A closer look at a Sacred Heart poet

Upper School English Teacher, Dr. Cristina Baptista, expresses her love of poetry by reading, writing, and teaching the art form.
Courtesy of tupelopress.wordpress.com

Upper School English Teacher, Dr. Cristina Baptista, expresses her love of poetry by reading, writing, and teaching the art form. Courtesy of tupelopress.wordpress.com

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Library Director Ms. Elizabeth Fernandez, shares poems of the day authored by a number of literary greats.  This year, however, another poet has been brought into the mix.
Dr. Cristina Baptista, Upper School English teacher, and her poetic talents are now well known among the Convent of the Sacred Heart community. This recent recognition is due largely to her participation in the 30/30 Project, a 30 day writing challenge hosted by Tupelo Press. Here, in an interview conducted over email, the prolific writer shares the roots of her enumeration and invites all to dabble in the art as well.
King Street Chronicle: When did you begin writing poetry, and how is it a part of your life now?
Dr. Baptista: I have always loved books—I come from a family of readers and storytellers. This may sound obnoxiously precocious, if not a bit preposterous, but my earliest memory of writing is also my earliest memory of writing poetry, and that came before I even began formal schooling. I can still recall my mother asking me, just before I turned five, what I wanted for my birthday.  I asked her for a journal—a decidedly non-childish gift.  I remember how she was standing in the kitchen, getting out pots and pans to start dinner, and suddenly stopping to study me.  She certainly looked perplexed, but you know what?  She bought me a journal and I used to write rhymes in it—just lists of rhyming words that eventually took shape into lines and stanzas of verse.  Now I write other genres—fiction, non-fiction, memoir—and have begun novels.  But I somehow always return to poetry.  It’s the elusive genre that I chase like a vapor, simultaneously wanting to figure it out while hoping I never do.
King Street Chronicle: Can you speak a little bit about your experience of writing daily poems over the course of a month for Tupelo Press?
Dr. Baptista: “Writing 30 poems in 30 days?  Not a problem!”: that was my initial thought when I applied as one of the Press’ volunteers at the end of 2013, on a whim, and I still felt the same when they eventually asked me to be one of the March 2014 Poets. In all honesty, I find it easy to write every day.  Finding it easy to write something worth reading and that I’m comfortable sharing every day?  Not so easy.  I feel lucky that at least two of the weeks of the 30/30 Project were during Spring Break, so I had the luxury of working at my own pace and time—not squeezing in poems before or after work at CSH!
King Street Chronicle: What is your favorite part about teaching poetry to your students?

Upper School English Teacher, Dr. Cristina Baptista, expresses her love of poetry by reading, writing, and teaching the art form.  Courtesy of tupelopress.wordpress.com
Upper School English Teacher, Dr. Cristina Baptista, expresses her love of poetry by reading, writing, and teaching the art form.
Courtesy of tupelopress.wordpress.com

Dr. Baptista: I love teaching literature in general because it is open-ended and welcoming of various interpretations.  Poetry takes this general benefit of the arts and its nearly-endless possibilities and multiples them infinitely.  Certainly, each poem may have a certain focal point or hook that makes it possible to have a wrong interpretation if a reader has missed a particular detail, but in general, poetry’s unabashed playfulness of language and disregard of typical grammar rules (much of the time) makes me love how fresh it always is.  Each student offers a new experience, too, so certainly, she will never let poetry seem stale!  Students are always delighting me with their interpretations of words, lines, images, metaphors, and stanzas I had not considered before.  I think poetry fosters creativity and opens a closed door in the mind that typically remains shut to non-concrete solutions.  We live in a practical world that wants immediate, tangible results.  Where does the abstract and philosophical ideals fit into all this?  Well, art—and poetry especially—is the key to unlocking this hidden room and allowing for new approaches in critical thinking and perception.  Such are skills required of any career.  Poetry, then, can be a lot more practical or useful in sharpening practical skills than many people may realize.
Plus, who can deny that the way in which poetry allows for a cathartic outpouring of emotion isn’t a really appealing property?  We need outlets and releases from stress, and poetry and the way it allows minds to unravel in their own ways, at their own paces, is a perfect outlet—whether you are writing poetry or reading it or listening to someone read it to you.
King Street Chronicle: Why do you enjoy reading and writing poetry? 
Dr. Baptista: I love that I feel like I am connecting as a human being, in some odd way, to some stranger across the country or across the world or across decades and centuries, through a poem that has its finger on the pulse of basic human identity.  Every word of a poem has been chosen specifically and after great agony to become a true, clear part of this identity.  I love that every poem seems to morph and shift beneath the covers of the book to the extent that, the next time I go to read it, it seems a whole different poem.  Poetry is playful.  It’s fun!  An English teacher and academic can only take so much dry, grammatically-correct language.  Language, I think, is most gorgeous unbridled, when nouns are used as verbs or an odd syntax forces a reader to interpret a line in no less than three different ways.  We shouldn’t forget, too, that poetic elements—metaphor, alliteration, description—can take prose and give it new, persuasive, and engaging life.
King Street Chronicle: Do you think poetry is something everyone should try? 
Dr. Baptista: I find few things in life (that are legal!) not worth trying at least once!  If you are a creative person in another media—photography, dance, filmmaking, painting—you may have a natural affinity for this form of creativity as well.  If you’re someone desiring to be a better communicator (which should be everyone), poetry could really be that extra exercise in helping you attune yourself to the power of language.  Many literary critics and teachers have discussed the way in which poetry forces the mind to rethink word choices and vocabulary in a way a lot more pleasing than simply studying lists of vocabulary for the SATs, for instance.  If you love music, poetry could be another option for exploring the sounds of our language, which is the sound of our culture.  Poetry may not be everyone’s great passion, but I certainly think it reaches students who may be more abstract thinkers, too, and helps them continue to feel encouraged by their unique perspectives and what they may offer society.
Can I suggest that if you’re a student looking to learn more about poetry, please join Dr. Mottolese and me for our team-taught Summer Enrichment course in June, where we’ll be writing, exploring, sharing, and indulging ourselves in poetry!
-Gabrielle Giacomo, Photo Editor