“I am but a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
Hearing this, DIS 5th and 6th grade English teacher Kim Nall smiles broadly, instantly recognizing the quintessential line from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” As a published poet herself, she knows these things. And if poetry can be viewed as a window into someone’s soul - as many poets suggest - then for Kim it becomes something much more: a window into seeing the world as a giant, wide-open sphere that deserves to be explored.
“Working here has really opened my eyes to the idea that the world is so much bigger than my limited experience,” says Kim. “Studying French and being around so many people from so many different places and cultures has helped me to know that I can go virtually anywhere and do anything - the possibilities are limitless.”
Born and raised just a stone’s throw from DIS in nearby Plano, and then drawn to the creative writing and music scene to the north in Denton, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Communications Studies from the University of North Texas while also performing music in local venues, Kim sees creative writing - poetry in particular - as a universal language that joins souls from all walks of life and throughout history. “Poems, in one form or another, are perhaps one of the oldest forms of communication we have,” she says. “It has changed over time, but that’s part of its magic - the ability to reflect the human condition at any certain place and time.”
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep - and miles to go before I sleep.” - Robert Frost
Kim believes that really good poetry is deeply rooted to identities and places - an idea that she recently melded into a class project designed to help her students relate more directly with creative writing and with poetry. “Our identities can be tied to where we were born or where we live - my identity is tied to Texas, for example - but I’m the one who gets to interpret what that means.”
For Kim, who’s nurtured a lifelong love of words and writing, that meant enrolling in a Master of Fine Arts program at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that shares a program with Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland. This move parked her directly atop ground zero for all things poetic. “It didn’t legitimize my writing,” she says, but it “gave me space and time for my writing and put me in a community of like-minded mentors - writers I network with today. In Ireland, you can just feel the emotions and the history of the place, which must be what inspired so many of their great poets.”
On visits to Ireland - the home of legendary bards like William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney - Kim immersed herself in both the classics of poetry (what she refers to as “old dead guy” poetry), but also discovered powerful emerging voices like Ada Limón, Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud and American Mary Oliver. “We’re seeing poetry move out from the stodgy halls of academia out into modern life in all sorts of new forms. There is a real resurgence going on that is quite exciting,” she says.
Twas bryllyg, and the slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves;
And the mome raths outgrabe. - Lewis Carroll
While Kim prefers to write in free verse styles, she also sees great virtue in the formal styles we know. “You actually have to be very creative to write within formats - sonnets, odes, elegies, limericks, those sorts of things.” But she sees the creativity behind poetry taking new shapes around us every day, even in hip-hop culture and rap music. “It’s happening over the internet and in poetry slams everywhere where the forms don’t have to be moderated and we have real heroes leading the way because the barriers have been lowered. And much of it is quite good!”
Trips to the Emerald Isle for school opened the door to a broad new understanding of global thinking, revealing that no matter how much we may learn about other cultures, nothing replaces the experience of traveling, seeing, doing and meeting other people with different life experiences. “Even with the exhaustive research I did on Ireland, it didn’t turn out to be what I expected at all. It’s a small country and the people are very outward looking - they know more about America than most Americans do.”
And that yen for global understanding is what attracted Kim to Dallas International School. “I knew I would eventually teach here even before I found a position,” she says. “The really neat thing here is that I don’t have to get my students excited about other places and cultures - they are from other places and cultures.” Kim also appreciates the caliber of intellect students bring to her classroom. “I sometimes introduce language concepts that I used with high school students I taught elsewhere, and these kids get it.”
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Like crafting majestic lines of verse, Kim sees the job of teaching at DIS as exacting and precise, demanding and challenging - yet creative. Her role is more than simply passing information along to students, but helping them develop their own worldviews and shaping them into strong, knowledgeable and independent citizens of the world. “One thing I really like about fifth and sixth graders is they are so curious about everything, so eager to learn. They have such open minds at that age.” One day, she shared a story with students in class about a high schooler skipping school, and one student seemed genuinely perplexed, asking out loud, “Learning is a privilege, so why would somebody want to skip it?”
Kim views moments like this through the lens of another favorite poet, Anna Swirszczynska. “She is best known for writing about very complex things in very simple ways, with a sort of innocence and purity,” Kim says. “I see things like that with my students in my classroom - they are learning some difficult concepts, but they end up understanding so easily.”
Sitting at her desk nearly hidden behind cards and gifts from students during Teacher Appreciation Week, Kim uses what she’s learned in the present to gaze forward into the future, pondering her own crystal ball. “This has all been such a gift, so eye-opening as to the possibilities. I think I may eventually take another graduate program in French,” she says. “Or go teach English in Mexico City. It really is a wide open world out there.” Then, just as quickly, she adds, “But I’m not going anywhere soon!”
For all of us at DIS, that’s poetry to our ears.
What if the last music on Earth
was the cacophony of the waves
and the thumping bass of the tide
and us, huddled together like harmony in the cold funnel of last light,
free and defiant as dissonant notes? - excerpted from Kim Nall’s poem “movements"
To read more of Kim’s award-winning work, see page 33 at this link.