Why I am a Harsh and Cruel Teacher, Charles Hood

Craig Goodworth, Ecotone Study #1, 2014


Why I Am a Harsh and Cruel Teacher

Forrest Gander was born
in Barstow, Frank Bidart

was born in Bakersfield, Phil
Levine taught at Fresno State.

The great and magical Wanda
Coleman once gave a reading

in this very room, red blouse,
red language, strange sticks

shooting out of her hair.
Richard Blanco, Gary Soto,

Kay Ryan, Michael Harper,
Jimmy Santiago Baca, not

to mention the great Doug Kearney
who did two gigs the same day

and crushed it. Paul Fussell,
Purple Heart, Bronze Star.

Whatever your problem is,
dear student, please go

for a walk or take
a pill or draw

deep and hard
from a parking lot

flask, I don’t care,
just get the royal

fuck over it.

Charles Hood


Review by Erin O’Neill Armendarez

This poem is carefully and effectively structured to make a clear point.  In his edgy poem that speaks its truth with razor-sharp precision, Hood reminds readers of the many exceptional American poets and intellectuals who also took up the teaching vocation.   In a few terse lines, the “harsh and cruel teacher” addresses the apathy of a student dull enough to assume the instructor should be too lazy, too stupid, too timid, or too busy to call out the lack of whatever it is that might actually earn the all-important, undeserved grade.  Yes—this poem speaks for many of us who teach—and it speaks with strength to anyone who believes university instructors must de facto be failures of some sort.  

To begin, the poem names a few of the well-known poets who have taught at universities. The line breaks are careful. The flow and pace of the poem suit the subject, and the end of the poem moves from the obligatory “please” to honest, frustrated sarcasm.  So often, a poet writes to say what cannot be said any other way.  I’d love to pin this one onto the office wall. 


Review by Jared Pearce

It might be nice to get the boys in Gold’s poem together with the speaker in this poem.  The juxtaposition between achievers, especially poetic greats, with the younger students noted toward the end of the poem makes a nice clash.  Of course, for me, the toughest teachers were the best because they were the only people who saw enough power latently snug in me to drive me out of the dark.  Keep at ‘em, Hood.

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