortune to work with the poet, David Citino. She is a member of the Cincinnati Writers Project, Ohio Poetry Association, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. She participated in the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. She started her retirement from 31 years in the education field—most as a high school librarian—in June of 2005 when she moved to the Cincinnati area to be near her two daughters and grandchildren. You can find out more information about her at www.lindaannschofield.com.
Psalms of the Hood has clarity and purpose. What a thought! – Matching a teacher’s experience in the “hood” with excerpts from the Psalms. This book is about the impossible job of teaching in an inner city school. The poems go right to the heart of the matter – poverty, abuse, drugs and gangs. The “boy who lies in the morgue” will stay with the reader, as well as an understanding of why the problems, such as drugs, exist. This is a moving story of a journey of faith that brings hope to the hopeless, yet it has a heart-breaking end, when a good teacher finally withdraws from the war zone in the inner city. All poems are focused on the lasting impact of the uphill battle for the students and teachers as well.
– Diane Glancy, judge for the Ohio Poet of the Year award
Psalms of the Hood is available on Amazon in print and ebook.