Faculty interests, in part, drive our academic curriculum at Proctor. Courses in forensics, criminal justice, wildlife science, math design theory, robotics, and architectural design (among many others) are crafted by teachers desiring to share their love of a particular discipline with students. When faculty are passionate about a topic, their enthusiasm permeates the classroom and positively impacts student learning.
Laurie Zimmerman has brought that type of energy to her poetry classes at Proctor over the past twenty-four years. In her own words, she is “a little bit nuts about poetry”, but being nuts about something is not a bad thing as far as we’re concerned. Laurie observes, “What I’ve found is that students will be interested in something--even something new and foreign and uncool to them--if their teacher is showing signs of near-hysteria about the topic. Time after time, I’ve seen students kind of burst open--language constraints fall away, inhibitions begin to loosen, and they’re off and running. It’s euphoria, to watch these kids write and to get to see their giant leaps in imagination and skill over the ten-week poetry course.”
Her passion for poetry has led her to submit full-length poetry collections for publication numerous times. Just this past week, she found out her full-length poetry collection, Bright Exit, was recognized by Quercus Review Book Award
, an international contest that receives well over a thousand submissions.
Throughout her career as a poet, Laurie’s work has been recognized on a number of levels, but never has her full-manuscript been published. She was first published in a national magazine in 6th grade, and since then her work has been featured in New Letters, Poet Lore, River Styx, Crab Orchard Review, Orion Magazine, Mid-American Review, Rattle, 5 AM, Paterson Literary Review, Christian Century, Image, and on New Hampshire Public radio.
Her publication by Quercus Review is an illustration of the persistence we hope each of our students inherit during their time at Proctor. Prior to this most recent award, she had finished second place in seven major book contests, an accomplishment she describes as “an honor that is gratifying and agonizing in equal measure.” She has written, rewritten, and submitted the manuscript of her award-winning book each year for the past nine years, a process that Laurie says is a “numbingly rejection-rich zone for the poet that only the stalwart--or desperate--or stupidly stubborn survive.” We hope our students develop the same resolve Laurie has demonstrated in her own professional career.
The journey each student travels in Laurie's poetry class is undeniably powerful. “Educators are always weighing whether what they are covering in class is worthy. Sometimes the arts, including creative writing, may seem superfluous in the face of kids trying to get into college, find jobs, be good citizens, etc., but there is no measure for the importance of freeing a student's imagination and helping expand their ability to articulate all kinds of complex thoughts, feelings, and observations about themselves and their world. Poetry touches both the soul and the brain; it's experiential education at its deepest level.”
Unlocking imagination and creativity can run counter to the social dynamics of teenageers, which is why this course is so important. Laurie notes, “Up until about the middle of the term, they are diffident, uncertain, embarrassed, and keep asking, ‘Am I doing this right?’ But something happens after a few weeks. Suddenly, they become completely used to reading their poems aloud, to talking about their peers' poems, and to writing all styles of poems that they'd never encountered before.”
Giving students the confidence to risk safely; to try and try again in pursuit of perfection; to share themselves with others without pretense: these are qualities that will prove incredibly valuable in the future and are attributes we want to nurture at Proctor.