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Re: [New-Poetry] If I Taught Poetry Appreciation in College

On Apr 6 2:55am ****************** wrote:

> For the most part, students hate poetry.  They think
> it's hard.  They think that they have to have some
> kind of specialized knowledge to understand them.
> Good/bad poetry notwithstanding, they also think that
> anything worth reading out to reveal itself to them
> immediately if not sooner.  Asking them to consider a
> piece of text closely is like trying to reason with a
> dog--they *look* they understand, smile a bit, but
> just keep on digging holes in your back yard.

You won't get very far in trying to persuade people to join any
enterprise if you think reasoning with them "is like trying to reason
with a dog."  That attitude will walk in front of you like a
distorting mirror regardless of how carefully you try to hide it.

Each person is a human being with a precious treasure for a mind, and
it is important that teachers have great expectations about the
student's joy in discovering more access to it.

Nor should anyone want "to consider a piece of text closely" merely
because someone else says to do so, unless that someone else has won
her respect or seduced her mind.

If we are going to lead people out (educare), it's best to start where
they are.  If they demand "that anything worth reading [ought] to
reveal itself to them," we might begin with poetry which has already
done that for them.  Some of the best papers students have written for
me have been papers comparing lyrics of a song they hated with the
lyrics of a song they like immensely.  In the richest of these papers
they begin to discover clues to their own taste; and in some of these,
they even reject their first judgments, discovering higher standards
on their own. I have never had a student who had any trouble with the

It's less difficult to lead students into new enthusiasms when we
respect the enthusiasms students already have.

One of my former students who is a much better poet than I will ever
be says that he never cared a whit for poetry until the morning in the
1960s at the University of Alabama when I took a thrown-away coffee
cup out of the trash can and for resonance recited into it from memory
Wordsworth's sonnet "The world is too much with us."  "I heard poetry
for the first time," he told me, "and I knew I wanted it as a part of
my life."

Will that 'method' work for everyone else, or every time?  Of course
not.  Probably most of his classmates that morning were concentrating
on the yuck factor of that dirty cup.  That wasn't even part of my
'lesson plan' which took 99% of the class time; it was a spontaneous
act of enthusiasm.  A dirty coffee cup might work for one, a Madeleine
wafer to another, a red wheelbarrow for another.....

Shamans are in the business of mystery and need a multitude of charms.
We are seed planters, not harvesters.  We are not responsible for the
quality of the soil.  We hurl our seeds everywhere.

Another former student came up to me at a poetry reading I gave at
Callanwolde in Atlanta thirty years ago to say, "You're the reason I
am no longer a lawyer, but an English teacher."  He said it more as
annunciation than as accusation.

"How did that happen?" I asked.  His father was president of a
college, and I figured growing up in academic settings may have had
more to do with his choice.  He had been my student in the fourth form
of a prep school.

"One day you read a Cummings poem to our class and then jumped up on
the desk and exclaimed, `I wish I had written that.' Ten years later I
was bored stiff as a lawyer and thought over all the people I had
known asking, 'Who was the happiest in his work?' Clearly you were.
I want to spend my life doing what I enjoy enough to jump on a desk

Quean Lutibelle/Louie, Pied Piper
Too arthritic now to dare risk jumping up even on a stool


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