What makes good teachers of literature good? It’s the approach, not the text that matters.
Joyce Nelson’s Wisdom “If society really wanted to end teen pregnancy, they would have English teachers teach the sex education classes. We know how to make anything unpleasant.”
“Magic Carpet Ride”Words and music by John Kay and Rushton Moreve I like to dream yes, yes, right between my sound machine On a cloud of sound I drift in the night Any place it goes is right Goes far, flies near, to the stars away from here Well, you don't know what we can find Why don't you come with me, little girl, On a magic carpet ride You don't know what we can see Why don't you tell your dreams to me Fantasy will set you free Close your eyes, girl, Look inside, girl. Let the sound take you away Last night I held Aladdin's lamp And so I wished that I could stay Before the thing could answer me Well, someone came and took the lamp away I looked around, a lousy candle's all I found Well, you don't know what we can find Why don't you come with me, little girl, On a magic carpet ride Well, you don't know what we can see Why don't you tell your dreams to me Fantasy will set you free Close your eyes, girl Look inside, girl Let the sound take you away
“Very Like a While”by Ogden Nash One thing that literature would be greatly the better for Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor. Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts, Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else. What does it mean when we are told That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold? In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians. However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity. We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity. Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold, Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold? In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things. But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings. No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof; Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof? Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most, Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host. But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them, With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them. That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson; They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison, And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm. Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm, And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
After English ClassJean Little I used to like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”I liked the coming darkness, The jingle of harness bells, Breaking—and adding to—the stillness, The gentle drift of the snow...But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for. The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep— They all have “hidden meanings.”It’s grown so complicated now that, Next time I drive by, I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.
Student Assumptions about Poetry • “good’ poetry is not the same as "popular" poetry (poetry people like) • poetry has deep hidden meanings • poetry is enjoyable only if it is understood on the first reading • poetry is difficult to understand • only English teachers and other weirdos like poetry • poetry is for sissies • poetry must rhyme • poetry is always about serious, general, heavy topics (life, death, love) • the tone of poetry is always serious and mournful • a poem has a single interpretation, a “correct” interpretation • students cannot interpret poems without teacher mediation • poetry is something read only in English class, only under duress • poetry is always studied in isolation, as a unit • the study of poetry is unpleasant but temporary, like a kidney stone, it too will pass (though with much pain)
Tips for Teaching Poetry • Teach poetry thematically, integrated into other units (discussion of literary devices only enhances discussion of other forms of literature . . .) • Avoid using poems you studied in college (Why?) • Help students understand the difference between poetry and verse • basic elements of poetry: compression, layered meaning, line arrangement, word play • have fun with poetry (“Concrete Cat”, “LDL” “Spam Haiku”) • use contemporary poetry with YA themes: Naomi Shihab Nye, Paul Janesczko, Watermelon Pickle)
“How to Eat a Poem”by Eve Merriam Don't be polite.Bite in.Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that may run down your chin.It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are. You do not need a knife or fork or spoonor plate or napkin or tablecloth. For there is no coreor stemor rindor pitor seedor skinto throw away
Introduction to PoetryBilly Collins I ask them to take a poemand hold it up to the lightlike a color slide or press an ear against its hiveI say drop a mouse into a poemand watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem's roomand feel the walls for a light switch. I want them to waterskiacross the surface of a poemwaving at the author's name on the shore. But all they want to dois tie the poem to a chair with a ropeand torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hoseto find out what it really means.
In many ways, poetry is just messing around with words, images, and ideas. There’s nothing sacred about it. Before attempting to teach your student to revere poetry, allow them to have fun with it. This ‘milk before meat’ approach may help them overcome their learned resentment, apathy, and hatred for poetry. When it comes to poetry, sacrilege is no sin.
Pink tender morsel, Glistening with salty gel. What the hell is it? Old man seeks doctor. “I eat Spam daily,” says he. Angioplasty. Ears, snouts, and innards, A homogenous mass. Pass another slice. Cube of cold pinkness Yellow specks of porcine fat. Give me a spork please.
THE TOAD NOT TAKEN Two toads submerged in a yellow river, And sorry I could not spear both And be one diner, long I did shiver And looked over one to judge its liver Where it lurked in water’s undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was green and shaped like a pear; Though as for the water passing there Both toads really looked about the same, And both that morning equally lay In waters no polluter had dirtied black. Oh, I kept the first toad for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two toads submerged in a river, and I-- I took the one less warty and dry, And that has made all the difference.
Crowe’s Zombie Haiku a haiku a day will keep the undead at bay unless they smell brains dyslexic zombies crave brains but relentlessly stalk Brians instead foggy night, london Dickens stumbles, zombies lurk great expectations!