by Matt Love
n a Thursday in late November 2010, a month that eventually produced the second wettest November since instruments have measured depressing records of this kind, I sat at my desk in my classroom and heard rain falling for the 31st day in a row. I immediately thought of one of Ken Kesey’s enduring riffs about rain from Sometimes a Great Notion: “…there is solace and certain stoical peace in blaming everything on the rain, and then blaming something as uncontrollable as the rain on something as indifferent as the Arm of the Lord.”
True enough. But not true enough for us to survive. Blaming gets you nowhere with rain.
That morning, my patience with rain hung by the thinnest of beaded cobwebs as I schemed how to motivate my listless and intellectually waterlogged students. Soon, they would start streaming in with pale, vacant faces resembling prisoners of war, moisture steaming from their clothing. I suspected many of them had gone insane.
We’ve got to move into the deluge, I thought. It’s the only way to shatter the stasis. Last year, I had employed a similar strategy with the photography class and the resulting black and white photographs of rain they took around campus in 30 minutes revolutionized our thinking about the beauty of rain. I had made up the lesson on the spot and forced them (and myself) to examine rain with a camera on a tight deadline. By the end of the slide show that culminated the assignment, all students were converted into a love cult of rain that I also made up on the spot.
In trudged the creative writing students with their soggy frowns. In recent weeks their angst had secreted like pus from a lanced boil. On the whiteboard in huge black words I wrote the fatal statistics: 19 inches of rain had fallen during the last 30 days, seven the last 72 hours, four since midnight, even heavier rain was forecast for the next couple of days, records were going to be shattered, the county was already underwater, rivers were running well above flood stage but had yet to crest, school might be cancelled for a week, and there was only one thing we could possibly do: go into it, right now.
The students gave me a big whatever. They were in worse condition than I imagined. I climbed on a desk and yelled, “We’re going to confront rain and poetry is our method! Are you with me?”
Whatever began to dissipate, slightly, visibly, sort of like condensation.
I jumped off the desk and told the class to get paper, pen and drain the pus. We were traveling to a new country called the Rainlands and abandoning clichés and complainers. I wrote a prompt on the board and everyone quickly responded with one word or phrase. Then I threw out another one. I asked the students to assist me and several volunteered prompts. Some 15 minutes later we had written on the following:
1. What magic can you perform with rain?
2. Describe your favorite kind of rain.
3. Make a case for or against using an umbrella.
4. Concoct a love potion that has rain as an ingredient.
5. Blame something on rain.
6. Complete this simile: Oregon rain is like_______.
7. What do politicians do with rain?
8. Devise a slogan and sketch a logo for Oregon rain.
9. Pluvial or petrichor?
10. You overhear a tourist say how much she hates rain. How do you respond?
11. Make a case for the greatest song about rain.
12. Defend your preference: running naked in Oregon rain or tanning on a tropical beach.
13. What can you hear if you listen to rain?
14. Rain = _____.
15. Rain helps me understand…
16. What type of rain are you? Construct a rain metaphor for yourself.
It was time for confrontation, to blast a bazooka round into the congealed void of whatever.
“We’re now going outside in rain. Leave your stuff here. Spread out across the football field so you’re at least 50 feet away from another student. Tilt your face toward the sky, close your eyes, open your mouth, taste rain for 30 seconds, and then get back to class.”
I led the charge out the door and 41 students followed me into one of the heaviest rains I have ever witnessed in my life. One boy took off his shirt. One girl started to, but I stopped her just in time. We aren’t quite there as a culture—yet.
Back in class five minutes later, I had the students delete, add, edit and rearrange their responses to construct a poem. Ten minutes later, I asked for readers. I’ll never forget Logan’s poem:
Every November, the Oregon cult
goes to work.
We quarry up each raindrop
to use as our limestones
to construct a great church
to the giver of Oregon’s purpose.
Matt Love lives near Newport and teaches English and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain and is available through his web site at nestuccaspitpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This essay was originally published in HIPFISHmonthly – Volume 14, Issue 172, May 2013. hipfishmonthly.com