Teaching Poetry, and a Poem for NaPoWriMo

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tuesday was the one day this semester that I dedicated to poetry for my College Reading students, and it was a disaster. Most of our readings this semester have come from The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, which I think is a good text for students this age because the readings are chosen by students their own age. There is only one small section of poetry in the book, a group of poems responding to Arizona SB 1070 (the infamous immigration bill), and I assigned this section for Tuesday's class, thinking it would be a gentle introduction into poetry and also an opportunity to talk about current events and reinforce the importance of understanding the context/rhetorical situation of a text, which they've been resistant to all semester.

Since there was no quiz or blog post due this week, I was fully expecting that most of them wouldn't have completed the reading, but I wasn't expecting only one person in each class to have brought the book. How can we talk about poetry if you don't have the poems in front of you?! Needless to say, the class was dismissed early, but only after I assured them their days with poetry were not over, that I was replacing the final class on reading images with one on poetry instead. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this class, other than the exercises and discussion I had planned for Tuesday, but now I think I'm going to do something similar to what my friend Tawnysha did in her class yesterday.

In light of how I've been feeling about teaching poetry to college students this week, I thought this poem by former national poet laureate Billy Collins was appropriate.

"Introduction to Poetry"
By: Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


American Puzzle April 13, 2012 at 2:28 PM  

Oh my goodness...nothing easy about this job, is there? Good luck!

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