Words of Wisdom from Past Teachers of the Year

Our ROW Teachers of the Year share their wisdom with us each year at the annual River of Words Awards Ceremony. This page is a space to honor and archive some of those wise words.

"Because it is Alive": On the Vitality of Wildness in Poetry

From the Acceptance Speech for the 1998 River of Words “Teacher of the Year” Award


“Freshwater Forever” Athena Yang, age 10. Duluth, Georgia. United States. Shijun Art Studio. Teacher: Shijun Munns. River of Words 2018 Finalist.Why write poetry?

Why teach the writing of poetry?

This is America in the late 20th century. Our marketplace attitude of “the firstest with the mostest” leaves little time and even less respect for contemplation.

Rivers and poems insist on going their own way. Small wonder then, that those who would dam and reroute rivers for the sake of production and protection would also feel threatened by the force that creates poetry. It is a wild force. You do not control it - you follow it.

So why encourage such wildness? Because it is alive. It is the force of life and if you try to dam the force of life, first you get stagnation, then pollution, and finally, death.


Being an advocate and practitioner of poetry and the wild in all of us does not make one a successful citizen, if success is based on accruing material wealth. Poets and teachers don’t do that. I make my living by applying for grants, or being chosen by a school staff to receive a small part of their discretionary budget, or by the contributions of parents whose children come home saying, “Today I had the most fun in poetry!”

So why is writing poetry so much fun? Because it’s alive. To create something is to bring it to life. To dig down inside of our minds and hearts and find what is new there; to take that new stuff and - with hard work and discipline - pull it out and give it a new form. Tangible, audible, sharable. And then to know that we have the ability to do it again and again. To make ourselves tangible, audible, sharable.

Grace Grafton
1998 River of Words Teacher of the Year
California Poets in the Schools
San Francisco Public Library
April 19, 1998

view2018 - Lu, Jane"Never let the dark cloud of testing  that looms over most schools threaten the education that your students deserve. Take the time to read a poem every day, just for the pleasure of the words. Take a walk outside regularly. Five minutes outside reaps benefits inside. Get familiar with the flora and fauna of your area and let your students see your excitement. Charles Darwin once said that he wished he had taken more time for poetry. We are in the perfect position to take the time for poetry. Awareness our world is the first step in caring for our world. Feed curiosity, create wonder. Wander through the clouds and acknowledge the blue between." 

- Joanna Fox
2014 River of Words Teacher of the Year
2018 Interview with River of Words