Sunday, November 13, 2005

Help Me, Somebody!

They shadow the upper right-hand corner of my desk: 40 papers from the Romance class, 40 from Reading Poetry, and a larger number than I'd like to have left from Teaching Poetry, my MA class. I feel like Childe Roland, only I built that Dark Tower, & there's no slug-horn in sight.

At which point, I get to musing: why do I have my students write so many close readings? Or, if I want them to write close readings, why do I teach them poems? Shouldn't I find an anthology of essays-on-poems for them to study, if that's what I want them to produce? Is there such a book? I know Camille Paglia has Break, Blow, Burn out now: 44 poems, each explicated, which might presumably work. On the other hand, if I haven't brought myself to read it yet, should I really make my students?

(Parenthetically, I should add that I am deeply, deeply grateful to Paglia. Her prose style plucked me out of the Slough of Cavell back in graduate school, and made me who I am today, prose-wise. Half the jokes I had to comb from my dissertation, en route to press, might have been hers. Maybe I should read this new one, too.)

But I digress. The serious points here are:

1) Teaching "Intro to Poetry" (or "Reading Poetry," or whatever your school wants to call it) may not be an intrinsically frustrating experience--it hasn't always been for me--but

2) Teaching from a huge, overwhelming, over-processed anthology like the Norton seems to depress me, and

3) I don't know what text or anthology to use next time, my 19th or 20th go-round with the class, since

4) I'm not entirely sure WHAT I want to teach my students, although I know pretty well that I don't want to teach them only close reading skills, as I did, mostly, this time.

Maybe it's time to send out a meme. If you had to teach an "Introduction to Poetry" with only, say, 20 poems, which 20 would you choose? Or, if that number is to small, make it 30-60, but no more than 60 poems, tops. (I have 20 class days, and rarely get through more than 3 poems a day.)

Help me, somebody!


Norton Anthology of Poetry: $73
Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets, Poetry: $54
Kenneth Koch's Making Your Own Days: $15
Camille Paglia, Break, Blow, Burn: $13

All of these new, with no discount, of course. Any on-line dealer has them for less.

The new Wadsworth Anthology of Poetry, about which I'll blog quite soon, goes for $57 for the shorter edition, $67 for the longer, and it comes with a nifty CD-ROM. A possibility.

To be continued...


Harry said...

Not really answering the question, but - the only Norton anthology I've got is the 'Modern Poetry' one, but I really dislike it. Everything about it - the typography, the blindingly obvious footnotes, the turgid introductions to the poets - feels worthy and institutional and stifling. So I'm glad I was never taught from it. On the other hand, I still sometimes pick up The Rattle Bag, the Heaney/Hughes anthology designed for use in secondary schools, because it's a nice book to read - just lots of good poems laid out attractively on the page, ordered alphabetically by title to encourage browsing. Though the current edition seems to have a rather tacky pink cover.

There's a lot to be said for making books which are nice to use.

E. M. Selinger said...

Amen, Harry!

How on earth can we ask our students to delight in language--to take it seriously as a medium--when we present it to them in a context of such sheer ugliness?

I know "The Rattle Bag": Heaney had us buy it in a poetry workshop I took with him, decades ago. I haven't thought of it for this context, but I'll dig up my old copy and take a look. Those "Golden Echo" anthologies, like the one Jorie Graham edited (Earth Took of Earth) are handy, readable volumes, too.