No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom

I’m pleased to announce that my second poetry collection, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and New Academia Publishing.  I’ve spent nearly all of my career as a teacher and have met many memorable students over the years. Each one came to me with their own story–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often heartbreaking. But it was learning their stories that helped me to connect with them in more meaningful ways as a teacher.

Children's faces

Praise for No Barking in the Hallways

“This is poetry in its finest hour. Bracken does what a great poet does best: reveal, provoke, wound and heal readers, all in such a fashion that one cannot be left unchanged. With poignant and sometimes painful imagery, Bracken creates moments in which we could easily be standing alongside her in the classroom, bearing witness to each moment as it unfolds. Collectively, the poems are a window into a system that is more damaged than the circumstances faced by of some of the children the system claims to serve. Yet the language is always equally as beautiful as the children for whom these poems are written. This is exemplified in one poem in which Bracken observes,

We can’t stop the line. But when you peek under the hood— like the car with the wrong bolts, Ben will need repairs.

For anyone who has ever worked in schools and with children, or for those who appreciate how language can transform lives, this collection of poems is for you.”

Morna McDermott McNulty, Associate Professor, College of Education, Towson University

Here’s the poem that Prof. McNulty referenced which was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016 by Robert Giron of Gival Press.  The poem is based on the story of a young man I taught in a high school a few years ago. I hope you’ll enjoy meeting him and find truth in what Fred Rogers had to say when he talked about learning people’s stories: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”

THE AUTOWORKER AND THE FACTORY MODEL

We never stopped the line,
no matter what mistakes we saw.
We worked a lot of overtime fixing mistakes
but we never stopped the line. ~ This American Life

And I feel the same way about Ben
my student determined to graduate from high school
still reading at the 3rd or 4th grade level.

The administrators say
“Ben needs credits to graduate,”
but reading class doesn’t count
if he takes it more than once.

So administrators find ways
for us to push him along
like the auto factory grinding out
a Ford Focus with Fiesta doors
held on by Explorer bolts

nothing fits, and you can’t drive the car
but we don’t stop the line.
for Ben who understands a lot about history
but doesn’t read well enough to pass the test.

So we give him an accommodation—special help—
and someone reads him the test
which worked well when he was seven
but seems foolish when he is seventeen—

and hoping to get a job, hoping to graduate
So I ask, Will someone read to Ben at work?
the answer echoes back We can’t stop the line

But when you peek under the hood
like the car with the wrong bolts
Ben will need repairs.

The cover art is an original painting by my daughter, Christella Potts, an art teacher in Baltimore County, and Deb Dulin of Dulin Designs did the layout.

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