On Teaching Poetry and/or Humans

by lisa st john

How will we get this content covered? IMG_3730How we fit these standards in? Discipline is not my job. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have time for this. I’m not their parent. That should really be “his/her parent.” Is grammar gender-neutral now?  I don’t teach reading–I teach “fill in the blank.”

Really?

I just teach kids.

I could pretend that grammar, punctuation and spelling were my muses and that a world without run-on sentences would be paradise, but that would be a lie.

I prefer to think of teaching young people a little more about what it means to be human a much more important (and infinitely more rewarding) endeavor. Mark Twain said to never to let school get in the way of your education, and I heartily agree.

I hear eyebrows being raised. That’s okay. If I’m afraid of being questioned than what am I doing trying to teach anyone anything? OK. I will stop this mini rant for now, back to teaching poetry.

When I hear a teenager say, “I don’t like poetry” I get excited because now my goal for this class has changed—they’ve upped the ante. Dear Student: I will find the poem that reaches you. I will find a way for you to make a connection to the world through words. I will help you see the lyrics of language as powerful. And yes, dear student, your song lyrics are poems. You didn’t know that? Let’s do some analysis. Do you want to start with Led Zeppelin or Lauryn Hill?

“I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood.” If that isn’t poetry, Sir Eddie Vedder, I don’t know what is.

Words matter.

And I can’t think of a shorter sentence that is as important as that one.

If the evolution of a giraffe’s neck is not poetry than what is?

If the Fibonacci sequence is not art than what is? And doesn’t that analogy make Pi the magical Pied Piper of the universe? Where is the Periodic Table of Element’s chemistry recipe that makes hope? Which impasto brushstrokes of a van Gogh dance someone awake at night?
Football’s perfect catch is poetry.
Learning the Spanish word for word (palabra) is poetry.

Lesson #1 The Myth of the Hidden Meaning

There is no correct answer to what a poem “really” means in the back of some dusty teacher’s edition. You speak English. The poetry we are going to study is written in English. All good?

Lesson #2 Poetry Can Mean Whatever You Want

Uhm… no. There are correct interpretations–many of them–but there are also incorrect interpretations. Richard Wilbur’s “Death of a Toad” is not about unicorns or war or peanut butter. It’s about…you guessed it! The death of a freakin’ toad. Of course, it’s also about death and contemplation and mourning and…yeah.

I love teaching. I actually miss interacting with kids when I am away from them for too long. They have so much insight and depth. People who don’t work with teenagers probably don’t understand that, but they (the teenagers) are soulful creatures.

If I could stop sucking on the glass nipple of television (as Stephen King coined) perhaps I could write more and still grade papers and still make phone calls and still fill out the paperwork and read every single word of everything. But there is something to be said for Jessica Jones and reruns of House and counting how many times I’ve seen Armageddon (I know, I know) but Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi are brilliant, to say nothing of Ben Affleck, animal crackers, and Liv Tyler’s tummy. Plus it has a kickin’ soundtrack. Anyway…

Are the arts and the media so far apart? You know when you fell in love with Sawyer from Lost that he was named after Tom Sawyer right? The wild mischievous boy who got everyone else into trouble?

Ah…I am bending towards transmedia, and that discussion is for another time.

I have a few different blogs here all hanging out together like a Shakespeare salad (you know, that salad where Horatio tricks Iago into thinking that Benedick really loves Juliet and Othello wants all of Gloucester’s land, and… .). Sorry about that. It’s what happens when I don’t blog often enough.

I will leave you with a somewhat stolen poem.

“Poems Stolen from the Muses of My Students: A Collage of Class Write-Around Exercises and Then Some”

Textured moments crinkle into a powdery dust (that might be a church), and she reads the quavering shadows and knows that it was all real sometimes.

Run if you will, but know the ripples move regardless; they are the travelers. Whose routine is it to sweep the monkey’s cage? Who the lion’s den? My pre-alarm clock dreams are nothing like the silhouette of your bra through sheer white soaking wet lace. But neither is my breath a true wind. Riddles in sheet music, strangers in time—we are eating the microphone instead of the sword.

So, yeah. I guess you could say, “swallow,” but would that crush your stark circadian rhythm?

Damn it Helen. If only it were that simple.

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Oh, and please don’t forget to buy my chapbook, Ponderings, at Finishing Line Press or Amazon (and if you could, an Amazon review would be wonderful. I need them).

p.s. This post was almost sabotaged. Here is the evidence: erfy

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2 Comments on "On Teaching Poetry and/or Humans"

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huntington beach seo
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There are methods to construct hyperlinks but they must be performed in more practical ways than the ones you talked about.

I might recommend reading Paddy Moogans guide on Hyperlink Building if you’re in search of inspiration.

Judy Kashman
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Love this!!! XJude

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