Saturday, July 09, 2005

Daily Poems (Dictated, even?)

As we discussed Baron Wormser & David Cappella's A Surge of Language two weeks ago, and again last week at my NEH seminar, two teaching tips surfaced that seem particularly appealing. The first comes from this passage:
Frequently I will ask a student to justify a word in a poem I speak aloud or dictate: "Why is that word in the poem?" Because one word is connected inteimately with all the other words in a poem, students come to see how a poem is an articulate tangle: Pull one thread and all the other threads are influenced (8).
Over and over, as we've read subsequent poems, we've found ourselves tugging the thread of a single word, trying to justify that word--and, in the process, trying to see what other threads move when we tug it. It always, always, leads to interesting results.

(Is anyone else bothered by the mixed metaphor in W/C's last sentence there? In my book, "threads" don't get "influenced," etymologically or otherwise. A quibble, but still!)

The second teaching tip lies hidden in that first one: "a poem I speak aloud or dictate...." Wormser/Cappella's fictional teacher doesn't just read a poem a day to his students; he dictates the poem, and has them write it out by hand, as a lead-in to discussion. "It takes some time," they write, "but it's time that is well spent. They have to ponder each word and comma. I grade them on their dictations. [...] What I (and they) discover is that they tend to be careless. They aren't used to paying minute attention to another text."

A challenge, then, to all of you out there reading. What are some short poems--no more than, say, a dozen lines, and better still, eight or less--that teachers could use for their dictation / close listening / discussion sparking exercises? Mordant, musing, imagist, formal, free.... It's time for someone to compile an anthology of Poems to Dictate, and dammit, we're just the folks to do it!

Send 'em along, now or later, and I'll assemble and send out (or post) the file as it grows.

1 comment:

kate said...

Poem to Dictate

"Witness" - Denise Levertov

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence

Is this what you want??