Saturday, December 29, 2007

Kind Words and Questions

Sweet words this morning from Mark, mon semblable, mon frere, concerning my burst of mid-life, mid-career angst. "I've always felt like Jack Lemmon to his Tony Curtis," says he; that would be me on the left, then, the brunette. For the record, I've always thought of Mark as the real scholar in our little fellowship: the one who's done the legwork, mulled things over, and who therefore speaks with authority. I'm good for a flip word, a sprightly opinion, and every now and then a valiant effort, but I"m as often comic relief as intellectual protagonist. Pippin to his Frodo, say, or Buffy to his Giles.

So here's a question for you readers: one I'll be considering as I schlep to the aquarium store and supermarket with my kids (ah, life). What is it we want to learn--or want our students to learn--from poetry? What do we hope for poetry to teach? I started a list this morning, but it got wobbly and general pretty quickly. Maybe you can help?

We want poetry to teach our students how to attend to and rejoice in language: all the things that language can do, which ripple out far beyond narrative, expository, and persuasive prose.

We want poetry to teach something about heritage, and something about encountering the Other. (What does that mean? No time to reflect--just get it out for comment.)

We want poetry to teach things worth knowing: literary things, historical things, religious things, scientific things, what else? Any way to categorize these? Does the heritage / otherness material simply fall into this category, too?

All of this preparation for the next NEH grant application, if that helps...

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