August 2, 2007

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Teaching Metaphors, By Nathan Graziano (Sunnyoutside Press, 2007, 72 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Manchester poet Nathan Graziano returns with a sometimes funny but often sobering look at the life of a teacher. In this case, his. Graziano is an English teacher at Pembroke Academy and Teaching Metaphors offers a raw, unblinking spotlight into the soul of a teacher.

It’s a powerful book, as fine a collection of working-class poetry as anything Carl Sandburg’s “Big Shoulders” could have concocted had Sandburg been a high school teacher. And despite the title, Graziano’s style is anything but metaphorical. In fact, the book works because of, not in spite of, the poet’s very casual form. Graziano is not interested in complicating the matter of being a teacher. It’s a hard, often relentless, mostly unrewarding job. Teaching Metaphors does not present the job in terms of martyrdom. Like Sandburg’s ditch-diggers, mill workers and union men, Graziano presents the profession as flawed but deeply honorable. A hard day’s work for an honest day’s wage.

In Graziano’s world, there is the Burnout, the Princess, the Teen Mother, the Jarhead, the Child and the Monkey Boy, all stereotypes, but all absurdly recognizable whether you went to high school 50 years ago or last year. In “We Are Only Animals” Graziano’s teacher sees a young couple have sex in the hall and does nothing to stop it. Later he thinks of them when he sees two neighborhood dogs doing the same. In “Semper Fi at Lunch” a student destined for Iraq asks the teacher why he never choose to pursue an honorable path of serving one’s country. The teacher jokes that teaching high school is a little like serving in war.

In the second part of the book, Graziano turns his pen on the faculty and an equally amusing collection of characters emerges: the Ex-Hippie, the Head Case, the Canon Man and the Septuagenarian, to name a few.

The payoff for Teaching Metaphors is the last poem, an epilogue. In “A Lesson for Land Lovers” Graziano’s teacher sits at a port-side restaurant watching the fishing boats chug past and feels a connection to the fishermen and their lives. Here the metaphor is present at last, and it works without a hint of whimsy or self-reproach. Teaching, like fishing, is a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. ADan Szczesny