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The Women in Literacy and Life Assembly
The National Council of Teachers of English
Current Journal Editor:
Katherine Macro kjmacro@gmail.com
Volume 11
Fall 2002

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School Days, School Days…:
A Feminist Retrospective

Lynn Butler-Kisber
McGill University, PQ, Canada

Miss Good
A grade one teacher
called Miss Good
at her desk
never stood.
A rule of silence reigned supreme
launched each day
by the queen.
A small black notebook
provided means
keeping track
of grand misdeeds.
Monstrous crimes

A twelve-inch weapon
marked the way
doling out
smacks each day
A thundrous call
strike of three
lurking demon
unleashed all.
A ruler-wielding power source
eliciting fear
not remorse
and Lynn
of course.

A searing moment
acute chagrin
not what exists
deep within.
A grade one teacher
called Miss Good
pillar of pedagogy!

Schoolyard Omen
Zing, zing, zoom, zoom
My little heart goes boom.
Bell rings
Voice shout
Corridors fill
Hearts sing.

Who stole the cookies
From the cookie jar?
Pulse rises
Excitement reigns
Innocence dwindles
Game surprises.

Was it you number three?
Couldn't be, then who?
Hand to hand
Heart to heart
Schoolyard fever
Just a start.

The Dress
A suspended and mirrored ball
reflected on a dull gym wall.
Invoked a beat
Pete Kelly' s Blues
of future grew.

Blue flowers on a sheen of white
princess cut for that night.
That perfect, special kind of dress
seamstress failed
what a mess!
No time
not a thing to do
Wear the grey
of neighbour Sue.

A bubble burst
not the same
Grounding in
the real life game.

The Shepherd
The Shepherd was calm and soft
seeing 'neath all displays.
The Shepherd was engaging, giving
reading aloud every day.
The Shepherd was prepared and kind
eliciting context in restless minds.
The Shepherd was knowing and wise
sharing the knowledge
building the ties.
The Shepherd, a post-modern woman
living before, beyond her time
Content remembered?
Facts retained?
Far less important
ethics remained.
The Shepherd with her special way
Viola Shepherd saved the day.

Despicable Bill
Where are you despicable Bill?
carving insults on a desk
sexist slurs
women' s breasts.
Lurking, slinking
down the hall
raiding lockers
grabbing all.
Sporting leather
boots and chain
sneering threats
bully' s game.
Colour yellow
running scared
of pending heat.
Leaving scars along the way
faceless wounds
etched to stay.
Where are you despicable
Mindless Bill

Talk Back
A stroll at noon
with special other
taught a lesson
to remember
stand up to those
alleged offender.

Oh, Mrs. Murray
you should know
that is not
the way to go.

Murray with
the beady eyes
impugning guilt
improper ties
in front of peers
evoking those thunderous

Oh, Mrs. Murray
you should know
that is not
the way to go.

A red-faced silence
captured all
encouraging males
not the girl
a frozen moment
amid the calls
what did you do?
Oh, Mrs. Murray
you should know
that is not
the way to go.

Injustice fuelled
courage garnered


In the last decade, postmodern and feminist thinking have helped to shift qualitative research beyond the more traditional forms of representation and open texts to multiple interpretations (Diamond and Mullen, 1990. These alternative representational forms that include (among others) narratives, poetry, collages, photography, and theatrical scripts, evoke more embodied responses and understandings (Eisner, 1997; Richardson, 2001), reduce the hegemony inherent in traditional texts (Denzin, 1997), and help share stories that have often been silenced or marginalized (Butler-Kisber, 2002). One of the artful forms used more and more frequently is poetry because it remains within the textual range, yet it has the capacity to evoke insights and sensory responses by illuminating essences in the play of rhythm, line breaks, and language. The ambiguity it portrays permits multiple interpretations, yet the signature of the author remains present.

If a goal of ethnography is to retell "lived experience," to make another world accessible to the reader, then I submit that the lyric poem, and particularly a series of lyric poems with an implied narrative, comes closer to achieving that goal than do other forms of ethnographic writing. Lyric poems concretize emotions, feelings, and moods-the most private kinds of feelings-so as to recreate experience itself in another person. A lyric poem "shows" another person how it is to feel something. Even if the mind resists, the body responds to poetry. It is felt. (Richardson, 1994, pp. 8-9).

The burgeoning interest in artful forms of qualitative work in response to postmodern and feminist concerns has forced researchers to pay attention to the nature of their relationships with participants and how they position themselves in the work. This attention to relationship and reflexivity (Macbeth, 2001) has pushed some researchers into participatory forms of inquiry where they work side-by-side with participants to delineate questions, and as a result of "action research" (Reasons & Bradbury, 2001), achieve needed change in the process. Others have moved to forms of self-study and autobiography where the researcher and participant become one, and relationship and reflexivity become less relevant issues.

This poem cluster I have presented is an autobiographical account of poignant memories of school days in elementary and secondary school. The poems are purposely grouped to reveal the multifaceted dimensions of my experiences. I have previously examined and represented poetic renditions of the activities and interactions of young girls to juxtapose their silence with their exuberance, and their sensitivity with their feistiness (Butler-Kisber, 2001). These "found" poems were based on themes that emerged from interviews with these young girls and were created by using their actual words culled from videotaped transcripts of their classroom while attending to the nuances and rhythms of their voices. In contrast, the autobiographical poems presented here were produced by turning inward and retrospectively identifying pivotal memories of my schooling while trying to recall the visual and auditory context of each. To avoid the linear thinking that produces more traditional textual forms, I did not "free write" in the way associated with most memory work (Haug, 1992). Rather for each episode, I brainstormed a series of words that seemed most reminiscent of the inner visual and auditory world I re-visited. Then I worked from these words, eliminating some and adding others, to shape the poems using rhythm, line breaks, pauses, repetition, and word play to re-create each memory in an attempt to show some of the "sights and sounds" and perhaps silenced dimensions of school from a young woman's perspective They are reflections that may resonate with those of other women, and hopefully will generate further discussion.


Butler-Kisber, Lynn (2001). Whispering Angels: Revisiting dissertation data with a new lens. Journal of Critical Inquiry into Curriculum and Instruction, 2, (3): On the shoulder of giants, 34-37.

Butler-Kisber, L.ynn (2002). Artful portrayals in qualitative research. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, AL VII, (3), 229- 239.

Denzin, Norman (1997). Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the 21" century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Diamond, C. T. Patrick & Mullen, Carol A. (Eds.), (1999). The postmodern educator: Arts-based inquiries and teacher development. New York: Peter Lang.

Eisner, Elliot (1991). The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry, and the enhancement of educational practice. New York: Macmillan.

Haug, F. (1992). Beyond female masochism: Memory work and politics. (R. Livingstone, translation). London: Verso.

Macbeth, Douglas (2001). "Reflexivity" in qualitative research: Two readings, and a third. Qualitative inquiry, 7, (1), 35-68.

Reason, Peter & Bradbury, Hilary (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry & practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Richardson, Laurel (1994). Nine poems: Marriage and the family. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 23,(1), 3-13.

Richardson, Laurel (2001). Writing: A method of inquiry. In Norman K. Denzin & Yvonne S. Lincoln (Eds, Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd Ed. (pp. 923-948). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Reference Citation: Butler-Kisber, Lynn. (2002). "School Days, School Days…: A Feminist Retrospective." WILLA, Volume 11, p. 25-29.

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