Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Vendler and Pedagogy

This quarter, I'm back to using Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets, Poetry as my Reading Poetry text. My thought for the blog, at least this morning, is to make this the place where I do some of my class planning--notes, etc.--so that anyone out there who teaches poetry can steal from me as I steal from V.

For tomrrow's class, they'll have read her Introduction and Chapter 1 ("The Poem as Life"), this time with all the ancillary poems V suggests. That last is the new twist which I hope will keep this young blade happy as the quarter begins.

Key ideas from the Introduction:

1) "Lyric" poetry is our topic. (They need to know that there are other kinds, including epic and dramatic and various sorts of "I HATE SPEECH" experimental verse.)

2) "Lyric is the genre of private life; it is what we say to ourselves when we are alone. There may be an addressee in lyric (God, or a beloved), but the addressee is always absent. (The dramatic monologue...has a silent addressee on stage, but this is the exception to the rule of the absent addressee." (xlii)
A thought here: what about performance poetry? What about the whole "recitation" enterprise? What new spin does it put on the "absent addressee" convention--or, conversely, how can that convention best inform our performances of poetry, in class or elsewhere?

But I digress...
3. Lyric "lets us into the innermost chamber of another person's mind, and makes us privy to what he or she would say in complete secrecy and safety, with none to overhear" (xlii).
Again, I find myself wondering here... Aren't there lyric poems with a stronger or more anxious rhetorical project: poems of argument, on the one hand, and poems that stay closeted or self-censoring on the other?
4. OK: here's one that rings true for me: "a lyric is meant to be spoken by its reader as if the reader were the one uttering the words. A lyric poem is a script for performance by its reader. It is, then, the most intimate of genres...and it is the most universal of genres, because it presumes that the reader resembles the writer enough to step into the writer's shoes and speak the lines the writer has written as though they were the reader's own" (xlii/iii)

5. "We do not listen to him [the speaker]; we become him." Our job is to make the words our own. Lyric thus offers an "imaginative transformation of self." (xliii)

6. "Every word has to count. So does every gap. In fact, lyric depends on gaps, and depends even more ont he reader to fill in the gaps. It is suggestive rather than exhaustive" (xliii). Poems have gaps and hints, and we need to fill in the first and make the most of the second, "so that the course of [their] emotions can be understood in their full subtlety" (xliii).

Oops--my daughter just came in & asked me to "Read?" How can I refuse? More soon, then.

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