Saturday, February 11, 2006

This from Emily

I'm not back enough to post much myself. Finished grinding out a draft of my piece on novels about poets, which won't be called "Buffy the Poetry Slayer" much longer, alas, although coming up with that title did the trick. Anyway, now I'm grading and grinding out more prose, in the form of an NEH seminar application. Busy, busy, busy.

I found this over at Poesy Galore, though, and thought I'd pass it along.
When people say, or shamble up to stammer, that they don't usually feel like they "get" poetry, that they never knew poetry could speak to them, that it always seemed like writers were trying to conceal the poem's "real meaning," they are not talking about their encounters with the works of Gertrude Stein or Bruce Andrews. They are talking about their high school or college encounters with Keats. No matter HOW many contemporary poets write accessible poems--let's say we ALL do--we will still need to penetrate the Poetry-B-Gon shields people put up after encountering Keats (et al) in school, likely introduced by a teacher who's squeamish around Keats, least until these shields are bred out of humankind over many generations. How will this happen, if it ever happens? I think a good bit of it is up to high school English teachers. Many (most?) kids love poetry, from rhyming picture books to Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, before they hit middle or high school. Whether or not they've ever seen a boa constrictor, "I'm Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor" feels relevant to their lives in a way that "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" does not. I'm not saying the "classics" should not be taught in high school--I'm saying that the classics one chooses, especially to kick off a poetry unit, should be very carefully picked with an audience of teenagers in mind. Meaning: scrap Poe's "The Bells" and teach "Alone"; do Crane's "[In the desert]" instead of or before "War is Kind"; do "I'm Nobody" and "I Like a Look of Agony" and maybe even "Wild Nights!" before "Hope is the Thing with Feathers." Actually--never do "Hope is the Thing with Feathers." High school may be too early to introduce "The Red Wheel Barrow"--because, while accessible at the language level, it might not be accessible at any other to most in that age group. Do Blake's "The Garden of Love," Browning's "Porphyria's Lover." Suck it up and do "Richard Cory" but NOT "Mr. Flood's Party." And if you're going to do Keats, for godsakes step away from the urn...
What do you think?