Friday, September 21, 2007


It's been so long since I've blogged regularly, I can't remember what it's like.

(A statement that cues up, in my head, Dylan's "Idiot Wind": "I haven't known peace and quiet for so long I can't remember what it's like." I bought Blood on the Tracks when I was 14 or 15, at a record store in Berkeley, CA, out for Jewish summer camp and to visit my Nana. That and Darkness on the Edge of Town, if memory serves, which would place it in the summer of 1978, nearly thirty years ago. Who knows where the time goes, eh?)

In a few minutes I'll be off to teach my standard-issue, Vendler based Reading Poetry class. 25 undergraduates, down from the usual 35-40, I hope because I'm teaching it on a MWF schedule rather than the usual T/Th. Some have started cutting class, which bothers me--I'd like to think that I'm entertaining enough to keep them there without calling the roll, which bores me silly--but on the other hand, I've learned almost all of their names already, which is very, very rare for me. How'd I do it? A trick I picked up from one of my high school teacher comrades in arms: take a 3 X 5 card and a sharpie to class, fold the card in half lengthwise, and write a name plate for every student. Hand them out at the start of class every day; after a week, it seems, you learn the names. I had three unlearned last Wednesday: Jessica, Sandy, and Danielle. Today I know who those are, but have forgotten a couple more--the gals who sit next to Matt in the second row.

Pedagogy at its finest! Ah, well: 'tis new to me.

So: today we talk about Shax's "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day," "They Flee from Me," by Wyatt, and Dickinson's "Wild Nights." As usual, I'm just trying to get the students to notice what Vendler calls "patterns and shapes": my notes, as I head into class, look like this:

time shape: past/present vs. past vs. past then present, w/ forward look
emotional shape: bluster to dreamy reminiscence to spite
character / pronoun shape: I / them to it / she / me to it / I / she
agency shape: I to me to what?

Sound shape: keening “ees”—how to talk about such things (speaker-wise)
key word shape: luxury (look up with them)—when does some version recur? Compare moor, maybe.
Time shape: conditional (were I with thee); unfixed (futile the winds: is it “are” or “would be”); participial / gerund, then back to subjunctive: “might I”

  • so what else is odd, unfixed, in stanza two?

Preposition drama: with, / in, with, with, / in, in
Place drama: nowhere to “in port”; “in Eden”; “in thee”

Little jottings, that is, to get them to see step by step what I mostly notice instantly, reading. That's what this textbook is good for, even if it's sometimes hard for the students to realize how many tools they're getting, day by day, class by class.

OK, if you've born with me this long, let me leave you with two treats before I go teach. First, here's the Keats poem we spent the last class on, with two great study / discussion questions. I'd never read or taught it before, and had a ball:

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne'er remember
Apollo's summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would 'twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

The central question I gave them was this: if this is a comparison poem (here's something in nature, and here's the human equivalent, or lack thereof), why is there a second stanza? Why not just go from stanza 1 to stanza 3? What are all of the things that stanza 2 does to set up the last one, or to shift us away from the first towards the third? As an ancillary question, I had them look at the last half of each stanza, to look for repetitions and variations, comparisons and contrasts, from 1 to 2 to 3. It was a great discussion, & they did more with the Apollo line than I would ever have expected. (Oh, happy, happy class!)

And, as your final treat, this--a treat if you're a Dylanist, that is:

More next on mandolust: my summer fling and my current obsessions. See you then.

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