The Small Axe

There’s a song that’s been going through my head the  last week as a new academic year began: Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Small Axe.

They sing “You are the big tree/we are the small axe/ready to cut you down…”

As I plan another year’s classes, I’m more persuaded than ever that what I teach is “the small axe.”

At the heart of my writing life are a pattern of activities I return to depending on the stage of the work. They come down to cerain things that help me get the work done at various stages: days of free writing, times I review journals and search for lines, times I review poems to see where the poem I meant to write is so I can take away the rest. There are the things I do when I’m lost and the things I do when I’m finishing up, the things I do when I’m waiting, and the things I do to maintain momentum.

I’ve become extremely economical about the choices I make, especially since I can confuse myself so easily. Ingenious solutions take on a life of their own; I am susceptible to fads of my own making.

When it comes down to it, I’ve learned that the small axe, used with persistence, striking at the right spot, gets the big tree to fall. When I teach, what I want to do is teach students to craft a small axe and use it.

Here’s the song:

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