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Friday, April 28, 2006

(Sort of) Friday poetry blogging

Yesterday was my last day of classes, and, unsurprisingly, nearly ten students decided that THAT WAS THE DAY to perform their extra-credit poem memorization--an opportunity that has been open to them for two months. It was actually rather nice, though: I had the chance to chat with some students whom I'd never really gotten to know outside their contributions to class discussion.

Here are some of the more unusual conversations I had:

Student #1 recited Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 and did a very good job. I chatted with him about it for a few minutes afterwards, and when I asked him why he'd chosen that one, he said that, well, he was basically an optimist, and although he really liked all of the sonnets we'd read, many of them had a bleaker outlook about the passage of time and so on. He hastened to explain that he recognized the darker side of life, and could appreciate literature that dealt with it, but he wanted to focus on something more positive. "What I really like, in poetry, is work that focuses on the individual, and the dignity of the human person."

Great, I said. I can appreciate that. Are there any poets that you're thinking of. . . ?

"Well, see, actually who I really like--and most people don't know this about him, but--did you know that John Paul II was a poet?"

Really!

"Yeah! He's got this great poem about a quarry worker--he worked in a quarry when he was a young man--and it's all about the nobility and dignity of the laborer. Also, like Blake? His poem about the chimney sweep? I really like that."

All I could think to do was to suggest that he go read Whitman.


Student #2 recited her poem, and after we'd chatted about it she shyly mentioned that she was taking a creative writing class over the summer, and did I think that that was a good idea?

She's pretty smart and her papers have been solid Bs, but they haven't exactly afforded me the opportunity to see her fiction-writing skills on display. Sure! I said. I mean, I don't know what your creative work looks like, but go for it.

"Well, I really liked that Spenserian assignment you gave us, and I was wondering what you thought about mine." Whereupon she produced from her bag the 9-line stanza she'd written four or six weeks ago, and which I'd given a check-plus to (a rare grade from me for a homework assignment).

I reviewed it and said, yes, this is very good. I mean, it's not fiction, but you seem to have a good ear--and if writing is something you want to do, and you're a good and careful reader, the craft will come.

She went away happy, and I was pleased, but also a little puzzled and a little sad that I--the instructor for her lit survey, who didn't at all know her or her work (we'd only ever had one previous conversation, as she was working on her last paper) was apparently the only person she had to ask for advice about her potential as a writer.


Student #3 didn't have her poem (also a Shakespeare sonnet) fully memorized when she showed up at my office--at FIVE-THIRTY P.M., mind you, shortly before I was planning on leaving--so I told her to go out into the exterior portion of the module, take 10 minutes, and then come back.

I was working away at email when she popped her head back in. "See, it's just these two lines I can't remember! And I can't remember them because I can't understand them. What do they mean?" She passed the book over to me.

Well, uh--he's asking Time to not mark his lover's face . . . what part, exactly, don't you get?

"This 'him'! Who's 'him'?"

Uh, the lover. From the previous line.

"His lover is a MAN?! Wait--was Shakespeare GAY?!!"

Well, we know that most of these poems were written to a man. . .

"Oh wait. Oh, yeah. You said that in class." Pause. "Wow. That's just so funny! So but, some are to a woman. So he was bisexual?"

Finally I got her to refocus on the poem, gave her another five minutes to practice, and then called her in: now or never; I have a train to catch.

And of course, she couldn't get past line three, even with prompts.

And of course, I gave her a break and said that she could try again the day of the final. Sucker.


link | posted by La Lecturess at 2:18 PM |


5 Comments:

Blogger Bardiac commented at 8:42 PM~  

It's stunning sometimes to realize how much influence a single comment on something tangentially related can make. I'm glad you encouraged your student to try a creative writing class. She may never turn out to be another Austen or Woolf, but it may be a great experience for her nonetheless.

And your student number three! YAY, maybe she'll actually learn to read the words more attentively!!

Good work!

Blogger Terminaldegree commented at 10:37 PM~  

Recenetly I gave a student an assignment to research a composer whose piece she was playing.

She came to her next lesson and said, "Did you know he was GAY?!?!?"

I'd forgotten, but I nodded and asked, "Does this change your relationship with the piece?"

She paused a moment and said, "No, I guess it doesn't."

GOod for her.

Glad your student started to read a little more carefully. :)

Blogger Sfrajett commented at 1:43 AM~  

Well, now at least your students know more about Shakespeare than anyone in Hollywood seems to know. Now, really blow their minds and give them Oscar Wilde's "The Portrait of Mr. W.H."! Hah!

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 4:06 PM~  

Sfrajett,

Yeah, and what's irritating about it is that we had spent *quite a bit* of time in class talking about not just the fact that most of Shakespeare's sonnets are written to a man, but about attitudes toward homosexual acts in the Renaissance. And the class had seemed really interested in the subject! Well--some information sticks longer in some minds than in others, I guess.

Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. commented at 1:39 AM~  

Oh, Lord--surely we're not going to get into the tired old "Shakespeare Equals The Speaker of the Sonnets" argument, are we? Because if we are, I'll really have to prep myself for the amount of eye-rolling required. Whenever any of my students want to know if Shakespeare was "gay," I tell them that the term had no meaning in his time, and besides, they're poems, not diary entries. Between conceit, and culture, and the paucity of any kind of objective evidence, the only rational response is "Who knows and who cares?" And then move on to actually reading the friggin' things...

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